Churches Are Closing All Over Europe
In a great many ways, the United States is the child of Europe. Born of European explorers, peopled with European immigrants, the US also maintains family ties with European culture. Our political and social institutions as well as our artistic and educational traditions are European. There are other "genetic" contributors to US society to be sure, but our main lineage is decidedly European.
For the most part, our European ancestry is positive, or, at the worst, neutral. It does us no harm that English Common Law undergirds our own legal system. It is really quite nice to be able to embrace Shakespeare and the Beetles, Beethoven and BMWs, Italian food, and IKEA as our own.
Only when it comes to religion is our European connection a bad thing. Because of our many other cultural connections, what first happens in the European soul eventually enters American hearts and minds, and churches are closing all over Europe. This article is written to report on this trend and to sound a warning about its effects.
"Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale"
A story in the January 2, 2015 Wall Street Journal carried the headline "Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale." The article included the following falling numbers.
The Church of England closes about 20 churches a year. Roughly 200 Danish churches have been deemed nonviable or underused. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has shut about 515 churches in the past decade.
But it is in the Netherlands where the trend appears to be most advanced. The country’s Roman Catholic leaders estimate that two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be out of commission in a decade, and 700 of Holland’s Protestant churches are expected to close within four years.
Explanations for the decline in Europe's one-vibrant Christian presence include the following:
- Europe's "graying" population reflects religious stratification by age: the younger generations of Europeans are far less religious than older generations.
- The difference between the generations reflects growing secularization and decreasing religious interest: the younger generations are getting the secular message that Christianity is out of step with the times and unimportant to their lives.
- The Christian decline is accelerating: in the past ten years, church attendance has dropped precipitously.
- Europe is being inundated with immigrants: the changing face of European religion is Islamic.
Crossing the Atlantic
Remove "Europe" from the sentences, and the four factors listed above describe exactly like what is happening to the U.S. Our close association with the religious conditions of Europe prompted the Wall Street Journal to say, “Within another 30 years the situation in the U.S. will be at least as bad as what is currently evident in Europe.”
What To Do?
These chilling facts and figures are not pleasant, but we are not helpless in their presence. They call for sober reappraisal and recommitment.
Unlike the closing decades of the last century, being a Christian in the opening decades of this century requires guts.
- Recognize that forces throughout our society are conspiring the reduce your commitment to Christianity.
- Recognize that the people around you are less religious than they need to be and will influence you to be less religious than you need to be.
- Recognize that genuine Christian commitment is now a minority opinion.
Unlike the ease of depending on continuing increases in membership and forever increases in contributions, being a leader in today's churches requires gutsy calls. The March 15, 2014 New York Times included an article entitled, "Denominations Downsizing and Selling Assets in More Secular Era." The July 19, 2016 ChristianityToday reported that "decrease in worship center size and capacity" is a growing trend in modern churches.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a boom in church building as congregations added square feet. Paralleling the building boom was a boom in ministry spending. Church leaders were considered unfaithful if they did not increase spending on unlimited confidence on unlimited increases in contributions. The combination of mortgage payments and expensive ministries overtaxed budgets - which in turn turned off members who felt pressured to give more in financially more uncertain times.
Regarding the future, the famed theologian Yoda said, "Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future." What was true on the Dagobah System "long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away" is becoming more and more true in American churches. Unlike the stability enjoyed by past generations, the present generation of Christians is having to adapt to unsettling changes as we consider the future.
Thom Rainer is an interesting American religious writer. His blog is www.thomrainer.com. Rainer recently peered into our present to see our future. Here are his "16 Trends In American Churches." Much of Ranier's language is mainstream Protestant and has little meaning for us. I have reinterpreted as necessary.
- Church Security is a fast growing focus. Interpretation: threats of violence, various kinds of abuse, and various kinds of theft must be taken seriously.
- Decrease in church building size. Interpretation: gone are the days in which the size of our faith was measured in square feet.
- Churches must rethink revitalization. Interpretation: As memberships and budgets decrease, churches must take a "back to the basics" approach to doing the most what they do the best.
- Ministerial training is a good investment. Interpretation: is there a message for churches in the investment in training done by business and industry?
- Churches will continue to age. Interpretation: get used to it.
- Churches need to educate, reeducate, and reeducate again. Interpretation: we need to refocus on doctrine, leadership skills, relational skills, and practical ministry skill.
- Small groups in churches will continue to be important. Interpretation: programs like our Brothers Keepers are now considered to be essential and foundational (so why is there so much resistance?).
- Churches will continue to desegregate. Interpretation: church families must embrace the "family" image of different races and ages working together harmoniously and not as separate ministries.
- The trend toward multi-site (multi-campus) churches is creating new denominations. Interpretation: even denominational people see this.
- Longer preacher tenure. Interpretation: musical preachers doesn't pay for anyone.
- The rise of alternate ministry placement organizations. Interpretation: does not apply. The Churches of Christ have never depended on what the denominational churches consider traditional means of filling preacher vacancies.
- We will get more Millennial members. Interpretation: religiosity increases with age. Some Millennials will eventually come around.
