Metaphorical Children

In Matthew 19.13-15 we see that Jesus welcomes little children to come to Him:

Then the little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them; and the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”And after He had placed His hands on them, He went on from there.…

In Mt. 19 these are literal children whom Jesus accepted and blessed. However, in this post, I look at children of a different sort: metaphorical. Earlier to this instance of Jesus blessing literal children, the occasion arose to teach adult disciples about what type of person is viewed by Jesus as being the most spiritually accomplished (or greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven). Mt. 18.1-5, Mk. 9.33-37, and Lk. 9.46-48 are the relative sections.

One aspect of the promised New Covenant that all of the accounts emphasize: New Birth. Most all Christians are familiar with John 3.3 where Jesus tells Nicodemus: unless one is born again, they cannot see the Kingdom of God. While this statement is unique to John, the same concept appears in The Synoptic Gospels in the account about becoming like little children where additional concepts of ministry are also taught.

Mt. 18.1-5

At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, had him stand among them, and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me. (NET)

Mk. 9.33-37

Then they came to Capernaum. After Jesus was inside the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. After he sat down, he called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (NET)

Lk. 9.46-48 

Now an argument started among the disciples as to which of them might be the greatest. But when Jesus discerned their innermost thoughts, he took a child, had him stand by his side, and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me, for the one who is least among you all is the one who is great.” (NET)

Harmonizing the Synoptic Accounts

Comparing these discrete writings by different authors and at relatively different times there is no real disunity in the message. On the surface, however, the occasion for the teaching may at first seem problematic. If we think of the probable flow of the narratives, the solution is apparent.

  1. The disciples argue “who is the greatest”
  2. Jesus discerned their thoughts
  3. Jesus asked: “what were you discussing on the way?”
  4. The disciples asked: “who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?”

Children in Malice

The Corinthian church were confused about spiritual gifts and Paul spent three chapters (1Cor. 12-14) detailing aspects of various gifts to correct the chaos in this church. It is notable that these Corinthians knew the New Life in Christ featured some aspect of child-likeness. Paul gives the scope of childlike innocence by defining exactly what areas they should focus in 1 Cor. 14.20:

Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind. (NLT)

Serving by God’s Ability

The first Epistle of Peter gives many practical exhortations after the teaching sections which lay the groundwork. Peter urges his readers to not rely upon themselves and their natural abilities in the area of church life and general ministry:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 4.10-11 NIV) 

Notice that “gift” implies an unlearned and non-native ability. Peter wants the churches to glorify God by allowing Him to work among and through them. This is not by serving with natural wisdom or practiced techniques, instead, by God’s Spirit who indwells them.

Returning to the texts about “being the greatest” and ministry in the Synoptics, Jesus says the same thing which Peter obviously learned in part from this teaching. A disciple (an adult) needs to become childlike and dependent upon God and not rely on their own devices and native ability to serve spiritually. Further, Jesus says that when a disciple depends on God that those who accept the disciple’s message receive Him (since He is empowering and with the disciple).

This teaching of Jesus enabling ministry culminates in the last words recorded in Matthew’s Gospel:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28.18-20 NIV)

Understanding the Olivet Discourse

The best way, I believe, to examine Jesus’ teaching in the Olivet Discourse is to have the three Synoptic accounts open at the relative sections. This is easy to do digitally but may also be read with three hard copy bibles. I personally never achieved clarity of the account until doing this very technique. No, I am not speaking about the specific timing of the Lord’s return (Luke gives warning that some would say the time is drawing near erroneously) but other details such as whether the prophecy’s fulfillment was near or far into the future along with other telling features. It turns out that explicitly the prophecy is both near to the disciples (70 C.E.) and future-yet to happen. The accounts in relative context are: Mt. 23.35-24.35; Mk. 13.1-31; Lk. 21.5-33.
For at least 3000 years Jews have been burying their dead on this hill just east of The Temple Mount in Jerusalem anticipating The Messiah’s descent and the subsequent resurrection. Zechariah 14.1-11 is the most relevant citation to this event. At present, at least 150,000 tombs are located on The Mount of Olives. Of course for Christians, Christ ascended into heaven bodily (was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of their sight) from this mount as witnessed by His disciples and received the promise: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (see Acts 1.9-11).
israel-2013-aerial-mount_of_olives (Photo Credit: Andrew Shiva)

 

jerusalem_mount_of_olives_bw_2010-09-20_07-57-31 (Photo Credit: Berthold Werner)

Some 40 days before The Ascension, during The Passover, Christ explained privately to His Disciples three events in what has become known as The Olivet Discourse (see Mt. 28.1-3): 1. Second Temple destruction (not one stone left upon another) which occurred on Tisha B’Av in 70 C.E. the exact same day of the year as the burning of Solomon’s Temple in 586 B.C.E. 2. The nature of His Return 3. The general timing of The End of The Age.

