Building the Kingdom of God in Europe

Hieronder volgt de opname en de integrale tekst van de openingslezing van de General Assembly van de European Evangelical Alliance die begin juni 2021 online werd gehouden door Gavin Calver, de directeur van de Evangelical Alliance in Groot Brittannië. 


Of als u het gemakkelijker vindt de tekst te lezen:

Building the Kingdom of God in Europe – the Challenge

Let us be honest, we are all facing a secular tsunami. There`s all kinds of problems going on in culture. We have got morality all over the place. You know, even within the church this weekend in the UK a bunch of faith leaders set up a group to support assisted dying, where there is another bunch of faith leaders that we would be part of against allowing assisted dying. No one knows what we are believing. We have also got a generation who are listening with their eyes and thinking with their feelings. Therefore, what we are getting is people, who are basing all of their views on their experience, which in itself is quite dangerous. We have got scripture being undermined. We live in an instant culture. You know, people make decisions, yes or no, all the time on different things. And unless it is your football team, people change everything throughout their life […]. I wonder whether within the church we still believe in sin and conversion anyway. You know, I think it is interesting that us Evangelicals, driven by a desire to see people come to faith, [believe that] you do not come to faith via gnosis. You get on your knees, and you meet the Savior; and yet so much of the sin we’re saved from, we’re trying to [call] okay. You know, there’s so much baptizing of our culture. 

When I took on leading the UK Alliance about 18 months ago, and I took over from a great man, Steve Clifford, many of you will know him, I felt the Lord say two things. I felt him say that in this next decade, the Evangelical Alliance in the UK needed to be braver than it has ever been. And this is proving to be true already […]. We need to stand firmly on God’s word. We need to be prepared to stand out in our culture. If that makes us social lepers, we have got to deal with it. We have got to be braver than we have ever been. But at the same time, as it has well affirmed, we have got to be kinder than we have ever been. You see, we have got to treat people well, we have got to love people. The world thinks that bravery and kindness cannot go together, but they really can. The culture’s understanding of kindness is “Accept everything about me, otherwise we cannot get on”, whereas the biblical model of kindness is really loving people.

 An example of this for me would be: When I was commissioned into my role leading the [Evangelical Alliance in the UK], my best friend from growing up, who’s an employment lawyer and an atheist, came to my commissioning and he said to me at the end, “I literally could not disagree more with everything you’re doing, with what you’re giving your life to, and with all that you’re taking on in this new role. But well done, mate. I am proud of you. You’re a good fellow!” For me, that sums it up; we can do brave and kind. We do not have to agree with everything that everyone around us believes, but we do have to treat everyone with love.

 It was in my first week in this role, when I was interviewed by a secular journalist. And her first question was this: “Why is the Church dying?” Now, I found that a bizarre question. So, I said to her, “The Church isn’t dying. More people became Christians yesterday, than at any day since Jesus rose from the dead. Even better news: More people will become Christians today than did yesterday. In fact, the Church has never grown so fast in all its history. So why would you think it’s dying?” She said, “Why is the UK church dying?” I said, “That’s a different question. You see in heaven, there’s not sections for British people, there’s just brothers and sisters. So right now, the Church has never grown so fast and I am part of a global family. So, when you ask if the Church is dying, the Church is not dying, the Church has never been so alive!” For those of us in Western Europe, that’s quite difficult in particular, but a new move of God is needed. I want to see that here too, don’t you? An unleashed church, a church operating words, works, and wonders, empowered by the Spirit. How do we build the kingdom of God in Europe? We need a new move of the Spirit empowering and equipping us to make Jesus known, in spite of the fact that we are living in hostile territory.

