Account of a Recruiting Effort in a Berlin Congregation (1998)

Reprinted with the friendly permission from “Berlin Dialogue” magazine, issue number 2-98

Written at Falkenhagen, April 3, 1998

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

I’d like to inform you about the activities of a group, and warn you about them. In the church district of Seelow, young people have phoned many congregations in the area, asking intently about Bible study groups and youth groups. In my congregation, they’ve appeared twice at this writing (in a young adult group and in a youth group – they actually wanted to attend a youth service, but it was cancelled). My colleagues have received phone calls, but not any visits as of yet.

Conspicuously, you never really learn who they are or where they come from. [They say that] they “simply happen to be in the area” and “have heard about the group here.” [They say that] they are simply “Christians seeking a Bible study group,” and haven’t found one yet (without [indicating] any congregational affiliation).

The only thing that you learn is their first names. They come “from Berlin” – and if you ask further: “the eastern part” – and if you ask again: “Friedrichshain” – but you only get that much information by pressuring them!

These young people are very “interested in the Bible” and also “solidly Biblical.” [A member of] the second “delegation” attempted to pull a new visitor attending the youth group into a conversation, while the other one diverted me with a conversation. As I got into the conversation, the extreme Biblicism and rigidly legalistic behavior of these two people were rapidly revealed. They really weren’t seeking conversation, but rather division.

During prayer, they could not pray with us (they didn’t say the Lord’s Prayer when we did). Upon further questioning: “We can’t pray with just anybody; we must first see whether the foundational beliefs are correct and if you are really Christians! And see, we were right, that we don’t have a common spiritual foundation.”

(Those who know me are aware that I am certainly not “suspected” of being “critical of the Bible” or anything like that.)

If two people who are interested in the Bible but remain rather anonymous show up at your meeting – whether through previous arrangement or not – it would not wise to assume that there’s an authentic interest in spiritual fellowship or in your congregation’s activites.

According to reports from Brother Gandow, this probably concerns the “Holic Group”, a Christian cult from Austria. Beyond Austria, this cult is primarily active in Saxony, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. In the meantime, it has communal living quarters in Berlin. In churches, it usually approaches young people, attempting to penetrate their groups and events, in order to lure individuals away and into their own group – the only true Christian community.

The group lives without any private sphere, with communal ownership of property, and also shares all thoughts (there is no independent thinking – everything is examined in the group – whether it is “from the Spirit”). There is a Biblical answer for all questions, and it is 100% clear.

With friendly wishes for blessings,
Carsten Schwarz,
Vacancy Pastor in Falkenhagen

Record of an attempted Infiltration

February: A young woman is on the phone. She heard “from a pastor in Seelow” that we have a group of young adults. What do we do? Bible study? About the topic of “sin”? Interesting! Can we visit? – Gladly, of course.

Thursday: young adult group. Two young women are there. They introduce themselves. With their first names. They come from Berlin. – Which part of the city? – From the east. – And which neighborhood? – From Mitte/Friedrichshain. They’re often in the area and are looking for a Bible study group. – Here? In Berlin there are surely lots of them? – We didn’t find anything there.

The evening goes by. Both of them prove to be very well-versed in the Bible, and take part in the Bible study – they don’t participate in the common prayer – they don’t say the Lord’s Prayer with us. - They leave after the Bible study; they don’t remain for the relaxed social fellowship.

I invite them to a “young people’s” worship service on March 27th. – They’re gone: “What kind of people were those?” – “Man, don’t be so suspicious right away!!!” I answer.

March: The “young people’s” worship service (GD JG) is cancelled for various reasons. The congregation’s youth gather. Two young men arrive: Is there no youth worship service today? All right, then we’ll stay for the youth group. – Sure. Happily. – Introductions with first names. – How did you hear about the youth worship service? From friends. – And where are you from? – From Berlin. We’re often on the road between Berlin and Poland. What do you do in your youth group? Bible study, too? – Yes …

One young man was supposed to give a presentation about “Scientology,” but it’s cancelled because he didn’t show up. Alternative: Discussion about a skit for the Easter worship service. Roles are assigned. We read the skit, which will be the sermon in the worship service (“Resurrection”). Afterwards, I lead a prayer time; we say the Lord’s Prayer together. The two visitors don’t pray with us. Afterwards: games. They don’t participate, but they don’t want to leave yet.

