An Invisible Wall
Christian Nowatzky was 11 years old when the Berlin Wall came down 20 years ago, but the Berlin-based pastor says walls still exist. Some Germans still see themselves as East German or West German, others see themselves as liberal or conservative, but the church, he says, should be middle ground. "We can really be cultural leaders in a diversified world and in the city of Berlin, where people long for a message that unites, yet without superficially brushing over real differences," he says.
Nowatzky grew up in Erfurt (former East Germany), where his family faced communism in his early childhood. After attending seminary, he spent some time studying under Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. With Redeemer's help, he came back to Germany four years ago to plant an Evangelical Free Church called Berlinprojekt. What started with 11 people grew to about 400 people, making it in one of the largest churches in Berlin, where just 1.5 percent of people attend a Protestant church. Two weeks ago, the Christian magazine Idea Spektrum called Berlinprojekt one of the fastest growing churches in Berlin. Online editor Sarah Pulliam Bailey spoke with Nowatzky, who is now 31, in a café in former East Berlin about the church in Berlin 20 years after the fall of the wall.
Were there any spiritual ramifications for Germany after the wall fell?
Under communism the church was decimated, and the majority of people were atheists, which is rare to find today. After the wall came down, the younger generation was influenced by the general postmodern theme and generally more pluralistic mindset from the West.
Is secularism the reason why church attendance in Germany is so low, even with its history of the Reformation?
Germans are very skeptical towards a conclusive ideology, because they fell prey more than once, in succession: imperialism, National Socialism, communism in the 20th century. So if someone says, well, Christ is the answer for everything, it immediately creates big problems. Then you also have a very strong current extreme of liberal theology.
Higher critical theology also originated in Germany and spread to other countries. So you go to mostly state-run seminaries, and then you hear that Christ never did any miracles, and it's really not believable. The Protestant church is far more affected than the Catholic Church. The Protestant church has lost half of their members since WWII. The Catholic Church is conservative, sometimes in the wrong areas, but they have a different voice than what the surrounding culture has to offer. The challenge for the Protestant church is to be relevant and, at the same time, stick to old convictions.
How does the current Christian culture in the United States differ from the Christian culture in Berlin?
You have a huge Christian scene in the U.S. where everybody's screaming about how we're losing ground. Here, the church has been losing ground for decades and really lost the ground. So it's very important for the Christian scene here to recapture the cities, because if you ever look on the map where Christianity is strong it's not strong in the cities. And you have to be in the cities in order to have any influence on culture. We have to be more holistic in our faith and recapture the idea that Christ did not only come to save souls but came to renew this planet. You have to show that you are here not for yourself but for the renewal of the world. Asking, "So what does that mean for the environment, social justice, and education?" you have to bring the gospel and Christian worldview to bear on all these issues.