[…] We’re going to Acts 5:12-25, because I just want to share a few thoughts that we can take from the early church who lived in very hostile territory and who really were on the margins of society. How can we see some of what they did in order to build the kingdom of God in an increasingly secular Europe? […]

12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. 17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” 21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to. 25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 

I really think this is a moment for us to step up. As we seek to build the kingdom of God in Europe, as we face the challenges in front of us, it is a chance and an opportunity for us to step up. I also think it is important as we look at this, […] that we extend our prophetic imaginations for what is possible. But [if we hold to the following] three things I genuinely [believe] we can see anything happen in Europe. […]


1.    All Powerful

The first thing [is] from [Acts 5:12-16]. Our God is all-powerful. There is literally nothing God cannot do. I do not know about others amongst you, but if I were there in person, I would be going running each morning. I am a keen runner. When I go running, I wear adidas running shoes, and their slogan is ‘Impossible is nothing’. Now every time you put this body in those shoes, that proves to be false marketing. There is so much that is impossible for me as a runner, but with God literally nothing is impossible. Sometimes as leaders, we have tamed God. We have made Jesus too small, so that we’re comfortable; so it does not upset the status quo. But we need to reconnect. Yes, the secular tsunami is powerful, but it has got nothing on Jesus.

In the passage, it is the fact that God is doing things that gets the apostles in trouble. The church activities were increasing to such an extent that the authorities needed to take action. They could not see anything to be done other than to try and stop this. And I just love the fact that it’s the ‘How powerful God is’ that gets them into trouble. Us Evangelicals are going to get into more and more trouble throughout Europe in the years ahead. But I hope it is always because God is doing something amazing, not because we were irresponsible. God could do anything. Just imagine for a moment […] how bleak or how wonderful it might look, if the God of all power would do something amazing in your [nation]. The same God of the Book of Acts is the God we follow and live for, and we need to grow our imaginations for what he could do in this day.

What I love as well is, even when we do things badly, he can use us. He is so powerful, he can use our small. I have been preaching all over the UK for over 20 years, but my worst ever sermon was ten years ago. I was working for Youth for Christ, and I drove to North Wales, which is about six hours from where I live. I did it on a Friday, which is the worst day to travel in the UK. It was a terrible journey. I drove to this youth event. I had been told there would be hundreds of young people at this youth event. I have got more fingers than there were young people; there were nine. The churches that had put the event on had clubbed together to hire a ten-foot-high stage. Because they had paid for it, they insisted that I preached from it. I am already 6,3 feet, so I was 16,3 feet in the air, towering over a bunch of young people smaller in number than the disciples. I have been bought there to preach the gospel, so I did it. But I did it in a bad mood. I did it and wanting to go home, and I did not enjoy it. At the end of the night, they used to do the ‘ministry of envelopes’, I would call it. They would give you a gift towards your work with a check in an envelope in the days before bank transfers. My rule was always “Don’t open the envelope till you get home! On the way home decide with Jesus, how it has gone, not by the size of the check.’ So, I drove all the way home, now the six-hour journey, got home in the middle of the night, opened the envelope. Out fell the gift. It was a five-pound book token. Now, you cannot put that in a petrol tank. So, I paid for the privilege of preaching my words.

A little over a year ago, I was preaching in the north of England. A guy came up to me afterwards; he was about 25. He said, “Do you remember the youth event in North Wales with a huge stage, no young people?” I was thinking, “I remember it, mate. Do you want some?” He said, “I gave my life to Jesus that night.” I said, “How?” And then he went on to tell me [that] he is […] a youth worker [now], reaching out to young people, winning many of them for Jesus. You know, you only have to get one Samaritan woman to get [her] village. Even when we do things badly, even when it feels like the worst night of our ministry, this all-powerful God can still use us. And I think we need to get on our knees more and cry out to this all-powerful God. Because Europe needs hope, and hope has a name: His name is Jesus.


2.    Can’t be swept away

The second thing I think we can learn here, that is really important for our context at the moment, [can be found in Acts 5:17-21]. Christianity cannot be swept away. The fastest growing church in the world right now is Iran. It is amazing, isn’t it? A nation where you can lose your life for having a Bible has the fastest growing church in the world. In fact, the churches where things are exploding are often in places where it is so difficult. Sometimes I wonder whether we want Iranian or Chinese results without the price tag.

[…] My wife does some Bible teaching with church leaders, and she does that with a lot of Iranian leaders in Africa and Turkey, because it is not safe in Iran. What they do at the same time is [hiring] a local hotel swimming pool. During the day, they would do free swimming lessons for local kids, so no one catches on. Then every night they baptize 350 Iranians. Friends, the Iranian church is exploding!

