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Christmas Sermon - Understanding Faith

by Wolfgang Huber Wednesday, Jan. 03, 2007 at 1:37 PM
mbatko@lycos.com

No one is excluded from the Christmas prophet in the prophet Isaiah: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Biblical faith in its core is trust in God, not in ourselves.

CHRISTMAS SERMON

By Wolfgang Huber

[This sermon delivered in a Berlin cathedral December 24, 2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.ekd.de. Isaiah 9,1-6 was the scriptural reading. Wolfgang Huber is an evangelical bishop in Berlin.]



I

A policeman visits a day care center. Traffic education is the theme. To open the subject for the children, he says: “I am like the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus in the Christmas story. You know this story. Then a little boy whispered in his teacher’s ear. No policeman was there at the birth of Jesus. I know that inside out.

Surely you agree, dear community. A policeman does not appear in the Christmas story. The emphasis is on the shepherds and the wise men from the East. Oxen and ass were there. In the prophet Isaiah, we read: An ox knows its master and an ass the crib of its owner. To the shepherds, there was at once a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and proclaiming peace to humankind. Naturally Mary and Joseph occur in the Christmas story and Jesus, the child and Savior of the world.

There was no mention of a policeman. Was he excluded? Was anyone locked out from the stable in Bethlehem, like anyone not part of the diversity of callings now represented in this great community or someone on duty who cannot be among us because they serve this afternoon in the police or fire department, hospitals or transportation services?

No, no one is excluded from the Christmas promise that resounds in the prophet Isaiah: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light and those who dwell in deep darkness, on them has light shined. At the beginning of the church service, we heard this prophetic promise that continues: To us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be upon his shoulder.

God entrusted this promise to the prophet Isaiah more than seven hundred years before Christ’s birth. That God would come near people as a child, that hew would become a person so his grace becomes effective moved people long before Christ’s birth. This promise takes form in the baby in the manger of Bethlehem and is joined with the name Jesus of Nazareth. So this promise is fulfilled for all time. We are included and those coming after us.

As the promise of the prophet embraces all time, it also transforms our whole world. It is valid for us Europeans and the Africans with whom I celebrated Advent this year. It strengthens the faith of people in Asia and Africa. No one is excluded.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwell in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. In one way or another, everyone is included in the people who walked in darkness, the happy and the despondent, the successful and the humiliated, the healthy and the tormented. They all have a place by Jesus’ manger.

II

Those overrun a year ago by a powerful natural disaster who lost their lives or suddenly lost the roof over their heads are also at Jesus’ manger. On the second day of Christmas 2004, December 26, 2004, a tidal wave devastated the countries around the Indian Ocean from Samaria to Africa’s east coast. Perhaps persons among us experienced that or lost close relatives. Other natural disasters struck in the south of the United States of America and in Pakistan.

The other was also remembered. A surge of solidarity followed the tidal wave of the tsunami. People were assisted beyond all expectation in the engagement of relief workers for the devastated and in exemplary outpouring of donations. This surge of solidarity should not fall into oblivion. We don’t want to resign to our country being slandered as cold and egoistic. We want to grant relief for persons in distress on a small scale and large scale. The victims of the tsunami felt how the yoke on their shoulder was relieved that others carried it with them. The Old Testament prophet knew of this experience. He says: Thou has multiplied the nation, thou has increased its joy; they rejoice before thee. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken.



UNDERSTANDING FAITH – PROTESTANTISM AND THEOLOGY

By Wolfgang Huber

[This address at the 30th German Evangelical Church Day in Hanover on May 26, 2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.ekd.de/.]



I. FAITH AND UNDERSTANDING

“Understanding Faith” is our theme. Hasn’t the connection of faith and understanding fallen by the wayside in Protestantism?

A half century ago, the great theologian Rudolf Bultmann, well known as the author of the de-mythologization program, wrote “Faith and Understanding” on his banner. For him, understanding faith meant interpreting its sources and illuminating the self-image of believers. Explaining existence and interpreting sources occurred in one act.

Since the sixties, this program was not emphasized. “Faith and Action” is now the keyword. Changing the world with faith, not understanding faith, seemed the crucial challenge. The church days were also marked by this new orientation. A faith that presses to action was urged, a credible Christianity or Christianity of acts. No without any Yes to weapons of mass destruction, clear rejection of the policy of apartheid and championing justice, peace and preservation of creation were the focal points for this Christianity of acts.

This focus of the Christian faith on the reality of the world should not be trivialized. We also advocate a faith that takes seriously its social responsibility today. The powerful of our age should know what they must expect with Christians. Silence cannot be endured when mammon becomes an idol. No Christian can quietly resign when the unemployed are made responsible themselves for their fate.

How should the theme “Understanding Faith” be comprehended today? That is my first question this evening…

The encounter of the religions is on the agenda again. This encounter is necessary to clear access to the holy places. Encounter with the foreign challenges the understanding of our own identity. Whoever wants to build bridges to the other shore must know that the pillar on his side has a stable foundation. People begin asking where they are at home and about their own faith. Many notice how alien they felt where they imagined themselves at home. “Somehow we are all still Christian,” they say. “Somehow” signals that “something” is not right. Our own is unfamiliar; the foreign seems threatening.

This is unsettling. Therefore many set out on a way where their own faith can become a life certainty again. Two things are necessary: practicing and understanding faith. The mystery of faith is only approached through practice, encounter with Holy Scripture and prayer alone and with others. The certainty of faith can only determine my life when it is deeply rooted in this life. What is not practiced is lost. When one’s own prayer is not exercised, it soon seems impossible. When participation in church service is not exercised, this church service is so alien one prefers eluding it.

However faith must be understood. We want to acquire what is lastingly important in the Christian faith and how it answers the questions of our time. The evangelical form of the Christian faith stands for understood faith. For the New Testament, “coming to faith” means “coming to knowledge of the truth.” The Reformation emphasizes this obligation to truth and therefore is oriented from the first in theological knowledge. The Reformation movement from the beginning is a theological movement. Whoever wants to preserve the Reformation inheritance needs one thing above all: good theology. Therefore as the evangelical church, we fight for the freedom of theology and its independent place at the university. The air of scholarship is good for theology. Good theology promotes science as a whole. University presidents and finance ministers should take this to heart.

This indissoluble connection of faith and understanding has often been assailed by a great misunderstanding. People thought no mystery was inherent to understand faith any longer. Thus a protestant could not even say: “Great is the mystery of faith.” For a long time this saying was banned from the evangelical Lord’s Supper liturgy.

Understanding does not annul mystery but brings us near mystery. Understanding faith means approaching its inner connection. That faith seizes us in our life, that Jesus Christ transforms our life remains a mystery. Whenever faith occurs, this is a miracle. This miracle presses to understanding.

Understanding faith is not unlike understanding a person. I do not comprehend a person when I explain this or that act or report this or that sentence. I understand him when I grasp what makes him a person. Then I can classify and sometimes even predict his reactions. He has my sympathy even if some things about him are puzzling. This is similar with understanding faith. When I grasp the inner core of the Christian faith, I can independently fathom what it means for the great questions of my life. My sympathy for this faith continues even if some things remain mysterious to me. Thus understanding faith is not a matter of the number of dogmas recognized as true but in the certainty that this faith determines my own life.

Without understanding, tolerance is impossible. Tolerance is one of the great demands of our age. Whoever takes this demand seriously must create possibilities for understanding. The inner core in the convictions of another must be understood to bring real tolerance. Everything else is veiled disinterest, not real tolerance. In the field of the religions, there is only real tolerance on the basis of lived religion. Religion cannot be understood without religiosity. This has effects on religious instruction. To serve the understanding of religion, teachers who treasure religion are necessary. Therefore introducing a compulsory subject for everyone in my hometown Berlin purporting to serve inter-religious learning by viewing all religions from the same distance is a wrong track. No real understanding arises this way. No real tolerance forms. We need both. Therefore we cannot accept the Berlin plans.

