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The Home Country Of The Reformation

Category Articles
Date October 6, 2005

In mid-August Germany saw a religious open-air on stage in Cologne as was probably never seen before. Never before did a visit of one individual receive so much attention as that of the first German Pope since the 11th century, Joseph Ratzinger.

When the 78-year-old German was elected Pope the leading German newspaper, the Bild, titled sensationally: “We are Pope”. For the World Youth Day in Cologne the Bild printed half a million badges with the same lettering, to be handed out to young pilgrims welcoming “our Pope” back to his home country. One of Germany’s most popular secular magazines for teenagers, known for its “uncatholic” moral standards, included a huge poster of the Pope. On his arrival thousands of pilgrims gave the new Pope a warm homecoming, chanting their “Be-ne-detto”s, the Pope’s Italian name, wherever he appeared. The Bild spoke of an “explosion of joy” in Germany and asked: Why can’t our Pope stay in Germany for good?


Until the World Youth Day Ratzinger had a reputation in Germany for being no friend of the youth. It came as a huge surprise to many that the sober professorial manner of Ratzinger should have triggered such a storm of enthusiasm. The four-day trip to Cologne most certainly will be counted a success for his pontificate – particularly as he visited the home country of Luther.

At the final open-air Mass Ratzinger had an extraordinary audience: close to a million young people cheering, chanting, weeping, praying. He used his visit to Germany for a blunt, back-to-basics call for a return to Christian roots, and an uncompromising warning that Catholics must strictly follow the church’s teaching and that Christian faith is not a “consumer product”, “Religion constructed on a DIY basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves.”

And being the apologist that he is, he also took the opportunity to express his serious concern about the need to “evangelize” a Europe that has become increasingly secular, despite its centuries of Christian faith and where a religious “patchwork mentality” has intruded into the Christian church. He referred to the “strange forgetfulness of God” while at the same time the sense of frustration and dissatisfaction has led to a “new explosion of religion” in Germany and many other Western countries. He challenged the young people to an “explosion of love” that brings the love of Christ to a secular Europe, emphasising that “some young Germans, especially in the East, have never had a personal encounter with the good news of Jesus Christ.”


As I write this article the religious hype is over, Ratzinger is back in his apostolic palace in Rome and Germany is no more “Christian” than before. But the “German” Pope expressed two needs for his home country that are fundamentally true, that Luther would have agreed with, that I agree with – although Luther and I have a fundamentally different answer to these two needs:

The first need is to return to the roots of the Christian Faith as Ratzinger said. What he believes to be Christian he has made perfectly clear in the past: Roman Catholicism. For more than 20 years Ratzinger was the guardian of the true orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church. In this capacity he became the most influential theologian in the Roman Catholic Church, which prompted one of his fellow theologians at the Vatican to say that since Martin Luther no other German has influenced the Church more than Ratzinger. He headed the commission of twelve cardinals and bishops to prepare the draft for the latest Roman Catholic catechism, reinforcing the known errors of Roman Catholic doctrines, and he continued to set the tone with such important encyclicals as “Dominus Jesus” in which he denied that the Protestant Church generally is a true church.

For his visit to Cologne Ratzinger revived a practice that led to the Reformation indulgence. He granted “complete indulgence” to all pilgrims at the World Youth Day on the condition of confession of their sin, renunciation of all sins, the reception of the Eucharist and prayer. Yes, I agree, German Christians need to return to the roots of the Christian Faith, but it is not the faith of Ratzinger and the Roman Catholic Church, but rather the Gospel which is taught in the Scriptures and which was rediscovered during the Reformation. It is by grace we are saved, through our Lord Jesus Christ, not by works.

It was noticeable how restrained the criticism of leading Lutherans was, and that it was related to ecumenical issues rather than stating clearly the irreconcilable differences between what Rome teaches about the Christian Faith and what Protestants believe the Bible teaches on this subject. At least we can be sure that Ratzinger knows the difference, better maybe than most Protestants in Germany, including many evangelicals. Germany needs to return to the roots of the Christian faith. Germany needs to rediscover the Reformation. Germany needs more Gospel preachers of the kind of Luther, Tersteegen, Krummacher and others.

The second need is to evangelize Germany. The vast majority of Germans have never had a personal encounter with the good news of Jesus Christ, not only in the East of Germany. There only a quarter of the population has any affiliation to a “Christian” church. In the West the situation is much better, but church officials of the Protestant Church of Germany (similar to the Anglican Church status) and the Roman Catholic Church are very concerned about the dramatic loss of members. In the past half century membership in the Protestant Church dropped from over 60% of the population to just over 30%. The portion amongst Catholics dropped from nearly 40% to just over 30%. This means that out of a population of 82 million only just over half is in membership with a church: 21 million with the Roman Catholic Church, 21 million with the Lutheran Church, and only 1 million with a nonconformist church. Even among evangelical churches good evangelical evangelism presenting a balanced biblical message of the Gospel is a rarity. Too often evangelical churches are selling out to a new market strategy rather than reaching out. The Gospel is not a “consumer product”, to use Ratzinger’s words, but it is difficult to see how it isn’t demoted to such when evangelical preaching is eager to be “consumer friendly”.

The cardinal of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, referred to the World Youth Days as days of “holy carnival”. These were days of holy mourning for those who have a true concern for the lost souls fed on a “good news” that is neither new nor good. I read that somewhere in Cologne a church had put up a banner that read: “Habemus Christum”. Well, that is all that Germany needs: Christ and Christ alone. Pray for Germany!

Jörg Müller

October-December Vision of Europe of European Missionary Fellowship by permission.

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