Western Europe was where the Reformation began. Schoolchildren in France are taught this, but it remains absent from the English National Curriculum. Moreover, finding a church where the Reformed doctrines of grace are taught is increasingly difficult for many believers.
Lausanne Free Church (LFC) in Switzerland (which is English-speaking and Reformed) welcomes anglophones who are used to such worship and teaching. We also welcome a greater number for whom English is a second language but who value the fact that LFC follows the teachings of the Reformers in matters of faith and practice.
We get emails on a regular basis from people who are looking for this kind of church in other parts of Switzerland. In each case, sadly, we have to say that, to our knowledge, there is no other English-speaking Reformed church in the whole country.
Of course, that may not be a big surprise. We are talking about a small number of people living in a foreign country. Surely in other, larger countries it is easier for native speakers to find faithful preaching?
Before Covid-19 struck, my wife and I drove to Chalon-sur-Saône in eastern France to share fellowship with a small church there (www.levangileachalon.net). The church has about 10 regular worshippers and meets in the home of Jean-Claude Souillot who was, until recently, director of Europresse.
While we were there on the Lord’s Day, they were joined by several visitors. The reason they came was eye-opening for us. Four had come from Besançon, which is about 90 minutes’ drive away. This didn’t strike us as that far because some of our church members travel similar distances to our services.
But the other two visitors, who were brothers, had travelled from Montélimar, leaving behind their wives and young children. They had left home at 6.30 a.m. and stayed to share lunch with us after the service, effectively sacrificing time with their families in order to fellowship with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day.
The question is, why did they do that? Isn’t there another faithful evangelical church closer to home? The answer should shock us all. The fact is that, in France, there are so few Bible-believing, gospel-preaching churches that some people have to give up half a day just to be able to hear good, gospel-centred teaching.
When we read in Amos about a famine of the preaching of the word, we witness it as a daily reality in the European country that is closest to us.
We had seen proof of this as we drove from the Swiss border to Chalon-sur-Saône. By choosing not to use the motorway, we passed through many towns and villages. In the UK, we would have expected to see Protestant churches in most of these. Some would have been beautiful old buildings, some would have been smaller chapels, but without doubt there would have been evidence that the Bible was believed and taught. But not once in our entire three-hour journey did we see evidence of even one evangelical church.
When we think about mission, our thoughts tend to focus on far away lands where the people speak obscure languages. But do we ever think about France? We share so much history, many of us have learnt some of the language, and millions of us go there on holiday.
Do you pray for the people who live next door to you? It is a good thing to do so. Perhaps you could also pray for France, that the Lord would raise up faithful men to go and preach the gospel in this atheistic country where people are desperately in need of the gospel, even though they don’t realise it.
Alan Hill is Pastor of Lausanne Free Church, Switzerland.