The Forgotten Flood
Noah's Flood is a well known event that most people are familiar with, even if they know hardly anything else from the Bible. They know the story, but somehow they have forgotten that this was a real event that actually happened. The consequence of their forgetfulness is that they have forgotten about the nature of God, on whom they depend for all their benefits, both spiritual and material.
Church attendance in Britain has been declining steadily since the 1950s to the point where, according to the Church Society, the number of people attending weekly Sunday services in the Church of England fell to less than one million in 2004. This figure is for England, which has a population of about 50 million, not the whole of Britain. Corresponding figures for the 1950s are not so easy to find, because the statistics were not so accurately collected, but everybody knows they were much higher. The Church of England is the largest denomination in this country, but other denominations have suffered declining congregations.
Why is this happening? There could be all sorts of reasons, in terms of social and demographic changes, but the primary cause must be something to do with what people believe, and what they expect from the church. Various methods have been devised to bring new people in, for example Alpha courses, mother-and-toddler groups, divorce recovery workshops, etc., but all it does is paper over the cracks while the decline still continues.
It would be simplistic to offer a single cause, but one of the most important must be the way people think about God. Strangely enough, most people still say that they believe in God, but it appears their belief does not involve the desire to meet together regularly with other Christians.
One of the most important influences must have been the rise of Darwinian evolution, although it took about 100 years for the full implications of this to reach the population as a whole. Darwin's "Origin of Species" was published in 1859 and before that time people were not greatly concerned about how God created the world, or how many days it took to accomplish. They simply acknowledged God as their Creator, on whom they depend for all the necessities of life. They also accepted that God expects us to live according to certain standards, but our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, rebelled and fell into sin, and rebellion continued among their descendants, leading to such great wickedness that God decided to destroy all life that has breath, both humans and animals, in a Global Flood. Only eight people were spared, Noah and his wife, and his three sons and their wives, together with the animals that they took into the Ark which they had built according to God's design. This was a most severe act of God's judgement, but we also see that God's judgement is tempered with mercy, as he gave us his Son to pay the price of our sin and redeem us from the fall.
This simple formula of justice and mercy kept the churches full for centuries, as people understood that they were dependent on God for all his benefits, both physical and spiritual. Then came Darwin with his theory of evolution, and Huxley with his argument that humans evolved from ape-like hominids, and there was the Oxford debate between Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce where Huxley won the day because he was the better scientist. However, none of this affected the population very much, because the debates among intellectuals were disseminated to the public only through the means of books and newspapers. It was the invention of radio and television that had a much greater impact. Radio broadcasts became available for public reception during the 1920s, but the quality was poor and it didn't make a real impact as a mass-media tool until 1936 when Edward VIII used it to broadcast his abdication speech. After that, every household had to have a radio. Then there was World War II and people were glued to their radio to hear about the progress of the war. After the war, there was a period of affluence and growth, and every household had to have a new and different type of box that displayed a black-and-white picture in addition to the sound. I remember, during the 1950s we had an old valve TV set that was continually breaking down and had to go back to the shop to get the valves replaced. But things gradually got better (technologically) and from the 1950s onwards, radio and TV have become standard pieces of equipment for hearing what the privileged purveyors of knowledge have got to say to the rest of us. As a consequence, the ideas of Darwin, Huxley and their successors, that had long taken root in the debating halls of Oxford and Cambridge and other similar places, were drip-fed into every home so that no-one could escape from the rising tide of humanism, atheism and materialism.
The first eleven chapters of the Bible, that had long been relegated to mythology in the minds of the intellectual elite, began to disappear from homes, schools and churches across the country. Judeo-Christian history was given a new starting point, with Abraham as the first patriarch, and everything before that time was removed. God was no longer the creator of the world or the destroyer of the wicked. Neither was he the founder of nations, because he did not disperse the people from Babylon. God became a distant, ineffective figure with very little influence over our lives, and people began to feel as if going to church no longer had any relevance for them. Instead, they began to place more emphasis on their own ingenuity.
