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Spring 1991 · Vol. 20 No. 1 · pp. 83–86 

Evangelicalism in Germany: Immersed in Controversies

Peter Penner

The history of Christianity in Germany encompasses more than Evangelicals. The majority of Church members are part of the State Church (Volkskirche). However, the significance and influence of the State Church is constantly decreasing. The journal, Idea Spectrum (Idea), raises the question of whether the Volkskirche has a chance of surviving. Observing former East Germany, which once was the “cradle of the Reformation,” one must conclude that “reunification has added a population of which seventy to eighty percent were not raised in the Christian Faith. The Church in the former GDR is, after forty years of secularization, in the minority” (Idea, 46/90: 1). According to recent statistics, twenty-nine percent of the German population is without a church affiliation, as the following diagram shows (Idea 39/90: 22).


By comparison, the Evangelicals are a very small and insignificant group. “The Evangelische Allianz (Evangelical Alliance), which represents the theologically conservative Evangelicals of Germany, comprises only 1.3 million Evangelicals in Germany” (Idea 39/90: 39). The largest sect (cult) in Germany, the Neuapostolische Kirche (New Apostolic Church), with its 450,000 members has more than twice as many members as all of the Freikirchen (Free Churches) combined (Idea 41/90: 22,23). In comparison with the Catholic and the Evangelische Kirche (Protestant Church), the Freikerchen (Free Churches) represent an insignificant portion, less than one percent of the population. Still fewer in number are the Mennonite Churches, in comparison with other Evangelicals, as the following diagram indicates (Idea 26/90: 13).

In many parts of Germany, Bavaria for example, where the Catholic church is the measure of all things religious, every Evangelical is suspected of belonging to a cult. Considered a minority, the Evangelicals have taken an apologetic position when defining their identity in theology and in life. Nevertheless, the future belongs to the Evangelicals, for a theologically {85} pluralistic state church (Volkskirche) has “no future.” “The present secularization will probably continue and, at some point, there will be no alternative for Christians remaining in the Volkskirche but to form new churches comprised of believers” (Idea 41/90: 22, 23; cf. Ethos 7/90: 32, 33). The primary indication that these developments are taking place can be seen in the departure of many congregations from the Volkskirche.

One of the most significant individuals among today’s Evangelicals is Wolfram Kopfermann, for many years a leader of the Spiritual Renewal movement in the Volkskirche. He, along with his congregation in the city of Hamburg, has left the Volkskirche. In his article, he points out the direction the Volkskirche will take: “The hope that the Volkskirche will become a voluntary, confessing Church is deceiving . . . I firmly believe that the Volkskirche will continue to exist for a very long time, but become ever more irrelevant for the proclamation of faith in Christ, as it is as a whole, already today” (Gemeindewachstum 3/89: 17).

From the Freikirchen composition diagram, at least one dominant group is worthy of mention: The Baptists. Alongside this major Free Church Union we find both the fellowships within the State Church (Landeskirchliche Gemeinschaften), organized into the Gnadauer Verband (Association) with one-quarter million members (Idea 41/90: 22), and the groups defined as Charismatic churches. The latter demonstrates enormous growth within all churches, fellowships, and other groups.

These three groups constitute the Evangelical scene in Germany. They are the ones who signal the topics and issues that are being discussed now and in the future. Today’s controversies are about the Charismatic movement, which affects all churches; the women’s role in the church and what responsibilities women should have in the ministry of the church (Idea 41/90: 23); and the definition of church and evangelism, especially in view of the challenge presented by the churchless former East Germany.

Another significant group among the Evangelicals is made up of the Aussiedler (Russian German Immigrant) churches. This group of desperate, non-unified Aussiedler churches already has significant influence upon Evangelicals in Germany and upon German Christianity. They are currently {86} assuming a leading role among Evangelicals and will certainly do so in the future.

In summary, we must express concern about the future of the Evangelicals who, despite their attractiveness and relevance, are growing relatively slowly. Not all have realized the nature of the situation, namely that it is the nature of the Church to continue to grow and also to move forward. Too much time and energy is being spent on “dead” issues, such as the Holy Spirit and his presence in the believer, and not enough time on the evangelization of Germany. On the other hand, as sobering as the de-churching of Germany is for German Evangelicals who still dream of a Christian West, it is also a reason for hope. The shattering realization has created new movements across Germany and Europe which will continue to grow in the 90s.

Peter Penner is Director of the German Division of Logos International in Bielefeld, Germany.

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