The Christian Retreat Across Europe

Posted on January 19, 2019

0


Many of you will think of “Europe” and “godless” in the same breath. The land of Hitler and Stalin tried it’s best to stamp out Judaism and Christianity as they created fascist and communist dictatorships in the twentieth century. Let’s explore this a bit, since in the four hundred year+ relationship between us and the Europeans, we have sometimes set the pace and the agenda, while at other times we have followed the Europeans.  What’s happening today? Who is leading?

The Europe I first like to think of is the Europe of Germany, the Germany of Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation. Luther set off a reformation of the Christian church in the sixteenth century that, in many ways, is still ongoing today in many parts of the world. I am going to deal in generalities so for those of you purists, don’t get your panties in a wad about the exceptions to the generalities. We are thinking out loud here, not writing an academic disquisition.

And I am writing largely from anecdotal evidence, supplemented occasionally by information off the Web, which is, BTW, notoriously unreliable in a large percentage of what is published. It makes the “fake news” phenomenon rather mild by comparison. But I digress.

I have visited Europe off and on over the years, from my first experience in Spain in 1964 to my last trip to Spain in November 2018. My experiences were largely academic in nature and mostly to Spain and England as I researched or participated in historical conferences or ceremonies of one kind or another.

Let’s cut to the quick here: my sense is that Europe has been detaching itself from Christianity for the better part of the last century. I was in Cadiz and Segovia the past two years, both for short periods of time, and I dropped into some churches and the local cathedrals. I found few people in the churches, and in Segovia I visited the churches on Sunday morning.

Where was everybody? I was in the country which had remained most loyal to the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation. Spain was the land of the faithful, the place where the founders of the Dominicans and Jesuits were born, the quintessential Christians of Europe, almost rabid in their loyalty to the old faith.

One article I consulted possessed a catchy title that nonetheless spoke clearly to the phenomenon: “Christianity as default is gone’: the rise of a non-Christian Europe.”[1]

BTW, I have both some bad news and some good news on the subject. Let’s consider the bad news first.

In England, the country to which we owe so much by way of law and religion, the Anglican Church (or the established Church of England which is nominally the “official” religion of England) is in a precipitous decline. Or as one serious commentator phrased it, one can hear the “death rattle” of the Anglican Church. In a recent respected poll, the number of Anglicans fell from 40% of the population in 1983 to 29% in 2004 and was down to 17% in 2017. At this rate, one Catholic journalist suggested that Anglicanism will disappear from Britain in 2033.

The same phenomenon is apparent in America, although the statistics are less dramatic. Americans who described themselves as Christians dropped from 78% to 70% between 2007 and 2014. The trend is especially pronounced among younger Americans.

The statistics for the precipitous decline of Christianity go across Europe. This is not an English phenomenon, or one relegated to Great Britain. So, if Christianity is on a precipitous decline in Europe, what is the good news?

Lest you think Christianity is a Western phenomenon, or a religion of Western Europe and the Americas, let me recall for all of us that it began in remote province of the Roman Empire, Judea, on the eastern fringes of the Mediterranean world—the Near East as it came to be called–over two millennia ago. Today, while old style Christianity is on the rapid downward slope to near extinction in Europe, there is a new strain of Christianity booming in small churches and worship centers throughout Europe.

Christianity is not on the decline worldwide. It is the fastest growing faith in the world, booming on the continents of Africa and Asia, even growing with strength and power in communist dictatorships like China. These largely evangelical, Pentecostal/charismatic varieties of the faith are now at the forefront of evangelization in Europe. African diaspora Christianity is not only reinvigorating Europe, but also reaching into the Americas.

While the migration of Africans to Europe is largely driven by economics and politics, Africans bring with them their vibrant Christian faith.

One observer– Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu of Ghana—wrote, with both knowledge and passion: “It is not insignificant that Africa, a continent despised, deprived, trampled upon, marginalized, and shamed in many ways, has emerged as the beacon of Christian mission and evangelization in the global spread of the faith. This does not render European Christianity irrelevant; rather, it shows that at a time when the faith is under siege in its former heartlands, God has placed its destiny in the hands of the people of the South. Thus, for many African Christians in the diaspora, the recession of Christianity among westerners is a call to evangelism and the re-establishment of kingdom values in the lands of nineteenth-century missionaries. Mission is in reverse.”[2]

As we struggle with issues of political ideologies, immigration, religion, and you can easily think of dozens of other subjects that produce rancorous debates, sloganeering and even assaults in restaurants and the streets, it does us well sometimes to look abroad, to look beyond ourselves, to look for what God may be doing the world. I have developed an affinity for trusting him rather than listening to the worldly trumpeters blowing their spew and self-righteous indignation in my face. Old style European Christianity may be going down the tubes, but you wouldn’t know it by going to the Kingsway International Christian Centre in London one Sunday. The church was established in 1992 with 200 adults and 100 children. It currently has up to 12,000 people in attendance at the main church every Sunday.

Published as “Across Europe, Christianity Retreats,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Jan. 13, 2019.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/christianity-non-christian-europe-young-people-survey-religion

[2] www.lausanneworldpulse.com/themedarticles-php/973/07-2008 Dr. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu is academic dean and associate professor of Religion and Pentecostal Theology at Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Ghana. In 2004 he was senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.