by Horst Marquardt
I hope that the following information will at least serve to stimulate those who intend to begin church-planting work first of all to investigate more thoroughly the situation in the respective countries.
From 1956 to 1960 I was the pastor of a Methodist church in Vienna. My predecessor, an American, was formerly a missionary in China. He hack interrupted his journey home from China in Vienna. When he discovered how few trained workers there were in the churches there, he and his wife decided to stay and support the rather limited work carried out by the Methodists. When I took up my work in the church, there were several opportunities upon which to build missionary work. The field for evangelistic service was prepared. The ministry to the poor (the church was situated in a workers’ district) was functioning in an exemplary fashion. It was a joy to continue the work of my American brother.
A few weeks after I started there, the Hungarian revolution broke out. Tens of thousands of people streamed over the borders and had to be cared for over night. Along with many state and official aid organizations, the churches could not and did not want to withdraw themselves from the ministry of assistance. We took about one hundred people into the rooms of our church and fed and cared for them for weeks and months. During this period, much of our evangelistic and missionary ministry came to a halt, simply because we lacked time and strength. Not until we got some help from the Mennonites in America did the pastor and his assistants have enough time to instruct children, hold camps with young people, and conduct evangelistic campaigns.
During this time I received repeated visits from American missionaries belonging to various groups (some mentioned, for example, by George M. Winston an his article, "Religious Situation Affects Outreach in Europe," Evangelical Missions Quarterly, January, 1974, pp. 94-101). I asked these brothers and sister to help. Apart from the Children’s Evangelization Movement and the Scripture Union, no group accepted the invitation. I repeatedly offered to give up some of our own fields of work, and we had many unused rooms in our church building. No one accepted our invitation. Instead, various missionaries asked about the possibilities of beginning independent work. They sought information about the country, about the people, about working conditions, and so on.
Each missionary society does have the right to begin church-planting work in every country. But I ask, How should we evaluate such possibilities in Europe? According to my observations of the church scene in Europe, such efforts rarely are effective. At the most, these efforts create only more small, weak churches, most of whose members are dissatisfied believers from other churches. This observation is valid in Austria and West Germany, at least. That is why I am skeptical about Winston’s thesis: "This is why a growing number of evangelicals are coming to feel they must take the plunge and cross the Rubicon into the more lasting ministry of church planting. This might become a most significant trend in the next decade in the Protestant North" (p. 99).
Contrary to this, I would say that it is very important that in the next decade the evangelicals in Europe really take their stand together, and become aware of their common strength, in order to consider what they can accomplish together. Beyond this, there still remains sufficient room for the work of single denominations and missionary societies. Unfortunately, too little is known in American missionary circles about the mature, well-tested evangelical work in the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic, and Switzerland.
It is not possible in this space to give a comprehensive view, but I hope that the following information will at least serve to stimulate those who intend to begin church-planting work first of all to investigate more thoroughly the situation in the respective countries. I am simply using the Federal Republic of Germany as an example of what I mean. In the Federal Republic it is necessary to distinguish between the Protestant (Lutheran, Reformed end United) and Catholic State churches. In addition, there are about thirty mosey regional State church fellowship.
For example, the German Union of Fellowships and Christian Social Service include 300 deacons and 2,820 deaconesses. They are full-tine workers who do missionary work riot only through the churches and missionary societies, but also in hospital. As a rule, the members of the State church fellowships still belong to the State church. They work according to the principle, "in the church, for the church, but independent of the State church in their consciences."
The fellowships have their own leaders. They are independent of their respective church functionaries, but they remain members of the State churches in order not to core under the suspicion that they are forming sects. Many members of the State church fellowships believe the State church as their largest mission field. They are well aware that the present system of State churches is questionable. That is why they dive their efforts to build, within the State churches, the tree church of Christ, i.e., to gather together those who truly believe and have been born again. In this wad they are carrying on the Pietest inheritance that has been functioning in German Protestantism since Spener, i.e., "church within a church" (ecclesiolae).
The third stream in German church life is formed by the free churches, primarily the German Baptist Union, the Federation of Free Evangelical Churches, and the United Methodist Church in the Federal Republic and West Berlin, which although autonomous, works together in a General Conference with the United Methodists in the U.S.A. (The work of the Methodists in Germany is predominantly evangelical in nature.) In these free churches there are revival awakenings of a special sort.
Within the State churches, a union has been achieved of those groups that want to preserve their churches from an unconditional acceptance of World Council of Churches’ programs. Further, these groups warn against both the adoption of the "theology of the day" by national and international universities, and the neo-Marxist tendencies among some State churches. Seven of these groups have joined together as the Conference of Confessing Fellowships, which became known in 1970 through the publication of the Frankfurt Declaration, and since then, on Ascension Day, 1974, through the publication of the Berlin Declaration on Ecumenicity. These groups know that a final dogmatic unity does not exist. The Conference of Confessing Fellowships brings together groups with a strongly Lutheran character that preach baptismal regeneration, and other groups that preach membership in the Body of Christ on the basis of conversion and rebirth.
