Mennonitische Freikirche Österreich

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Austria is predominantly Catholic but there is a growing presence of Evangelical groups. [3] The Mennonite Free Church of Austria is one of five churches that make up the Free Church in Austria (Freikirchen in Osterreich or FKO). [9] The other four churches in this group are the Baptist Union, the Federation of Evangelical Communities, Elaea Christian Communities, and Free Christian Community, and the Pentecostal Church. There are 160 Free Church communities in all of the provinces of Austria. [2]

History

Origins

Since 1953 there have been Mennonites in Austria. American missionaries came to Austria after World War II to bring material and spiritual relief to the people. As a result of this mission work there were several church plantings starting in Linz, Steyr, and Wels and spreading to Salzburg, Vienna Penzing, Liezen, Gmunden, Linz-Urfahr… Today there are about 600 Christians who meet in Mennonite churches in Austria. [10]


Timeline

Early 1500s During the protestant reformation up to two-thirds of the Austrian population sympathized with the new ideas. Many Anabaptist, however, suffered for their beliefs as a result of the Counter Reformation under the leadership of Emperor Ferdinand II. He brutally enforced Catholicism on the country and Anabaptists were imprisoned and threatened with death for their beliefs. As a result of this, thousands of Protestants and Anabaptists fled to other countries or reverted back to Catholicism. There were very few Protestants that remained in Austria despite the persecution and hardships but they continued to meet in secret for the next 200 years. [2][3]
1951 After World War II, North American churches sent relief ministry workers to Austria. MCC relief started with rehabilitation and reconstruction work in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. The Mennonite Brethren Missionaries followed up on MCC relief work by helping to establish new congregations of believers, many of whom were refugees. [2]
1953 Two missionary Families Gossen and John and Martha Vogt chose Linz as the place to begin their work among the refugee camps. Together with Abe and Irene Neufeld they initially provided refugees with material aid but then began to preach the gospel message. [2]
1955 The first Mennonite Brethren congregation in Austria was founded. It was located in Linz and initially met in the home of the Neufelds but later was moved to a local restaurant where they would hold Bible studies. [2]
1958 A second congregation was formed in Neustadt where George H. and Marianne Jantzen worked. [1] During this same time Henry K. Warkentins of Reedley, CA came to Steyr showing evangelistic films. He bought an old house and remodeled it. This became their first church building. The presence of an actual building helped to increase their numbers. [2]
1960 Helmut and Doris Funck went to Vienna on behalf of the Swiss Mennonite Evangelism Committee and directed a small congregation there for eleven years. [2]
1962 From the time the first church was formed there was expressed desire to form an Austrian conference of churches that would meet as a national body. The first step towards this was the formation of a union to look after the legal rights and privileges of the larger church body. [2]
1966 Helmut Funck from Vienna and Lawrence and Selma Warkentin from Wels regularly held services in Salzburg and up to twenty people attended. [2] Leadership of this congregation was soon transferred to the first national pastor among the European MB church plants and the Warkentins moved on to another location. During this same time the first conference was established and called the Arbeitsgameinschaft Mennonitischer Bruedergemeinden in Deutschland. [6]
1968 The churches in Linz, Wels and Steyr united to form a conference known as the Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches of Austria (AMBO). [2]
1969 The small church in Vienna joined the Mennonite Brethren churches. [2]
1970s Church in Gmunden began as a result of Helmut Funck (pastor of the Steyr church) forming Bible study circles in the town. [2]
1975-1980 The AMBO conducted a two-year Bible school that began in Linz and then moved to Traun. Due to low student enrolment, lack of teaching staff, and a shortage of funding, the school was closed. They still wanted to support a school so in 1988-1993 they helped to partially finance a full-time Austrian teacher named Franz Rathmair in a school in Ampflwang. [2]
1979 Church in Vienna disbanded due to some serious crisis. Most members joined the independent Tulpengasse congregation formed by the Neufelds. [2]
1988 The Tulpengasse sister congregation, Hietzing, joined the Mennonite Brethren Conference. [2]
1990 A new church building was constructed and by 1991 the congregation had 66 members and was operating as a financially independent church. [2]
1989-1990 Anne and Rudy Boschman came to Viena from Canada to work with the church in Hietzing.
1991 AMBO started to investigate what it would take to be legally recognized by the Austrian state. The existing law for new churches dates back to 1874 and was constituted in such a way that hindered the formation of new religious organizations. State recognition would bring opportunities such as access to radio broadcasting and TV and newspaper advertising. But many churches did not want to approach the government and were content with the existing constitution. So the investigation was put to the side. [2]
1992 The church had been known up to this point as the Mennonitische Brudergemeinde (Mennonite Brethren Church) but it changed its name to the Mennonitische Freikirche (Mennonite Free Church) [2]
1998 A new law regulating state registration of smaller religious confessional groups was enacted. As a result, the Free Church of Austria gained recognition as a state registered confessional community. This permitted the church to conduct their own religious services and have church buildings. While they were now legally allowed to do this the intolerance toward non-Catholics was still deeply ingrained and many Austrians regard members of the Protestant Free Church with skepticism. [2]
2005 There were six congregations who were a part of the Mennonitische Freikirche Osterreich (Mennonite Free Churches of Austria) [1]
2006 Mennonite Free Church of Vienna purchased and remodeled a new building. It was dedicated the following year in 2007 [2]
2013 The Mennonite Free Church of Austria was legally recognized as a church by decree of the Educational Ministry of Culture as a part of the religious society of “free churches in Austria.” [3]
2014 Pastor Roger Nufer began his service to the Mennonite Free Church. He is Swiss and comes from a background with the Evangelical Free Church .”

