What God Is Doing in Eastern Europe
July 22nd, 1990 @ 10:50 AM
WHAT GOD IS DOING IN EASTERN EUROPE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-22-90 10:50 a.m.
And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled What God Is Doing in Eastern Europe. It is following a trek, an assignment, a preaching ministry, with our Chapel Choir and Orchestra throughout the central nations and states of that great continent. A background text in Acts chapter 14, the closing verse, "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together," you, "they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" [Acts 14:27].
And it was such a privilege thus to speak of the providences of God as we see them unfolding in that strategic part of the earth. As you would expect, the first thing we do when we land in East Germany is to go to the Berlin Wall. And there, everybody has got a pickaxe or a sledge hammer or a crowbar or a chisel and they are tearing down and taking apart that partition between the East and the West. And of course, your pastor got in the big middle of it and he has a piece of the Berlin Wall here for you to look at. Oh, dear!
I was most interested, as you would be, in the report, in the delineation of a German woman who owns and operates and presides over a retail store. And she described for us the day that that wall was opened. It was doubly interesting to me because, as with many of you, you had gone through that wall at Checkpoint Charlie. It was a memorable experience to go through that wall at that time. And she said, standing there on the top of that wall at Checkpoint Charlie that had now been broken apart, wide open, she said she looked on those East Berliners, as by the thousands and the thousands, the throngs and the throngs, they surged through that wall into freedom. She said they were waving their hands. She said they were crying. They were shouting. They were singing. And they were looking wide-eyesen. They were free. They were free.
What a wonderful example of the experience that we have in our Lord Jesus. In the second chapter of the Book of Ephesians, Paul writes, "Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us" [Ephesians 2:13-14], a reference to the wall in the temple that separated the Court of the Gentiles, from the Court of Israel, and a big inscription that I have seen on that wall, any Gentile who entered into that Holy Place was condemned to death. They were separated by that wall of partition. You’ll read in the twenty-first chapter of this Book of Acts, those people there in that day thought that Paul had taken Trophimus, who was a Gentile from Ephesus; they thought he had taken him into that holy place [Acts 21:29]. And they created a riot, and they were beating Paul to death. And those soldiers on top of the top of the Tower of Antonio, that had been built by the Roman legionaries in order to survey and keep in order that temple court, they came down and rescued Paul [Acts 21:30-36]. Otherwise, he would have lost his life.
But now that wall has been taken down. And we have free access to God. No hierarchy, no priesthood, no ritual separates us. We can go directly into the presence of God for ourselves, each one of us. That place of prayer in your house is as sacred as the Holy of Holies once was on the temple of Mount Moriah. He has broken down, the Book says, the middle wall of partition. And could I say it one other further? In 1 Corinthians 15:50, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." As long as I am in this body of clay, this house mortal, this life of sin, I am separated from God. [His] face, I cannot see Him. And I am separated from heaven by this partition [Ephesians 2:14], this wall of flesh. But Jesus came and He tore it down [Hebrews 10:19-20]. In death and in resurrection, He has promised to us a like deliverance [1 Corinthians 15:20-22]. And someday there will not be a wall of separation between us and God. We will be there in a new and heavenly body and free to look upon the face of God and live [1 Corinthians 13:12]. Ah, what a glory, tearing down that middle wall of partition.
Well, the choir came first to East Berlin, to the Bethel Baptist Church where Erhard Bachmann is pastor. They observed their hundredth anniversary just a few years ago. Their church was bombed out in this Second World War, and for thirty years they had no place to meet. But under the direction of this present pastor they have rebuilt their church, about the size of Embree Hall, and are now praising God in that new sanctuary. Then into West Berlin, in the First Baptist Church where Frederick Eckhart is the pastor. Their church was also bombed out, and was rebuilt in 19, only about four or five years later. They have a glorious congregation, but greatly hurt when that wall was built separating two parts of the city. He told me, they lost one-third of their members. And now that the wall is broken and they are free to enter in, the people who were separated feel strange in coming back. So he said, "We have not received one since that wall has been opened." But their service to God is so blessed. They are one hundred fifty years old, celebrated their one hundredth fiftieth anniversary just recently, and have great prospects and hopes for the morrow.
There is a fear of Germany that is extensive. It is everywhere. If your papers here were like the papers in London, the Minister of Industry, a member of the Thatcher cabinet in England, had an interview with the reporter from their magazine called The Spectator, and in that magazine he expressed the deep-seated fear of what it means for the two Germanys to be together. They are by far together as now this moment. They are by far the most dynamic and able and powerful of any nation in that part of the world. In the disintegration of the Roman, of the Russian empire, Germany stands above and beyond and alone. None comparable to it. And this man, Michael Ridley, spoke of the fear of a great united Germany. "And they will dictate," he said, "the political life of the continent. They will dictate the financial life of the continent, they will dictate to the military life of the continent, and that includes the British Isles." He said all of that. Well, it infuriated the government of England, I am sure all of this you read here in America. The headlines of every paper for days and days in London presented that furor and reaction against Michael Ridley. But you talk to every man on the street in the capital city of England. And you talk to anyone in a cafe and you talk to anyone in a store, and they voice that same terrible fear of what can happen in this reunited Germany and the strength of those dynamic people.
So when we were in the car and for hours were with Colonel Webb and Captain Baxter of our military forces stationed in Mannheim, I asked those two officers, "How is it that Hitler was able to dominate and to mesmerize this vast nation, a great people?" And they answered immediately as though they had studied it for the years they have been over there. They said there are two reasons why. Number one, because the people are godless. The nation is godless. And they gave me an extensive word, something I had already realized. It was out of Germany, that higher criticism blasted and destroyed the Protestant world. German higher criticism took away the belief of our great institutions in the inspiration and infallibility of this Holy Bible. And the consequence of it was the people turned away from God and the churches were emptied. That is why, if I could turn an aside, that some of us are so dedicated to keeping that liberal theology out of our seminaries and out of our colleges and out of our universities. It always results in the emptiness of religious profession and the emptiness of the houses of God, the church.
Let me give you an instance. You can go to East Germany, in East Berlin, and there in the middle of it will be one of the most magnificently built complexes your eyes ever saw. There in the center will be a great, mighty building, the ecclesiastical administration of the people of God. And here to the left is the Protestant Lutheran Church, a vast building. And here to the right is the Protestant Huguenot Church, a vast building. When France persecuted the Protestants and those Huguenots left, many, many of them went to Berlin. And there was a time when twenty percent of the people of Berlin spoke French. There is that tremendous building. And you stand and look at it. What great monuments to God and to the faith and the living Word of the living Lord. You look at, and they are museums. They have been emptied for generations. Nobody goes, nobody. That is a part of what has happened to the great nation of Germany.
And the moral fabric of the people is an astonishing thing! You go down the great mall in Heidelberg. And here is a store, they are selling porcelain. Here is a store, they are selling cloth. Here is a store, they are selling suits and clothing. And here is a store and they are selling prostitutes, governed by the national assembly, in the same way you go in and buy a suit, in the same way you go in and buy a piece of china, in the same way you go in this store and you buy the services of a prostitute for so much for so long a time. The fabric of the nation; it is unthinkable. There at Mannheim, where our military is located, the most beautiful building in the great complex stands there at the head of it, magnificently built. This is the place where Hitler housed his panzers, his elite. And that house was for the prostitutes, for the mistresses, that the Hitler army provided for the panzer units. That is Germany.
