“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:10)
The term ‘world’ is used in the Bible in various senses. There is nothing inherently antigodly about this world which is God’s good creation. It is the gift of God which we receive with thankfulness and which leads us to praise God for his glorious creation. That is why we also delight in the many beautiful things we have the privilege of experiencing again and again, be it a spring flower, a rocky gorge, a sunset, a starry night… We firmly reject the Gnostic idea of an evil creation.
In the New Testament the term ‘world’ is also used in a negative sense and describes the people who, through their free, independent decision have set themselves against God. It is completely clear that a Christian can only distance himself from this ‘world’. As disciples of Jesus we are not of ‘this world’, just as Jesus is not from this world (John 17:14+17).
That is why 1 John 2:15-17 is relevant for us:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world– the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches– comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”
Despite this we don’t flee from the world. We live in the world into which Jesus sent us (John 17:18). Escaping the world, as seen in many examples of so-called Saints of various centuries is something we are far from. We neither retreat to the desert nor behind massive monastery walls. None of us would accept a vow or command of silence like among the Trappists (The common name by which the Cistercians who follow the reform inaugurated by the Abbot de Rancé (b. 1626; d. 1700) in the Abbey of La Trappe, were known; and often now applied to the entire Order of Reformed Cistercians.). Nor will we mount the pillars of the ‘Stylites’ (Stylites were solitaries who, taking up their abode upon the tops of a pillar (stylos), chose to spend their days amid the restraints thus entailed and in the exercise of other forms of asceticism.)
Jesus called his disciples to be the light of the world, a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14-16). Through not adopting the standards of this world (Romans 12:2) we can be a light and can lead people to a life which praises God through good deeds.
We live in the world. Most of us have jobs where we want to give our best, but which is not in itself our calling which consists of devotion to God.
“We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them.”
(1 John 5:18).
That does not mean that we renounce our responsibility for the world. But opportunities to take political action are quite limited: on the one hand because that is not our main task; on the other hand because all political powers are so far removed from the basic human moral standards, that any form of co-operation with them is excluded from the outset.
There would be much to do in a world in which it is considered a basic human right to be allowed to murder one’s own child in the womb, in a world which talks about justice and oppresses the poor; in a world which, in the name of balancing budgets continually furthers social cutbacks, not only letting the rich go untouched, but even promoting their prosperity (especially through so-called ‘Christian’ political parties), in a world which gushes about Humanitarianism, equality and friendliness towards foreigners, yet at the same time enacts laws which are increasingly hostile towards foreigners, driving refugees with no rights into the hands of greedy smugglers and often to their death. In short: in a world that has learnt to camouflage extreme cruelty with nice sounding words.
We don’t keep silent about these injustices. But God called the disciples of Jesus to give the world the best thing possible: that is, the Gospel, eternal life in discipleship to Jesus. In every place where people follow Jesus, God’s will for this world becomes reality: people living together in love and righteousness, not xenophobic but full of trust. We are joyful that despite all our sins we may experience this working of God in our community.
The world is not the “black background which makes our concepts seem that much brighter”.
God’s light doesn’t need the shadow in order to be recognised as light. The good is good because it is good and does not rely on evil. Only the bad has to continually pretend to be good, because it would not be able to exist on its own.
Mr. Kluge is right in saying that we see ourselves as being called out of this world. This is true of every Christian. We are called to be Saints (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2) in this world, but we are not from this world (John 17:11,26). If someone says that he is not called out of this world, he admits that he is not a disciple of Jesus, he is not a Christian.
The opinion that “the negative occurrences in the world result from sin” is not held only by us but also by Paul:
Romans 5:12, “, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned”
We certainly want to be on our guard against too primitive conceptions. (The Sabertooth tiger was not a vegetarian. Biological death existed in the animal kingdom from the beginning, long before the first sin.) But we know that the first sin represented a substantial turning point in the relationship between God and Man and that after the Fall man was in a worse position than before, in that it’s often easier to do evil than to do good. We deny the understanding of inherited original sin, in which these negative effects are considered to be sin. This teaching held by almost the entire Christian tradition since Augustine, with varying emphases, we reject as unbiblical and godless.
Every reflection of a world without sin is inherently speculative. We think that God, in his Grace would have protected un-fallen man from sickness and disability. We are not the first to think so either. It is also the conviction of others. “Because sin reigns in the world, illness has an influence and death makes the nature of sin visible.” (Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 6. Band 1977, p. 428)
Concerning Mr. Kluge’s criticism, “that physical or mental handicaps are perceived as a punishment from God”, we assert the following:
We have to be very cautious regarding the connection between a specific sin and a specific illness. The book of Job teaches us that it is impossible to conclude that illness is an automatic consequence of sin.
Also Jesus’ words in John 9:3 are plain: Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Jesus refers here only to a single case, but shows that the thinking visible behind the question of the disciples is wrong.
Of course in many cases there are obvious connections between sickness and sin, which lie simply in the nature of the particular sin. A smoker shouldn’t be surprised about his lung cancer, and the effects of alcohol or drug consumption on health are well known.
