Why was I reluctant to become a Charismatic? I was already a Christian. I had been a believer since about 1981, though I had done some regrettable flirtation with the „historical-critical school“ of Bible scholarship in late undergraduate and early graduate school. The details of the story are extensive and had their turning point in of all place Flensburg on the German-Danish border in spring 1995. The short version is that I had been raised Baptist and taught a strict „cessationist“ theology of miracles. While on graduate school exchange program in 1994-95, I fell in with a lively and international group of Charismatics and Pentecostals in Kiel, Germany. They did not buy into „cessationism“, not one iota. I found this confusing and at time even troubling. Our disagreement on this point of faith led to some…tense… discussions. Nevertheless, it was with some members of this group that I attended a „Lobpreis- und Gebetskonferenz“/ „Praise and Worship Conference“ in Flensburg that spring. During worship time on… a Friday evening, if memory serves, people around me, including my friends, started speaking in tongues and I was freaked right out. When my friend Torsten asked me what I thought of the service so far, I said „Dies ist ein heidnischer Ekstasekult mit christlicher Oberfläche. Ich bin hier weg!“/ „This is a heathen ecstasy cult with a Christian veneer. I’m outta here!“
Only I wasn’t. At the base of the stairs, on the way out of the building, the Holy Spirit spoke to me, audibly, as HE had only one other occasion prior to that night.
„Turn around right now. These are my people and I am not letting them be deceived.“
I felt a powerful wave of conviction, turned around, went back to my seat beside Torsten, and sat there in something of a baffled state for the rest of the night. The conversation on the way home I do not recall in word-for-word detail, but I do recall that I told everyone in the car what the Holy Spirit had told me when I set out to leave the building and that I was in the uncomfortable position of needing to revise my entire understanding of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit- real 1st Corinthians 12 and 14 stuff.
Twenty years later…at an international Christian gathering called the MEHR, organized and hosted by the Gebetshaus Augsburg (Augsburg House of Prayer), I was ministering as a translator, having come all the way from Texas just to translate for them.
The blonde-haired blue-eyed woman sitting next to me in the simultaneous interpreter’s booth looked genuinely startled at what I had just told her in the break. The LCD computer monitors showing the stage allowed us to watch the worship band from the Gebetshaus Augsburg and the accompanying lightshow (it was dazzling). There was no need to interpret during worship, and so we had time to converse. Her name was Susie, she was from the north of Germany. She told me something of her life story while we were waiting on the next speaker to start and listening to the worship band play: She had moved to England after her time as a missionary in Asian, specifically Tibet, and had gotten married to a Bolivian man she had met through her church. We had both taken our headsets off and set them down on the table next to the control box for our audio feed.
“Do you really mean that? I’ve never heard an American say that before!”
So, I repeated what I had said (auf perfektes Deutsch selbstverständlich): “God loves your people and His history with you did not end with the rise of Hitler and the monstrous evils of the Nazi regime. The Lord wants to restore you, to heal you, to use you to bless other nations. Like with all peoples of the Earth.”
I’d said variations of this to other Germans I had met and worked with over the years, and there had been many. I was by education one of a dying breed called “Germanic Philologists”- survivors of teenage Tolkien poisoning who had gotten fascinated with Old Dead Germanic Languages and not gotten the memo that the job market for that academic profession had died about 1985. But Susie, the fellow interpreter at the MEHR 2015 Conference in Augsburg, Germany, she had never heard my prepared remarks before. Don’t mistake “prepared” for insincerity, friend. I prepared these remarks about my love and God’s love for the German-speaking peoples of Europe precisely out of a sincere love.
“You mean, you, an American, you see something to love in us, Germans? What?”
I held up my hand and began to count off on my fingers. “Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Goethe, Schiller, Klopstock, Heine, Storm, Fontane, Mann, Doppler, Herz, Mach- can I name a few more Germans whose names have become units of measure in the physical sciences? Like Fahrenheit, perhaps? There’s a lot you can and should be proud of in your history.”
The clear expression of incredulity on her face only grew clearer. “And you think these all matter in spite of the Holocaust?”
“The Holocaust is not the totality of your history. For a long time, being a Jew in Europe meant being German- well, you know, the 200 plus different states that became what is now Germany. There were periods of persecution long before the Nazis but there were also long periods where ethnic Germans and ethnic Jews lived in a peaceful sort of symbiosis. Where did the first pogrom in Western Europe take place and when?”
“In the First Crusade, here. In the Rhineland.”
“Nope. Spain. In 1066 in Granada. It was instigated by Muslims. 1,500 Jewish families were wiped out over night practically. And who stopped the Crusade pogroms in 1096? The U.N.?”
She smiled. “Germans stopped Germans from killing Jews, I know. But it should not have happened in the first place.”
“No, it shouldn’t have. But time and again when waves of anti-Jewish violence broke out in German-speaking lands the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, it was Germans that started them and it was other Germans that stopped them.”
Susie shook her head. “To me, this is incredible. I’ve never heard anyone talk about us like that, about Germans like you do.”
“Well, no. Sure, I’ve heard Americans thank us for our part in the Cold War, but there’s always the Nazi ghost in the background. We’re always just one question away from ‘What did your grandparents do during the War?’ ‘Oh, they gassed Jews at Auschwitz, of course.’”
“Or they tried to start a student revolt against their own government,” I added.
“It wasn’t enough. Not the military resistance, either.”
“They weren’t nothing. They didn’t come out of nowhere. They were more German than that shrieking Austrian maniac, for sure.”
She shook her head. “No, you don’t get the depth of this. We are taught that the Nazis are really who we are and who we want to be. We are taught to hate ourselves for being German, my generation.”
“But you had nothing to do with it, and God knows that. I don’t believe in collective guilt in perpetuity.”
“No, not guilt forever, but for how long?”, she asked. “Some people said after the war that Germans would bear the guilt of the Holocaust for a hundred years. And that sounds right to me. What else do we do with the guilt of our parents and grandparents?”
“Glaubst Du an die Kraft der stellvertretenden Buße?”, I asked. “Und glaubst Du, dass Gott einem ganzen Volk vergeben kann und will, wenn seine Heiligen um Vergebung beten und Buße tun?”
Which means, I asked essentially if she believed in the power of vicarious repentance and if she believed that God could and would forgive a people if the believers among them ask for forgiveness and repent.
“What do you mean, vicarious repentance?”
“The idea that a person who is right before God can intercede for the sins of his nation. Like the prophet Daniel. He wasn’t even born when the nation of Israel was conquered by the Babylonians in judgement for their sins, yet he comes before God and says ‘forgive us’ as if he had been part of it all. That’s our main ministry here, really, vicarious repentance.”
To be continued….
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