A world Christian leader and past co-president (1954–1961) of the World Council of Churches, Dr. Otto Dibelius at 83 remains—for lack of a successor acceptable to both East and West—the Bishop of the Protestant United Church of Berlin, the city of his birth. As stated by Time magazine’s Henry R. Luce, Dr. Dibelius “has kept the flame of Christian hope alive for his people under two tyrannies, Nazism and Communism.”
Born in an era swept by Protestant liberalism, Bishop Dibelius’ ministry has spanned beyond two world wars to the division of his homeland. When the German government in 1933 dismissed him from his church post he became a leader of the “Confessing Church,” which opposed the Nazi-dominated church government. Then came the partition of Berlin and the hoisting of the hammer and sickle over the Brandenburg Gate. Bishop Dibelius not only deplored the totalitarian tyrants but also called the Church to renewal as the only means of hope for the future. He sees at stake in the fate of Berlin more than the outcome of the struggle between world powers; he sees at stake also the spiritual fate of humanity in our times. Communist absolutism he interprets as the extension of Nazi-Fascist totalitarianism.
Interviewed by special arrangement in the Washington offices of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Bishop Dibelius was accompanied by Dr. J. W. Winterhager of Berlin Ecumenical Seminary.

Q. Bishop Dibelius, what is the religious situation in East Germany? What of the vitality of the churches? Are the Christians able to reproduce themselves? What about the young people in the churches? Is the picture depressing or are there encouraging elements?

A. I can’t say that the overall impression is encouraging. The Communistic, atheistic attack directs itself primarily toward the young people. And when the youth in school never hear anything but the Communist ideology, and the parents are never seen the entire week at home, so that there is little parental indoctrination, it is unavoidable that the Communist propaganda will bear fruit. Our church youth work continues in spite of thousands of prohibitions and restrictions by the state: free assembly is forbidden, and so forth.

Q. How effectively does Christian conviction survive?

A. We have the impression that by and large the youth today are still rooted in the same general Christian atmosphere as formerly. Even among those who participate in Communist activities the inner protest against the Communist representations remains unalteredly strong. Church attendance, which even formerly was not great among the youth, has not increased everywhere—but also has not decreased. Some of the youth are still available for confirmation, so the youth in East Germany show a very considerable inner opposition to atheistic indoctrination. And the Bible study groups are much more alive. The intensity of Bible study and the desire to gain inspiration in the laymen’s work is a thing we did not have half a century ago. This study of the Bible started with the persecution of the Church under Hitler and is now increasing all the time. But the Communist majority holds these Bible groups in contempt.

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Q. What is the nature of the persecution?

A. It’s not open persecution of the Church. It is harassment all the time. Worship is not forbidden, but it is made extremely difficult on Sunday morning owing to special meetings for workers and premium bonds and all that sort of thing.

Q. Bishop Dibelius, have you not said that a state which does not consider itself bound by the laws of God does not come under the scope of Romans 13 and that Christians therefore need not obey such a state but should rather resist and overthrow it?

A. I have said that such a state is not in a biblical sense an authority functioning in the name of God. But I have never preached open resistance—much less, revolution. Rather I have interpreted the situation, because this kind of government brings a conflict of loyalties. And in a conflict of loyalties we must obey God rather than man. Instead of preaching active disobedience, I have preached the priority of obedience to God’s commandments according to conscience. We have the Bible. If there is a conflict of loyalties, God comes first.