Identification within the Anabaptist-Mennonite Tradition

Because this church was founded in Austria, a country where there had been no historical Mennonite presence, some questions of identity have been raised. Are these churches Mennonite? And if so, how are they to relate to other European Mennonite Churches? Are the newly planted Mennonite Free Churches evangelical or generic “free” churches, without a specific Anabaptist identity? [1] There are a lot of questions but the Christians in these churches have identified themselves as Mennonites and indeed they do share many beliefs with the larger Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. [7]

Main Beliefs

Man is by nature separated from God. What this means is that humans are naturally sinners and judgment awaits all people. Without this fundamental truth there would be no “good news.” The Gospel message rests on this basic principle. [7][8]

God created man and loves him so God therefore has found a way of reconciliation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). It is not always easy for people to accept that God sacrificed his son for the sins of the world but it must be realized that human sins is not going to just disappear. The fact that God was willing to sacrifice his son for mankind is a testament to his great love for humans. [7][8]

That there is no forgiveness of sins without turning to Christ. Forgiveness of sins is not a result of performing a ritual or being prayed over. Forgiveness of sins comes through a personal commitment and relationship with Jesus Christ. [7][8]

The proclamation of the Gospel is the primary concern of the community. As Christians we believe that the Bible is God’s word. Sharing this message with others is too important to comply with any proclamation bans or public attacks in the media. The Gospel is the truth and the only way and we want to share it with others. [8]

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and is alive and will return again in a visible way bringing the global community of Jesus to himself and he will rule the world. His coming will be in the future on a date that we do not know. We accept that we as people are not perfect but we still strive to live ethical and moral lives based on what the Bible teaches until his return. [7][8]

The Free Church

The Free Church was initially formed as one that was not associated with the government. There are three main qualifiers that distinguish it as a free church.

