Christ's Entry into Brussels in 2014

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. [1]

Whose Entry?

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.

Whose Donkey?

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” [2] 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.

You can partner with Matthieu and Église Protestante de la Cambre and help them reach their goal of $5,000. 100% of your gift goes to this project.

[1] Patrica G. Berman. James Ensor: Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2002. 6.

[2] Elisée Reclus. “Introduction” to Peter Kropotkin, Words of a Rebel. Montreal and New York: Black Rose Books, 1992. 18.

Will Revival Happen Again in Frankfurt?

This post by Stephan Pues was originally posted on The Gospel Coalition blog.

In 1666 Philipp Jakob Spener became the leading Protestant pastor in Frankfurt, Germany. A century after Martin Luther’s Reformation revitalized the Christian faith in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, much of the enthusiasm had dissipated. The gospel was not vital in people’s hearts, and the church was not relevant for the city and its culture. Spener yearning for another renewal. And so in 1675 he wrote the Pia Desideria (“a desire from the heart”) to his city of Frankfurt. The text is a cry for renewal of the gospel in his life, his church, his city, and his country. And God used him to start a widespread revival from Frankfurt into the world, later called Pietism.

Today Frankfurt is in many ways a different city. It is a global city, the financial capital of Europe, in the heart of Germany. It is shaped by postmodern thinkers, big companies, and creative people. Skyscrapers, subways, cars, stores, and dense living spaces shape the city. I think Spener would wonder many things if he could walk the streets of his city today. But he would find at least one thing the same: the situation of the church.

'Spiritual' But with No Church

Most people in Frankfurt would call themselves spiritual. But few would expect a church or the Christian faith to be beneficial. The churches are struggling with the challenge to reach younger, urban, postmodern, post-Christian, and post-secular people—those who think liberally, love creativity, value diversity, hang out in third places, define their own values, buy fair trade clothing, call themselves spiritual, and love the urban environment.

The challenges of our city are obvious when you walk through it. The skyscrapers of the financial district show the desire to rise up into the world of money and power. A few blocks farther in the red light district you see people longing for love and intimacy. In the city center people spend a lot of money on clothes and beautiful things to make them look and feel good. And in the many clubs every night people long for joy and satisfaction. Everyone who comes to the city desires to get something from it: meaning, wealth, joy, love, or security. 

But there is only way for anyone to find sure satisfaction: in the gospel of Jesus—presented and lived out by a church that is changed by the gospel itself. That is a church with people who are freed by the gospel to love their neighbor and city, who don’t live just to make themselves feel better, and who don’t ask “what can we get” but “what can we give” just as Jesus did. Frankfurt needs more of these churches.   

Church for Revival

In 2009, I moved with my family to Frankfurt. God had called us to plant a church, and then ten more people joined us. That calling led us to start a project called “Nordstern” (north star) in the Nordend (north end) neighborhood of Frankfurt. As we continue with this project, we desire the same as Spener did: revival in our city. And we believe that through the gospel it can happen again. The vision is to start a church for those who haven’t yet heard of Jesus and help multiply it into a movement of many more church plants in Frankfurt.

About 60 years after Spener’s Pia Desideria, Nikolaus von Zinzendorf visited Frankfurt. He was a leader in the Pietism revival. And he wrote to a friend: “Never have I experienced revival like I have seen it in Frankfurt.” He saw people who believed in the gospel and a city that was socially and culturally changed. Wouldn’t it be great if several decades from now someone would come to Frankfurt, see revival, and write something like that to a friend? I believe that God can still do it, and I hope he will.

You can partner with Stephan and Nordstern Kirche and help them reach their goal of $5,000. 100% of your gift goes to this project.