June 20, 2011

Lessons Learned in Europe, Part 5

This morning we come to a fifth and final lesson to be learned from a visit to the European continent. The first four have been as follows:

1. The value of Christian history
2. The sadness of neglecting that history
3. The communion of the saints
4. The menace of liberal theology

The fifth lesson from Europe is really the logical overflow of numbers 2 and 4. Because most of Europe has embraced a liberal view of the Bible, she has become disconnected with her history, and with her Maker. And because of that disconnect, European people make up the least Christian continent on the planet. According to the latest edition of Operation World (which you should all purchase immediately!), only 2.5 percent of men, women, boys, and girls on the European continent would be classified as evangelical believers. That is to say that only 2.5 out of every hundred Europeans would say that they are in relationship with God by faith alone, in Christ alone!

This is the continent that sent Christianity to America, and to the south Pacific, and to Africa and Asia! To be sure, they had quite a lot of American help in those last two places. But since our own access to the gospel came from Europe, nearly the whole modern world owes the advance of the gospel to its various shores to the work of God in this one smallest of continents between the years 1500 and 1900! And yet now it is the least Christian continent of them all!

Let me just mention the few countries that I was privileged to pass through back in May. Germany, home of Martin Luther and the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation is now only 2.1% evangelical. Switzerland, the land of Calvin and the birthplace of evangelical Presbyterianism is slightly better – but still only 4.4% believing. Little Liechtenstein, which was hardly touched by the Reformation, has only one evangelical church and 186 believers. Even when we consider that the entire population is just 36,000 … we are left with only 0.5% believers. In Austria, the percentage is exactly the same. Only one-half of one percent of Austrians believe the gospel! In the Czech Republic, it’s 0.7%. And in the rapidly declining United Kingdom, the number of believers stands at 8.8% … and falling.

What are we to make of this, by way of application? I think it’s to say that Europe is now one of the great mission frontiers of our world. When Americans think of sending missionaries, we are accustomed to think of Africa, and China, and the Muslim world. And rightly so. There are great needs in each of those places. And, within those places, there are tribes and people groups that are even less Christian than Liechtenstein and Austria. But on the whole, it seems to me that mission-minded people need to start paying much, much more attention to the continent of Europe. It’s already the least Christian continent on earth … and the situation is not getting better, overall.

No, in Europe there are not very many hungry mouths to feed or AIDS orphans to care for. There are not hidden tribes who have almost no contact with the outside world. But that doesn’t mean all is well. The people there – 97.5 percent of them – are dying and facing eternal judgment without Christ. And so, as I conclude these thoughts on Europe, I give a final plea. Might not some of you go to Europe? Not, as I did, to visit family homeplaces, and bathe in Christian history … but to make your own homeplaces, and to be a part of a new chapter of Christian history.

I am certainly not the Holy Spirit. So I cannot tell anyone where they should or should not go. And I would be thrilled if some who read these pages went to Africa, or China, or the Muslim world. We must go to those places ... and some of the best folks I know work in them! But, after all that I saw and experienced in mid-May, I would be delighted to see a few of us pack up our bags for Liechtenstein or Austria, too. I would be thrilled to see some of us go to Scotland and re-proclaim the gospel of John Knox and the Covenanters. I would be amazed if God would raise up some of us to go to the land of Luther and preach the gospel of salvation by faith alone with the same passion with which he did.

In spite of all its history and outward religious trappings and landmarks, Europe is the new mission frontier. May God give us grace to see past the spires and into the streets … and to take the gospel there once more.

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