MattS responded to an earlier post on the German Protestant Church (EKD)with some observations which I will try to summarise accurately (but concisely) here:
- Apart from the odd pocket of lively church, most EKD churches/pastors “seem to have completely lost their faith”
- Sermons “are simply treatises in academic liberal theology”
- The EKD hierarchy wants this and is “terrified of non-liberals”
- Candidates for ordination have first to get a degree from a secular university – insisted upon by the hierarchy in order to perpetuate a liberal church
- German academic theology is a bad thing and leads to this parlous situation
- The “discernment” process for theology students who want to be ordained is “a joke”
- The church is bleeding members
- Most congregations are ‘conservative’ and are so “appalled by (unidentified) antics” that they are “heading off for free churches”
- Margot Kässmann is divorced, but gets given a “promotion”
- EKD churches are losing members, but not finding any new ones
- “Mission for them is social work.”
- “The hierarchy has now recognised the need for a spiritual dimension in mission, but think they can fill something like the Willow Creek method … with liberal content – pretty impossible given the amount of effort and motivation that a congregation need to make that work”
- The introduction of the bachelor/master system in Germany might force the EKD to accept ordination candidates in future with a BA from conservative Bible colleges – which “would shake things up a bit!”
- Not only are they losing members, but they aren’t finding any new ones. Mission for them is social work. My friend says the hierarchy has now recognised the need for a spiritual dimension in mission but think they can fill something like the willow-creek method (which his local bishop sees as cutting edge) with liberal content- pretty impossible given the amount of effort and motivation that a congregation need to make that work.
I can’t address every charge here, but will try to respond to some of them.
- I know Anglicans who say very similar things about the Church of England: no churches are growing (or only conservative/charismatic/etc. evangelical ones) and everything is falling apart; people are leaving for other denominations; this is all down to the liberal drift of the hierarchy. Of course, this is a classic example of extrapolation from the particular to the general. We generally look for the evidence to back up our own prejudice or preference in relation to what we think the church should or should not look like. So, evangelicals think that only evangelical churches are growing, conservative Catholic churches think that only their ‘faithful’ churches are growing. Yet the untidy truth is that all sorts of churches grow – even ones that I think ‘shouldn’t’ – because the Spirit of God will not be limited by even my theology or ecclesiology.
- My experience of the EKD is like my experience of the Church of England and every other church I have ever had anything to do with. Some local churches are ‘better’ than others and some clergy are better than others at preaching, leading, praying, reconciling, engaging with their local communities, etc. It’s a mixed picture. But, who is to sit in judgement upon where God is at work and how?
- I have heard some hopeless sermons in Germany – like I have in England. But I have also heard sermons that have been biblically rigorous, spiritually challenging, intellectually serious, culturally probing and theologically powerful. People like Wolfgang Huber and Margot Kässmann have held me and thousands of others rivetted as they bring together Scripture and world in ways that challenge and inspire.
- A joint theological (Meissen) conference a couple of years ago concluded that the German church needs more ‘heart’, but that the English church is in urgent need of more ‘head’. The academic rigour of German theology better equips the German church to engage seriously with the tough cultural and intellectual challenges of the contemporary world. ‘Academic’ is not a synonym for ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’.
- My experience of the EKD is that the whole Reformprozess currently underway represents a serious and seriously impressive attempt to force the church to address its theology, the way it trains its pastors and theologians, the need for spiritual as well as social engagement, the relevance of its liturgical practices and the evangelistic challenge in a changing world. This process is leading to (and being inspired by) some great liturgical, musical and evangelistic initiatives – all encouraged (and often resourced) by the hierarchy of the EKD.
- I have spoken many times in Germany (at the invitation of the EKD and its impressive leaders) about the need for mission to be holistic and for evangelism to be rooted in a recovery of the Gospel invitation to a living faith in the living God. A criticism made by many German friends of mine is that there is not enough of a spiritual hunger in the church and that this needs to be generated and fed. I see that happening – not just in an airy-fairy wishful thinking sort of way, but by serious strategic thinking and decision-making designed to compel the whole church to change. Surely this deserves support and encouragement.
- Some of the preaching I have heard in the EKD seems to lean towards biblical generalisation (but I have heard the same in conservative evangelical churches in England, too). I have been urging the Germans to go through the pages of Scripture to the ‘Word made flesh’. The Bible is a means to an end, not the end itself.
- You can always point me to churches that are not growing and identify people who are leaving for greener pastures. But the truth of the matter is that people are always moving between denominations (in all directions) and there are some fantastic churches in Germany that are growing – and are not ‘conservative’. For example, at present we are hearing about the numbers of Anglicans who ‘might’ cross the Tiber, but we hear nothing of the numbers coming the other way. We tend to emphasise the numbers that reinforce our own views/hopes.
The EKD faces huge challenges (in relation to falling Church Tax receipts, congregational numbers, training of pastors, etc.). So does every church in Europe. But it will not help the Christian church in Europe if other Christians talk down those churches that are doing amazing work to turn around conservative institutions and help them face the real challenges of change.
I will only criticise if I am also praying. And if I am praying, then I might have to provide the answer to my own prayer – by getting involved. I must also remember the ninth Commandment. (Look it up.)