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Ökumenik, Konfessionskunde


Klaiber, Walter [Hrsg.]


Methodistische Kirchen. Die Kirchen der Gegenwart 2.


Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2011. 330 S. = Bensheimer Hefte, 111. Kart. EUR 24,95. ISBN 978-3-525-87202-4.


Mark A. Noll

The Methodist movement began in England in the 1720s and 1730s as an effort by young Anglican ministers, with John and Charles Wesley in the lead, to revive their church by promoting what they called »true religion«. Within little more than fifty years, distinct Methodist denominations, separate from the Church of England, had emerged in both the United Kingdom and the new United States. Within another half century, the Methodists had become the largest denominational family in the United States and leaders among the non-Anglican denominations in Britain. Methodistische Kirchen, edited by Walter Klaiber, a bishop of Germany’s Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche, is the second volume in the Bensheimer Hefte series Die Kirchen der Gegenwart. Its authors provide inform­ative capsule accounts of that early Methodist history, with special attention to the theological and practical emphases of John Wesley: »vor allem die Begriffe Rechtfertigung, neue Geburt und Heiligung […] im Zusammenhang der biblischen Überlieferung als ganzer zu interpretieren« (59). Reliable brief histories summarize the course of Methodism in Britain, the United States, and also the continent of Europe where small but enduring Methodist churches have exis­ted from early in the nineteenth century. The greatest contribution of this wide-ranging book, however, is its authoritative account of how Methodism has become a genuinely global Christian movement. For this family of churches that globalization now means that about one-third of Methodists live in Africa, about one-third in North America, and one-third elsewhere – with Methodists numbering over one million in Nigeria, Demokratische Republik Kongo (the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Sambia (Zambia), Südafrika (South Africa), and Korea; and with more Methodists in each of Chile, Sierra Leone, Elfenbeinküste (Cote d’Ivoire), Ghana, and Kenia (Kenya) than in the United Kingdom (where there is a current membership of slightly under 300.000).
Americans and Britons should welcome the editor’s detailed chapter on Methodist history in Germany, where Methodist movements arising from England and America finally united in 1968 (with the annual conference of 1992 the first to gather Methodists from the former DDR alongside those in the West); where the hymns of Paul Gerhardt are as widely used as translations of Charles Wesley’s hymns; and where the church’s 33.000 members (plus 24.000 Kirchenangehörige) now include several congregations of immigrants from Ghana. Those not familiar with American history will benefit from learning about the lingering effects of a schism from 1844 when the Methodist Episcopal Church South broke away from the Me­-thodist Episcopal Church over the issue of slavery; the significant contributions of African American churches to denominational and national history; and the emergence of the Kirche des Nazareners (Church of the Nazarene) and others that have stressed the Wesleys’ teaching on holiness and Christian perfection (Vollkommenheit).
For most readers, however, the most illuminating chapters will probably be the profiles of newer Methodist churches in Brasilien (162.000 active members of Igreja Metodista plus 63.000 of the Kirche des Nazareners), Ghana (Methodist Church 800.000 plus African Methodist Episcopal Church Zion 96.000), Kongo (United Method­ist Church 1.200.000 plus Free Methodist Church 143.000), Malaysia (157.000 Methodists) and Singapur (32.000 Methodists), Philippines (United Methodist Church 201.000 plus 500.000 in United Church of Christ, which grew out of missionary efforts of America’s Evangel­-ical United Brethren, a Methodist movement originally among German immigrants), and Australien (where Methodists contri­but­ed significantly to the Uniting Church of Australia that was formed in 1977 and now has 240.000 members). Each of these pro­-files is done well, with the Australian account representing a number of Methodist churches that have played a central role in form­ing regional or national union churches, including also Canada, North and South India, and Pakistan. Perhaps the only major criticism that might be made of the book as a whole is that the profiles do not include the Methodists of Chile, where the Iglesia Metodista Pentecostal de Chile with 800.000 members has been the world’s most notable example of a Wesleyan church fully embracing the modern Pentecostal movement, and Korea, where more than 2.000.000 Methodists have experienced an eventful national history including huge mega-churches, complicated entanglements with government, and vigorous missionary activity outside of Korea.
Multiple insights from the profiles that are included more than compensate for any disappointment over what could not be cover­ed. It is significant, for example, that despite the increasing diver­-sity in world-wide Methodism, these churches still are structured by connectional systems, where local churches gather in regional and national conferences to coordinate church business, and still usually maintain some meaningful continuity with John Wesley’s teaching. The Methodist Church Ghana, for example, defines its mission in words taken directly from Wesley: »schriftgemäße Heiligung über das Land zu verbreiten« (224).
Another significant finding reveals a systematic difference be-tween churches started by British missionaries and those begun by Americans. The former gained autonomous status earlier and have tended to be very active ecumenically; the latter became autonomous later and have often remained in formal relationship as annual conferences within the U. S.’s United Methodist Church.
The missionary founding of almost all non-Western Methodist churches is obvious, but a telling fact underscored in several of the profiles is the crucial role of native evangelists in initial church development and later church leadership. An example of significant indigenous leadership was Pastor John Wesley Shungo who in 1952 became a delegate to the Congo’s Methodist annual confer­-ence and then played a key part in leading Congolese Methodists through political and ecclesiastical independence as »Leiter der Bi­belschule, Pastor einer Kirche auf einer Missionsstation, Professor an der Bibelschule, gesetzlicher Vertreter der Kirche, Vorsitzender der Missionskomitees, Verwaltungsassistent für den Bischof, Mitglied der Kommission für die Bibelübersetzung und Konferenzschatzmeister« (250).
The country profiles also contain much to ponder concerning contextualization, how Methodists have approached the crucially important task of embodying Wesleyan traditions within local cultures. In Brazil’s fast-growing Methodist Church it appears as if norms of local culture are overwhelming that heritage, since the example of Neo-Pentecostal churches, featuring the Prosperity Gospel and presenting Sunday worship as mere entertainment, seems stronger than anything explicitly Wesleyan. By contrast, in Ghana, the Wesleyan themes seem to have been translated productively, with mostly traditional liturgies adding rites that reflect local concerns for name-giving and weddings, and with worship services that are rooted in Wesley but communicate effectively in Ghana: »Sie sind durch spontanes Beten, afrikanische Musik, rhythmisches Tanzen und allgemeine Fröhlickeit gekennzeichnet.« (231)
The great success of this volume whets the appetite for more such insight to come from the books in the series »Die Kirchen der Gegenwart«.