Thoughts about the American Church after a Few Weeks in Europe

Over the past three weeks, I was able to visit a number of beautiful Cathedrals, including St. Peter’s Basilica, Notre Dame in Paris, Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, the Duomo in Milan, and some others.

We went to Mass in a couple. It was striking sitting in the massive Notre Dame, attending mass with about 40 people (mostly tourists) while hundreds of tourists walked the interior perimeter admiring the architecture. The church in Europe, once the Bible Belt of the world is now just a shell. Beautiful architectural museums with gawkers looking at bodies of popes lying in state and relics of the past…forms with no power.  They left solid theology for nonsense and forgot mission in favor of monuments.

Ed Stetzer pointed out that the Bible Belt has moved multiple times since then. It’s the same story repeated (with less stellar buildings). We’re in process right now here in the US. Those of us that live outside of the southeast know what its like. Those living in the northeast, home of the Great Awakening can tell you about it.

But, for those of you that live within the confines of community hospitable to Chrisitanity, get ready. And, as you do, make sure your investment is in mission and that you are making disciples of solid Gospel-obsessed theology that aggressively promotes mission. Strong words aren’t sufficient. History tells us how it will go down.

Perhaps, the people of the new Bible Belts (S. Korea, Africa, S. America) will be so kind as to send their missionaries to reshovel our burnt over relics a few decades from now. God willing they can somehow capture our assets and repurpose them for mission- prying them away from our activities focused on life support, legacy formation, and monument building.

In the meantime, there is a lot of ripe low hanging fruit to be picked by American missionaries who want nothing other than Gospel propulsion in the cities, towns, and villages. You won’t reach them with anything less than a Jesus-focused Gospel. Hang up your trinkets, religious chicanery, and modern indulgences. They’re laughable to your emerging skeptical neighborhoods and friends. At the end of the day, these are the people that must be reached. They’re the ones walking around the perimeter of our churches looking over what will one day used to be.

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9 Responses

  1. And yet I find Europe to be a tremendously fruitful and exciting place to preach the Gospel and to plant churches.

    Once you get out from under the yoke of Christendom – trying to ram Christian morals & values down the throats of unbelievers – then the field is clear to start sharing authentic Christianity with those who live in a post-Christendom world.

    Christianity began as a counter-cultural movement until it was hijacked and emasculated by Constantine and the Roman Empire. In my opinion it still works best as a counter-cultural movement.

  2. Nick,

    Absolutely. I’ve talked a few people about the decline the COG is experiencing in the US and one of the primary (not only and not always) is that the Church in general in the US is experiencing the same decline.

    But, if we rest on this trend that would turn focus from us specifically and excuse our situation as inevitability, then we excuse ourselves or our functioning as being causal. We can assign blame as a “cultural” problem we’re all going through.

    The problem is rather than us being able to identify our own dysfunction, we broaden blame, assigning accountability to no one. And by default, it becomes a problem of the Church and thus the Gospel.

    But, the problem isn’t the Gospel. The Gospel is as powerful and as relevant as ever. Perhaps, as you’ve said, like Constantine, we’ve emasculated Christianity. Are we less likely to adventure ourselves? Pioneer? Scrap? Get dirty? Gritty? Wild-eyed? I think so.

    We’re safe. Predictable. Sanitary. Socially “unoffensive.” Taken care of. Patroned.

    We’ve minimized the power of the Gospel by turning Christianity into a sideshow of sorts…without letting the power of the Gospel be brightest. Instead It competes with our systems and things- becoming more of an accessory than a necessity.

  3. Another mention:

    Look at the scrappers in the COG. The first that comes to mind is Paul Walker. He’s brilliant, eloquent, socially astute. We’re more likely to want to duplicate those characteristics of his and Gospel pioneers like him than the characteristics that led him to and through one of the greatest revival stories in our history.

    We are more likely to want to emulate the brilliant characteristics of the Paul Walkers of the COG than we do the grit, determination, and pioneering spirit, avant-garde approach to Gospel and culture.

    That leads us to do more ministry out of memory than out of imagination and prayer.

  4. When the autopsy on the American church is final, there will be two causes cited for its demise. Politics and Prosperity. On these the scriptures are clear.

    The pursuit of political power results in spiritual impotence and the sanctification of worldy wealth results in spiritual poverty.

    But I believe the church in opposition and exile is a far more dangerous and effective creature than the church in captivity ever will be. God is faithful and consistent, when the church got to comfortable in Jerusalem and failed to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” He sent persecution to scatter them. My fear is that things won’t get bad enough for us here to motivate real revival.

    As previously posted, indifference is a far more deadly condition than persecution.

    • I totally agree that the church in opposition and exile is far more dangerous. Does anyone believe or see that God might actually be using post-modernism to dismantle the political and ultimately the financial structures of organized churches?

      I think that things are more precarious than many would like to admit, but again, that’s not a bad thing is it? I say bring on the tribulation and let’s see the church (the actual people of God) begin to operate in the Acts 2 power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit.

  5. from what i am hearing the church is already experiencing persecution and the indifference within the church is appalling. why aren’t the pastors calling for a solemn assembly and a fast and a call for repentence from the horrible sins this nation is guilty of? why are we so afraid of offending someone when we say the s word? the church has failed and has left their first love. love for god and love for their fellowman by not warning them of the wrath to come.

  6. I now live for six years in Germany and totally support the former observations. Church here is nothing but a shell, God has been put in the storeroom, only to be taken out if of any use for mostly worldly purposes.
    Church buildings serve to host rock concerts to fill the void in their bank accounts due to the great number of people who relinquish their church membership.
    So I have to agree further to look at the history of places in this world where God’s work once was great but now has become meaningless as warning. Sadly, I am under the impression people never learn from history, even if it happens right in front of them.

  7. I recently visited Rome for a Leadership Conference for a group of 30 teenagers. What I learned was more serious than even what has been mentioned here. We in the US are living in a post-Christian world. In Europe, the forerunner of culture, they are in a post-post-Christian environment that is being instantaneously side-swiped by a mass Muslim immigration into most of their countries.

    The cultural shift has passed most of us farther than we are willing to admit, and we are far more irrelevant than our best efforts. However, I believe that God can transcend our deficiency, but we need to start recognizing that we’re not keeping up with the curve here.

  8. Please do note that there is high density of churches within one city. Why is so few people in the cathedral? Because most people go to their local parish.
    If you want to experience a full church, try Dominican Church in Krakow.

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