How it all began
Told after a true incident – Caught in the apostles’ net
Jörg* was just 25 years old when he attended a New Apostolic divine service for the first time. Actually, he wanted to go to the Evangelical State Church this Sunday. But his new girlfriend asked him to come to her church. So he went along as a favor to her and not to offend her. Jörg has always had a longing for God. Early on, he heard the stories of Jesus through a devout religion teacher at his school. These stories from the Bible never left him. Years later, he went to confirmation classes at his Lutheran church. Nothing here captivated him any longer. The priest who gave the religious instruction did not seem to believe in the Bible himself.
No Bible-based religious education
His teaching was exhausted in appeals to humanity. But Jesus as the Son of God? Risen from the dead? That was supposedly nothing more than a beautiful legend. Jörg’s childhood faith was severely dampened. Was it all just a fairy tale, what was written there in the Bible? Shouldn’t all this be true, what his former teacher believed? Jörg was irritated and deeply sad. The childlike faith in Jesus that so filled him then as a child seemed to be breaking down.
What a pity, he thought, that all this was not true about Jesus. “What’s the point?” he said to himself, should he still be memorizing Bible verses in confirmation class if they were only from the imagination of human brains anyway? What is the point of believing in the Bible at all if God is not its author? The appeals of the humanists, who got along without the Bible, do the trick. Jörg’s childhood faith was shattered. But his longing for truth remained. She remained very deep in his heart, if only unconsciously. Though it was deeply buried, it remained. God will not extinguish the smoldering wick, it says once in the Old Testament.
The question of meaning
The years passed. Jörg learned to be a banker and had great success in his vocational training. He completed his apprenticeship with honors and had a lot to show for it early on. He could be proud of his professional success. Actually, I have everything I could want, he thought. Professional success, a nice and secure job in a prestigious position. In addition, an elegant car and for a condo it was also enough. He could be pleased with himself all around. Who at his age had made it this far? And he was also content and happy with himself – for a time. At some point, however, he felt that this life did not quite satisfy him in the long run. What was the reason for that?
Didn’t he have everything he wanted? Why then now this inner emptiness, this inner hollowness that now assailed him? He didn’t know. Surely it was because, he told himself, he hadn’t yet had enough success at work, hadn’t yet made enough money, still needed a bigger apartment, a better car, to regain the state of living a full life. But Jörg already knew that the rich of this world did not become happier through their wealth.what problems they have, he did not want to share.
So that didn’t work out. This could not be the way to a full, happy life. He tried a different tack. With far-eastern meditation. This one would definitely fill his inner void. He attended yoga classes and devoured the literature of famous Indian yogis. But all this could not remove his inner emptiness. “What for?” he asked himself, was he just searching? What drove him about?
The search for the creator
One day Jörg was sitting in the waiting room of his dentist. He flipped through a magazine, lost in thought. Then a verse in bold print jumped into his eye and struck him like a bolt of lightning: “Our heart will not rest until it rests in God” (Augustine, Father of the Church). That was it, he thought. God! Wasn’t it God he was looking for? You’d have to find him, meet him. But how? He didn’t know.
And then one night, he couldn’t sleep. Again and again the saying of the church father Augustine went through his mind. He got up, got dressed, and walked out of his apartment into the street. It was the middle of the night. Above him the band of the Milky Way stretched along the starry sky. Awe and wonder came over him as he looked up like this. All this was supposed to have come about by itself, as his biology and physics teachers had always told him? Impossible! This glorious, incomprehensible universe had to have an intelligent creator for its originator.
But why doesn’t he make contact with us humans? Why does he remain silent, he wondered. Why doesn’t God let us hear from him? He should have an interest to get in contact with us humans, if he has created us. Jörg was agitated. How could he find peace, find an answer to his question about God? The Bible, he thought. Was the Bible supposed to be God’s book to mankind after all, as his former religion teacher always believed? What if she’s not?
The first contact
And now he was sitting next to his girlfriend, in the divine service of the New Apostolic Church. He had met her at a work meeting at his bank. Jörg listened willingly to the pastor. “No, his name isn’t Pastor,” his girlfriend whispered softly in his ear. “It’s a district evangelist. He’s just talking about how there’s going to be a sealing here in our church in three weeks, and an apostle is coming here to the service to do it.” “Are there any apostles left?” asked Jörg? Silke* explained to Jörg why Apostles were necessary in her opinion, and in the course of time she initiated Jörg more and more into her New Apostolic faith.
Finally Silke’s parents urged him to finally get sealed and become a member of the New Apostolic Church. God could use him for that. He could certainly have a great career there with his skills. Perhaps he would even rise to great office. Maybe even to the apostleship! That would be something. It sounded tempting, but Jörg hesitated. Was that what he was looking for? Reputation in front of people? He’s had enough of that on the job. And could that answer his burning questions about God? No, it had to be something else he was looking for. “Our heart cannot rest until it rests in God!” Again and again this saying of Augustine’s went through his mind.
The Bible brings light and clarity
Now Jörg began to read the Bible himself. Now he wanted to know for sure. He took up the Gospel of John. It was a verse that again astonished him. John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. The same was in the beginning with God”. (Ch. 1, 1-2) Then verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, a glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jörg was deeply touched. If what is written here is true, he thought, then yes, God has shown himself! Then he has come out of his dimension, which is inaccessible to us, into our dimension, through and in Jesus!
