CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Europe: God is Not Finished Yet

Aug 25, 2009

There are plenty of ways one can assess the health or otherwise of a nation, or people, or continent. There are numerous measures: economic, social, political, ideological, cultural, demographic, and so on. But on top of all these is one more which is the most important. People of faith will also gauge the spiritual condition of a people or nation.

My recent trip to Europe has reminded me of this. Only my second time there since living in Europe over 25 years ago, there have certainly been many changes which have occurred on the continent. Some are changes for the better, and some for the worse. Many of these demographic, moral, political and social changes I have documented elsewhere.

But here I wish to briefly address the spiritual state of Europe. It has long been realised that Europe has become the most secular and the least Christian continent on earth. It has seemed to be all one way traffic there, with the Christian faith slowly but surely dying out in most European nations.

Spiritual demographers have also noted that while Europe and the West as a whole are floundering when it comes to Christianity, God has not abandoned planet earth. Indeed, great things are still happening in the world, but not in places where we have tended to expect to see God at work.

We have known for some time now that the spiritual centre of gravity has moved south. Books like The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins (OUP, 2002), have chronicled this shift. Places like Africa, Asia and Latin America are the new hot spots when it comes to church growth. Marvellous things are taking place there, and the Kingdom of God is far from finished on planet earth.

But many have wondered about the West in general and Europe in particular. Has God abandoned the West? Are the days of God’s grace upon Europe over? Many might conclude that the church has indeed died or is near death throughout Europe.

Yet even in the short quarter century since I last lived in Europe, one can clearly see that God is not at all finished with Europe yet. Many exciting moves of God are taking place in Europe. Often the mainstream media is not reporting these activities, but they are occurring nonetheless.

Consider the nation of Holland, where I lived and worked so many years ago. There are clear signs of God at work. Holland at the moment is actually being run by a coalition of Christian political parties, and the Prime Minister is a Christian.

Some of the famous Dutch liberalism and tolerance has been tightened up a bit. The once ubiquitous drug dealers around Amsterdam’s central district and the sprawling red light districts have both been cleaned up and curtailed. Even some of the drug cafes have been restricted in number and scope.

But it is the revitalisation of the church in the nation that is especially intriguing. There are now numerous evangelical churches in Holland with large and thriving congregations. One church in Amsterdam has over 2000 members. Such numbers were unheard of a few decades ago.

And the amazing thing is, many of these large and spiritually vital churches are led by migrants who have come to Holland. The large Amsterdam church has as its head pastor an African. Indeed, many of these big churches are being led by Nigerians and Ghanaians.

Missionaries and church planters from places such as South Korea, Brazil and Uganda are doing great works for God in the Netherlands and throughout Europe. Indeed, when I was staying at a Youth With a Mission base in Amsterdam just the other week, a large South Korean disciple training school was in full swing.

Many commentators have rightly warned about the huge influx of Muslim migrants into Europe, and how the demographic picture in Europe is changing considerably as a result. I too have written much about these trends. But it is vital to realise that the migrants are not just those from Muslim nations. Many non-Muslim migrants are arriving in Europe as well.

Indeed, many of these are Christian migrants, of various stripes. So God is at work even in the changing European demographics. Of course the threats of Islamic jihad and terrorism, and concerns about the spread of sharia law cannot be discounted, and we must remain vigilant about such trends.

But nonetheless God has not abandoned Europe. Back in 2004 YWAM Europe Director Jeff Fountain wrote a book about the spiritual scene in Europe, and what God was doing there. Entitled Living as People of Hope, he noted that while the rise of secularism, Islam and a new paganism is a very real concern indeed in Europe, there is still cause for hope.

He notes the whole new move of God in Europe: the various prayer initiatives, church planting movements, Alpha courses, youth events, and so on. He notes how denominational barriers are breaking down, as believers of differing backgrounds realise the importance of working together for the cause of Christ.

He concludes his book with a scene from The Lord of the Rings. Theoden, king of Rohan, has been bound by dark spirits for years, and is really no king at all. Gandalf enters the Golden Hall, and breaks the spell that his counsellor Wormtongue has put on him.

Says Gandalf, “I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted in twisted tales and crooked promptings”. Once the dark spell is broken, Theoden stands to his feet, proud and tall, ready to rightfully resume his reign.

So too Europe. God is not finished yet. The good thing he has started he will bring to completion. These are indeed exciting times: times of challenge and opportunity. But the promises of God remain: “He who has begun a good work in you will carry it on to completion” as Paul tells us in Phil. 1:6.

When King Theoden was set free, he summoned his army and went forth into battle. As Jeff Fountain asks, “What is the state of the church in our nation? Still bent and crouched, listening to Wormtongue’s twisted tales? or standing tall and straight, reaching out to grasp her long-disused weaponry?”

On the surface Europe is not looking very good right now. But God is often at work inside, where those without spiritual vision cannot see. But God is working nonetheless, and if he can awaken a comatose Europe, there is tremendous hope for the rest of the world as well.

