A Letter from the Group to Former Members Who Left Voluntarily (1989)
This very long letter illustrates well the the way the group treats those who’ve left voluntarily, and how leaving is seen by the group. It arose as an answer to a letter from ex-members living in Saxony. They’d left voluntarily and had written to the group. The ex-members wanted to explain their decision [to leave]. Because [the group’s letter in reply] reflects well the dominant way of thinking in the group, it is given here in full, despite its length. The passages highlighted in color are those which are interesting regarding the treatment of those who’ve left voluntarily.
“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching! Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers!” I Timothy 4:16
“Brothers and sisters, I admonish all of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to agree with each other and not to split into opposing groups. I want you to be united in your understanding and opinions!” I Corinthians 1:10
“If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Proverbs 28:9
Vienna, October 1989
Since we last corresponded, we hope that the negative consequences of your disobedience have become clear to you in your daily life. We hope that you recognize the danger into which you have placed yourselves. What is wrong with you? How could you turn away so quickly from God’s truth again?
Did you become tired, did you want to stop struggling? It is always easier to adapt oneself to godlessness than to remain faithful to the Lord. Even if you don’t want to accept it: you know, or at least you knew, about the sinfulness of your change of direction. Your sudden “discovery” doesn’t have its roots in a new insight from Scripture, but rather in your cowardice and anxiety about the future.
Despite this, we want to examine more closely the Bible texts which you cited, so that the untenability of your viewpoint becomes clear to you even now, and you can still change yourselves. We pray for this, too, that you obey the verse which follows Philippians 3:15, the verse which you ripped out of its context: “However, we should be guided by what we have learned so far!” (Philippians 3:16) You must hold on to the knowledge that you already have gained. Sadly, you have deviated from it again very quickly. You must acquire for yourselves anew that which you’ve lost. We hope that this is still possible.
Concerning the problem of violence, we too are against any form of violence. So that violence doesn’t dominate, God instituted legal authority (Romans 13:1-7) and also gave us the right to selfdefense and the duty to defend those who are vulnerable – even with force, if necessary. That is and was the clear conviction of all Christians from the beginning. For this reason Christians are still nonviolent. On the contrary: if we would allow the violent people to have their way without opposition, then we would make ourselves complicit in their violence. Whoever can hinder a crime and doesn’t do so, is complicit.
You cite Luke 22:36-38 and refer to a comment from the “Jubilee Bible” [a study edition with footnotes and commentaries]. From this comment, to the extent that you quote it, one cannot conclude that spiritual weapons are intended by the swords [mentioned here]. The swords, which the disciples had with them, were real. Jesus indicates that the disciples can no longer reckon with the hospitality of people, but rather with danger and persecution. Jesus certainly did not think that the disciples should oppose the Roman or Jewish authorities with the sword: the thought was more likely that, in times of persecution, they would have to flee into remote regions. They should not be exposed helplessly to probable dangers arising from robbers there. One can’t lead a religious war with two swords. But for defense against robbers they could certainly be helpful. The words of Jesus are probably not meant as a direct appeal for arming [oneself], but rather [are] an allusion to threatening dangers. Jesus proceeds obviously from the assumption that a person can defend himself against robbers.
It was a very different situation in the Garden of Gethsemane, where, for one thing, it was God’s will that Jesus give Himself, even to death. Additionally, behavior toward a persecutor is different from that toward robbers, who don’t care which type of faith their victim has. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter was certainly still influenced by the hope of an earthly messiah, who would use force to set up an earthly kingdom of peace. And whoever wants to set up God’s kingdom with a sword will in any case meet with a sword: either the sword of an enemy or – and this in any case – the sword of God’s Word.
The sentence “I have therefore no right at all, to send someone whom God loves into ruin, even if I must defend myself” sounds very pious, but is nonetheless godless and cannot be substantiated from the Bible. God loves all people. Nonetheless, God ordered the death penalty in the OT. At that time, whoever was against the death penalty stood under God’s wrath. Read Deuteronomy 14 and 17, or Leviticus 20! There it was God’s will that people whom God loved be punished by death – without compassion (Deuteronomy 13:9). It was apparently better in God’s eyes that an evildoer be eliminated than that he mislead others into evil. In Leviticus 20:7, the carrying out of the death penalty is part of sanctification assigned to the people. Among the people of a holy God, there should be none who [offered] his child [as a] burnt [sacrifice] to Moloch. Whoever did it anyway should not remain alive. Saul, too, was rejected because, among other things, he did not kill Agag, the king of the Amalekites (I Samuel 15).
