In his book ‘Without Roots’ Pope Benedict XVI stresses that Europe needs creative minorities. He quotes the English historian Arnold Toynbee, saying that the fate of a society always depends on its creative minorities. His interlocutor in the book, the president of the Italian senate, Marcello Pera, agrees: ‘You could claim that Europe disappeared through a failure on the part of its creative minorities.’
Such ‘convinced minorities’, argues the pope, offer a different way of seeing things through their persuasive capacity and joy. They are essential for a Christian civil religion to have the moral force to sustain society, he writes. Christian believers should look upon themselves as just such a creative minority.
From other sources I have learnt that the pope fully expects renewal to come from these creative minorities rather than from the established mainstream institutions. ‘There is nothing sectarian about such creative minorities,’ he writes. They are ‘the wings which carry humanity upwards’.
And that totally resonates with my own understanding of God’s actions in history. Some see history as fundamentally shaped by impersonal and irresistible forces: the laws of economics, or fate, or the will of Allah.
Others look to the role of great men and women-from Alexander the Great to Winston Churchill. And yes, the Bible does talk about God using ‘great leaders’-like Pharoah, or King Nebuchadnezzar, or King Cyrus. But they set the stage for his work to be done by faithful minorities!
I love that irony-laden passage in Luke chapter 3 verse 1, in which the evangelist lists all the mighty rulers in their palaces. Then he simply records that the Word of the Lord by-passed them all and came to John, in the desert!!
This opens up a whole new way of reading history: looking for those creative minorities who have indeed been ‘the wings carrying humanity upwards’. I call this the ‘faithful minority’ view of history which-unlike the ‘irresistible force’ view, or the ‘great person’ view-can give huge significance to the marginalised minority.
And so over the years I have tried to trace through the centuries the story of how God has used creative, faithful minorities to further his plans and purposes for humanity and creation. It begins of course at the beginning. Through Abraham and Moses, the children of Israel were called to be such a creative minority among the nations.
So too with the early church. What a transforming effect that minority had on the whole Roman empire! The pope writes about the monastic communities of the middle ages whose energies ‘renewed the Church and society as a whole’.
This is still how God is at work to effect transformation in Europe today: through faithful minorities.
This coming Pentecost, (May 25-28), we are calling our YWAM family together from across Europe for a Festival of the Nations in a small German town. Herrnhut, on the border of Poland and the Czech border, is a monument to God’s use of marginalised minorities. The story of Herrnhut itself is part of a ‘domino’ effect where one creative minority affected another, so creating a chain reaction through the centuries, eventually leading to the Modern Protestant Missionary movement, and the global spread of the (protestant) church.
Taking giant strides through the ages, we can start with the Apostle Paul, who planted the church in Thessaloniki, Greece; whence came two brothers, Cyril and Methodius, apostles to the Slavic peoples living in Moravia (modern Czech republic); where later Jan Hus dared to challenge the status quo and was burnt at the stake for his efforts; and where his followers formed the Unitas Fratrum or Ancient Moravian Church, whose last bishop Jan Amos Comenius wrote books that later revealed to Count von Zinzendorf who the refugees were that had turned up on his property in Saxony to build a village called Herrnhut.
The spiritual awakening that came to Herrnhut was to lead to John Wesley’s conversion and the subsequent Evangelical Revival that spread through Britain; and to inspire William Carey’s bold mission initiative to India, which in turn catalysed many other mission movements.
The story of the Modern Moravian Church has been significantly inspirational also for Loren Cunningham and YWAM as a movement. And so the domino effect continues on…
I plan to expand this story in future weekly words in preparation for a booklet to be given to festival participants.
You can read more about the festival on: www.ywam.eu/festival. YWAM friends and former staff are also welcome to join us on the 275th anniversary of Moravian missions.
Till next week,