January 23, 2005
His children will be mighty in the land. Psalm 112:2
Europe is on a path toward Islam. At least that’s the opinion of some very smart people. Princeton historian Bernard Lewis, an authority on Islam, told a German newspaper, “Europe will be part of the Arabic west… Migration and demography indicate this. Europeans marry late and have few or no children. But there’s strong immigration [from Muslim countries]. At the latest, following current trends, Europe will have Muslim majorities in the population at the end of the 21st century.”
Already in Denmark the Koran has become required reading for students in the upper grades of Danish public schools. Some predict that the Netherlands will have a Muslim majority in only thirty years. Other European countries are on the same track.
Author Bat Ye’or titled a recent book Eurabia—a blend of Europe and Arabia. She describes Europe’s growing political, cultural, and religious ties with Muslims. She thinks the move toward Eurabia has gone so far that it can’t be reversed.
Moderate Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi, a Syrian-born German citizen, expects Europe to become Islamic; the only question is what sort of Islam. Professor Tibi wonders whether hardcore Islam or a more tolerant version “is to dominate in Europe.”
How can this happen on a continent where Christianity was the main religion for centuries? It won’t happen through force. Back in the year 732, Muslims invading Europe from the west were defeated at Tours by Charles Martel. In 1529 and again in 1683, Muslim attackers from the east were repelled at Vienna. If Europe ends up becoming Muslim this century, it won’t be through Muslim aggression. Europeans themselves will be responsible.
Europe has been committing cultural suicide. A culture must reproduce or die. Europe is failing to reproduce in three ways.
First, native Europeans are not reproducing enough children to replace the previous generation. Fewer people are getting married, and those couples who do settle down together are having very few children.
Second, Europe is not reproducing Christian converts, though Christianity was long Europe’s bedrock. Few Europeans are committed Christians, and fewer still believe in evangelism. Most think it would be wrong or in bad taste to invite someone of another religion to become a Christian.
Third, Europe is not reproducing a vigorous worldview. Much of Europe has abandoned Christianity and has nothing replace it. Secularism can’t satisfy souls or unify society. Many Europeans have no vision of life or ultimate purpose, no faith to pass on to their children, no gospel to spread to new immigrants or other neighbors, no cultural worldview they want to reproduce.
When I mention the problem of decreasing population, you might be surprised. After all, for decades we’ve heard about the dangers of overpopulation and starvation. But those dire warnings didn’t come true. Now the most serious problem is not a growing population but a graying, shrinking population.
In order for a society not to shrink, the average woman must have 2.1 children. But statistics from the United Nations Population Division show that the European rate has plummeted to 1.3 babies per woman of childbearing age. The rate varies from country to country. In Britain, the average birthrate is 1.6. In Germany, the average is 1.3. (One-fourth of German women have no children at all.) The average woman in Italy has 1.2 children. In Spain, the average woman has less than 1.2 children, and in Russia, the birthrate barely tops 1.1.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country faces “a serious crisis threatening Russia’s survival.” The average woman in Russia has two abortions for every live birth, eliminating two-thirds of the next generation. If present trends continue, Russia’s population will drop from 150 million to 100 million by 2050. Germany is on track to lose the equivalent of the current population of East Germany by that point. Europe’s average age would be so high that 75 old people would be collecting government pension for every 100 workers. With birth rate unlikely to increase, the only way to avoid economic ruin is to bring in more immigrants from outside Europe.
Europe’s threefold failure to reproduce—not having enough children, not sharing Christ with other people, not teaching a Christian worldview—is leaving holes in European society for Muslims to fill. Declining population leaves a hole in the workforce to be filled by Muslim immigrants and their children. Declining evangelism leaves a hole in the soul to be filled by Muslim religion and practices. Declining Christian worldview leaves a hole in cultural identity to be filled by a Muslim pattern for all of life. Some Europeans get upset by these trends and direct their anger at immigrants. However, the main problem is not Muslim immigration but European decadence. Europe is gradually committing cultural suicide.
North America’s Future
If those are the trends in Europe, what about Canada and the United States? Canada has been following the same path as Europe. Canada’s birthrate has dropped below 1.5 children per woman, its lowest point since anyone started keeping such records. That’s over 25 percent less than the replacement rate needed to maintain population levels. One in four Canadian babies is aborted before it can ever be born.