Q. Do you take this general position to be Luther’s also?

A. This is exactly the standpoint of Martin Luther. Read the new book by Professor Johannes Heckel (professor of ecclesiastical law of Munich University), Lex Caritatis (“The Law of Love”). There you will find all the citations of Luther. Luther did not shrink from open resistance where there was tyranny in the Catholic totalitarian authority. Today the Lutheran Church no longer preaches this kind of open opposition for two reasons. The first reason is that the atheistic totalitarian states have learned a great deal from history, particularly that it is not very intelligent, not even clever, to create martyrs. The Church has always gained through martyrdom. So the totalitarian states throughout the Soviet orbit now seek to avoid open persecution of the Church wherever possible. They do not wish to have martyrs for the faith. They are always finding some pretext to intimidate, harass, and even exterminate the witness of the Church for other reasons. For instance, they will try to prove that some individual has been subversive in political attitude or has committed an economic crime, such as accepting aid into the church, or anything that is against the economic legislation of the totalitarian state society. And it is not very difficult in a totalitarian state where everything is regimented to find some item for which a church leader may be and can be and is arrested. That happens all the time. But this is an indirect persecution. We cannot prove openly that this particular church leader is arrested for his witness for Jesus Christ. Today no totalitarian state in East Europe persecutes the Christian churches because they are Christian churches. Bishops are arrested on the ground they have infringed on some economical or political regulations; they are never arrested because they are bishops and because they preach the Gospel. Never. And the second reason the Lutheran Church does not preach opposition is that modern society is not as homogeneous and clear-cut as in former times. The atomic age brings some interchange of realities and also a mixture of ethical, professional, vocational responsibilities. And with this changing of the standards of modern society—so complex now—it is not so easy to say that here are the pure Christians, puritanical in their behavior, clear-cut, with their little sphere of a wonderful kingdom of God, and on the other side there is a purely Satanic kingdom, as Luther had it. Rather there is an interacting all the time, and the devil is finding ways to increase this confusion. The circumstances are no longer so simple that here one finds exclusively Christians and there, exclusively atheists. One finds quite a few atheists among the Christians, and one finds quite a few Christians among opponents of the Church. In view of this complex situation, the Church, humiliated and historical in its continuity, would not say we can project this simple, clear-cut, late medieval situation upon modern times, but we must carry on a dialogue with this complex world in which we try to apply the new findings of the modern mind to the Christian concept of life which we share—which we share with a great number of modern men outside the Church. As a consequence it is no longer the Church’s province to fight against a closed atheistic power. The Church has learned that she can no longer operate with force, but only with a message presenting the whole Christ to the whole world.

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Q. In this relationship, does the Church’s strategy presuppose Christian coexistence with Communism and presuppose areas of compatibility between Christianity and Communism?

A. Do you mean, can peaceful coexistence—a peaceful coexistence with the Communist authorities—be a new basis for a new Christian ethic and for a new Church life?

Q. Are there levels of compatibility between the two? Are there points of connection where agreement is possible between these differing philosophies? Is a compromising and peaceful working together possible?

A. Only about 5 per cent of the Christians see logically clear-cut alternatives, can say this is Christian and this is not Christian, and the witness has to be one or the other. The other 95 per cent of the population rather tend to make a compromise. There are only a few who say, “Here are two views which are logically contradictory—consequently, I must say no to the one and yes to the other.” Perhaps only 5 per cent of the people are like that. The other 95 say, “One must not take everything so seriously. In the ancient Church, in pagan Roman times, the Christians were asked to throw a kernel of wheat into the fire in front of a bust of the emperor as part of emperor worship. And the lapsed Christians thought, ‘Why not throw the kernel of wheat into the fire as an act of adoration, because no one takes the emperor seriously any longer?’ ” Well, what of it, after all? So they threw a kernel of wheat into the fire and thought nothing of it. Why does one have to dramatize everything? Compromise is always a temptation to take it easy. For instance, confirmation. The atheistic Communist state does not say, “I forbid confirmation.” But it introduces a new act concomitantly with confirmation, and establishes the same kind of liturgical elements in its ceremony—only instead of a confession of commitment to Christ it requires a confession of commitment to the state. And then it says, “Every young person must come to the ceremony of commitment to the state.” The Communists say this is a political, social affair; confirmation doesn’t interest them—do what you like about that. But the Church said at first, and today still says it in 90 per cent of the cases, “One can’t do that. One can’t dedicate oneself one Sunday to atheistic Communism and the next Sunday dedicate oneself to the Lord Jesus Christ. That won’t do.” But 90 per cent of the parents say, “Oh, go without qualms to both. A dedication which is forced and which does not come from the heart does not have any significance anyway. So go ahead and do it. And then go to the Church and let yourself be confirmed. For the state will never arrest you for letting yourself be confirmed, but it will arrest you—or in any event oppress you—if you don’t come to the state ceremony.”

