Janet and I returned Saturday from vacationing in Northern Europe. Our trip took us around the Baltic Sea to some of the most picturesque places we’ve ever encountered.
We visited a church founded in 1130 and toured several others that were built prior to the Reformation. Their architecture was stunning, with towering spires and brilliant artwork that pointed us toward heaven. The commitment necessary to produce these worship structures was truly sacrificial and glorifying to our Lord.
However, the churches of the region, like many I have visited across Europe, are mostly tourist destinations today. Tiny congregations meet in them on Sundays. Only 3 to 5 percent of the Scandinavian population attends worship each week.
The pioneers whose sacrifice erected such majestic cathedrals would be shocked to find them so vacant on Sundays. What explains this tragic spiritual decline?
To summarize a complicated story, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe witnessed the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on human reason and depreciation of divine revelation. Science gained ascendancy over the “mythology” of religion. The Bible was viewed as a diary of religious experience rather than objective truth. Christianity was seen as just one way to God.
Does this seem familiar?
In today’s news, The New York Times is reporting that the man who allegedly drove a car into a crowd of protesters in Virginia has long sympathized with Nazi views and white supremacism. Vandals who attacked a mostly black church near Waco, Texas, last week painted a swastika and other Nazi symbols on the church property.
The shocking rise of Nazism in America is a tragic example of what happens when a once-Christian culture turns from Christ. The commitment to absolute values which Christianity espouses lives on when the faith is deemed irrelevant. We then enthrone other absolute truth claims in its place, from white supremacy to financial materialism to sexual “freedom.”
As Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
But when we try to fill our “God-shaped emptiness” with anything but God, we’re still empty. And we’re still hungry.
As David testified, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
Kenneth McNeil pastors the Waco church that was vandalized by Nazi supporters last week. He told reporters that his church is “determined not to allow that fear and that hate to win. We keep going and keep loving on folks and keep offering that forgiveness and that hope that people are looking for.”
Let’s join them.