Extensive Report by a Former member (in the area of the Ore Mountains, 1990)
Preface: Already in August 1990, I was at meetings of the Holic Group for about two weeks. I was motivated by a helpful seminar called “Kennzeichen R” [“Mark R”] which I attended in Dresden in 1995. Many memories were reawakened in me. I would like to try to record them, along with some of the Bible passages from back then. I hope to present a vivid image of the Holic Group in the accompanying descriptions.
The group made its first appearance at one of our congregation’s evening youth meetings. Two or three of the group members were brought along by one of our congregation’s employees, whom they had approached at a large church convention, when she was sitting there somewhat sadly, probably even crying.
On this evening, at least two Austrians appeared, a young woman around the age of 25 named Margit, and a certain Gottfried (most of the group members I know only by first names), whom I figured to be around 30 years old. He was very slim, had dark and somewhat curly hair, and wore glasses. It was probably [Gottfried] Holic himself [born 1943].
They offered to answer questions, presenting themselves as Christians with no particular church membership. At some point, they joined in on the evening’s discussion, referring to the Bible text at hand, and placing special emphasis onto faith’s works. This seemed to me, in general, to be the core of their teaching: that works are the decisive factor in salvation.
After that evening, they still spoke with me and with others, and I couldn’t really make a counterargument (or, I didn’t want to – it didn’t occur to me that false teachers were sitting in front of me). At a later weekend group meeting, one of them told me how he joined the group, and that in the first conversation – with Gottfried – he waited for a point at which he could finally make a counterargument. But that point never happened … What Gottfried said at meetings, he presented well and vividly, which seemed good to the others, too. In tricky situations, he used the phrase: “No, you can’t see it that way.”
I had the impression and the hope that in the group, all the riddles and questions regarding the Bible would be explained. That was very enticing, as well as the fact [that I could] have foreign friends: Austrians. The next day, we met late in the afternoon in a congregation hall, and on the following days at the home of a woman from the congregation. On weekends we met in a meadow or forest, where some extra people from Austria always arrived. The group owned several cars and two vans, with Austrian license plates; another one was being modified in Hungary.
The Climate in the Group
I looked for love in the group – although I hadn’t been lacking it previously – but could recognize it among only a few [of the members]. The mother of the young woman [Margit] mentioned above was particularly striking to me. Her name was Ingrid, she was around fifty years old, and she seemed really warm. On closer reflection, it occurred to me that she could become a sort of “substitute mother.” That shocked me. Some group members from East Germany behaved rather coldly. Despite this, there was also laughter and smiles. One encountered hardness and coldness primarily in response to any skeptical attitudes toward the group. Treating each other affectionately was more of a secondary emphasis; a higher value was placed on faith and its “fulfillment.” The separation (spatially, too) from family members and friends who were against the group was emphasized. They referred to verses like Matthew 10:34-36 or Luke 12:51-52 (a person’s enemies will be from his own household). According to our information, one member’s mother was driven to suicide in this way; another member no longer cared for his ill mother. (Note from the website editor: I have heard nothing else about a case of suicide from other sources.)
They sang rarely, actually only on weekends, and from homemade organized songbooks. The texts of common youth group songs and church hymns were altered to some degree. They sang with guitar accompaniment. There was no trace of liturgy or of worship services, because a worship service should be carried out by living according to God’s Word. They had a low opinion of Christian musical artists, because such performers couldn’t care for all who’d come to faith after a concert, since the musical artists would be moving on.
Agenda at Meetings
Gottfried was always present at the meetings I attended. During the week, we read Bible texts and talked about them. There was almost no singing; there was no praying. Prayer didn’t occur when people were present who were not (yet) “proper Christians.” The standard for this was supposed to be John 17:20 (Jesus: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”) We were not yet taken along on missionary activities. On the weekend, we met with still other group members. We read the Bible together and took one or more long walks, during which we spoke with each other and occasionally read the texts even while walking. It was usually a one-on-one conversation. On Saturday evenings, the arrival of darkness didn’t end the day by a long shot. Flashlights and other lanterns helped with reading. About half the group, i.e., those who were already longtime members, slept then.
The baptism of two members happened relatively uneventfully: they were baptized by two other members with the words “ … in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit …” For this, water was taken out of the nearby flowing creek next to which the baptism occurred. Afterwards, there were prayers – despite our presence – but that was an exception. No “magical” meaning or effect was imputed to the baptism itself. “Baptism is a sign, not a magical rite. It is an obedient step of conversion.” It probably doesn’t have special meaning in the group, and also most likely is not a condition of joining the group, if it is indeed necessary for salvation at all according to them.