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Many young people from Christian families undergo this absurd ritual of Communist youth dedication—taking an oath. No one takes it seriously. They take it easy just for the social, promotional features tied up with that oath of allegiance to the world revolution. But religiously no one takes it very seriously. Many people pay lip service, and all this is an adjustment. But no one believes in it. In Germany we have learned something from Hitler’s materialism, and how dangerous this totalitarianism is for the issues of life.

Q. How do the Communists view this adjustment?

A. The state reckons—just as Islam did in Africa, that eventually the social and political significance of the state ceremony will prevail because from the Church ceremony—as we say in German—there is “no flower pot to be gained”: it contributes nothing toward one’s material existence; it is simply a matter of internal life “from which no one profits.” So the church life—says the state—will gradually deteriorate. In North Africa in this manner the Christian church actually disappeared, although it once bloomed there.

Q. But what of the real possibility of peaceful coexistence?

A. Coexistence would require a clear, logical confrontation of two parties—a clear-cut field of responsibility for a Christian on one side, rationally explained and limited, and on the other side a partner that confronts you with a field of his responsibilities and claims. Coexistence between the lion and the lamb is only possible if from time to time the lamb is resupplied! So it would be for peaceful coexistence between Communism and the Christian church. If Christian people undergo these rituals of the Communist world religion, this doesn’t mean real coexistence; it is only an adjustment to the promotional aspects. All this bargaining with the rituals of this Communist religion is not a matter of deep commitment; it is much more a matter of practical expedience. And probably the Christians might perish if they did not give in at some point just for the promotional aspect.

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The temptation exists also that we dodge serious intellectual decision, so that there is no intellectual honesty. But the Church does not really give in. The Church watches these young people very carefully. It doesn’t discard confirmation. The young people come and prove that their compromise has been achieved under pressure of the promotional aspect or for politico-sociological reasons. The Church, in fact, still takes confirmation and the sacraments so seriously that they are more respected now than they used to be. The Church takes its own sacramental life much more seriously than it did in former years.

But this doesn’t mean coexistence in the philosophical sense of the word. This coexistence is only an adjustment, which secures the survival of people who are persecuted when they make too much of the political realities of the Church, which does not conform to the totalitarian standards. It is not a compatibility of the two concepts of man. The totalitarian state does not welcome the disparagement of its pseudo-religious Communist ritual as a bogus thing. But as long as Communism means a totalitarian state, coexistence is impossible. And there is a text from Scripture, you will remember, the words of Jesus Christ: “I send you as sheep among the wolves.” That is a terrible phrase. A terrible phrase. Because, naturally, the lambs will surely be torn apart by the wolves. They will be sent to a certain death. If we were to proclaim any coexistence other than a day-to-day adjustment, this is what would happen, as long as Communism is in possession of such a pressure-force as the modern totalitarian state. That is exactly what happens when coexistence is called for and Communism abides by its viewpoint of a totalitarian state which subjugates the ideas and feelings and the wills of men to its power.

Q. Can the Christians then complain if the Communists likewise take part in the Christian ritual just as a matter of convenience without really giving their hearts to the Christian realities?

A. If you are asking whether Communists in the same way say, “We will accommodate ourselves to the Christian practices while underneath we remain Communists,” my answer is that there are few convinced religious Communists. There are very few convinced Communists who really come to the light.

Q. Can anything be done by the Church or by international diplomacy to ease the Red-oriented ideological pressure upon the Christians in East Germany?

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A. Ideological pressure can be eased if the churches study and publicize the actual situation in the Eastern orbit. Nothing is dreaded and feared more (by a totalitarian state) than publicity. Outspoken prayers of concrete intercession would also be a great help.

Q. What is the attitude of the East German Christians toward property rights? Do they consider property rights a human right?

