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[COMMENT: A very encouraging article.
I have written extensively in Biblical Inner Healing about how the Spirit of God will make Himself known wherever there are truth-seekers. Christians ought to be praying first of all for truth-seekers rather than converts. A convert who is not a truth-seeker is only a pseudo-convert, and no friend of the Way of the Cross. An atheist who is a truth-seeker is closer to God than a Christian who is unwilling to risk his faith in open, honest discussion, and thus just pretending. There are many such, who reveal by their fear of truth their lack of faith in God.
The natural curiosity of the human being, and the natural withdrawal from anything so destructive and depersonalizing as secular humanism almost guarantee a renewed resistance to secularism, and a renewed interest in and pursuit of Christian faith. Only Biblical faith is able to take seriously the inherently personal quality of life. All others in some way or other fall prey to depersonalization.
But these facts in Holland must scare the secular globalists half to death. A mature Christian community is the only force which can put secular globalism to rest in its rightful grave. The same thing, not so dramatically, is happening here in America. But the Church seems the last place for this renewal to show itself.
Bold emphasis below is my insertion, and also the subtitles.
See comments below in text. E. Fox]
The doyen of the Dutch youth churches movement is Henk Jan Kamsteeg.
He is a member of the pastoral team ("Wow, that sounds old-fashioned! Why
not call me an initiator, or a group leader?") at the Heartbeat youth
church, founded three years ago in the medieval market town of Amersfoort,
about 40 miles east of Amsterdam. The church, which has a congregation of
around 1,200, meets once a month in a Christian cultural center in one of
the town's modern suburbs. Kamsteeg witnessed firsthand a phenomenon that,
according to the old secularization thesis, was virtually unheard of:
large numbers of young people deciding of their own free will to attend
church services--and coming back for more. When he announced the first
service three years ago, he hired a hall that seated a maximum of 500
people. On the night, 850 turned up--though nothing special had been done to
advertise the event. "I've long since ceased to be amazed about the amount
of interest in youth churches," says Kamsteeg. "Twelve-hundred people
showing up, two services a night, you almost take it for granted. But deep
down I still know how remarkable it really is."
Since the founding of the first Dutch youth churches in 2001, their numbers have risen significantly--from 45 churches serving around 10,000 young people in 2003 to 88 serving more than 20,000 in 2005. In a way, these youth churches are the tip of another iceberg on the path of the SS Secularization. The number of churchgoing Christians is still dropping among all other age groups, but among the under-20s it is rising again, and by a significant margin. A CBS survey noted that between 2003 and 2004, church attendance among under-20s rose seemingly inexplicably, from 9 percent to 14 percent. As expected, the survey prompted a skeptical response from social commentators. Not from the SCP, however: In a recent report it basically confirmed the CBS's findings, observing that "it is noticeable that since 1997, the secularization curve among 16 to 30-year-olds has leveled off. In the last few years, it even seems to be declining."
Apart from being a herald of potential change from secular to post-secular society, youth churches are also an indicator of another significant development, namely the move away from the church of bricks and mortar to a less clearly recognizable, more informal setting. Youth churches seem to meet anywhere but in traditional church buildings: cultural centers, sports halls, school assembly rooms, parking lots, even in night clubs. The idea is that something that less resembles a traditional church might prove more welcoming to potential new believers. It is perhaps also an attempt by this new movement to put distance between itself and mainstream churches who, in the eyes of many young Christians, represent the failure of the "old approach." According to Kamsteeg, if Christianity in Holland is to have a future, it has to develop a new way of doing things, possibly also in new locations: "Young people are genuinely interested in Christ. They're just not into two-hour sermons, dreary music, and drafty old buildings." The ultimate consequence of this approach is yet another new phenomenon: that of the house churches.
[COMMENT: The youth movement will itself change as the youth grow older, and find themselves in need of buildings, community-building, etc. That is inevitable, I think. E. Fox]
In his living room in the old university town of Leiden, Kees Westhuis, 41, explains the essence of the house church idea: "We don't want to go to church, we want to be a church." Westhuis was raised in the Dutch Reformed tradition, but found himself increasingly frustrated with the worldly concerns of his local church: "During one meeting of the church elders, debate turned to the cost of refurbishing the church buildings. I found myself wondering whether, instead of spending all this money on bricks and mortar, we wouldn't be better off spending it on evangelizing in the community."
[COMMENT: This is right on target, but it can be employed by large churches, having many "house churches" within themselves, as did the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston, TX, during the 1960's and for a couple of decades. E. Fox]
The answer to Westhuis's concerns came to him in the form of a book that has inspired the founding of most house churches in the Netherlands: German author Wolfgang Simson's Houses that Change the World (first published as Häuser, die Welt verändern in 1999). The most appealing aspect of the house church, according to Westhuis, is its simplicity. At its core, the house church is based on the practice of the earliest Christian communities of the first century: small groups of people meeting in each other's houses, sharing a meal and worshipping God. Westhuis: "The idea is that you don't just share a meal once a week, you actually share your lives. It's a radical departure from modern life, which leaves most people feeling increasingly lonely."
[COMMENT: There is no community worth its salt without the closeness and accountability of small groups. E. Fox]
The Dutch house church movement, according to recent studies, has
witnessed remarkable growth over the past decade or so: from a mere
handful in the 1970s to just under 20 in 1990 to around 100 in 2000, and
continuing upwards since then. Henk Vink runs a website offering support
and facilities to budding home churches. He estimates that most of Holland's
200 cities now have at least one home church in them. The first time Vink
realized something big was happening was when he organized a series of
regional conferences for people interested in house churches. He'd expected
small groups of maybe 10 people per meeting; instead more than 50 people
showed up at each of the 12 regional meetings: "It's evidence of a growing
spiritual hunger in society. People are really searching for truth."
He may well be right. The question, though, is whether Christianity is best placed to profit from this development. For better or for worse, Dutch Christianity is now largely an underground phenomenon. If an average Dutchman has any picture of Christianity, it is of empty pews and derelict church buildings. Dutch Christians have increasingly withdrawn from the public sphere, either voluntarily--as in the case of the house churches and the youth church movement--or because they lack the confidence to speak publicly about their faith to an unbelieving audience. If they do enter the public sphere, as in the case of the Alpha course, they do so under a neutered, de-Christianized guise: not imposing their views, merely inviting people to come along, have a meal, and ask any questions they like. They may be successful, but a city upon a hill they are not--more like a city in wartime, its lights hidden behind thick dark curtains. Any genuine seeker might stumble past it without knowing it was even there.
[COMMENT: This reticence will change as they get their feet under them. The Spirit of God commands evangelism -- the Great Commission. God loves His people too much to leave any out of the Kingdom. E. Fox]
What that seeker will find, and very visibly, is Islam. While Dutch Christianity is making the move from church buildings to living rooms, sports centers, and factory halls, Dutch Islam is moving in the opposite direction. At the Kostverlorenvaart in the Amsterdam suburb of De Baarsjes, the foundations are being laid for a new mosque, with a 110-foot-high dome and 140-foot-high minarets. "We don't want to pray in basements and school buildings anymore. We want a proper mosque," is how Fatih Dag explains the idea behind this project. Dag is chairman of the board of the local Aya Sofia Mosque. He says he understands local objections to the scale of the project: "Of course, if I were living in Turkey and people wanted a big new church next to my house, I might object too. But the fact is that we are here, and we're here to stay. And we want a place to worship." Indeed, in all major towns in Holland, building projects are under way for the construction of supersized mosques.
[COMMENT: Christians and Europeans will pay a dear price for having allowed this rise of Islam, but it may also be the needed punch in the face to wake up the Christians. When Christians begin to develop their local evangelism to Islam, things will change. E. Fox]
They're symbols of Dutch Islam's remarkable growth over the past 30 years, from less than 1 percent of the population in 1970 to 6 percent today. According to SCP predictions, that growth is set to continue to around 7.5 percent in 2020--a significant increase, to be sure, but nowhere near the apocalyptic figures predicted by those who fear Holland will become a majority Islamic country by the end of the 21st century. One reason it won't is that Islam, at least in its Dutch variant, is not a proselytizing faith. When asked about the importance of proselytizing, Dag volunteered that, on his list of priorities, trying to convert the indigenous Dutch population comes "just about last." Even the most optimistic estimates of Dutch Muslim organizations put the number of converts to Islam at no more than a few hundred a year. With immigration from Islamic countries grinding to a halt and birth rates among the Muslim community further approximating average Dutch birthrates with each new generation, it seems unlikely to say the least that visions of a caliphate in Holland will come to pass in this century--or the next, for that matter.
[COMMENT: One cannot trust the seeming friendliness of seemingly moderate Muslims -- unless they are willing to risk their own lives against the terrorists, and support police and military action against them. Until they do, we must consider them sleeper cells for the real thing to come -- Sharia law. E. Fox]
Since they don't seem to be interested in spreading the good news of Muhammad, the main priority of the Islamic communities in Holland will be to fight off the twin challenges of apathy and apostasy. Apathy is not yet a challenge in a community that defines Islam largely in cultural rather than religious terms. But once the third and fourth generations of offspring of the original immigrants start to replace the first generation, these cultural ties will start to lose some of their binding force. At the same time, it's far from clear that Dutch Islam will be able to keep religious liberalism at bay indefinitely. With government sponsorship--and the accompanying demands of gender neutrality--of university-based imam training courses about to become a reality, the day is not far off when the first feminist and gay imams will start preaching in mosques in Holland. There is no reason to assume Islam will be any better placed to deal with this liberal onslaught than mainstream Christianity was in the 1950s and '60s.
[COMMENT: The main protection against this will be the return of intellectual, moral, and spiritual credibility among Christians, who will then also recover (or find for the first time) their political crediblity. E. Fox]
In the meantime, Islam is already finding itself in a difficult
position fighting off another threat, namely that of apostasy.
Traditional approaches--honor killings and
fatwas--have caused outrage
among Holland's general public and political class. That doesn't mean these
intimidation tactics won't be effective in the short term--in a recent
article in a Dutch political magazine about Islamic converts to
Christianity, most sources would talk only on condition of anonymity. But in
the long term, they won't work if they don't have the full force of the law
behind them (as they do in most Islamic countries). Inevitably, Christian
evangelists will try to develop ways of communicating with the Islamic
community with a view to converting its members. At Alpha Course
Netherlands, they're already receiving requests for Alpha course material
specifically aimed at an Islamic audience. Alpha Netherlands coordinator Jan
Bakker was quick to stress that there is no formal plan to develop such
material. But, he added, "we never really have a pre-prepared plan for
anything. We just wait to see where God wants us to move. If this is one
direction He wants us to take, then we'll take it."
It seems unlikely, then, that Dutch Islam will prove to be a serious long-term competitor with Christianity. The latter has little to fear from a rival that refuses to proselytize and has yet to go through the refining fire of the struggle with religious liberalism. Christians may even profit from their encounter with Islam. Muslims may not seek to convert, but unlike their Christian counterparts, they do speak confidently in public about their faith. And through their building projects, they also show that God can still be a very visible presence in the community. If Dutch Christians want to learn again what it means not to hide your light under a bushel, they could do worse than look at their Islamic neighbors.
Joshua Livestro is a columnist for Holland's biggest selling news paper, De Telegraaf, and the Dutch edition of Reader's Digest.
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