The occasion of the discourse was the disciples’ question to Jesus after returning from Jerusalem across The Kidron Valley where they had their pilgrimage tents set up in the orchard (though tents are never mentioned, from background knowledge it is apparent-see Hos. 12.9). Every male Jew was obligated to attend the 3 pilgrimage feasts at Jerusalem yearly and Jesus no doubt attended every feast during His adulthood to fulfill all The Law’s righteousness. It may have been during His entire ministry that Jesus used this hill as His festival campground for Jn. 18.2 mentions: “Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples.”

Jesus was speaking previously that this generation led by the Pharisees and Teachers of The Law stood condemned and they would not see Him again until His return and that their House (Temple) would be left desolate. Below, I have reproduced the sections in The Synoptic Gospels with Matthew’s fullest account which includes the previous denunciation of Mt. 23.35ff. I have also highlighted the unique section in Lk. 21.20-24 which First Century Christians knew referred to The Second Temple’s Destruction and so fled the area and were spared the Roman General Titus’ wrath in 70 C.E. Also, I have bolded other statements in Luke that are unique to him since he was in contact with several eyewitnesses in producing his account (see Lk. 1.1-4).

 

Matthew 23.35-24.35

“And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. (Chapter 24) Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”Jesus answered them, “Watch out that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains. “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. But the person who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. “So when you see the abomination of desolation—spoken about by Daniel the prophet—standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. The one on the roof must not come down to take anything out of his house, and the one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe him. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Remember, I have told you ahead of time. So then, if someone says to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe him. For just like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

“Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. “Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

 

Mark 13.1-31

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”So while he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,  “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that all these things are about to take place?”  Jesus began to say to them, “Watch out that no one misleads you. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will mislead many.  When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines. These are but the beginning of birth pains. “You must watch out for yourselves. You will be handed over to councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them.  First the gospel must be preached to all nations. When they arrest you and hand you over for trial, do not worry about what to speak. But say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. The one on the roof must not come down or go inside to take anything out of his house. The one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, or ever will happen. And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved. But because of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut them short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe him. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the elect. Be careful! I have told you everything ahead of time. But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man arriving in the clouds with great power and glory. Then he will send angels and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also you, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Luke 21.5-33

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place? He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.

Luke 21.20-24

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

America’s Sin

I went to schools for my theological training where marginalization of blacks, though outwardly condemned, was justified at least on a personal level. Several students believed  in and justified their racism by appealing to the bible’s account of the sin of Ham and his son Canaan. They identified Ham with the African Continent and said that blacks were cursed to be slaves somehow and they did not want to break the rules of the curse or something along those lines. In actuality, it was Canaan who preemptively defamed Noah in some way and received a curse. It had nothing to do with black people at all. Another false justification was that God had separated the peoples and it was wrong to intermarry with others of different ethnicity somehow. God clearly approved of Moses marrying a Cushite woman who was black when Aaron and Miriam objected and Miriam was cursed with leprosy temporarily (see Num. 12 cf. Jer. 13.23). It baffles how some justify their racism.

 

Stone Jars

The well known story of Jesus turning water into wine is found in the second chapter of John. In the account is what I always thought a curious feature: stone water pots for cleansing-Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washing, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. (John 2.6)

The rationale of strictly observant Jews (Pharisees and others) is a parenthetical explanation in Mark 7.3-4: For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they perform a ritual washing, holding fast to the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. They hold fast to many other traditions: the washing of cups, pots, kettles, and dining couches.

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Archeologists-unearth-2000-year-old-stone-vessel-production-center-502056

Yardenna Alexandre, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority who specializes in the study of Roman Era Galilee adds: “Throughout the years we have been discovering fragments of these kinds of stone vessels alongside pottery in excavations of houses in both rural and urban Jewish sites from the Roman period, such as at Kafr Kanna, Sepphoris and Nazareth. Now, for the first time, we have an unprecedented opportunity to investigate a site where these vessels were actually produced in Galilee”. According to Alexandre, “The fact that Jews at this time used stone vessels for religious reasons is well attested in the Talmudic sources and in the New Testament as well”. She explains that the phenomenon appears in the Wedding at Cana narrative in the Gospel of John, where the water-turned-to-wine is told to have been held in six jars made of stone: “Now there were six stone water jars set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each” (John 2:6).
A tantalizing link to the Gospel narrative lies in the location of the excavations at Reina just south of the modern village of Kafr Kanna, identified by many scholars as the site of Biblical Cana. “It is possible that large stone containers of the type mentioned in the Wedding at Cana of Galilee story may have been produced locally in Galilee” says Alexandre.

