by Wayne Detzler
Mr. Detzler’s article, based on a survey of current mission policy, shows that North American boards are grappling with a serious problem: how to relate their evangelistic calling to an established church. The Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland is not a state church (though the respondents to Mr. Detzler’s survey, as quoted, call it that).
Mr. Detzler’s article, based on a survey of current mission policy, shows that North American boards are grappling with a serious problem: how to relate their evangelistic calling to an established church. The Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland is not a state church (though the respondents to Mr. Detzler’s survey, as quoted, call it that). This is perhaps a minor point, and yet to the churchman in Germany it is a sign of either not having understood the real situation, or lack of interest. Another factor is that practically all of the foreign workers in Germany come from Baptist or independent church backgrounds, and thus are ill-prepared to understand and cope with the prevailing Lutheran or Reformed theological position. That there is a need for evangelism in Germany few will deny; the question is how. We invite our readers to comment.-Eds.
When Billy Graham conducted an eight-day evangelistic crusade in 1966 in Berlin, attendance topped 90,000 and 2,000 signed decision cards. Over half of all professions of faith were made by Berliners under twenty-five years of age. Three years earlier Graham had held crusades in Nurnberg and Stuttgart. In Nurnberg audiences averaged 13,400 each night; at Stuttgart the average reached 20,000. After the week in Stuttgart, Bishop Erich Eichele of the Protestant Church in Wurttemberg claimed: "This crusade has done more than anything for the cause of evangelism and the church. Many of us ministers have reevaluated our mission." In response to Graham’s 1960 meetings, Bishop Hans Lilje said: "This calling to a decision here and now is the very thing we need in our German church."
Another encouraging example is the Canadian Janz team. The Janz organization employs many methods to reach German-speaking Europe, including weekly radio broadcasts in English and German, the publication of Sunday school literature, and a monthly evangelistic crusade. In 1966 alone there were over 6,000 recorded decisions for Christ in Janz crusades. Since the late fifties, the Janz team has seen successive peaks in participation: 100,000 attended the Biedenkopf meetings; over 100,000 turned out for the crusade in Dillenberg; 130,000 heard the team in Essen.
This ready response, however, presents only a partial picture of Protestantism in Germany. "Protestantism" can be equated with the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKID, "Protestant Church in Germany"). The Protestant Church has 52 percent of all West Germans on its membership lists. (The Roman Catholic Church claims 44 percent of the population.) It emerged from the Hitler era as an alliance of twenty-nine regional Protestant Churches: fourteen are Lutheran, thirteen are Union churches composed of Lutherans and Reformed churchmen, and two are Reformed churches. The alliance of German Protestants was consummated at Treysa near Kassel in 1945. It must be noted that the Protestant Church is not a state church, since the state exercises no administrative authority over it. The state simply collects the church tax, which is levied upon each member.
Even though the Protestant Church has a massive membership, its practical impact on daily life has declined drastically. Stern, one of Germany’s leading weekly magazines, carried the following questions on its cover in September, 1962:
94.6% of all the people in the German Federal Republic call themselves Christians. Do they really believe on God? Or do they call themselves Christians because they were once baptized, or because it has advantages, because it is the accepted thing, because it can’t hurt anything, because there might be something to it after all? Or do they call themselves Christians because they believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, that He was crucified and rose again? Do they believe on the resurrection of the flesh and the afterlife? How many believe on that for which they pay tax?
Stern further illustrated the impotency of Protestantism by adding that less than five percent of all church members worship weekly. In large metropolitan areas attendance at Sunday services slides to nine-tenths of one per cent. The men who attend average 53.8 years of age, while the women average 55.5 years. Time candidly defines the Christian’s task in Europe with these dismal words: "In Western Europe, church leaders wonder how to evangelize post-Christian pagans for whom towering cathedrals are museums rather than centers of living faith."
Even though they seldom worship, Germans cling to their church membership as though it were their citizenship. During the depths of Nazi subversion church membership never slipped below 94 percent of the population.
Augustus Hopkins Strong comprehended the German mentality when he wrote in his Systematic Theology: "In Germany, a man is always understood to be a Christian unless he expressly states to the contrary-in fact, he feels insulted if his Christianity is questioned. At funerals even of infidels and debauchees the pall used may be inscribed with the words: `Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord."’ (p. 958).
When Germany’s Protestants do turn to their pastors, they discover an absence of authority. Most men in the pulpit have relegated the Bible to the realm of the fairy tale. At a conference of Bible institute instructors in 1966, Dr. Samuel Kulling of the St. Crischona Training School enumerated three major reasons for the demise of biblical authority: "Some reject the Bible’s message because of unbelief, others discard the Bible for `scientific’ reasons, and a third group feels that the Bible must be ‘de -mythologized’ to make it palatable for modern man." According to Bishop Hans Lilje: "Modern Europeans have become estranged from Biblical knowledge and Biblical thinking."
The question of the sacraments, especially baptism, is crucial in tile German church situation. A. H. Strong quotes Professor A. H. Newman’s assessment of this sacramental phenomenon: "Infant baptism has always gone hand in hand with State Churches. It is difficult to conceive how an ecclesiastical establishment could be maintained without infant baptism or its equivalent" (A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 953).
In the face of the Protestant Church and its statistical superiority, North American missionary societies must assume a planned position. The missionary’s relationship to the church is more than a matter of theory; it shapes his entire evangelistic strategy. To determine the prevalent posture toward the ecclesiastical establishment, questionnaires were sent to twenty-nine missionary executives both in Germany and in the home offices. Nineteen questionnaires were returned and these revealed both cooperation with the Protestant Church in Germany and disassociation from it.
Most missionary sending agencies that cooperate with the EKID are service organizations. Instead of founding new indigenous churches, their goal is the support of Christians wherever they are found. Missionaries mention three basic reasons for cooperating with the Protestant Church in Germany (EKID).
