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June 09, 2006

Comments

Kansas Bob

For me, growing up Episcopal was a very religious experience that had very little to do with heart transformation ... it was simply something I did once a week ... I even enjoyed serving as an acolyte. Transformation of my heart only came when I surrendered control of my life ... when Christ became my Lord ... when He really became involved in my life. I am reminded of a verse in 2Timothy where it says that some religious people are "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power". Maybe that is when my life changed - when I became a lover of God.

Maybe empty churches are symptomatic of people that have lost their passion for, and love of, God. The Muslims seem to have the passion part down but I don't hear much about the love part. People need to part of something passionate and loving ... sad when they don't find it in church.

Joe Barone

For me the "church" has become increasingly irrelevant. When I read about people like Fred Phelps, for example, I long for a mainline denomination which will stand up and say clearly, "God's grace is expansive and includes gays and lesbians. We invite such people into our churches without judgment; we ordain faitful members who are out-of-the-closet gays and lesbians; and we stand foresquare against the kind of discrimination which would deny faithful committed homosexual couples the same rights as married heterosexuals."

I could say the same thing about a lot of other things--running so called "premptive" wars without a fairly run draft so that more than the poor do the fighting, leaving huge numbers of even working people without health insurance, creating laws which make it possible for CEO's to get massive golden parachutes while the same companies steal the retirements of their workers.

Let the so-called church, at least one little lowly denomination somewhere, stand steadfast and foresquare for true justice, and maybe I would again see the church as relevant.

Dave Miller

Bill, you wrote: “I have long speculated that part of the reason is that so many of the churches of Europe are state institutions -- official religions of this or that country. That is a good way to suck the life out of churches, I believe. So I think that's part of the answer.”

Yes, this is absolutely spot on. Was it on this blog that I read that the Europeans regard the church the way Americans regard their public utilities? They operate in the background and they generally don’t cause much trouble. They’re there if you need them, but most of the time people aren’t aware of a need for them.

The irony is that the American separation of church and state was the brainchild of our European Christian forebears--the Baptists arguably taking the pole position in this race. And now their very progeny--Baptists again arguably taking the pole position in the race--would like to see the wall of separation come tumbling down. When they’re the ones who helped put it up in the first place. But they don’t seem to know that. Oy.

And you wrote: “But there's more.”

I wish I could help you with your thesis, but I can’t. I like it, though, so I’ll lend some moral support. :-)

I do know that the super-patriotic “Deutschechristen” (German Christian) movement infected the church (both Catholic and “evangelical”) in Germany between the wars, and in Germany patriotism and nationalism are closely linked with race (in a way which would be difficult for Americans to conceptualize, I think). This, in turn, got linked with eugenic ideas about desirable and undesirable racial traits...and with the God-like notion that we now had the scientific know-how to influence our destiny as humans by purifying the genetic stream.

The Deutschechristen movement advocated removing “impure” elements from Christianity, first by jettisoning the Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”) which was called “a book of Jewish lies.” Then by discrediting the Pauline writings in the New Testament, and finally by removing Christian clergy who were Jewish or had significant Jewish ancestry. By now you have a movement which, although it claimed to be Christian, clearly had lost its Christian moorings.

In 1937, Pope Pius XI condemned the teachings of the “German Christians” and declared that the Nazis were not in communion with the Church of Rome (in other words, he excommunicated the Nazis). As you know, the Pope proposed this in an encyclical entitled “Mit Brennender Sorge” (“With a Burning Concern”), which was issued in German, instead of the usual Latin.

Here is an excerpt: "Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community—however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things—whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds"

And further: "None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are "as a drop of a bucket" (Isaiah 11:15)."

(Astute readers will notice how Pius XI deploys the “book of Jewish lies” here to discredit the “German Christians.”)

Mit Brennender Sorge has been criticized as not going far enough. But the day following the reading of the encyclical from Catholic pulpits, the Völkischer Beobachter (People’s Observer, a Nazi-owned paper) carried a strong counterattack on the “Jew–God and His deputy in Rome.” Das Schwarze Korps (an SS newspaper) called it “the most incredible of Pius XI’s pastoral letters; every sentence in it was an insult to the new Germany.” German missions throughout Europe were told that the German government 'had to consider the Pope’s encyclical as a call to battle . . . as it calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the Reich.'" In addition to retaliations against Catholics in response to the encyclical, persecution of Jews actually increased following its reading and publication. Please see the First Things article at http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0206/articles/rychlak.html .

