Last fall, I was sending each week a summary of chapters of a book I am finishing off about recovering faith, hope and vision for tomorrow’s Europe. Earlier instalments can be read and downloaded from www.ywameurope.org.
However, a busy travel schedule and lack of an assistant got the better of me and I suspended the w e e k l y w o r d s until the new year, when Jelly van de Wal would join our office staff to assist me in my work. She has now settled into her office, and I hope to return to a steadier work pattern in the coming weeks, and to continue writing.
While the first part of the book, provisionally entitled Brave New Europe, explains why Europe may be headed for a neo-pagan future as it jettisons its remaining “baggage” of Christendom, the second suggests responses God’s people must make as they lay hold of His future for the Prodigal Continent.
The first was: ASK! … what is God’s will for Europe?
The second: REJECT! … the enemy’s disinformation
The third: REMEMBER! … what God has done in the past
The fourth: ADMIT! … honestly the sins and mistakes of the Church
The fifth: FACE UP! …to the truth about the present.
The sixth imperative for God’s people is to:
#6: LOOK! … what God is up to.
Nothing is permanent.
Two powerful visual images televised instantly to the world in recent years will remind us this for the rest of our lives. One, the awful collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11. The other, the break-up of the hated Berlin Wall in 1989. As we face up to present seemingly permanent realities, such images remind us that all created things will be shaken. Marxism, Islam, capitalistic materialism … all will be shaken. Only that which is unshakeable, God’s kingdom, will remain (Hebrews 12: 27).
The decade of the nineties was ushered in by dramatic shakings in the Marxist world. Answers to prayers we hardly dared to believe for came in an avalanche of change. The God of Hope was at work again doing the unexpected. The Lord of History was demonstrating his zeal to perform his purpose, as the prophet Isaiah promised (9:7).
Despite the grim realites we looked at in our last chapter, God is still the God of Hope, and still specialises in doing the unexpected.
Let’s take a closer look at seven signs of hope that God is up to something new in Europe.
1. New spiritual hunger:
“God is back!” screamed the secular news magazine cover, and then added in small type, “but which one?”
After a century in which marxist materialism attempted to brutalise belief in God out of existence in the east, and in the west consumer materialism claimed to have rendered the Creator irrelevant, spirituality is in again. As John Drane puts it, the overt search for spiritual meaning has never been more intense than it is now (see The McDonaldization of the Church, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 2000, p55.) Whether expressed through the unpredictable revival of Gregorian chant music ( the cd Canto Gregoriano made by monks in a small monastery in northern Spain sold over four million copies), or through the spiritual quest of scientists exploring the boundaries of quantum mechanics, popular spirituality is flowering like shoots springing up through cracks in a dry wilderness impoverished by two centuries of secularisation.
Post-modern dissatisfaction with the failure of material progress and scientific achievement to answer the deepest questions about the meaning of life, and post-communist frustration with the bankrupcy of atheistic socialism, have created a generation of Europeans wide open to spiritual exploration – of all sorts.
Which god indeed?! All too often the Christian God is seen as captive of the traditional church. The church is seen as belonging to the old order, and certainly not as an “arrow sent into the world to point the way to the future”, as J√ºrgen Moltman described its calling.
Yet like Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch artist who rejected the church but remained fascinated with Jesus all through his turbulent life right up to his tragic suicide, young Europeans are not anti-Jesus. They just don’t recognise him dressed in his Sunday-best.
We must view this spiritual hunger itself as a sign of hope – and learn new approaches to evangelism not geared to atheistic secularism, but to post-Christian spirituality.
2. Stirrings in prayer:
The nineties saw many fresh expressions of prayer among Christian believers emerging, including prayer concerts, prayer triplets, prayer walking, prayer marches, 40 day prayer and fasting seasons, 24/7 prayer chains and prayer for the Moslem world during Ramadan.
March for Jesus began in London City and spread throughout Britain, across into Europe and then throughout the world, eventually climaxing on June 25, 1994, in the biggest prayer prayer meeting in history involving many millions simultaneously.
During the nineties, thousands enthusiastically responded to calls to pray and fast, including many young Europeans who fasted for up to forty days.
Prayer triplets, based on the promise that whenever two or three believers pray in the his will, the Father will answer, brought believers across Europe together in threes, each bringing three other names to pray for.
Reviving the concept of Prayer Concerts that emerged in the 18th century during the Great Awakening in America, believers from different churches and streams in one location gathered for concerted prayer for each other, for their town or city, for their country and for the world.