The question about “faith and understanding” is raised anew. We live in a changed situation defined by the return of religion. In view of this return, we notice that our own faith is not self-evident any more. Therefore we must understand it again. The religion foreign to us must also be understood. We first know what we can do beyond the borders of the religions and cultures when we understand one another better. The time when “faith and action” could replace “faith and understanding” is past. Today both belong together. I see a great chance here.

The next step would be making the return of the religious in our modern world into a theme. We should ask why the question of faith plays a new role and what is the evangelical answer to this question. Guidelines will be offered at the end for a new protestant self-consciousness.

II. THE RETURN OF RELIGON

There is hardly a cultural or social area without signs of a return of the religious.

This is itself a sensation. For decades, there was a kind of “secular dogma” that faith and religion had their day. The swansong to Christianity and the religions altogether could not be ignored.

The so-called great- or meta-narratives of modern times that sought to announce or prove the end of Christianity no longer dominate the intellectual scene. The questionability of these positions has become obvious whether you now think the modern progress optimism with its thesis that God and faith become simply superfluous or the claim of the sciences to explain the world without the hypothesis “God.” Totalitarian ideologies have refuted themselves whether the utopia of a classless society and its prediction that religion as the “opium of the people” will be no more if only the conditions become just or the pseudo-scientific Darwinian worldview of the Nazi time with its goal of rooting out Judaism and the feeble spirit of Christianity. In another way, the great narrative of the Enlightenment project has become silent. A reason left to itself, a rationality existing without values surpasses the limits of its competence and makes itself absolute.

This end of the meta- or great narratives described by the philosophy of the post-modern is true in a special way for the great Christian narrative since God and faith, the world to come and hope are no longer generally regarded as plausible. The Christian faith has lost its self-evidence in the European development of the last two centuries. In the meantime, the deep rooting of our culture in the Jewish-Christian tradition sis ought again. However this deep rooting cannot be identified in a European constitution. Human responsibility must recognize its limits, its responsibility before God and humankind. Still that has no place in the preamble of a European constitution. This is really shameful.

One wishes to call to some contemporaries: “People hear the signals of a religious renewal.” This describes the inner tension of our age. We experience a new love and affection for religion. September 11, 2001 or the attack in Madrid on March 11, 2004 did not first establish this new love since these references move all religions, not only Islam, into a sharp light without doing justice to any world religion.

Most followers of all world religions on our earth are peacefully minded. Therefore the return of religions is not a security problem but a certainty problem! As shown in the Hollywood film by Ridley Scott, violence and fundamentalism are obviously connected with the return of religions. Distancing from such religious fanaticism is an essential duty of everyone. However describing only this violent side of religion as a characteristic of their return is a false thesis of self-styled secularization popes.

The signals for a return of religion in the sphere of culture and lived piety should be highlighted. Who could have predicted that a theatre landscape in Germany in 2005 would concentrate on faith questions? Books with religious themes are awarded prizes and climb to top positions on best-seller lists. The “new German wave” in music, experts tell me, turns to themes of faith and trust, support and meaning. A popular private television channel like VOX thematicizes the question how to deal with death and departure in dignity and decency.

Similar signals also come from politics.. A new sense is arising that a completely secular, purely economically frenzied and radically consumer-centered life is too banal and superficial. The more inexorably the European world is oriented to the globalized economy, the more strictly the market and financial power, non-wage labor costs and competition determine everyone’s life and the more intensely countervailing powers are sought. Most feel that consumption alone does not give support, that the economy alone does not give meaning and that functioning alone does not confer significance. With the return of the religions, the souls of people rebel against their commercial reduction.

