From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Churches Need Change of Perspective

From "Frank Imhoff" <>
Date Thu, 27 Feb 2003 11:54:14 -0600

Christians Should Not Be Reticent to Say Who They Are, Theology
Professor Says

VIENNA, Austria/GENEVA, 27 February 2003 (LWI) - Dr Susanne Heine,
professor of theology at the University of Vienna, has called for
a "change of perspective" in the churches. They still have an
opportunity "to be taken seriously as a source of information on
religious questions," within the pluralistic context, said Heine
who teaches Practical Theology and Psychology of Religion at the
Protestant Faculty of Theology. She spoke at the opening on
Sunday, 23 February, of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF)
European Pre-Assembly Consultation (PAC) preparing for the LWF
Tenth Assembly. Some 80 representatives of LWF member churches in
Europe participated in the Vienna 23-26 February meeting.

Even though Christianity has lost its monopoly on religion [in
Europe], Heine said, she recommends that Christians present
themselves modestly, but not be reticent to say who they are. Very
often churches experience difficulty in "acting confidently in the
pluralistic field of religious groups," she pointed out. This
implies admitting the loss of monopoly and assuming the

The Christian churches have to compete with numerous religions and
worldviews and can no longer depend for their credibility on "the
theological argument of institution and ecclesial office," Heine
continued, nor can pastors hide behind their function in the
church. Referring to the theme of the LWF Tenth Assembly, "For the
Healing of the World," she noted that hardly anyone expects
healing from the churches any more. The Assembly will be held
21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, hosted by the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

Christian faith itself implies a change of perspective, Heine
continued, as plenty of "offensive" stories and parables in the
Bible exemplify. Today, it is necessary to carry the Christian
message to a culture that is no longer Christian. The frequently
heard "moralizing sermons" which basically reproach rather than
build people up, and sermons that complain about "disorder in the
world," are not very helpful, she said. Heine also criticized
dogmatic and exegetical preaching which uses "theological insider
vocabulary" without interpreting it for outsiders.

Local churches can contribute to healing, Heine said, if they are
places where people can experience God's love for humankind. This
calls for being honest about ourselves. Any outsider can
immediately tell whether we are just talking about high moral
values, or actually living them out; it is on this that the
attractiveness of churches depends, she stressed. Honest
self-appraisal protects us from asking too much of ourselves,
makes growth possible and is particularly effective in
relationships between women and men, she observed.

Heine said she also sees the need for action with regard to
pastoral care. People who come for pastoral care today are more
concerned with their own individual path in life, and are not
prepared to just listen to good advice. So pastoral care, she
believes, requires "first of all, professional reserve in asking
and listening without offering false consolation that minimizes a
crisis and belittles pain."

"We have our own context to offer, a house, a community where
people are bound together by a greater word of comfort and a
deeper transformation," said Heine, and stressed that the basis
for this word of comfort is the Lutheran doctrine of
justification, which tells people, "You are justified in being. It
is good that you exist." Whoever can believe this, she concluded,
experiences healing.

The LWF European PAC is the second of five regional meetings being
held in the run-up to the LWF Tenth Assembly, to discuss the
Assembly theme and content from the perspectives of the various
regions. About 1,000 participants are expected at the event in
Winnipeg, including 436 delegates from the 136 LWF member
churches. The Assembly is the LWF's highest decision-making body,
and is normally held every six years.

(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the
Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund (Sweden), the LWF now
has 136 member churches in 76 countries representing over 61.7
million of the 65.4 million Lutherans worldwide. The LWF acts on
behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as
ecumenical relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human
rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and
development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva,

[Lutheran World Information (LWI) is LWF's information service.
Unless specifically noted, material presented does not represent
positions or opinions of the LWF or of its various units. Where
the dateline of an article contains the notation (LWI), the
material may be freely reproduced with acknowledgment.]

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English Editor: Pauline Mumia
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