- Accelerated decline in American churches. Interpretation: prepare for a post-Christian society; prepare for shrinking memberships.
- Churches will no longer be viewed sympathetically by the government. Interpretation: as tax bases shrink, the government will look lustfully at ways to tax churches.
- More bi-vocational ministers. Interpretation: we call them "part-time."
- Changes in ministry models from entertainment to activities. Interpretation: it's about time. It never worked anyway.
Like shopping at the mall, Christians need to be of two minds about what Paul called, "This present evil world" (Gal. 1:4). We might have to shop at Deerbrook Mall in Humble or at Parkdale Mall in Beaumont, but we do not have to buy everything we see. Similarly, Christians have to live among the customs of their times, but we do not have to buy everything our culture is selling.
This Present Evil World
Paul saw through the world's sales pitch. "This present evil world" (KJV), or "the present evil age" (ESV), is Satan's current ad campaign. "The father of lies" (Jn. 8:44), Satan lied to Adam and Eve in the Garden, and he is lying to us still.
You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die (Gen. 2:16-17).
"But the serpent said...'You will not die'" (Gal. 3:4).
Lying contradictions against the direct words of God are the stock and trade of Satan. These are the lies that stock the shelves of "this present evil world." These are the lies that so many believe as they fully embrace "the present evil age."
What's in the Stores?
|God Says...||Satan Says...|
Men and women have complimentarities and differences.
There are many reasons, religious and practical, for maintaining sexual purity.
There are more and better reasons to drink less than to drink more.
Practice moral and ethical discipline, for you do not know when the Lord is coming.
Seek first the kingdom of God.
Add Bible knowledge.
Come out and be separate.
There are no differences between men and women.
Premarital sex, extramarital sex, same-sex sex, whatever: go for it.
You are really missing something if you are not a regular drinker.
Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.
Prioritize religion after everything else (in other words, last).
Are you kidding?
Fit in Comfortably.
So Where Can We Shop?
Playing a clever game of point-counterpoint, Satan has convinced us that the only alternative to living hip-deep in this present evil world is to cloister ourselves away in a convent or adopt the plain styles of the Mennonites. Concluding that we just cannot possibly live like nuns or the Amish, we conclude that there is no good alternative to living lives that are indistinguishable from the world. But there are more than just two extreme options, and there are perfectly good ways to defy "The god of this age: (II Cor. 4:4).
Like many who no longer got to any malls but who are instead shopping on AMAZON, many Christians are declaring, we live here, but we do not have to live like here. They are choosing to deliberately disengage from our culture, and to purposefully detach themselves from all of its sinful ways. What does that look like?
- They are overwhelmingly emphasizing relationships with strong Christians because, "Evil companions corrupt good morals" (I Cor. 15:33).
- They are choosing fun activities that allow them not to "forsake the assembly of the saints" (Heb. 10:24-25).
- They are heavily editing their choices of TV, movies, and etc. in order to keep their mind away from earthly things (see Phil. 3:19).
- They are not simplifying their lives to reduce tension and stress, but they are desinlifying their lives to reduce tension between themselves and God (see Rom. 6:1-2).
- They are rejecting "the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world" (Gal. 4:9) and returning to "pure and undefiled religion" (Jas. 1:27). "Reject" and "return" are code words for "repent."
Two, er, Four Heroes
“But It’s Our Job”; “Where Else Would I Be?”; Where Else Were They?
Identifying heroes is good business for any organization. Not necessarily the highest flyers, an organization’s heroes are its members who truly live the organization’s values. Identifying heroes is a way to (i) give heroes a well-deserved ATABOY, and to (ii) reinforce most important principles and ideals. In order to do that, this article is written about two four heroes of the Liberty Church of Christ.
Hero Theory – For the Birds
Roles and role players in organizations have been compared with different kinds of birds. The original organizational birds followed the DOPE acronym of the DOPE Personality Test.
- Dove – peaceful and friendly.
- Owl – wise and logical.
- Peacock – showy and optimistic.
- Eagle – bold and decisive.
Other bird-types have been added.
- Jays – cackling and annoying.
- Migratory Birds – flying from one idea to another without effective implementation.
- Buzzards – circling slowly while waiting for something to die.
- Angry Birds – you get the picture.
But who builds the nests?
The true heroes of the bird organization are the nest builders. Purposefully flitting about from here to there, nest builders are the worker bees (mixed animal metaphor), carrying twigs and pieces of twine, turning the raw materials into our place to live, and then doing the tedious, thankless work of keeping house. Without the nest builders, all of the other birds are just fly-by-nights.
Who are our nest builders, our value livers, and our heroes?
“But it’s Our Job”
Following last Saturdays’ Fall Festival, all of the workers were tired. The combination of steady business and bleaching sun took its toll. Although everyone enjoyed Fall Festival, many were ready to go home and roost, er, rest.
Among those who were ready to rest was Patti Davis. Thinking ahead – dreading ahead - to the next day’s luncheon and its desert assignment, she, like many others, was ready to skip it. The thought of cooking a cake was just about too much to bear. After all, who would notice one cake more or less?
