What Europe has to Teach Us
In May it was my privilege to be in Hungary with the European Leadership Forum, an organization dedicated to strengthening the Gospel witness in Europe. Evangelical scholars from various disciplines gathered to teach and train about 400 church leaders how to live out their faith in a secular world. I also taught a few seminars, but I benefited from those days much more than I contributed.
You must understand that Europe is very secular, very self-assured, and, for the most part, very opposed to the Gospel. These countries that have been influenced by nearly two thousand years of Christianity and gave us the Reformation—these countries have descended into moral and spiritual darkness. And the people appear to be content with their sin and their disdain for Christianity. We are thankful for the leaders and churches that still do proclaim the Gospel, but they are in a minority. Today in Europe, the fastest growing religion is atheism.
Since we in America are headed in a similar direction, we must ask: what caused the light of the Gospel in Europe to be practically extinguished? What lessons can we learn that might slow our own descent into an intolerant secularism?
While in Europe, we learned about three powerful forces that eroded the confidence of European Christians in past generations. First, the 18th century Enlightenment insisted that man, not God, was “the measure of all things.” This turned the attention of people away from God toward their own achievements and human reason. Second, the universities of Europe led the way in “demythologizing” the Bible by insisting that it was a purely human book. These scholars cut the heart out of the Gospel and left ministers with nothing significant to preach. Finally, Darwinism struck at the very foundation of Christianity. By insisting that the doctrine of creation was unnecessary, evolution made the existence of God superfluous.
So what is the cure? What can we do to stem the tide of secularism? My answer is not profound or novel. But it must be said: unless we are willing and able to train a generation of Christian leaders who can combat secularism both spiritually and intellectually, we will continue to see the Gospel marginalized and Christianity treated with contempt. We are in a spiritual and intellectual war that we must be prepared to fight.
We have not done a good job of passing the baton to our children and grandchildren. The statistics indicate that the majority of teenagers from evangelical churches never return to the church once they’ve been to college. We are losing the next generation to consumerism, eroticism, and personal advancement. In response, we have “dumbed down” the Gospel in an attempt to make it more attractive to Christians and the world at large.
We need to rethink the role of the Church in the world and the role our families play as darkness settles over our own land. Without strong families and strong churches, we can expect that what we see in Europe today will be the profile of America tomorrow.
How Can We Stop the Slide?
Are we truly facing the loss of our religious freedoms? And if so, what can we do to stop it? Pastor Lutzer addresses the causes and cure of our slide towards secularism.
Q: You said that the Enlightenment was the first domino to fall in Europe’s rejection of Christianity. Has the Enlightenment also affected America?
A: We must be careful here. The Enlightenment in Europe had some very good principles in the beginning. It emphasized personal liberties over against the control that the Catholic Church had on its millions of adherents. Some believe that our own Constitution was based on Enlightenment principles. However, as it progressed, it emphasized man to the exclusion of God. But yes, America has been greatly affected by the Enlightenment, both positively and negatively.
Q: Does the separation of Church and state we have in America help the Church maintain its independence and witness?
A: Yes, in this regard we are quite different from Europe. The state church has been one of the causes of the decline of the Church in Europe. Even today the kings and leaders of various countries in Europe appoint the pastors of leading churches, although they generally consult church leadership before they make their decision. But this relationship (which goes back to Constantine) has had a deadening effect.
Q: Even so, you feel that darkness is coming to America?
A: Yes. There are powerful forces that want to take away our freedoms, and more than that, there is a mood of antagonism against Christianity. We are responsible for some of this, but the fact is that political correctness is a powerful cultural current that forces students at our universities to hide their faith; it also silences Christians in the workplace, in government, and in law. We need a courageous band of believers who will represent Christ wherever He has planted them, even at great personal cost.
Q: What is our fault in all of this? Where has the Church failed?
A: I can’t give a definitive answer to this, but let me try. First, we have not taught our families how to model Christian homes and pass their faith to their children. Hence we are losing young people within the church. Second, we have been content with our level of spirituality even though we have “hid their lamps” and have not witnessed to our faith in a winsome, attractive way. Often Christians have harmed the faith through their anger at society, their judgmentalism and general unwillingness to sacrifice for the sake of others.
Third, we have compromised the Gospel message by trimming it to the lowest possible denominator. We have failed to teach a robust faith that is real, impactful and that calls for discipleship no matter the cost. I am reminded of the words of Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Unfortunately, we are unwilling to pay such a drastic price for the faith.
Q: As someone who has preached the Gospel at The Moody Church for 30 years, what words of wisdom do you have for the next generation?A: Well, you have asked a question that deserves a book, not a sentence or two. But the bottom line is this: I would ask that our young people not be satisfied until they have made their faith their own; that they not be satisfied until they have faced honestly their commitment to purity, generosity, and yieldedness to God. All of that of course, needs explanation and perhaps it is a subject that can be tackled at another time.