East German Churches Face New Issues

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Evangelicals in East Germany have traditionally had little good to say about the government-recognized Lutheran church. Since the end of World War II, membership in the official church has declined from more than 16 million (almost the entire population) to under 8 million. And until recently, it has had little influence in the affairs of daily life.

But the Lutheran church, the “Landeskirche,” was a rallying point for the the country’s recent sweeping political changes. And many evangelicals—comprising mainly Baptist, Brethren, Pentecostal, and evangelical free-church denominations that account for about 1 percent of the population—are giving credit where it is due.

“I am astounded at the accomplishments of the Lutheran church,” said one layman, active in a charismatic group. “Although one cannot say it is a decidedly Christian movement that has caused the changes, it was definitely a brave and bold stand that the church took. I’m a bit embarrassed at my past prejudices against the state church.”

Within Protestant denominations there seems to be a sense of guilt over their relative passivity in the demonstrations and related activities. Conversely, it appears that the Lutheran church, which had been declining not only numerically but in terms of influence, has gained renewed respect among the East German people.

New Opportunities

Clearly, however, Christians of all stripes, amid the jubilation, relief, and astonishment from recent developments, are suddenly wrestling with various new issues and challenges. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to move beyond the bitter hurt of the past. As one pastor put it, “The crimes of the past government hit each one of us personally. The East German people, and especially we Christians, must ...

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