Well, the latest census may have provided useful ammunition for those who are convinced that the church is on its last legs, but the truth is much more encouraging than the sceptics would have us believe.

Yes, the latest figures do show us that the number of people identifying as Christian is down (less than 50 per cent it would seem) but you could argue that this is because we live in an increasingly secular country where there is no obvious benefit to cultural Christianity, and consequently very little reason to tick the ‘Christian’ box based on some nominal identity.

Our culture is certainly becoming more and more secular, so much so that the message is becoming increasingly unpopular, offensive even. I realised this again a week or two ago when I discovered that lawyers representing the Crown Prosecution Service here in the UK stated recently that there are references in the Bible which are simply no longer appropriate in modern society, and which would be deemed offensive if stated in public. This is an extraordinary comment given the fact that the Bible has shaped our values and our laws for many, many centuries and was presented to our late Queen at her coronation with the advice that it is the most valuable thing that this world affords.

So, what prompted this remarkable statement? Well, not surprisingly it followed the decision to arrest a street preacher for hate speech because he told two women that the Bible makes it very clear that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God. Now you may disagree with him; you may even find his convictions offensive; but we should surely allow him the right to argue his case. Thankfully the public order prosecution was dropped at the last moment, but we need to be very careful here. As Andrea Williams of the Christian Legal Centre, said ‘Offence’ is an entirely subjective concept and is easily manipulated to shut down viewpoints that people simply don’t like. “Any suggestion that there is a right not to be offended must be strongly resisted. In today’s democracy, we need the freedom to debate, challenge and disagree.”

The Bible says lots of things that some people will find offensive. It certainly assures us that God is love and that He welcomes anyone and everyone who turns to Him in faith, but it also makes it very clear that we are all sinners and under His judgement. It also tells us that Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. I wonder how long it will be before we are told that statements like that are off limits too? We need to defend our hard-won freedom to share Biblical truth for if we allow ourselves to be silenced we will have scored a massive home goal and all be the losers.

But whatever happens in the coming days of one thing I am sure: Advent is a reminder that the Jesus who was born and laid in a manger will come again in glory and on that day even those who try to silence the church (and let’s not forget that every day 13 Christians are killed and some 360 million Christians are currently suffering high levels of persecution) will have to take to their knees and openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord.