Christianity in Europe

I just got back from North Carolina, where I gave one of the annual Luther Lectures that several churches there organize. The topic was Vocation, and John Pless, David Adams, and Detlev Schultz were also on the docket. The latter is a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne who is from Germany. Also coming down for the event were some seminary students from Finland, one a pastor working on his S.T.M. and another a soon-to-be pastor who will be ordained in Kenya.

Both are part of the mission initiated by Bishop Obare of Kenya designed to bring confessional Lutheranism back to Scandinavian nations plagued by an ultra-liberal state church. Dr. Schultz also said that Christianity is alive and well in Germany. (In a Bible class on Sunday, he told about some remarkable things the Ft. Wayne seminary is doing for missions, both in educating foreign students and in sending seminary professors to teach overseas to teach native pastors–work involving Latvia, Russia, Finland, Kenya, Madagascar, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.) Anyway, I came away from all of these conversations convinced that God is NOT finished with Europe.

This accords with this article that I came across, which also suggests some of the problems that evangelists must deal with. From Europeans More Religious than Assumed, Survey Suggests| Christianpost.com:

Three-fourths of all Europeans (74 percent) in the countries surveyed are religious, with one-fourth (25 percent) considered highly religious, according to German think tank Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Religion Monitor study.

Only 23 percent of Europeans are non-religious. . . .

Based on comparable data from seven European countries – Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Austria, Poland and Switzerland – religion is strongest in Italy (89 percent) and Poland (87 percent) – both heavily Roman Catholic countries – and weakest in secular France (54 percent).

The problem is, they don’t go to church much–especially Protestants–and they are highly compartmentalized:

In Europe, Roman Catholics are more likely to be devout than Protestants, with 42 percent of Catholics saying they attend church compared to only 15 percent of Protestants.

And unlike in America, Europeans say that religion has little influence over their political views and sexuality. Many Europeans expressed that they separate their conduct and attitudes in these two areas from their religious beliefs.

More than half (58 percent) of Europeans say that their religious convictions have no influence or little influence on their political views, while nearly half (48 percent) say religion does not much affect their sexuality.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • TK

    “And unlike in America, Europeans say that religion has little influence over their political views and sexuality.”

    That was certainly my experience in hosting a student from Germany. She was a sweet and lovely 16 year old German girl. Although she and her family were Christians, I was surprised to learn that we did not share much cultural common ground. Her behavior, speech, outward actions and thoughts seemed pious to me: Christian music, magazines, CD’s, carrying a Bible around, attending youth Bible studies, etc. She rejected our liturgical church as “boring”. In talking about teenagers and sex one day, she told me about her friends who were having sex with their boyfriends or even pregnant, and she was OK with that; she said that in Europe, sex among teenagers…Christian teenagers…really wasn’t that big of a deal. I was very confused and surprised!

    I never did figure out an American equivalent of her denomination. She kept saying she was “Free Protestant” and “not Lutheran”. I did a little research on her town and realized I knew very little about Germany’s religious history! Her town, Siegen, has been Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and back to Catholic. In 1815, the Lutheran and Reformed churches joined, which is difficult for me to imagine!

    After our experience with our German student, I learned that I can’t make any assumptions about Christians in Europe without more in-depth study and conversations.

  • WebMonk

    I question the accuracy of the study – is it talking of Christian religious peoples, or is it including Muslim groups in there too?

    Muslim groups are certainly large enough in Europe that they should show in polls of the general population. I’m seeing statements about RCs and Prots (generic), but not even the slightest comment about Muslim religious practices.

    The other thing the story doesn’t do (a very shallow article, IMHO) is talk about what the study means by ‘religious’ in general – what sort of questions were used, which countries did it select from, how did it get its respondents, etc.

  • richard

    I lived in Germany for almost 20 years. “God is finished with Europe”? Did you really mean that? After being told that Christianity is “alive and well in Germany”? TK is right–it’s a little dangerous to make assumptions here.

  • kerner

    Let me get this straight. 74% of Europeans are “religious”. But they don’t go to church and their religion has little or no effect on their personal behavior nor their politics. In other words, their “religion” bears no fruit, and they don’t see any reason why it should.

    I don’t beleive in works righteousness, but at the same time the Bible is pretty clear about the fruits of faith, and what happens to a tree that bears none.

  • Nemo

    “I came away from all of these conversations convinced that God is finished with Europe”

    You sure you want to say that?

