In Europe, God is (not) dead

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the state of Christianity in Europe.

This is a curious era we’re in, really. The church is in an in between state, neither there nor here, trying to hold onto its past glory even as it is becoming immensely emaciated. Reminds me a little bit of Marvolo Gaunt, a name you’ll recognize if you have read the Harry Potter books.

I think of Paul’s comment in Philippians 3:5ff.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind

The Church, especially in Europe, has obsessed with what is behind. It looks eagerly to the history and the monuments and the power it wielded. But because it has identified those things so much with the very identify of Christianity it struggles. The quest for power replaced the quest for Christ, and the quest for present attainment of glory has long marred the unentangled pursuit of God’s wholeness. This isn’t new. I think back to those monasteries sacked by Vikings. Why did the monks collects the treasures on earth that made them targets for slaughter? They saw their symbols as monuments of their holiness, and so lost everything. The grand buildings are the same thing. Monuments to devotion to something other than God’s own call.

Paul writes in Philippians 2:3ff:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Often called the Christological hymn for its profound expression of Christ’s incarnation this passage has pretty much lost its original punch. Paul wasn’t only writing about Christ here. He is applying it to the church, telling those involved this is the model of Christian community and mission. Only for so much time, instead of humbling themselves church leaders have sought to exploit their rank, taking the form of exalted kings, and lorded over all they could. Church leaders went from being a true servant to becoming rhetorical servants who live in palatial palaces, wearing opulent costumes, that they think symbolizes the power of God.

Now, though, underneath the rotting structures, finally abandoned as no longer producing power, let alone significant devotion there are movements of the Spirit popping up here and there, bringing us back to the Acts experience. Finally. I pray it is not too late.

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