This return of religion cannot be accepted uncritically. Overly triumphal tones make people blind for their own mistakes. Religion that only consoles and feeds with hope neutralizes the prophetic impulse of the biblical message. Religion that cancels the alliance with the Enlightenment refuses the critical claim of truth. Fanaticism and readiness for violence that uses returning religion engender opposition.

There is no occasion to see ourselves as churches on the losers’ side in this situation. The transformation tasks facing us in our church are no reason for faintheartedness and despondency. Even if many things important and dear to us must be abandoned under financial pressure, we still experience in our churches a return of religion, a return of piety and a departure to new shores.

Paying attention to this reality is urgent today. We may not become lost in all the finance- and structural questions that pretend to be so important. Let us look at what grows and becomes, what arises anew and what is living. Let us develop trust in the new and surprising paths.

There are communities that grow marvelously where children jump around, families like to enter and leave and seniors feel they belong because they are not made older than they feel. Many pastors fulfill their calling with love for their people. There are church musicians to whom one listens spellbound and co-workers in the diakonia making one proud. New missionary initiatives arise in many places. Our impressive church buildings are appreciated again and provide stimulation. Church pedagogical initiatives enrich the church’s educational possibilities. Conversations and information are offered. Church youth festivals with their freshness and intensity have lasting effects. In the big cities, networks emerge that support individual churches with special profiles and tackle pressing social challenges together.

Powerful communities are found in the countryside that stand like light-towers in the middle of the village. New experiential spaces arise like the “Long Night of the Churches,” an idea that spread all over Germany within a few years. “Advent is in December” is an EKD (Evangelical Church in Germany) campaign that promotes a new awareness of the importance of church holidays. New initiatives of social love and affection like missionary presence on Berlin streets find their way to people who while “down and out” should not remain alone.

There are counter-examples to all this, I know. But no one has obligated us evangelicals to only worry and negative examples. German Protestantism lives and is not finished! Protestantism changes, leaves familiar dwellings and uses simpler tents and shelters. This strains and makes people anxious. Still we have no reason to be grief-stricken. A wholesome return of the religious is occurring in our churches. That we do not develop any uncritical “product pride” goes without saying for evangelicals. A sincere self-confidence in our own cause is manifest. We have no right to speak negatively about the “evangelical brand.” We miss our commission when we allow a self-demoralization after the self-secularization. Therefore renewal of our relation to our own church is one of our urgent “house tasks.”

Protestants easily mistake the necessary criticism of the church with a devaluation of their own church. Many of us speak more negatively of our church than it deserves. How can we motivate people to join our church when we speak so negatively ourselves? Who will this convince? Criticism of the church is necessary to make it better, not to run it down. Therefore love for the church must always be clear in this criticism. At the same time we should rejoice freely where the church succeeds. Our church needs and deserves people who hold to it, speak well, jointly support and develop it.

To that end, we need one thing above all, orientation in the heart of our commission and the center of faith. For our own sake, we must accept the spirit that we want to share with others. The New Testament says: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1,7). In the words of the Psalmist, “By my God, I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18,29).

III. FAITH AS TRUST

We can only respond to the return of religion from the core of the Christian faith. What is this core? Faith in its core is trust. Faith means receiving our place in the world and our personal life as a gift, not building our life only on our own strength. Faith is trust because it is directed at God who turns to us lovingly in Jesus Christ before demanding anything from us. This trust encourages us to deal with our present in the light of hope and not let the future certainty be taken from our hands by adverse circumstances. Finally, this trust includes the power to conversion from the death fates of our time, from the cul-de-sacs of our life and from the lack of foundations of personal biography. Creation, love, hope and conversion can be described as the four central motifs of a faith that in its core is trust. Many testify that this trust made possible their new beginning.

