Germany’s Churches in Trouble
By “Awake!” correspondent in Germany
EACH year now tens of thousands of persons are quitting both the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in Germany. The Bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg, Kurt Scharf, observed: “The situation of the church in Germany and West Berlin has become more critical. The number of those leaving the church is greater than was expected.”
Comments on this trend were made at the 49th Meeting for German Pastors in Darmstadt in September 1970. For example, Frankfurt Professor Hans Rausenhenberger noted: “At the present time in this country there is no impelling desire to listen to a sermon.”
It is true. On Sunday mornings churches are practically empty, especially in the cities. Illustrating this fact, the German magazine Stern ran pictures of Sunday morning Evangelical and Roman Catholic church services in the city of Flensburg. Its report was entitled: “In the Flensburger Churches the Ministers Preach to Nearly Empty Pews.”
Rather than considering the trend temporary and reversible, the Duesseldorfer Handelsblatt observed in its January 20, 1970, issue: “Since the church itself has continually grown more worldly, it should not be surprised if, for many, its moral platform appears shaken. More will leave the church, and the number of those attending church will continue to decrease.”
The forecast of a professor of theology from Berlin, Guenther Harder, was even gloomier. He said: “An avalanche is coming that will take away our breath.”
One reason for the trouble in Germany’s churches is discontent with the money-collecting system. In Germany the government collects taxes for the churches, and these have increased greatly. The government now collects nearly 1,000 million dollars a year in tax money for the churches!
To keep the money flowing in, the churches are not particular as to who their members are. For example, a survey revealed that 32 percent of Germany’s church members do not believe in the God of the Bible, 51 percent do not believe that Adam and Eve were our ancestors, and 64 percent do not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Yet they are all accepted as good church members because they pay their taxes!
Even prostitutes and others who earn money in dubious ways are welcomed as church members. “Our church functions so well,” scoffed a young Catholic clergyman, “that we can get along without the founder, but not without the company capital.”
There is now growing opposition to the churches because of their concern for money and material things. The Frankfurter Rundschau noted that people object to the millions of tax dollars going “for pompous and showy buildings . . . churches which outwardly sparkle to the honor of God—and within God usually sits alone in the dark.”
In similar criticism, the Duesseldorfer Handelsblatt raised the question: “Is all that the church owns necessary in order for it to be mediator to the world beyond? Rather, it has the appearance with its administrative buildings and bureaucracy to be developing into a worldly, economically oriented concern with an ever-expanding financial basis.” Yet the churches cherish the income, and so continue to support the highly profitable church tax.
Even some clergymen admit that this is improper. Pastor Edgar Spir of Hamburg spoke about changing the church tax system, and said: “Perhaps we shrink back only because we love simple comfort under a cloak of religion more than existence as a witness for Jesus Christ. Let’s face the facts, our customary Christianity is Satan’s pet child.”
Many have come to agree with this appraisal, and so they are leaving the churches to escape supporting financially an organization with which they do not agree. But they must go to the State office and actually declare that they are quitting the church in order to avoid paying the church tax.
It is not simply the church tax that is causing discontent with the churches. It is also the lack of spirituality in the churches—an almost total failure to teach people about God and his Word. A skeptical, even hostile, attitude toward the Bible and God has come to infect the religious system in Germany.
For example, a well-known theologian, Dorothee Soelle of Cologne, claims that “to establish what God has done in the past is of no benefit,” and that “this theistical fetish that is called God” is dead. Can anyone blame sincere persons when they leave a church that allows such teachings to be propagated?
Youth in particular can see that the churches have little to offer. When some Evangelical youths were surveyed they were very pointed in their observations. Seventy percent of the 2,500 students in Essen who were questioned said that the Sunday sermon had very little influence on a person’s outlook on life. Nearly 25 percent said that it was of “no importance at all.” A seventeen-year-old said: “One feels like he is going to a funeral every Sunday.”
It is not that all who are leaving the churches are disinterested in God or the Bible. To the contrary, many of them are attending the more than 42,000 home Bible studies conducted weekly by Jehovah’s witnesses in West Germany. Last year 5,828 persons, some of whom recently left the churches, progressed in Bible knowledge and dedicated their lives to Jehovah God, symbolizing it by water baptism. Thus, in contrast to the declining membership and attendance in the churches, Jehovah’s witnesses in West Germany have increased to over 90,000 teachers of the Bible.
For years Jehovah’s witnesses have been saying that the churches of Christendom are failures in representing God and teaching people his Word the Bible. This fact is now becoming apparent to ever more persons, resulting in their mass abandonment of the churches.