Europe: Culture, Conferences & Referendums image

Europe: Culture, Conferences & Referendums

Take 300 church leaders from thirty European nations, put them together in a hotel near Athens, stir with a liberal dose of great teaching, bring to the boil with inspiring and moving stories, and leave to simmer in an atmosphere of multi-lingual worship.

Such was the recipe concocted by the inimitable Martyn Dunsford from Kings Community Church last week. Martyn has an exceptional grace gift for opening doors and forming relationships around the world and at this conference ‘Europe’ was a broad definition, stretching from Greenland to Armenia – with a Chinese contribution to widen things out further.

Being in this context provided plenty of opportunity to reflect on the nature of Europe. Our hotel was on Marathon Bay, where in 490 BC the Athenians defeated the far greater armies of Persia. Without that victory classical Greece may never have emerged, and the development of European culture as we know it would have been utterly different. To then stand on the Acropolis and think about how that small hill represents the ground zero of western civilization was profound. And it was spine-tingling to clamber up the rock that is Mars Hill and imagine the apostle Paul making his great address to the Areopagus. I put David Devenish on the spot with a request for a recital of Acts 17: he did pretty well!

But Europe is broader than the influence of Greek philosophy and culture, and it is certainly broader than the impending referendum about British membership of the European Union. Despite our similarities, there are striking differences between different nations: a church planter from Bosnia has rather different challenges to face and stories to tell than one from Berlin: in Berlin aggressive secularism is the challenge, in Bosnia it is your children being beaten up and marked down at school because you are Christians. The Ukrainian pastor handling the reality of church members having their houses bombed is wrestling with different problems than the pastor from Montenegro starting churches among the Roma.

Perhaps the most moving story came from a Muslim-majority nation where a pastor has built a rehab centre from bricks and pieces of wood and metal he collected from the side of the road. Twenty-five people who have come through rehab are now involved in church planting. As he put it, it really is revival or a bullet. Such stories made me grateful for the much softer Europe that is my experience, but freshly aware of how my European comforts can cultivate a spiritual softness too.

The Chinese contribution was illuminating on this score: “The Chinese Christians have been through suffering, so they don’t fear death,” we were told. “What they fear is materialism.” As those of us who are British approach the European referendum, we would do well to note how that debate centres almost exclusively on materialism, and perhaps we should fear for ourselves a little. There is a continent around us that needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, to find that, ‘in him we live and move and have our being’. Materialism easily becomes the bromide that prevents us from proclaiming this Jesus.

From Poole to Kiev, and from Copenhagen to Athens ‘we are indeed his offspring’ and our only solid hope is in the resurrection of Christ.


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