A. You mean, is it a God-given right to keep property as formerly? In biblical thinking, especially in the New Testament, there is hardly any room for the property rights of the human individual. We should be ready to sacrifice at any time, also to sacrifice our property. The human individual is not entitled to store up property rights or privileges for himself. This is unchristian, and we simply have to learn that anew. Sacrifice, sacrificial love, self-effacing surrender of individual privileges is the basic attitude of the New Testament. There is one consideration which prevents the Church from saying no to property, and that is the responsibility we have toward other persons. The father is responsible to give his children the best possible rearing. Property is justifiable when there is a human individual’s responsibility for people and for furthering God’s kingdom. Certain property is necessary or else one would have to leave all such decisions to the state. But if this entrusting of property does not serve the upbuilding of His kingdom, then it will be and has to be destroyed and given up.

There is a second aspect of this responsibility which will in certain cases make private property justifiable. There has to be progress in human society, progress through scientific research, and exploration of the world potential to help further the relationships of human beings. Now we have cases in totalitarian states—particularly in Soviet Russia—where a great researcher achieves an invention of his own, but he cannot develop it because under a Communist regime he can have no property. He can only apply to a government office to accept the invention. But if the officials say that this does not interest them, or consider it to be impractical, then the matter comes to nothing. He has done the research and he comes forward and wishes to have his invention registered with the totalitarian state, which is of course unspeakably bureaucratic (we in the free world cannot even imagine what it is like), and which does not allow him to handle the potential of his research, much less the results of his research, without the red tape associated with the totalitarian machinery. In such cases inventions have come to naught, and this is a setback. The free society, the open society, provides the possibility for an individual to further these inventions for the good of mankind by the support of friends in society who join to further a good cause. But always we must reckon with the responsibility for bettering mankind in the sense of Christian partnership.

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Q. How would you balance human freedom and government regulation?

A. In one sentence, I think that all Christian ethics would say: as little state as possible and as much freedom and liberty as possible for responsible activity of men. Property should not be taken over by the state. Property in itself is not a divine reality; it is only an instrument. But the state—especially the totalitarian state—tends to mishandle this instrument, making it something not furthering the good of mankind, not helping the souls of men, and not discharging the responsibility man has to his neighbor.

Q. To what extent do the churches of Germany get across this message of property as a divine stewardship to the Christians of West Germany?

A. In West Germany the Church gives the same emphasis. Certain technicalities in a progressive society may possibly fall under control of a democratic state. West Germany is a progressive state with a fairly high economic standard (but not as high as many people in America think). Certain controls are necessary. Sometimes a well-organized democratic state applies responsibility better than private ownership. As our church preaches to a particular congregation, or speaks to the big bosses in the Ruhr district, it is very lively against the capitalistic excesses of an irresponsible handling of the gifts of God.

Q. What effect has materialistic success had upon the spiritual life and outlook of West Germany’s people?

A. We in Berlin do not live in West Germany. Our atmosphere is much more Eastern; although we enjoy Western protection in Berlin, we are situated entirely in Eastern surroundings. You must also bear in mind that public opinion and public atmosphere in West Germany is much more determined by the Roman Catholic Church than it is in Berlin. But the responsibility for maintaining the Church as the Church is much more alive throughout Protestantism than it was in former years. Another factor which makes the Protestant church very much alive to the complex situation and much more humble in its witness is the ecumenical movement. In West Germany we have very prominent leaders of the ecumenical movement who speak for the whole of the Church and who not only attend conferences but also apply the findings of the ecumenical movement. Bishop Lilje, for one, but also Pastor Niemoeller, reflects an ecumenical sense of partnership which really means a Christian outlook different from simply the national outlook, or the empire outlook, or the Roman outlook. This ecumenical outlook is never totalitarian in its aspirations, but always awake to the dangers of a complex society in this atomic age.

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Q. Do you see the Communist situation differently than did Pope John XXIII?

A. Basically, I see it in very much the same way: treat the human individual in the Communistic world like a created being of God, but do not make compromises with the system. Remind the Communist dictators that they are responsible for human beings who basically belong to God. This is what Pope John had in mind. Many are not Communists, they are human beings with a longing, with a craving, with a searching. The Communist has nothing in Communism to preserve his soul.