[1095 words]

8 Responses to Europe: God is Not Finished Yet

  • Dear Bill

    I always enjoy reading your thoughts which are always so well expressed, so soundly based, rational, and deeply Christian. In your thoughts on Europe you mention evangelicalism but not Catholicism. Why is that? I believe that there are many positive things happening among young Catholics as well. I know that the main institutional Churches have often strayed. But, whatever her failings, the Catholic Church still remains faithful to the Gospel, especially as it should inform social policy. Not really a criticism, more a comment from me.

    Fr John Fleming

  • Thanks John

    I did mention the crossing of denominational barriers in Europe. Yes, God is moving in the Catholic churches there, as he is also in some of the more mainstream Protestant churches. There are numerous renewal movements at work both in the older denominations as well as the much newer ones.

    As but one example of Christian cooperation, in 2004, 10,000 believers (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox) met in Stuttgart for the Together for Europe campaign. So yes, things are happening in many different parts of the Christian church in Europe. Thanks for writing.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Very encouraging news Bill. While we dare not ignore the things Satan is trying to do in the earth, we must rejoice in what the Holy Spirit is doing. Jesus is still on the throne.
    Jon Newton

  • Bill,
    Whatever is happening in the world, God is still in control. Seems like He lost control but that’s not so because we only comprehend things with our finite minds and understanding.
    It’s great news to hear the gospel is now moving from the east to the west, and from the south to the north, something you would not even think about some decades ago. This is the start of the era of reverse evangelism, the sovereign move of God.
    Christians groups and individuals from the east and south, migrate to western countries, not purely because of the negative push factors in their homelands but very often with the hope and desire to be a spark to light up the fire of God again in the west ; to be an instrument in bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ back to the lands that once sent out numerous self-sacrificial and dedicated missionaries to them, missionaries who preached the
    gospel and established many educational,medical and social amenities and services.
    Our God Reigns and may He bless His church abundantly in the north and the south, in the east and the west.
    Barry Koh

  • Thank God for those faithful missionaries who preached and lived the Gospel in Africa, as their ministries are now bearing fruit in those African Christians who are starting Churches in Europe. I agree with Father Fleming – good to see him in print here – that there is also a movement within the Catholic Church in Europe, that is the work of the Holy Spririt.
    Although Islam seems to be a constant presence in Europe, and secularism appears to be the main faith, the fact that there was a large gathering of believers in Stuttgart gives us hope.
    Wayne Pelling

  • A wonderful example of the Holy Spirit moving in Europe (and elsewhere in the world) is World Youth Day.
    The world watches while millions of young people gather to worship Jesus, and hear catechesis programs encouraging them to turn their lives around and live lives of purity and chastity and love of Jesus.
    Paris 1997 (1.2 million), Rome 2000 (2 million), Cologne 2005 (1.2 million), not to mention countries such as the Philippines (4 million !!)
    Check this photo in the Daily Telegraph of Cologne 2005 for a witness to the world…
    resources1.news.com.au/images/2007/06/27/va1237253856291/Surge-in-World-Youth-Day-numbers-5543403.jpg
    Parishes confirm that following these events there is a huge increase in young people coming back to the Church, and a significant increase in vocations in the host country. Even secular bodies, such as the police, say they have never seen such large gatherings of young people who are so well behaved and happy.
    What a fantastic witness to the fact the Christianity is alive and well.
    Donna Murphy

  • A friend of mine recently said we need more happy Christian marriages. It must be important that every Christain strives (through prayer, counseling, and other action) to lead an example of good happiness (also ‘Blessed’ as described in the Beatitudes) in whatever Christian vocation they are called to (marriage, priest or minister, religious, single). In this way many other people will be attracted to these Christian vocations.
    Stefan Pittari

  • I have had the same perception of Europe, some good things are underway there. Most don’t know that the dominant party in the European Parliament is a Christian Democrat Party the EPP and its discovering a little backbone in the face of attacks from the old left and the far right. The Parliament is a toothless tiger but in a crisis that can change.

    Another pattern we’re seeing is a falling off among Muslim immigrants. Islam always exaggerated its power and size. It always claimed Christian immigrants from Turkey and the Middle East in the ‘Muslim’ numbers inflating its numbers and apparent power for political reasons.

    Womens refugees in some European countries are filled with Muslim battered wives and daughters. Many leave the faith in the process and are given new identity papers by feminist organizations.

    Islam hates the west because here it looses many to other faiths and often can’t enforce the Apposite penalties (the loss of property and life). It looses many young people to secularism, particularly those with university educations.

    The first country to open its doors to the Christian refugees fleeing Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be greatly blessed. I can’t see the USA or Australia taking that step but aging Europe is at the point where many see the need to balance Islamic immigration. Also falling real population and rising sustainable energy means many of the limits to growth arguments against immigration have less power in Europe than here.

    One consequence of the current trend to conservative governments in Europe, Christian democrat governments, is that the Christian influenced democratic governments now form the biggest single block in the UN. If they operate as a block then significant changes at the global level may occur.

    God is holding back a huge number of blessing at the moment. I see a dozen technologies held up by humanist errors, corruption and red tape. When the church moves back to him he will release them.

    Wesley Bruce

Leave a Reply