There are many claims today that Europe, and ultimately the entire world is facing the end of Modern Christianity. Churches are empty and closing their doors, and those who were “raised Christian” are seeking different things to feed their spiritual and religious needs. The words Post-Christian allude to the end of Christianity in specified areas. Just as one would say “Post-Apocalyptic” meaning the world after the Apocalypse, we say Post-Christian in terms of a world after Christianity. While it may be one way to address this issues of Christianity and the decline of the church, Post-Christian may not be the most accurate terminology. What the world, and more pointedly Europe, faces today, and has faced since the Seventeenth Century is the decline of the Church. What we fail to see is that the decline of the church does not allude to the decline of Christianity. It pertains to the decline of bodies filling pews and coffers. While less people fill the church on Sunday mornings, more people are taking to the street to live out the teachings of Jesus rather than just listen to them spewed haphazardly from behind the pulpit. Since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, and the subsequent shift in education for the masses rather than a caste system of ruling and submissive classes, a realization was made. That realization was that people no longer wished to be faced with hell based on their sins by those who were sinning against them. Some of the major points of Martin Luther’s “95 Theses,” written against the ruling Catholic church, resonated and caused a shockwave through Christianity which people rode into the Reformation.
The question remains, why the shift in the Christian world to that of a “Post-Christian” society throughout Europe. Paul Belien, author of the article “The Closing of Civilization in Europe” points to a collapse in faith in the church. Yet, it should be noted that he goes on to say that “a new religion and culture is supplanting the old one.” People are not throwing away faith and religion to grasp at nothing. People are, and have been for centuries, throwing away old, archaic thinking for new beliefs. While some of these beliefs can be based in true Christian thinking, other beliefs are merely compromising the message of the Gospel. David Rusin addresses this concept in his article “Fearing for Freedom in a Post-Christian Europe”. Rusin points out that some European Christian leaders today are not only conforming their churches towards a Post-Christian Europe, but they are putting other beliefs in front of their own once strong biblical views. He asserts that European Christianity is sitting precariously on the edge of becoming Christianized Islam. As well, the article points the finger at practicing Muslim immigrants moving into Christianized Europe for the changing belief systems. These immigrating individuals, rather than integrating into pre-existing conditions may be looking for society to reform around their own personal views. While this may be true in some cases, it surely isn’t the view of every individual moving from their native country into a known Christian European nation. The Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miroslav Vlk points out that it is not the influx of Muslim believers into Christian Europe that has created the Post-Christian vacuum, but rather the declining church that has cleared the way for more Muslim believers to become firmly rooted in the what were once Christian strongholds. Vlk puts the brunt of the blame on the spread of Islam into European nations and calls for Christians to “respond to the threat of Islam.” His call is vaguely and eerily reminiscent of previous church leaders calls for a pre-emptive offensive stance on Islam. Those previous views led to bloody Crusades which left a stain on Christianity.
What we see are two narrowing opinions on the decline of Christianity in the European world. One is that it is not that Christianity is faltering, but the church is emptying regardless. On the flip side of the coin are the thoughts by individuals such as Cardinal Vlk and David Rusin that the Christian church is compromising its beliefs to accommodate the traditions and ideals of other prominent religions. In Europe’s case, Islam is the accused religion. Author Erik Tryggestad of the Christian Chronicle shares a much different view point. In his article titled “‘Post-Christian’ No More? Churches Rethink Europe” Tryggestad shares his interviews with individuals from around Europe. While many people point out that they do not want to be taught how to live, others are sharing that they are “looking for something new.” The idea of a Post-Christian Europe is a foolish one when it alludes to the era after a Christian dominated Europe. Tryggestad also points out that the growth within the Christian churches of Europe are happening within the immigrant communities, which is in direct opposition to the claims of Cardinal Vlk and the ideas of David Rusin. Tryggestad goes on to point out that people are looking for spirituality rather than just to sit in a pew and be lectured. Rather than a Post-Christian Europe could we be on the verge of a Neo-Christian Europe where individuals would rather have a deeper understanding of the person and place of Christ than just a simple list of directives and demands. The ideals beckon back, again, to Martin Luther and his “95 Theses”. Tryggestad points out that “European culture ‘is demanding an explanation, demanding relevancy, authenticity, community’ from its churches.” In short, it could be that individuals are tired of being led by fallen leaders who claim infallibility based on their positions within the church. Rampant sexual abuse and molestation spread like wildfires through the Roman Catholic Church throughout the twentieth century. That abuse was not limited to the United States. Yet even so, it seems that leaders of the Catholic Church would pass the blame of the faltering church onto the shoulders of immigrants who may or may not be practicing Muslims rather than accept the failure of the church because of the failure to protect its parishioners from the very sins that it admonishes.
Rich Nathan, author, and Senior pastor of Vineyard Columbus addressed the Post- Christian church, not only in Europe but in the world in a recent sermon titled Disciplining and Restoring Fallen Leaders from his series Derailed: What Causes People to Fail. Nathan goes into some detail on the “Catholic Abuse Scandals” and shares the story of Marie Collins, a thirteen year old girl who was sexually abused by a Catholic Friar while in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Dublin Ireland in 1961. At 30 years old she shared her story and was told that the abuse was because of her temptation of the priest. She was subsequently told to repent and she would be offered absolution of her sins against Friar McGennis. Ultimately, the church has continued to place the blame of its short comings on its congregation rather than accepting, and exposing the faults of its failing leaders. Similar actions, by the church throughout the first and second millennium are what have led to the dramatic shifts in the church such as the Great Schism and the Reformation. Nathan points out later in his sermon that the fifteen percent of existing Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse, in the United States alone, yet the Roman Catholic stance on the declining church, or the Post-Christian world, is that people are no longer looking for Christ and the world is facing a “growing secularism”. Nathan also shares that in one decade attendance in the Irish Roman Catholic church was cut from eighty percent to forty percent. Attendance was not cut because of the growing need of secularism as implied by the church. Rather it was the realization that, just as has been the case over the centuries, the church is still taking advantage of its people in brazen ways. In turn placing the blame of sin rampant throughout leadership on the heads of its congregation and boldly asking for penance while continuing to sin without remorse or repentance.
The failing church in Europe may have very little to do with the influx of Islam and other religions throughout the region. Yet, what of that influx, if there truly is one? Miroslav Volf is the Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and author of the book Allah: A Christian Response. In an interview with Patton Dodd, Volf points out that the Christian response to Islam should be to gain understanding, not to condemn. Volf shares the undeniable truth that regardless of our beliefs we still live in the same world under the same “moral roof”. There are many Christians that would take Zealous standpoints towards Islam, even calling for Crusade like actions, just as there are extremist Muslims with similar beliefs and views. Volf points out that Muslims and Christians believe in the same God, a ideal that is shared in the Quran, and by many past and current Christian leaders, even the Catholic leaders present at the Second Vatican Council. Volf’s ideals on Islam and Christianity co-existing completely invalidate the arguments of Vlk and Rusin in that, Volf asserts through his book Allah and his teachings that it is part of the inherent nature of a Christian to love. Jesus loved most fervently those who were the farthest away from him. When we look at John 4 we see a picture of this. Jesus is traveling through Samaria and when he comes upon the Samaritan woman at the well he asks for a drink. The woman’s response is that of shock. “You [Jesus] are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” - John 4:9. Just as in the ancient world Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other, today it is increasingly taboo for Christians and Muslims to associate, much less dialogue. Yet, is it not the central point of Jesus’ message to love everyone regardless of their beliefs or their class? Jesus was questioned many times by the overly righteous Pharisees on why he associated with sinners. Today, these questions are still asked, even though we have been handed and teach through a book, the Bible, that is meant to guide us. If we use the Bible and the life of Jesus as a guide post, then are we not called to love one another? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a late German Theologian, in his book Life Together, states makes this statement concerning love:
“Human Love constructs its own image of the other person, of what he is and should become. It takes the life of the other person into its own hands. Spiritual love recognizes the true image of the other person which he has received from Jesus Christ…”
The failing church in Europe may have very little to do with the influx of Islam and other religions throughout the region. It may have little to do with the growing need for individualism, or secularism. Yet it may not even be because of the growing discourse between church leaders and parishioners. While “the Church” is faltering in Europe, it seems that people are still searching for spirituality and community. Those people are searching outside of the brick and mortar walls of the churches that has failed them in the past and finding spirituality within the so-called Post-Christian churches that are teaching the true message of Christ. The “Post-Christian” Christians are living out the message of the gospel, not by standing behind a pulpit, but by action in the real world. These Christians are showing the actions of Jesus by living out the actions of Jesus.
Belien, Paul. “The Closing of Civilization in Europe.” The Brussels Journal, 2006. accessed July 10, 2012. http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/852
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. New York: Harper & Row. 1954.
Caldwell, Simon. “Cardinal says Christian Europe is to blame for Islamisation.” The Telegraph. 2010. accessed July 11, 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/6942088/Cardinal-says-Christian-Europe-is-to-blame-for-Islamisation.html
Dodd, Patton. “Moving from Exclusion to Embrace: Miroslav Volf on Christianity and Islam.” Patheos Evangelical.
2011. accessed July 11, 2012. http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Deeply-Unchristian-Patton-Dodd-08-29-2011.html
Rusin, David. “Fearing for Freedom in a Post-Christian Europe.” The Gatestone Institute. 2010. accessed July 10, 2012. http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/1041/fearing-for-freedom-in-a-post-christian-europe
Tryggestad, Erik. “‘Post-Christian’ no more? Churches re-think Europe.” The Christian Chronicle. 2007. accessed July 11, 2012. http://www.christianchronicle.org/article788~’Post-Christian’_no_more%3F_Churches_rethink_Europe
Marthaler, Bernard. The Creed. New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications. 2007.
Nathan, Rich. “Disciplining and Restoring Fallen Leaders.” Presentation, Vineyard Columbus, Columbus, OH, July 8-9, 2012. http://vineyardcolumbus.org/watch-and-listen/derailed-what-causes-people-to-fail/disciplining-and-restoring-fallen-leaders/
“Paul McGennis.” Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. Wikipedia. accessed July 12, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_abuse_scandal_in_the_Catholic_archdiocese_of_Dublin