The death penalty, however, was not only rooted in the Mosaic law; it is a general principle which God gave to all people after the flood: “Whoever spills human blood, his blood shall be spilled by men; for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6). Here the justification for this harsh punishment lies in the fact that people are created in God’s image. Whoever destroys God’s image, a human being, forfeits his own life as a result. This principle is valid for all human beings, not only for the Jewish people. That is certainly not license to kill. Revenge is certainly not [allowed]. The governmental authorities, who have the task of rewarding the good and punishing the evil, don’t carry the sword in vain, according to Romans 13:4. The sword is a clear reference to the death penalty. In Roman justice, the “ius gladii” (the right of the sword) indicates the right to [carry out] the death penalty. This right is also not placed into question otherwise in the NT. (Luke 23:41 “We receive what our deeds deserve.” Acts 25:11 “If I have acted unjustly, or in ways deserving of death, then I won’t hesitate to die.”)
Stefanie, we hope that you will see that your statements arise from a humanistic ideal, but not from God’s Word. By means of your teaching, you place yourself above God’s Word. If you were correct, then God would have been commanding the Israelites [to commit] a horrific sin in the OT. You would then have to reject the OT decisively as a bloodthirsty godless text, because God’s image is totally disfigured and twisted in it. You would also have to reject Jesus, who in Matthew 15:4 clearly designated an Old Testament command demanding the death penalty, to be God’s command – regardless of whether [or not] this command still had to be followed literally at the time of Jesus. Stefanie, do you think yourself capable of raising yourself above God?
There would be some other things to be written about the topic of violence or nonviolence. Here it should only be shown that your teaching, cited above, is not Biblical or Christian. Therefore, return to the true teaching!
But now to the much more important point “community and unity.”
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ … As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed! … ” (Galatians 1:6-10) These harsh words are necessary, because you really have turned yourselves toward another gospel! That which someone – you or we or even Stefan announced as gospel, is not only that which he called gospel with his mouth (his confession of faith), but rather also that which those whom he calls Christians (or brothers and sisters in the faith) call being a Christian.
The teaching which you, Stefan[ie], report about Stefan, that he distinguishes between community and church, is a different gospel. In the NT, ‘community’ and ‘church’ are the same word!
If Stefan “reveals the falsehood of the church,” but yet remains in it, [then] he knows quite exactly that most Protestants are not Christians, and yet he calls them Christians. That means that he has a completely false concept of being a Christian! You want to agree with this concept of being a Christian??!!
This false teaching is probably the foundation of all large “churches” and also of the small [ones], which want to be big and thereby refrain from the truth.
Gotthold P. had given Ruth three Bible passages on the phone.
Concerning I Corinthians 5: If Stefan really wanted to improve the “church,” then he would have to exclude all the undisciplined people, greedy people, those who serve idols, robbers, blasphemers, and drunkards [I Corinthians 5:10]. To say to an unbelieving person that he is faithless, without actually excluding him, is really to accept him as a Christian. Therefore, Stefan can only call him unbelieving if he excludes him.
Does he do that? Can he do that? NO!
He has no influence over who is Protestant and who is not. He can only identify himself, or not, with that which the “Protestant church” offers him, and apparently he does that (otherwise he would not be Protestant)!
Concerning II Corinthians 6:14-18: “Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers! Can right and wrong be partners? Can light have anything in common with darkness? … Get away from unbelievers! Separate yourselves from them! Have nothing to do with anything unclean. Then I will welcome you … says the Lord Almighty.”
That is what Stefan would have to do, if he really wanted to follow Jesus.
If he doesn’t want to do that, then you at least must do that!
We also want to write something regarding community:
Everyone who is in a community shapes this community. If a beekeeper is in a stamp collecting club, and if he has no interest in stamps, one would wonder what he’s doing there. (That has no further significance, but shows, however, that the club accepts him as a stamp collector.) In the community it is so, that everyone who sins in the community, or represents false teachings, forms the community’s image. This image of the community is, however, a part of the proclamation – namely, the practical realization of the gospel! If the community accepts such people, it ceases to be a community, because it proclaims a false gospel.
A church in which believers and unbelievers are together is a monstrosity, a contradiction within itself. “Kyriake” (from which the German [English] word “church” derives) is “that which belongs to the Lord (Kyrios).” Only those who belong to the Lord belong to the church. “Ecclesia” are those who allow themselves to be called out (“eccaleo”) of the godless world. It is very sad that one must teach you these elementary principles of Christianity anew! You, full of conviction, have already passed them on to others!
Stefanie, you’re correct, when you write that the Corinthians passage is directed toward unbelievers. If Stefan doesn’t want to give up fellowship with these unbelievers, then this shows that he himself is an unbeliever. And the same applies to you, if you do not quickly change your mind.
In Psalm 50:18, the godless are criticized because they have fellowship with adulterers; not because they themselves have committed adultery, but rather because they have fellowship with adulterers. Whoever is a member of the Protestant organization has fellowship with adulterers. Indeed, he belongs to an organization which even allows adultery. Hopefully, we don’t need to explain to you that remarriage after a divorce is adultery (Matthew 10:11-12). Ruth, you explained this quite well to your cousin. God says to those who have fellowship with adulterers: How do you recite my ordinances and have my covenant in your mouth? You have hated discipline and cast my words aside (Psalm 50:16f).