You may be onto something here, Bill, but I think it will be a tough sell.

SC in KC

From Matthew chapter 13...

18"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

The boys in Canada have had the truth snatched away from them, and have been fed the lie that murder in the name of Allah will guarantee them paradise.

The churches in Europe, and many here at home, are suffering from root-rot, being choked by thorns, having the seed snatched away, etc. That's why they stand empty.

The answers to these questions can all be found in Scripture, if we will only seek them out.

Dave Miller

Ummm...let me correct myself before someone else corrects me (in case anyone read that far). Mit Brennender Sorge does not actually excommunicate Nazis. I was not correct on that. The Vatican could not have excommunicated Nazis and at the same time maintained its diplomatic relationship with the German (Nazi) government. Instead, Mit Brennender Sorge demonstrates clearly how the teachings of the Nazi party are incompatible with the Catholic faith.

If anyone is interested, you can see a copy of Mit Brennender Sorge at http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_pi11mb.htm .

Stephen lewis

It appears to me that the problems with the Christian world is not that the tree has no roots and is in danger of falling. The danger is that it has to many branches that are weighing down the trunk and the roots. It needs badly to be peared back to regain respectability.We need to define what is Christian and what is false religion.
When Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic church, he opened a Pandora's box, because no one could argue that others couldn't break away also.
After more than 400 years these divisions have spread so far and have such diverse doctrine (or no doctrine at all), that to be a Christian is a social tag line, not a belief system. Even old line churches do not have the same belief systems that their grandparents did.
Without knowing it we have created our own Tower of Babal. We are all talking, but because we all define the terms differently, no one can understand the others.

Dave Miller

Stephen, you make a very good point about Protestantism. I agree with you. But just to set the record straight: Luther didn't break away from the Church of Rome. He was excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1520/21.

History has not regarded Leo X very highly. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia says, "That Leo X, in the most serious of all the crises which threatened the Church, should fail to prove the proper guide for her, is clear enough from what has been related above. He recognized neither the gravity of the situation nor the underlying causes of the revolt. Vigorous measures of reform might have proved an efficacious antidote, but the pope was deeply entangled in political affairs and allowed the imperial election to overshadow the revolt of Luther; moreover, he gave himself up unrestrainedly to his pleasures and failed to grasp fully the duties of his high office."

You can read the article at:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09162a.htm

In hindsight, perhaps excommunication was not the most astute way to deal with the growing Protestant phenomenon. But that's the hand we were all dealt.

Ruth from Tucson

I agree with Bill, having a state supported religion weakens it. Examples:

Paris 1948 - France was a Catholic country but people stayed away from church in droves. Back then, before the tourist crunch, they were empty. I commented to a priest about French being Catholics and he said disgustedly that they were in name only.

I took several seminars at Ghost Ranch called "Discerning the Signs of the Times". The resource people had been active contributors to Christianity and Crisis. I was fortunate to meet many respected leaders like William Solane Coffin, Robert & Sydney McAfee Brown and Howard Moody of Judson Memorial Baptist Church.

Two leaders supported your idea that “state” churches have lost supporters.

Larry Rasmussen (ELCA), a teacher at Union Theological Seminary, gave his explanation of why the church in East Germany during the Russian occupation was alive and well but the state supported church in West Germany was puny and ineffective.

Harvey Cox gave his reasons why the Pentecostals are gaining members south of the border. He said they let him play in their bands. People were attracted by the message: “You are loved. “You are OK”. “Let’s celebrate the blessings.”

Michael

Germany’s Faith -- Dead Not Yet

Sunday services are still scantily attended, but religion is seeing a resurgence

(From the June 2006 issue of The Atlantic Times)

By Uwe Siemon-Netto

According to a preconception widely held in the United States, Western Europe has become a hopelessly heathen continent. And indeed, Germans, Scandinavians, the Dutch, the British and the French attend church services much less frequently than Americans. But according to other indicators, the church’s situation in the Old World does not seem nearly as dire. There are increasing signs that a religious renewal might be in the air and that the demand for a return to Christian values is growing.

--0—

Ever since Dresden’s rebuilt Frauenkirche, or Church of our Lady, was consecrated on Reformation Sunday last year, stunning things have happened in this largest Protestant sanctuary in Germany. One million people have visited this glorious baroque edifice since it opened its doors to the public on Oct. 31. Most of these tourists were Germans from the former Communist East Germany, which had become thoroughly de-Christianized in 56 years of atheist dictatorships, first Nazi then Marxist. But if you think they all just showed up merely to gawk at a place of sublime beauty, think again.