The significance of Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley

Meredith Kline, the late professor of Assyriology at Westminster Seminary, held that Har Magedon referred to Jerusalem since Tel Migiddo is hardly a mountain. I still believe it is a reference to this valley (Jezreel, which Mt. Megiddo overlooks) because, in part, it provides a generally level place for camps and staging of campaigns. The valley is also accessible from many directions. To call Megiddo a mountain is still allowed in my thinking since it is part of The Carmel Ridge.

Ferrell's Travel Blog

From Tel Megiddo one has a good view of the Jezreel Valley. Our panorama is composed of three photos made from the same spot at Megiddo. The Jezreel Valley lies before us to the north (and slightly east). Nazareth is located in the mountains of lower Galilee. The valley continues east between the Hill of Moreh and Mount Gilboa to Beth-Shean, the Jordan Valley, and the mountains of Gilead. The valley was known by the Greek name Esdraelon in New Testament times.

It was almost inevitable that those traveling from Babylon, Assyria, the territory of the Hittites, or Syria to Egypt, would travel through the Valley of Jezreel. The site of Jezreel is between the Hill of Moreh and Mt. Gilboa. (More about this at another time.)

Panorama of Jezreel Valley from Megiddo. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins. Panorama of Jezreel Valley from Megiddo. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For teaching purposes you may wish to use this annotated panoramic photograph. Click…

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Galatians and Paul’s Jerusalem-Collection Re-visited

Is the key expression of genuineness in Gentile Christian Churches care for the poorer members? Some seem to think it is. Care for destitute Christians in each local church should feature undoubtedly, but The Key?
Professor Hurtado proposes that Gal. 2.10 refers primarily as a defensive plank of the epistle to The Galatians.

Larry Hurtado's Blog

In an essay from 1979 I floated the idea that Paul’s collection-project for Jerusalem may have been used against him by his critics in the Galatian churches:  “The Book of Galatians and the Jerusalem Collection,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 5(1979), pp. 46-62.  In recent weeks, I’ve returned to that essay while reading Bruce Longenecker’s book, Remember the Poor:  Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).

Longenecker’s main aim in that book is to argue (contrary to the claims of some other scholars) that the Apostle Paul did promote support for the poor and needy in the early churches that he founded, and I find his case largely persuasive.  In pursuing that aim, Longenecker also discusses attitudes toward the poor more generally in the pagan and Jewish contexts, estimates the economic stratification of the first-century world, and several other matters as well.

But what…

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The Meaning of “Holy”

During my training for an M.Div (now 40 years ago), my Systematics Professor sought to describe the meaning of “holy” as “otherness” or “out of the ordinary” which conformed with the then-current scholarship. The Hebrew of the biblical text is only consonants and the vowels need to be supplied. The form of the term “holy” is qds or its root: qd. My professor illustrated this “unusual” aspect by noting that the term “prostitute” is the same one as “holy.” He explained the conception of these terms: As the prostitute was outside the normal bounds of society, so “holiness” was something humans in their natural selves needed as being “outside” themselves.

This conception, of course, stayed with me as I sought meaning in my bible reading subsequent to my training. Somehow, the idea did not reconcile itself very well with the general tenor of scripture. This lack of cohesiveness, I believe, has been explained by further analyzing the term. This current understanding, however, was not readily accessible to most Christians and Peter Gentry has helped bring it to light. John Meade summarizes Gentry’s hour-long address:

It seems to me, Gentry had three objectives: 1) to summarize biblical scholarship on Hebrew qds (holy, consecrated, belonging to)(Baudissin to Costecalde) and to place the results of these technical studies in the context of systematic theology (e.g. H. Bavinck et al.). According to Gentry, through the past 100+ years systematic theology has understood qds through the lexical analysis of Baudissin, which suffered from an etymological analysis, which concluded that the original meaning of qd meant “to cut”. Costecalde’s study of 1985, almost 100 years later, was exhaustive and more linguistically thorough and he concluded that the evidence from the ANE and the Bible indicates that qds means “consecration” or “devotion” or “belonging to” not “separate” or “otherness”. The former study emphasized distance between God and man, while the latter emphasized “devoted to” or “belonging to”.  Unfortunately, this study was published in French and many systematic theologians have not utilized it. 2) To exegete the key texts where qds is used: Exodus 3 (“holy ground”), Exodus 19 (“holy nation”), and Isaiah 5-6 (Holy Lord, Holy, Holy, Holy, indicating that YHWH is devoted to social justice in the context). 3) Gentry closes his lecture with an exhortation to systematic theologians to continue the work of exegesis and not to continue accepting the viewpoints of the status quo.

