A Glimpse of the Church in Germany | by Mike ‘Dichi Ugorji

Germany is unarguably one of the most developed countries in the world. It is a land blessed with incomparable human capital geared towards effective socioeconomic development. German technology ranks among the very best on the planet. German machines, especially its top auto brands such as BMW, Mercedes Benz, Opel, Volkswagen, etc are reputed to be among the hallmarks of durable and efficient engineering feats. The brag-list of German technological and socioeconomic advancement is almost inexhaustible. It is therefore not surprising that in the wake of the current global recession Germany has not only remained above board, but has been the ‘Big Brother’ of the continent bailing out less competent European economies. Germany is not only a technological and socioeconomic giant in Europe and in the world, it also carved out an admirable place for itself in the history of human civilization including making landmarks in the spheres of art, philosophy and religion.

The history of evangelical Christianity and Protestantism could never be completely told without tracing their origins to Germany. An event that had begun as a disagreement among the leaders of the Catholic Church eventually escalated to a major revolt that would permanently change the course of global Christianity. In 1517, Martin Luther, a German national born in the Eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, led his followers away from the Catholic Church in a sanctimonious protest against perceived corruption of the faith within the Christendom (apparently within Catholicism). While symbolically nailing the 95 theses on the legendary Wittenberg door in a puritanical move, Luther had heralded a new era in active Bible-based Christianity; a radical shift from traditional Catholicism. His reformative action led to the establishment of Protestantism and later other denominations within the Christian faith in Germany and eventually across Europe and beyond. It must be noted that prior to 1517 the Roman Catholic Church had been the only established religious organization in Germany.

Based on Martin Luther’s seemingly rebellious but illustrious move to advance the course of practical Bible-based Christianity, one would expect the German church to remain a model for fervent Christian faith. However, the reverse has been the case in most of the last century. As the twentieth century unfolded, the German society saddled with sundry sociopolitical expediencies as well as the inexpediencies gradually became lukewarm to the message of Christ. Religious faith began to slide in a progressive decline and has gotten to the present stage whereby even most of the few professed Christian adherents are passive toward their faith. Recent surveys indicate that church attendance rates in parts of Germany rank among the lowest globally.

Statistically, Christianity still remains the largest religion in Germany with about 59% of the total German population officially professing it in their documentation, but in reality the actual population of practicing or even mere church-going Christians is very minimal. It must also be noted that this figure has continued to move in a downward trend with greatest losses in population recorded within the two biggest German churches, the Protestant Evangelical Church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland – EKD) and the Roman Catholic Church. This lag in faith is more pronounced in states that constituted the former East Germany owing to the anti-religious policies of the post-World War II communist regimes in that region. Before the German reunification about two decades ago, the communist governments of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) discouraged religious belief and encouraged an atheist worldview. Atheism was promoted by means of practices such as Jugendweihen (or youth consecrations). Jugendweihen were designed to be secular coming-of-age rituals that aped the Christian ritual of confirmation. All young East German citizens were encouraged to partake in that rite of passage and those who failed to go through the process were perceived to be socially deprived.

Christianity has recently grown so cold that not even memories of Martin Luther’s righteous indignation and his seminal reformation of Christianity could inspire a revival among the once fervent Christian German society. Thus, today in Germany, we have magnificent cathedrals and exquisite church building in every little village, but these building have been almost reduced to mere ceremonial grounds or at best memorials of a glorious past, which feed the eyes of inquisitive researchers and fascinated tourists. Nevertheless, there remains a remnant that is still devout in their Christian faith. This remnant is often cowered by the mass of others that are given to secularism and certain other modern cultures that make faithful Christians appear retarded and left behind by civilization. Most of this set of Christians belongs to smaller pockets of Pentecostal churches and other denominations that are often largely populated by foreigners and people of non-German decent. These Christians are perceptively shy to proclaim their church affiliation and might risk losing their intellectual integrity among their peers who do not see much wisdom in beating the dead horse of religion. The resultant effect is that Christianity currently plays a very negligible part in German sociocultural life.