In Psalm 1:1 it says: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the godless, does not stand in the way of sinners, and does not sit in the seats of the mockers. Whoever is a member in the Protestant organization does not merely sit among the mockers superficially, but rather even prays with them, for anybody can participate in a Protestant “worship service.” According to Psalm 1:5, sinners do not stand in the congregation of the righteous. What was an ideal to be sought in the OT, is reality in the New Testament community. In the large denominations, it’s not even a an ideal to be sought. Whoever wants to belong to them has broken away from the community of the righteous!
O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; […] in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD (Psalm 15:1-2, 4).
If Stefan wants to remain in the “Protestant” organization, then “he honors the vile one and despises those who fear the LORD” and who separate themselves from this godless organization. He may not live on God’s holy mountain. He does not belong to the Lord’s community.
The third passage cited by Gotthold P. (Matthew 9:17) can certainly be cited only with a corresponding explanation. For, in no case can one compare an organization like the “Protestant” or the “Catholic” [church] to Judaism at the time of Jesus. For Judaism was essentially desired by God. By contrast, the “churches” live in open rebellion against God’s Word [and] without any Biblical foundation.
Jesus introduced the imagery of new wine in new wineskins when He was asked why his disciples don’t fast. Presumably, there is an allusion here to the scheduled (twice weekly) fasting of the Pharisees. John’s disciples, too, probably had a similar formalized regularity. This fasting practice arose from a purely human tradition and had no basis in the OT, which knows of only one prescribed day of fasting, the day of atonement. The frequent or regular fasting was certainly not easy. But it gave the people a certain security. By means of fulfilling a formal action, they could invoke it, [to show] that they’d done something before God, and could stand before him. From His disciples, Jesus expects more than merely the fulfillment of formalized actions – even if difficult. The new wine of godly life, which Jesus gives us, bursts the framework of rituals. God wants our continual and complete commitment, which does not content itself with a certain limit.
Whoever belongs to the Protestant organization is in a club to which one belongs, not by means of following Jesus, but rather by means of a formal act, the incorrectly labeled “baptism.” The new wine has no place in this organization! Jesus knew, too, that it is easier for many [people] to fulfill certain demands which are not always easy, but then they’ve done enough of it, rather than to be continually ready, and rather than to stand continually in dependence on God and to be at His complete disposal. So He says, too, in Luke 5:39 - “and nobody, who’s consumed the old wine, wants the new wine, for he says, ‘the old one is milder.’” Whoever wants to allow the people [to continue] in the “old” organization doesn’t merely leave them the old wineskins, but rather their old mild wine, by which they are not challenged.
Although this organization is much younger than Christianity, one can designate it nonetheless as old wineskins, because it embodies an old principle, made obsolete by Jesus: the principle of the “people’s church,” to which one belongs by means of a ritual: a principle which was valid for Judaism in a limited way, but certainly not for the community of Jesus.
Dear Stefanie, in what blindness did you write this sentence: “Do we want to preach that people should leave the church, or [should we rather] teach [them] to keep everything which Christ has commanded to us?” It is because we want to keep and teach everything which Christ commanded us that we encourage the people to leave, to leave not churches, but rather the incorrectly so-called organizations. Jesus commands us: Don’t give holy things to dogs! Don’t throw your pearls, too, before pigs, so that they might trample them underfoot and then turn and attack you! (Matthew 7:6). What are people doing, when they pray together with unbelievers, perhaps even with mockers – after all, nobody checks – or even celebrate the Lord’s Supper? If that is not the violation of this commandment from Jesus, what is? If I want to have intimate prayer and altar fellowship [i.e., celebrating the Lord’s Supper together] with only those people whom I know follow Jesus, then “leaving the church” is the only possible conclusion. Besides, Ruth, you know very well that even the phrase “leaving the church” is a lie. None of us have left the church. We have merely left organizations which claim to be churches, although they trample the commands of Jesus underfoot. Therefore, a Christian community is no “splinter group;” rather, the “churches” have splintered away from God and from His community by means of their false teachings and incorrect practice of community, by means of their identifying with the godless world. Truth, as you know, is not a matter of size. For then the abominable Roman Catholic organization would be the representative of God’s truth.
Exactly the same way, fifty years ago, that someone who wanted to become a Christian had to leave the NSDAP [Nazi Party], so also today as a Christian one must leave every godless organization. One can belong to no [political] party in Austria which supports abortion. Exactly as little can one belong to an organization which destroys spiritual life, to an organization which twists the words of Jesus – e.g., about divorce and remarriage – into the exact opposite, an organization which nonbelievers label as Christian, and which therefore does immense spiritual damage. But it is not necessary to tell you all this again in detail. You have explained it to others often enough. If you do not repent, you will be judged by your own words!