We discover faith in its core as trust in a situation marked by broken trust. The erosion of trust settles in our souls as it pervades our whole society. We develop mistrust toward the conditions around us, a world where profit interests are more important than ethical responsibility, ratings more important than truth and maintaining power more important than the basic moral consensus. The erosion of trust occurs at the same time on the biographical plane.

The self-confidence of many persons is endangered. How can you develop trust in yourself and your powers if you have no work? How should young persons develop trust when the preceding generation saddles them with collective guilt for a lifestyle they will hardly be able to reach themselves? How can trust grow in a society where hope for happiness is only seen in vocational success or material consumption, short-term experience or disoriented superficiality? We know in principle all this is not a substitute for a trust from which grows a future certainty.

Therefore rediscovering trust as a basic word of Christian existence is vital. When Jesus helped the depressed persons whom he encountered, the trust he provoked in them a crucial trust: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7,50). The faith promised persons is trust. Jesus awakened the elementary confidence that God intends what is good for life. The good is certainly not always identical with the expected. But a glance at the good intended by God makes us free for the future. Biblical trust in its core is trust in God, not trust in ourselves.

The first and most important contribution we can make as a church to the blossoming of trust in our world is strengthening trust in God. We do not stop at complaining about the loss in trust and naming the events contributing to its erosion although this is necessary again and again without false timidity and reserve. Complaint and accusation alone do not create any trust. In the most favorable case, they show why it is lacking. Strengthening trust in God happens in strengthening lived faith and church service celebrations whether in the local community or the great encouraging community of a church day.

When we live our faith as trust in God, we can also renew the trust around us. We can renew trust by making responsible use of our freedom and ending the madness that pleasure at others’ expense is the highest form of freedom. We can renew trust by practicing solidarity among those and with those who become victims of a social redistribution from bottom to the top. We can renew trust by being trustworthy in human coexistence. Trust grows when we take seriously promises in personal relations of marriage and family and strive for an atmosphere around us in which joy in children and readiness to take responsibility for them grows again. Trust in the future is always trust in the next generation. We can give faith a place in our own life and in our society by showing that trust in God, trust in our fellow-persons and self-confidence are connected.

IV. UNDERSTANDING FAITH – THREE BASELINES OF PROTESTANT SELF-AWARENESS

From an evangelical perspective, a simple answer to the longing for trust and the return of religion lies in the conscious turn to the core of evangelical faith. This is a step forward, not a turning back, a program of departure, not a restorative project. I will address three dimensions of this program: the Yes to good protestant theology, the Yes to lived piety and the Yes to a self-assured evangelical church.

At the beginning I set the affirmation of good protestant theology. What is its core? A film scene could help us here. In Eric Till’s successful Luther film, there is a scene that illustrates the core of Reformation insight. The young monk Martin Luther buries a suicide and preaches God’s infinite mercy greater than all our worldly judgments to an anxious community of gravediggers and accidental listeners. This concise picture illustrates the decisive Reformation breakthrough that motivated the advance into the modern age. God grants every person an undeserved and inviolable dignity.

The Reformation awards a new rank to human existence because the dignity of individuals is rooted in the relation to God and not in human achievements, standing, origin, race or nation. The abolition of the religious idea of merit in no way removes the positive valuation of merits but measures them with a human standard. What are central in these merits are responsible relations with the entrusted gifts, not blessedness. We live from entrusted dignity; we do not make ourselves. The freedom of conscience and courage of faith are anchored in this inviolable dignity of the person. The Reformation created an unforgettable symbol for this, namely Martin Luther’s appearance at the Reichstag in Worms in 1521 when he confessed his faith according to his best knowledge and conscience: Here I stand. God help me. Amen.

The Reformation rediscovery of the central biblical message is often bundled in a fourfold alone: Christ alone, Scripture alone, grace alone and faith alone. Again and again protestant theology has emphasized this concentration. The Confessing Church did this with clarity and orienting steadfastness. The Reformation discovery was recast in the 1934 Barmen Theological Declaration. It uncovered and reformulated the one central glowing core of Reformation understanding.

