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Reaching the Post-modern Europe

Reaching the Post-modern Europe

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Lectures on evangelism at the executive committee of EUD

November 12, 2019 | P. Torres, C. Cozzi. Pictures C.Cozzi, Shutterstock

Bern, [CD-EUDNews]. Europe is a secular post-modern continent, almost religion-proof, or that’s what it might seem from outside. The evidence is that many Christian denominations are struggling to keep church attendees. This scenario has brought the Executive Committee of the Inter-European Region of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (EUD) to think deeply about the Church’s growth in its annual meeting at Lyon, France.

To give valuable advice and precious ideas to all the attendees of this annual meeting, representing all the Unions in its territory, the EUD officers have invited special guests. The two keynote speakers were Pastor Wayne Krause, (below) from the South Pacific region—where he is director of church planting, discipleship, and mission to the cities programs—as well as Jon Paulien,(left) a former dean of School of Religion at Loma Linda University, in California.

The challenge on the old continent is not new, it just corresponds to a transition of social paradigms, according to the speakers. The main issue for the Church is to catch up with the quick changing society.

“Who do you feel better sharing the gospel with: Christians from other denominations or secular people who are not interested in God?” Dr. Krause asked the audience. He took, as an example, the situation lived by the apostle Peter when God asked him to visit Cornelius. The disciples had to break the mental barrier that existed between those of the circumcision and those who were “pagans” (see Acts ch.10).

Since society is no longer quite as interested in churches, religion or the Bible, there is a decrease in the audience ready to listen to Adventist traditional ways of sharing; the same is the case for baptisms and conversions.

“There’s a big difference between teaching a distinctive doctrine to someone who is already a believer and preaching the Gospel to a [total] non-believer, secular people,” continued Dr. Krause. “Today in secular countries, asking someone to study the Bible is not relevant for them any more than asking to study the Quran,” he added.

Nowadays, the point is to disciple people rather than just teaching or sharing knowledge. This action, called discipleship or making disciples, implies not only the delivery of a message, but also the decision to stay, share time, and live with people—as Jesus did.

Dr. Krause asked for support for those who are making disciples among secular people, since for a “traditional Adventist”, this does not look like giving regular Bible studies. “Don’t criticize those who are making new disciples out of secular people,” he added. “It is just a different way of preaching the Gospel.”

“One way to know how your local church is doing is to ask yourselves, ‘If my church closes today, will the community and neighborhood notice it? Will they miss the church?’ ” suggested Dr. Paulien. According to his approach, the key point is to serve the local community, not only on the Sabbath but all the time. If not, then the Church risks becoming a social and select club.

The danger, if we try to do so thoughtlessly, is that we may harm as well by mistreating our neighbors as people in need, which will situate the church in an unwilling higher situation relating to others. The body of believers is not superior to anyone; [rather we are all] servants, and this should be reflected in the style of reaching out. “We need to learn the difference between felt needs and gospel needs,” Dr. Paulien explained. “Everybody needs the gospel, but [secular post-modern] people don’t feel they need it, so we need to find out what the people feel they need.”

“As far as possible, we DO NOT work for the community, this humiliates the people who receive the help we give. Instead, it is better to help people while they help us in ministering others in other areas,” commented Dr. Krause. In his approach to ministering to people in need, it is imperative to avoid any kind of showing off—like distributing food in boxes or bags with the logos of the church—since this will declare the receivers as people in need before their neighbors. “By doing so, we think we are telling others what good people we are, but instead we are saying that the ministered person is in a delicate situation, thus undermining his self-esteem publicly”, Dr. Paulien said, thoughtfully.

Dr. Krause presented one very inspiring idea: “We exist for those not here yet.” By understanding the reason for the Church’s existence, believers will, at the same time, find the leading motivation to act and change the way of living out the Gospel.

One danger of radical change in this way of living out Adventism is to be criticized within the denomination. “We are not critical of other denominations, so we cannot be critical with ours as well,” Dr. Krause pointed out. This idea implies that criticizing those who criticize only perpetuates the same state of things and places everyone on the same level.  This trend has to be stopped somewhere, according to the subjacent idea of the presentation.

Dr. Paulien continued explaining the evolution of the society, beginning from Pre-modernism, which looked for the truth in authoritative groups. This social stage saw deception by the authoritarianism of big traditional religious groups. As a result, society turned into “Christian modernism”, seeking the truth in the Bible, which was the supposed source of authority for the former authoritative groups. “This is where we may find the majority of Adventists,” Dr. Paulien explained.

But society moved on and saw many different religious denominations, all claiming to be Bible-based religions, which caused people to move on to an analytical perspective, thus yielding to “Secular modernism”—trusting only in evidence and, consequently, in science. As well, according to the scientific method, all theory is subject to revision and modification, so, “science is no longer black and white”, he added. All this social lack of references pushed society to the nowadays paradigm—“Secular post-modernism”—in which people still feel the inherent human need for trust and belief in something. According to Dr. Paulien, this new and present society seeks the “truth in relationships and stories. The stories told in Hollywood are shaping the minds and characters of today’s world.”

The question raised: “May we find God in a post-modern society? Yes, of course!” Dr. Paulien added, “God continues to work in any society.” The most adapted way of sharing the good news in this context is by being humble, authentic, and honest about failures; providing a model of identity; and helping to have a meaning life. “The post-modern people need a community where [they can] belong, but it has to be inclusive, willing to listen, [with people who are] being spiritually tolerant as well [with the opposite-minded],” Dr. Paulien continued.

“The Church needs to tell the truth as a story,” he insisted. “The Church is called to change the world,” Dr. Paulien concluded and, according to his presentation, in order to do so, the Church needs to take certain actions. It needs to move forward with society and we, as members, need to adapt ourselves to society’s way of communicating the eternal truths; done in such a way that post-modern people receive the truths through the vehicle (channel) that they are looking for and using in their daily life.

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