The future of the Church in Europe belongs not to the caretakers (those simply maintaining the status quo), and certainly not to the undertakers (those engaged in ceremonial burials of the dead).
No, the future will belong to the risktakers: those daring to challenge the established disorder of things, those willing to make bold efforts towards change, those living towards a vision of the Kingdom of God on earth – particularly in Europe.
This challenge to be risktakers emerged at the annual New Europe Forum held last weekend near Paris, when I and several other YWAMers joined some 70 leaders to wrestle with church-state tensions in the European context.
France was a timely backdrop for this event. Recently the government in Paris passed a law designed to limit the activities of “sects” – including evangelicals – in reaction to the Solar Temple sect suicides. Exactly what this implies, and under what conditions the threatened five-year prison sentences would be applied, is not yet certain.
What is certain is that Christian legal associations represented at the Forum were ready to challenge any cases the French government may bring against evangelical pastors in the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg. This law clearly infringes the European Declaration of Human Rights, of which France is a signatory, and which safeguards religious liberties including the right to change one’s convictions. Yet, as one of the French pastors at the Forum warned, international pressure only tends to increase French intransigence.
Reportedly, the French are starting to peddle this law with a missionary passion to other European nations. We need to recognise the potential danger to the religious liberties we enjoy in most European countries. A ‘caretaker’ mentality will not be enough to safeguard such freedoms. We wrestle not against flesh and blood.
What we are increasingly witnessing is ‘cultural imperialism’ of the liberal, secular mindset. Since religion is blamed for causing 80 per cent of the conflicts globally – European examples being Northern Ireland and the Balkans – states do not want religious influences in the public arena. States want peace. They may regard those holding to absolute values, or engaging in “proselytising activities”, as potential threats to peace and harmony.
Thus we can expect more pressure in some countries to ban so-called ‘proselytism’, i.e. activites aimed to change people’s convictions, especially from the so-called ‘sects’. The irony is that liberal ‘anti-proselytisers’ want all who disagree wth them to change their convictions! And may use the threat of force if they don’t!
We must continue to defend the right for people to hold views that we may believe to be wrong. God has given us all this option, called Free Will. But we must also continue to proclaim God’s truth in the public arena because society is created by God and will not function properly unless lived by his guidelines.
One speaker remarked on the ease with which evangelicals had accepted banishment from the public arena and referred to a ‘new Babylonian captivity’ of the church.
Good news, however, came from Bulgaria, where believers recognised that a caretaker attitude was not enough. Risktakers like Nicolai Nedelchev and Laszcho Popov set up a Rule of Law Institute, which has taken a pro-active role in helping to shape the government’s new Law of Religion. The Rule of Law Institute has helped change the climate in Bulgaria in recent years, which have seen a 400% growth in evangelical churches, and the number of pastors almost double that of Orthodox priests!
Till next week,