This dogmatic problem is one of the reasons why the Conference of Confessing Fellowships does not have a strong relationship with the free churches. The three free churches mentioned above take into their membership only those who can testify to a living faith an Jesus Christ. Of course, there are also merely nominal Christians in these churches, and to some extent-depending on the individual free churchthere is a readiness to take part in the work of the WCC.
There is a platform for the exchange of ideas between the believing members of the Conference of Confessing Fellowships and the believing free church members, namely, the German Evangelical Alliance, which is roughly similar to the World Evangelical Fellowship. The German Evangelical Alliance has had for decades effective methods of work. For example, it has provided opportunities for Billy Graham’s services in Germany. The German branch of Trans World Radio, Evangeliums-Rundfunk, vas able to develop on the basis of the GEA. Some German missionary societies, for example, New Life and the Ministry to Immigrant Workers, Solingen, also work on the basis of the Alliance.
There are thirty-three missionary societies in Germany that have worked together since 1969 in the Association of Evangelical Missions. The AEM has a theological advisory body, which, under the leadership of Dr. Ulrich Betz, cooperates closely with the missionary consistory of the Conference of Confessing Fellowships (leader: Professor Dr. Peter Beyerhaus). The AEM has been responsible for some significant. impulses in evangelistic and missionary thinking in the Federal Republic in recent years.
The contact between missionary-minded forces abroad and the evangelicals in Germany should be strengthened. On one of my trips to America I was asked by the director of a mission if I could tell him where it would be best to start a church-planting ministry in Germany. I advised him first to get in touch with the German Evangelical Alliance. I then asked dim to consider if his mission could not assist already existing evangelical groups, and if such work would not be more effective than trying to plant his own churches. I told him about evangelicals who appreciate the ministry of men from overseas and offered to put him in touch with them. Unfortunately, this conversation was to no avail. When the mission began its work in Germany, one of its leading men, together with a gentleman who was under consideration as the future pastor for the new work, visited the chairman of the German Evangelical Alliance. But this visit was no more than an act of courtesy. Contrary to our recommendations, the group gave itself a name that leads to misunderstanding, because it is used in a different way in Germany. The mission from the United States bought a house in an area which is, it is true, very densely populated, but which at the same time is very well supplied, spiritually speaking. The white patches on the spiritual map of Germany remain white, in spite of the influx of additional personnel and finances. Why do friends from overseas avoid talks and common planning with their brothers in the country in question? Hence my advice: Before starting to plant one’s own church, one should undertake a careful sounding of the area and talk with the brothers whose fellowship one will sooner or later seek.
There are a number of spiritual awakenings and noteworthy Christian activities that one should also take into careful consideration. For example, last year in the Ruhr district a movement of various youth organizations was formed. A study group for evangelistic outreach was founded, with the aim of conducting a campaign for young people in 176, which is to cover the whole country and end with a mass meeting in Essen. Over 150 organizations are already active in the preparations. It is significant that both church and extra-church groups are working together here, specifically, for example, the official church delegates for youth work and an organization such as Youth for Christ.
Within the Baptist movement, attention should be given to the evangelistic campaigns that are being conducted in some cities under the title of "evangelia." The Baptist Home Mission is developing a remarkable initiative here.
An example of excellent cooperation between those with missionary experience from abroad and those who have knowledge of the country itself is the work of Evangeliums-Rundfunk. In this ministry as many evangelicals as possible are offered chances to help. At present Evangeliums-Rundfunk works with about 600 preachers, who come from State churches, State church fellowships, and from free churches. The result is not only five or six daily German language programs, but also evangelical theological cooperation among those who are specially gifted for radio breaching and who are willing to increase their knowledge by taking further education.
Is not such cooperation possible in other areas as well-in international missionary work, evangelistic campaigns, building of spiritual centers, the use of audio-visual aids, in Bible school and theological education, in radio and television ministries, and so on?
This kind of cooperation at both national and international levels could become the accepted practice. An excellent basis for such cooperation already exists in the form of the Evangelical Alliance. The projects mentioned by George Winston, for example, do have a future. But our brothers from the United States should not lose sight of the fact that methods which are suitable for the situation in predominantly Roman Catholic countries cannot necessarily be applied in countries where national evangelicals are already active. It is essential to know what Christians in the various countries are already doing. The best way to help the believers in Europe is not to bypass them, so that all they see is a hopeless individualism, but to encourage and assist them in the work God has been blessing and using to build up his kingdom.
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