We confess Christ alone as the word of God “that we must hear, trust and obey in life and in death,” as the Barmen confession said. We acknowledge Scripture alone as the source of knowledge of God’s revelation. Grace alone emphasizes God’s mercy as the heart of our faith with the result, quoting Barmen again, that “the message of God’s free grace is directed to all people.” Faith alone refers to the dignity and unmistakability of every person whom God addresses as his likeness and enables and enables response to this address. In this fourfold alone, we have a center, core and fire that may be hidden under ashes but can still kindle a considerable fire.

Frankly and clearly I tell you: I cannot understand when evangelical theologians and university professors or colleagues active in the media counsel us as the evangelical church to make these theological insights of our fathers and mothers into flyweights. They think they speak most palatably when they abandon all supposedly unwieldy statements of faith. According to their interpretation, it is enough to observe the religious landscape and only say what is obvious and what everyone can say.

To that, I counter with the warning of Soren Kierkegaard: Whoever is married to the spirit of the times will suddenly find himself a widower. Protestantism has two supports against simple conformity to the spirit of the times: the bond to the biblical message and the obligation to good theology. The quality of faith knowledge and the quality of celebrated church services are evangelical characteristics that are rediscovered today. I am convinced people today seek intellectual depth, spiritual substance and theological clarity, not general religious sentences, general truisms or banal tautologies.

Alongside a profiled protestant theology, a second keyword helps us answer the return of the religions: strengthening a personal, heartfelt faith. Some of us have long neglected this dimension because faith was tied so strongly to action. Public opinion has confirmed us. Diakonical works find more acceptance than church services. Social engagement is more popular than prayer. We internalized this narrowing and assumed that the “credibility” of our relation to God could be read in actions. We forgot to rest in God, stop in his love and imagine his presence. Now many are beginning to enter into God’s light, come home in his spirit and be astonished over his mystery. Good theology can help give this new spirituality a clear biblical orientation so that Christian existence is seen in its totality: in the unity of prayer and acts of the just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in an unsurpassable way.

Bonhoeffer joined an old tradition: the unity of action and contemplation, prayer and works. This tradition has a right of abode in communitarian life forms in the evangelical church. The Reformation principle about the good tree that alone brings good fruits gains new actuality. Again and again the fathers and mothers in faith recalled that the roots of hearing, silence, prayer, astonishment and singing are sought first with a good tree, not first the fruits of action and conduct. According to my firm belief, neglecting the inner life of faith, the spiritual landscape in the heart and the intellectual depths in the soul should no longer be regarded as “typically protestant.” Rather we can journey out of intellectual depths and theological clarity, out of the coexistence of theological profile and spiritual concentration to depth and clarity in our acting, speaking and comforting.

We gain this depth and clarity when we see that our own great ego or I is not the center of the world. Then we can accept all the depressing, crying and despairing persons that our world knows despite all the social and diakonical efforts and promise that God’s splendor will not allow worry, darkness, the unfathomable and evil to be the last word. The worried, neglected, lonely and tormented lose in this world as unfortunately happens often enough…

I am convinced that a developed introspection, a longing to arrive with God, is one of the most powerful resistance bulwarks against all religious terrorism and fundamentalism.- beside critical enlightenment and dialogical tolerance, social engagement and diakonical tolerance, social engagement and diakonical action.

The third keyword for a proper evangelical reaction to the return of the religious is a “self-assured evangelical church.” I connect this keyword to the central sentence of the biblical Pentecost narrative. People from the most different regions of the known world at that time could say: “We hear them telling the mighty works of god in our own tongues” (Acts 2,11). The Pentecost miracle is that people heard of the mighty works of God in their own language. That is the opposite to the story of the Tower of Babel where no one understood the language of the other at the end (Gen 11,7). Nevertheless God’s spirit enables God’s words to be heard in the different languages.