Q. But Pope John’s plea for greater mutuality was followed by a big vote for the Communists in Italy, and many Christian Democrats blame this development on the Pope’s statement. Your policy has not resulted in an open sympathy on the part of churchgoers for the Communist party in East Germany. Where is the difference? Did the Pope apply a false strategy in Italy?

A. I cannot say anything about the Italian situation. Whether this accusation or reproach of the Christian Democratic party in Italy that John XXIII went too far in approaching the Communists is justified—I do not know. I am convinced that the Pope was not interested in entering into a compromise with the Communists, but that, rather, at the decisive moment he planned to introduce the definite Catholic requirements.

Q. What is your feeling in the matter of eventual Protestant-Catholic reunion?

A. I can give the answer in one sentence. Perhaps it may be in God’s design that after five or six hundred years the question of uniting the churches will become a real issue. During these next five hundred years very little is likely to happen in regard to organizational union with Rome.

Q. What significance do you attach to the evangelistic crusades that have gathered momentum through the ministry of Dr. Billy Graham?

A. The campaigns of Dr. Graham are unique and their effect was great. They had a lasting effect while he was there, and have strengthened the Church. But we Germans have not developed a similar method of evangelism. It is still a bit alien to the Lutheran Church spirit that is prevalent in East and West Germany.

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Q. Tell us something more about the local activity in evangelism that goes on at grass-roots level in the churches of Germany.

A. There is less evangelism in the American sense of that method of work and witness. But there is Pastor Heinrich Giesen: he is doing what we call Volksmission and Stadtmission—reaching out to the townspeople who live on the fringes. This effort grew out of the laymen’s movement of the big Kirchentag. Besides, there is excellent Bible-study work on the parish level.

Q. Do you welcome this growing interest in evangelism? Does it reach the workers?

A. Assuredly. Since the Memorial Church was rebuilt, we have had services every afternoon for the people coming home from work, with ever increasing attendance. In Berlin, we work right through. We have a short five o’clock service and another at half-past five. In recent weeks we have added another service (shorter than the others) at one o’clock near the shopping center, just for people finishing their purchases. Every Saturday there is a musical service. This is the first time we have tried to bring the evangelistic work into the church itself, and through different congregations. We learned this approach from America, and from England, where I was in the pulpit rather often at one o’clock in Coventry and other places to speak to the people working nearby. Other congregations began to follow our first Berlin example, and we think this will provide a certain spark for renewing the evangelistic forces and powers in our church. Then we also have telephone methods, as you have in America. We have a telephone pastoral service. People come to the “Telephone Cure of Souls” when they have troubles. Several numbers are now available through the church where people can discuss their troubles. It is partly anonymous.

Q. Is this personalized, individual counsel?

A. Yes.

Q. What about missionary vitality in the German churches? How many missionaries are being sent? What is missionary giving, and how does it compare with the giving of a generation ago?

A. Prominent areas of foreign missions in East Germany were Pomerania and Silesia and nearby areas. All of these are now lost for this kind of work, since they are no longer able to give any more help to the mission fields. They are not allowed to give money. The Communist-ruled areas give no passports to those wishing to go as missionaries. They are seldom allowed to send parcels of books. They are not able to print books in East Germany now without a license. So the whole responsibility has fallen again to the organized church. As members of the same church (Lutheran) we in West Berlin can do something in the name of the eastern provinces now ruled by the Communists; in this way the western churches try to do the work once done by the congregations and the mission societies of East Germany. West Germany has its own missionary societies—of Barmen, and in the south of Germany, the missionary society of Basel. There are also Hermannsburg, Brecklum, and various other societies.

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Q. To what extent can the work in East Germany be directed from West Berlin?