In the United States the overall birthrate is slightly below the replacement level of 2.1, but among Americans who aren’t immigrants and seldom attend church, birthrates are comparable to Europe. “The last year in which white Americans had enough children to replace themselves was 1971,” says Phillip Longman in his book The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It. And whites aren’t the only ones with fewer children. “Fertility rates among all major American ethnic groups have either remained low or fallen dramatically. African Americans now have a lower average fertility rate than whites, and they are no longer producing enough children to replace their population.”
Many Americans and Canadians are following Europe’s pattern of cultural suicide. They think abortion and gay marriage are normal but think families with lots of children are weird. They think all religions are fine—except Bible-based Christianity—and they don’t invite non-Christians to follow Jesus. They educate children in secular schools and don’t teach a Christian worldview at home or read the Bible with their families.
Still, North America is likely to retain Christian influence longer than Europe for at least three reasons. First, America has larger numbers of Christians committed to Christ and the Bible. Second, there’s a difference in immigration patterns: many immigrants to the United States are Christian or have Christian background, including many Hispanics, Koreans, and Christian refugees from various countries that persecuted them. Third, one segment of North America’s population still has larger-than-average families: religiously conservative church-goers. Phillip Longman says,
Conservative, religiously minded Americans are putting far more of their genes into the future than their liberal, secular counterparts… Fertility correlates strongly with religious conviction. In the United States, fully 47 percent of people who attend church weekly say that their ideal family size is three or more children. By contrast, only 27 percent of those who seldom attend church want that many kids.
Longman says, “Does this mean that the future belongs to those who believe they are (or who are in fact) commanded by a higher power to procreate? Based on current trends, the answer appears to be yes.” Longman seems to like secularists better than church people, but he can’t help noting that if churchgoers keep having more babies, they will be the leading force in America and the world. Longman says, “When secular-minded Americans decide to have few if any children, they unwittingly give a strong evolutionary advantage to the other side of the culture divide.”
What he calls “evolutionary advantage,” the Bible calls being “mighty in the land.” Psalm 112 says, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed… The wicked man will see and be vexed… the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.”
Some ideas are self-defeating and come to nothing. Abortion and homosexuality are obvious examples. Homosexuals rarely reproduce, and the pro-abortion movement is literally killing itself. Forty million abortions in North America in the past thirty years means that the next generation will have forty million fewer voters who grew up in secular, pro-abortion homes. Those who accept the secular culture of death are bound to be outnumbered eventually by those who prize marriage and children.
While some people are committing cultural suicide, reproducing Christians are in a position to grow and to shape the future direction of the culture and even the world. If you want to be in tune with God and be mighty in the land, you need to know the power of reproducing Christianity. The Bible offers guidance for reproducing Christianity in three ways: reproducing Christian kids, reproducing Christian converts, and reproducing Christian minds.
The first blessing God declared to humans was the blessing of children. After creating man and woman in his own image, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:28). After God called Abram to be his friend, the Lord renamed him Abraham, meaning “father of many nations,” and God said, “I will make you very fruitful” (Genesis 17:5-6). God promised Abraham, “I will bless you and make your descendants and numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).
Later God spoke through Moses about the blessings of faithfulness and the curses of unfaithfulness. In the case of faithfulness, God promised, “The fruit of your womb will be blessed… you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.” But in the case of unfaithfulness, God warned, “You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:4,13,62). Shrinking population meant serious trouble.
The theme of children as a blessing appears over and over in Scripture. During King David’s reign, a prophet named Heman had fourteen sons and three daughters. “They were given him through the promises of God to exalt him.” Also during David’s reign, the ark of the covenant was kept for a time at the house of a man named Obed-Edom. This man and his wife had eight sons. “For God had blessed Obed-Edom” (1 Chronicles 25:4; 26:5).
For much of history, large families were seen as a blessing. Times were often harder, incomes were lower, more women died in childbirth, and there were no disposable diapers or bottles of infant formula, but still women were eager to bear children and men saw new babies as new blessings. They also saw large families and growing national population as keys to strength and future success.