 1.	They strive to maintain independence from secular and governmental structures. They do organize under the state laws so long as they do not
        “deviate from the moral and ethical principles of Scripture.” [8]
 2.	Part of being in the church means that an individual is willing and open to using their God-given gifts for the benefit of the whole community. [8]
 3.	People are only accepted into the church as members upon testimony and baptism by faith that they have died and risen with Christ to a new life 
        (Romans 6:4). [8]

Present Challenges

Some of the challenges that the Mennonite Brethren Free Church of Austria is facing today include the following:

Legal recognition

Some voices have brought before the church the idea of trying to be recognized on the basis of the old law of 1874 which is still in force. While they have received some privileges since becoming a recognized confessional community they are still not recognized on the terms of the old law of 1874. They feel they should not have to settle for this lesser recognition. Why not try to be recognized and raise the issue? Looking at this issue more realistically, however, it is acknowledged that the possibility of success is marginal. Having said this there have also been some recent developments that show signs of hope. [2]

Managing conflict

As is the case with most any group of people or Christian bodies, there is always conflict that will arise from within the group. This of course is a constant challenge of knowing how to managing internal tensions and conflicts arising in the Mennonite Brethren churches. [2]

Leadership

There has been some difficulty in recruiting congregational leaders. This is especially true in the leadership of a pastor. This is in part a result of the fact that the majority of churches do not have paid pastoral leadership. Leaders are often overwhelmed by the work of managing a full-time job, family, and the church. [2]

Role of Women in the Church

Defining the role of women in the church. Women have always been a part of the church from the very beginning. Today women are active members of the church and can be seen participating in a variety of roles. Rarely, however, are they seen in preaching or teaching ministry roles. It is not that it is not allowed but it is the exception and not the rule. [2]

Relationship to the Charismatic Movement

Discerning their relationship to the charismatic movement. Within the conference there have been some churches that have been influenced by the charismatic movement, while others have cautioned against or even resisted its influence. [2]

Growth

After more than fifty years of strong growth, the church’s growth has plateaued. They continue to long for growth but they need a strong vision and creative ways to serve in a very materialistic society that is steeped in centuries of traditional Roman Catholic religion. [2]

Big Questions

Many churches are asking big questions such as:

- Why is the church not more visible in serving the society in which God has placed it?

- Would our church be missed if it suddenly ceased to exist? [2]

Key Individuals in the Life of the Church

  • Reinhard Kummer is the Moderator of ICOMB
  • Peter Brandes is the Executive Director of ICOMB
  • Timm Smutny is a Pastor at Castle Park Mennonite Free Church Austria (Gemeinda am Schlosspark) [4]
  • Walter Klimt is the Chairman of the Council of the free churches in Austria [3]
  • Edwin Jung is the Deputy Chairman of Council of the Free Churches in Austria [3]
  • Sepp Enzenberger is a specialist in Austrian Anabaptism

Electronic Resources


Annotated Bibliography

1. Baecher, C., Blough, N., Fehr, J., Hoekema, A. Jecker, H., Klassen, J., Lichdi, D., Straten, E., Verbeek, A. (2000). Testing faith and tradition, Europe: A global Mennonite history. Kitchener: Pandora Press.

2. Dueck, A. (2010). The Mennonite Brethren church around the world: Celebrating 150 years. Ontario: Pandora Press.

3. The “free churches in Austria” imagine. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.freikirchen.at/

4. Gemeinde am Schlosspark (2014)Retrieved from http://www.gemeinde-am-schlosspark.at/

5. The Genealogical Evening: Naturwissenschaftlicher and historical society for the country Lippe (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nhv-ahnenforschung.de/Torbogen/Orte/sabbenhausen.htm

6. Jost, L. & Faber, C. (2002) Family matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. Winnipeg:Kindred Productions.

7. Mennonitische Freikirche Gmunden (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.mf-gmunden.at/Home

8. Mennonitische Freikirche Osterreich (2014). Retrieved from http://www.mennoniten.at/?page_id=935

9. Mennonitische Freikirche Wien (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ssl.edvk.at/mfw/kontakt

10. Mennonitische Freikirche Wels (2010). Retrieved from http://www.mfwels.at/gemeinde/

11. Osterreichischer Freikirchen-Atlas (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.freikirchenatlas.at/frka/liste/?bund=MFK