Her granddaughter Hallie noticed, and Hallie spoke up. “But Nanna, it’s our job,” she earnestly said. Yes, a young girl understood and was highly motivated by a sense of duty. So to the store and then to the kitchen they went. The result was yummy, pumpkin-looking red velvet cake complete with icing. The result was really very much more.
“Where Else Would I Be?”
With even better reason to be tired, and with an even better reason to skip the whole thing was Peggy McIntosh. She had only been in the hospital Monday through Saturday – you know, the hospital, that comfy day spa where people go for rest and relaxation (not).
So where was she on Sunday morning? She attended the worship services of the church.
When asked why she was here, Peggy responded with her typical economy of words. “Where else would I be?” she replied. For some, the great reasons of others are not even accepted as decent excuses. Where else indeed?
Hold the Presses – Two More Heroes
Identifying heroes is dangerous business because there are always more heroes. This is especially true at the Liberty Church of Christ where we have so many who live the values of Christianity. After floating just one hero in front of last Wednesday evening’s Bible class, I was flocked by two more nominations. “What about…?” the class twice asked.
“What about Geraldine Frazier?” someone asked. Sister Geraldine has had some kind of an infection, and the medicine cure is about as bad as the problem itself, making her feel generally woozy and bad. So where was she last Sunday? She, too, attended the services of the church.
“What about Francis Petrie?” asked another. Sister Francis is struggling mightily to get around on feet that are worse for the wear. So what does she do? She gets her little feet underneath her and she gets herself to Wednesday night Bible study.
Conclusion – Birds of What Kind of Feather?
The following challenge is only for the most morally courageous.
Compare your “reasons” for living less than the highest values of Christianity with Hallie’s sense of duty, with Peggy’s brusque question, with Geraldine’s general wooziness, and with Francis’ simple, sweet determination.
For your examples ladies, we are thankful. We are also ashamed.
The Passover as an Illustration of the Relationship Between
The Old Testament and the New Testament
Understanding the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testaments first requires that we reject the extremes. Some have concluded that all of the Old Testament applies just as much today as it did when it was written. Some have concluded that none of the Old Testament applies today at all. Both extremes are wrong.
Rejecting the extremes, the next challenge is to find the suitable middle. With its lessons about (i) the carryover aspects of the Passover, (ii) the shadow of Christ in the Passover, and then/now related to the Passover, the Bible's teaching about the Passover helps us find the suitable middle. This article uses the Passover as an illustration about the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Something about the Old Testament's Passover carries over into the New Testament.
Major Old Testament References
- The Passover was instituted in Exodus 11-12, at the time when the last of Moses' plagues - the death of the firstborn - effected the release of the Children of Israel from Egyptian Bondage.
- More instruction about the Passover observance was given later, in Leviticus 23:4-8 and Numbers 28:16-25. The Passover was the most significant occasion in the annual Jewish religious calendar.
Major New Testament References
- Jesus, a devout follower of the Passover observance while he was alive, took advantage of the Passover to institute the Lord's Supper (Mt. 26:17+, Mk. 14:12+, Lk. 22:7+, Jn. 18:28+).
- In I Corinthians 5:7 Paul wrote of "Christ our Passover who has been sacrificed for us."
Shadows of Christ in the Passover
Two New Testament passages fit together to teach about one aspect of the relationship between the Testaments. In Hebrews 10:1, Paul said that the Old Law was a "shadow of good things to come." The same writer reiterated in Colossians 2:17 that the Old law contained shadows, but that "the substance belongs to Christ." By using the terms "shadow" and "substance," Paul taught that the Old Law contained hazy predictive images that were fulfilled in Christ and in the Christian system.
This misty, foggy predictive relationship is evident in the Passover. God was never really satisfied with the Old Testament's blood sacrifices (Ps. 51:16). These sacrifices served only for a time until their greater, substantial fulfillment came in Christ. "Not by means of the blood of goats and claves, but by mean of His own blood" he secured "eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12). The slain Passover lamb thus predicts "Christ our Passover who has been sacrificed for us."
That Was Then, This Is Now
If the Old Testament applies just as much today as it did when it was written, then we should observe the Passover just like generations of Jews did between Moses' triumphal exit from Egypt and Jesus Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. In this, the Passover takes its place along side Temple worship, the Levitical Priesthood, priestly robes, incense, and instrumental music in worship as exercises that were part of the Old Testament but that are not part of the New Testament. This is an excellent question for those who continue to cling to the Old Testament: why do Christians not observe the Passover and instead observe the Lord's Supper?
- Then they had a real lamb; now we have the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29).
- Then they had to repeat the Passover in order for its effects to continue; now "we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10).
- Then they ate unleavened bread and bitter herbs to symbolize the somber haste of the original Passover night; now we have unleavened bread to symbolize Christ's body and fruit of the vine to symbolize Christ's blood.
- Then they had an annual feast; now we have every "first day of the week" when Christians gather for Communion (Acts 20:7). As we do, the carryover shadows from then hover over what we do now.