Never before had he read Jörg something like this
And if the Word is God, as the apostle John writes here, and this Word became flesh, that is, came into our human form, then God became man. That means that Jesus was God in human form and that this God showed himself to us human beings through Jesus, revealed himself to us, as the saying goes. Then God did not remain hidden somewhere behind the stars. Then he broke his silence and made contact with us humans. He has then spoken to us, in and through Jesus! Jörg was stunned. He almost felt dizzy at these thoughts. Never before had he read such a thing, more than that: never before had he realized the consequences of this Bible word in such depth. Now it became exciting for him.
Was Jesus the answer to all his questions? He needed to know more about Jesus. Like one dying of thirst, he now read through the entire New Testament as if in one breath. And light after light dawned upon him concerning Jesus. Then John writes in his first letter, “Whoever has Jesus has life. He who does not have Jesus does not have life.” Jörg thought about it. Did he have Jesus? How can you have Jesus? And how do I get Jesus, when without him no one has life – eternal life! – has? He had to have Jesus, that was what he needed. Jeepers! Hadn’t he already had this wondrous longing for Jesus in his childhood years, when he heard the stories about Jesus from the mouth of his teacher? But how do I get Jesus and through him life?
Jörg was burning for an answer
The old longing for Jesus broke out again in him. He started talking to God. At first only in thought. Whether it was on the bus, on the train, at home or at his workplace, there was always a longing for Jesus in his heart. But also the statement, “He who does not have Jesus does not have life!” Jörg became afraid. How, if I die now, and I don’t have Jesus? How, if I go into eternity without Jesus? Then I don’t have life, eternal life! Terrible thought, he thought, pushing it far away at first. But Jörg was brave enough not to evade this thought, not to cowardly avoid it.
All that separates us from God is our sin, he read over and over in the Bible. But that is exactly why Jesus came to take our sin upon Himself. Jörg was in despair: If I am separated from God because of my sin, and I die today without having Jesus, then I am eternally lost before a holy God who judges my sin. I’m going straight to hell. That was quite clear to him. And if a thousand people had told him otherwise, they could not have talked him out of this certainty of his lostness. In his distress, Jörg cried out to God, “O God, do not let me be lost. Please tell me how I can attain eternal life.” His eyes were still full of tears as he reached for his Bible seeking help. He opened the New Testament somewhere and read:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”John 3, 16
Salvation becomes a certainty
Jörg couldn’t believe it. What was he reading? That all who believe in Him (Jesus) may not perish but have eternal life? Man, I do believe in Jesus! And here it says that all who believe in Jesus may have eternal life! Yes, then I have eternal life. I have it because I believe in Jesus. There was a sudden brightness inside Jörg. Not only did a light go on for him, a thousand lights went on for him. More than that, the light of life dawned on him, namely Jesus himself.
The scales fell from his eyes. Suddenly all fear of being lost departed from him and a deep, unprecedented joy filled his heart. All at once, Jörg knew deep in his heart that he had eternal life through faith in Jesus. And again a thousand people could have said to him now: Jörg, you’re crazy, how can you know something like that? No one could have talked him out of this certainty, for God Himself had told him through His Word.
Great internal joy
Jörg became so happy that he cried with joy. He knew: Jesus himself had entered his room and touched him. He had opened his understanding of the Scriptures, just as he once did with the desperate disciples on the road to Emmaus. Over and over again John 3, verse 16 triggered a great inner joy in him: “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”! I have eternal life, because I believe in Jesus!
This belief wasn’t just in his head somehow. No, he was deep in his heart. Jörg knew that Jesus himself had come into his life and that he was and wanted to be the Lord of his life. So all at once he separated himself from things that he had hitherto considered ‘quite normal’, but which had no standing before God. Now he realized that they no longer fit a life with Jesus. Yes, he became aware that some of the things he used to do had in reality not made him happier, but only unhappier, and he was glad that Jesus was now freeing him from them step by step. Things he used to hold on to because he thought he couldn’t live without them, he could now let go of through the power of Jesus Christ, because he had received greater things. Faith in Jesus brought about a complete change in him.
A new man
This change was also noticed by his colleagues, and he told them how he had found Jesus and how God spoke to him through the Bible. How he gave him assurance of eternal life through his word. Some of his colleagues were deeply impressed. That an improbable joy shone from his eyes, which they had not perceived so in him before, was evident and undeniable. His New Apostolic friend also noticed this change in him and wondered greatly about him.
Silke asked: “Jörg, what happened to you? You are so changed”. And Jörg told her how Jesus had met him and how God had given him assurance of eternal life through his word. But Silke denied that he could get eternal life by faith in Jesus alone. She said that we cannot receive eternal life without the ministry of the apostles. “But I have received eternal life through the ministry of an apostle, dear Silke,” Jörg replied to her, adding: “Through the ministry of the apostle John! He informed us in writing on behalf of God that everyone who believes in Jesus has eternal life”!
She was caught in the net of her apostles
Silke saw that something powerful had happened to Jörg, that he was filled with a deep joy and certainty of eternal life. A certainty and joy that she herself did not have in such a way. And yet, she could not share this joy with Jörg, even questioned it. Silke was influenced by the teachings of her New Apostolic Church. She had been told from childhood that without the ministry of living apostles there could be no salvation. She saw that Jörg was far ahead of her in faith, and in such a short time.
But she could not understand nor place his joy, for she was caught in the net of an unscriptural doctrine, she was caught in the net of her apostles.
© Anselm Schönfeld
* Names of persons have been changed