Future Prospects for Protestantism—And for You!
“I HAVE been studying Lutheran theology now for seven semesters and am therefore a prospective minister of the church,” began a letter to the editor in a November 1986 German newspaper. It continued: “I would like to call attention to the fact that our training consists basically of tearing the Bible apart—only its covers are left. . . . While the student’s faith or its foundation, the Scriptures, is being shattered, most of his lecturers are teaching him the ‘new gospel’ of socialism, thereby giving the church a totally new substance. God is dead—long live socialism! Jesus has rotted in his grave, we must save ourselves! This is the message that many a minister takes to his pulpit, Sunday after Sunday. We urgently need new facilities to teach us the Bible, but at the moment the church is suppressing them.”
With God’s Word being treated so shabbily, is there any hope that the church and its parishioners may yet recover from their spiritual disarray? An 18th-century Bible translator correctly observed: “The church’s state of health is determined by the way it treats the Scriptures.”
Can a New Reformer Help?
“Dietrich Bonhoeffer is honored and quoted nowadays more than any other theologian of our century,” says theology Professor Georg Huntemann. Bonhoeffer, a leading member of the “Confessional Church,” was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943 and executed in 1945 for alleged involvement in an assassination plot against Hitler. Huntemann says Bonhoeffer might just be the new reformer the church needs. Note the following excerpts from some of his sermons. Ask yourself: What would heeding his words mean for the Lutheran Church? for my church?
“In religion only one thing is of essential importance, that it be true.” This agrees with what Jesus said: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”*—John 4:24; see also John 8:32; 14:6; 16:13.
Are you sure that everything your church teaches is really true? Does it teach that man has an immortal soul—one that cannot die—or does it agree with the Bible, which says: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die”? (Ezekiel 18:4, 20) Does your church teach you that God is nameless or that he is named Jesus, or does it agree with the Bible, which says: “Thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth”? (Psalm 83:18) Does your church teach you that all good people will be taken to heaven when the earth is destroyed by fire, or does it agree with the Bible, which says: “The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever”?—Psalm 37:29; see also Psalm 104:5.
“It [the church] must strive for purity of teaching.” This agrees with what Jesus said: “Beware of the leaven . . . , the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”—Matthew 16:12; see also 1 Corinthians 5:8.
Does your church welcome “a wide spectrum of individual interpretation,” or does it act in harmony with the divine counsel: “Brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them”?—Romans 16:17; see also 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 John 9, 10.
“On Judgment Day, God will certainly not ask us: Have you celebrated impressive Reformation festivals, but rather: Have you listened to my Word and kept it?” This agrees with what Jesus said: “My brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.”—Luke 8:21; see also Matthew 7:21; John 15:14.
Does your church place more emphasis on ritual, ceremonies, and buildings than it does upon gaining accurate knowledge of God’s Word? Is occasional holiday attendance at church considered enough, in contrast with the counsel of “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together . . . so much the more, as ye see the day [of judgment] approaching”?—Hebrews 10:25.
Does your church encourage you to read God’s Word daily, offering you personal assistance in understanding it and providing motivation to do what it requires?
“Religion is work, perhaps the most difficult and most certainly the holiest work that a human can do.” This agrees with what Jesus said: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”—John 4:34.
Does your church tell you that God’s work for Christians today is to preach “this gospel of the kingdom . . . in all the world for a witness unto all nations”? (Matthew 24:14; see also Matthew 28:19.) Does it incite you to share this glorious Kingdom message with “every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you”?—1 Peter 3:15.
At least in the above instances, Bonhoeffer gave his church good advice. “But why do his words, his reformative admonition to the church, go so completely unheeded?” asks Huntemann. Of even greater significance, however, is the question: Why do the authoritative words of Christ Jesus go unheeded in far greater measure?
Theologian Ulrich Betz says that West German society thinks and acts in a “post-Christian, not to say neopagan” way. The Lutheran Church must accept blame for at least the 25 million members of that society who are Lutheran. Even as a tree that bears rotten fruit is suspect, so is a church that brings forth pseudo-Christians. Jesus explained: “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”—Matthew 7:16-18.
Make this honest appraisal. What kind of fruit is your church producing? Is it improving the personalities of its members? Is it promoting peace and unity on the family, community, and global levels? Is it a bulwark against drug abuse, immorality, and crime? Could you, without hesitation, say that the world would be a better place in which to live if everyone belonged to your church?
Notice on the opposite page why some Lutherans in Germany, after making such an honest appraisal, turned elsewhere for spiritual guidance.
If Your Church Fails to Act, Will You?
If, after making an honest investigation, you are less than pleased with what you see, do more than just complain. A journalist, while commenting on Karl Barth’s statement that a church is its members, logically concluded: “Church members . . . are responsible for what the church says and does.” So ask yourself: Am I willing to share responsibility for everything my church says and does? Can I really be proud of having all its members as spiritual brothers?
While considering these questions, do not overlook the significance of Revelation 18:4, 8. Speaking of the world empire of false religion, displeasing to God, it says: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues . . . [for] her plagues [shall] come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.”
You may sincerely believe that your church is no part of false religion that God says he will soon destroy. But your life depends upon being 100 percent sure. Are you?
False religion has no future, nor do those who support it. True religion will last forever, along with those who practice it. Make your choice accordingly.
All quotations are from the King James Version.
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At their conventions—for example, by means of dramas as seen here—Jehovah’s Witnesses are offered practical instruction on applying Bible principles in daily life. This distinct trumpet call of truth, undistorted by political wrangling or doctrinal differences, strengthens their hope for the future and motivates to Christian conduct and activity. Attend a convention and see for yourself!
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Former Lutherans Explain Why They Are Now Jehovah’s Witnesses
“What first impressed me about Jehovah’s Witnesses was the cleanliness and honesty I saw at one of their conventions. I encourage others to attend one to experience for themselves the genuine love among the Witnesses.”—W. R., former sexton.
“I attended church every Sunday. But the sermon, at most 20 minutes long, seldom answered my questions about the purpose of life or about life after death. Jehovah’s Witnesses gave me the answers right from the Bible, and I could talk to them on a person-to-person basis. More must be included in divine services than just responding to church bells every Sunday morning, singing songs, and listening to a sermon. No sincere searcher for truth can be satisfied with that! He wants to do something.”—E. B., former Sunday-school teacher.
“My activity as church elder never involved Biblical matters, only purely business matters. What helped me most was learning God’s name, Jehovah, a name I never heard mentioned at church. I was impressed with the multitude of truths contained in the Bible.”—E. M., former church elder.
“The first time Jehovah’s Witnesses spoke to me, the difference [between them and us] was apparent. That they wanted to talk to me about the Bible was totally new and strange. My first question was whether they were being paid for their work. They said no. My second question was whether they had fought during the war. They explained that many Witnesses had been in concentration camps. Finally, I had found persons willing, if necessary, to die for their faith.”—H. M., former sexton.
“When I asked my pastor to explain why every pastor had his own interpretation, he said: ‘Every pastor has the right to visualize God in the way that will permit Him to be put to the best use in the congregation.’ Later I took turns attending two different congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. What struck me was the complete harmony between them. And the lectures contained such worthwhile material, always supported by Bible texts that you could immediately read from your own Bible! What a contrast to the many sermons I had heard!”—U. P., former church social worker and parish nurse.
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District conventions motivate Jehovah’s Witnesses to do the work of preaching God’s Kingdom