Monday, April 7, 2014

In Martin Luther’s Church the Pastor Asks: Where Have All the Protestants Gone?

Newsweek (yes. remember that seeming defunct weekly news magazine that stopped the presses, switched to an electronic edition, well, it is in print again) has an article on Lutherans in the Lutherland of Germany.  It is an interesting read.  You can read it online here.

It rehearses a subject which is old news -- namely, the decline of the church in a secularized Europe -- this time in the cities and lands where the Reformation took place.  ...on a typical Sunday, Block looks out over a mere 50 to 100 people in the pews: a tiny number in a city of 135,000, especially one whose official name is Lutherstadt (Luther City) Wittenberg. Indeed, nowhere in Germany is the share of Protestants lower than right here in Luther's homeland.  (according to the article)

I was also touched by the idea of the Fifth Evangelist (Bach) working through music to speak the faith to those who might not hear it in any other medium (certainly this is how it works in Japan where Bach is beloved and the society pretty closed to the proclamation of the Gospel).

Also touched upon is the decline of a once vibrant Lutheran presence under communism with the fruits of freedom seemingly to not worship or believe at all.  It is not unusual -- Roman Catholic churches under communism were fuller than they are now in the freedom of democratic governments and structures.

It does remind us, however, that persecution often sharpens the sword of the Word.  St. Paul often did his work from chains (prison, house arrest, etc...).  None of us wants to think about it but the Gospel seems to be more precious to us when we live under the threat of its removal than in the relative comfort of legalized and sanctioned freedom of religion.

I have often wondered if the tax exempt status of church property and contributions to the church have not worked more against us than for us.  We have grown somewhat lazy and complacent.  Perhaps exactly what we need is an end to the presumed friendly relationship between culture and faith in America.  I do not want it or welcome it but I am not sure that it would be a bad thing for the Kingdom of God.  I cannot forget the courage of the Coptic Christians in Egypt or the Christians of Iraq and Iran who endure untold hardship and violence against the cause of Christ.  The picture of the Orthodox priests standing in the middle of the conflict now unfolding in the Ukraine is a powerful image.  Threat is often a useful tool in the work of the Lord.

We orthodox Christians in America are finding it harder and harder in the midst of a culture at odds with the proclamation of the Gospel and the morality of the Kingdom.  In everything from abortion to freedom of religion (or freedom of worship as the Obama administration likes to say it) we are chafing under a population at odds with the stance of the Gospel and Christian pro-life proclamation.  It makes me wonder if such tensions will not end up a fruitful thing as we discard any pious notions of an accommodation between church and state.  Again, I am not speaking of what I want but of what I know God will do -- when the Gospel is threatened and the work of the Kingdom tested, He will not relent.

Could it be that what has happened in Germany (or Europe as a whole) will happen here in America?  That is something we could debate but we might well be better served preparing for the time when faith will be seen not only as something unfriendly but even an enemy of American culture and society.  In any case, the Word of the Lord will endure... this... and forever.

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