By Dudley Ross Spears
In 1947 brother Otis Gatewood was drumming up support for the work of “evangelizing” Germany. World War II left Germany a beaten nation and the ravages of that war brought a once proud and prosperous people l o their knees. The Marshall plan to refurbish Europe was in effect and Gatewood and his team set out to refurbish Germany in a “Church of Christ” style.
Gatewood made a speech at the 1947 lectureship at David Lipscomb College and in it said, “We at least can say that we must work for fifteen or twenty years, in order to have what we would like to have in that country” (1947 Lipscomb Lectures, p. 83). The “fifteen or twenty years” have more than passed and what Gatewood and his team wanted then is not what they have now. The passing of time has seen many changes in the German society. No longer is Germany a war-ravaged nation that eagerly seeks hand-outs, second-hand clothing, surplus food and charity packages. But when Gatewood and his team went to Europe, that is what they went with. They sought to convert people to Christ by first feeding and clothing them, hoping to reach their souls through physical means.
Gatewood also said in that 1947 lecture that unless the people are fed and clothed, they are not disposed to hear the gospel of Christ. Here is the exact statement. “We will be confronted with the problem of feeding the people, and unless we do so we cannot reach them with the gospel of Christ, but that is a gigantic task” (Ibid., p. 32). With the purpose behind the relief work being the saving of souls, the Gatewood expedition launched a gigantic program of feeding, clothing and entertaining the German people they could reach. One report says that three million dollars worth of relief was distributed. Much of this came from individual Christians, but the greatest segment was from churches in America.
Senkenberganlage 17 is the address of what was once a meeting house for one of the congregations in Frankfurt, Germany. Gatewood found a piece of property which was part of the University of Frankfurt and with the help of the mayor of Frankfurt was able to purchase it. Gatewood later wrote, “We even gave the mayor of Frankfurt butter for his bread when he could not get it. These citizens have not forgotten what we did to help them, and Oberburgermeister Kolb, the mayor of Frankfurt, has expressed his appreciation in numbers of ways that have been a great help to the church. The present location of our building in Frankfurt, Senkenberg Anlage 17, was made possible on one of the best streets in Frankfurt because of relief work we did” (Preaching in the Footsteps of Hitler, Gatewood, p. 74).
One cannot argue with the immediate success of the Gatewood plan. There were over eight local churches in the Frankfurt area by 1950, just three years following Gatewood’s speech at Lipscomb. In the book cited above there is also a report of the membership of the church in the Frankfurt area. By January 14, 1951 there had been 945 baptisms in Frankfurt alone and that the membership of the Niederrad congregation was 90 members by March 7, 1951. 2500 were being taught weekly in Frankfurt. At this point, Gatewood and others came to the decision to build a building for the church in Frankfurt. They located a choice location near the University of Frankfurt and bought it. Gatewood returned to the United States and raised $200,000 to build the building. Gatewood wanted a large auditorium and got it.
If you travel to Germany today and look for a meeting house at Senkenberganlage 17, you will look in vain. It is no longer there. In fact, the University bought it from the brethren. There was a plan to provide another building across the street. Having just recently returned from Germany myself, I can give you a first-hand report. The building that cost so much money and that was so important to the German work has been torn down and a huge high-rise office building is standing where it was. At one time there were congregations in Bornheim, Niederrad, Sachsenhausen and other locations in the greater Frankfurt area. Now, there is one small handfull of Germans meeting in the Frankfurt area.
One has to be somewhat. curious about the scripturalness and expediency of the Gatewood method of evangelism. It is the procedure that many churches of Christ seem intent on taking. Currently (May 1983) the liberal brethren are undertaking a similar effort in Ghana. They say, we will attempt to follow the pattern of the New Testament and that of the Poland Food Relief work in an effort to feed our brethren and others in Ghana. With God’s blessings we will use this terrible tragedy to also feed the souls of that most receptive people” (World Radio News, March-April 1983). There is nothing in the word of God that teaches churches to try and reach the lost through relief programs. In the pattern for the church, there is nothing that authorizes a general program of benevolence among those who are not Christians. Yet, the empty words of the liberal brethren continues, “. . . we will use this tragedy to also feed the souls of that most receptive people.” A Methodist preacher once told my father, that when you convert people to hamburgers and cokes, you have to keep them converted with hamburgers and cokes.
Time has demonstrated that people who are converted by the social gospel methods of feeding the hungry in order to teach them the gospel will not work. The experience of the Gatewood expedition in Germany, Austria and Switzerland has demonstrated this. Even if one could find some scriptural precedent for such a thing, would it be expedient? All who have engaged in such a method of reaching the lost admit that it is dangerous and likely to attract those who are more interested in the “fishes and loaves” than in salvation.
Senkenberganlage 17 is a good example of how the works of men come to naught when they are not founded on solid scriptural truth. Indeed, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psa. 127:1). “Every plant that my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13). The gospel is the power of God to save the lost (Rom. 1:16). Until men are convinced they are lost is sin and in need of God’s saving power, they are really not subjects of the gospel. You may feed them, doctor them, entertain them and provide every physical benefit they want and possibly interest them in the gospel, but the only enduring work in evangelism comes through simple gospel preaching, good Christian living and persistent prayer for the strength that God supplies.
Germany is now an industrial giant. The German people do not now need care packages, but they do need the gospel. Truly, not many will obey the simple call of the gospel in Germany now, but those who are reached with the gospel alone will remain. We plead with all to return to the biblical pattern of evangelism for the church. May God help each of us to lay aside our own ideas and accept only what we know will be pleasing and acceptable to God. The social gospel concept has shown its own weakness and failure – the pure gospel concept remains the only way that a lasting work can be accomplished. Senkenberganlage 17 is a prime example.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 13, pp. 399-400
July 7, 1983