“One-third of these visitors stayed for our daily worship services,” reported Grit Jandura, the Frauenkirche’s spokeswoman. On workdays, two offices are celebrated, each with a hymn, a homily, prayers and sacred music stirringly played on the church’s huge 4,873-pipe organ. For the first of those two services, which begins at noon, every one of the building’s 1,800 seats is usually taken. Similarly, the two Sunday liturgies rank among the most popular in the country.

Such are the spiritual needs of many visitors that, starting in June, 10 ministers will avail themselves in this church to hear confessions from strangers and discuss matters of faith with them, according to Jost Hasselhoff, a spokesman for the Frauenkirche’s clergy. On Easter night, 18 adults were baptized here; most were raised in East Germany’s godless milieu but accepted the Christian religion by a curious detour that seems symptomatic for many conversions in the former East Germany and elsewhere in Europe. “

It often happens that parents do not wish for their children to be raised as godless as they themselves were under Communism,” said Klaus Kaden, the former superintendent (regional bishop) of the nearby city of Pirna. “So they immerse themselves in catechetical studies and eventually ask to be baptized, often at the same time as their kids.”

It would seem foolhardy to interpret this turn of events as the advent of a new awakening; still, it signifies a fascinating trend, European theologians and sociologists of religion agree. Tens of thousands of adult baptisms occur in the night before Easter throughout the old Continent and especially in France, the most secularized nation in Western Europe. And the numbers go up year after year.

“This corresponds to the phenomenon that many parishes have had to start waitlists for adult catechism classes, and that our theology courses are booked to capacity,” said Jean Joncheray, former vice rector of the Catholic University of Paris. “Most students are not here to become priests; they simply desire a theological education.”
For several years now, Paul M. Zulehner, dean of the University of Vienna’s Catholic Divinity School and a renowned sociologist of religion, has noted a significant increase of “spirituality” in most of Europe’s urban centers. This, he cautioned, does not necessarily mean a Christian revival; neither does it exclude a resurgent interest in the Christian message, though.

This seems to support the contention by U.S. theologian and sociologist Alvin Schmidt that religiosity has since antiquity been subject to cyclical developments throughout Western history, although the cycles are clearly not synchronized on both sides of the Atlantic. This leads to the question: Does the Old World experience an upswing in faith that has so far gone unnoticed in the United States because Americans study different indicators for religiosity than Europeans?

To judge a nation’s faith fairly requires more than the analysis of weekly church attendance, European specialists suggest. True, some 40 percent of all American church members participate in worship services at least once a week, compared with 9 percent of Christians in Germany, for example. But this says little about the different ways faith impacts the comportment of different peoples. Take the abortion issue: An American woman is three times more likely to have an abortion than a German woman, international comparisons show, and while half of all marriages in the United States break up and the divorce rate of evangelical couples is particularly high, “only” 41 percent of German husbands and wives separate.

Furthermore, while Christianity is often ridiculed by the media in Europe, “Christianity’s accomplishments seem to receive more reverence from the educated classes in Europe than in the United States,” observed the Pastor Albrecht Immanuel Herzog, head of a Lutheran publishing house in Bavaria. “We don’t experience the anti-Christian stridency we often observe at many American liberal arts colleges,” he said in response to a report that a journalism professor of a renowned college of communications in the American Midwest forbade his honors students during a visit to France to write papers about religious developments in that country. “I don’t believe a German professor would be that narrow-minded.”

While Americans are told they are much stronger believers than their European cousins, polls do not show such great a difference. True, there seem to be few genuine atheists on the western side of the Atlantic. But when asked about the nature of their deity, only 69 percent of Americans identify God as the omniscient and omnipotent Creator worshiped by Christians and Jews. This corresponds almost precisely to the beliefs of Western Germans (70 percent) – religion in the formerly communist East is a much more complicated and diffuse matter – and is not hugely different from the beliefs of the French of whom 60 percent affirm the Judeo-Christian God.

Moreover, there are powerful signs that especially in Germany “the trend runs clearly in the direction of religion,” according to Renate Köcher of the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach, one of the country’s leading pollsters. For instance, the share of Germans saying they derive comfort and strength from their faith has jumped from 35 to 42 percent in the last 10 years, and the jump is particularly noticeable among young adults (18 to 26 percent), Köcher said.

