The Twist of Faith in Civilization

By Riley B. Case

Christianity is dying in the following countries—Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland—and is headed for extinction. That is the conclusion of a study conducted by a group of social scientists (the Research Corporation for Science Advancement), using census studies, and a linear dynamics mathematical systems model (whatever that is). These “findings” were reported at a recent American Physical Society meeting in Dallas.

Of course anyone who has been in Europe recently and has interacted with cynical college students or visited empty churches might draw the same conclusion. Census figures report that more and more persons in these “western civilization” countries are reporting “non-affiliated with religion,” with 60 percent of the persons in the Czech Republic making that claim. While not put into the “headed for extinction” category, countries like England, Germany, and France are also reporting increasing secularization and disregard for organized religion. A study conducted by the British Humanist Association reported that while 61 percent of those in England indicated they “belonged” to a religion, 65 percent reported they were “non-religious.”

Shall we panic?

Well, no, but it is sad to think that the lands which furnished the Christian beliefs and values that were so influential in making America what it is today, are now turning their backs on those beliefs and values.

There is no denying that the continent of Europe is growing increasingly pagan. We have not, in the past, associated the word “pagan” with the word “civilized.” The word “pagan” in popular usage often refers to persons, practices, or peoples that are not “civilized” (as in Westernized). Does not paganism have to do with primitive religions, heathenism, barbaric practices, and superstition? Can one be civilized and pagan at the same time?

Of course. Alien, secular, and humanistic philosophies are gaining dominance in Europe. These philosophies serve different gods. Man (and Woman), not God, is the center of the universe. Progress in these nations is measured not by how society reflects Christian values, but in the
extent to which their society is ordered apart from those values. The word “pagan” fits these nations appropriately.

But God is not without a witness.

This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of the following countries: Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in all of Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined. The number of Anglicans in church in Nigeria was several times the number in those other African countries.

This past Sunday it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called “Christian Europe.” Yet in 1970 there were no legally functioning churches in all of China.

This past Sunday there were more Roman Catholics at worship in the Philippines than in any single country of Europe, including such “Catholic countries” as Italy, Spain, or Poland.

It is important to see the big picture. Is it possible that in the plan of God Europe will be like the branch of the vine in John 15 that, since it no longer bears fruit, is cast away? Is God now using lands we once disdained as not-civilized to bring about his purposes?  Is this an example of God using “what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (I Cor. 1:27)? Christianity is among other things a philosophy of history. All of history is moving toward a goal. God once used the European nations to advance that goal and to bring healing to the world. But in the present time we are seeing a redistribution of the world’s Christian population. The energy and the vision for a redeemed world lies no longer with Europe but with those nations where the church is alive.

We ought to be interceding for the spiritual health of Europe. One can mention judgment only with sadness. This present week in Great Britain at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries are hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia.

What a twist of history; what a twist of faith.

Riley B. Case is a retired member of the North Indiana Conference, assistant executive director of the Confessing Movement, and a member of the Good News Board of Directors. He is also the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon).