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Paul Löffler

Tribute Letter for Paul Löffler, German missiologist and ecumenical pioneer.

06 October 2010

Geneva, 06 October 2010

It is with great sadness that WCC received the news of the passing away of Rev. Dr Paul Löffler, the German missiologist and ecumenical pioneer, on 26 September 2010 in Lauenburg, Germany.  He was 79 years old.

Paul Löffler was born in 1931 and after having studied theology in Marburg, Cologne, Bonn and at Chesnut College in Cambridge, he worked for several years as Director of Studies in Mission Academy at the University of Hamburg, Germany, under Prof. Walter Freytag. In October 1960 he was released from his ministry in Geisenhein/Rhein in the Evangelical Church in Hessen Nassau by the then church president, Martin Niemöller, to serve as Executive Secretary at the Research Department of the International Missionary Council (IMC) in London under Lesslie Newbigin.

Löffler became quickly involved in the famous IMC study on “The Layman Abroad in the Mission of the Church” and was responsible for transferring the IMC office in London to the World Council of Churches’ Division of Mission and Evangelism (DWME) in Geneva.  Paul Löffler’s work in the WCC was related to most of the important study processes in the ecumenical debate on mission in the 1960s and 1970s. He was involved in the debate on mission and secularization (“Secular Man and Christian Mission”) as well as the study on the missionary structure of the local congregation.  Löffler was the key person behind the important study project of the international missionary movement  on “Conversation in the Ecumenical Context” and its culminating study report during the WCC Uppsala assembly 1968 ”The Biblical Concept of Conversation” (published in the assembly preparatory volume) bears his name and handwriting.  He also paved the way for the commission on Urban and Industrial Mission and the later UIM work in the WCC.  Working very closely with Philip Potter, then Director of the Department World Mission and Evangelism, the whole debate on the understanding of mission in this decisive period of ecumenical history was shaped significantly by Paul Löffler.  Many of the themes he worked on are of crucial importance for the ecumenical movement today and the wider dialogue on the understanding of mission.

In 1969 he left the WCC and resumed a professorship at the Near East School of Theology (NEST) in Beirut, where among others Aram Keshishian, later to become Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church See of Cilicia, was one of his students.  In the Lebanon he was strongly involved in the work for Palestinian refugees and in the Muslim Christian Dialogue. The interest and commitment to Christian Churches in the Middle East remained a constant dimension in his theological work also in many later years, both as the Director of the office for Mission and Ecumenical Affairs in the Church of Hessen-Nassau (1985-1995) as well as in close collaboration with Christian mission agencies, particularly with EMW in Hamburg in later years and as the chairperson of the German - Palestine Association.

Many younger missiologists were inspired by his vision, his untiring commitment and his ecumenical perspectives in missology. As the ecumenical movement looks forward to the 50 years’ commemoration of the integration of IMC and WCC in New Dehli in 2011 next year I am pleased to honour Paul Löffler’s outstanding witness which has made a significant mark on the global missionary movement and fellowship of Christian churches.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary