Two weeks ago we began to present excerpts and summaries of the ten chapters from part two of a book I am writing, with the working title,”BRAVE NEW EUROPE – who will shape it?”
Part One of the book describes Europe in a time of megashift in worldviews – perhaps towards a new paganism – as the remaining ‘baggage’ of Christendom is jettisoned.
Part Two unpacks ten imperatives necessary to recover faith, hope and vision for Europe’s future.
#1. was “Ask!…What is God’s will for Europe?”
#2. was “Reject! …the Enemy’s Disinformation”
#3. is “Remember! … What God has Done”
If my experience is any guide, books about church history should be packaged with a government health warning in 16-point letters: DANGER – MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR FAITH! University studies in history raised major questions for me. Church history seemed to be anything but an inspiring account of faith, hope and love in action. Terror, oppression, bigotry and
violence unleashed in the name of Christ, the Cross and the Church sent me into an agnostic tailspin for about eighteen months.
But there’s something even more dangerous than studying church history. And that is NOT studying church history! When we forget what God has done in the past, we forget what he can do again in the future.
God spoke very clearly to Israel about the dangers of amnesia. In Deuteronomy chapter 8, God’s warned Israel, as they prepared to enter the Promised Land: “Remember! Remember the way I led you, fed you, shod you… Do not forget…! Remember the Lord your God! If you ever forget the Lord your God, you will surely be destroyed.”
If we want to be People of Hope today, we need to remember what God has done in the past. Short memories produce short-sightedness. We need long memories for long-sightedness.
How then does God view history? Luke gives us a clue in a passage reeking of irony – chapter three, verses one and two: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.”
In the desert!! While all the big-wigs were in their palaces, robed in fine royal raiment, the King of the Universe chose a nobody in the desert, with a wardrobe of rough camel hair, to herald his Kingdom! Throughout history God has called faithful nobodies to herald his Kingdom – the weak and the poor to confound the strong and the rich. Tom Sine calls this God’s Mustard
You and I are invited to join this faithful few, to live towards a vision of a different future, to be part of history’s yeast doing its quiet, hidden, essential work – and to discover our true significance in history.
What will we discover if we begin to read history in search of this company of the faithful? We will meet the God of surprises; the God of promises; the God of new beginnings; the vanishing God who reappears in unexpected places! And we will grow in our anticipation of more surprises in the twenty-first century.
We will learn about the anonymous thousands of early believers who simply ‘gossiped the gospel’, as J. B. Phillips put it, and added to the church daily in their normal social intercourse as traders, merchants, tutors and soldiers; and who grew in number until Rome was forced to eradicate or embrace this faith.
We will witness a dramatic turning point in 312 when Constantine adopted a form of Christian faith as he became emperor, ending decades of ruthless persecution; and yet making the church chaplain to the state, redefining ‘church’ and ‘believer’, which in turn resulted in widespread nominalism and lax spiritual standards and creating a legacy of institutionalism still
with us today.
We will see a dynamic, new movement of spirituality bursting out of the Egyptian desert(!) to inspire many similar movements up through Palestine and Syria, Turkey, across to Gaul and eventually to the far-flung corner of Europe, Ireland: monasticism. This movement transforms the pagan Celts within a generation, and continues to sweep back through Scotland and
England, and across to the continent, like a wave rebounding off a seawall. Celtic messengers bring hope and faith to Scots and Picts, Angles and Saxons, Franks and Friesians, Bavarians and Allemanni, and, eventually, the Vikings, transforming many of Europe’s pagan tribes. Historian Thomas Cahill attributes the Celts as having saved western civilisation. (This Celtic movement demands closer investigation in the light of today’s challenge of a neo-paganism.)
We will watch new reform movements emerge in response to corruption and unbiblical practices in the church early in the second millennium, including the Great Schism with the Eastern Church, the misguided Crusades,and the Inquisition; movements like the Franciscans and Dominicans which remained within the Roman Church; and others like the followers of Waldo,
Wycliffe and Hus, who were forced out of the Church, setting the stage for Europe’s second great divide.
We will observe the Reformation erupting across Europe in the 1500’s, recovering the key Biblical truth of salvation by faith, and releasing a spirit of enquiry into the Book of God’s Works, Creation, thus giving birth to modern science; as well as provoking the Radical Reformation which restored biblical definitions for ‘church’ and ‘believer’, insights which
eventually found their way back into mainstream Protestantism leading to the Evangelical Revival in the 18th century.
We will encounter dynamic social change in what John Wesley called ‘godless’ England, triggered by an aroused social conscience, including the ending of slavery, the protection of women and children in factories and mines, the 10-hour working day, prison and hospital reform, the emancipation of women, the nursing profession and hospitals, orphanages, education for all, trade unions and more. Other nations followed suit, creating many of the social institutions taken for granted in modern
We will note how the modern missionary movement follows this revival, as men and women like Carey and Livingstone dare to believe that God wanted to transform society after society around the world through the message of Jesus, changing hearts, lives, families and communities; a movement that eventually touches every nation in the world, and has an impact totally out
of proportion to the relatively small number of missionaries involved.
We will come to realise that our God is indeed the God of new beginnings – and that again and again in depressed periods of history, God the Holy Spirit has turned the page and begun a new chapter. In short, by recovering our memory, we will recover hope … for Europe!
But with the glory of our heritage, there is also much shame. How can we respond to this?
We’ll look at that next week.