For decades, young Germans had habitually expressed a low regard for pastors and priests. Now ministers rank second only to physicians in their estimation, according to a recent youth survey. And whereas in 1995, 30 percent of Germans said they distrusted the Protestant denominations – and 45 percent, the Roman Catholic Church – these figures dropped to 24 and 43 percent respectively in 2005.

A full third of all Germans has developed a keen interest in matters of faith, compared with only 24 percent a decade ago. This is a complete reversal from the situation that prevailed 10 years ago. Then, 32 percent were not at all interested in religion, while 24 percent were.

A dramatic indicator for religion’s return in Germany is what is happening in politics. It seemed only yesterday that former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and several of his cabinet members stunned the German public by eschewing the customary formula, “so help me God,” when swearing their oaths of office. Under Schröder’s Christian Democrat successor Angela Merkel, a practicing Lutheran, a converse development is making headlines – the unabashed profession of faith by her family affairs minister Ursula von der Leyen.

Von der Leyen is a physician, an economist – and a mother of seven. Recently she appeared before the media in the company of Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, archbishop of Berlin and Bishop Margot Käßmann, a woman who heads the huge territorial Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover, and announced a “covenant for the upbringing of children” based on traditional Christian values, an event unimaginable in the United States even under the presidency of George W. Bush.

Of course there was much hue and cry. Some commentators wondered aloud what had happened to the principle of the separation between church and state, a principle, mind you, never really stringently enforced in Germany whose constitution affirms in its very first sentence the German people’s “responsibility before God and man.” But it seems, as the Germans like to say, that the train has left the station. Like in France, where two years ago the newspaper Le Figaro extolled “The Return of the Christian Intellectual” in an eight-part series, prominent Germans are no longer ashamed of speaking about faith.

This applies particularly to the nation’s popular president, Horst Köhler, who habitually invokes the Almighty by saying “God bless Germany.” Thus it seems fitting to paraphrase Mark Twain: The rumors of religion’s death in Germany have been premature.


Uwe Siemon-Netto, a veteran German foreign correspondent and Lutheran lay theologian, is scholar in residence at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.

Ruth from Tucson

Interesting about the church today in Germany.

It has been several years since Larry Rasmussen contrasted the church in East Germany with the church in West Germany. From memory, he pointed out that the east church was persecuted and people had to be very deeply committed to hang in.

The Jews have been persecuted for centuries and have survived because they hung in and refused to give up. It seems as if the struggling church is stronger because it has to be in order to exist.

All that most of us standard brand Christians have to do to belong is to (hopefully) stay current with our pledges and show up for Sunday services.

This blog has gotten too long so I will send Bill some of the ideas that Ric Ufford-Chase, the outgoing moderator of PC (USA) has for being a relevant and alive church. He is our local Tucson boy who surely made good so I need to brag.


howie

Joe Barone - check out the UCC at www.stillspeaking.com !!! (full discolsure; I'm employed by St. Peter's UCC here in KC MO).

Bill - I think the question of why European churches is extremely important. Let's keep thinking and talking about it here, and elsewhere. I'm sure the church's relationship with the state is a part of the story, though a complex one.

-h

Scansion

The problem with the churches of Europe is obvious: they are not leading people to Christ. Either they do not care about others outside the church (all the heathen, eh?), or they are perverting the message. One or the other would seem to be the case because the correct message is as powerful as ever.

In 2 Tim 3:1-5 it talks about how some adopt a form of godliness, but they deny its power. And the power of Christianity is the power to be reconciled to God by being forgiven of sin. But this requires proper teaching on sin, not watered-down acceptance. If you're already okay, then where's the power? And if you don’t really believe that others can be forgiven or change, then why evangelize? At that point a church becomes a club of apostate do-gooders. People won't follow apostate leaders forever because there is nothing there that is real and powerful.

This was the error of the Pharisees: they believed they were the ones to determine who was righteousness and who was not. And when Christ came around, He threatened their power and authority and they plotted to kill Him for this reason.

There is only one mediator between man and God; therefore, no other can excuse the sins of men. Those who stand in the way of this power, no matter how well intentioned, are anti-Christ. God can and will forgive because of Jesus Christ, and God can change anyone, no matter how good or how bad anyone else thinks they are--believe it.

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