On Sunday morning in Seville I went down to the reception desk of my hotel to ask for directions to the church I intended to attend that morning. After searching extensively, the young woman et reception finally told me she could not find it, the address apparently was not on the map. She then offered to do another web search and asked what I had ‘googled’ initially, I said ‘evangelical churches Seville’. Shortly afterwards, the girl I spoke to came back to me, with another girl in tow who assured me that I need not go to any trouble since there was a church down the road, whose name she did not remember. I insisted they search for the one I had initially picked out, whereupon ensued a most interesting conversation.
They both proceeded to enquire, was I looking for an evangelical church or a Christian church? Slightly taken aback and somewhat bemused, I asked, was there a difference, surely evangelical churches were Christian? They said no, evangelical churches were different from Christian churches and they supposed what I wanted was to go to a Christian church. Still stunned I said but evangelical churches are Christian. No they were not, on the one hand you had evangelical churches, on the other Christian churches, they insisted, and then said, ‘evangelicals are Jehovah’s witnesses and gypsies, they are not Christian’. Why, they wanted to know did I not simply go to the Cathedral. Because, I replied, I am not Catholic. I explained to them about being protestant, and evangelical.
I then suggested they google Pentecostal churches, which they did. Happily we were able to find a Pentecostal church, she spoke to them on the phone and helped me find my way there. When I returned, she apologized and said she came from a small village and only the gypsies were evangelical and sing flamenco in church. Point taken but her acolyte was, presumably, not from the same village, but still felt the same way. They were not mean, their wrong perceptions simple testify to the relative lack of penetration of the gospel in Spain and Europe as a whole. Even many who claim to be Catholics will often tag on to it, non practising; and evangelical, well, the great unknown, as this conversation showed.
Of course perceptions are not cast in stone, they do change. When I was at university in Nigeria, the ‘born again’ were greatly derided, but they did not care; and suddenly the contagion began to spread. Otherwise intelligent people like one of my professors joined the much maligned group, much to my chagrin. I could not reconcile his brains with his new choice of allegiance. And so it was throughout the nation in particular in the south, that a once fringe group of rather ‘extremist’ Christians gradually made their presence felt, expanded their reach and became more mainstream than erstwhile mainstream churches.
Other countries have witnessed similar changes. According to Timothy Keller, Korea went from 1percent to 40 percent Christian in one hundred years. And experts believe China will follow suit, despite current difficulties. Indeed, nations can and do change. The evangelical faith, so marginalized in Europe today, and in some places, my beloved France included, seen as some fearsome cult, will eventually become mainstream if the Christians will pick up the gauntlet. I know from experience that the bolder the believers are, the more tolerant non believers become of their faith, not the opposite; and the opposite is what we have had in Europe, Christians living anonymously and subterraneously to avoid criticism ; Christians allowing themselves to be bludgeoned into silence by the strident claims of non believing persons. That needs to change.
It is time for a radical, bold, loving, open expression of the faith. It is time for Western Christians to take their cue from Christians in the third world and become less wishy washy about their faith. It is time to become more committed to evangelism, to prayer and fasting; become more dedicated to making Jesus famous, and less to being cajoled and pampered by pastors. It is time to become more committed to becoming soldiers of the cross. That I am convinced is the way we will reverse the trend, turn back the clock and be able to call Europe Christian one day. I even dare to dream that I may some day walk to any hotel reception in Andalucía and be offered a long list of bible believing churches by a Spirit filled hotel receptionist. Yes, I dare to dream.
Read this article in French : Séville – à la recherche des évangéliques.