In Psalm 127 King Solomon said that we need the Lord to build a home and that “children are a gift from the Lord” (NLT). Solomon compared children to arrows and said it was good to have a quiver full of them, especially when facing opposition. Nobody wanted to face a battle with only one arrow, and nobody wanted to face a culture clash with only one child in his family to stand with him. When people and churches and entire nations forget this wisdom of Solomon and have too few children even to replace themselves, they are heading for decline and defeat. If we’re in tune with God, we’ll treasure children as his gifts and as arrows in our quiver.
God’s original blessing to multiply in number and rule over the earth is sometimes called “the cultural mandate.” Some church leaders and theologians have emphasized the mandate to apply God’s truth to every endeavor, to every institution, to every square inch of creation. It’s right to emphasize this, but it’s not enough. If we emphasize the world-transforming aspect of the cultural mandate but ignore the child-bearing aspect, we lose. A shrinking population will not inherit the earth or transform it for the glory of God. The fruitful, not the sterile, will fill the earth and subdue it.
The blessing of children isn’t just in the joy they can give us. It’s not just hugging a cute little tyke or seeing your own features in your child’s face. These things are precious, of course, worth more than fat bank accounts or fancy houses or fabulous vacations. But there’s more to children than warm feelings. For people who know and love God, raising children is a way to touch the future and even to touch eternity itself. Most of the stuff we work for is going to vanish someday, but our children will shape the future of the world, and as everlasting souls they will live on into eternity.
This high view of children is a big reason churchgoers tend to have more kids than non-believers. We saw earlier the statistic that 47 percent of faithful churchgoers want three or more children. That’s a higher percentage than the secularists’ 27 percent. On the other hand, it still means that 53 percent of churchgoers want two or fewer children, hardly enough to replace themselves after they die. Many want huge churches but tiny families. They need to listen afresh to what the Bible says.
The Bible never declares, “Artificial birth control is always wrong,” and some Christians take that to mean that they can have as few children as they prefer. But don’t just ask, “Is contraception wrong?” Ask, “Are children blessings?” If they are, why limit our blessings to a tiny number? Without setting a required family size for all Christian couples, let’s ask ourselves: Are our beliefs about family size shaped more by secular propaganda than by the Word of God? Do we care more about personal prosperity or about having a family that makes a maximum impact for God?
I might sound old-fashioned to you. You might think I’m a dinosaur. But who is the real dinosaur? Who will lose out and go extinct: those who reproduce or those who don’t? God’s Word declares children a blessing and declares a quiver full of kids to be an important part of winning the culture and the world. Even secular population experts think the future may belong to churchgoers who are having larger families. So read the Bible, do the math, and accept the fact that a big part of reproducing Christianity is reproducing kids.
A second major part of reproducing Christianity is reproducing converts. The church of Jesus Christ grows not only by having children but by winning non-Christian people to faith in Jesus. Not every Christian gets married or is able to have children, but they can still help to reproduce the faith. The apostle Paul was a single and childless, yet he helped reproduce Christianity in a huge way by spreading the gospel to people who did not know Jesus. Christianity grows through the witness of evangelists and missionaries and through ordinary Christians sharing faith with friends and neighbors.
Some liberal church leaders say that Jesus is not the only source of salvation, that faith in Christ is no better than any other religion, and that Christians should simply respect other religions without trying to persuade anyone who isn’t already a Christian to become one. But they are not just respecting other religions; they are rejecting Christianity.
Jesus himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Anyone who says all religions lead to God is calling Jesus a liar. And anyone who says that Christians should not invite non-Christian people to trust in Jesus is contradicting the risen Lord. In the Great Commission, Jesus declares: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).
If we know Jesus as Savior, we must share him with others. A faith that isn’t worth sharing isn’t worth believing.
Wherever urgency for mission and evangelism is lost, a church will shrivel and die. That has happened in many parts of Europe, and it will happen wherever a sense of mission dies. If Christians won’t invite non-Christians to trust in Jesus, they violate their own faith, they disobey their Lord, and they destroy their own future. The worldwide church of Jesus Christ will always remain—the Lord will make sure of that—but individual congregations can fade away, and even entire regions and nations can lose their Christianity if they lose their sense of mission.
