HERE’S A QUICK TEST: think of a spiritual leader. OK, ready? What occupation does he or she have?
Did you think of a pastor, theologian, mission leader, evangelist, church planter or clergyman? Or did you also think of an apostle, prophet or teacher who may be discipling our nations through rock music (Bono?), politics (Paul van Buitenen?), film-making (David Cunningham?), literature (J.K.K.Tolkien, posthumously?) or sports (Jonathan Edwards?).
Last week we claimed that the battle for the liberation of Europe was still raging, sixty years after the successful Normandy landings. And that we should all be involved in this strategic campaign. We wrote about the complementary task in that final year of the war of, on the one hand, the paratroopers and front-line infantry, and on the other, that ‘shadow’ army of soldiers who in their civil life had been fire chiefs, civil servants, bankers, mayors or magistrates. Theirs was the task to begin to rebuild daily life for the citizens of the liberated or captured cities and towns, and to set up a new social order based on the democratic values of the Allied nations.
We suggested there was a lesson here for missions.
Frontier missionaries and evangelists, we said, were like the paratroopers and front-line infantry, claiming territory ‘soul by soul’. Indispensible, even in the 21st century! But the task of discipling nations involved more than evangelism and church planting. It involved transforming the social order to embody kingdom values. For that we needed those working in all sectors of society to see God’s kingdom extended into every sphere of life: including hospital superintendents, rock musicians, bankers, artists, engineers, filmmakers, businesswomen, shopkeepers, homemakers, gardeners and carpenters, ecetera.
But how do we mobilise such an army today? How do we change that dominant mindset in our evangelical and charismatic circles that spiritual leaders and workers are ‘full-time clergy’?
Hope for Europe attempts to do just that. As a movement building networks across Europe between believers working in similar fields, Hope for Europe aims to mobilise this ‘shadow’ army of workers with a vision to bring the hope of the gospel into every dark corner of European life and society.
For many of us, however, ‘Europe’ seems very far away. That’s been reflected once more in the low voter turnout at the recent European Parliament elections. For most of us, our daily lives are lived out in our towns and cities, not across the borders. ‘Europe’ remains a remote abstract, or at best a place to tour on holiday. The European football championship comes alive only because of our identification with particular nations.
So to bring this Hope for Europe vision closer to home here in Holland, the Evangelical Alliance (EA) and the Evangelical Missionary Alliance (EZA) held an event earlier this year called HOOP21. This working congress (March 11-13) was a national version of our pan-European HOPE.21 congress in Budapest two years ago. HOOP21 initiated and promoted national networks in prayer, education, healthcare, leadership development, media, politics and society, social welfare, urban missions, women’s movements and the church in the 21st century. This was by no means a comprehensive list of networks. More were envisaged but apparently not everyone was quite ready to make cooperation and partnership a priority.
The vision of HOOP21 was: shaping Holland’s future together through the hope of the gospel. Some found this goal rather presumptious. But was it any more presumptious than Jesus’ commission to his followers to go and shape the future of (i.e. disciple) all nations in the world!? Isn’t that our core business, after all?
The success of HOOP21 can only be measured in years to come by the vitality and fruitfulness or otherwise of the networks catalysed by this occasion. The congress was the start of a process of networking believers already active in all sectors of society. Steps were also taken to establish local platforms, to bring together participants active in the same location to cross-pollinate between different ministry networks.
For many, a congress highlight was the address by Dr Michael Schluter on Relationism, a biblical perspective for understanding society, as an alternative to capitalism on the one hand and socialism on the other. It’s based on the simple but profound instruction from Jesus to love God and neighbour. We’ll examine this idea more closely next week.
Our vision in Hope for Europe is for this sort of networking to develop in nations – and for platforms to emerge in towns and cities – all across Europe. It is to mobilise a growing army of believers consciously working together towards transforming the European social order to embody kingdom values. Can you imagine that happening in your country? How should that start? Perhaps it is already well under way.
I have been encouraged to learn of the focus of this year’s biannual conference of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians (FEET): ‘public theology’. That is, ‘the activity of understanding critically our life in community, especially as regards matters of government (international, national and local), law, social issues and communal concern, in the light of God’s revelation in Scripture’.
Often theologians have been accused of speaking only to each other from their ivory towers on obscure subjects in esoteric language, rather than equipping the saints out there in the world to do the work of the kingdom. According to the website (see www.afet.de/koo/feetconf/2004/programm.php?page=1), this year’s FEET conference, to be held in W√∂lmersen, Germany, 13-17 August, promises to address ‘such matters of public concern as policies regarding asylum seekers, economics and morality, capitalism and socialism, monarchy and republicanism, just war theory and pacifism, the nature of punishment, democracy and other forms of government, marriage and divorce, the relationship of church and state, and the purpose and ethos of education’. Have Scripture and theology anything to say about these subjects? Should the churches make public pronouncements on them, and should Christians get involved actively in politics? Should the European Union have a Christian basis to its constitution? The organisers of the conference believe that this is a vast agenda that Christians cannot ignore; that the church is called, like the prophets of Israel, to understand our public life as God sees it and to bring a Christian voice to bear upon it.
Serious setbacks occur in wartime when communication between different sectors of the army breaks down. Lack of information flow between various U.S. Government departments has been blamed for the failure to prevent the 9/11 tragedy. Theologians and educationalists, politicians and artists, church planters and youth workers all must learn to complement each other. That’s why such networking as Hope for Europe promotes is essential for the liberation of Europe.
Till next week,