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New reformation in Germany sought by school’s alumni

COLOGNE, Germany (BP) — André Töws counts it a privilege to minister in Germany, with its spiritual heritage as the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation.

Unfortunately, this is not Germany’s only legacy within Christianity. German theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher and Rudolf Bultmann guided Christian academic thought toward liberal theology and textual criticism of the Bible, causing people to question the accuracy and trustworthiness of God’s Word.

“Because of the Reformation, there is a church in almost every little town,” Töws says. “In every church, there is a pulpit. Every Sunday, there is preaching from the pulpit.

“But sadly, in most places, the Bible is not preached anymore,” he says in regard to the influence of liberal theologians.

As pastor of an evangelical church in Cologne, Germany, Töws combats people’s low view of Scripture by preaching the Bible as God’s inerrant Word, containing His saving truth and relevant to every aspect of life. He is one of a growing number of German Christians who, in a sense, are striving to kindle a new reformation, countering the secularism that has plagued the country so that the masses may worship Jesus Christ as Lord.

“I truly believe that in the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Lutheran Church is farther away from Luther’s faith than ever before,” Töws says. “With his translation [of the Bible into German], Luther brought the Bible back to the people. Five hundred years after the Reformation, we need to bring the people back to the Bible.”

Töws is a student of both Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and Bibelseminar Bonn (BSB) in Bonn, Germany, which have partnered together to strengthen the next generation of pastors, leaders and missionaries in character, academics and their personal walk with the Lord.

Andy Wiebe, student dean and lecturer at the German school, underscores the need to help students “see that God’s Word is the only solid ground to understand their purpose in life, and encourage them to live a life that glorifies and pleases God.”

The increasing theological liberalism of the 19th and 20th centuries has rendered such theological education paramount. This is why, in 1993, Russian-German Baptists and Mennonites, who fled persecution in the former Soviet Union in preceding decades, founded BSB.

“Over 700 churches have been planted in the past 40 years,” Wiebe says of the influx of Russian-German believers. “The need for a conservative, Bible-believing seminary and training center for preachers, missionaries and laypeople became apparent in a country of churches, seminaries and mission organizations that embraced liberal theology and a secular lifestyle.”

“German churches are empty on Sundays,” BSB President Heinrich Derksen says. “Less than 2 percent are evangelicals. In [the former] East Germany, we have more atheists than in any other country in the world. Yet, this is the place where Luther started his reformation.” But after several decades of communism, he notes that “people know nothing about Christianity. Some haven’t even heard the name of Jesus. This is where we start churches today.”

In 2005, a partnership with Southwestern Seminary expanded BSB’s program offerings to include a master of arts in theology degree, with two Southwestern professors, Friedhelm Jung and Helmuth Pehlke, teaching exclusively at the BSB campus.

“[Our students] have to know the basic tenets of liberal theology and must be able to dissect their arguments and apologetically dispute their claims,” Derksen says. “Unfortunately, at the German universities, liberal theology is presented as the only academic option. This is why we are so thankful that we are able to partner with Southwestern to offer our students a biblically faithful theological perspective taught at a high academic level.”

Töws began attending BSB’s undergraduate program in 2006. He already pastored a church at that time but “there was a fire in my heart to study the Bible more deeply.” After three years, he wanted to deepen his studies even further, particularly with regard to biblical languages, so he enrolled in Southwestern’s M.A. program, studying in both Bonn and Fort Worth. He plans to complete the program later this year.

“When I started preaching at the age of 18, I had no theological training. So I really know the difference,” Töws says of the impact of his time at seminary. “Southwestern gave me a great passion for exegesis and expository preaching. But not only the passion. Southwestern sharpened my skills and gave me wonderful tools in order the study God’s inerrant Word more deeply and more faithfully.”

Töws is one of BSB’s many alumni who, having been equipped to minister God’s Word, now aim to change the world with the Gospel. Töws preaches, teaches, counsels and does missions through his church, Evangelische Freikirche Köln (Evangelical Free Church), with the aim of equipping the people to be a Great Commission church. “I want every member to develop a Christ-like mindset and to have a great passion to reach lost people,” he says.

One of his church’s ministries is reaching out to the numerous refugees who have come to Germany from the Mideast. The ministry began with Farsi-language small groups, but as these groups grew, the church decided to offer Farsi-language worship services led by an Iranian missionary, with more than 300 refugees now in attendance each week.

In addition, the church has rented a café across the street where, twice a week, Farsi-speaking evangelists assist refugees with their various needs, including their spiritual needs. “The harvest is ripe,” Töws says. “Every Sunday, people from Iran are receiving Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.”

The church baptized 88 refugees in one of their services last year. “It is so encouraging to see firsthand how the Lord is saving sinners and transforming them into saints who really want to be like Christ,” Töws says. “Being part of that is pretty rewarding.”

Other BSB students evangelize on the streets of Bonn and nearby Cologne; regularly drive to Turkey to distribute thousands of copies of the New Testament; minister to refugees, the homeless and drug addicts in a nearby shelter; preach in local churches; and participate in church planting endeavors.

Reflecting on the scope of BSB students’ work, Wiebe says, “I have the honor to guide, inspire and train many future preachers, missionaries, and laypeople in Germany who will reach people for Jesus Christ and will serve thousands of people in the church. It is humbling to hear from former students when they start new churches or new mission endeavors, because God shaped them through our ministry in the classroom and practical ministry training.”

Derksen, too, takes pride in his students’ achievements as they seek to serve the Lord. “Over 90 percent of our graduates are in ministry either in the church or on the mission field,” he says. “I love having the chance to attend ordination ceremonies for our graduates and see how our students are on fire for the church. When I visit various mission fields, I always meet former students. They tell me how greatly their time at BSB has impacted their ministry.

“I also enjoy having the chance to hear former students preach,” Derksen adds. “I am amazed that they often preach better than their homiletics professor, which is me.”

This spiritual fruit — the result of BSB’s and Southwestern Seminary’s collective efforts to combat the liberalism and godlessness of this post-Christian nation through theological education — is helping Germany inch back toward its spiritual roots. And as people gradually return to a high view of God’s Word, perhaps a continent-wide revival — led by ministers like André Töws — will be sparked.

“We see ourselves as a movement that was directed by God to Germany, the land of the reformation of Martin Luther, to remind the people of Germany of the power of God’s inerrant and life-giving Word,” Wiebe says. “It is a calling by God to use the spiritual legacy of Luther’s reformation to show through word and deed that faith in Jesus Christ is not a dead religion. We are ready for a new reformation that will bring the churches back to Jesus and God’s Word.”

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  • Alex Sibley