Stefanie, what has led you to the arrogance, that you write the exact opposite of I Corinthians 1:10, a text which you certainly know? Do you have no more fear of God at all, that you write: “We don’t have to be united in all of our opinions, but rather in our purpose.” What was Paul thinking when he wrote: “ … agree with each other and don’t split into opposing groups. I want you to be united in your purpose and opinions!” … The gods in whom you believe must be competitors [with one another]. For the various “Christian” groups and denominations travel the same path only to the extent that it is the path away from God. But otherwise there is more than enough competitive thought, despite all the talk of unity, whether such talk is in the so-called World Council of Churches or in the “Evangelical Alliance.” You don’t really think that the unity between the Father and Jesus functions like this model?
Stefanie, you write: “Jesus took a very different path than the Father and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus says, on the other hand: “Truly, truly, I say to you: TheSon cannot do anything on his own. He can do only what he sees the Father doing. Indeed, the Son does exactly what the Father does.” (John 5:19) Don’t you see how you continually oppose Jesus, merely to justify your lack of revulsion in the face of evil? You are even prepared to represent a very different teaching about God, that even the “evangelical” organization doesn’t present. We write to you so bluntly, so that the foolishness and evil, into which you have given yourself, become clear to you.
We should not, indeed, have merely any arbitrary unified opinion, which is put forward by whoever speaks the loudest. We should have God’s “unified opinion.” Therefore, this intensive community is necessary among Christians. Together, we should get to know God’s teaching better and better in continuous communal Scripture reading, so that God causes us more and more to grow together. For this [purpose] God has given us His Spirit, that everyone may examine what someone says in the community. In this, false nuances can already be corrected, so that we can defend against false teachings already from the start. But that only works when everyone dedicates himself to it. Therefore, the introduction of a pastor and of a formalized “worship service” gathering is opposed to God.
Your sentence “love among us siblings is wonderful, but love for one’s neighbor should not be neglected” is correct. Indeed, true brotherly love leads us additionally to those who are not yet brothers. For God’s love, which wants to lead all people to the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:4), fills a Christian. The proclamation of the Gospel may not remain mere words. We hope that you can see among us, too – even if very imperfectly – what Paul writes in I Thessalonians 2:8: “We felt so strongly about you that we were determined to share not only the Good News of God with you but also our lives. That’s how dear you were to us!” In this way, we want to encounter not only you three, whom we knew as siblings, but rather everyone who seeks the truth. We want to share our life, to the extent possible, with everyone. Everyone should be able to see God’s power in the life of the Christians. So we want to also give non-Christians the opportunity to observe our life, to take part in it, to test our words in [comparison to] our deeds.
Naturally, [our ability to] understand another [person] has its limits. One can present psychological reasons for why someone sins. But I cannot understand the sin. I do the other [person] no favors if I excuse his sin. I should lead the other [person] to a strong awareness of sin, so that then he can recognize what the full extent of forgiveness and redemption is. We find what it means to love one’s neighbor already in the OT, in Leviticus 19. There is says, in verse 17:
“Never hate another Israelite. Be sure to correct your neighbor so that you will not be guilty of sinning along with him.” In the next verse is the command to love one’s neighbor as a summary of the entire passage. Whoever doesn’t alert other [people] about [their] sins, hates them, and becomes guilty on account of them. We don’t want it to have to be said about us: “Your prophets saw misleading visions about you. They painted a good picture of you. They didn’t expose your guilt in order to make things better again. They gave you false prophecies that misled you” (Lamentations 2:14). In I Corinthians 13, too, it says that love doesn’t rejoice over unrighteousness, but rather rejoices in the truth (I Corinthians 13:6). God’s love makes us sorrowful about sins, about our own and other people’s, and leads us to do everything to overcome sins. I don’t expect my siblings to understand my sins. But I do expect that they alert me to my sins and help me to become free. For I expect that they love me.
Our knowledge is partial. But that doesn’t mean that we should toss aside the parts that God has given to us. For these parts are precious. They are the foundation for the eternal, complete knowledge, which God will give us at the end of time. We can never say that we have it, in the sense that we always still have the opportunity to walk away from God. So it’s appropriate to chase after sanctification with complete dedication every day. Without it no one will ever see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). But we have been seized by Christ (Philippians 3:12), and we may know that we live in God’s grace (Romans 6:16; I John 3:14). God’s Spirit shows us this in the brotherly love which He has given to us. Likewise, not only we, but rather everyone, can recognize whether others are Christians: “This is the way God’s children are distinguished from the devil’s children. Everyone who doesn’t do what is right or love other believers isn’t God’s child.” (I John 3:10) Whoever rejects [his] brothers, as Stefan does, cannot be a Christian. Certainly not, when, instead of [those brothers], he joins an organization which is shaped by false teachings and laxity. Sadly, we sin, too. You are correct [when you indicate] that even we must continually examine how we live. For that reason, we seek intensive community. This way we can admonish one another and help in the struggle against sin. If we give up the struggle against sin, then we’re giving up Christianity. This is exactly the charge we must level against large religious organizations, that they have given up the struggle against sin, even though there may be some among them who struggle very resolutely against some sins. But if an organization has fallen so far that it doesn’t even excuse sins anymore, but rather justifies them, even officially blessing adultery after a divorce, then we would become enemies of God if we cooperated with that organization.