In 1 Corinthians 11:30, Paul attributes sicknesses and cases of death to sin. Here it does not mean that the individuals who were sick were the worst sinners. The community, through its sins, had backslid to a level which was so close to the world that God was not able to protect them from many dangers anymore. It was those who were the most susceptible to illnesses that were affected by sickness, not the worst sinners. It seems as if nothing happened to the man who committed incest in 1 Corinthians 5.
We also reject the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 5:5 which holds that the destruction of the flesh refers to bodily harm inflicted through sickness or even death, but we understand the passage to mean that the fleshly attitude, that is, the sin of the excluded person, should be destroyed.
Now and then the Bible shows examples of illness and even death as punishment (Acts 13:11; 5:1-11). But we consider these passages to be exceptions.
To this end it should also be kept in mind that many of our brothers and sisters are employed in the service of the sick and disabled.
We don’t want to close our eyes to the positive things which exist outside of our community; but it is very painful to observe how often good is tied to false teachings. We reject most decidedly the protestant doctrine of the total depravity of Man after the Fall, that a person without God could do nothing good.
As far as having a critical approach to our own preaching and expectations goes, we are conscious of our deficiencies. We know that many people have a much more profound knowledge than us, and we are thankful to be able to learn from others. We want to be on our guard against all forms of bias. On the other hand, even among people who are superior to us in knowledge, false reasoning exists which even simple people can see through.
We must also clearly differentiate fundamental teachings which cannot be questioned, from details in which we often have not yet reached a clear understanding. By dealing with the Bible intensively we can learn more and more and also see through our own false reasoning. We expect others to be open to our criticism and therefore we ourselves also do not want to shut ourselves off to outside criticism.
Concerning the “redefinition” of terms, Mr. Kluge admits that the example he quotes is a one-off case and is not known to us. We also perceive the word “inhumane” to have a negative meaning. But there are certainly differences in the meaning of the word “inhumane”.
It is not inhumane to obey one’s own conscience and to follow what one understands to be the will of God, and to prefer fellowship with brothers and sisters in the Lord to fellowship with one’s own family if they are not in the Lord.
It is inhumane when parents drug their children with toxic substances, kidnap them, lock them up at home, chain them to the heater, deprive them of their passport, unlawfully incapacitate them, keep them locked up for months behind convent walls against their will… All these things have been done to brothers and sisters from our community in the 20th Century. More crimes against Christians in the name of Christendom can be found in history books.
Tolerance is an important principle of every humane society, a virtue which especially our adversaries often don’t grant us. “If a society is to survive and to prosper, tolerance, to a certain extent, is necessary.” (K.Hoermann, Lexikon der christlichen Moral, 1969 Sp.1221)
Tolerance means that everybody has the right to think and to believe whatever he wants. But tolerance does not mean that everything is right. There is but one truth. And this truth must be recognised and grasped in freedom. The catholic principle “that only the truth, not error has a right to be” (Hoermann, Sp. 1221) cost an innumerable number of people their freedom, home, health or life. The truth does not rely on being spread or defended with violence. Those who resort to the argument of violence, as the large “churches” did again and again, show that they do not have the truth. The one and only truth speaks for itself and need not fear the competition of errors and pseudo-truths.
There must be tolerance in the world. Everybody has the right to think and to believe whatever he wants. But if somebody calls themself a Christian they have decided to follow Jesus’ teaching. If they want to believe something else it is their free decision. But they should not call it Christianity.
The church of God is not a gathering of every “Tom, Dick and Harry” – but “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Heresies therefore have no room in the community. But every false teacher continues to have full claim of all his civil rights.
We have to distinguish clearly between errors and heresies. Those who err unwittingly remain open to criticism and are glad to find a way out of their error. In these circumstances patience is necessary to strengthen each other in learning the truth. Those, on the other hand, who consciously live in contradiction to the apostles teaching must not be tolerated within the community – with all due respect to their dignity as a human being.
Every Christian has experienced God’s great patience and experiences it again and again. We are called to bear one another patiently. On the other hand we must be conscious of the urgency of Jesus’ call. It is impossible to put off repentance. Even if many people do not want to accept it, there is a “too late”.
“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, …” (Hebr 3:7-8. This passage ought to be read in the broader context)
Those who refuse God’s call again and again harden themselves more and more, so that one day they will not be able to change themselves anymore.
In our community we have never believed that the end of the world is at hand. Quite the opposite. This question was one of the first points of conflict in our discussions with Fundamentalists and “Free Churches”.
We strictly reject this egocentric view of the world (“our time must be something special”). It remains a mystery as to which statements of our brothers could have been interpreted so wrongly. Did Mr. Kluge perhaps want to put us into a box only later realising that we don’t fit into it?
In order to help people out of this doomsday madness we have repeatedly dealt with the “belief in the imminent return of Jesus”. Since Mr. Kluge has withdrawn his reproach that we believe in this teaching this is not the right place for a detailed treatment of this topic.