Problems of Lutheran Evangelism in the Australian Context : The Beginning of the End

"Evangelism...is also a task for all churches of Australia. Perhaps it might be well first to look upon our country as a whole and upon our young and growing nation before we speak of the specific task of our own church. Church-life in this country is determined to a very great extent by the church-life in England, and so we may expect that the methods of evangelism in our sister-churches will be influenced from there. British Christianity is passing through a deep crisis. For the first time in the history of England there is a feeling that the Christian foundations of England are shaken. The process of de-Christianisation which on the continent is going on since generations begins to become a feature of modern British life. As in France, in Germany, in Sweden, the British family of the lower middle class ceases to go to church on Sunday. This does not mean that people want to sever the bond with the church. They want to be Christians. They abhor Russian atheism [i.e. Soviet Communism - Acro.]. But they simply fail to see why they should go to church regularly. There is no longer a real longing for the church. Church attendance was and is a custom, it is something which belongs to a respectable life. But now these old customs are dwindling with the changes of life. This then is the beginning of the end, as it was the beginning of the end on the continent."

From 'Problems of Lutheran Evangelism' , undated and uncopyrighted copy in Loehe Memorial Library, Adelaide.


Comment - I suspect, from references within the text, that this was a speech given to a pastors' conference of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia and that it was written sometime in the early to mid 1950s, since there is no mention of the evangelistic campaigns of Billy Graham which took place in several Australian cities in 1956. For better or worse the visit of Graham, then at the high point of his popularity, was a very significant event in the lives of all the churches at the time and was to bring forth further theological reflection on evangelism in the Lutheran churches.

Since that time the influence of English Christianity here has declined somewhat (although it naturally remains strong among the Anglicans) and the influence of American forms of evangelical Christianity has grown. But certainly statistics and anecdotal evidence suggests that the English pattern Sasse describes of the  lower middle classes dropping-out of church attendance was paralleled in the decades post-WWII Australia, a period which saw the majority of the mainstream Protestant churches become the preserve of the educated, professional classes, which in turn was to lead to an increasing liberalisation of doctrine and practice culminating in the formation of the Uniting Church of Australia in 1977. The Uniting Church was a project begun by liberal Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists which optimistically aimed to unite all Protestant churches on a minimalist doctrinal platform. The reality is that it only succeeded in adding yet another denomination to the ecclesial mix which has been in numerical decline ever since.

The exceptions to this prevailing pattern in the 1950s-70s were, interestingly, the Roman Catholics (who retained a large working class participation), the Sydney Anglicans (doctrinally evangelical & practically evangelistic), Lutherans (an ethno-cultural minority with a relatively strong confessional unity; still largely a rural curch at the end of the war but about to establish numbers of suburban congregations in the great cities in the 1950s & '60s) and the sects.

More extracts to follow.


September 1949: Sasse Arrives in Australia

In September, 1949, Sasse arrived in Australia with his family to take up the position of lecturer (equivalent to professor in US or German institutions) in church history at Immanuel Seminary, North Adelaide, the seminary of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia. I'm not sure which port Sasse's ship docked at, but he arrived in Adelaide via train at the Adelaide Railway Station. Happily, we can publish here at What Sasse Says some invaluable photographs recording that momentous day in the life of Australian Lutheranism  (by clicking on the image the reader should be able to view a larger version):

Johannes Paul Loehe, the first President of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia and Principal of Immanuel Seminary, North Adelaide, extends a hand of greeting to Sasse. Used With Permission.

Comparing this photo with the first, JP Loehe appears to have taken Sasse's hat off to get a better look at him! To the right stand Dr Siegfried Hebart (dark suit; it was Hebart, who had completed his doctorate at Erlangen in the 1930s, who was instrumental in bringing Sasse to Australia, although later they found they didn't always see "eye to eye" on theology or church life) and Pr W. Riedel, both of the Immanuel Seminary faculty. The figure to Sasse's left, with his back turned towards the camera, is likely Pr. K. Muetzelfeldt, another member of the seminary faculty. Used With Permission.

Interestingly, about a month after Sasse's arrival, on the13th October, 1949, Immanuel Seminary enjoyed a visit by Pr Martin Niemoeller, the anti-Nazi  campaigner, concentration camp survivor and author of the famous "First they came for the Communists..." poem. Niemoller was by this time president of the Protestant Church of Hesse and Nassau, one of the German Landeskirche, and may have been visiting Australia in that capacity.  It was Niemoeller who, in late 1933, had published the 'Bethel Confession' jointly authored by Bonhoeffer and Sasse (and others). Unhappily, Niemoller later became an advocate of a highly politicised theology at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Nazis and the "German Christians", aligning Christianity with Left -wing causes in the 1960s.  
L-R: unknown, Dr Siegfried Hebart, Niemoller, Sasse, Prs. W. Riedel, K. Muetzelfeldt (?), unknown, J.P. Loehe.
Used With Permission.

These photographs are from the collection of my colleague pastor in the LCA, the Rev. Tim Jarick, via his father the Rev. Vincent Jarick, a 1950 graduate of Immanuel Seminary. Interestingly, seminarian V. Jarick's graduating thesis was a study of  the controversy on the Lord's Supper in the Pre-Scholastic Period focusing particularly on the teachings of Radbertus and Berengarius in the 9th and 11th centuries - subjects Sasse would consider in passing in his seminal 'This Is My Body: Luther's Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar' (Augsburg, 1959).
Thanks Tim for sharing them with us!

Readers can advise of any identification of unknown figures or corrections of names or titles to my email via the blogger profile. 
Free Hit Counter