As we approach Christmas and the end of 2002, it is timely to look at the state of the Church today, at least as it exists in the West, which traditionally has been the heartland of Christian belief and practice.
Since the "cultural revolution" of the 1960s, Christian belief in most Western countries has been shaken by the inroads of secularism.
The Anglican Bishop of Bunbury (WA), the Right Rev W.D.H. McCall, recently reported to his diocesan Synod, "The Church in this Diocese has not been insulated from the trend toward secularism. As I have travelled around the Diocese I have found much that is good, especially the deep commitment and faith of those who worship regularly. It is a matter of great concern that our congregations are aging. I suspect the average age of our congregations is close to sixty."
He added, "The Diocese of Bunbury is not alone in this, nor is the Anglican Church alone. The senior Roman Catholic bishop in England recently stated that England could no longer be regarded as a Christian country. The same can be said for Australia ... The early Church faced a very similar situation."
Archbishop Chaput of Denver notes on page 11 of this edition of AD2000 that contemporary Western culture is also characterised by "a crisis in personal moral character" which has contributed to the financial and sexual scandals accompanying the upsurge of individualism and secularism. It is clear that materialism does not - and cannot - meet the deepest needs of the human heart and spirit.
We have many things going for us: in Pope John Paul II a spiritual leader who has personally confronted and defeated regimes based on rejection of God, and provided answers to modern society's contested issues. His leadership over nearly 25 years has witnessed a significant recovery of Christianity in Eastern Europe, and substantial growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The recovery in our own society will take longer. It will depend on our response: our faithfulness, and our willingness, through prayer, sacrifice, example and initiative, to establish the Kingdom of God.
Peter Westmore is Publisher of AD2000.