There was a couple in Iran who were being really persecuted for their faith; they have been in and out of prison loads. And they were granted asylum in the USA. So, these two church leaders went from Iran to the USA. When they went to the USA, they could not deal with the church they encountered. Their words were that ‘a satanic lullaby had put the western church asleep’. The Church was asleep or not aware of what God was doing or wanting to do. So, this couple gave up their asylum in the USA to go back to Iran, because they were not prepared to fall asleep in their faith, even though it gave them greater comfort in their life. I think that is a huge challenge to us! I think we want to be comfortable; we want to be popular; we want to be loved, when actually we are going to be increasingly marginalized. But we need to be confident that Christianity will not be swept away. In the passage it is not only Peter and John who are arrested, but all apostles are thrown into jail. I feel sorry for us, not the apostles, nor the guards in the jail, because these apostles would not stop preaching. These guards are a captive audience for the apostles to preach to. And when they are in prison, they have a different perspective to us. Perspective changes a lot of things. When David fights Goliath, he can either say, “He’s so big, he’s going to kill me!”, or he can say, “He’s so big; there’s no way I’m going to miss”. We need to fight for the more positive perspective.

When I worked with young people, we always talked about what the Bible looked like, not just what it said, because the Bible is the most visual book possible. Anyone who says, “The Bible is boring!”, has not read it. You can say [many things of the Bible,] but it’s not boring. […] When Moses sees the sea split, I have got two questions: “How soggy is the ground?” or “What if there’s a big fish? Does that split?” When Lazarus is raised to life, Jesus has to say, “Lazarus come out!”, because it is a communal tomb. There would have been 15 dead people in the tomb. If Jesus had just said, “Come out!”, they all would have done it at once. It is amazing that Lazarus was not a common name, because if it had been, can you imagine, if there were three Lazaruses, and Jesus had to send two back to sleep […]? Or when Jesus resurrected from the dead in the Book of John, the first thing he does is folding up dirty washing. Mary and Joseph clearly raised him well. He has resurrected from the dead, and there’s two sheets he was covered in, and he folds one up. But then Jesus does not fold the second one., because at some point, he thinks, “Hang on! I am the Savior of the world. I’ve got other things to be getting on with.” So, one remains unfolded. The Bible so visual.

Coming back to this passage, the apostles are preaching. They are arrested and put in prison. Then during the night, an angel of the Lord comes along, goes down to the prison cell, opens the door, lets them out, locks the door again, then says to them, “By the way, fellows, bad news! You better go and do some more preaching!” Well, a moment, the world thought it could get rid of the Christians by locking them up. But the angel comes down and unlocks them. Throughout history Christians have been wiped out, but Christianity remains; from the early Christians dipped in pitch and used as human candles in Nero’s garden to the so-called Islamic state of today. Christians have been wiped out occasionally, but Christianity cannot be. You cannot get rid of Christianity. If anything, the more you put it under pressure, the more it grows.

If we are looking for positives in the European landscape: The fact that the Church is marginalized gives it a greater circumstance within which to grow. All we then need are the three hallmarks of revival: prayer, like we have never prayed before; holiness, like we have never fully taken on; and small acts of obedience. 

We know the end of the story, friends! So, we need to live differently now in the middle of it. However many bad things happen between now and the end of time, however many wars and rumors of wars, however many pandemics, however much persecution, however many incurable diseases, however many good things happen, however many revivals and renewals of the Church, however many European championships England wins, the end of the story remains the same. Whether the good or the bad, the end of the story is: Jesus wins! So, we need to start living with a greater confidence in our day that Christianity will not be swept away, and Jesus wins. This all-powerful God and faith will not be swept away. We need to live with a greater confidence in our day, in our moment, as we seek to make Jesus known.


3.    Compelled to share

So, our God is all-powerful, Christianity cannot be swept away, and finally for us, we are compelled to share the message. The Sanhedrin was convened [Acts 5:21]. […] The Sanhedrin in the Jewish Council [was] proper wealthy, proper intelligent, proper smart, and well-dressed […]. The Sanhedrin sat in a circle, and they sent for the apostles. The messengers came back and told them, “They’re not there!” So, the Sanhedrin asks, “Was the door open I know?” “No!” “Where the walls of the prison broken?” “No!” “Could you see any of them anywhere?” “No!” “Where are they?” “Don’t know.” What a moment, friends! We have got this Jewish council of geniuses stuck around trying to work this out; the apostles went missing and no one knows what to do. 

