We are experiencing a real and present threat against our freedom today in the West. We saw what happened in Paris a few months ago, as well as the recent attacks in Southern California, Holland, Indonesia, Egypt, and so on. It seems that no nation is exempt from this out break of terror which is threatening our globe and Christians are especially vulnerable to these attacks. Thousands of Christian brothers and sisters have been executed in Syria, Iraq, and other ISIS held countries. In 2013 the Muslim Militant group Al-Shabab stormed the Westgate Mall in Nairobi and killed 67 people. One survivor said, “...if you were a Christian you were shot on the spot...” Thankfully terrorist attacks in Europe have historically been few and far between. They are always tragic but at least they have been relatively rare.
In general Europe has been a very safe place to live but that security is becoming rapidly less and less certain. In Germany, for example, muslims represent the largest minority in the country and demographers say that within 50 years Islam will become its dominant religion. This is a shocking prognosis in a land which was once known as the Holy Roman Empire and the home of the Protestant Reformation. Such a projection may seem unlikely, or even smell suspiciously like “right-handed” propaganda and “fear-mongering” but it is not. It is a projection that is not based on any political ideology but simply founded on raw demographic data. No one believes that Islam will overrun Germany by way of military invasion, nor will Islam successfully convert any significant number of Germans to its faith. The source of the demographers bleak outlook in Europe is entirely based on birth rates over the past several decades. German non-Muslims are reproducing at a rate of around 1.5 per family while Muslim families are reproducing at a rate of about of 2.2 per family. This statistic has remained steady for several decades and the subsequent generations will see effect.
My friend Hans told me a story recently about a Muslim colleague he had over 20 years ago. The topic of religion came up at work and his friend told him in a very matter-of-fact way that Islam would conquer Germany one day in the future. This man was not an extremist or a terrorist or a radical, he was simply a hard working Turkish immigrant, but his calm confidence took Hans a little by surprise. Hans just laughed and said, “oh yeah, and how do you plan on doing that?” His Muslim friend replied, “its simple, we are having more babies than you are and it is only a matter of time.” Hans just sneered and rolled his eyes but 20 years later he isn’t rolling his eyes anymore. There is soft kind of “colonialism” taking place in Germany and it is almost too late to do anything about it. Although terrorism is the most prominently featured threat in the news today, it is actually a far less dangerous one than the demographic threat which Europe is currently facing. Terrorists come and go, but communities of Muslim immigrants stay, reproduce, and vote.
The fact of the matter is that most of the Muslims I know in Germany are good people, like Hans’s colleague - hard working and just trying to scratch out a good life for their families. They would denounce radical Islam and any acts of terror. In 2005 I had the privilegeof being the assistant head coach of the Turkish national baseball team. We were the worst baseball team that I have ever seen and we lost every game that we played, but I established true friendships with each of those players. All of them were muslims and all of them good and likable guys. None of them were interested in terrorism or extremism. They just wanted to live a quiet life, make some money, and enjoy a sunny vacation once a year like the rest of us. I suspect that this is true for the great majority of Muslims on this globe. However, that being said, it cannot be denied that Islam is, at its heart, a “world conquest religion”. The Koran and the Hadith are very clear on this point. Islam WILL (according to their eschatological expectations) eventually conquer the entire world. This is something that extreme, moderate, and even nominal Muslims agree on, although they may disagree on how that conquest will come about.
Now, to be fair, Christianity is also a “world conquest religion”, so we shouldn’t get too offended or else we will risk being hypocritical. Our good book also tells us that OUR God will be victorious over the whole world and that “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ”. Of course Christianity and Islam have completely opposite strategies of bringing about that worldwide kingdom. Theirs is a strategy of the sword and ours a strategy of the cross. One a strategy of killing and the other a strategy of dying, but the reality is that both religions desire to take over the world and in Germany Islam is gaining ground on the Church. Islam is growing every day and the refugee crisis in Europe has only expedited that process. New Mosques are being built every year while churches are being shut down. I recently heard report on the DLF radio station a few weeks ago (Germany’s equivalent to NPR) about a businessman in Mönchengladbach who bought a cathedral and turned it into a climbing hall for kids. The DLF reporter praised the idea, saying that it is more productive for a community to teach kids how to climb than to teach them how to worship. Christian culture is disappearing in Germany while parts of European cities are being turned into “no-go zones” where police and other public workers choose not to enter because of the Sharia style law which is strictly enforced there.
We live in a rapidly changing environment and it is getting scary, but all of these changes point to an even scarier reality, an even more horrifying threat facing our western cultures. All of our attention today in the news and in social media is focused on the “Muslim problem” but I believe that there is an even greater power at work in the Islamic invasion of the West. It is my firm belief that God himself is at work in the current success of Islam in Europe. I do not believe that God is personally responsible for the evil deeds carried out by radical Islam, but I do think that there is Biblical precedent to suggests that their recent expansion into historically Christian-held territory is a direct act of “divine permission.”