https://septuagintstudies.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/peter-gentrys-faculty-address-at-sbts-fall-2010/

 

The Church in Europe

By Steffen Mueller

http://theaquilareport.com/the-church-in-europe/

Europe was the birthplace of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche—the Castle Church—in Wittenberg, Germany. In God’s providence, this became a catalyst for the Reformation that God had been preparing, the Reformation that changed the world.

For a long time, Europe was the center of Christian strength and influence. However, over the past two centuries, Christianity has seen a decline in Europe as the continent has moved into a post-Christian phase. The year 2017 marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. So, let’s take an on-the-ground look at the church in Europe today.

THE NUMBERS ON THE GROUND

When you fly over Europe, you can see a lot of beautiful historic church buildings. Once you are on the ground and you visit some of the churches, you find out that some of those church buildings have been turned into museums; they are no longer places where Christ crucified and risen is proclaimed.

Just consider my own home country of Germany. In 1951, shortly after the Second World War, more than 96 percent of all Germans were members of either the Protestant state church or the Roman Catholic Church. Today, Germany is a country of 82 million people, and the number of members in the Protestant state church has decreased to 22 million people (about 27 percent of the total population) and in the Roman Catholic Church it has decreased to 23.5 million (about 29 percent). So, from 1951 to 2017, the number of members in the two largest churches in Germany has decreased from 96 percent to 56 percent. If these trends continue, then by 2030 this number will have dropped to below 38 percent.

The total worship attendance of all Protestant state churches on an average Sunday is less than eight hundred thousand people—which means that less than 4 percent of the churches’ members actually go to church on any given Sunday. In the Roman Catholic Church, the worship attendance is about 2.5 million people—so about 10.5 percent of their members go to church on any given Sunday.

The number of members in Protestant free churches in Germany today is about three hundred thousand. However, it is estimated that on an average Sunday, close to one million people worship at a Protestant free church in Germany.

Due to the current refugee crisis, the number of Muslims in Germany has substantially increased in the last few years. In 2017, there are about 5 million Muslims in Germany (about 6 percent of the total population). About one-third of all the Muslims in Germany are orthodox in their Islamic faith. The other two-thirds are more liberal and not as committed to the Qur’an.

The general trends that I have described in Germany are similar in other European countries such as Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Austria.

STRENGTH AND WEAKNESSES

Apart from the numbers, what are some of the strengths and some of the weaknesses of the church in Europe?

First, let me say that no matter how liberal the church at large in Europe has become over the last two hundred years, Almighty God still has had His faithful servants in different parts of Europe who clearly proclaim Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior. One of those faithful servants was Julius von Jan, who served as pastor of the Protestant state church in my hometown of Oberlenningen, near Tübingen in southern Germany. In God’s providence, Jan served as a pastor during the reign of the Nazis in Germany. After the Reichskristallnacht in November 1938, Jan preached his famous Bußtagspredigtsermon on Jeremiah 22:29: “O land, land, land, hear the word of the Lord!” In this sermon, Jan called the German people to repent and not to follow the Nazis but instead to follow the living God and obey His Word. Jan preached this sermon while men of the Schutzstaffel (SS) were sitting in the congregation, and a few days later he was sent to a concentration camp. Jan is one example of the strength of the church in Europe: a preacher who not only faithfully preached God’s Word but who was amazingly bold in the midst of tremendous opposition. One of the real strengths of the church in Europe is that many Christians here clearly follow Jesus Christ as their real God—or as Tim Keller likes to say, their “functional Savior.” Most of these Christians are in rather small congregations, and they know that their love and their commitment to Jesus Christ is not esteemed or valued by the culture. And yet they joyfully follow Jesus Christ because of who He is and because of what He has done for them in His sinless life, in His death on the cross, and in His resurrection.

A second strength in the church in Europe—in those churches where Jesus and the gospel is proclaimed—is a deep sense of community and fellowship. It is a great joy for me as pastor of Gospel Church München in Munich, Germany, to see how deeply people love each other and care about each other and how they joyfully spend much time together, both on Sundays and during the week. By God’s grace, we have many non-Christians who visit our worship services, and I frequently hear from them that they are blown away by the joy and the love that the people at Gospel Church München have for God and for one another. It is not unusual for one of these visitors to tell me that they have never seen a more loving community. Praise be to God that this is not only true in Munich but in many other churches that I have visited all over Europe.

