Welcome back to a new week on the Ask Pastor John podcast with John Piper. A listener, Brittany, writes in to ask, “Dear Pastor John, I currently live in Hungary and am experiencing firsthand the current refugee crisis. There has been so much talk and debating amongst Christians here about how we are to view the refugees and how we are to view this situation in light of the end times. Everyone seems to think that this crisis is the end to Christian freedom in Europe because of the influx of Muslims and a sign of the end times. Pastor John, do you see this situation as a start to the beginning of persecution for Christians in Europe? People think that because there will be many more Muslims that Europe will become a Muslim continent. What is your opinion on this?”
I am reading, at the moment, Philip Jenkins’s book The Next Christendom. It is about the massive changes, especially in the last hundred years, as the preponderance of Christians have moved from the old established churches in the West — including Europe and the United States — to the global South of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
And part of this change is owing to the increased secularization of Europe and America. Part of it is owing to the stunning vitality and spread of Christianity in the global South. Part of it is owing to the drastic drop in birth rates in modern secular states, compared to the comparatively huge population growth in the global South. And, more relevantly here, part of it is owing to immigration, as millions of people move around, move from North to South or Global South into Europe and America to form problems or blessings — and both are probably true. And some of that is owing to crises like in Syria today and the present situation in Europe with the influx of immigrants.
This has been happening for a long time, this movement from what were formerly two-thirds world, or Muslim world, or pagan world, or newly Christian Global South, into the formerly old, large, established Christian lands. Fifty-five percent of the population of London is non-white British. That statistic just kind of snuck up on the world, I think. The biggest churches in London are gatherings of African and Caribbean worshipers.
Those immigrants who are flooding into America and into Europe bring with them their own religion and customs, and they will inevitably shape the cultures into which they move. If they are Christian, they may bring the vitality and power of Christianity in a dying West. But they may be viewed as a threat if they bring in another religion, like Islam, to the heart of France or Germany or Hungary.
And yet, on the other hand, they may be the economic salvation of those very lands, because the birth rates have so precipitously fallen that those lands cannot, in the generations to come, sustain the economic burden that the aging populations need support with, and these lands are the most socialistic in the world, except for the communistic countries that still remain. And that creates an expectation of government provision and heavy taxation, and there will be nobody to tax if they don’t have more workers. And so there are positive sides to this influx as well as negative ones as they might see them.
What God Wills
So Brittany says — and this is really her question — that she is talking to people and they are saying (1) that this may be the end of Christian freedom in Europe if Muslims take over and establish Sharia law, presumably; and (2) they are wondering whether this a sign of the end of the times, the end of history. And she wonders about my opinion.
My opinion is (and it is a pretty strong conviction) the present movement of peoples all over the world may result in the disestablishment of Christianity from its prominent place in certain Western countries. And it may result in a sweeping preponderance of Islam or even Sharia law.
At the same time, this influx may not result in the diminishing of Christianity or the establishment of Islam, but, in fact, may result in a massive spread of the Christian message among more and more people, so that at the end of the twenty-first century, Europe is the most authentically Christian continent that it has ever been. That is my conviction. Both of those may happen.
So, no, I don’t have any sense of authority to pronounce that this is the end of Christianity in Europe or the beginning of an Islamic state. Who knows? God knows, and we should pray earnestly for the sweeping of the Christian gospel in power across all the peoples who are coming in and all those who have already forsaken it who live there — which is simply to say that I believe in the sovereignty of God.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth” — in Hungary, France, Germany, and Syria — “is mine. So go make disciples” (Matthew 28:18–20). There is no historical circumstance that exists today that could possibly prevent a great Christian revival in Europe and a great spread of Christian preponderance if God, in his sovereignty, willed it to be so. And that is what we should pray.
Great Gospel Advance
And therefore, my opinion, with regard to how the present situation relates to the end times, is that we may be on the brink of a final great outbreak of persecution that would lead to the completion of the Great Commission by the blood of the martyrs, the ingathering of God’s elect, the great conversion of the Jewish people, and the revelation of our Lord Jesus in the clouds to establish his kingdom on the earth. That is fully possible in the next years because, again, God is sovereign. It is not ours to know the times and the seasons. It is ours to witness to the ends of the earth, no matter the cost.
Here is what I think we can say with certainty regarding the end times; namely, we are in them now, and have been in them since the coming of Christ. That is the way the New Testament talks. And it talks in this way about the persecution of the church in every age: * 1 Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” That was at the end of the first century.
- 1 Peter 4:12–18: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’”
So I think Brittany and the believers in Hungary and other European countries should press on with every possible means of spreading the gospel and displaying the justice and the mercy of Jesus in how they relate to their post-Christian culture on the one hand and ever-increasing Muslim neighbors on the other. I think they should pray earnestly that God would turn this wave of immigration into a great gospel advance in ways that no one perhaps can even imagine. That is the kind of God that we have.