Lutheran Has a Gloomy View of Protestantism's Future

By Lefevere, Patricia | National Catholic Reporter, May 27, 1994 | Go to article overview

Lutheran Has a Gloomy View of Protestantism's Future


Lefevere, Patricia, National Catholic Reporter


NEW YORK -- A leading ecumenical theologian, who is also a close friend of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is gloomy about the future of mainline Protestant churches whose faith and identity he finds "wavering."

The adaptation of certain of these churches to secularism -- especially over the issues of homosexuality and radical feminism -- make them unlikely partners for further ecumenism with Rome, said Professor Wolfhart Pannenberg, a Lutheran who teaches ecumenical and systematic theology at the University of Munich.

In a worst-case scenario, Pannenberg predicted that the only surviving ecclesial communities in the beginning of the third millennium will be Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant evangelical churches unless mainline Protestant churches stop "surrendering the substance of the Christian faith."

Pannenberg, who has authored major theological works and been a part of the Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialogue for four decades, recently completed a three-week lecture tour of Ottawa, Boston and New York. He spoke to more than 600 people -- many of them Catholic priests -- at St. Peter's Lutheran Church here May 11 and held two workshops on May 12. The trip was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, which is headed by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, a former Lutheran minister and conservative social commentator.

In an interview with NCR, Pannenberg said he was disappointed that Protestant churches have been unable to provide a clear alternative to the "spiritual emptiness of modem society." The resurgence of interest in religion is being met, he said, with a decline in membership of the mainline churches.

Conversely, the growth experienced. among conservative churches is an indication that there churches "seem to offer a clear alternative to secular life."

Pannenberg, 65, said it was not inevitable that Anglican and Reform churches would succumb to "the attractions of secularism," but he added that "to the degree that they do, they lose their Christian authenticity and become less attractive ecumenical partners for Roman Catholics. …

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