Thursday, September 01, 2011
The Vision (9.1.11): Report from a church in Germany
SOLA SCRIPTURA = Allein die Schrift
SOLA GRATIA = Allein die Gnade
SOLA FIDE = Allein durch Glauben
SOLUS CHRISTUS = Allein Christus
SOLI DEO GLORIA = Allein Gott die Ehre
Note: Daniel Houseworth, CRBC’s Ruling Elder, was in Germany on a business trip on the first Lord’s Day in August and was able to join in worship with a sister RB church. Here is his report:
Whenever I travel or deploy, I usually do so with a bit of trepidation when I know that I will be away on the Lord’s Day. However, during my recent trip to Germany, I was blessed with an opportunity to worship with brothers and sisters in Christ at the Freie Baptisten Gemeinde Heilbronn, the Free Baptist Church of Heilbronn.
Before I tell you about the congregation, I want to give you some basic background on the church in the land that birthed the Reformation. The German “Christian” community is divided into “state” churches and “free” churches. The state churches consist of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church in Germany (not to be confused with American evangelicalism; it is a confederation of churches that is the equivalent of our mainline Protestant churches) which are both endorsed by the German government. As a matter of fact, the government automatically collects a church tax (Kirchensteuer) from income to support the state churches (based on the individual’s official affiliation). The “free” churches are Protestant groups – primarily Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal – that are not officially supported by the government. The Free Baptist Church in Heilbronn (hereafter, FBCH) is one of only a handful of Reformed Baptist congregations in Germany.
FBCH began approximately 30 years ago as a typical evangelical Baptist church founded by a group of families from the U.S. Army community stationed at Heilbronn (which was deactivated in the years following the first Gulf War in 1991). This particular congregation became a confessional (2nd London Baptist Confession of 1689) Reformed Baptist church under its previous minister who became convinced of the truth of the doctrines of grace after attending a conference led by Dr. Peter Masters of the London Metropolitan Tabernacle (Spurgeon’s church). In the last 20 years, the congregation has transitioned to a largely German population with several expatriate Americans and maintained an American pastor for most of that period.
Pastor Johan Van Wyk, along with his wife Susanna, was called to the congregation just over three years ago from South Africa. The fact that they had to look outside of Germany points to the difficulty our brothers and sisters have in establishing, maintaining, and building a Reformed Baptist witness in Germany. This also presents a unique challenge. While CRBC may struggle financially as a relatively new congregation, we don’t have to worry that our pastor will be deported by the government if his income ever drops below the required level to maintain a valid work permit. Three months ago they were not sure they would have sufficient income, but the Lord has graciously continued to provide!
Like CRBC, the membership of FBCH is small – only 24 members – and they have an average attendance on the Lord’s Day of about 50. They currently meet in a rented facility with an attached apartment for the pastor and his wife. They have morning and evening worship services – the former in German and the later in English. Although they have significantly fewer Americans now, they regularly have visitors from around the world who are seeking to worship at a Bible-believing church with an English service; during my visit there were other visitors from India and Nigeria. As a result, they translate both services (either into English or German). I was there on the first Lord’s Day of the month when they have a fellowship meal following the morning service and don’t hold the evening English service. However, we sang at least one verse of each hymn in English, and I struggled mightily to recall the German I studied 18 years ago as I listened to the sermon with the headset volume turned down so that I could hear the preaching while sitting with a German Bible open on one knee and my English Bible open on the other. The meal was a wonderful time of fellowship getting to know several of the English speakers and telling them about the work the Lord is doing in the life of CRBC. Following the fellowship meal, the Van Wyks invited me to their apartment for a “short” visit. Those of you that have heard about my “lunches” with Pastor Riddle won’t be surprised to know that I didn’t leave until 10pm - and I still had an hour long drive back to Stuttgart!
There are many other things I could tell you about FBCH, but I want to close here with several prayer requests (in no particular order):
• For continued financial provision so that Pastor Van Wyk can continue to minister to the congregation.
• For success in outreach opportunities. They are often met with a great deal of hostility and are verbally abused whenever they go out locally just to hand out Gospel tracts.
• For the Lord to add men to the congregation. They currently have only a handful of male members and no elders or deacons.
• For the Lord to add families to the congregation. While there were approximately 30 people in attendance (this was the summer holiday period with many folks away), there were only two young children and an infant. They have very few families in membership, and few of those families have children.
• For wisdom in dealing with church discipline issues. In Germany, the government can shut down a “free” congregation merely over the complaints of disgruntled former members.
• For fellowship opportunities with like-minded congregations. They are not affiliated with any associations, have no relationships with other local “free” congregations, and they are quite a distance from one of the other Reformed Baptist congregations.
• For additional hymns that are doctrinally sound and translate well into both English and German. Dr. Van Eyk found that many of the hymns used in the broader evangelical community in Germany are not Trinitarian but more in line with Tritheism. He said that many in the evangelical church do not hold to an orthodox position of the Trinity.
• For German believers who homeschool or want to homeschool their children. It is illegal for Germans to homeschool children. Dr. Van Wyk and I had brief discussion on the ethical implications of German Christians who are basically living in hiding in order to homeschool their children.
If you would like to learn more or to hear an English sermon by Dr. Van Wyk, please visit their English website. Lord willing, we’ll be able to establish an informal relationship between our two congregations, and I look forward to visiting with them again on my next trip to Germany.
In Christ, Daniel Houseworth