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In less than five years, the Western world will commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation of the church. It remains to be seen if the quincentennial will be celebrated or mocked. Over last 150 years, the Christian church in the West has gone through many changes and dealt with many enemies. However, its downfall may be its inability to deal with enemies within its own ranks.
In 2017, what will Christendom look like? France has spent more than two centuries with seething enmity against its Christian heritage stifling all efforts at social peace. The European continent’s idols of socialism, multiculturalism and unification have left it broke and struggling with unassimilated Islamists. The traditional churches have not risen to the challenges of Darwin, Marx and Muhammad. Every year, the Church of England hemorrhages members as it becomes more a state cult for the political and cultural elite – and their current faux intellectual fads – than an active member of the body of Christ. Europe is proving the New Testament’s metaphor of using a body to represent the church accurate: inactive members atrophy. The Roman Catholic Church continues to reel from its infiltration by pedophile priests as it prepares for the imminent retirement of Pope Benedict XVI.
In America, the church has abused its freedom. After the public association with the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush, vibrant, true Christianity looks bad. Because of the “Christian” persona adopted by Bush, Christian political and cultural leadership is seen as incompetent, irresponsible, spend-thrift, irrational and simplistic. Only a complete break with the Bush legacy and hard truth will repair the damage: George W. Bush was his father’s son, oligarchic, internationalist and unconcerned with the long-term interests of American society. Those are opposite of what a professing Christian statesmen should represent.
But the downfall of Christendom in Europe should receive more attention. The decay is more advanced.
There are Christians who desire to serve God, and often they do so quietly, every day doing their duty reaching out to the lost but never seeking leadership. In their humility, they fear leadership. They fear the responsibility, and the fear of their own failings makes room for the ambitious who do not share their fears – and not even the fear of God moves them.
The role of a pastor must be seen in the way the mercenary sees it, as a job that comes with a steady income and a platform. Without watchers and guardians over the church, the positions of trust in the pastorate become vehicles for social activism rather than spreading the gospel of Christ. In the old European churches that used to be the vanguard of the faith, activists have captured the positions of leadership and converted the altars into platforms for socialism and Marxist philosophy using phrases such as the “option for the poor” as a cover for what is, in reality, the imposition of their personal priorities over the priorities of God. The same is true for positions in Christian seminaries and in Christian universities. As the faithful used humility as an excuse to refuse positions of leadership and authority, those who see the potential of using the respectability of the church to undermine the moral foundations of European society moved in.
When the Reformation broke the monopoly of the Catholic Church in Western Europe, it created openings where new theologies and ideas could emerge. This was not the intention of Luther or the Reformers, nor was this the intention of the Roman Catholic leadership that initially resisted the reforms, but it has been a consequence. Without unity there was room for a wide divergence from Christ-centered theology. Of particular virulence were the various utopianisms “faiths” of different “anointed” elites.
The fissures opened anew when the European Church failed to respond to the spiritual crisis of the First World War and lost its influence on the imagination of European civilization. Yet the churches survived, openly mocked for their disunity and feebleness and undefended by corrupted leadership. A century and another world war later, the churches are dying and becoming irrelevant. Without a new Reformation, soon there were no longer be a reason to infiltrate the churches. They will be empty.
There are Christians in the Catholic and Protestant traditions who realize the embarrassment caused to the faith by division. However, they know from experience that prolonged unity with false brethren has only increased error and resulted in fewer numbers of faithful believers.
Believing Catholics and Protestants in Europe should embrace the cross of leadership. They must set their goal on recapturing their ancient sees, cathedrals, seminaries and universities. They must rout those who see the retirement of the Christ-centered Benedict XVI as an opportunity to separate the Catholicism from the way of Christ. The Lutherans, Calvinists and Anglicans must return to the European mission field and make disciples. The salvation of Europe lies in Christ not in Brussels.
What will be the legacy of the Reformation in Europe? Without action by the faithful, it may be that Oct. 31, 2017, passes unnoticed.