We also want to cling with all decisiveness to this, that we are justified only through the grace of God. If somebody thinks that he can stand before God by means of his own works, then he has not really understood himself or God, and is arrogant beyond all bounds. But what you, Stefanie, in connection with Manfred Kern, write about faith and works, can only be further explained as delusion. There is no faith of works. But in works the faith becomes visible! (James 2:18). Or do you, along with Martin Luther, want to declare that the Letter of James is a “straw epistle,” and thereby exalt yourself over God’s Word? You see all the false godless works that Michael does. Instead of admonishing him about his godlessness, you still defend him and, like the Gnostics, you separate life from conviction. What will his devotion and loyalty profit him, if they are bound to a false faith? A Jehovah’s Witness is dedicated; but for what? Or what does Paul write about the Jews? “I can assure you that they are deeply devoted to God, but they are misguided.” (Romans 10:2) Whoever separates faith and works from each other, as you do, contradicts the clear statement not only of the Letter of James, but rather also of Paul. Please read: Acts 26:21; Galatians 5:6, 6:7-10; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14, 3:8. Note thereby that in Ephesians 2:10 and Titus 3:8 the admonition to good works in direct connection with [the teaching that] salvation is only from grace and not from works.
But whoever believes, to that person God gives works; certainly not without that person’s own exertion (Philippians 2:12-13). Precisely because we are saved only by grace, God gives the corresponding works and the corresponding fruit to everyone to whom He gives His grace. If this fruit is missing, then we can recognize by this that the person in question, or the organization in question, does not admit God’s grace. Otherwise, the fruit would be seen. Even if someone is still young in the faith, and doesn’t yet manifest the full fruit, you can still see the direction in which someone is going. In Galatians 5:22, [the text] isn’t talking about various fruits, but rather about one fruit, to which all the qualities listed in the text belong. I can’t play joy off against faithfulness, or friendliness against selfcontrol. Where God’s Spirit is at work, it brings forth this fruit with all its qualities. In this connection, Ephesians 5:9 is also to be considered: “Light produces everything that is good, that has God’s approval, and that is true.” Precisely this truth, and the love of truth, is largely absent in so-called “Christian” circles. I John 3:14, too, is to be considered here, where brotherly love is cited as a sign of being a Christian. II Corinthians 4:13 assumes that a believer speaks. The proclamation [of the gospel], too, is an essential sign of the Christian, a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
There are many people who have individual qualities named in Galatians 5. If an atheist is friendly and gentle, that is certainly very beneficial. But he’s not a Christian because of that. If a Mormon is patient and senses inner peace, that is certainly not a fruit of God’s Spirit. For the Mormon doesn’t honor God, but rather is a polytheist. One also can’t accuse all the Catholic nuns, living in their cloisters as fervent admirers of Mary, of unchastity. But they nevertheless don’t have the fruit of the Spirit.
Where the fruit of the Spirit appears, the works of the flesh also disappear. In a community led by God’s Spirit, therefore, unchastity, impurity, … dissension, factionalism … will disappear. You will certainly not want to assert that such things are absent in the evangelical organization. Indeed, from your letters it is clear that you are promoting the work of factionalism and division. If you continue doing this, you will not have God’s Spirit for much longer. For those who create division certainly don’t have the Holy Spirit (Jude 19).
If you had acted as God’s Spirit led, and if your changes at that time had come from God, then you would certainly have acted differently. You would have wanted to convince us of the correctness of your knowledge as soon as possible. You would have called and also allowed yourselves to be questioned. For a Christian is always ready to let his siblings examine his teaching [and] everything which he says about God (cf. I Corinthians 14:29; I Thessalonians 5:21). You have not acted in this way. You kept your changes silent for a long time. Even Mathias didn’t mention it on the phone. That’s not a brotherly relationship led by the Spirit. A change which chips away at brotherly love, and which destroys faithfulness, is not from God.
Ruth, you wrote, too: “It is good, too, that we approached people directly, and proclaimed [the gospel to them].” Don’t you want to do that anymore? If you accept the others in their godlessness, then you don’t have much to say to them.