  • kerner

    TK:

    The forced combining of the Reformed and Lutheran churches in Germany in 1815 was the so called “Prussian Union”, and it was compelled by the Prussian government. There were legal consequences for failure to comply (although I don’t know what they were). The Prussian Union caused many Lutheran clergy and laity to emigrate to the United States. It was perhaps the last of the great migrations to the USA of immigrants seeking religious freedom. These immigrants formed the LCMS (and maybe the WELS too, but definitely LCMS).

    And you thought that the Pilgrims were the only group with a cool story like this. ;)

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer TK

    Ah, another topic to study! Anyone want to recommend a good title?

  • FW

    might I suggest that europe is a “burnt out zone” for christianity PRECISELY because europeans were not presented the intellectual option of separating church and state? either mentally or practically? and so their one perceived solution to exiting social strife was to make religion unimportant in their daily lives?

    and maybe conservative christians want to repeat their experience?

    the only think we learn from history is that no one ever learns anything from history.

  • FW

    #6

    alot of the leaders of the wels started out as “unionists” with reformed and lutheran services at different hours in the same church.

    many wels ancestors were volga lutherans, who were often rather rank pietists served by circuit pastors only monthly or less.

    by God´s grace, they were sucked into missouri´s orbit and were , I think, instrumental in helping missouri remain mostly confessional in character by witnessing to them throughout the turbulent 60s and 70s.

    now the wels appears to have been deeply infected with church growth. their last hymnal certainly looked like “liturgy lite”. as close to ditching the liturgy without actually ditching it.

    their new hymnal reflects the deep influence of the LCMS in a wholesome way. welcome devine service II finally to the wels!

    favor returned.

  • allen

    If I recall my reading correctly, Prussia was the last principality in Germany where the union of the Lutheran and Reformed congregations was accomplished. It had been going on for a decade or two before then in the other kingdoms, duchies, etc.

  • Anon

    TK, sounds to me like your exchange student was a member of the Free Lutheran church that is the partner with the LCMS. Of course in Germany they don’t say “Lutheran” they say “Evangelical” (hence Evangelical Free, though the German version is LCMSish, unlike the American version)

    If the antinomians in the LCMS, deceived as they are into thinking that antinomianism is faithful confessional Lutheranism, continue to gain ground, our youth will be no differentu

  • kerner

    FW and allen:

    Thanks for the additional info, guys.

  • allen

    I think the word Selbständige is generally translated as “independant.”

    http://www.selk.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=51&Itemid=33

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Everybody, I meant to say “God is NOT finished with Europe.” sorry. I changed it.

  • Rich

    TK: Ah, another topic to study! Anyone want to recommend a good title?

    Except The Corn Die, by Robert J. Koenig
    - This is a historical novel about the 1839 Saxon Lutheran emigration to America. I think it is fairly historically accurate, but I’m no expert so I cannot say for sure. It is a very easy read and a page turner. Unfortunately it is out of print, but I found an inexpensive used copy on Amazon.

    Zion on the Mississippi, by Walter O. Forster
    - This is probably the most recommended historical account of the 1839 Saxon immigration. It is also the primary source used by the author of “Except The Corn Die” referenced above.

    Uprooted From Prussia Transplanted in America, by Eugene W. Camann
    - This is a historical account of a different group of German Lutherans who emigrated to Buffalo, New York as a result of the Prussian Union. This book is a bit tricky to find, but the following website contains ordering instructions: http://www.bogenschneider.org/old_lutherans.htm

  • ELB

    It has been my observation that these polls often confuse “spirituality” with religious faith. “Non-practicing” Christians are people whose spirituality has the flavor of Christian culture, but based on my experience as a missionary/evangelist, non-practicing boils down to non-believing.

  • BasilShepherd

    TK: Ah, another topic to study! Anyone want to recommend a good title?

    Except The Corn Die, by Robert J. Koenig
    - This is a historical novel about the 1839 Saxon Lutheran emigration to America. I think it is fairly historically accurate, but I’m no expert so I cannot say for sure. It is a very easy read and a page turner. Unfortunately it is out of print, but I found an inexpensive used copy on Amazon.

    I have some new copies of Except the Corn Die (the 1995 edition, which cleans up some of the misprints, etc. in the original 1975 edition). Historically, the book is quite accurate. E-mail me.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X