The Church in Europe struggles for survival – there are ample evidences of that.
Europeans are the most secularized people-group in the history of mankind living on the least evangelized Continent of the World. The reasons are many-folded.
The growth the early church experienced in the Book of Acts is enshrouded in fog and at best it’s only wishful thinking and a desire of some obsessed, irredeemable optimists – among them I hope to count myself.
But there were reasons why the church in the Book of Acts experienced growth. Those reasons puts a mirror in front of us. Obviously, we can’t ignore the special timing of God’s grace poured out on the start of the church. This God-element can’t be forced. But for sure the leaders and Apostles of the early church modeled something that contributed to growth. There are some key, returning, always present elements in their ministry which was always present when growth has happened either through missionary journeys or in local settings.
I found 3 Constant Elements of Growth that were present almost every time we read about growth or expansion:
- 1. Proclamation
- 2. Persecution
- 3. Prayer
We see in the ministry of Peter and Paul that the main vehicle to reveal and to expand God’s truth was speaking. The proclamation that led to growth involved initiation, reasoning, persuasion and debates. Multiple times we read expressions like: speaking boldly, reasoning, persuading, debating. Without proclamation we don’t see significant growth in the Book of Acts. Of course many other things has happened, but proclamation was needed to start, create something new and generate growth.
Speaking is a key vehicle (but not the only) to reveal and to expand God’s truth. The ability to speak, to communicate and to create something by speaking is a key element of our “imago dei”, God’s image in us.
Proclamation led to creation. God created matter-time-energy (impersonal elements) and soul-mind-personality (personal elements) by proclamation. In this first creation act God was the one who both proclaimed and performed the execution of creation through His Word. The law of “proclamation leads to creation” has not changed.
Proclamation is necessary for a new creation. God creates a new, eternal life in the doomed bodies by giving us the responsibility to PROCLAIM His Word, the gospel. Through OUR proclamation HE creates a new eternal life in the doomed bodies, He creates new, living communities (the Church) and restores broken societies. In this new work of creation we proclaim and He performs the execution. God involves us in His creating act by entrusting us the proclamation part of creating new life in people.
The Devil is utilizing this law of “proclamation leads to creation” very effectively to mislead people. Think about this: how does the world expands it’s influence? By proclamation: by aggressively spreading their own “truth”, brainwashing masses by words and pictures using the very powerful vehicle of the Media. Words of lies can create new beliefs, new convictions, new systems or even new societies. Words will lead to new actions in people’s life. Andy Andrews in his book, called “How to kill 11 million people?” points out well that the Nazis used words to lead people to false beliefs which led to the horror of the Holocaust.
The Church’s response to this aggressive attack of words is to be less and less vocal about the gospel and about the truth. While it’s essential to support our words with our deeds and actions, deeds without words will not lead to new creation (Rm 10:17) and will not produce growth. If we want to expand the influence of the gospel, it will not happen without proclaiming the truth of the gospel.
In Acts the growth that happened through PERSUASIVE PROCLAMATION is almost always followed by PERPETUAL PERSECUTION. Truth and lies are conflicting. Why would we think that we can represent the truth in an environment saturated by lies and not assuming raging conflicts? We wish to live in political correctness so we would not experience the anger, the hatred, the extrusion from the majority who are hurt by the truth. Jesus promised that the truth we proclaim will cause major conflicts and our life will be threatened. Jesus was crucified not for what he did (healing, feeding), but for what He SAID (He is the Son of God)! His proclamation contributed more to his death, than his action. They couldn’t find anything bad in his actions, but they hated his words! His truth-telling was shadowed his truth-acting so much that people hated him more for what He said than loved Him for all the good what He did. If He was hated for what He said, than we are gonna be hated as well no matter the good we will do. Lies can’t stand truth no matter how loving truth is.
Both proclamation and persecution was saturated with the prayers of the Saints. A lot of the prayers we read about in Acts happened in the context of proclamation and in the context of the persecution that was triggered by proclamation. The recurring focus of the prayers were protection, boldness in proclamation and worship.
Seeing these 3P (Proclamation, Persecution, Prayer) I have a better guess why the church in Europe struggles.
We had been silent for so long about the truth. We had been deluded by lies, corrupted by privileges given by the governments and remained silent when governments became evil and injustice arose. (I’m still trying to comprehend what led to the ineffectiveness and silence of the church as the two most evil ideologies – the Nazi and the Communist – swept through our Continent leading to 100 million violent death.) We remained silent when our children were fed with lies in the schools. We remained silent when the basic morales of the society were rewritten. And most of the time we are silent because we are afraid to be outcast from the society. At best we pray in our safe buildings.
This summer Edina and I took a visit to a Catacomb in Rome. Fascinating experience. The early Christians were forced to live under the ground – they were outcast from their society. They were not willing to worship what their society worshiped and they were willing to take this conflict to the point were their only chance was to go and live 30 feet under the ground! But they were able to change what was above the ground!
Now, we live above the ground and pretty much lost our impact on what’s above the ground.
4 thoughts on “The Struggling Church of Europe”
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Great post! I really like the way you bring out that much of the time our growth & the church’s growth come out of hard times and suffering. But I wonder if you are aware that many scholars believe the catacombs were not used as dwelling/hiding places. It seems that’s one of those motion picture myths! (http://www.arsmar.com/ce_his.htm).
Nonetheless, this was a great post, really highlighting well the many challenges faced in being European missionaries. And the courage needed to stand out and make a difference! Thanks for posting.
Thank you for the clarification. Yes, I do know that the catacombs were not used as living areas, but it was a place of burial and worship. To practice worship and community they were forced to do it under the ground. There were places in those catacombs that served as sanctuaries where they prayed, had communion, etc.. Their worship was not welcomed in the society but it influenced the society.
Yes, they definitely used them as, shall we say, spiritual havens! And as you brought out, would that we could influence our society as much as they did!