Although it doesn’t exactly say that in the Bible, you, Ruth, correctly identify the separation from false teachers as a fruit, too. However with the condition that if other fruits are there, but this one is absent, one can’t say that this person is not a Christian. The Bible however says “only” that one should reject a false teacher after once or twice correcting him (Titus 3:10), and that one should not accept false teachers into one’s household, and also not greet them, and that whoever greets them participates in their evil works (II John 10-11). That is worse, by a long shot, than simply not being a Christian. Whoever doesn’t separate himself from false teachers becomes complicit in the misleading which they do. About such misleaders, Jesus says that it would be better for them if they had a millstone tied around their necks and they were thrown into the sea, than that they give one of these little ones occasion to sin. If Stefan wants to take that deal, that’s his business. If you want to take it, it’s your business. But we don’t want to let you run unwarned into [your own] destruction. You have become too dear to us for that.
Ruth, you quote John 15:2-3: “He removes every one of my branches that doesn’t produce fruit. He also prunes every branch that does produce fruit to make it produce more fruit.” Are you already so blind that you don’t see how directly this verse applies to you? Don’t you see how your fruit is diminishing? Don’t you see the danger of being drawn away?
It is true that the degree of fruit can be quite different among Christians. That depends mainly on obedience. But I certainly cannot say that someone in whom there is no fruit at all is a Christian. If you, Ruth, write that you can’t “in the final analysis make a person’s salvation (as it stands at the moment) dependent upon [his works]” if the person isn’t producing works, what do you do then with passages like I John 3:1-10? Note: we’re speaking here preliminarily about a person’s momentary state of salvation, not about how he will decide after [hearing] the proclamation [of the gospel]. Don’t you notice the contradiction which lies in your own words? On the one hand, you quote John 15:2, where Jesus says that every branch which doesn’t bring forth fruit will be taken away [from the vine]. A few lines later, you write that we can’t deny the salvation of someone who doesn’t do anything at all for the faith. How do you want to claim that you are a Christian while showing such contempt for the words of Jesus? You’ve already started down Martin Luther’s godless path, who wrote: “One can’t properly judge a Christian according to his external life. For it is just as impure and derelict as the life of a non-Christian.” Compare your teaching, and Luther’s, to I John 3, and repent!!
You still call the large [institutional] church false. [But] you’ve taken on its teaching already. There is also no reason why someone with your teachings shouldn’t belong to the “large church.” It puzzles us that you, Ruth, called yourself a non-Christian prior to your baptism. That wasn’t clear to us. According to your current teaching, you weren’t correct back then [in saying that you weren’t a Christian]. Please measure yourself now, too, by the standard that you used in May to measure yourself. Then you’ll see that your teaching is not Christian.
Ruth, you accuse us of being wrong in our explanation of I Corinthians 3:10-17. But your justification is quite deficient. Paul assumes that even those who build with wood, hay, or straw are at least building, and building on the proper foundation. But they build with deficient materials, certainly not without their own guilt [for building that way]. But they build. They build on the proper structures, on the proper foundation. One can’t say that about the “large churches.” The “evangelical” organization’s principles are correct - “sola gratia,” “sola scriptura,” “sola fide,” and “solus Christus” (by grace alone, Scripture alone, faith alone, Christ alone). But this organization doesn’t behave accordingly. Whoever cooperates in building with this organization is building the wrong house. There are certainly some [people] who do this out of ignorance – you, too, Ruth, were among them – but now you are no longer ignorant. So act responsibly, according to your knowledge! Don’t leave the place where [we] are building God’s house!
When you say that Christians sin, too, that we sin, too, then sadly this is completely correct. We cannot justify our sins, either, by saying that others are even worse. We know that we are entirely dependent on God’s grace. But you also know, or knew, that we as Christians have God’s power, which helps us to overcome sin, to be victorious. Only when we are aware of our own sins and struggle against them do we receive from God the authority to do that which Micah says of himself: “But I am filled with the power of the Lord’s Spirit, with justice, and with strength. So I will tell the descendants of Jacob about their crimes and the nation of Israel about its sins” (Micah 3:8). If we don’t allow the plank of our pride to be taken out of our eye, then we lack the authority to make another person away of his guilt. Ruth, in your case, I, Josef, didn’t have the impression that you were acting out of pride when you identified others as non-Christians or false teachers. It is not automatically prideful to tell the truth to other people. It is rather abandoning one’s own responsibility, if one doesn’t tell the truth to others.
Stefanie, you say that you no longer want to be aloof from your siblings in the YG [Youth Group; name for the youth group in evangelical congregations, editorial note]. You call the people there your “siblings.” During the summer months [with us], you experienced what a sibling relationship can look like, a divinely ordained communal life – despite all the sins that you have seen among us. Now you can compare. … Does the YG really try to meet as often as possible? Do the people there really want a communal life, where everything is shared among each other, everything spiritual and everything material, all the worries and all the joys? … Are unchaste, greedy, and idolatrous people admonished, and in the case of insufficient repentance, excluded?
That’s the way it should be. But Stefanie, you were Protestant long enough, and a part of the YG as well, in order to know exactly that your “siblings” do not behave this way. But you are too cowardly to follow through on this awareness. Who has misled you, that you see your consistency as pride? Pride is the attitude which shapes your letter, in which you think that you have to criticize your siblings who don’t want to give in to laxness and false teachings.