The above analysis brings us to an opinion poll on some individuals some of whom rank among the few practicing Christians in Germany. The first respondent that spoke to us is the American pastor of the Bible Baptist Church in Darmstadt, Rev. William Busch. Rev. Busch is a Texan who has led the small church for a couple of years and after a recent church service he shared his views with Kulturelle Kontakte on the state of the church in Germany. He talked at length about the perceived reasons why his small church which holds its services in a rented hotel building is one of the few that still attract people to their services, while the gigantic church buildings remain hollow on Sundays.

According to Rev. Busch, much of the lethargy among professed Christians in Germany could be attributed to sundry factors including lack of hope, boredom with church rituals, lack of motivating preaching of the gospel, no personalized experience with God and church tax issues. He believes that a general despair and lack of hope among Christians have contributed to loss of faith. There is currently a situation whereby the people have resorted to things that give immediate pleasure, while thinking less of non-empirical promises of a life hereafter. This has made the message of Christ and the concept of heaven ideas that appear outdated and non-practical to many in a society in need of hope.

He also believes that the coldness and non-innovative worship styles in the traditional churches have constituted boredom for church members who find little motivation to return to church. Performing similar rituals too frequently appears to destroy the zeal among members especially the young who crave for more lively activities. In this sense good and contemporary music weighs in positively against the boring hymns and chants of the old religion. This latter factor largely contributes to the fact that despite the lull in church attendance smaller dynamic churches such as Rev. Busch’s still manage to attract some youthful populations to their fold.

It is also Busch’s opinion that the teaching and preaching of the word of God needs to be innovative in order to command more serious attention. If the preaching made no meaning when applied to the lives and circumstances of the congregation, there would be less to look forward to and motivation levels will automatically run low. People also need to have a personalized experience with God through his word. Rev. Busch believes that this kind of experience has been lacking in those old big churches and they keep on losing members, whereas the smaller churches endeavour to generate such experiences and therefore manage to retain much of their congregations. He also flays church tax imposed by the state on church members. Giving should be by freewill in obedience to Biblical precepts; this way people will not feel exploited and will be joyful that they are giving to the services of the God that they believe in.

Kulturelle Kontakte was also able to sample the opinions of other Christians and non-Christians on the subject of what motivates them to attend church services. Some of the Christian youths interviewed include a lady known as Rebecca. She admitted that the interesting lively contemporary music and sound biblical message of the Pentecostal churches drew her into their fold. She criticised the boring music and ritualised worship style of the Catholic and Protestant churches as factors keeping youths away from their gates. She believes that if the churches would reform their outdated boring styles to appeal more to a dynamic society, more youths would be drawn to churches.

Most of the young atheistic and non-church-going people have a totalized view of religion as an exploitative mechanism populated by predating hypocrites at the top. For Marie who is a medical student, her belief is in Science and philosophy and not in any form of religion. For those that merely believe in some form of supernatural power or in the existence of a God, there is a feeble acceptance of the fact of their belief. Many of this latter set of youths actually believe that they are Christians, but do not often think it is necessary to go to church before their salvation is actuated. One of the youths (Alexander) believes that doing good works could take him to heaven faster than going to church while doing less good. Kulturelle Kontakte was able to speak to some youths immediately after their confirmation and almost all of them never went to church before that ceremony. Many do not even understand what they had gone through because they described it as a necessary event in their lives that would attract friends and relatives to shower them with gifts. Some of the elderly church-going Christians we spoke to including Anna, Billy and Ellen believe that the mass exodus away from churches emanated from the failure of the old established churches to motivate their congregations and give them an experience of the word of God.

Generally, it is interesting to see the many monumental church buildings in every nook and cranny of Germany with very negligible congregants, while in Nigeria, warehouses and private living rooms are constantly being converted to churches to accommodate the teeming population of keen Christians. One could not help but imagine what a miracle it would be to the zealous Nigerian worshippers if some of these priceless church buildings and fallow religious infrastructure could be transferred to Nigerian spaces. It is indeed amazing that evangelical and fervent Christianity is comatose in the nation where it all began.

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