Even the Harvest Festival, which used to be a high point in the church calendar, began to lose its appeal. We became much less aware of seasonal produce because all sorts of exotic foods began to arrive at our shores in ships. We no longer felt the need to give thanks to God for giving us food in season, and instead we became more inclined to boast of our own ingenuity. God has been dethroned in the minds of the people, and the churches are empty.
How can we roll back the tide of unbelief? First of all, evolution is in trouble, with many scientists saying that it could not have occurred without the intervention of intelligent design. The development of the first living cell is a matter of particular difficulty because each new discovery reveals greater complexity and no-one can work out how or why it should have formed from ordinary chemicals.
However, the collapse of evolution will not in itself restore people's faith in the early chapters of Genesis. The reason is, science cannot tell us what actually happened in ancient times. It can only tell us what was possible. If we are convinced that creation involves intelligent design, then we are presented with a number of possibilities:
The problem is, any number of theories could emerge about what sort of intelligence could have produced life. To find out what actually happened, we have to ask the designer himself, because no human observer was present. If we are looking at the first chapter of Genesis, we do not have Adam and Eve as eye-witnesses because they were not present during the first five days of Creation. They had to accept God's word for what had happened. We are in the same position ourselves, having to believe what God has said, although this is no easy task for those who have spent years in the evolutionist camp and lost their faith.
The Book of Genesis is divided into a number of sections, each written by different authors and signed off with a phrase such as "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth" (Gen. 2:4), "This is the book of the generations of Adam" (Gen. 5:1) and "These are the generations of Noah" (Gen. 6:9). God wrote the first book, Adam wrote the second book, Noah wrote the third book, and other people wrote the subsequent books, signing them off in a similar manner. The problem is, if people have already lost their faith in God, how are we to convince them that the first chapter of Genesis is correct, on the basis that God wrote it?
The answer is, we don't. Instead we tell them about the flood, the tower of Babel and the dispersal of the nations. These events have the support of many human witnesses, and the events recorded in the Bible can be validated from world history using many external sources, and I have discussed some of them in my Forgotten History of the Western People. If we can convince people that chapters 6-11 represent factual history, then we can move on to other issues about the fall and the pre-flood world, represented in chapters 2-5. Then it becomes only a small step of faith to accept chapter 1.
It should come as no surprise that I should emphasise the flood, even above the creationist arguments. It was in fact flood-denial that came first, before creation-denial. It was the work of Hutton and Lyell that laid the foundation of long-age geology and prepared the ground for Darwin's theory of evolution, giving him millions of years for evolution to occur. I sometimes wonder if the Apostle Peter must have foreseen all of this when he emphasised the perils of flood denial as follows:
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:3-7).
Notice that Peter is not so concerned about creation denial. Perhaps he accepts that everybody believes in a creation of some sort, as even modern-day evolutionists do, although they say the world was created through natural processes without divine intervention. Peter is more concerned about flood denial, because it involves the denial of the faithful and honest testimony that has been left behind by our ancestors.
We presently live in an age where science is revered more than history. However, we can argue until the cows come home about whether this or that rock structure represents a slow deposition over millions of years, or a catastrophic deposition during the Flood. As I have said already, science can only present us with theories about what might possibly have happened, but the actual history of the Flood comes from the Babylonians, Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, and of course the Bible.
This is where Creation History becomes important. If we can convince people that the Flood actually happened, as a judgement from God on a world that had turned increasingly wicked, it will change their perspective entirely. Of course there will be some who will say "I'm a good person, and I've never done anybody any harm, and I can't believe in a God who would destroy all those people". But there will be others who will see the point, that God is the creator of the world, and he has a right to do whatever he wants with his own creation, and we survive on this planet only with his permission. They might especially notice the apocalyptic event that Peter has prophesied, that the flood is a sign of another judgement to come, not by water but by fire.
Filling up churches might seem like a trivial pursuit when we consider how the stakes are so high. We need to use Creation History to persuade people to think correctly about God, that he is our creator, our sustainer, our judge, and he gave us his Son to be our saviour. When people are aware of all this, and they are returned to the foundations that have been laid in the early chapters of the Bible, we will have no problems filling up churches.