Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people. Proverbs 14:34 NIV
Europe is at the cross roads. We live in interesting, if perilous, times and the continent that was at the epicentre of human history for the last two hundred or more years, is likely to undergo a seismic change in the next quarter to half century. Europe was the centre of Christendom for the past six hundred years, and it stood firm and unwavering against the tide of Islam, and recently of Communism.
Is Europe Christian? So often I have heard people say things like, “Europe has never been Christian”, or “England was never a Christian country”. It is therefore necessary to explain what we mean by a Christian country or continent. It is true that there has been only ‘one nation under God’ – Israel. After the Mosaic Law had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Israelites were dispersed for nearly two millennia until the restoration of the state of Israel in 1948. Another country, for example, America, may choose to call themselves a nation under God; but a special covenant between God and a nation has be initiated by Him, not man.
Under the New Covenant, however, God calls people from every tribe and nation and language, to repent of their sins and accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. There is “neither Jew nor gentile”. We become one body – the church and the Body of Christ – a living organism, sharing one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).
The relationship between church and state has differed in countries throughout history, and the terms of the relationship often had cultural and social implications. In most present day democracies, Christians have a degree of freedom to practise and propagate their faith. In Islamic nations, the former freedom is severely curtailed, and the latter is non existent – with proselytisation being a criminal offence.
Europe, uniquely, had Christian teaching at the heart of their political, social and cultural values. Christianity defined the standard of right and wrong. Perhaps it is true that most Europeans were only Christian in name, and the true church – consisting of those who acknowledge the Lordship of Christ over their lives- remained a minority within these nominal churches. But, even these nominal Christians were church goers and influenced by Christian teaching in their daily lives.
The fall of Constantinople (in Turkey) in 1453 AD was the culmination of the Islamic onslaught against Christianity. Former centres of Christian culture in Syria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya were in ruins; and the centre of Christianity shifted from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe. Europe and the West became instrumental in spreading the gospel to Africa and the Americas, and in re-igniting the dying embers of the Christian faith in Asia. For all these reasons, it was not incorrect to label Europe as Christian – until now.
Christianity in Europe? It is true that Europe has not always behaved in a Christian way. Its role in the slave trade and its colonial past, both driven by greed for the goods of others, while masquerading as civilising missions were undoubtedly wrong and contrary to NT teaching. Yet, to put things in perspective, we need to look at the pre Christian history of Europe.
Europe in the 1st century AD – with the exception of Greece and Rome, which were culturally very different civilisations – was probably the most backward continent on the face of the earth. Under Constantine, Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire in 313 AD. Unlike the early Christians, who suffered persecution for their faith, these new ‘believers’ were happy to syncretise the Christian religion with their old pagan beliefs. The purity of the faith was lost, and it was under such circumstances that Christianity eventually spread to the far flung corners of Europe. Most of its illiterate masses had little knowledge of the Latin Bible and depended on the Roman Catholic priesthood to be their interpreters of the Christian truth.
Israel had been specially chosen by God for the purpose of carrying out the Great Commission. When they rejected the Messiah, they also despised their birthright, and came under judgment. They were scattered among them in a dishonourable way, when, by rights, they should have been the ‘light among the nations’. It was now up to new gentile believers – who were less equipped for the task, to fulfil the Great Commission, until the final restoration of the Jews to their rightful place in the Covenant with God. With the Christian influence in the ME severely restricted under Islam, the lot finally fell to Europe.
In the wonderful providence of God, about a half century after the fall of Constantinople -renamed ‘Islambol’ or ‘where Islam abounds’ by Sultan Mehmet – Europe saw a resurgence of the Christian faith. The Bible was translated into local languages, and multitudes were drawn to worshipping God “in Spirit and in truth”. The Reformation changed the course of European history – it was if the light of the gospel which shone from the churches also illuminated other areas of human knowledge and endeavour.
This happened in stages. Of course there were always people in Europe motivated by greed for power and wealth, who used the achievements of the enlightenment for purely selfish gain, both at home and abroad; but the Christian conscience within their nations often had a mitigating effect on the overall damage inflicted on the victims. At the very least, colonisers, slave owners and other exploiters, had to pretend to be doing something beneficial for their victims, unlike in non Christian cultures, where such pretence was unnecessary, and open exploitation tolerated, even encouraged.
It was no coincidence that the scientific component of the Renaissance occurred around the same time as the Reformation. Many of the modern ideas of human rights and dignity, the rule of law, freedom of speech, conscience and religion, have their roots in the Bible. Most importantly, Europe suddenly found the strength to push back the Islamic conquest.
To be continued…
Father, thank You for Europe and its many faithful Christians down through the generations. Forgive all her sins, both past and present. Remember that they are Your people, and called by Your name. Have mercy on them. Remove their blindness, and take away their hardness of heart. Let the light in their nations never be extinguished. Let the bruised reed not be broken, or the smouldering wick, quenched. Send a revival to these lands. Cleanse, purify and restore the church. Defend them against all their enemies. May Your people once again return to their God and His blessing in these last days. In Jesus’ name.