Life, Hope & Truth

From the November/December 2020 issue of Discern Magazine

The Future of Christianity in Europe

In the context of the historic struggle between Islam and Christianity, it seems European Christianity is dying out. But is a resurgence around the corner?

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In a highly symbolic move, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently joined as many as 350,000 people for Friday Islamic prayers at the famed Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Making the Hagia Sophia into a mosque again fulfilled his long-held dream to restore the monument as a symbol of Ottoman grandeur.

Cathedral, mosque and museum

“It was,” said Mr. Erdogan, “the yearning of our people and it has been accomplished.” He described the Hagia Sophia’s previous conversion into a secular museum—in 1935 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the republic’s founding leader—as a mistake now rectified.

As Mr. Erdogan attempts to establish a new Ottoman Empire, he has built more than 17,000 mosques throughout Turkey. Istanbul alone already boasts more than 3,000 other mosques.

The Hagia Sophia has always been a prime source of contention between Islam and Christendom. Before it entered its most-recent secular phase, it had been one of Islam’s greatest mosques for five centuries. But for its first 900 years it was Christendom’s greatest cathedral.

Hagia Sophia: A cathedral for billions

Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, was founded as an imperial capital in A.D. 330 by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. He envisioned it as a new Rome to surpass the old Rome. It strategically overlooked the Bosporus, the maritime choke point that divides Europe and Asia.

Constantine’s son completed the first basilica and dedicated it to Hagia Sophia (divine wisdom in Greek). Emperors and empresses of the newly Christianized empire were crowned there.

As the city expanded, so did the church. In 537 Byzantine emperor Justinian, whose rule stretched from Spain to the Middle East, dedicated a reconstructed Hagia Sophia. This architectural marvel was an expression of opulence, power and piety. Hagia Sophia was the premier cathedral of the Roman Empire and later the center of Orthodox Christianity.

Under an enormous dome that appeared to float, lustrous gold mosaics and icons reflected the natural sunlight that flooded in from massive windows. It was the largest church in the world for nearly 1,000 years. It was so grandly arrayed that Justinian is said to have proclaimed, “Solomon, I have surpassed thee!”

The cathedral is drenched in history and has profoundly impacted countless lives. Early Russian history records the story of Vladimir the Great, ruler of Kievan Rus in the 10th century. The pagan Vladimir wanted to choose a religion to unify his people, so he sent out envoys to neighboring civilizations.

The ambassadors saw the Hagia Sophia and were awestruck, reportedly saying, “We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth.” Vladimir converted to Orthodox Christianity and then called all the residents of Kiev to the Dnieper River for a massive baptism ceremony, thus shaping Russian and Slavic history for the last millennium.

Christianity and Islam

Rome, and later the “New Rome” of Constantinople, had dominated much of Europe, North Africa, Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor for a millennium before Muhammad declared himself Allah’s messenger around A.D. 610. Islam spread rapidly through military conquest, trade and pilgrimage. Within just a few decades, its armies had created a massive Muslim empire spanning three continents.

Islam’s battles with the Europeans grew to be viewed as a struggle against Christendom and, according to Raymond Ibrahim, author of Sword and Scimitar, the conquest of Constantinople was considered the transcendent goal (2020).

Resistance to Islam was the strongest glue that bonded the peoples of the Eastern Roman Empire together, regardless of language and ethnic origin. Constantinople was the bulwark of Europe’s eastern flank, and its legendary walls repulsed the scimitar of Islam for more than 800 years.

Constantinople finally fell to the Ottoman war machine in 1453. Celebrating this as their greatest victory over Christianity, Muslims hoped it would open the European heartland to Islamic conquest.

That conquest was narrowly averted at the gates of Vienna in 1683, but it seems the conflict has never completely gone away. And Christianity appears to be losing.

Cultural and spiritual ruins of European Christianity

Even as Turkey turns the Hagia Sophia museum back into a mosque, Western Europeans have essentially converted their vacant churches into cultural museums, reflecting the spiritual decline of a lost civilization. Many cathedrals, once at the heart of Europe’s life and culture, now sit abandoned and decaying. Others have been turned into themed nightclubs, residences, skateboard parks and even a school for circus performers.

The Church of England shutters at least 20 churches a year. Roughly 200 Danish churches have been deemed redundant. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany closed over 500 churches between 2004 and 2014.

At least one-fifth of the Netherlands’ 6,900 church buildings have been converted for secular use and hundreds more are expected to close in the near future.

Post-Christian Europe’s predicted future

“When Christian faith had departed,” notes Bruce Bawer, the author of While Europe Slept, “it had taken with it a sense of ultimate meaning and purpose—and left the Continent vulnerable to conquest by people with deeper faith and stronger convictions. What’s more, no longer able to take religion seriously themselves, many Europeans were unable to believe that other people might take religion very seriously indeed” (2006, p. 34).

Illustrating the difference, in some Muslim nations around 90 percent of the population declares that religion “plays a very important role” in their lives.

With European Christianity receding and Islam offering a youthful and active rival for the loyalty of future generations, scholars question if or when Europe will become “Eurabia” or a colony of the Muslim world.

Identity but unbelief

Christendom is in rapid retreat, but it is not the fault of Islam. The main issue is secularism and rejection of a faith that, even if it only vaguely resembled the simple faith of Jesus Christ, did unify the Continent.

