It is our second day in Amsterdam. I am struck by the cosmopolitan and very secular atmosphere of the city. There is a lively artistic and cultural ambiance. But the true drivers of the city seem to be finance and business concerns. Still in all, one cannot miss the Christian roots of the culture and the community. I can see this in the high level of tolerance and openness among the Dutch. Their religious tolerance is so inspiring that prior to the Nazi extermination of the Jews, a full quarter of the the population of Amsterdam was Jewish due to the influx of Jewish émigrés fleeing anti-Semitism.
I have a feeling many Dutchmen today no longer practice or are active in any organized or traditional religion. And yet, as we walk the streets of the city, there would be chimes and the ringing of the bells from some nearby church announcing the hours. Somehow, there is some air or whiff of the transcendent alive in the place that is centuries old.
If the apostles Peter and Paul were to show up today, I wonder if they will recognize the Church they have started in our world today. They will immediately notice that this Church has all but disappeared in the rich affluent countries of the West, with the possible exception of the United States. They will definitely be happy to see it alive and growing in among the poor and disadvantaged communities in the Third Countries of Latin America, Asia and Africa.
The issues confronting the churches today will be different from the issues they struggle with in the early communities. Then, they were argued whether the Gospel was to be proclaimed to the Gentiles as well and whether to circumcise pagan converts or not. but they will be inspired to know that the way of proceeding has stayed the same: in prayerful discernment, the communities gather together and guided by the Holy Spirit; they would resolve their arguments by reflecting on their experience and then they were able to conclude: “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”
Many of the present day practices may seem strange and different; but they will definitely see and feel the presence of the Lord when these communities break bread together and remember the Lord’s Supper with the same words they have handed down to us. They will see how faithful we have been in proclaiming the good news and baptizing all who would believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They will be gladden that we still lay hands and anoint with oil those who have been fully initiated into the Lord’s communion. They will recognize the Church and the indwelling of the Trinity among the believers and followers of the Christ.