It is nice, Stefanie, that even now you are still thankful for the community which you were able to have with some of our siblings, for everything that you’ve learned from us. If what you write is true, that you learned first from us to put God in first place, to not chase after earthly things, to evangelize, to stand firm, to show brotherly love, etc., then that means, in the final analysis, that you first became a Christian by an encounter with us. But we think that you were already a Christian prior to that. Yet you yourself admit that entirely essential parts of [what it means] to be a Christian became clear to you only through us. You have seen concretely among us for the first time that which you previously wanted, and you learned obedience from our words and from our life. You thank us for it, and ask us to maintain it. But on the other hand, you write that we as a group wouldn’t even exist if we thought as you do. You’re entirely correct in this, and you speak a judgement against yourself in this. If we would think as you do, then we would go along with the worldly mass of the the large “churches,” perhaps sometimes protesting half-heartedly, but we would no longer be the light of the world, the city on the hill, the salt of the earth. Not only you, but also others, would not have been able to learn those things for which you are so thankful from our example.
The only people whom we want to press into a particular “mold” is ourselves. We want to become every more similar to the mold which Jesus prescribed for us. We really can’t press anyone else into this mold. God has given freedom to every person, which we may not take away from him. Whoever doesn’t want to follow [Jesus] presses himself into the mold of a nonbeliever. We must accept that, but we would be completely dishonest, if we suddenly labeled a lack of faith as faith.
What you write in your essay about the unity of faith is also quite sad. We don’t know how far all of this is your own thoughts. Much of it looks like quotations [from other texts]. But perhaps we are mistaken in this.
The sentence “This unity doesn’t mean everyone must arrive at the same rational knowledge about their faith” can’t stand in the face of the apostles’ teaching, especially I Corinthians 1:10. I Timothy 2:4 also speak of God’s desire that all people come to a knowledge of the truth. Obviously, the same rational knowledge is meant by this. There cannot be rational contradictions in the one truth.
Love, which unites us, is not some indefinable feeling, but rather the concrete maintenance of the concrete commands of Jesus, the concrete devotion of one’s life to God and to concrete brothers, with whom we are bound in a concrete community.
Faith has not only practical aspects like “reading the Bible, confession of sins, baptism, communion, prayer,” but also concrete rational knowable aspects. The Christian faith makes statements about God, about His essence, about redemption, about the community. In the contents of these statements, too, God gives us unity. The aspects you named are practiced in all large denominations – certainly with varying intensity. Nevertheless, there is no unity among them.
Acts 4:32 establishes not only that the community was of one heart and one soul, but this passage also shows concrete effects of this deep unity: “No one called any of his possessions his own. Instead, they shared everything.”
Concerning various opinions which were present in New Testament times, we’d like to direct you again to our essay about unity, which you sadly haven’t studied very well. If the problems of Romans 14 aren’t around any more today, then that doesn’t mean that we may tolerate false teachings and false practices now. The Christians back then had to tolerate those weak in faith who couldn’t let go of the dietary restrictions and festival schedule of the Jewish law. These instructions were in the Old Testament, however, and had once been the will of God. The current deviations from the New Testament teaching were never God’s will and therefore cannot be tolerated.
Very much in contradiction to your letters is that which you write in your essay about the unity of the “churches.” From your letters, the reader can gather that you still see the large churches as wrong. In the essay, you refer to the Malta Report [an ecumenical document], which deals with unity between these large churches. The sentence “Much work will be needed, e.g., to dissolve the Catholic network of dogma” is quite naive and utopian. Why do you think that this network of dogma, which was knit together over centuries, still exists? Do you think that God has never attempted to change this organization? If God hasn’t succeeded in centuries, today’s people won’t succeed, either. And if a part of that dogma network is destroyed, then it will only be replaced by another false teaching. One doesn’t hear much any more in the Catholic organization about the dogma of eternal hell. A dogma with correct content is, indeed, officially retained, but disappears from the general consciousness. The false teaching of universal salvation has replaced this dogma. In other topics, Catholicism in the negative sense has been actually amplified by the “modern” Second Vatican Council. Bishops were labeled “high priests” there.
Your sentence is worse than dishonest and insincere: “We must take Scripture’s requirements very seriously which speak of the absolutely necessary separation of unbelievers, including false teachers … but how can I figure out if I’m dealing with a false teacher?” On the one hand, to say that you want to take a text seriously, and then immediately assert that you can’t, and thereby hide yourself behind an un-Biblical agnosticism, can only be labeled as worse than dishonest, an overriding of God’s word. Be honest and write that you don’t want to obey the Scripture! II John 9-11 is clear: “Everyone who doesn’t continue to teach what Christ taught doesn’t have God.” The Catholics, the Orthodox, the Evangelicals, and the Free Churches have all continued in their official teachings. They don’t have God. Separate yourselves again from these godless groups, so that you obtain the authority again to make people aware of the truth, the people who are captive to these organizations, in order to help them to get free of these chains!