And when you go to the hotel, such as we stayed in, in East Germany, the top of the hotel is a casino – it is just a regular hotel, like any other – the top of it is a casino. And in the lobby, the most prominent part of the lobby is a lottery. And of course the drinking is universal. I looked out the window as I did forty dozen times on Alexander Plaza, Alexander Platz. And there in the center of East Berlin, those people are there by the thousands, by the throngs, they are down there on that plaza. So naturally I went down there in the middle of them. Walking around, just looking at all of those things that those East Berliners were a-lookin’ at. And the most, the most interesting of all of the things that were going on down there in that plaza was what I would call a shell game man. Some of you might not know what a shell game is. Well, I’ve watched them. There will be a sleight of hand fella and he’ll have maybe ten shells there and a pea. And he will shuffle those things around. And you guess and you put down some money and you point. I have been watching and the pea is underneath this shell. Well, sure enough, he lifts up the shell and you have lost your money. Well, that’s what was going on down there. There was this fellow, except he didn’t have shells. He had porcelain disks, black porcelain disks and underneath was written each time "ten for one" here and "five for one" there. And the rest of them, nothing. So he shuffles them around and you put your money down, and if when he gets through shuffling them, why, you point to the one you have bet on, a ten for one. And sure enough, he opens it and you have lost your money, the shell game man. You remember that song,
I went to the animal fair,
All of the fakes were there.
The shell game man
Had a wonderful plan.
He skinned me, but I don’t care.
I played with a right good will
To find that darn little pill.
And oh, what a crash
When I tried to cash
My phony ten-dollar bill.
["Went to the Animal Fair," Anonymous]
That’s Germany. That’s Germany. And that’s why they say number one, that had Hitler was able to dominate the country. They have no religious conviction, none at all.
And then of course, the second reason was that they took advantage of the pride of the German people. World War I humiliated them in defeat. And he said, "We will have our place in the sun. We will be the dominant race and nation in the earth." And of course, the rest is known in the tragic war that followed in which something like twenty million people lost their lives in a sea of blood.
Now, to speak of us. Number one: communism is bankrupt, absolutely. It is a demonstrable failure, absolutely. And those who have been subject to it are coming increasingly aware of its destitution and its abysmal failure. Communism is bankrupt, absolutely. For example, the hotel in which they placed us in East Berlin; on the outside it just looks so fine; on the inside, when I went with Mrs. C. to our room, I remembered my preaching mission through Russia. And the hotel in Krakow, the same thing. The doors made out of plastic, would you think of such a thing? And everything else poor and sorry and unworkable and no account, unattractive. That is their life. As we went with a driver in East Berlin over a large viaduct under which there were many tracks, railroad tracks, he stopped the car and said, "Look at it." For forty years the railroads have been deteriorating in communist East Germany. And that is the best section of communism in the world is East Germany. He said, "Look at the tracks. Look at them." Bushy, high bushes growing up between the rails; high bushes on each side. The whole thing is deteriorating and deteriorated. That’s communism. And there is nothing for the people, nothing at all. The stores are empty. There is not anything for anyone to buy. That’s communism.
They told me that in West Berlin there were three hundred thousand Poles that crossed the border now, shopping in West Berlin. There is not anything to buy in Poland. There is not anything to buy in East Germany. There is not anything to buy in the communist world. It is empty, it is barren, it is sterile, it is bankrupt. Three hundred thousand Poles a month crossing now that border into West Berlin. That’s communism. It beats anything in the earth how those people say. When I was going through Russia, I was talking to the entourist guide. And I asked her, I said, "Why did you build that wall in East, West Berlin? Why did you build that wall?" And she said, "There were so many people in the West that were pouring into the communist paradise of the East, that we had to build that wall in order to keep them out." And they believe that stuff. Actually, there were more than two hundred thousand artisans, intelligentsia, doctors, and lawyers, there were more than two hundred thousand of them that had fled out of the East Berlin area into the West and that is why the wall was built. Communism is done for. It is manifestly and demonstrably bankrupt. And that is seen in what is happening over there in Eastern Europe.
