Hindrances to the Gospel in France
Although France is one of richest and most beautiful countries in the world, spiritually speaking, few countries are poorer. There are several reasons for this. The first is the big date in French history; the 1789 Revolution. It was the first openly anti-Christian revolution. Since then the official religion of France is the Republic, that is secularism. In 1905, a law was introduced to separate the state and religion. Religion must be kept private and is banned from the public domain, such as schools. French school children are taught philosophy instead. Another factor is the rapid rise and influence of militant Islam (constituting 10% of the French population) primarily due to the huge number of North African immigrants. Another obstacle to the Gospel is that much missionary activity is carried out by Americans, and this causes Evangelicalism to be associated with the Americanisation of the world to which the French are greatly opposed. The front cover of a leading political magazine featured George Bush with a cross in the background and the caption: ‘Evangelicals, the sect that wants to take over the world.’ Evangelicals are grossly misinterpreted and regarded as the enemy within. They are treated with much suspicion and considered to be one of the many sects in France. Another hindrance to the Gospel is the grip of the world on French society. The French know how to enjoy life and their minds are far from eternal issues.
The History of the Gospel in France
God has been gracious to the country of France. It was one of the first countries to hear the Gospel in Europe through the followers of Luther. There were conversions in the 1520s, of which Calvin, himself a Frenchman, was one. The French Catholic monarchy, however, was very hostile to the growing Protestant presence in the land which led to the Wars of Religion at the end of the sixteenth century. This ended with the Edict of Nantes in 1598, and limited toleration for Protestants. These freedoms were gradually curtailed during the seventeenth century, and in 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked and it became illegal to be a Protestant in France. Whilst other countries enjoyed revivals and great spiritual blessing, France was a land of martyrs where thousands gave their lives for the Gospel. Protestantism was perceived to be a threat to the French absolutist system of government promoted by Louis XIV. Believers were exiled, imprisoned and executed and their children put in convents. Thousands fled the country (Calvin had already left France in 1534, never to return, and eventually went to Geneva from whence he ministered to the persecuted Christians in France).
Nevertheless God preserved a remnant in France, and in 1783 there was a change of heart at Court, and an Edict of Tolerance was introduced which allowed many Protestants to return to France. Some of these supported the French Revolution, as the monarchy had persecuted the Reformed faith for so long. However, the Revolution eventually adopted a very anti-Christian stance and any form of worship, be it Catholic or Protestant, was prohibited in 1795-6.
In the nineteenth century more exiles began to return and revival spread from Switzerland. Churches were built up, particularly in the South East, in areas like Lyon. In the twentieth century, most of these churches became liberal under the influence of German theology. Missionaries also brought over their teaching which was strongly premillenial and Arminian up until World War 2. There was some blessing, some conversions, but, still today, Protestants are very hesitant about Reformed doctrines. On the whole, preaching is sidelined, has little substance and is strongly influenced by philosophy. Jesus Christ and Him crucified are not central, therefore French Christians are not compelled to live radical lives of love for their Saviour. This is all due to lack of good teaching. There are vast areas in France (some 20,000 towns) with no Gospel witness at all. Some believers have to travel 1 or 2 hours to find an Evangelical church which is often just a handful of believers meeting in someone’s home.
What can you do? Please pray for the churches in France. Pray for a revival of biblical preaching and that God would raise up more men to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.