The gospel preserves the church
The gospel is God’s power. While opposed by many, it still brings sinners to faith in Jesus.
John A. Braun
Two worlds collided. Jesus was clear about that: “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22). His disciples later suffered because their world, built on Jesus, collided with the world that opposed Jesus. In the conflict they had one weapon. It also provided the strength, comfort, and courage to be faithful to Jesus.
That weapon? The gospel.
The apostle Paul reminded Roman Christians that the gospel was “the power of God” (l:16). In the darkest hour the gospel sustained Paul and the other believers. It was a power for them and became a power for those who heard its message. We are believers because of the power of the gospel. “Christ crucified,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians was so much foolishness to many but, “to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
The collision of these two worlds hasn’t come to an end because of some peace treaty. It only flares up hotter at different points in history. A short, honest review of history will confirm those periods of opposition to the gospel. Of course, the persecution of the church, Christians, and the gospel have not come to an end even in our own age. Nevertheless, the gospel always—always—is a power and has preserved the church through those periods of opposition.
Jonas Schröter: The first chapter
A real story can illustrate how the gospel is God’s power to preserve his church. At the end of World War II, Europe—Germany in particular—was divided into two zones. In the east the government adopted an ideology that clearly opposed the gospel and Christian churches. It wasn’t open persecution where churches were boarded up and Christians were sent to firing squads, but two distinct worlds still collided—Christians and those opposed to Christianity.
Jonas Schröter lived with his family in Grimma, Germany, the city where Katherine von Bora, Luther’s wife, was a nun before she married Dr. Luther. There in Grimma the gospel brought people to faith. Lutherans still lived there when World War II began.
But when the war ended, things changed. The streets were renamed. Signs for familiar streets came down, and new signs replaced them. Karl Marx Street and Lenin Street were among the new names. Jonas remembers the irony of one street that retained its name: Paul Gerhardt Strasse. Paul Gerhardt was not a communist hero. He was a Lutheran theologian, pastor, and hymn writer born in 1607. His name appeared in the hymnal Jonas used. Eighteen hymns in Christian Worship bear his name. Jonas comments, “Even at that time God was king and he ruled.” Yes, the Lord, had left a witness even in a world that sought to erase his name and his glory.
In school Jonas learned the communist ideology: There is no God! Religion is the opium of the people. The officials believed that their ideas were superior, and they chose to focus on the young, educating them with the guiding principle, “We have a scientific world view which is superior to all other religions and beliefs.”
Jonas went to school where he heard the mantra of the new government. But he was a part of the other world—the Christian one that listened to another voice, the voice of Jesus. At home his Lutheran family taught him to know Jesus the Savior. Jonas says, “In the home my parents believed that the Bible is God’s Word through which God shows us the way of life.”
In school he learned that the problems of the world could be solved by removing ownership of property. At home he says he learned that “the root of all problems of this world is found in the sin of man. We find the only rescue in the blood of Jesus Christ, which washes us clean of all unrighteousness.” In school the teachers believed that the church was superfluous and would soon be forgotten. At home they wondered “how long could worship services be held and if Lutherans would soon face open persecution,” says Jonas.
The opposition did not become open, but it was clearly directed at erasing the church. Jonas tells his experience, “The school required almost obligatory participation in communist youth organizations and their activities. As confessional Lutherans we did not participate, especially in the Jugendweihe—a youth dedication rite that was devised to substitute for confirmation. It included a public confession to the communist and atheist ideology. Whoever stayed away was put on a black list.” Students that remained “stubborn” were blocked from higher education and better career choices. Jonas says, “I was denied the opportunity to enroll at the school that was just two blocks away from my parents’ house.”
Jonas Schröter: The next chapter
Another chapter in Jonas’ story illustrates Paul’s assertion that the gospel is the power of God. In spite of the opposition and challenges, Jonas became a Lutheran pastor. He studied at the seminary in Leipzig and also at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Wisconsin. He still serves as a parish pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Germany.
An important part of this chapter is that he was asked to preach for a Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) service that commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. That conference was held in Grimma, Jonas’ childhood home, and the service was held at the school he was denied attending because he remained faithful to Jesus—the Gymnasium St. Augustine. Jonas said, “You can imagine how excited I was when they asked me to preach on sola gratia in the very assembly hall and from a stage where earlier I was expected to speak my communist youth vow. The service took place exactly on the campus that was off limits to me when I lived [in Grimma] as a teenager.”
He went on to observe, “My knees were shaking and on a very personal level for me it was as if the Lord gave a small glimpse into his kingdom: ‘See, I told you, I’m in charge.’ ” That’s a lesson that wasn’t lost on Jonas and should not be lost on us either.
The changes in Germany have been dramatic. Jonas observed, “Today we speak no more of those who wanted to build a new world [in Grimma]. They have failed miserably. . . . Yet one thing stands firm. To fight against the living God is a senseless act. . . . What armies does God sent out to secure his power? With what weapons does he fight? . . . The incredible message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ—that is the weapon with which God builds the kingdom in this world.”
This German pastor brings the lesson to our ears and hearts, “What can you do about the opponents who appear before your congregation? What will make your preaching appealing to modern ears? What deep wisdom . . . will build the kingdom of God? Preach the word of reconciliation! Make known the God of grace who in Jesus Christ seeks and saves sinners. Preach the message of grace alone.”
The gospel was, is, and always will be the power of God for salvation.
John Braun is the executive editor of Forward in Christ.
This is the first article in a six-part series on the power of the gospel.
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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018
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