The churches of the Reformation affirm this Pentecost possibility in a special way. After the definitive separation of Christendom in an East- and West-church in 1054, the claim of a united church existed for five hundred years in the West. The Reformation broke this. Luther wanted to reform the one holy, universal and apostolic church. His Reformation turn to the origin of the church caused the church to become conscious of its plurality hidden until then. Therefore the translation of Holy Scripture and its interpretation in the national language were prominent characteristics of the reformation.

Reformation theology distinguishes the one faithful church of Jesus Christ as the ground of very church from the different historical formations of the church. From this ground, the church in its concrete historical form may not press between God and the individual person. The church serves the faith of the person; it is a “church for others.” The common principle of all Christian churches must therefore be: Dominus Jesus. Jesus is Lord. It may not be: Domina Ecclesia or the church is Lord. The churches of the reformation are indispensable for the ecumene because they stubbornly refer to this servant function of the church. This ecumenical contribution of the Reformation churches is a necessity that cannot be ignored in 2005, the year of the two popes.

The evangelical church is one form and concretion of the one holy, universal and apostolic church like other churches. We share in the whole history of Christendom, not only in the last five hundred years. Our essential texts stand in the Bible; the earliest summaries of our evangelical faith are the creeds of the ancient church. The history of early and medieval Christendom is also our history. Thus the history of the Reformation churches begins at the same time as that of the catholic and orthodox churches. We have no reason to regard ourselves as a belated church…

With joy, we see the blessings in the house of our catholic brothers and sisters. Without envy, we say: they have a pope and we have none. In John Paul II, they had a pope who gave an impressive witness of faith with his spiritual depth, his credible personal piety and his bravery in suffering and death. All Christians and all persons of good will should admire this exemplary witness of faith and learn again what it means to bid farewell to a person in a dignified way so his name is named and his life set in God’s hands…

As evangelical Christians, we do not know a single representative of Christ on earth. The office of the pope is emphasized in the Catholic Church. According to evangelical conviction, all Christians must stand the test in the discipleship of the apostles. We understand apostolic succession as the faithfulness of the whole church to the apostolic message. Christ’s representation with our neighbor is also entrusted to all of us.

This is expressed very convincingly in our protestant church and opposes the notion that the hierarchical structure of the Roman church corresponds better to the longing for pictures in our media age. A church that is publically represented by several persons and quite effectively by women in leadership offices does not need to hide. The priesthood of all believers, the culture of active participation and the synod structure are strengths of our church. They pave the way for democratic rights of collaboration. They empower people to democratic responsibility as in the turn of 1989. The synod and conciliar structure of our church has its great advantage. On church days, this can be felt very clearly.

The evangelical church is a church in a full spiritual sense. As an evangelical church, we hold fast to a basic ecumenical understanding in which we see ourselves as churches in our differences with mutual respect and mutual esteem to strengthen our common witness. We want to do together what is possible. With our powers, we want to overcome the existing gulfs. Therefore the mutual acknowledgment of church offices and the community at the table of the Lord are tasks that we cannot avoid.

The first ecumenical task of the evangelical church is not formulating expectations to other churches. Rather our first task consists in clarifying ou4r own open themes and advancing the ecumenical dialogue. The relation between the priesthood of all believers and the ordained office is one such open question. The participation of non-ordained in the public proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the Lord’s Supper needs clarification. This must happen in the Pentecost conviction that we hear the one word bound to the one truth serving the one Lord in the different languages.

Let us open access to the “holy places” of our faith to one another. We need the understanding and practice of our own faith and sincere respect for the faith of others, not any crusades of faith. It is time to treasure the worth of our church and see others as worthy of love. Only in this way can we motivate others to accept the church for what it is: the community of those who trust God, the helper of faith, the community responsible for passing on the gospel, voice of the dumb and silenced and advocate of freedom.

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