While most Western Europeans still tick the “Christian” (or “Catholic” or “Protestant”) box on surveys, theirs is a cultural identity rather than a religious one. These “post-Christian Christians” are safe and wealthy and see no need for an active or demanding faith.

Evaporation of Christianity

To be European was once virtually synonymous with being Christian. Now Europe has become one of the world’s most secular regions, with trends suggesting that the Continent will see the number of Christians decrease by an additional 50 million by 2050. As a skeptical younger generation abandons the faith, the surviving faithful are concentrated among the aged, the rural and in some Eastern European countries.

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll, Americans, overall, are considerably more religious than those in the 15 Western European nations surveyed. Half of Americans (53 percent) say religion is “very important” in their lives, compared with a median of just 11 percent of adults across Western Europe.

Other findings in the Pew poll further demonstrate the sinking belief in God and Christianity in Europe:

  • Only 39 percent of Western Europeans say that religion gives meaning to their lives. Just 44 percent say religion helps them choose right over wrong, and only 27 percent feel they will be judged by a higher power.
  • A median of 58 percent say they “seldom” or “never” attend religious services.
  • A median of 27 percent believe in God as described in the Bible.
  • Just one in 10 people say they pray daily.

A changing religious landscape

In Western Europe, where Protestant Christianity originated and Catholicism is based, God has been banished from public life. The decline in religion as the focus of social and cultural life began with secularization and moved to dechristianization.

The current dechristianization of Europe will have critical implications for the near future.“When men stop believing in God,” as G.K. Chesterton famously pointed out, “they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything.”

British historian and best-selling author Niall Ferguson, though calling himself an “incurable atheist,” observed that “organised Christianity, both in terms of observance and in terms of faith, sail[ed] off a cliff in Europe sometime in the 1970s [and] 1980s,” leaving European societies without “religious resistance” to radical Islamists.

“In a secular society where nobody believes in anything terribly much except the next shopping spree, it’s really quite easy to recruit people to radical, monotheistic positions,” Mr. Ferguson said.

Not surprisingly, Christianity’s fade also mirrored the growth of pseudo-religious movements such as radical environmentalism.

The wages of disbelief

Secularization spread slowly at first and then with increasing force, as old taboos were jettisoned.

In an increasingly atheistic and agnostic age, the most elemental biblical doctrines have been twisted, ridiculed and abandoned, even by clerics. Europe’s main Protestant churches have largely self-secularized, adopting liberal and leftist values. For example, most Lutheran churches perform same-sex marriages, ordain openly homosexual priests and do not condemn abortion.

“We can see,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin as he championed Russia’s Orthodox faith, “how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual.”

Godless Europe?

The current dechristianization of Europe will have critical implications for the near future. As historian Bruce Thornton, the author of Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow Motion Suicide, has discerned, “The spiritual vacuum created by the abandonment of traditional Christianity leaves contemporary Europeans still vulnerable to political religions, including new versions of fascism” (2007, p. 43).

Future events—prophesied thousands of years ago and found in the pages of your Bible—are likely to be shockingly different from current trends. The book of Revelation, unfamiliar to this religiously uneducated generation, reveals dramatic end-time events that will lead up to the glorious return of Jesus Christ. It describes an unrivaled European power, a political entity that appears to be in its formative stages in the European Union.

Referred to as the “beast,” it will be the final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire (Daniel 7:7; Revelation 13:1, 3; note that the “beast” can also refer to the leader of this European power). This political and military colossus will be intimately linked to and shaped by the ancient church at Rome—pictured symbolically as a woman riding the beast.

This wealthy and famous, but counterfeit, version of Christianity—described as “the mother of harlots” (Revelation 17:5)—has long been a power player in international politics.

It will again exert tremendous spiritual, political and economic sway as religious fervor sweeps the spiritually parched Continent. This powerful church—bearing the name but not the true teachings of Jesus Christ—will be resuscitated again from a terminal malaise (Revelation 17:1-6).

Clash of civilizations

This 21st-century version of the ancient Babylonian mystery religion will be led by a charismatic “man of sin,” a mesmerizing charlatan with media savvy (Revelation 13:11-13; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Posing convincingly as divine, this false prophet will perform awe-inspiring, Hollywood-style miracles that will cause people to worship the beast and the image of the beast (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:14-15).

Witnessed by billions, this spiritual wizardry will dominate headlines.

Biblical ignorance, economic expediency and celebrity adoration will lead many to be ensnared into believing that these signs and wonders are the workings of the true God. In reality, the miracles will be the work of Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:8-11; Revelation 16:13-14).

Echoing the history of the Christendom-versus-Islam saga, this false prophet will likely rally enthusiasm and provide spiritual cover and rationale for the beast to launch a devastating and avenging European blitz on Middle Eastern foes. This will come in response to an attack by the “king of the South” (Daniel 11:40-42).

Geopolitical conditions are lining up for the inevitable clash of civilizations revealed in the Bible. Make sure that you know your Bible. Understand what it says, and obey the laws of God out of love. Be certain you follow the authentic Christianity that Jesus taught rather than the watered-down, feel-good versions so common today. This scrutiny will help you to avoid being deceived.

You can learn more about these events, as well as the good news of the incredible period that follows them, in our booklet How to Understand Prophecy.

About the Author

Neal Hogberg

Neal Hogberg is a member of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, and attends the Dallas, Texas, congregation.

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