There was a time in which Israel was in a similar redemptive historical situation as the Church in Europe today, and God revealed to them this same horrifying news. Listen to what God once told the prophet Habakkuk and remember that when you read the word “Chaldeans” in this verse God is referring to Judah’s arch enemies. The Chaldeans were murdering Israelites, they were taking their land, and enslaving their children. They were like terrorists carrying out acts of violence against God’s own people. Now, listen to what God says to the prophet:
Habakkuk 1:5-6,7,9,12 “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation...They are dreaded and fearsome...They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand...LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof”
How could this happen? How could God raise up an evil nation to destroy His own people? Well, in order to understand what is going on here we need to understand how Judah (and how the church in Europe) got to this place. How did we get to a place where God would judge His own people with an ungodly and violent nation?
You see, God’s people, whether in the Old Covenant or the New, can find themselves in one of three possible redemptive-historical phases, namely Victory, Growth, or Judgement, and they normally occur in this order. When the Kingdom of God comes to a place for the first time there is often hard won victory. Missionary biographies are full of amazing stories of victories for Christ when the gospel was brought to a heathen nation for the first time. “Conquest and victory” is the first phase of God’s people, but this is not the phase in which Judah found itself at the time of Habakkuk nor the one the European church is in today.
The second phase is “growth and expansion” and it follows naturally after the first. Once the gospel comes to a place with power, then roots are formed and the church is planted and built up there. Christianity begins to spread and even the local culture begins reflect the character of the Kingdom of Heaven. We can see this progress in the Old Testament very clearly. Joshua lead Israel in the first phase by bringing God’s Kingdom in Canaan through great victories. It was then King David who established and expanded the Kingdom after him, but eventually the people of God came to the 3rd phase, the phase of the Prophets and of Judgement.
Once God really blesses His people and the church is successful, there is often a temptation to become apathetic, spiritually lazy and syncretistic with the ungodly nations around them. Eventually the people of God take His grace for granted and inevitably turn away from Him. This is very evident in Europe where the church has been blessed, well fed, and happy for generations. God’s covenantal blessings have given us the illusion of control, of independence, and we slowly begin to believe that we don’t need God in our lives anymore. The church begins to turn its back on God and to reject His Word. It is in this 3rd phase that God sends messengers to warn His people to repent and to turn back, just as we saw with Israel in the Old Testament. They had been victorious, they had grown and expanded, but eventually they turned away from God. This is why the last 17 books of the Old Testament are all prophetic warnings of judgement and calls for repentance.
Habakkuk was one of these prophets during this redemptive-historical 3rd phase calling Israel back to repentance. However, as we know from reading the Old Testament, Judah did not listen to Habakkuk nor to the other prophets which God sent but instead killed them. God was patient with Judah for 300 years but eventually their corruption, their pride, and their inability to receive reproof forced God to take radical measures of discipline. If Israel would not listen to the prophets then God would use Babylon to reprove them, to wake them up, and to call them back, “LORD, you have ordained them (the Chaldeans) as ajudgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof”.
Just let that sink in for a moment - God was using “terrorists” to discipline His own people for their sins. This is hard to understand. Of course many people will say, “yes, but this was written thousands of years ago. That was the God of the Old Testament. He was angry and jealous and vengeful back then but the God I read about in the New Testament would never do such a thing.” This is a common belief among Christians today, but Listen to what Jesus tells the church in Ephesus in the New Testament book of Revelations:
Revelation 2:3-5 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
“If you don’t repent, I will remove your lampstand!” Now, this may not sound like much of a threat, but do you know what the lampstand refers to here in this text? In chapter 1:20 Jesus tells us that the lampstands represent the churches in Asia Minor. What a terrifying thought, if the church does not repent, God Himself will wipe it off the face of the map. God is promising to judge and to destroy His own Church, and we have pretty undeniable evidence that this was no empty threat. Do you know where the modern day city of Ephesus can be found on the map? Its ruins are found in the nation of Turkey, a land which was once the capital of Christendom is now a nation devoted to Allah. Constantinople was the hub of the Christian church and today it is called Istanbul where the cathedral, Hagia Sophia, is a museum sitting in the shadow of the Blue Mosque.
Is it any surprise that the unrepentant city of Ephesus is currently ruled by a Muslim nation? How did that happen? Was it because the Ottoman Empire was so powerful? No, it was because the Church did not repent and God handed Ephesus over to Islam in judgement. That same promise to Ephesus is true for the church in Germany, France, and the United States of America today. If the Church does not repent, then God will judge it and remove it. This is extremely important for us to be aware of in our current social and political debates. As I watch news reports and read social media posts it is interesting to see the outpouring of concern about Islam, but Islam is not the problem in the West. God is not judging the West because of Islam, Islam IS the judgment of God against the West. It is His judgement against the Church because of its failure to repent.