I grew up in a family of geniuses. My dad’s an absolute genius. I am one of four kids; the other three are really clever. I did not get the brains; I got the looks. And growing up with geniuses, I noticed in my family that they could solve any conundrum or theory known to mankind but did not have a lot of common sense. They could not put a picture on the wall, but they could solve any theory. I think of the Sanhedrin a bit like this. They sit around, their brains the size of the solar system are rotating to try and solve this problem. “What could possibly have happened to these apostles?” No one knows what to do. Smoke starts coming out […] until someone looks out of the window and says, “Surprise! They’re out here!” “What are they doing?” the Sanhedrin asks. “What you put them in prison for.”

 You see, when the gospel of Jesus gets in your guts, it just pours out to everyone around us. We are compelled to share. […] We as the Evangelical Alliance, as people of the “evangel”, of the good news, need to encourage every Christian to share the hope they have in Jesus.

The picture on the slide shows grains of sand under a microscope. Grains of sand look similar from a distance, but up close, they are entirely different. It is a bit like people. It is going to take every person to fulfill the Great Commission. We need every Christian witnessing. We have done some bad things, certainly in the UK. We have made evangelism a personality type. We have made witnessing a job, when actually every Christian is a witness or an imposter. And here is the thing: People like me can be a bit much for some people. We need introverts, extroverts, and everything in between. We need all to witness!

 I met a passion expert, because I am concerned, I might not be passionate enough. And she said to me, “Do you know how you can tell what people are passionate about?” I said, “Yeah! By what they spend their money on.” She said, “No, what you spend your money on is entirely socially conditioned. There are two ways you can tell what people are passionate about: Firstly, by what they spend their time on; there is nothing more precious than time. And secondly, by what they talk about. It’s impossible to have a half-hour conversation with someone and not hear out of their mouth what they’re most passionate about.” So, the question to us as leaders and to the people we are leading is “Are we in love with Jesus enough? Are we caught up in awe and wonder of the Lord enough that we can’t help but talk about it when they are gathered around us?”

You see, our God is all-powerful, Christianity cannot be swept away, we are compelled to share, and right now, [when] talk[ing] about building the kingdom of God in Europe, the greatest opportunity is right now. In this season of pandemic, we have seen all kinds of change and growth: Alpha online exploding, online church and [other] things taking place. But what we have really seen throughout Europe is a growth in mortality salience. Mortality salience is an awareness of your own fragility as a human being. It is an awareness that you might die, and therefore you might be in need of something greater than just the self. It is normally reserved for a warzone, but in [these] last 18 months […] we have all been living with mortality salience, not in a warzone, but on our sofas. The news, many nights, has excess deaths on it. People who never thought about death are now thinking about death. We have been answering the questions the world was not asking for many years. Now they are asking them, we need to make sure we answer them. So right now, I believe, the ground is more fertile for evangelism than it has ever been in my lifetime. And in a year’s time, if we do not make the most of this now, culture will have moved on. But right now, as things unlock and open up, there is a mortality salience in the culture. What we need is to step out as a brave and kind church, to love those struggling, to make some bold moves for the kingdom, and to not miss the moment. For many years, Europe has been dry and not open to the gospel; right now, it is more open than ever before.

Let us build the kingdom of God in Europe. Let us take the opportunity right now. Let us bring hope because people are looking for hope. I debated with two secular humanists, and they offered no hope. They came to me at the end and all I said was, “I bring hope into what feels like a hopeless situation. Hope has a name, and his name is Jesus.” We are carriers of hope and shares of hope. Our God is all-powerful. With him nothing is impossible. Whatever may happen to us individually, Christianity cannot be swept away. We need to encourage the whole Church because all Christians are compelled to share. Let us make the most of this moment we have, with those around us asking the questions we have been answering for years when they were not asking them. Let us reach out to our friends, our workmates, people we have not seen for years, the prodigals, the barber, the person at the local restaurant, because right now people are looking for hope. They are asking questions, and we know hope. His name is Jesus. […]

God bless you all.