Is the Christian West Perishing?

René Malgo

Today it’s worse than ever before in world history. Society is forsaking Christianity. Destruction is lurking just around the corner. Really?

Fear is circulating, and many are wondering, what ideas will be brought to Europe [or America] by the flow of refugees from Islamic countries? Will the US, Russia, China, Iran, etc. start a third world war with their saber-rattling? Will the hardening of the left- and right-leaning political fronts lead to civil wars? How destructive will gender madness be to my family?

Yes, we live in troubled times. And yet, we could say the same about the world ever since the Fall. There is a good reason that there are admonishers in every generation, who see the end approaching. For example, Martin Luther appeared in one such apocalyptic atmosphere. He and others were convinced that the Last Days couldn’t be far off. The Reformer had certainly not expected that he would completely change the Christian world for 500 years.

The New Testament shows that the end of all things has been near since the first coming of the Lord Jesus (1 Pet 4:7; James 5:9; Rev 1:3). The Incarnation of the Son of God, His Life, His Passion, His Death, His Resurrection, and His Ascension have wrought a definite change in time, a turning point that can never be reversed (1 Cor 10:11; Col 2:13-15; Heb 9:26). The Holy Spirit has been poured out (Acts 2:16-17), the night has advanced, the day is near (Rom 13:12). Therefore, a cosmic battle is raging between Michael and the holy angels on one side, and the devil and the fallen angels on the other side. The devil knows that he is a defeated enemy with little time remaining (Rev 12:7-12). He is angry and walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour (1 Pet 5:8). Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised at any time, if we observe end-time signs and tremors. For more than 2,000 years, we have been living in the “evil days” (Eph 5:16) shortly before the end—shortly before the onset of the last Great Tribulation. That’s one point of view.

The other is: Jesus is victor! Where His gospel is proclaimed, spread, and believed, the enemy must capitulate. Jesus is Lord (Eph 1:20-21). Wherever the light shines, the darkness must give way (1 John 2:8). And that’s something many overlook and forget. The power of the Christian faith is real. Martin Luther once remarked that the devil can never approach us as closely as Christ has come to us. People can fall for the seductions of the devil, they can be overcome by evil, they can choose sin and thus become more and more like the devil, and even be possessed by him. But Christ came so close to man that He Himself became man; He became one of us. The devil didn’t do that. If we believe in Christ, God is always closer to us in the Son than the devil is. Always. The one who is in us, by faith, is greater “than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

The fidelity of the early church meant that Christianity was not destroyed by, for example, the Roman Empire, but that the Roman Empire capitulated before Christianity with Constantine the Great. The loyalty of many Reformers and Baptists meant that medieval society didn’t, for example, go down with the end of the world, but entered a new era. The fidelity of the church revival movements of the 18th and 19th centuries meant that the Enlightenment did not repress Christianity, but was all too often defeated by it.

Of course, wheat and tares have always been and are now growing in the church of God (Matt 13:25-30). In every Christian religious community, we find light and shadow: in one, more shadows; in another, more light (cf. Rev 2—3). But the more the gospel is proclaimed in the world, the more the entire world will be positively stirred up (cf. Acts 16:20; Matt 28:18-20).

Yes, the times are getting worse the nearer the end comes (2 Tim 3:1), but this truth is no reason for Christians to become lethargic and discouraged. On the contrary, if we care about our neighbor, we should face the decline and proclaim the gospel, the message that Jesus Christ alone is Lord. This truth is, and remains, God’s power for all the world (Rom 1:16) until Christ comes and sets up His kingdom for Israel (Matt 19:28). And since none of us are to know the (approximate) season or the (exact) time (Acts 1:6-7), none of us can say, “Times are so evil now that it’s not worth proclaiming the gospel anymore.”

God’s power remains a force, as long as the bearers of His Holy Spirit are ready to live for Him, proclaim Him, and glorify Him.

This doesn’t answer the question of whether the Christian West is perishing. First, the cynic would ask, “Was it ever Christian?” Yes, it was, in all its imperfection. Even if hardly anyone had adhered to them, Christian principles were considered morally binding. And that’s actually no longer the case today. But was the world better in every way? No.

The book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, is a real eye-opener. The author is godless through and through, but that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t gather facts. His outlook for the future isn’t especially optimistic, but he makes one thing clear: much has improved today. Statistically, more people die of overeating or eating the wrong kinds of food than from malnutrition(!). Epidemics, natural disasters, devastating wars, child mortality, and famines have been contained somewhat (even completely, in some cases).

Scientific and cultural progress ensure that modern man has unprecedented prosperity, a comparatively high level of security, and a longer and healthier life overall than 100 years ago. The Caesars would burst with envy if they knew what the “simple mob” would be capable of with their smartphones and credit cards.

In antiquity or at the time of the apostles, the question of a happy life was hardly an issue in society. That’s why we don’t read about happiness in the Scriptures. Grief was a normal part of life. Everyone knew that “misfortune will strike me.” And that’s why the theologians and philosophers of their time were less concerned with the pursuit of happiness, than with the pursuit of the best possible life in spite of unfortunate circumstances.

Today, happiness is considered the highest human achievement. Suffering is no longer normal for us. If something bad happens to us, it causes the greatest astonishment; yes, even to us Christians. Never has a society so successfully aspired to be happy as the modern West. And never before was the freedom of religion as great as it is today.

Consider if you were to proclaim in the medieval Christian West that you believe the true church is not visible, but consists only of those who believe in their hearts, and that their conscience is not bound by the ecclesiastical authorities. A comparatively harmless statement, we would say today. But in times when Christianity was taken “seriously,” those kinds of revolutionary thoughts could get you burned at the stake.

Yes, the Christian West is perishing. Hardly anyone (and certainly no government) takes religious dogma seriously anymore. And it benefits Islamists and the wicked, but also importantly believers, who can live their Christianity freely without an overzealous government dictating what they have to believe. Nevertheless, we should regret the downfall of the Christian West.

For all the things that were worse in the past, one thing was better: God was taken seriously. And, with all due respect for all people, this is more important than each individual person’s self-validation and contentment in his individual quirks. Unfortunately, it is true: we’re currently enjoying freedom and prosperity, precisely because moral and ethical barriers are falling. But the insatiable pursuit of happiness that shapes our society, without God and without morality, will lead to the detestable end-times man of 2 Timothy 3:1-8 becoming the social norm. And that has negative effects. “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt 16:26).

The moral decline can only be countered by one thing: the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is still God’s power that can change human hearts. Maybe you don’t believe that circumstances can be improved. It doesn’t matter. Luther didn’t, either. Even so, he proclaimed the gospel. All the same, the gospel has brought change. What the Lord God called to Israel thousands of years ago is still valid in Christ Jesus today (Eph 2:13; 3:6):

“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run into thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.

“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa 55:1-11).

Midnight Call - 11/2018

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