We have a closing together; we read a devotional. Then free time. – Are you doing anything else? – Playing, talking, hanging out together, they remain. One of the young men begins a conversation with a girl (she’s new! she’d also introduced herself). The second one talks to me about the congregation and what we do, how our youth worship service runs. The rest of the youth group talks and plays. I notice that the conversation between the other two is very intense. The young man speaks very emphatically at the girl. – I turn the tables with my conversation partner. I ask about his home congregation in Berlin. – None. – How did you come to faith, then? – We read the Bible together. – Alone? – No, we know a few other Christians. – And where are they from? – We simply meet with them. – Why don’t you seek a congregation in Berlin? – Haven’t found any that agree. Everything is too much like a club or too social. Too little Bible study. – I know many congregations where there’s lots of fellowship and Bible study. Would you be interested in their addresses? – Yes. – Now is not a good time. I’ll write them down tomorrow. Give me your address. I’ll send you the addresses of these congregations.

– (He blushes). Contacting us by telephone is difficult. Just write one address down. I’ll get the other addresses from that one. – I break off the conversation. The rest of the youth group is waiting for a game. – The “new” girl can’t break away from the conversation. Communicating by means of a glance, I send an older youth over to her; I go over myself as soon as I can. I ask what they’re talking about. – About denominations. – Sometimes I’m sincerely happy that we have them (if they aren’t fighting with each other). I can discover many things which complete my own tradition. – No, that can’t be. In the Bible it says that Christians should be unified – The Bible is the truth, so disagreements and socalled “denominational differences” have no place. Christians distinguish themselves through unity instead of through divisions and differences. – I allude to interdenominational events like “Pro Christ” or the “Day of Encouragement” in the French Cathedral in Berlin, where many different Christians join together under God’s Word for prayer, conversation, and fellowship, and jointly invite [people] to come to faith; where they show the commonalities of faith and not the differences. Where they are one.

No, that is all merely external. There is no unity there. – I have lived for years with a Syrian Orthodox Christian in a community. I now live with Catholics in a congregation. – No, you haven’t lived together. You’ve only gotten together once in a while. That’s no community. – What does it look like, then? – The original community was together as a congregation every day. – I’m trying to imagine that in Berlin. – He feels like I’ve made a fool of him. – I mean it, seriously: what would that look like? A community in Berlin? – It’s written in the Bible! The conversation goes on: topics like adultery and divorce. He talks about [things like] a Christian doesn’t smoke. In short, [it becomes clearer that this group’s worldview is harsh and] more severe. Is the law for man, or man for the law? Is the law of Jesus more severe and narrow than the law of Moses? How radical is salvation and the possibility of a new beginning? I detect a great uneasiness in myself.

I distinctly recall the two women from the previous month (saying nothing about themselves, having no home church, seeking a Bible study group, not saying the Lord’s Prayer aloud with us). I say what I’m thinking. We were transparent. – Why didn’t you ask us if we wanted to talk about a particular topic that interests you? Why did you talk to only one of us by herself? – We did tell you who we are and what we want. And now we’re speaking about the Bible, and that’s what we wanted. – Why didn’t you pray with us? Prayer is an outward sign of Christians. – But we can’t pray with just anybody. We must first get to know each other, [to see] if we have the same spiritual foundation. Aside from that, Jesus didn’t give us the Lord’s Prayer simply so that we could rattle it off quickly (and then go for a smoke). Besides we see now that we were right: We have no [common] spiritual foundation or community. They leave. I debrief the youth:

How did the “new” girl perceive this incident? At first [it seemed] normal, then very uncomfortable and pressured; her opinion didn’t count [in the conversation with them]. The young man’s conversation about the community in which he now lives irritated her the most. (He mentioned this only while talking one-on-one with her.) [He said that his community is] the correct form of Christian fellowship, while these church meetings aren’t correct forms of Christian community. When she said that she also has other friends and her own private life, he argued with her. I have my friends in the community and I find my peace in God. I don’t need anything else.

We discuss it in the group. [What was] good [about them]: asking about how seriously I take my Christianity. Bad: they target the “weakest” member of the group: a relative newcomer. One doesn’t detect much of the God of love and mercy. What did they want from us?

We go through the “EBI-Checklist for beginners” (key points to inspect whether it could be a cult). We discover a few things. – Other congregations in the district have already been contacted by phone as well ...