Headlines in De Telegraaf last week screamed with bold, underlined letters: “Half city youth of foreign origin“. The opening paragraph explained that more than half of all children under the age of fifteen in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague was from foreign extraction, and that the proportion would increase in the coming years.
Fear of this sort of development has promoted right-wing politics in Holland, France and other West European countries in recent months. The popularity of Pim Fortuyn, the bald, flamboyant politician murdered in May, came in part from his forthright warnings about where these developments would be taking Dutch society. Others also had begun to challenge political correctness. The police began to report openly that 98% of the street crime in Holland’s main cities was committed by youth of foreign origin.
Similar developments can be seen in cities from Seville to Stockholm. So what sort of European cities can we expect in ten, twenty years time, when these children become adults and have their own families? The urban populations will be largely non-white, without a traditional western “Christian” cultural background.
How then should European believers respond to these trends?
Dr Andrew Walls, missiologist and historian from Aberdeen in Scotland, believes we are experiencing an “Ephesian moment” such as the Church has never seen since the First Century. In a recent talk entitled Demographics, Power and the Gospel in the 21st century, Walls said these new anti-immigration political parties rising across Western Europe had frightened the old parties by their electoral success, so the old parties had also begun to use the same language.
Then he warned, “Western Christians are going to be faced with some enormous choices.”
When the Epistle to the Ephesians was written, there were only two major cultures in the Christian church, two Christian lifestyles, the Jewish and the Hellenistic, Walls explained. The Epistle was all about two mutually hostile races being joined together, to eat and work together within the Body of Christ.
But how many cultures were there now in the Body of Christ? he asked. A century ago, the number of Christians in the non-Western world looked quite small. Now they were the majority, and every year there were fewer Christians in the West and more in the rest of the world.
Yet Christianity survived in the past by crossing the boundaries of language and culture, Walls pointed out. Without this process it could wither and die. What enabled the faith to survive and to grow after the collapse of Rome was its transplantation into the Barbarian cultures. Christianity survived a major crisis because it had been transmitted to a people of a different language, different culture, different way of life.
In the coming century, we could expect Christians of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific to cross cultural boundaries, including western cultural boundaries, in order to share their faith. Already in cities as diverse as Amsterdam, London and Kyiv (The Ukraine), some of the largest congregations are non-European fellowships. Who knows? Given the dying state of the European churches, this might be the way the church in Europe survives.
The challenge for European Christians, Walls implied, was to embrace the diversity of cultures in the unity of the gospel, as Paul urged his Ephesian readers to do.
Walls: “The Body of Christ is not complete, the full stature of Christ is not reached until all these cultures and sub-cultures are brought together in Heaven. So, the Ephesian moment brings us a Church more culturally diverse than it’s ever been before, nearer potentially to that full stature of Christ that belongs to the summing up of all of humanity. But it also announces a Church of the poor. Christianity will be mainly the religion of rather poor and very poor people with few gifts to bring except the gospel itself. And the heartlands of the Church will include some of the poorest countries on earth. A developed world in which Christians become less and less important and influential will seek to protect its position against the rest.”
God often works from the fringes. Could the “foreign” sectors of our urban populations be a key strategy in the re-evangelization of Europe?
Till next week,
Till next week,