THE CHURCH IN LEBANON: LARGE, ANCIENT BUT BARELY ALIVE

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1. History

Lebanon (meaning The White One, referring to the 160km of snow-capped mountains that run parallel to the coast in winter, Jeremiah 18:14) is a small coastal country on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Its history is deep, going back to the dawn of human civilisation. It was the home of the infamous Canaanites at the time Abraham came through on his way to Egypt (Genesis 12:6). Centuries later it was actually part of the territory promised to the Israelites when they came back to the Promised Land out of Egypt (Joshua 1:4, Joshua 3:10). the Song of Songs – are full of praise for Lebanon’s nature, wild animals, waters, trees, flowers, wine, plants and the legendary snow of its high mountains. Lebanese timber was used to build Solomon’s temple. All up Lebanon is mentioned 71 times in the Old Testament.

Lebanon also gave rise to the great civilisation of the Phoenicia which colonised so much of the Mediterranean and gave the world the first taste of a modern alphabet. The Persians then claimed it, as did Alexander the Great and the Romans. The Christian era came next, and then gave way to the Islamic era, but not before a two hundred year return to European Christendom during the era of the Crusades. As you can see, the country is literally built on a maze of precious archaeological ruins!

2. Today

Because of the horrific genocide and ethnic cleansing of Christians from many parts of the Middle East during the late colonial era and early 20th Century, the French government decided to set up a special enclave as a refuge for refugee Christians from right across the Fertile Crescent. Thus modern Lebanon was eventually born in 1948 as the only majority Christian country in the Middle East. It is also the only country with freedom of religion and the only democratic country outside Israel. The country flourished for a while but the good times all came to a shuddering halt when millions of Palestinian refugees entered the country fleeing Jewish persecution (15% of whom were Christians). This led to a 15 year civil war that only ended in 1990. Lebanon has since boomed again but the peace is fragile and the economy not strong.

The country is 87% urban. It has 6 million citizens and 2 million refugees. It is 40% traditional Christian, 27% Sunni Muslim, 27% Shia Muslim and 5% Druze. It is the world’s third most indebted nation and the majority of its poor are Palestinian Muslims because of their lower education levels and refugee backgrounds.

3. Evangelical Highlights

Jesus was actually the first to bring the gospel to Lebanon when he visited Tyre and healed the Phoenician woman’s demon possessed child (Mark 7:24-31)! From there we know Peter and Paul repeated the Good News in later decades. The church grew quickly along the coast but the many mountainous villages were much slower in accepting the Gospel. In fact to this day the Druze of this same region even refuse to accept Islam.

The church eventually settled into a culture of tradition and ritual, abandoning the very life-changing message that gave birth to it in the first place. Today Christianity in Lebanon is 50% Maronite Catholic, 20% Greek Orthodox, 12% Greek Melkite Catholic and 5% Armenian Orthodox. Get the picture! Only some 25,000 or about 0.4% of the population is evangelical. These numbers are growing, but are so tiny as to not have any impact on the vast majority of nominal Christians, let alone the Muslim majority. Sadly, evangelicals are even viewed with great suspicion by these older Christian churches.

The great re-awakening of the Lebanese church is yet to happen, but there are sparks of life in this picture from the few who dare to truly follow Jesus, and there is at least one western-style mega-church in Beirut. Another area of some growth is within the newly arrived Syrian refugees who are open to Christian witness after suffering great trauma caused by Islamic extremists. YWAM is active in the country and there is Christian TV available to many.

Because of its uniquely tolerant  religious social climate, Lebanon is also the base for much evangelical Christian leadership training for churches throughout the Middle East. There are also a number of evangelical Christian schools educating many of the future elite of the country.

4. Prayer Points

Pray for the secretive Druze. There are only a few hundred believers among them

Pray also for the downtrodden Palestinians, there are only a few believers left among them

Pray for the small but growing renewal movement inside the Maronite Church

Pray for peace so Christians from across the Middle East can continue to be trained, and for resources to flow from Lebanon to nearby countries

Pray for the refugees who now know Jesus, that their decisions are genuine and life changing

Pray for a move of healings, miracles, dreams and visions

Pray for the hardened Hezbollah fighters to come to know Jesus

Pray for nominal Christians to have an encounter with the Holy Spirit

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