by Sharon E. Mumper
Major Trends in the World and the Church
Echoes from a German hammer
It has been some 470 years since the sound of Martin Luther’s hammer rang across Germany, signaling the start of a Reformation that would forever change the face of the church in Germany-and the world.
In West Germany, the name-sake Lutheran Church that eventually formed is still a "state church," with government-accorded privileges and rights. It shares that status with the Roman Catholic church, whose membership roughly approximates that of the EKD (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland), a federation of Lutheran, Reformed, and United state churches.
Today, 25 million Germans-42 percent of the population of West Germany-are members of the powerful EKD.
Outside the fold are the "Free" churches, smaller, primarily evangelical denominations; "newcomers" formed within the last century.
Officially, West Germany is a Christian nation. Some 87 percent of Germans are church members. They do not go so far, however, as to actually attend church.
"Germans feel it is good to have church affiliation for confirmation, weddings, and funerals," says Fritz Laubach, chairman of West Germany’s Evangelical Alliance. "They are baptized as babies and stay in the church, whether or not they are believers."
Perhaps 5 percent of those registered as EKD members attend church on a regular basis. Some 26 percent of Roman Catholics attend church regularly.
A much larger percentage of Free church members attend church. These groups, however, form a miniscule percentage of Germany’s Christians-perhaps 1.2 percent of the total Protestant population. Altogether, 2 to 3 percent of West Germans could be considered conservative evangelicals-a smaller percentage than in many so-called "heathen" countries.
Obviously, Luther’s Germany has largely forsaken its Christian roots. The portrait of Christianity in Germany is not entirely dark, however. Although Germany has not experienced a major awakening for many years, some shafts of light pierce the clouds of disbelief.
Church leaders say that although church growth over the last decade has been largely stagnant, some evangelical groups have experienced modest growth. The largely-liberal EKD is losing about 200,000 members per year as nominal Christians tired of paying the government-collected "church tax" sign off the membership rolls. The group lost 3.1 million members, or 11 percent of its total membership between the 1970 and 1987 censuses. Despite this, the number of evangelical believers within the EKD is actually increasing, according to Winrich Scheffbuch, a prominent evangelical EKD pastor and the director of two Christian service agencies associated with the Evangelical Alliance. Presently 1 million evangelicals are members of the EKD, he says.
This includes both ordinary church members and participants in a lay Fellowship Movement that emerged from a 19th Century revival. Fellowship members belong nominally to the EKD, but find the most vigorous expression of church life within home groups. Estimates of the number of EKD members associated with such groups range from 300,000 to 600,000.
A fledgling charismatic movement within the EKD has made some impact, but is facing an identity crisis. Pentecostals and charismatics in West Germany operate in a sort of no-man’s land, accepted by neither other evangelicals nor liberals.
Nevertheless, all groups express hope for Germany’s future. There are signs the country could be poised for revival, as here and there in isolated pockets new works spring up and small clusters of Christians form. It may be time once again for the sound of Reformation’s hammer to ring through Germany, calling the church to a new vitality and a largely pagan population back to faith in God.
Bridging the Turkish generation gap
The young Turkish woman is adamant. She will not remain in her family’s home if they continue to insist she marry a man she has never met Yet the teenage runaway apprehended by the police and turned over to the West German Family Services Bureau cannot be allowed to wander the streets alone. Desperate, the agency calls Orientdienst, a Christian mission agency working among Middle-Eastern people in Germany. Yes, director Jurg Heusser tells the bureau we will talk with the family and see what can be done.
Such situations represent both a problem and an opportunity for Christians trying to reach the millions of Muslim Middle-Easterners who live and work in Western Europe.
Some 2 million Turks, comprising one of the single largest groups of Middle Eastern workers, live in Western Europe. One and a half million live in West Germany alone; the remainder are scattered throughout five other countries.
Fifty missionaries work among Turks and other Middle-Eastern groups in West Germany. Response has been severely limited. There may be 80 converted Turks in all of Europe, according to Patrick Johnstone’s Operation World.
Those who do convert often drop out later, says Heusser, whose mission agency supplies Turkish-language literature, courses for Christians on Islam, and other ministries. There is little personal evangelism among Turks. Mass media ministries yield isolated believers who, lacking Christian fellowship, often crumple under family and peer pressure.
Because of cultural differences, it is nearly impossible for German churches to integrate a Turk into their ranks. And, the present antagonism of many Germans toward the foreigners living in their midst has affected even the church.
"Even if Christians don’t hate foreigners, they are not motivated to reach out to them," says Heusser. Apathetic churches are reluctant to take on the support of Germans who want to work among Turks. Most take part-time jobs to supplement their incomes. By and large, Christians attempting to reach the Turkish people are still Americans, British, and Finns, primarily missionaries transplanted from previous ministries in Turkey.
Today, however, there is a new and potentially more-productive mission field. For the first time there is a significant pool of teenaged Turks born and raised in Germany. Heusser estimates some 100,000 young people aged 15 to 20 were raised predominantly in Germany.