A third strength of the church in Europe is its willingness to care for the least of the least. Germany alone took in more than 1.25 million refugees in 2015. Many of them came from war-torn areas in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. A large number of churches in Germany have helped many of these refugees, and by God’s grace, hundreds or possibly even thousands of refugees have come to faith in Jesus Christ. I know of a group of refugees in downtown Munich, most of whom are former Muslims, who meet every Sunday afternoon to study the Bible, and the group just keeps growing and growing, both numerically and spiritually.

When it comes to the weaknesses of the church in Europe, the first thought that comes to mind is that liberal theology has tremendously hurt the church. If you have pastors who are not preaching Christ crucified and risen and who don’t talk about sin, then it is no wonder that people are not converted and that those churches die. In my own experience in Munich, I have heard from several pastors that in the Bible there is no such thing as truth. This is in direct contradiction to Jesus’ words in John 8:31–32: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

An apparent weakness in the church in Europe is that some churches are man-centered rather than God-centered. Instead of being concerned with the glory of God and His eternal kingdom, the focus has shifted to being concerned with how God can give me a better life now.

A third weakness is the lack of knowledge of good systematic theology. It is rare, especially in the free churches, for any catechism or confession to be used in the church. Sadly but not surprisingly, many Christians in Europe don’t know their doctrine; they don’t know what their church really believes. As a consequence, some Protestants in Europe have gotten to the point that they think the Roman Catholic Church teaches and preaches basically the same things as the Protestant churches. They have forgotten—or they have never really been taught—why the Reformation was necessary in the first place.

THE WAY FORWARD

The way forward in Europe is once again to embrace, preach, and live the five solas of the Protestant Reformation: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone is our infallible authority), sola fide (faith alone is the instrument through which we are justified), solus Christus (salvation is found in Christ alone), sola gratia (we are saved only by grace, not by works), and soli Deo gloria (our glory and praise is for God alone).

People in Europe desperately need the Bible. They desperately need truth so that they can personally meet the King of kings and be changed by Him and His Word. They also need to be freed from the burden of works-righteousness by knowing and understanding that their justification is by faith alone. In the midst of the widespread spiritual illiteracy in Europe, it is of utmost importance that people are clearly taught that Jesus Christ is the only mediator through whose work we are redeemed. Praise be to God that salvation is by grace alone and to the glory of God alone.

Yes, the church in Europe needs much prayer, and at the same time, we rejoice that God is at work in Europe. In places where Jesus Christ and the gospel are proclaimed, we see people come to faith and become worshipers of Him. In France, one of the least-churched countries in the world, the number of evangelical churches has multiplied ten times since 1945. And by God’s grace, we have seen God plant and mature Gospel Church München in just five years from a pioneer church plant to a vibrant God-centered church. Soli Deo gloria.

Some Thirty, Some Sixty, and Some a Hundredfold

Just recently I heard a message on the Sower and the Soils from the Gospels. Of course, I have read, studied, and heard many sermons on this familiar parable given by Jesus. This time, though the preacher did not expound on the point, I finally realized the meaning of the various results of the good soils. The parable and its interpretation by Jesus is found in the three Synoptic Gospels: Mt. 13.3-9, 13.18-23; Mk. 4.2-9, 4.13-20; Lk. 8.4-8, 11-15.

It is only the grain He did not interpret but the meaning is obvious though I had not heard it identified nor did I understand the reference. Previously, I thought the different quantities might refer to spiritual fruits or converts we helped influence for Christ. While sitting in the pew and having the parable read and expounded the understanding identifying of the grain became apparent. The different amount of the good soils produced was not the conundrum since this is obvious in that various Christians both have diverse callings to various ministries and different levels of dedication to service. Defining the grain was my question.

Perhaps I focused on the negative soils to make sure I did not have any of them or avoid those same tendencies in my life. Maybe I should have meditated on it more or tried to find the meaning in a commentary. By the way, the best commentary on the bible is the bible itself. If we would just read it more in context and with more frequency then we build ‘live memory’ or an accessible ‘data bank’ of biblical truth which helps us combine the various passages to make sense of the whole.

Anyway, the figure of the parable is clear: the grains are just what has been previously dispersed, other grains of witness and preaching. Neither Jesus, Paul, nor the others won over everyone to whom they witnessed. Therefore, it is our responsibility to give the word, but the enlightening by The Spirit and giving of faith belongs to God. We should seek to tell forth His word but leave all the results to God alone.