Some of it has been stated already. The group emphasizes repeatedly that it has no leader. One should not allow oneself to be called “teacher” (rabbi) or leader. Apparently, equality prevails. Nonetheless, from my observation, the
previously mentioned Gottfried, and a certain Franz (around 45 years old, from Austria) who had baptized me [?], provided a type of spiritual leadership, or at least a direction-setting function. The two of them also gave answers to difficult Bible passages. They seemed to be the most intelligent and also had the best Biblical knowledge.
Various Bible translations were used, e.g., Elberfelder and Luther, but also the Greek original text. One could really call them scholars of the faith; they thought it was fun to “talk shop.” Intelligence and cognitive ability are very important. One was supposed to believe in God with the heart and mind; the Bible says something similar. But the mind was very strongly emphasized. It seemed to me that this was held to be very important, too, for the understanding of God’s Word: once they talked about a man who avoided the draft during the Third Reich, who, “despite the fact that he wasn’t very intelligent” recognized God’s will and probably also the evil behind Hitler. During the East German years, it was wrong to sign up for a construction brigade to avoid being a soldier, according to them: that wasn’t forceful enough. (Note: during the East German years, there was no civil service as an alternative to the military draft. Those who objected to serving with a weapon were assigned to unarmed service in a so-called “construction brigade” in the army.)
The importance of intelligence was also clear, e.g., when the group tried to teach reading to an illiterate (because of a mental disability) man who actually seemed to feel really comfortable at the group’s meetings. But when they didn’t succeed, they gave up on this effort, and on the man himself.
Because Gottfriend and most of the Austrians came from Catholic congregations, they directed themselves primarily – along with other cults – against the Catholic church, which I – without wanting to step on anyone’s toes – can partially understand, after twice vacationing in Austria. They are not quite as hostile to protestant churches, but in that case, too, they severely criticize them for the [alleged] abuse of office, as well as for the fact that high church officials travel around in a Mercedes.
Aside from that, they didn’t find everything in the church to be bad or wrong. Somehow I got the impression that not all people, who aren’t group members, are automatically [counted as] non-Christians. Therefore, there are also Christians outside the group. However, if they had a chance to get to know the group, they would join it – otherwise they wouldn’t really be Christians.
When I asked if they donate to “Bread for the World” or other such charities, they said that they trusted God, that there are also Christians in the third world, who would help there. They didn’t think much of people like Mother Theresa, though, because such people would somehow promote images of Mother Mary or similar things. Such people – along with pastors – were considered to be false teachers or “theoliars” (Gottfried invented the term).
They justified separating themselves from the church with 1 Corinthians 5 (excluding a sinful person from the congregation), among other texts. They did this by actually reversing the text, that one needs to separate oneself from a (bad) congregation. Their motto: a Christian distances himself from sin and from people who don’t want to distance themselves from sin. To this point, see 2 Timothy 3:1-5 ( … having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people): Associating with such people – after rebuking them – is to be avoided, unless they repent.
Persecution, and the world’s hatred toward their group, seemed to be, again and again, a confirmation for them. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (be faithful until the end) meant loyalty to the group as the correct congregation. Attacks against the group are (naturally) from the enemy. Community isn’t where the church building stands, but rather where the Christians are “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5-9 … you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house …). The crucifix [they say] is not the proper symbol for Christians, because Jesus rose from the dead after all.
Many of their statements were directed against grievances which, at least in the protestant church in this country, aren’t really an issue. So, e.g., original sin, which according to Ezekiel 18:1-32 barely exists, or John 5:28-29, the resurrection of all people, not only the Christians.
The are rather relaxed about the topic of the end times. It is not of further significance in their teachings. Some Biblical texts predict the destruction of Jerusalem (in 70 A.D.) and therefore have nothing to do with the end times which are still approaching us, they say.
It is also important – so they say, at least – to read and understand Biblical texts in context, and not to pick out individual verses. So, e.g., 1 Corinthian 6:12-20 and 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 (All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful … ). These texts relate exclusively to the meat offered to idols, and are therefore no longer valid today, i.e., 6:12 and 10:23 (All things are lawful, but … ) are also no longer valid. - That which is between the lines is overlooked, in my opinion.
Likewise, about Romans 14:21 (It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble) they say that it only concerns foods, and the observance of holidays, but not also being silent about different conceptions of the faith and getting along well with other Christians. That would certainly contradict their teaching and their life[style].
Many texts and statements by the group are not specific to the group, but rather actually generally valid, and should urge the members to be consistent Christians. They could be seen as unimportant, if they didn’t serve to keep people in the group [through fear] – I assume (e.g., Hebrews 6:4-8). Many texts are used to show what a Christian should be: one who obeys God (James 1:22 – Be doers of the Word and not hearers only - ; Act 4:19 – Obey God rather than men), avoids the desires of the world (1 John 2:17 – the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever), and follows God’s Word (Romans 2:13 – before God, they are not justified for hearing the law, but rather for doing it). The last passage seems to be an argument against Roman 3:28 ( … that a man is justified without the law’s works, by faith alone) and therefore Romans 2:13 is a foundational passage for the group.
An essential passage is also Ephesians 5:10-11 (Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them). The conclusion is [that one should] mark the differences [between good and] the darkness, and that one cannot deal with Satan and his servants. The church is certainly counted as one of these servants. The pope is consistently label as Satan, who sits on the church’s throne. 2 Thessalonians 2:4 ( … the adversary who opposes and exalts himself over every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God) is one passage which I later found on my own. Perhaps the group supports itself with this passage.
Easter and Christmas are, for them, pagan festivals, when seen from their original meanings, and are therefore not celebrated. Birthdays are also not observed, and neither are Saturday and Sunday. Their justification is Galatians 4:8-11, especially from verse 10 (You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid for you that I may have labored over you in vain).
One characteristic of the group is communal ownership. One is not immediately obliged to do this, but rather it happens bit by bit, almost voluntarily, I assume because the original congregation in Jerusalem is the role model and the Bible is binding (Acts 2:37ff and 4:32ff).
The group attempts to use Matthew 11:6 (Blessed is the one who is not offended by me) to move people to accept stricter interpretations of Bible verses. Hebrews 4:12 (For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,) is a welcome help to them. It was also important that every action have a Biblical foundation (Colossians 3:17 – whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus). Everything that didn’t correspond to the group’s opinion was labeled as un-Biblical. Free time therefore consists not of listening to the radio or reading the newspaper, but rather of prayer and reading the Bible.
Concerning Jesus, they say that the Holy Spirit bonded with the human Jesus. It was not originally God’s will that Jesus should die on the cross. Such a thing couldn’t be God’s will [according to them].
Forgiveness doesn’t seem to be an essential topic of the group, but I don’t know anything more specific about this. Only those who follow God’s Word are justified before God (Romans 2:13); whoever sins in any fashion has not recognized Jesus (1 John 3:6 - No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him).
God repays individuals according to their works (Romans 2:6 - He will render to each one according to his works). The group sees a minor traffic accident that might happen to them sometime as the consequence of sin, as a punishment from God, so to speak. According to their opinion, a sinless life is possible. Guilt contributes to many people’s inability to look into the eyes of another person, because of a bad conscience.
Loving one’s neighbor is primarily missionary activity. However, they don’t approach everyone. One girl in the group told me that it’s possible to recognize in some people that they will reject God’s Word [so the group doesn’t speak to them]. In principle, every person can come to God, i.e., no doctrine of predestination. According to their statements, they try to approach church leaders in order to get them on their side, and with them also the entire congregation. Loving God shows itself in obedience towards His Word. But somehow, it all seemed that obeying God’s Word leads to love for God – actually somewhat reversed!
Love between the genders was not directly forbidden. In the group there was a young couple and a married couple who were accepted.
When they deny that others have the faith, they [aren’t] judging, so they say, they are only questioning. The standard for their life is God’s Word, however, not the faith-life of others, in order not to become arrogant. Despite this, they show with many Bible verses that the others live wrongly (“totally un-Biblically”) and only the group is correct and therefore the true congregation.
It was fortuitous that I worked during the second and third weeks from Monday to Thursday in West Germany. But the group had already shaped my thoughts. In response to the urging of my parents, I spoke with a preacher from the regional church community on the third weekend about the group, and cancelled my participation in the afternoon meetings of the group – although I wasn’t fully behind this decision.
The group didn’t pressure me especially, as I hadn’t been there long. In the afternoons, I felt absolutely wretched. I had feelings of guilt as I sat on a bench chatting with friends. Reading the Bible would be more sensible, and wouldn’t be a sin, I thought. That was a critical moment and for me, in hindsight, a sign that I was escaping from a close encounter with a cult, into which I had cluelessly stumbled. My world had been turned upside down. The internal conflict during the time in the group – and, in part, also after exiting it – is very great, and life is suddenly unbelievably difficult. Thoughts about suicide sneak in. I’ve learned, from other “short-term members,” that they had great difficulties with “separation for the sake of Jesus” – the break with parents and friends was indeed radically preached and demanded. Such strong internal struggles emerged for them, that they wished that this torturous struggle, and with it their lives, would finally be over.
In the following weeks, I wanted to meet with a friend daily to read the Bible – subconsciously, probably, as a substitute for the group. A retreat also began during this week. I had already registered for it a long time previously, and I actually wanted to call it off. The group often attempted to keep people away from participating in retreats, and even fetched individual members away from retreats. Thank God, I still went, and had fellowship with Christians, and so for me this retreat became my actual exit from the group.
A woman from my congregation, who was also part of the Holic Group for a brief time, and at whose house we had met, attempted to advise the group about [its] errors by means of Bible passages in a letter. The group argued back in a conversation without any Bible passages, with only phrases like “you are close to hell.”
(The author’s name is known to the website’s supervisor)