The scandalous idea of ​​​​the German Protestant church shakes the evangelical community

One of Germany’s largest regional Protestant churches has come under fire from fellow Christians for speaking out against Muslim conversion efforts as tens of thousands of refugees from the Islamic world stream into the country.

In a new position paper, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland says the passage from Matthew’s Gospel known as the Great Commission – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and of the Holy Spirit” – does not mean that Christians should try to convert others to their faith.

“A strategic mission to Islam or meeting Muslims to convert them threatens social peace and contradicts the spirit and mandate of Jesus Christ and must therefore be firmly rejected,” says the document titled “Pilgrim Fellowship and Witness in Dialogue with Muslims”.

This initiative of the main church in the Rhineland, published at the beginning of October, provoked a strong reaction from the small German evangelical movement.

“We firmly declare that the fundamental missionary task of Christians, namely to preach the Gospel of Jesus to others and invite them to follow it, cannot be abandoned,” said Hartmut Steeb, general secretary of the German Evangelical Alliance.

The 32-page document could hardly have come at a more sensitive time.

Germany expects to receive 800,000 to 1 million asylum seekers this year, mostly Muslims from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The country’s Islamic minority could soon exceed 5 million French people to become the largest in Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s warm welcome to all refugees fleeing war and oppression has led to major political controversies at home and abroad.

Some Christian Democrat colleagues accuse Merkel of recklessly opening Germany’s borders. Far-right groups protesting against an alleged “Islamization” of German society are gathering support.

At the same time, hundreds of Muslims are said to have converted this year. The fact that most are Iranians and Afghans, who could face the death penalty for apostasy in their country if expelled, has prompted some German Muslims to question whether they are only converting to improve their chances of survival. ‘political aylum.

The dividing line on proselytizing runs roughly between Germany’s main Protestant churches – mainly the Lutheran, Reformed and United groups – which make up about 30% of the population, and its Evangelical churches which make up only about 1%.

Both call themselves evangelicals (evangelisch), the latter sometimes using the term “evangelikanisch” to show the difference.

While most Christian churches have stepped up to help the newcomers, Roman Catholics and mainstream Protestants have not spoken of the refugee crisis as an opportunity for evangelism.

In contrast, the Evangelical Missions Consortium – an association linking the missionary activities of evangelical groups across the country – told its members in late September: “Today we have the unique opportunity to introduce Jesus to countless people here. even who have not yet heard the Good News.”

The consortium’s statement pointed out that most of the refugees were Muslims who “have escaped Islamist terror (and) are deeply shocked by the inhuman barbarism committed in the name of their religion”. Many had never met a Christian and asked why the Europeans were so friendly to them “while their cousins ​​in Arabia sent them away so heartless”.

The statement even pointed out that many Syrians were well-educated, hard-working and had a relatively low birth rate. “The fears of a ‘biological takeover’ do not match the facts,” he said.

Barbara Rudolph, head of mission work for the Main Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, said the position paper was misunderstood. “This is not about ending our missionary work,” she said.

In 2011, she noted, the World Council of Churches, the Vatican, and the World Evangelical Fellowship issued a joint code of conduct titled “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World” that Christians should avoid “the inappropriate methods of carrying out the mission by resorting to deception and coercive means.

Rudolph said his regional church’s document was part of a wider discussion within the Evangelical Church in Germany, the country’s main national association of Protestant churches, based on the 2011 code of conduct.

“We want to live in a way that makes others curious about our faith,” she said. “Whoever wants to become a Christian can be baptized.”

This new approach to the Great Commission has come under criticism even within Rudolf’s church. Comments about it on his blog are mostly negative. “This new understanding of mission…excludes the gospel of Jesus Christ. It mixes the law and the gospel by arguing that certain ethical behavior amounts to missionary work,” one pastor wrote.

Another Rhineland church mission leader said the document seemed to abandon the very idea of ​​spreading the Christian faith. “I base my life on the fundamental truth of the gospel,” Pastor Christoph Noetzel told the independent Christian news service Idea. “I would like to do it also in the future, without it being relativized by my church.”

A leader of missionary work for the Evangelical Church in Germany, Hans-Hermann Pompe, told Idea: “If anyone concludes from this document that it is the same for Protestants whether they follow Jesus or Muhammad, its authors should not be surprised.

(Reporter Tom Heneghan is based in Paris.)

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Barry F. Howard