Understanding Church and State in Germany

Bill Sundstrom

To grasp what God is doing in Germany, it helps to understand the church structure, comprised of the state church and the free church. A free church is a Protestant group -- such as Baptist, Pentecostal or Methodist -- not officially supported by the government.

However, when most Germans think church, they think state church, with its ancient cathedrals and centuries of tradition.

The state church (both Catholic and Protestant) is endorsed by the German government. A person's religion is recorded on his birth certificate. Upon entering school, the child's church affiliation is declared so he can attend the appropriate religion class -- Lutheran or Catholic.

Eight percent of an adult's income tax supports the state church. To avoid this tax, Germans must fill out paperwork declaring their intention to leave the church, forfeiting the right to be married and buried by the church.

"Many of my colleagues in the state church have liberal theology and discount the value of prayer," says Rev. Axel Nehlsen, a Protestant state-church pastor for 25 years. "So they don't evangelize, and the Great Commission is not a priority for them."

Nearly 65 percent of Germans belong to the state church and only 1 percent belong to the free churches. In the formerly Communist eastern part of the country and in Berlin, only 35 percent align themselves with any Christian denomination.

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