Thursday, February 18, 2016

A New Chance for Germany?

A Church for Others?

On Wednesday, February 3, 2016, I witnessed over 160 church leaders meet at the Matthäus Church in Frankfurt, Germany to discuss the new challenge facing the German church. Over one million refugees have streamed into Germany. With a population of 80 million, this means one out of every 80 people is now a refugee! This statistic will change the face of Germany forever. We will all be affected in some form or another. But the challenge that lies ahead for the German church is immense. Stephen Beck, pastor, church-planter and professor at the FTH (Freie Theologische Hochschule) gave an inspiring speech at the conference. “Today, we are making history! Today, we are walking in the footsteps of Bonhoeffer and the confessing church whose motto it was that the church must always be the church for others.” [1]
In 1934 the German church was restructured and the Frankfurt churches received a new bishop who was a member of the German Church, a puppet of the Nazi party. The church’s theology was changed to exclude the Old Testament and Jesus’ Jewishness and excluded non-German members. The former pastor of the Matthäus Church, Karl Veidt, and member of the confessing church like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, had been arrested on and off and tortured by the Gestapo. Eventually, he was given a speaking ban and experienced the bombing of his church and the destruction of Frankfurt.

Stephen, in his talk, explained God’s mission of redemption through the lens of the foreigner, starting with Abraham, a Gentile called by God to be the recipient of the promise and Covenant, to Moses and God’s love and provision for the foreigner.[2] He then moved on to the prophets and how they foretold that one day God’s Spirit would reach all nations. Ezekiel describes the living water flowing from the temple to the ends of the earth bringing life wherever it flowed[3]. One day the whole earth would be filled with God’s glory![4] But the full knowledge of the Lord was revealed in Christ, who left his heavenly home to be a foreigner on earth, rejected by his own people and died so salvation could go out to all tribes and nations.

I would add that God’s Kingdom continued to expand after Pentecost, when foreigners heard the message of the gospel in their own language and through their travels brought it to distant places. The mission Christ gave to his followers was to go into all the world proclaiming his message. His word will continue to bear fruit to the ends of the earth until Christ comes back in the fullness of time. Then, on that day, all of God’s people will stand before his throne:

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev 5:9 ESV).

God’s Tidal Wave

This biblical theological understanding has huge implications for how we view the foreigners in our midst. Do we see them as a problem? A crisis? Or is this the church’s opportunity to love her neighbors and extend the message of the gospel to them?
Much fear surrounds the issue of refugees in Germany. Will they bring terrorism with them? Will they destroy German culture? Will they integrate? For sure, the answer to these questions is not easy to find. Regardless of political views, however, how we treat the people once they are here is paramount. In God’s Kingdom, fear is never to be the driving force. The driving force is the power of the gospel. But what about the religious fanatics? We are forgetting that religious fanaticism has never been a problem for God. The Apostle Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, had himself been a religious fanatic, persecuting and killing Christians. God alone was able to reach him, by revealing himself to him directly and stripping him of his previous life and animosity towards Christ and his followers. Sometimes God uses those who were most violently opposed to him to be his most powerful servants. 

This Paul preached the following at the Aeropagus:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us (Act 17:24-27 ESV).

Paul believed that God is the mover of peoples, that God is sovereign over history and appoints boundaries and dwelling places. Our world is in flux and God is moving people en masse. For what purpose might one ask? The answer is clear: God moves people so that they may find him! God has promised to extend his glory to the ends of the earth. But how will he do that? Through his Spirit-filled image-bearers!


From Curse to Blessing

God is doing a new thing! Germans and German Christians in particular have always felt great shame about the past. Germany had been a curse to the nations through her systematized murderous plan to annihilate anyone who did not fit the Aryan bill. Tammie Matlack recalls that German intercessors have been praying for years that God would allow Germany to bless the nations once more, for a chance to reverse the curse. In 1989 the wall that separated East and West Germans fell, creating a new, united Germany. Christians knew full well that this bloodless revolution was a gift from God wrought through prayer. The wall of separation fell. We all thought that God would bring about a revival so great that Germany would become a blessing to the nations by sending out thousands of missionaries to the ends of the earth. This never happened…But little did we know that God had a much better plan up his sleeve, namely to bring the nations to Germany for healing. 

People from all over the world are flooding to Germany from places that cannot normally be reached for the Gospel. Now these people are free to explore the Christian faith without repercussions. We are already hearing testimonies of men, women and children finding the Lord Jesus after being disillusioned with their religion. Some have seen horrors and are turning their backs on their religious upbringing when they experience the love of Christ through Christians at refugee camps. Some are having revelations of Jesus in their dreams. Others are eager to study what the Bible has to say. This past weekend some teammates and I heard testimonies of people of Islamic background wanting to become followers of Jesus after only 3 meetings of Bible study! God is doing an amazing work of blessing in this country right now and our MTW teams are eager to be a part of what God is doing.

All of our little church-planting projects are asking similar questions. What will this mean for our churches? How do we convince our people that we have a calling and an opportunity here? Does it mean every church-plant needs to have refugees as a target group? How do we get to know and reach refugees with God’s love? What is it that the church can offer specifically that the government can’t? How can we deal with the massive logistical challenges such as language barriers, funding, or helping them with their multi-faceted needs? What about the German friends to whom we also want to be faithful?  Can we adapt? Redouble our prayer efforts? Set aside other agendas?  We are hearing that time is a key factor in reaching refugees. Are we willing to sacrifice big amounts of time to build new relationships? 

In spite of all these questions, one thing is sure. The face of Germany (and in Europe at large!) is changing forever. In Germany, this is our new reality. God has moved a mass of people to live within our borders. We can either stand on the shore of disbelief, incredulity and stay paralyzed with fear, or we can hop on the tidal wave God has created and see how far it will carry us! We can either cower and refuse to face this reality or we can move out boldly, confident that our sovereign Lord has prepared these times, his sheep and the good works we are to walk in. He is about to bring in a new harvest of Christ-followers who will have the ability to turn this world on its head. Is it scary? Yes! Will it cost us? Yes! Do we feel like it is an impossible task? Yes! But we must remind ourselves that God often loves to move in impossible situations, to open up Red Seas and barren wombs, to feed thousands with just a few loaves and fish and make God’s enemies into his closest friends as far as the curse is found. He is the God of all impossibilities so that he might get all the glory!

[1] “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others...not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” Letters from Prison

[2] He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Deu 10:18-19 ESV).

[3] Ezekiel 47

[4] They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isa 11:9 and  Hab 2:14 ESV)