The improved state of the Reformed faith in Germany

    Some vocal British Protestants bolster their arguments against their country’s European Union membership by pointing out that Europe, excluding Britain, is firmly in the hands of the Vatican. This thinking also opens up old wounds regarding Germany who is seen as the leading Roman Catholic country in Europe. Germany, after the Reformation, was never fully in Rome’s hands and Protestants and papists were equally numbered, but the new millennium has brought with it radical changes in Protestant-Roman Catholic ratios, especially in Germany. Whereas Rome is growing rapidly in power in England, Germany is experiencing a steady growth in Protestant influence and in many areas, including the Ruhr District (Ruhr-Gebiet) in which I live, Rome is bankrupt and closing down her churches by the hundreds. So, too, Germany is now for the fourth time ruled by a President, Horst Köhler, who is a professing Protestant Christian and his Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who re-introduced the ‘So help me God’ clause into her inauguration ceremony is well known as a contender for the Protestant faith. The result is that the study of evangelical, Reformed theology with a view to entering the ministry is again increasing and many new theological seminaries based on Reformation principles have been founded in Germany’s major cities with annexes in Switzerland, Austria and even Turkey. Bible Conferences such as the Siegwinden and Marburg Conferences reported on previously in this magazine are drawing an increasing number of Christians both young and old. English Reformed speakers such as Daniel Webber and Philip Eveson and an increasing number of Dutch ministers and teachers are giving this work their support. New churches are being founded on Bible principles which now have several hundred members. Sadly the older generations are slow to join this new church planting. Though I still read very dark and disturbing articles in English speaking newspapers regarding the decline of Protestantism in Germany, which small English town can boast of the recent conversion of hundreds of people through the witness of one young man as in my home town of Mülheim? Where else can one find hundreds of believers who give half their moderate salaries for the furtherance of the gospel? Not very long ago, I was dismayed to read a very negative article in a leading Reformed magazine which denigrated Christian witness in Germany. I responded with a glowing report of the work of the Spirit in the Ruhr area. The editor wrote back, rejecting my report, saying that it was not in the interest of the paper’s readers. This magazine is now bemoaning the fact that it is losing subscribers. True Christians put evangelical outreach before politics.

 

Rome is rapidly retreating in Germany

     The past few months have produced front-page headlines in the German press concerning the thousands of disillusioned Roman Catholics who are turning their backs on the papal system which, in many areas, is deeply in financial debts. The only exception appears to be the diocese of Cologne, famous for its claim to have the bones of the Three Wise Men displayed in style on its High Alter and for its Carnival debauchery. Cologne is still the richest diocese in the world with only Chicago as its rival. However, up to 20005, the neighbouring Ruhr RC diocese, one of the largest and most influential in Germany, was comprised of 263 parishes, employing many hundreds of ministers, teachers, social workers, office and maintenance staff. Most of these churches are now more or less empty and the local parishes are unable to pay salaries and maintenance bills. These deserted churches and social amenities have cost the diocese 221 Million Euros a year which is over twice their income through church tax and donations. In a frantic effort to make financial ends meet, the bishopric has started a campaign to save 70 million Euros in one quick effort by dismissing a thousand employees and closing down over two hundred parishes leaving only 35 Pfarreien (parsonages) to finance. Ninety-six church buildings are already up for sale and another twenty-six are awaiting closure. No less than a hundred Kindergartens have been closed. The public house trade and local Muslims have shown great interest in purchasing the derelict church buildings. Bishop Felix Genn, who has been borrowing 34.5 million per annum for his diocese up to this year has denounced much of the criticism against the church closures as ‘un-Christian’. Essen was to be the host town of the 2008 so-called Catholic Day which was to attract hundreds of thousands to Essen and boost the RC church’s and the city’s feeble economy. This has now been cancelled by Bishop Genn on the grounds that his church is bankrupt. The leading Roman Catholic philosopher Ludger Honnefelder has told those RCs who are against the closures that religion is not dying in Germany but is thriving, albeit in other ‘cultures’. However, when the Ruhr diocese was reconstituted in 1958 it had a membership of one and a half million souls. Though the diocese has increased greatly in population due to the industrial boom of the sixties and seventies, today there are 600,000 fewer Roman Catholics who live there. Many of those remaining are not regular church-goers.

 

Protestant churches are faring far better

     Protestant churches are not experiencing anywhere near the same exodus of members suffered by Rome. My home town of Mülheim an der Ruhr, which had until recently a balanced proportion of Protestants and Roman Catholic churches, is fairly representative. One Protestant church, bearing the auspicious name of Calvin Strasse, is to be closed down but the minister will not lose his employment. In comparison, five Roman Catholic Churches are closing down and several others have been merged under one minister. Unlike the Roman Catholic diocese which has had to dismiss 1,000 employees, there will be no redundancies amongst the Protestant Ruhr district association staff and no inner church work will suffer. The Protestant Rhine-Ruhr churches recently held their local synods and proclaimed there that their members should now make a major effort to re-reform the church to make it worthy of its name. An interesting feature reported on was the setting up of 18 offices throughout the district for the purpose of informing former members of what they were losing outside of the church and what they would gain by returning to it. Last year 6064 former adult members returned through this initiative. The Protestant churches in Mülheim have set up fifty different evening courses for the education of their members. The Ruhr district association (Kirchenkreis an der Ruhr) has intensified Kindergarten work and appointed pastors to work in secondary and trade schools.

 

More effort being made at a national level

     The Evangelische Kirche Deutschlands ( EKD), an association of the twenty-three Protestant churches in the various federal states, has increased its criticism of Rome strongly, especially concerning Roman Catholic plans to re-translate the Bible without Protestant help. The translators have been told to be guided in their translation by Roman Catholic liturgical language, dogmas and traditions. This means that the ridiculous fables concerning the infallibility of the pope and the sinlessness of Mary will become ‘holy writ’. In their November synodal meetings in Berlin, the Protestants severely criticised Rome because of her influence on the mass media which boosted the stories of the death of the old pope and the election of the new in hour-long, day by day reports. Rome was also castigated for her remarks in Dominus Iesus (2000), which ruled that Germany’s Protestants were outside of the ‘true’ Church. The synod also resolved to make a greater effort in the media to boost the Protestant churches. As the major television companies are pro-Rome, the Protestants are now making a determined effort to keep newspapers supplied with pro-Protestant announcements. The fact that pleas of tolerance towards Muslims at a recent Berlin synod were not accompanied by a condemnation of Muslim forced marriages, murder to maintain family honour and Islamic aggression against Christians caused delegates to stand up and protest strongly. Bishop Wolfgang Huber, the Chairman of the EKD Committee, in his opening report castigated the Godlessness of the political system and the unwillingness of Rome to enter into dialog with Christians from other churches. Huber complained openly of the way Rome had used even the murder of Roger Schutz, the ‘Protestant’ founder of Taize, to boost their own system. Schutz had lived for Christian unity but Rome used her power to take over the burial arrangements and celebrated the funeral with a Roman mass from which all Protestants were excluded. Angelika Wölk, WAZ reporter, writes that no leading German Protestant in modern times has spoken so firmly against Rome and the relationship between Rome and the EKD is icy and the heavens over Berlin are divided. One reporter commented, ‘A church must be made humble in order to preach humility.’ This writer welcomes the fact that the Protestant churches in Germany are now standing up to Rome and taking more interest in the power of the media and education but regrets the fact that far less is being done to fit the churches out with better preachers and pastors. However, it is a new start which Christians will follow with prayerful interest.

 

Sources: Die Welt and Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Nov. 2005 – Jan. 2006