Maier Church and Theology in Germany Today

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    Church and Theology in Germany Today 13

    hurch and Theology

    in

    ermany Today

    Gerhard Maier

    If you were to have been in Germany around 1960 and were to make a second visit

    today, you would scarcely be able to recognize the place.

    Not only that, but you w ould have foun d at that time th e e territories, where today

    you would find only one. In those days, we had the Federal Republic of Germany (F RG ),

    the commu nist-led German Dem ocratic Republic (G DR ) and the city of Berlin, which

    was jointly administrated by the Allied powers. We are thankful that today this area is

    one reunited country, this unity having been achieved without any bloodletting

    whatsoever.

    However, in addition to the political developments, there have been many other

    changes affecting us as Christians.

    To

    begin with, the numb er of Germ ans bel on g~ ng neither to the Evangelical

    Regional Churches (evangelische Landeskirchen) nor to the Roman Catholic Church has

    significantly m creased. Whereas this group was only marginal in size in 1960 , it now

    amounts to approximately 30% of the population, that is to say roughly

    25

    million

    people. Some of these belong to the major non-Christian religions, for example the

    Muslims. There are now nearly

    3

    million Muslims in Germany, and their number is

    increasing. We speak today of a multireligious society. At a later point in this paper we

    will have to consider how the churches are reacting to this development.

    t

    any rate,

    there are urban areas today in w hich mo re people take part in the worship services

    in

    the

    mosques than In the worship services in

    the

    churches.

    This developmen t was accompanied by a large surge of persons leaving the churches

    in the early 1990's. For example: In 1992 alone, approximately 360,000 persons

    cancelled the~rmembership in the Evangelical Regional Churches. Northern Germany

    was particularly affected, especially the North's larger cities, such as Berlin, Hamburg,

    Brernen or Leipzig. For the most part, those canceling their membership remained

    w~ th ou t religious affiliation. Th e membership in the-so-called free churches also

    declined because of cancellations. On the who le, the free churches play only a small role

    as far as their size is concerned, though they do provide important spiritual inspiration.

    Some numbers: Approximately 80,000 persons are Baptists, about 60,000 are

    Methodists, not many when compared to approximately million Mus hm s. Later we will

    also have to cons ider how the churches are reacting to this development.

    It was especially disappointing for the Evangelical Churches that the population of

    the

    new regrons

    that is to say the former GDR, has by and large remained estranged

    from the Church. Many had expected that follow ing reunification there would b e a wave

    of persons entering the church. Ho wever, not only did this wave fail to materialize. It was

    Professor Dr. G erhard Maier is Pralat of the Evangelical Chu rch W iirttemberg and

    serves in the city of Ulm . This paper was presented at the International C onfere nce of

    Lutheran Bible

    Schools

    n d Institute held in Erfurt Germany July

    7 11

    1998.

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    14

    issio

    Apostolica

    precisely In these new regions that the number of church withdrawals, and thereby the

    number of unchurched persons, Increased the most. In the Region of Thuringia, the

    heartland of the Reformation, which until

    1945

    was virtually entirely Protestant, only

    20 still belong to the Evangelical Church. In Leipzig, where Martin Luther's famous

    Leipzlg Disputation took place and Johann Sebastian Bach lived and worked, only 11%

    of the population is still Protestant. In Augsburg, home of the famous Augsburg

    Confession, the number is

    18 .

    Typ ical is the following occurrence, related b y a teacher:

    Together with his school class, he visited a church. One girl saw a crucifix and asked:

    Who's the man nailed onto that wood?

    In view of these developments, it is hardly surprising that the financial state of the

    churches Germany is anything but invigorating. Fewer members means purely and

    simply less money. However, there are many factors play~ng role here. For example,

    the current economic recession in German y has prompted a number of persons to save a

    bit of money by can celing their church memberships. At the sam e time, it is important to

    state clearly that when it comes to mem bership w ithdrawals, financial considerations are

    not the only motive. The lack of any emotional bond to the church plays a much larger

    role. It is equally im portant to point o ut that in spite of the fact that our churches are now

    forced to cut back economically, they still have a solid financia1 base when compared

    with churches elsewhere in the world. We do have to endure a painful reduction

    n

    our

    activities. But presumably, w e will reconsolidate on a low er level.

    Of

    particular concern to me is the ambivalent relationship between church and

    society. On the on e hand, the churches are still held

    in

    high esteem in the public eye. For

    me as a Region al Bishop, visits to schools, with local and regional governmen t officials,

    but also to the federal army o r to eco nomic an d socio-political institutions, suc h as

    employer associations or labor unions, are generally positive experiences. But on the

    other hand, there is a certain latent antipathy in the society, which is not to be

    overlooked. There are few institutions which come in for so much emotional rebuke or

    even ridicule as the church . Whereas people in general are open to the initiatives of the

    church, particularly those of a diaconal nature, and often openly expect to receive

    pastoral care, the social climate is on the whole less friendly.

    The so-called Crucifix Decision marks a significant social turning poin t.

    In

    1995,

    our Federal Constitutional Court, that is to say Germany's highest court, ruled that the

    crucifixes in Bavarian classrooms constitute an inadmissible intrusion into the public

    sphere. By state order, it was n o longer permissible for them to be hu ng on the w alls of

    school classrooms. As the laws regulating the relationship between church and state in

    Germany are of an entirely different nature than in the USA or in France, this decision

    meant a comp lete turnabout in the legal situation. To this day, no one understands how a

    crucifix displayed in a classroom could cause harm either to pupils or to their parents.

    The petition of a single famlly has resulted in millions of parents in Bavaria being forced

    to accept the removal of the crucifixes. Moreover, there are several other issues in the

    realm of public life which give rise to conce rn. Blasphemy and the taking of the name of

    Jesus Christ

    in

    vain are generally taken in stride as artistic, political o r journalistic

    expressions of opinion. There is

    de facto

    little protection of Christian religious

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    Church and Theology in Germany Today 5

    sentiments. Many consider the religious sentiments of minority groups to be better

    protected than are those o f the church-belonging majority.

    Is the decline of the church's public influence balanced by its inner strength or at

    least inner stability? Reg retfully, it is hardly possible to say so . Rather, it appears that the

    church is living on borrowed time. Conspicuous is the loss of biblical orientation on

    many different levels. In Germany, the home of the Reformation, it is a dangerous sign

    indeed Nearly all church administrations decry the decline in basic biblical knowledge

    among their members. As Christian education has now been brought up to a high

    standard, this phenomenon must be due to the fact that in everyday life the Bible no

    Ionger has any role to play. For families to hold devotions in the home has becom e very

    unusual indeed. Our call to diaconal service is firmly anchored m the minds of church

    memb ers, but not the call to missionary endeavor. Winnlng persons for faith in Christ is

    for many members an unfamiliar aspect of church work for which they have no

    motivation. According to the m ost recent statistics, Germany has fewer missionaries than

    Korea and only a few more than Norway, although Germany has some

    27

    million

    Protestant church members as opposed to 1 million in South Korea and million in

    Norway. Over and again it is pointed out that the churches more often address social

    problems than matters pertaining to mssion, evangelism or pastoral care. In my own

    Regional Church, that of Wiirttemberg,

    I

    can see the loss of biblical orientation in the

    membership decline of the pietist, faith-awakening fellowships. It is estimated that not

    more than

    2%

    of the church members participate in such fellowships.

    When we speak of the loss of biblical orientation, the dominance of historical-

    critical thinking in theological research must also be mentioned. Fortunately, the

    preaching and the daily work of the churches employ the historical-critical method less

    than our