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Missionary Spotlight-Evangelicalism in Austria today

January 2003 | by Chris Pegington

Churches in Austria that hold to the great historic Reformed confessions are almost non-existent. The Lutheran (Evangel-isch) Church has a number of born-again pastors, but is mainly liberal in theology and ecumenically involved with the Roman Catholic Church.

Missionary churches

Independent Evangelical churches are more numerous than 20 years ago, but most are first-generation. Only a few second generation churches have attained sufficient maturity to consider appointing their own leaders.

Nearly all bear doctrinal marks that reflect the particular persuasions of the missionaries who founded them. Most of the independent churches hold to the infallibility of Scripture and practise believer’s baptism.

Hence there are in Austria Mennonite, Brethren and Baptist churches of varying Arminian complexions. These churches are small and the whole Evangelical community is tiny compared to the population.

Having said that, blatantly decisionistic evangelism goes against Austrian character – Austrians are largely non-committal whenever possible!

While Charismatic influences are present, the official Evangelical bodies have so far distanced themselves from Charismatic teaching.

There is a little Reformed literature available. Some comes into Austria from Germany, produced by Wartburg Publishing mainly as translations from English works.

The Creationist movement is also influential in Germany and Austria.

Carinthia

We are working as a missionary family, in the province of Carinthia in the south of Austria.

In our area, the Reformation was initially successful. Up to 90% professed ‘the new faith’. But the Counter-Reformation that followed was almost completely successful.

Our valley is 40 miles long, with a population of about 15,000. It has been nearly 100% Roman Catholic for 400 years – indeed, up to a generation ago, it had no Evangelical witness.

However, gospel preaching started in its villages and larger communities 30 years ago, beginning with tent missions, children’s meetings and house Bible studies.

Then, about 16 years ago, a missionary moved to Brückl and began systematic door-to-door work. Gradually, a number of people professed faith in Christ (sadly, some who did so have since fallen away).

About 8 years ago a small Evangelical church was formed in our valley and 2 years later the pioneer missionary moved on to another unevangelised area.

But the church was left without adequate oversight, and internal tensions led to a split. Seven of its members went to an extreme Charismatic group about 10 miles away, and others left for other reasons.

We arrived 3 years ago, when there were just 13 members left, this being our second spell as missionaries in Austria.

Growth

We were holding Sunday services below our flat in St Michael (a village 5 miles from Brückl), but recently the Lord has opened the way for us to meet in the centre of Brückl itself.

Our average attendance has actually grown by 4! Today we get about 20 adults and teenagers and a dozen small children.

The increased numbers are particularly encouraging, as we have known times when no one new has come for months on end. Nor is there any other Protestant witness in the valley.

The nearest Evangelical churches are 12 miles to the west in St Veit, 15 miles south in Klagenfurt, and 15 miles south-east in Goesselsdorf.

Brückl has about 2,000 inhabitants and is the main community of our valley for administration and shopping.

Our meeting place is opposite the town hall, by the local Spar supermarket!

Vacuum

Over the 18 years since we came to Austria, we have observed a decline in the influence of the Roman Catholic Church – down from over 90% of the population to 75% today.

Avoidance of church tax may account for some of this decrease (why pay for a church you hardly ever attend?). Adverse publicity concerning Roman Catholic financial and moral scandals has also influenced many.

However, those who have left Catholicism have not gone on to seek the truth. Instead, they have lapsed into ‘modern paganism’, adopting the materialistic, hedonistic life-style, typical of today’s Western civilisation.

There is a greater openness to the gospel among the young people compared to the earlier days, and there is less fear of sects in some areas than before.

But the popular move away from official religion has not resulted in a new willingness to consider the gospel. Rather, the trend is towards New Age thinking.

Needs

God is at work in Austria but much needs to be done. The percentage of Evangelicals is very low. Most churches are still missionary-led. And if the pastors are Austrian, they are usually supported by missionary money.

We need to pray for revival, and for God to raise up a new generation of Austrians, teaching the biblical gospel and willing to make the sacrifices necessary if they are to lead their churches through this new millennium.

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Austria