The gospel must be spread without force or violence, but it must be spread. The gospel must be shared in a way that respects the dignity and intelligence of others, but it must be shared. Only Jesus can save us from sin and hell, only Jesus can make us right with God, only Jesus can give us eternal life, and we must never stop saying so. Opposition to Christian witness is nothing new; there has been resistance and persecution ever since the time of Jesus and his apostles. But faithful Christians can’t be silenced. They reproduce Christianity by reproducing converts.
Now let’s talk about a third aspect of reproducing Christianity: reproducing Christian minds. It’s not enough for Christians to have babies and to persuade people to believe in Jesus. Once a child is born into a Christian family, that child must learn the great truths of the faith and see everything from a Christian point of view. Once a convert is born again into the family of God, the person must learn all that Jesus commanded and develop a biblical mindset, a Christian worldview, a way of relating all things to the rule of Jesus.
Without reproducing Christian minds, we may have lots of kids and make lots of converts, but the resulting religion will be a thousand miles wide and an inch deep. It’s not enough to give a child a colorful Sunday school paper or to ask a new believer to watch a film about Jesus. Such things may have a place, but more is needed, much more. Otherwise the result will be shallow, weak Christians who don’t transform their culture but get sucked into it. Within a generation or two, such churches vanish and are replaced by something else.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” A renewed mind comes from knowing the Word of God. Christian fathers, assisted by mothers, are responsible to impress God’s truth on their children. Ephesians 6:4 directs fathers to bring up children “in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Every Christian father must set a time for his family each day to read the Bible and pray together. The Bible tells godly parents to talk about biblical truths as part of everyday conversation with their children (Deuteronomy 11:19).
No practice is more important for reproducing Christianity than daily family time in God’s Word. Without that, your children are likely to think that faith is not part of daily life, and they are likely to base their view of life on what they get from television, friends, and school. Families must have daily time in Scripture, and as children grow older, they must make personal Bible study part of their daily pattern.
Newly converted Christians, too must learn in-depth biblical Christianity and not just a few formulas. They must have a daily time to read God’s Word and allow their minds to be shaped by the Bible. They must be mentored by mature Christians on how to apply God’s truth to all of life.
As Christians cultivate daily Bible study, we must also pursue in-depth schooling in a Christian worldview. Too many Christians are handing their children over to secular schools and universities without taking any measures to help them to understand science, politics, business, history, art, literature, history, and all of life with a Christian mind. Christian schools and Christian home schooling are not just charming options for a few people who happen to like them. Thoroughly Christian education in church, home, and various levels of schooling is vital for the faith to survive, thrive, and reproduce.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity began as just a tiny minority. But those Christians reproduced Christian children, Christian converts, and Christian minds. The Roman Empire had become decadent. Pagan parents didn’t want big families. They didn’t have reliable means of birth control or abortion, so they simply left unwanted children outside to die of starvation, cold weather, or animal attacks. Meanwhile, Christian parents had more children, and they often rescued the unwanted babies, adopted them, and raised them as Christians. They kept speaking of the faith to non-Christians, and even when they were persecuted and killed, the blood of the martyers was the seed of the church. Christians had a mindset and way of life that was far different from the people around them. Their numbers and their intellectual power kept multiplying. The church has been reproducing and growing ever since.
But not in every place. North Africa and Turkey were once regions where Christianity prospered, but today only a small minority of Christians remains, and those regions are mainly Islamic. Europe may be on the same track unless it reverses course and European Christians gain new vision and power from the Holy Spirit.
Present trends make a Muslim majority in Europe appear likely to some experts, but it’s not automatic. The Lord Jesus may yet revive European believers and stir them to reproduce Christianity. Also, not all Muslims are zealous about their faith, and many are having fewer children. In fact, Phillip Longman reports, “Fertility rates are falling faster in the Middle East than anywhere else on earth, and as a result the region’s population is aging at an unprecedented rate.” Muslim immigration to other areas may cease as their own birthrate keeps dropping.
Meanwhile, Christians don’t need fear what people of other religions are doing. Sometimes we need a wakeup call, but what we need most is simply to be faithful to our own calling. Our chief danger is not that others will destroy us but that we will gradually destroy ourselves through cultural suicide. If followers of Jesus are faithful to him, the Lord will build his church and make his people mighty in the land. If we follow the biblical pattern for reproducing Christianity—having Christian kids, winning Christian converts, shaping Christian minds—God’s church and kingdom will grow and flourish.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.