Switzerland has had some bad headlines of late. Its ambivalent attitude towards Europe and, until recently, the United Nations, and its secretive banking system (not always funded by reputable sources), have attracted negative comment.
Then there was Swissair’s bankruptcy. Maybe it is not all chocolate, yodelling and Alpine mountain scenes!
Spiritually, Switzerland’s past is well known, especially in the English-speaking world, where the Reformers Zwingli and Calvin are often referred to. But what impact does reformation teaching have in Switzerland today?
Switzerland’s Reformation emanated mainly from the ministry of Zwingli in Zürich and Luther in Bern.
Calvin’s influence in Geneva was confined to the French-speaking parts, and was relatively small, while central and northern Switzerland remained largely Roman Catholic.
By the end of the eighteenth century, official Reformed Protestantism (the Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirche) had declined spiritually, being strongly affected by liberal theology.
As a result, Bible fellowships had sprung up within it to meet the needs of the few remaining, faithful Bible-believers.
Nonconformist churches were formed. These included churches for the Methodists, Salvation Army, Brethren and Chrischona movement (which has its own Bible school near Basel). And in the second half of the nineteenth century many free evangelical churches were founded.
Today, the Protestant churches are spiritually weak or dead. The Roman Catholics, found mainly in the central and southern mountainous areas and belonging to closely knit communities, are not easily reached by the gospel.
The free churches have been influenced by the Charismatic movement, which attracts young people to itself from other churches.
Most of the Evangelical churches are situated in the German part of Switzerland, especially in the Bern and Aargau cantons. There are some Evangelicals in French-speaking Switzerland too.
A few of the churches are reaching out evangelistically into other areas, often through door-to-door distribution of Bible text calendars. Progress has been slow, but there has been a steady growth in the number of believers.
Converts often face a difficult stand for the Lord within their families and communities, who tend to view them as members of heretical sects.
Swiss society is materialistic and hedonistic, pursuing money, careers and self-realisation. It is a spiritual vacuum. Many try to fill the aching void with pleasure, and there is an increasing openness to the occult.
Sadly, much of the ‘Christian’ world places greater emphasis on pleasurable experiences than on sound biblical teaching.
Over 20% of the Swiss population are immigrants. While some efforts are being made to reach these, more could be done. Local churches must try to reach across the challenging linguistic and cultural barriers.
There are several good Christian publishing houses in Switzerland, and Christian books are also imported from Germany.
Christian magazines and Christian Sunday TV and radio programmes are influential among believers, but there is always the danger that their message will be downplayed in the interests of popularity.
In spite of many problems, Swiss Evangelical churches do manifest many positive characteristics. One of them is a clear concern to pray. We are asking God, in his wonderful grace, to send a new awakening among the churches, to deepen their fellowship and give them a new vision for the salvation of the lost.
Should you ever visit Switzerland, see if you can find some local believers. They will be encouraged by the opportunity to fellowship with English-speaking Christians.
Should you ever stay near Interlaken, you are most welcome to join our own church’s English services. For more information see the ET Holiday Church Guide, or contact us at [email protected]