I must not take too much time. I must speak now of the open door God has given us who have found faith and refuge in our blessed Lord Jesus. The day of smuggling Bibles is past. You can send Bibles over there now by the millions. And God’s people are beginning to do it. The whole world over there in Eastern Europe is open. And you can go over there and be a part of the propagation of the faith. And they want you to come. Young people can go over there and be entertained in the homes of those Christian people. And they will love having you. You, who are older, mature, can go over there and help preach the gospel and teach the Word of the Lord, and you will be welcome. The Minister of the Interior of Romania is a preacher. He is a pastor. I listened to the pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Berlin. This man, Frederick Eckhart, he has a heart for Romania. He was an evangelist before he became pastor. And he loves to go to Romania to preach the gospel. He said he was assigned at first a woman, a communist as his translator. And at the end of the services she was gloriously converted. And he said, "Now instead of preaching the gospel and the doctrine of communism, Marxism, atheism, she is now preaching and teaching the doctrine and the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God." It is an open door for us. There is no limit now to what we can do throughout those nations of Eastern Europe and into Russia itself.
I have to conclude and may I do so with a poignant illustration in my own life? In 1950, I was sent by our Foreign Mission Board to hold crusades in the great cities of Japan. I started up there at the top and went clear on down to the lowest prefecture Kagoshima and to Izumi down there, from the top to the bottom. I held those three-day crusades in the civic centers of those great cities. And when I would get through preaching and extend an invitation, they would come forward by the hundreds and the hundreds. So many would come forward that I would say, "I am afraid you do not understand." And I would send them back to their seats. And then explain once again what it is to be a Christian, to accept the Lord, to give your life to Him, to follow in His footsteps and in His love and grace. Extend the invitation once more, and those same hundreds and hundreds and hundreds would come forward. It was a miraculous sight just to look upon.
In those days, General Douglas MacArthur who ruled the nation, his Chief of Chaplains was my friend. He was a Southern Baptist, and we were together there in many of those crusades. General Douglas MacArthur made appeal to a Christian America, saying, "Send missionaries, send preachers, send Christian evangelists. Open wide are the hearts of these people to receive the gospel message of Christ." Japan could have been the greatest Christian nation in the Orient at this very moment, at this very day, at this very time. Japan could have been the greatest Christian nation in all of that half of the hemisphere. How many did we send? Nobody. How did we respond? With vast indifference. Twenty years later, I went over there to Japan with my Chapel Choir. I held crusades in those same cities, in those same civic centers, and I never had one convert, not one. And if I pressed the appeal, they would stand up and stalk out. And Japan today, as you know, is solidly secular. There is not one percent of the people who are Christian, when it could have been the greatest Christian nation in that part of the earth, had we but responded to the appeal of the General Douglas MacArthur and to the open door God had set before us.
I pray, Lord God in heaven, all of those nations in Eastern Europe are ours for the taking. Even Russia itself is open to the gospel message, if we will just respond. O God in heaven, that this might be our great day of dedication, of consecration, of outreach, of preaching the faith, of bringing the lost to the Lord Jesus. And we cannot do it without you, in this dear church, you.
And to the great throng in this sanctuary this morning; in the balcony round down one of these stairways, in the throng in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, today I have decided for Christ." He died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]; He was raised for our justification according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25]. And to those who love Him will He appear someday in glory, in triumph, and take us home to be with Him in heaven [John 14:3].
What a marvelous invitation to eternal life; to accept Him as Savior, come, to put your life with us in this dear church, come. A family you, a couple you, one somebody you, as the Spirit of the Lord presses the appeal to your heart, answer with your life; make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
WHAT GOD IS DOING IN EASTERN EUROPE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The Berlin Wall
A. German store owner describes the day the wall was opened
B. Singing, shouting – they were free
2. Tearing down the wall of partition(1 Corinthians 15:50)
II. The churches
A. East Berlin – Bethel Baptist Church
B. West Berlin – First Baptist Church
III. The fear of Germany
A. Michael Ridley speaks of the fear of a great united Germany
B. Colonel Webb and Captain Baxter explain why Hitler was able to dominate the nation
1. Godlessness of the people
a. German higher criticism led to the emptied church
b. Heidelberg mall – selling prostitutes
c. East Germany hotel – casino, lottery, shell-game in the plaza
2. The pride of the people
IV. Our open door in Eastern Europe
A. The failure of communism – bankruptcy
B. Our open door
1. Bibles no longer have to be smuggled in
2. Christian leaders welcomed
3. Frederick Eckhart
C. My experience in Japan