As the 21st century began, young people took the lead in initiating 24 hour prayer chains for seven days a week in the so-called 24/7 prayer network, spreading contagiously across national and denominational borders.
Prayer for the Muslim world grew to unprecendented levels globally as the nineties progressed, and millions of Christians joined in prayer during the Ramadan prayer season for revelations of Isa (Jesus) to Muslims around the world.
Such new and diverse prayer initiatives involving greater numbers than ever before surely must be seen as a prelude of things to come.
3. New vision for church planting:
United prayer has brought leaders to ask the question: how can we concretely pray for our nation? and for Europe as a whole? What do we mean by the re-evangelisation of the European nations? More mass campaigns? More street evangelism? More evangelism via the media?
Part of the answer surfaced early in the nineties with new vision for church planting. The DAWN vision (Discipling A Whole Nation) caught on in a number of European nations as leaders realised that, until we plant a fellowship of believers, a witnessing fellowship, into every neighbourhood in every European country, we have not given every European a chance to see and hear the gospel.
The first time I remember someone conducting a spot survey asking a group of believers how many had come to faith primarily through mass evangelism. A mere sprinkling of hands responded. Through street evangelism? radio or television evangelism? literature evangelism? church visitation? door to door evangelism? Only a few scattered hands were raised.
When it was asked how many had became believers primarily through the influence of a friend or relative, a whole forest of hands suddenly shot up!
What does that mean? Of course, we need evangelists like Billy Graham and Luis Palau, and mass evangelistic initiatives like Impact World Tour. And we need street evangelists, effective literature evangelism and creative evangelism through television and radio. Yet I’m convinced that the vast majority of people are reached through ordinary, faithful believers going about their daily lives!
This means communities of believers need to be established in every neighbou
rhood to give everyone the c
hance to rub shoulders with and to interact with believers. In other words, there is no substitute for saturation church planting as an evangelistic strategy.
From that moment on, I saw the task of the re-evangelisation of Europe in a whole new way. In every nation we needed to see a church planting movement, denominations working together towards the goal of saturation church planting. The ‘rule of thumb’ suggested by the DAWN movement is one fellowship for every thousand people….in every European nation. That would mean 16,000 fellowships for the Netherlands, more than double the present total of congregations, protestant and catholic, liberal and evangelical. Possibly ten thousand new fellowships would be needed in Holland alone!!
In the nineties, the vision for church planting took root among denominational leaders in many European countries – truly a sign of hope that God was up to something new.
4. New expressions of church:
In England, the DAWN vision influenced every protestant denomination. Ambitious goals were set for 20,000 new fellowships to be planted by the year 2000. At mid-decade, however, new questions began to be asked. Even if these goals were reached, would England be effectively reached? or would the new churches simply be clones of existing churches, reflecting sub-cultures people had already walked away from? What sort of churches would effectively reach England’s
As the new century approached, church attendance in mainstream Christendom across western Europe continued to wane. Some smaller denominations, particularly pentecostal, bravely showed signs of growth. Others were bold enough to ask out loud, what actually is the church? and how should it look in the 21st century? how relevant are forms that developed in the pre-modern or modern eras for today?
Younger leaders began experimenting with non-traditional expressions of church. An awareness of networks of youth congregations developing across the continent led to the E-merge gathering of several thousand young Europeans in Frankfurt in the summer of 2001.
The Alpha phenomenon surfaced in England early in the nineties, jumped across the channel to the continent, taking root in most unexpected, conservative circles. Alpha groups introduced the New Testament concept of ‘koinonia’- based meeting, often in homes and around meals. Many who came to faith through Alpha courses were now hungry for fellowship-based church models, and did not easily make the transition to the existing churches. Seminars introducing cell churches and house churches were attended eagerly by many disastisfied with old models.
Voices arguing passionately for a revitalisation of worship explored internet links and multi-media possibilities to create an ‘alternative worship’ movement merging the radical with the traditional, the old with the contemporary.
Yet others dreamed of a church beyond the congregation, a community framework for a lifestyle lived out seven days a week, 24 hours a day, a way of living rather than an event attended one day a week.
A godly dissatisfaction seemed to be driving the search for something new, something that related to the post-modern world, that sought to transform culture rather than to withdraw from it. This honest quest for a church for the 21st century is also a sign of hope.
