Europe, the working place of the Holy Spirit
Ðåôîðìàöèÿ è Ïðîáóæäåíèå â (Çàïàäíî) Åâðîïåéñêîì îáùåñòâå
The shape of Europe today cannot be seen without considering the preaching of the Gospel for many centuries.
European society as a whole is marked by values that have their roots in Christian faith, like:
- the concept of grace: what we do and what we are is not accidental but granted, because of Godly providence.
- the concept of love: real Christian love (based on God’s unconditional love) seeks the wellbeing and dignity of the others – e.g. a strong tradition of care for the needy and the poor.
- the concept of human dignity and freedom (because we are created in the image of the living God) – e.g. emphasis on family, marriage, personal freedom.
- the concept of justice, because God will bring a final judge on everybody – e.g. advocacy for human rights, equal sharing, discerning good and evil, truth and lie.
Nevertheless Europe returned to its pagan roots many times. We have sinned at many times and left the Source of our existence, giving ourselves into pride and independence from God, driven by greed, egoism and hunger after power. We see many signs of it in European history: crusades, religious fights and intolerance, colonialism and slavery, two horrific World Wars. But most important might be: the rise of modern age that brought the Western world beneath the ‘line of despair’ (dr. Francis Schaeffer). Rational thinking and modern science became independent and produced the ‘age of atheism’ (19th century) in Europe.
Reformation: return to the roots of Christian faith
Reformation meant a big change in (Western) society. Through reformation God brought a return to the roots of Christian faith and the Christian church. It included a new emphasis on:
- the primacy of the Word of God (and not the church as the mediator of salvation): the focus changed from altar to pulpit (2 Peter 1, 19 -21)
- faith as a free gift of God and a personal relationship with God through Christ (Eph. 2: 4, 5).
- changes in authority and leadership structures of the church: instead of hierarchy a common responsibility, the priesthood of all (cf. the Catechism of Heidelberg: Christ anointed as Prophet, Priest and King, and a Christian partakes in that anointment to be a prophet, a priest, a king, cf Luke 4, 18 and 19). Instead of ‘official confession’ the mutual consolation of the brothers and the sisters.
- (in Calvinistic Reformation) emphasis on a holy life, following Christ in the midst of society. The work of the Holy Spirit has implications for our daily work, for society, for the nation. (cf. the attitude of Daniel and his friends, of Esther)
Renewal of Christian values
In particular the last point also meant a renewal/revisiting of Christian values. The most important are:
- the expectation of Gods Kingdom in the social and political reality of this world – indicating the final breakthrough of Gods Kingdom (Matth 5, 13-16; Rev. 21, 26). This is the basis of the ‘linear’ thinking about history (instead of the old European pagan cyclic thinking, the samsara in Buddhism and Hinduism).
- Personal calling of man to ‘stewardship’. He is created in God’s image. The work of Christ in salvation contains a restoration of a fourfold broken relationship (Genesis 3): man with God, with his neighbour, with himself and man with nature. So there is a new calling and responsibility to work for the good in nature and society at the basis of reconciliation with God.
- (Calvinistic) reformation didn’t only intend the soul or the church, but meant a deeper and wider reformation of the society through Christian example and practice. (Cf Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah 19, 4-9).
Reformation and Modernity
Reformation is part of a bigger movement in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages: the dawn of the ‘Age of Modernity’, that brought 1. the rise of modern science (combining thinking and observing in the discovery of laws of nature); 2. the rise of rationalism, that finally has put human thinking above revelation (God and His revelation became true in so far as it was ‘thinkable’, reasonable). The ‘Enlightment’ is the common denominator of this complicated process that saw its culmination in the 18th century. Society freed itself from the ‘imprisonment’ of the church by advocating for freedom, equality and brotherhood (anti hierarchy, anti institute), and science became the opposite of faith. Cf. the Dutch biologist Swammerdam (17th century) who wrote a book: ‘the glory of God in the anatomy of a louse’ – such a title could not appear a century later. The process of what we call ‘secularization’ produced a society that separated itself from its Christian roots.
It resulted in the 19th century in the ‘age of atheism’, producing four atheistic streams: in social science (Marx and socialism), in philosophy (Feuerbach and Nietzsche), in the rise of psychology (Freud) and in Biology (Darwin and neo-Darwinism).
Reformation and Revival
In many places and in many periods the churches of the Reformation were touched or even captivated by this process of secularization. But Reformation saw several times periods of re-awakening, revival (pietism, Moravian brothers, Great Awakening, the revivals around Wesley, the Revival of the 19thCentury with Alexandre Monod, Andrew Murray, later Charles Spurgeon etc.) Evangelical Alliance started in 1846
and is part of the revival movement of the 19th century, as well as several Christian Student movements.
In every re-awakening we see a return to the roots of Christianity:
- the need of conversion,
- the primacy of the Word,
- the meaning of prayer,
- a holy life and a holy church,
- the importance of small groups for mutual encouragement.
1. For the West. Western society needs to go back to the roots, the Christian heritage, which is the Word (the Gospel that says: He has fulfilled it), the Law (that says: love God and love your neighbour), the Christian community in the one body of Christ where He is adored.
2. For the East. Easter society (with primacy of the Orthodox Church) needs to see the fruits: the gospel lived and proclaimed in all parts of society. We don’t need here more missionaries, but ‘Daniels’: Christian doctors, lawyers, businessmen, politicians, who serve God in the midst of society, who are the salt and the light in today’s turbulent and chaotic society.
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