Just ten years ago, most evangelical Christians in Germany gave little thought to attending the German Lutheran Church’s biennial convention. But for some time now, evangelicals within the Lutheran church have been trying to reform it.

Their growing influence was evident at this year’s Kirchentag, held last month in Hanover. Translated “Church day,” Kirchentag is a five-day convention that has been held every two years since 1949.

Although groups like Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ have participated in Kirchentag for years, the large-scale evangelical presence at this year’s convention was unprecedented. One of the most popular speakers at the convention was Ulrich Parzany, a German evangelist who has become well known throughout Germany.

But Germany’s evangelicals are split on the issue of whether evangelical participation in Kirchentag is proper. Some believe it would be irresponsible to squander the opportunity to reach thousands with the gospel message—some 140,000 people, mostly young, attended. But a large block of evangelicals prefer to keep Kirchentag at arm’s length because it offers a platform to virtually all theological, religious, and political viewpoints. More than 500 groups set up booths at the “possibilities market” during this year’s Kirchentag.

One of those groups was an evangelical spiritual retreat center called “Krelingen,” which joined with local Evangelical Alliance churches to sponsor evangelistic meetings as part of the possibilities market. Krelingen’s founder, Heinrich Kemner, who was strongly criticized by evangelicals for attending Kirchentag, justified himself by saying, “The church is asleep and snoring, and God’s alarm clock will need to clang loudly before she will awake.”

As has been true at past conventions, the most prominent topics at this year’s Kirchentag were related to politics. Hints of anti-American sentiment were evident. Though noted American peace activists such as John Howard Yoder and Jim Wallis were received warmly, all attempts to defend NATO drew catcalls. The popularity of Ernesto Cardenál, Nicaragua’s minister of culture, suggested that he has become a hero of sorts among Germany’s youth.

The hottest political topic was nuclear arms. For the first time, a mass peace demonstration was incorporated into Kirchentag. Some groups pushed to have an antinuclear statement adopted as a “confessional,” or an official church statement.

Unexpectedly, the issue of abortion also emerged as a major topic of debate. In one incident, an antiabortion group that was attempting to conduct church services was harassed by some 150 feminists hoisting a sign that read, “If Mary would have gotten an abortion, she would have spared us this.”

Evangelist Parzany, during a Bible study, condemned both abortion and the nuclear arms race, criticizing Christians for “selectivity concerning God’s commandments.” But Parzany, who is a pacifist, spoke against the adoption of a pacifist stand as an official statement of the church. “Social ethic issues cannot be allowed to tear us apart,” he said. “In a society ripping apart because of political strife, we can be an example by holding on to one another in love despite our political diffferences.


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