A. To a great extent. For a long time I have served as the head of the East German Leaders Conference. Now my former assistant curate, Bishop Krummacher, is the head of the East German Bishops Conference. Nothing is really done by the bishops in East Germany without consulting Christian leaders in Berlin. The office of the Berlin Missionsgesellschaft is in East Berlin. Recently I ordained two new pastors—we call them Heimatinspektor (home inspector)—whose duties are to make new efforts regarding missionary interests in West Berlin, which is now cut off from the mission administration located in East Berlin. Although the head of the mission is still nominally in East Berlin, these pastors in West Berlin are making a fresh start to stir the missionary spirit in both parts of the province with cooperation from the East Berlin office. And this could not be done without church leaders officiating in West Berlin. The method of missionary work is now changing, as you know. The missionaries come from the young native churches themselves, and our responsibility now is not to send missionaries, but to send advisers. My own church, Berlin-Brandenburg, has for several years had one superintendent who is building an evangelical academy in Tokyo with Japanese Christians.

Q. What ecclesiological significance do you attach to the World Council of Churches?

A. The World Council is, as it says, a “fellowship, a Koinonia of churches.”

Q. Is it a church?

A. It is not a church. It is not a super-church, so to speak. But it is a union—I should say, rather, a federation—for certain purposes. One of its purposes is to discuss questions of faith and to find a common ground. Another is to bring churches together for practical cooperation in matters of life and service. Nothing else.

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Q. Some ecumencial leaders (Dr. Van Dusen, for example) say that the World Council has at least as much right to be called a church as any of the historical churches.

A. Well, that is his statement, but it is not the recognized statement or the ecclesiastical definition of the World Council of Churches. The Toronto document says very clearly that the World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches—plural—which confess according to Scripture and according to their confessions of faith (this we have reaffirmed in New Delhi), not which individually (subjectively) accept, but which confess historically in their confessions, in their histories, Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of the world. The individual witness of the historic churches still has a place, but they must be reminded of their membership functions in the universal body of believers in Christ.

Q. Is the ecumenical development moving toward one church?

A. No one can prophesy what the future will bring. No one can prophesy what influence the young churches on other continents will contribute to Christian thinking and feeling throughout the whole world. I personally think it out of the question, and not even desirable, that we have one church for the Christians of the whole world. We must have a variety which will fructify itself. That is much more in God’s design than to have one super-structure of the Church.

Q. Does the ultimate success of the ecumenical movement depend on a common basis of faith and on dedication to the Christian mission rather than upon finding a single structure that will be superimposed upon all of the churches?

A. Effective propagation of faith in Christ rather than any pride in current structures will ultimately decide whether the ecumenical movement is of God and will succeed. A single world church would not be desirable. All our efforts to come together with other churches will have one advantage; that is, if every church respectfully thinks upon what the other churches have been given through God’s grace, and continually asks, Can we learn something from what God has given the other churches for our own life under God’s hand?

The whole sense of our ecumenical gathering is that we learn from one another, respect one another’s traditions as individually given traditions from our fathers in different situations, and question one another; united in a common responsibility in the dialogue with the world, and standing as witnesses to Christ, over against the world, we belong to a body that has many members, each of which is alive and works with the others in its own way.

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Q. Would you agree with those who say that inclusion of the Orthodox churches into the World Council has lessened its predominantly Protestant orientation?

A. The inclusion of the Orthodox Churches in WCC membership in New Delhi does not mean very much theologically. At least, I can see no danger for the Protestant orientation of the World Council.

Q. What is the theological situation in Germany at present? Does Bultmann stand as tall as ever? Will he continue to overshadow Barth?

A. The influence of Barth can yet be felt among our pastors. The influence of Bultmann is still at its peak. Yet one cannot say that the whole German church stands on Bultmann’s side. I am accustomed to viewing things from the overall standpoint, and I would like to look at Bultmann’s influence in a rather larger perspective. In our dialogue with the world we discover a kind of peculiar desire for what is new and unprecedented. Modern art, for instance, discloses a kind of twisted regard for the unprecedented, the unhistorical, the abstract, the non-existent. In the realms of art and literature there is presently a search for something very new. The wish and determination to be different is a great desire in our generation, and this is reflected in Bultmannism—in this entirely unprecedented, unheard of, unhistorical, uncommitted, and demythologized approach. In theology the younger generation desires to start afresh. This intention has occurred before in history but has been overcome every time. Christian thinking is not a sequence of unanchored balloons; all “balloons” must be held fast by the Bible. By means of the true Evangel which we are to preach, a balloon, whenever it wants to drift too far away, will be tugged back by the strings of a biblical foundation. The biblical foundation prevails in every generation, and will prevail in Germany now, too, against all new experiments. Throughout history and from the perspective of the continuity of the Christian movement the Word of God has always had the coercive power to tie down whatever popular balloons fly into the superspace of unreality—as Bultmannism tends to do; these balloons go out of bounds, and only the Word of God remains to anchor the human being to the realities of life.

