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The Coming Underground Church in Europe

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GENEVA, Switzerland Many Christians have heard of the "underground church" in China, where believers are forced to meet in secret and often endure persecution. But could the same thing eventually happen in Western Europe as well?

Even in Switzerland, known as the country of peace and neutrality, some Christian leaders believe recent laws and the pervasive anti-Christian sentiment in Europe, point in that direction.

Pastor Jean Pierre Trachsel said, "Yes, I say this in the prophetical sense, I feel the time is coming where here in Europe, maybe the real Christians will have to be underground."

Trachsel and his wife Yvonne pastor an evangelical church in Sivirez, a tiny Swiss village near the border of France. Their church, "Alliance Pierre Vivantes," or Church of the Living Stones, is one of the few evangelical churches in this traditionally Catholic part of Switzerland.

At the Tuesday night service we attended, some folks had traveled more than an hour to gather with fellow believers.

Switzerland is home to nearly seven million people, but only three to five percent are born-again Christians. Being so outnumbered has not been easy for the church in Switzerland. In recent years, churches here have been labeled "cults and sects" by both government and media.

Trachsel said, "For example, we were evangelizing, we prayed for people and some fell under the power. Some people saw this and thought we were doing hypnosis. So a high rank guy intervened, and stopped us, has forbidden us. In other parts when you start something like, maybe a meeting for evangelization, they ask you, Are you a sect? You say no, and they say, Who are you? And they are going to make investigations and when they find that you are some kind of 'free church,' they say it's not possible."

Trachsel says evangelicals are officially free to worship, but unofficially, he says, they are not free. "If you stay in your room or your house, you are free. If I go to preach on the street, if I say that's not right that homosexuality is going everywhere, it's not right what's going on in our society, then you are not free," he said.

In the last few years, animosity against evangelicals in Europe seems to be growing. In 1999, the French government passed an "anti-cult" law officially labeling evangelical groups as cults and sects.

In October 2002, Belarus passed a strict new law targeting evangelicals and other minority faiths. The law requires government registration for all religious groups and bans group meetings in homes.

There are several other European countries dabbling with anti-cult laws, including: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Romania, Portugal, Spain and a few others. In most of these countries, there are efforts to categorize evangelical churches as "cults."

Mathew Ashimolowo, pastor of the fastest growing church in London and Western Europe, says the church in Europe is at a dangerous crossroads.

He said, "Not only is Europe now not going to church, in fact we are now in a new dimension. We're now in the paradigm shift where Europe is church-unfriendly. So many local government laws are anti-church. Regulatory bodies that are supposed to regulate charities, do not want to accept evangelical beliefs whether it's Britain or wherever."

Over in Switzerland, not everyone senses the fiery breath of persecution. In Lausanne, about an hour north of Geneva, CBN News visited one charismatic church that moves freely in the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, some of its members have just returned from basking in the so-called "Toronto blessing" at a Canadian church where many believe revival has been in season for almost a decade.

Some say the difference in Switzerland's spiritual climate has to do with the country's spiritual geography. Since the reformation, Switzerland has been divided between Catholic and Protestant regions. Pastor Trachsel says evangelical churches in traditionally Catholic areas have a much tougher time.

"Yes. That is a problem here in Switzerland and continental Europe," Trachsel said. "There are what you call the state churches, the Protestants and Catholics and so on. And every other denomination and free churches are considered sects, especially in the Catholic parts, there is very strong resentment of everything that is not Catholic."

Despite current trends, Switzerland cannot escape its rich Christian heritage. In fact, the nation's flag, a white cross on a red field, dates back 700 years and was a symbol of the Christian faith. The cross was commonly used on coins and seals and was carried into battle on banners. It has been the country's official flag since 1848 when Switzerland was transformed from a loose federation of different cantons (local governments) into its present confederation with a central government.

Switzerland is also home to the great reformer and theologian, John Calvin who expounded the truths of scripture in this land. But, in the last 30 years, membership in Switzerland's Catholic and Protestant churches has been cut in half, and many seem to have forgotten their country's deep Christian roots.

A quick survey of people on the street backed up this notion. When asked what he thought about Jesus Christ, one man replied, "Jesus Christ? That's a tough question, (laugh) to be honest, I'm not believing in God so I thinking that from the historical point of view, I think it's interesting for the story but I don't believe in Jesus Christ person."

We asked a woman if Jesus meant anything to her, and she said, "He means something because I know all his stories. I was educated with that, but it doesn't change more in my life."

Another Swiss man said, "I believe that Jesus Christ was a messenger of God, just like Buddha was a messenger of God or the Hindus have their own messiahs' or messengers. I believe what Jesus Christ did was great and I'm just as much a Christian as I am a Buddhist."

Despite an apparent falling away from the church in Europe, Pastor Ashimolowo says he believes God will give Europe another chance before his return.

"Listening to the heartbeat of God for Europe, I see revival, I see the coming persecution by the way of legislation, regulation, grabbing some of the leaders putting them under intense pressure, all kinds of things," he said. "But out of that, God is going to birth something that will be pure, something that will be beautiful, something that will be new and something European. A revival is coming prior to the coming of the Lord Jesus to Europe. Europe will have a second chance."

Trachsel said, "My inner feeling is, if I could speak to every Christian here in Switzerland, I would say, hold on! Don't lose your ground, don't go back, take your ground, God has not forsaken us. I'm aware that even before Christ is coming back, I am waiting for a visiting of God, also in Switzerland, I think God can and will still do something, but He needs people who stand firm on the Word. If we go back, if we get fearful, we are finished."

Pastor Trachsel also had a word of caution for the church in America. He said, "Don't lose your freedoms," because they are one of the biggest things God has given the church. He also urged Americans to pray for the church in Europe and to remember the many Christians that are fighting for their survival there.

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About The Author

Wendy Griffith

Wendy Griffith is a Co-host for The 700 Club and an Anchor and Senior Reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In addition to The 700 Club, Wendy co-anchors Christian World News, a weekly show that focuses on the triumphs and challenges of the global church. ( Wendy started her career at CBN on Capitol Hill, where she was the network’s Congressional Correspondent during the Impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton. She then moved to the Virginia Beach headquarters in 2000 to concentrate on stories with a more