The recent admission of evangelical churches into France’s mainstream Protestant federation shows the new influence of evangelicalism in the country.
On March 11, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in France became a full member of the mainstream French Protestant Federation (FPF). At the same time, one Evangelical and three Pentecostal/Charismatic groups (including the Foursquare Gospel Church) were accepted as members as well. Adventist official Ulrich Frikart, President of the SDA Eurafrican Division, has welcomed the move, which he does not see as a way to give up SDA peculiarities, but rather to provide it with new possibilities for witnessing and added legitimacy in a country where suspicions against “cults” (and sometimes religions in general) remain strong.
President Frikart took care to note that SDA Churches in Spain and Italy have already been involved for years in similar arrangements “without negative consequences.” He added that the SDA Church continues to rule out any membership into the World Council of Churches, according to the Bulletin d’Information Adventiste (April 2).
Beside the meaning of the move for the SDA and other new members of the FPF, it is an indication of change in the French Protestant landscape, writes Henrik Lindell in the French progressive Catholic weeklyTemoignage Chretien (March 23). It is a not a matter of numbers, since the newly-accepted groups only gather some 20,000 members, out of a total of 900,000 Protestants represented in the FPF. But it is one more sign of the growing role of evangelicals and related currents within French Protestantism.
They bring fresh blood into a graying mainstream Protestantism. On the other hand, according to Lindell, mainstream Protestants see such groups as culturally and theologically removed far from them, but also feel it is better to attempt to integrate them rather than to exclude them. Apparently, positive experiences already with Gypsy and African churches have reinforced such feelings and helped French Protestants to gain new insights into contemporary society.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer