Report of a Former Member of the Group (1989)
Here is an attempt, by means of a personal report, to offer you a glimpse into the formation and life of the youth group called “true Christians.”
This is only possible because I myself belonged to it for three months. I attempted to reproduce impressions, experiences, and knowledge from this time in the form of a journal. I did this in order to express why I ended up in this group, and to show the perspective from which members view the world. I’ve added a few details about myself: My name is Kathrin Müller (the name has been changed, but is known to the author), I’m 22 years old, and I work as a laboratory assistant (the job title has been slightly changed). Officially, I belong to the regional protestant church, but I feel more at home in the protestant congregational church. I encountered the group mentioned above a year ago during a Taizé convention in the city of Pecs (Hungary).
Today I met a nice young man. He preached about Jesus, crucified and resurrected. He spoke very directly about personal repentance. It was very appealing to me that he began with himself and had changed his own life.
Well, I thought, I should be cautious anyway: in the end, it’ll turn out to be a cult again that’s all about money … but I still wanted to get to know these people. Perhaps they are Christians, who know lots of interesting things?
We talked a lot. The topics engaged me greatly. Rarely does one meet people who consider things so clearly and who know with such certainty. Some of them have a friendly and uncomplicated manner, and their Austrian accent and charm are very nice.
The truth of the New Testament, the unity of Christians, loving one’s enemies, social conditions among Christians, community, commandments
These people believe that whoever has faith will obviously want to work in the community, even to the point, as the early Christians did, of sharing all possessions and money with each other, and being attached to each other in all of life’s circumstances. There is no communal life without confessing one’s sins and forgiveness. These people could precisely show these things in the Bible. I marvel at their deep insight.
Because I wanted to go to Budapest anyway, I took up their offer to travel with them.
The Next Day
The Austrians spoke very eagerly with Hungarians and also with Germans about the faith. They are a good, helpful team.
In many conversations, it became clear that the people with whom the group spoke were often believers, but they dealt superficially with their complicity in admittedly flawed church politics. Many simply didn’t want to bear the consequences for their own behavior. The Austrians are more honest in this matter.
The apartment in Budapest is a rundown dump. They place little value on it, because they are continuously doing something else. I don’t like that so much. Otherwise, their simple lifestyle is positive, actually the best for the environment, and it also helps a person see possessions as a gift from God.
After a few days of intensively getting to know them, by means of their way of life these people had convinced me that my previous Christianity (I decided for Jesus at age 18, although my parents did not raise me as a Christian) is null and void. So at my own request, I was baptized a second time there.
The next step was for me to live entirely in the group. Which thoughts motivated me?
… It is wonderful how the life of the first Christians, e.g. from Acts 2:37-47, becomes current. We want to build God’s community, and that is the best goal that there is. It is indeed possible, to live as a Christian without the church’s false traditions; we experience this in our group again and again. So it can only be selfishness, if most people don’t do this; they are not ready to accept hardship and self-denial as the price for this. But in exchange, I’ve gotten so many new values and joys, that I’m actually richly blessed. We trust each other so much that it is almost better than in a large family.
That was in Hungary. After I became active in the group at home [in Germany], it took only a few weeks, and I “lost” all the people who had been dear to me: parents, friends, coworkers, the young people in the congregation. I was completely isolated except for the group.
Slowly it became clear to me, how arrogantly and lovelessly our “Christian super congregation” actually behaved. I am especially thankful to people who, although I hurled criticisms in their faces, still cared about me especially at that time, who could forgive me for this, and who prayed for me. By means of their witness, but also because my own conscience suddenly awoke again, I was able more and more to recognize my wrong path, and to regret it, and to read the Bible suddenly in an entirely new way.
At this time, the group attempted to draw me back in, naturally out of concern for my salvation. In this process, I wasn’t the only one with doubts. The others were convicted of their beliefs again by the unyielding group. The smallest thoughts were evaluated and discussed in minute detail. Often I lacked the rational replies, but I knew that God wasn’t asking for lines of reasoning. Rather, faith alone and humility toward all people are decisive. The feelings of security offered by the group now turned into the opposite.
From this time:
A friend and I had already changed our relationship to the group. We received visitors from Austria, two nice young people, who arrived carrying an elevenpage letter to all of us [from all of them?]. We discussed this for a week.
Not only did I feel scrutinized, but it also severely tested my patience, to still encounter them with love.
Direct pressure (threats, force, prohibitions, extortion, etc.) was never used, but rather everything revolved around the Bible. I believe that the people in the group actually believe what they say. They wouldn’t work with unfair methods, but their understanding of the Bible consistently led them to leave everything [worldly]. For them, being a Christian is only possible in a radical, continuously dynamic, early Christian manner.
At this time, they were continuously confronting us with various Bible passages that only those who are terrible sinners can become false teachers (Romans 16:17; 2 John 9; 2 John 11). Naturally, anybody can reject anything with that. But they wanted to place us under pressure, so that we would admit that we had made ourselves guilty by our behavior, and had for that reason encountered doubts. It went so far that one boy said: “ … it would be better, not to freely sell Bibles, so that people couldn’t distort them.” I learned silent prayer and endurance there. The spiritual pressure (since not belonging to them anymore means automatically losing Jesus and eternity) is stronger and more effective on the believing person than anything else would be.
Whoever hasn’t gotten a perspective [on these matters], but still leaves the group, is quite likely in danger of suicide. I went through that, too. The individual in question will get no help from the group in this regard.
I remained consistent, but I had much to win back: forgiveness, especially from my family, my apartment, a new job. Slowly, I found my equilibrium in daily life. It was always a struggle. Behind all of it were greater powers, and only hope, courage, and trust could really help me. Going to old friends and asking for forgiveness was the only way forward for me that was appropriate and also blessed.
Appendix to the Experience Report of Kathrin Müller: How Do They Work?
Their main tactic is the individual conversation. Disrupting Christian events while in process is an exception. In this situation, they offer themselves as conversation facilitators. The goal of these conversations is that the individual is invited to visit their communal living quarters. They explain to the young person that it’s all voluntary and there’s no commitment.
The visitor is received with great care and “love.” He is still allowed to ask questions and express doubt. If he should decide to join them, they emphasize severing all relationships to unbelievers. That includes parents, siblings, friends, and one’s old congregation. In the daily group conversations, the newcomer is quickly schooled. Now doubts have greater consequences. All at once, the consequences of falling away are made clear. In this situation, the newcomer experiences great internal struggles, which are provoked so that she or he “voluntarily” submits to them.
Most people conclude this phase of inner suffering by committing to the group. Any other choice would toss them into isolation from the group; they’ve already separated themselves from their friends. They are alone.
This cult’s complete ruthlessness shows itself in this situation. There is evidence that they would accept a person’s suicide in this phase. “It is better that he die, rather than that he fall away.” (Quote from Gottfried P.)
Remaining in the group is tied to surrendering one’s own goals and desires. With time, the members grow dull. Because there is no turning back, there remains only the “comfort” of “suffering for the Lord’s sake.”
It is shocking, how quickly young people who stumble into this group lose their personality. Creativity, joy in living, and imagination have become alien to them. Fear of falling away is their constant companion. All of that indicates a strong pressure to achieve inside the group, too. Doubts are immediately repressed and combatted by working for the group.
From these facts, and from conversations with people who’ve been in contact with the group, I must conclude that it is not God’s Spirit which is at work among them. It is a cultish spirit, which oppresses people, indeed, which makes them almost into slaves.