You write that the evangelical church allows so much freedom so that communities can live free from false traditions. Can an organization still be a church, if it allows communities free from false traditions to be in its ranks (along with many other things)? That is not a church; that is a club for the whole world! And to recognize such a club for the whole world as a church is already a false teaching! In the Bible, nothing of the sort is to be found, and beyond that, we know of no evangelical community which, e.g., refrains from having a pastor, or consistently refrains from baptizing children in [situations in which] Christian parenting cannot be expected. You haven’t reported anything about that in East Germany.
Your interpretation of Matthew 18:15-18 is interesting, to be sure, but contradicts other New Testament passages and also the entire early Christian tradition. Certainly Jesus – in contrast to the His pharisaical contemporaries – befriended sinners and tax collectors (and heathen only in exceptional cases – cf. Matthew 15:24). One could think that Jesus wants [His followers] to especially direct themselves toward incorrigible sinners who have never even heard an admonition from the entire community. Even this interpretation would refute the practice of large, and many small, religious groups. Because nobody there is admonished in front of the entire community. The sinners are also not subjected to any particular “discipline.” One often doesn’t know about the sin [of another person] at all, [because] the “brother” is a stranger to me. And if one does know about a sin, it will eventually be accepted. One doesn’t want to alienate anybody.
Nevertheless, we can’t accept your interpretation. Jesus is to be understood against the Jewish background of His time. For a Jew, it was clear that a heathen or a tax collector didn’t belong to the community. It should be just as clear from the words of Jesus that an obstinate sinner does not belong to the community. Here Jesus uses the way of speaking [which was common at] His time, just as today we use the figures of speech which are in a certain tension to one’s own behavior. So someone might say: “XY picks the raisins out of the cake for himself,” although for him the cake itself is the better part. The extended sense of this sentence has nothing to do with the literal meaning of the words. Beyond that, we cannot understand from the NT that Jesus dedicated much of [His time and effort] to sinners who held tightly to their sin. The Pharisees gave the sinners no chance at all, from the get-go. Jesus gave them a chance. But He certainly didn’t talk long with them about the various banalities of daily life. He gave them assistance for repentance. Whoever didn’t want to use this assistance wasn’t with Jesus for long. But for those who wanted to repent, Jesus opened the way to God. Whoever in the community doesn’t listen to repeated admonitions, shows his lack of willingness to repent. And here the consciousness of not belonging can only help him. [The pain of exclusion could move the individual to repent.] Please think that through! Then you will also see no tension regarding I Corinthians 5:13. Binding and loosing relates then clearly to the sinner, not only to the sins. The obstinate sinner has so thoroughly identified with his sin that renouncing sin is not possible without renouncing the sinner. According to Strack-Billerbeck’s commentary on the NT from the Talmud and Midrash, vol. I, pg. 738, in the Jewish way of speaking, “binding” and “loosing” mean the assigning and dissolving of an excommunication, that is, a ban. It is not to be expected that Jesus is assigning a new meaning to these technical terms; certainly not when the context also speaks about excommunication. In Matthew 16:19, however, the context is a different one.
In any case, it is very sad that you place yourselves above God’s word again when you write: “Or are false human traditions already in play here, which depart from Jesus, from His words? We don’t know.” If you are already so far from God that you don’t know whether Paul’s letters are reliable any more, then it is really high time for you to repent. We still know that a person may not place himself above God’s word. God doesn’t allow himself to be mocked.
It can be seen repeatedly in your letters that you dismiss God’s word very casually. Be aware of your arrogance, which hides behind your thoughts.
“Be humbled by God’s power so that when the right time comes he will honor you. Turn all your anxiety over to God because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:6-8)
We hope that this letter can be a help to you, [to help you] find the correct path. We pray to God that He will give the right words to Gottfried and Maria when they come to you, in order to still be able to help you.
If your words of thanks for everything which you have learned among us are intended seriously, then pay attention to that which we write to you, and to what Gottfried and Maria have to say to you. Make an effort, and examine everything exactly according to Scripture. Humble yourselves before God and receive anew a revulsion regarding all evil, [and] a readiness to fight against false teachings and pseudo-Christian institutions! Let God remove from you all cowardice and all anxiety regarding the future! Ask God that He will make you thoroughly honest! For your letters do not evidence a love of truth.
Place yourselves at God’s disposal! Then He can use you as instruments and build community by means of you. Then He can lead you [to be] together with other Christians in your country. Then He can use you to give eternal life to those who seek [it], to call sinners to repentance. But first you yourselves must repent.
We Christians in Austria – those, too, who have never seen you – have you firmly in our hearts. We all want sibling unity to remain. This unity can overcome political borders without problem, but never the border of truth.
God bless you!