They speak German and have imbibed much of German culture. Most are only nominal Muslims. Many, if not most, are caught up in generational conflicts within their families.
"We need more ministry geared toward these people," says Heusser. "Hardly anyone is reaching out to them. I believe in reaching the family, if at all possible. But increasingly teenagers are asserting their independence and will have to be reached outside the family."
Independence in a Turkish family is hard won, as scores of young runaways find each year. Yet, caught between two cultures, such Turkish teenagers may be more ready than their parents have been, to find true freedom in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
India’s Christians: Awash in a sea of humanity
The second-biggest religion in India is Islam. But in a country of 825 million, the second-biggest religion-even at a mere 13 percent of the population-can be the largest concentration of Muslims in the world.
So says D. John Richard, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia and former general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Some 110 million Muslims live in India, he says, possibly more than live in Indonesia, the only other country vying for the top honor.
In India, unlike nations where Muslims are in the majority, Muslims are available for Christian witness. It is not that they are open to the gospel. Islam has been in India for some 15 to 20 generations, and the religion is as intrenched in family and social life as it is anywhere.
But legally Christians are free to evangelize Muslims. The massive Muslim population represents a tremendous opportunity for the church, says Richard. It is an opportunity that has been largely overlooked. "Only in the last 10 years have we even thought of Muslim evangelism," says Richard.
The most responsive group in India today are tribal peoples. Animists who live in fear of evil spirits, they welcome the promise of deliverance through the gospel. Even in predominantly tribal states closed to gospel witness, ostensibly for the protection of their "pristine culture," the church continues to grow.
Overall, churches in India are experiencing some growth, though they find it difficult even to keep abreast of the headlong expansion of a country that annually grows by a population roughly equivalent to that of Australia.
Today, some 27 million Indians are Christians, says Richard. He estimates 13 million are Roman Catholics, 11 million are Protestants, and 3 million are the Orthodox descendents of India’s first churches established nearly 2,000 years ago. About half of India’s Protestants are evangelical, Richard says.
Compared to the size of India’s population, this is a miniscule group. The vision of some Indian Christians, however, is anything but microscopic.
One group of Indian evangelists has set the somewhat daunting goal of planting a church in every Indian village and every colony (city section) of every big city in India by the year 2000. There are 600,000 villages in India and thousands more colonies.
A group of evangelists have been meeting regularly to plot strategy and to attempt to gain the goodwill and backing of the church at large. Two or three regional meetings and a national gathering are held each year. A major All-India Congress on Church Development planned for August, 1990, will attempt to mobilize the resources of the church for large-scale evangelism.
The evangelism plan is exciting, says Richard. But evangelism can be done only by a revitalized church. "My concern is for the spiritual renewal of the church," he says.
For a church that has grown so little in recent years, the plan is indeed optimistic. But vision must precede action. At some 5 million, the evangelical church is a major body of believers considerably larger than that of many other nations.
And, say Indian Christian leaders, with God all things are possible, whether the challenge is the evangelization of a major Muslim population or a 600,000-village church planting plan.
Missing the boat in Benin
"Send us missionaries," a Benin church leader last year told Chrischona Mission Secretary Lutz Behrens, "but don’t send us saints." What he wanted, Behrens found, was missionaries who were willing to learn as well as teach.
Benin has been "tragically ignored" by missions, says Patrick Johnstone, writing in Operation World. Only 94 missionaries currently serve Benin’s 4.5 million people. Yet the country today is at a critical time in its history. Some 17 percent of Benin’s population are Muslims, and Islam is a growing force. Perhaps more importantly, Benin is classified as Marxist-Leninist, and although Christians are currently free to propagate their faith, no one can guess how long this freedom will last.
Some 24 percent of Benin’s citizens may be considered Christian in the broadest possisble sense, according to Operation World. About two-thirds of these are Roman Catholic. Less than 1 percent of the population are evangelicals.
Other groups are responding to the country’s great economic needs, says Behrens, who last fall visited Chrischona Mission missionaries serving under SIM, International. Chinese workers were building highways, and some 60 German volunteers, and a contingent of American Peace Corps volunteers were working on a variety of projects.
A similar effort is needed to build the church. The great need among Christians, says Behrens, is leadership training. Bible knowledge is appallingly low. Literacy in Benin is only 38 percent; most Christians who can read are fairly new readers. Educational opportunity is severely limited. Because of Benin’s serious economic problems, most pastors must support themselves with a full-time job, usually farming. As a result, they can attend school only part time.
In fact, many pastors who normally received a salary are no longer getting it. Many of the churches have become too poor to even partially support a pastor. Benin’s deteriorating economic situation is breeding political unrest. Last year there were several unsuccessful coups against President Mathieu Kerekou, who has ruled the country since 1972.
Violence is escalating. Riots earlier this year were quelled by brutal force, leading some to wonder how long the present opportunity for evangelization will last.
"We must use the time to the fullest," says one African leader. "The door could be closed at any time."
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