Matthieu Klass loves Brussels, Belgium. In February 2013, he and his wife Christella planted Église Protestante de la Cambre. The church meets in Ixelles, the heart of intellectual, cultural and political life in Brussels.
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Good community is hard to find. And, it's even harder in a large international city like Brussels where the Christian population is so small.
Despite this reality, I found my time in Brussels to be quite the opposite. The community that Matthieu and Olivier are cultivating through their new church plant is rich and deep. It's full of diversity, open hearts, and friendship.
Laura and I were guests in Matthieu's home during our short stay in Brussels and this is where I experienced community the most; he and his lovely wife, Christella, were such gracious hosts. They fed us delicious food, told us wonderful stories, and shared their lives with us. But what made the stay even more grand was the constant influx of community and friends.
We would wake up each morning and hear beautiful hymns being sung by Matt, Christella, and ... three or four other core group members. Each morning. Before work! (Did I mention Laura and I weren't even out of bed yet?) It was a sight to behold. We would all sit down at the table together for breakfast. We would pray, we would chat, and we would enjoy life together. The bonds were so strong that I felt a part of it after having been there only one day.
This breakfast experience only scratched the surface of the community there. Members from the core group met us for lunch. They hosted us at their office cafeteria. They toured us around the city in the evening and gave us a crash course in Brussels history.
So, why does any of this matter? I'm glad you asked. Since there hasn't been an evangelical church planted by Brusselites, for Brusselites in this neighborhood in the last 13 years, having an approachable, friendly, deep community is quite important. Église Protestante de la Cambre is blessing their neighborhood already. They're displaying the love of Christ to those around them in the way they love each other so well.
What do two present-day church planters and two Belgian nobles from the 1500's have in common?
When Belgium was still part of the Southern Netherlands, it experienced the first waves of the Protestant Reformation in the 1400's. People would convert to Calvinism and pillage the existing Catholic churches. This was known as the Calvinist revolt against the Spanish Inquisition. King Philip II of Spain slaughtered Protestant converts and burned whole towns, causing people to flee. in 1568, the head of Philip's army, the Duke of Alba, marched into Brussels and ordered the counts of Egmont and Horn decapitated in Grand Place. Egmont and Horn were Catholic nobles, loyal to the king but considered treasonous because of their tolerance of Protestantism. Today, they are memorialized in the Petit Sablon garden as heroes of the independence movement.
"We feel that we are here to carry on their spirit and the legacy of the Reformation," said Esther, Olivier's wife. Although Matthieu and Olivier are not political leaders, they are trusting that God will use Église Protestante de la Cambre to make a difference in Brussels, triggering a new reformation to take place - a reformation of hearts.
This post by Matthieu Klass was originally posted on The Gospel Coalition blog.
We are currently starting a church in Brussels, the capital of Belgium and of Europe. So when we first came across James Ensor’s Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, the painting naturally caught our attention. The 8x14 feet canvas depicts the imagined entry of the messiah on one of the new modern boulevards of the city and is “one of the most extraordinary and prophetic works of art produced anywhere in Europe,” according to art historian Patricia G. Berman. 
The name of the painting starts with “Christ.” But . . . where is Christ? A bit like the game Where’s Waldo? his presence isn’t immediately noticeable. Have you found him yet?
He is there, but in the background, riding on a donkey. It looks like most people are too busy with their own partying and parading to notice him. The foreground of the painting is instead occupied by sarcastic caricatures of the most powerful of Brussels: the politician, the bishop, the businessman, the army commander, and many others. Have you found them yet?
Brussels was still a backwater city at the beginning of the 19th century. But when the young Belgian artist painted Christ’s Entry, King Leopold II—an alliance of the military, religious, and political authorities of the city—was succeeding in turning Brussels into one of the most powerful cities of Europe. However, the glorious rise of Brussels was implemented with little regard for the oppressed laboring classes and became increasingly dependent on the pillage of the Congo. (Have you found the Congolese mask yet?)
Today as well, the risks of power abuses are high in Brussels as the city is once again going through an amazing transformation and becoming the new capital of Europe. It’s now ranked as the fifth-most influential city in the world because of its political power. Surprisingly, however, one Brusselite out of four is living below the poverty line.
The face of the Christ in the painting is actually a self-portrait of Ensor. The 28-year-old artist painted himself sitting on the donkey. He was completely disillusioned with the institutionalized power of Belgian officialdom and promoted, as an alternative, the radical freedom of the individual. His painting reflects the ambition of a generation to reconstruct the world on the basis of individualism and rejecting authority. Ensor, as an artist, was bearing the responsibility to make space for that freedom and entering Brussels as the overlooked redeemer of the city.
Similarly in Belgium today, we tend not to trust the authorities of our country; we cherish dearly our individual freedom. “Let everyone remain his own master”  is a practical guiding principle for all of life, according to Belgians. But the disenchantment Ensor once had with the public institutions now extends to our individualistic way of life. “Disillusion, With a Dance Beat.” That’s how The New York Times rightly characterized the songs of Belgian singer Stromae, who is currently making everyone dance in Belgium. Our jealously guarded individual autonomy and independence seem not to offer much in the face of our country’s pessimistic and depressing mood.
Christ Is Entering Brussels
To those who have eyes to see, the painting will nevertheless prophetically proclaim truly Good News: Christ is indeed entering the city of Brussels. His voice is still dim in the capital of Europe; he is not well represented. The last evangelical church for Brusselites of Belgian origins was planted 13 years ago. But we know that Christ is a good king, never misusing his power; he is the true redeemer of Brussels. We love our city, and this is why we are starting a church.
Brussels is hard to pin down. The city is alive, full of distinct culture and history, with adventure waiting around every corner. In every neighborhood you can find delicious frites with all varieties of sauces, or a Belgian waffle stand serving piping hot waffles in paper pockets. Belgian chocolate and beer are always on hand to sate your desires. Tintin comic paintings decorate the sides of old buildings, popping up in unexpected places. In the old town square, Grand Place, guildhalls built by tradesmen centuries ago stand as landmarks in the beautiful city center, with the Town Hall as the cornerstone, still standing since the 1400's. Local Brusselites are proud of their culture, cuisine, and history.
Brussels is also a center of power, host to most of the European Union institutions, including the secondary but de facto seat of the European Parliament, as well as the European Council and European Commission. Delegates from all over Europe, and even beyond, make up a large part of the population on any given day. While the city is anchored by a long history, dating back to the 300's, it is navigating the future as the home of Europe's decision-makers.
Matthieu loves Brussels' complex identity. This is what makes starting a church there so strategic and compelling. He hopes this will be the beginning of a movement, because it will take all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of Brusselites.
Église Protestante de la Cambre is a new church in Brussels and meets in Ixelles, the heart of intellectual, cultural and political life in the city. At the center of Ixelles is Place Flagey, where wealthy families, entrepreneurs, university students, and the poor intersect daily.
Matthieu and Olivier, co-planters of Église Protestante de la Cambre, are part of a very small number of Belgian Christians, and have been called to proclaim the gospel in Brussels. Their goal is to plant a new church in the center of the city and to work hand in hand with existing churches in order to ignite a movement of the gospel in Brussels through church planting and church renewal.