Germany is the country in which I currently live and work and we can use them as a perfect case study. This was once a land where the gospel was faithfully preached. It was the home of so many heroic reformers, missionaries, and theological seminaries. However, about 100 years ago or more the Church in Germany began to slip. As a result of the“scientific” knowledge given to us by the Enlightenment theologians began to doubt the veracity of the Bible. We could no longer believe that Jesus healed a blind man with His spit or that He walked on water, or even that He rose from the dead. Biblical narratives that the Church had once preached powerfully for the edification of the believers were now considered Christian fairytales from a time before science. It was the Christian theologian Rudolf Bultmann, for example who taught his students the process of “entmythologisierung”, that you have to “demythologize the Bible in order to understand it”. You have to pull out the “unbelievable” parts in order to get down to the moral of the story. Liberal theology was born in Germany and soon the pulpits were filled with disciples of this new and more “palatable” Christianity. God’s Word was no longer authoritative in the church. The Bible was no longer trustworthy. The Holy Scriptures no longer had the power to judge us, but instead we had become the judges of the Word of God. We were now able to decide what parts to believe and to follow and what parts to reject. Now it was possible to maintain your “christianity” without being a mindless, anti-science, fundamentalist. Now you could call yourself a Christian and be accepted in the Academy.
Today, when a Christian who seeks to be faithful to the Christ and to live their life according to the teachings found in God’s Word are called “radicals” and a “extremists”. In Germany the term “evangelical” is term of derision and the accusation of being “bibeltreu” (faithful to the Bible) is a slander to ones character. I just saw a report in the news two weeks ago of a State Church pastor in Bremen which illustrates this point. The pastor’s name is Olaf Latzel and as far as I can tell he preaches what the Bible teaches. Not long ago he preached a sermon in which he stated that Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation and that there is NO other way. Hinduism is not a way to God, nor is Buddhism, nor Islam. Latzel makes it clear that we have to love people of other faiths, “but”, he says, “they are all false religions”. According to the report I saw on television, Olaf Latzel was the first minister to be indicted by the State Church. State Church ministers supported Hitler during World War II and were not punished, yet he has been indicted before the Church court for his “intolerance”. Earlier this year 70 other state church pastors picketed outside His church for being too extreme in His faith. Not 70 left-wing atheists, but 70 ministers, pastors, and priests. It is not hard to see why Islam is gaining ground in West.
Now, in all of this talk of judgement we need to remember that God was gracious and patient with Judah for 300 years, and God has been likewise patient with His Church, but there is a point at which God must take extreme measures to wake up His people. I believe that we are at or nearing this point because or our unashamed adoption of the pagan worldviews around us. The words of the Prophet Isaiah seem fitting in our redemptive-historical situation when he said, “...Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (5:20). These are frightening words in a cultural context in which over 1,000,000 babies are legally murdered in their mothers wombs each year, and where a man like Bruce Jenner is named “woman of the year” by Glamour magazine and 2nd place for Time Magazine's Person of year behind Germany’s Angela Merkel. The Lord once spoke these words to the prophet Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 8:12 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the LORD...
Now, of course we don’t get mad at Bruce Jenner in all of this. There are obviously some deeply rooted issues that he is struggling with. We may not accept his lifestyle but we can certainly identify with his brokenness, as we are all broken and in need of grace. Bruce Jenner is not the problem with the West, nor is ISIS the problem with the West. The Kingdom of God is not rattled by the world’s value system, but when the Church calls good “evil” and evil “good” then God must judge. He must discipline, He must purify, He must use drastic measures to rescue His people from eternal death. In Habakkuk’s time this extreme measure was called the “Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation...”. Today I believe that God is raising up “his servant Islam” to judge His people.
I do not want to minimize the actual threat which Islam is posing in the West, but I do want to reconsider whether we are pointing our fingers in the right direction. The old children’s proverb says, “for every finger you point at someone you are pointing three of them back at yourself”, and perhaps that is fitting for Christians today. Perhaps it is time to let the angst which Islam is producing in us have its right effect and repent. When Judah was warned of the coming judgement of Babylon they didn’t repent. They missed the point of the Babylonian threat entirely and ran to Egypt for help instead. This decision only increased the severity of their judgment and was no protection against God’s covenantal discipline. The anxiety which we are feeling in the west in regards to the “muslim invasion” is producing all kinds of knee-jerk reactions within the church - one quick scroll down the Facebook News Feed will provide sufficient examples. We are looking for military, social, educational, and financial answers to the problem. We are looking for a political savior, a game changing piece of legislation, or a cultural revolution and there may be a time and place for all of these, but maybe the answer is closer than we think. Perhaps we are too quick to run to Egypt when the answer lies in the Church. Perhaps the most productive way forward is the way back, to repent, a 180 degree turn back to God’s Kingdom strategy for overcoming the world - a strategy of the cross.
There was a time in Europe and in the United States when the Church was strong and obedience to Christ was easy, but the Church in the West has squandered these years of “growth and expansion”. We now live in a time when obedience to Christ will cost us something. In this third redemptive-historical phase of judgement, discipleship to Christ will come at a steep price. Praying in public may cost you your job as a teacher. Taking a stand on biblical morality may cost you your career as a Public official. Ethical scruples may cost you the opportunity of promotion, and in regard to the current subject of Muslim refugees, loving your enemy may now cost you your security, your freedom, and maybe even your life. This may sound counterintuitive to preserving the life of the Church, but it was our Lord himself who taught us this Kingdom strategy, “if anyone seeks to save his life he will lose it, but if he loses his life for my sake and the gospel he will save it.”