By Glenn Jones
For many years I had heard the term “state religion” used, but I never was confronted with it personally until I came to Germany. The state religions of Germany can be divided basically into two major affiliations, namely the Catholic and Protestant Churches. The employees of these institutions have the same status and benefits as do government employees, and the churches are supported by “church taxes” deducted from the earnings of their respective members. As a whole, one’s religious affiliation is determined at birth by his parents, who generally follow the family tradition. There are those who faithfully attend the services of these churches, but for the most part church life is reduced to a few major social events: christening as an infant, confirmation or first communion, marriage, and one’s funeral. For some people these occasions are the only times they ever enter the church building.
For over one hundred years Germany has been the home of very liberal theology which denies the divine inspiration of the Bible and presents God’s Word as a collection of legends. Such theology has resulted in various humanistic and political philosophies which see the improvement of man’s physical welfare as the basic goal of Christianity. Consequently, the state churches are heavily involved in the social gospel, including the support and operation of medical, educational, and charitable institutions throughout the world. This liberal theology coupled with the post-war prosperity in Germany and with the miserable historical record of the church and its clergy has caused many people to view the state religions as useless institutions. As a result, an ever increasing amount of Germans are officially withdrawing their membership from these churches and turning their backs on Christianity altogether.
These circumstances present a rather bleak picture for those of us interested in New Testament Christianity. However, recent experience has shown me that I ought not to give up too soon. Having known that most Germans reach conclusions about Christianity on the basis of virtually everything except the Bible, I was curious to see how they would react to a quick and simple reading of the life of Christ (Luke) and of the origin of the church (Acts). I designed a Luke-Acts reading program whereby one could read Luke in six sittings and Acts in seven. This program was not intended to be a detailed exegesis of these books, but rather a brief introduction to the Bible for those thousands of Germans whose knowledge of the Scriptures is very weak. I asked several of my German friends for their help in this reading experiment, and received enough positive responses to keep me booked up almost every night of the week. I believe the response was positive for several reasons. First, I came as one seeking to learn from them, and not as a preacher trying to push conversion upon anyone. Secondly, the fact that I came with the Bible, as opposed to my own study outlines, helped diminish the fear that I was trying to press some American sectarian system upon them. Thirdly, it was clear that every reader would be free to reach his own conclusions after investigating the text, although there would be a responsibility to defend his positions. Finally, some viewed this program as a challenge to make an intellectual judgment about the Bible, while others responded to it out of curiosity, desiring to see what is in the Bible.
From the standpoint of my own learning this program afforded me invaluable insights into human nature and into the problems of people in understanding the Bible. From the standpoint of teaching others, the Biblical text itself gave me opportunity to bring up numerous fundamental points of the faith, including Christian evidences, the authority of Jesus and the Scriptures, sin, judgment, salvation in the gospel, the cost and rewards of discipleship, and many other items. Although we are not yet certain of the outcome of this reading program, we are having more opportunities than ever before to plant the seed and are seeing people seriously considering their eternal destiny. If we had more workers, we could find even more willing to read the Bible with us. For this reason we want to make a special appeal for faithful workers to come to Germany. There is much to do, and the Lord needs you here!
Truth Magazine XXII: 20, p. 330
May 18, 1978