george hancock stefanWhen I visit Europe, I go to churches, seminaries, and conferences, and it is always an unpredictable situation. I try to read widely, both in religion and other topics, and I usually find words or phrases that I have never encountered before. I recently read a book review where the reviewer labels himself a Catholic atheist. I remembered reading about the Council of Whitby in the 7th century, which decided that one cannot be Catholic unless one is connected with Rome and the pope. To be Catholic was to believe certain things about God and so I find the term Catholic atheist both disconcerting and confusing.

Many years ago, I discussed evangelism with a priest who was greatly loved in his parish. He told me that he loves evangelism because he has 5,000 parishioners on the rolls, but only saw 500 of them at mass. At Easter and Christmas, that number grew to about 2,000 people, but he had no idea who the other 3,000 were. By the theological technicality of their baptism, they were all children of the church, but he had no idea if they have been confirmed or if they have walked through the door of a Catholic Church as adults. 

I find the same situation in Eastern Europe among the Eastern Orthodox Church. One village has somewhere close to 2,000 residents who claim to be Orthodox, but at a recent worship service, there were fewer than 100 people. When someone in that area is invited to a Protestant church (Baptist, Pentecostal, Nazarene), most people will answer that they have their own religion. If someone mentions that Protestants are also Christians, the conversation stalls. It often stalls because Protestants start talking about their relationship with God and the response is that they are members of their church. I often think that the Protestants would benefit from having a higher view of the church (which after all is being built by the Lord,) and that the Orthodox and Catholics would benefit from talking about their relationship with God.

One of the most difficult discussions is when young people tell me that they will start to think about the Lord and religion when they become grandparents. They see religion and their relationship with God as something that may be important for the next life, but it is not as important for this life. But there is no certainty that they will have that opportunity—death cannot be predicted and the rate of people overdosing from drug use is almost as high in Europe as it is in the United States.

The European continent needs God because it is facing so many problems, yet it is asking God to move away from the European shores.