The sheer size of the Protestant Church moves many to minister within its walls. They reason that, since most Protestants are members, they can best be reached through the church. Dr. Dwight Wadsworth, a gifted evangelist who leads the Torchbearer work and directs a Christian camp center and short-term Bible school, replied: "We enter any open door . o . and we work within the Protestant Church because it is a mission field." When asked about follow-up possibilities for those who come to Christ in his crusades, Dr. Wadsworth added: "Many of our converts in these (Protestant) churches attend our short-term Bible schools, so we know that the State Church system is not able to corrupt all our converts. We are encouraged."
The director of the Greater Europe Mission’sworkin Germany, Roy Bickle, explained his mission’s policy: "One of the objectives of the Greater Europe Mission is the edification of the Body of Christ wherever found in Europe, including in the State Church." Sickle listed five of his colleagues who had engaged in evangelism within the EKID.
Pastor Bernd Schlottoff, who serves in the Wanne-Eickel Protestant Church, told this writer: "If anyone is truly interested in evangelism, he should minister in the Protestant Church; that’s where the people are."
A second cause for cooperation with the church are the cooperation with the Protestant Church evangelical pastors within it. The Rev. Walter Zurfluh, assistant to the president of the Eastern European Mission and a veteran of missionary service in Germany, asserted: "We have learned that we cannot make blanket generalizations regarding the State Church, but must evaluate each church and its pastor individually. Though many are unregenerate men and have no evangelistic Biblical message, there are some very fine evangelical, barn-again, Biblically-oriented pastors with a burden for souls. Such Bible-believing and Bible-preaching pastors welcome our ministry and cooperate with us."
Gordon Strom, a German-based representative of the Navigators, summarized his organization’s goal: "Based upon the establishment of `personal’ friendships with some State Church people, our impression is that there is an open door to encourage `believing’ State Church men and `demonstrate’ to and with them the Christ-centered personal life in the Word and prayer, and its outworking in obedience to Christ and a bold witness. We find acceptance among some student pastors to that end."
(The "student pastors" mentioned in Strom’s letter are ministers of the Protestant Church to the university campus.)
A third reason for cooperation with the Protestant Church in Germany is the presence of clusters of Christians within. Dr. Robert P. Evans alluded to this remnant in Let Europe Hear: "The fact that there are outstanding men of God and dedicated laymen in . . . these Protestant circles demonstrates that God keeps a faithful remnant" (p. 411).
The core of Christians in Germany’s Church is formally or ganized into Gemeinschaften, or "Fellowship Groups." Walter Zurfluh referred to these: "Within the State Church there is a movement known as the State Church Fellowship Groups. Since these groups are within the organization of the State Church, but usually are much more evangelical in nature, converts are referred to them and sometimes to the Free Church (non-state church), with which we also maintain a close relationship because of their evangelical position. The best arrangement we found was to work with the Gemeinscha f ten (Fellowship Groups) as much as possible."
The Fellowship Groups’ roots reach deep into the Pietistic revival of the seventeenth century. Since the days of Spener and Franke a faithful nucleus of believers has witnessed inside the church.
While some societies cooperate with either pastors or laymen in the EKID, other North American sending agencies shun all association. The main motivation for American avoidance of the Protestant Church is its sacramental view of salvation. The Janz team estimates "that an average of five out of 100 State Church pastors reject the baptismal regeneration doctrine and these are, almost without fail, ready to cooperate with us . . . The remaining 95 percent of all State Church pastors are actually not desiring to cooperate in our evangelistic crusades. If they cannot wholeheartedly cooperate, we have considered it unwise to use persuasion."
When a Worldwide European Fellowship missionary conducted a tent campaign, the local Protestant pastor attended and publicly proclaimed: "What this evangelist has been saying is fine, but just remember, we are all God’s children through baptism." The Worldwide European Fellowship spokesman added: "At present we have no contact whatever with the State Church, and we will not cooperate in any campaign or work where they have a part." The Worldwide European Fellowship has six missionaries in Germany; these are involved in church-planting.
Some societies support their separation from the Protestant Church on the basis of its heterodox theology. Kenneth M. Jones of the Bible Christian Union’s American office wrote: "Our missionaries have not found the pastors of the State Church to be sound in the Word of God and the pure doctrine of the evangelical faith. We do not imply that there are not any men in the State Church that are sound in the evangelical doctrines of the faith; but it has been our experience, in the parts of Germany where we are working, that these men are liberal and follow the philosophy of rationalism. Therefore we cannot work with them and have experienced opposition and attack from them."
Roy Bickle of the Greater Europe Mission mentions that "one missionary’s evangelistic ministry was expressly halted by the Bishop of Bavaria, since the State Church opposes any activity not under its immediate control." The Greater Europe Mission’s entire evangelistic force in Germany now concentrates completely on church-planting.
What, then, is the proper policy toward the Protestant Church? Is any degree of fellowship an the ministry possible?
The most workable strategy seems to be two-pronged: avoidance of the system, and fellowship with believers in the pulpit and pew. Ernest Klassen of the Canadian-staffed Bible and Missions School in Brake wrote: "We have no basic policy except that we see members of the State Church as souls that need to be reached with the gospel. Basically we consider them to be misdirected, confused sinners with a very few exceptions. Occasionally we minister in the State Church. We have a few pastors that are good friends of ours. Most of our students come from the State Church."
Robert Hopkins, who has represented the Navigators in Germany since the early fifties, sounds a note of caution: "I hope that most mission groups will not fall into the typical trap of setting broad overall policies toward any one denomination and not allow their missionaries enough maturity and freedom to hammer out such policy on the local level. It’s much `easier’ to pigeonhole every group."
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