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Q. What evidences are there in Germany today of a new power of the Word of God in the pulpits and among the theologians?

A. Well, there is the sense of continuity, the sense of fellowship, the sense of responsibility as a minority, the missionary sense of the diaspora, like what developed in the Confessing Church under Hitler.

Q. What was the aim and result of the crusade carried on by the “Confessing Church”? We have been told that the Confessing Church was based on a rediscovery of the confession of the Church, the doctrine of the Reformation, and the recovery of the Bible as the Word of God. What was the practical outcome?

A. The Confessing Church has been the heart of inner resistance to totalitarian systems.

Q. Is the Evangelical Church in Germany—which unites all territorial churches of various confessions, and in whose formation in 1948 you were a leader—based on a confession, on the consensus of the faith, or on national interests? Is it a federation of churches? Or is it a church, and if so, what is its confession?

A. “Resistance to the totalitarian state” does not necessarily imply the organizational unity of the church. Organic unity can never be achieved as a parallel to national unity. In the ecumenical movement, I have always advocated oneness in faith with a wide diversity in order. We do not claim to be an established church having in our hands the whole body of our national unit.

Q. Turning for a moment to the matter of small churches or “free churches,” are not these, in your view, automatically deplored as sects?

A. The free churches are a recognized factor in Germany’s Christian life and work.

Q. As a bishop concerned for the Church’s doctrine in our time, what would you say to ministers of the Gospel around the world?

A. I would say, God did not start speaking to people yesterday. Rather, he has spoken through Christ for the last 2,000 years, and by means of every great witness for Jesus Christ, whether it be Wesley or Wycliffe, Augustine or Francis, Luther or Calvin—all belong to the same Christianity as we do. We must learn from their experiences under God in obeying the living Word. And so church history will come to the fore again to shed light on our present experiences in following the living Christ, and to prod us to demonstrate the living reality of our vocation by sharing the inheritance of our fathers in the faith. Jesus Christ is our only hope against becoming lost in our own self-made ideologies and in our own religious ideas. We must continually be drawn back into the realities of God’s revelation. To continually adhere to the biblical revelation is our only protection against the rationalizations of men, and our only protection against the efforts of modern thinkers to lure us away into human speculation. The living Christ is our only hope against adopting the inhumanity of modern ideologies. The living Christ alone will keep us from over-rating our own strength, will keep us from becoming totalitarian in an earthly fashion. He alone can preserve us as his fellow-laborers—he in whom are all the promises of freedom and he who has proved that he is our help.

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Q. What place do you believe the Scriptures to have in the Church?

A. A living Christianity is possible only when one lives in the Bible. The Christian witness is relevant only if it is oriented to the Bible. A Christian worship service is not possible without the testimony to truth provided by the Bible. Personal piety is not possible unless a person lives with the Bible in his hand and in his heart. One cannot be a Christian and relax all day in privacy. One must get new strength daily from God’s Word and try to make real for one’s life and for the life of mankind as a whole what is written in the Bible. The Bible, as the living Word of God, must guide and must re vitalize our hearing. In the modern world we must hear the Word of God ever afresh.

Q. Bishop Dibelius, do you face the future with pessimism or with optimism?

A. Pessimism and optimism are secular terms. The world is doomed to die. There is no hope but the risen Christ. If the moment ever came when I could no longer say, “The Risen Christ is triumphant,” I would resign as bishop.


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