5. Africans, Asians and Latin Americans:
Yet another indication that God is up to something new is that he is bringing to Europe people from Asia, Africa and Latin America with gifts we have lost: Gifts of faith for church planting; gifts of boldness in proclamation; gifts of discernment of the spirit of animism, with which they are so familiar. I suspect God is sending us these messengers to wake us up out of our Enlightment-induced stupor. Like the proverbial frog who gets cooked alive in water slowly heated up, we Europeans are being gradually accommodated to the daily barrage of post-Christian ‘non-values’. Brothers and sisters coming from the two-thirds world can all too clearly see that Europe is in ‘hot water’.
Ugandan pastor John Mulinde, for example, is a man with a prophetic message for Europe. He promoted a prayer movement in Uganda which has helped turn that calamity-stricken nation around to become the first nation where AIDS is now on the decrease. As Mulinde travels through Europe, he releases gifts of faith among Europeans that prayer really changes things. He tells of Ugandan congregations who are fasting and praying for revival here in Europe!.
Last fall I spent three days in a conference with Africans called to work in Europe as missionaries. They call themselves GATE – Gospel from Africa to Europe.
In Perm, Russia, I attended a large healing campaign where one of the speakers was a Nigerian, pastor of one of the largest churches in Kiev, the Ukraine – several thousand strong. Some of the largest churches in Amsterdam are also pastored by Ghanaians and Nigerians – in the Bijlmer district, where, because the city planners designed no church buildings at all, believers gather in the parking garages
If we Europeans don’t have the faith for our own continent’s future, these two-third worlders certainly seem to. Argentinians and Brazilians have been arriving in groups to pray for Europe in recent years. Latin Americans have become popular conference speakers teaching from their experience of city-wide revivals, and have specifically blessed us in YWAM. I met a Guatemalan heading up a theological seminary in Moscow. Brazilian YWAMers (JUCUMeros) can be found in several European locations from Moscow to Portugal, especially in pioneering situations like Albania and Kosovo.
Surely it is a sign of hope that God is laying Europe on the hearts of Koreans, Africans and Latin Americans for prayer – and action.
6. Ecumenism of the heart:
A further sign of encouragement is the growth of a climate of unity and cooperation. An ecumenism of the heart – if not of total doctrinal agreement – has emerged over the past decade in many European countries, often promoted by a generation of leaders who worked shoulder to shoulder in interdenominational youth organisations with colleagues from other denominations.
In England, for example, Spring Harvest came out of the Youth for Christ stable to lay a significant foundation for relationship development and teaching across traditional barriers. Of course, the charismatic movement also brought a recognition that the Holy Spirit was no respecter of denominationalism.
Even in Holland (where it used to be said: ‘one Dutchman, a theologian; two Dutchmen, a congregation; three Dutchmen, a split…’) the nineties saw partnership developing on many fronts, particularly fostered by the Evangelical Alliance, Agape (Campus Crusade), YWAM, the Evangelical Television Company (E.O.) and others.
The March for Jesus promoted unity powerfully by encouraging churches everywhere to do something very simple that almost everybody could do: walk together and pray together.
In Austria, traditionally a conservative balwark of Catholicism where evangelicals were barely tolerated as ‘sects’, round tables have emerged in which pentecostal, evangelical, lutheran, and reformed leaders regularly convene in a spirit of respect and unity not only with each other but also with top catholic leaders in the country, in honest dialogue and in a recognition that the ground of their unity is Jesus Christ alone.
Christian leaders are coming together saying we need each other. We must work together. We must find each other across denominational boundaries. We need to pool each others’ strengths. We must networking on an unprecedented level.
In a later chapter we’ll examine this further and share vision on what could happen in Europe if this ecumenism of the heart continued to spread.
But for now, let’s recognise God at work.
7. Recovery of the Good News of the Kingdom:
Lastly, (although this is far
from an exhaustive list!), we see signs that all across Europe, believers are waking up to the holistic nature of the gospel; that the good news of Jesus Christ begins with salvation but goes on to the culmination of God’s purposes for his whole creation.
We’ll unpack this further in the next chapter, but let’s just say here that an awakening is underway in which believers are realising that for over a century, we evangelicals had reduced the gospel of the Kingdom simply to the gospel of salvation! Salvation of course is essential, and is the starting point, as Jesus told Nicodemis – but it’s not the end point!
Did you ever see the film, “Honey, I shrunk the kids!”? Well, honey, we shrunk the gospel!
More about that next week.