In company with eighty intrepid fellow believers, I saw the old year out and the new year in at Bach’s church in Leipzig, East Germany. (Correction: the German Democratic Republic, since the latest official policy is to emphasize the existence of this separate state, now a member of the United Nations, and no longer to favor expressions suggesting a divided Germany that will one day be reunited. So passes the Bismarkian ideal of a unified Germany.) This was my eighth sojourn in the DDR, and my visits have spanned a decade. I know the geography of Luther country, from Eisenach and the Wartburg Castle to Eislcben and Wittenberg, better than the geography of the Chicago suburbs, and have several dear friends who are citizens of that most rigid of all Eastern-bloc nations.
What continues to amaze me most about American evangelicals’ attitudes toward Communist lands is a recurring naivete. Example: before the current trip I received letters from more than one well-meaning person asking if I could smuggle in Bibles that they would supply, since “the Scriptures are not allowed by the Marxists.” In point of fact, there is absolutely no prohibition of Bible-reading or Bible ownership in the DDR, and attractive, inexpensive editions of the Bible in several German translations can be purchased.
To be sure, there is pressure against the Church and against the Gospel, but it is much more subtle than the burning of Bibles. Proselytizing is quite definitely discouraged, and a Billy Graham campaign would be inconceivable. What constitutes proselytizing, however, varies widely according to the severity of current state policy, which is cumbersomely administered in a top-heavy bureaucracy.
Generally, personal evangelism ...1
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