To speak on the living Bible is more than a personal privilege; it is a solemn obligation. To witness to God’s living Word is indeed a sacred commitment in these times of testing dominated by global decisions of ultimate bearing. My city of Berlin is today the focus and center of decisions that will determine the future of the whole Western civilization. Already the propagators of a world revolution are raising their voices to proclaim the end of an era, the breakdown of a moral and social order prevalent for nearly two thousand years.

“Christians have failed; Christian concepts of life are doomed to perish”—that is what the rulers of Eastern Germany cry out, re-echoing the slogans diffused all over the Soviet orbit. The more commanding these slogans may sound, the more surprising is the halt which confronts them in that area where I have lived well over 70 years now. Today Berlin is like a lighthouse shining forth into the deadly night, a watchtower where even the roaring waves are bound to break their rage and fury. Rays of light, of comfort and clarification are going out each day from the island city across the Eastern world.

The South-Eastern part of the area surrounding Berlin, today the Soviet zone of Germany, has a special place in history. It is the land of Martin Luther; here the Reformation started and spread from the heart of Germany all over the earth. From its very beginning and throughout the last four centuries, the Reformation has meant the unfolding of infinite treasures for the people of East Germany. For the first time, the Word of God was to be read and heard by each one in his own mother tongue. The voice of the true Shepherd created a movement of joyful thanksgiving, and wherever the Church became by Scripture reformed, whole nations joined in praising God. Wherever nations were in danger of losing their vision toward the realms beyond the sky, there the Bible proved to be a landmark implicit in every issue. In world history, each century is confronted with its own special problems. That historic fact causes me to verify as the first point the statement that in each century, the decisive answer to burning problems was taken from the Bible. Whether abroad in the mission field of Asia and Africa or in the social witness along the lines of Christian men like Thomas Chalmers or the Earl of Shaftesbury, it was a conscience encompassed in the Bible that encouraged a life obedience to the one Creator and Preserver of mankind. Wherever Christian men and women had to struggle severely against converging powers of darkness, there in deep radiance the written Word became a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their paths.

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The powers of darkness, however, have never been so consistent nor violent as they appear to be in this century. Never before has the entire sphere of human relations been so much obscured as we perceive it in our present technical age. From the nineteenth century, stupendous tasks were left over largely unsolved. From spurious seeds implanted with the scientific revolution beginning two centuries ago, a harvest of bitter fruitage is now being reaped in gigantic dimensions. Willful speculations and experiments have added to man’s pride and self-sufficiency. Scientific man pretended to be autonomous and absolute. The result of those experiments has been the waging of two world wars. To the problem of the twentieth century, those wars have offered no solution because war-mongers would never consult the Bible. Nor did the advocates of material exploitation ever look up to the Word of God as a guiding light. Instead of helping the human being to become instrumental in fulfilling God’s design through acts of neighborly concern, the intellectual drive became entirely self-satisfied. Instead of using the material gifts inherent in God’s creation as His committed fellow-laborers, the doctrinaires of emancipation have exalted the autonomy and the gravity of earthly matter to a degree where the inner sphere of man is considered negligible.

An amorphous mass society, anonymous and fearful, is envisaged as a result of dialectical indoctrination. In the nineteenth century dialectical materialism was advertised to be the proper foundation of scientific discernment. In our century, however, dialectical materialism is occupying the place of dogma, a system of belief making demands on the total existence of man. With a kind of religious fervor, this dogma of earthly totality is now being enacted to advance from its Eastern sanctuaries and conquer the inhabited earth. Bent upon ruling mankind in efficiency and rigid uniformity, the new doctrinaires make an absolute claim on the minds of men through shaping their intellects and their value-judgments. In that rigid process of mind and will-shaping, any method is acceptable. Some of the experiments in human deformation, including brain-washing practices, appear to reflect the predicted totality of world revolution.

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Since I made it my first point to maintain that in each century the positive answers to the ever-burning problems are taken from the Bible, I might substantiate by pointing out that the very authority of the Bible implicates a “crisis,” dividing the children of light from the children of darkness.

Owing to their indoctrinated hostility to the teachings of the Bible, the prophets of modern dialectical materialism cannot but create an atmosphere of “Eternal Unrest” which I would prefer to call “satanic unrest.” Teaching the dogma of “perpetual tension,” these prophets of atheism formulate a vast number of imaginary life-issues without providing for any intellectual honesty to offer helpful solutions. The dogma of tension is a dogma of hate. The dialectic of antagonizing becomes a habit of liquidation. What we already have in Eastern Europe, and what we may see spreading any day toward other parts of the world, is a totalitarian drive aimed at adapting man’s whole being to the limited requirements of controllable animals completely rationalized. Standards below the norms of that collectivized animal existence may be worked up to reach just that low level of controlled automatic operation.


However, this minimum level of a command performance in regimented uniformity is propagated as “Life in Progress.” In the half religious phraseology of the world revolution dogma, the collectivized animal existence is called the “New Life.” Here I would wish to uphold a second point:

The doctrinaires who offer the philosophy of materialism as a substitute religion are killing the souls of men. They are doing all they can to prevent the people from reading God’s living Word.

The new process of man’s formation sets in rather early. Before the birth of a human being, the expectant mother is requested to have the infant registered in advance for a name-giving ritual to be administered soon after the delivery. This ritual has been devised to replace the Christian baptism. The main emphasis at this ritual is placed on the “incorporation of the infant in socialist society.” It is made attractive with premium bonds for the mother, and a “Vow of Guidance” is taken by sponsors provided through collective channels. Guidance means control by the collective leadership to insure the child’s growing into the pattern of New Life. The New Life is said to be based on the findings of modern science. In truth, however, the educational pattern of the totalitarian countries is founded on principles of discernment which have long been superseded. In order to suppress all spiritual leanings of the human individual, the prophets of the totalitarian New Life are reducing the sphere of knowledge to the surface material of the earth. In order to keep their iron grip on the victims of their guidance, they claim that nothing is beyond the scope of their planning.

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The source of a rigid life-planning is the State Almighty. The material powers which are at the state’s command are proclaimed to our young people as a “Life-giving Power Plant.” A six-year-old girl recently reported home that in her first grade class at school she had to learn this slogan:

Five fingers has the human hand;

The Five-Year-Plan brings New Life to our land.

Part of this New Life planning is our young people’s systematic alienation from home and family life. The family is recognized as what it is in the teaching of the Bible. But with the leading Communists, the family is not only unrecognized, but is also denounced as the basic unit where a child’s eternal dependence on an all-embracing Father in heaven is still a living reality. In order to sever the transcendent bonds, shifting working-hours, including Sunday labor, are pressured on the adult, both father and mother, while the adolescents are worn down by heavy schedules at school and in the pioneer movement. The whole atmosphere of the uniform society is determined by a constant fear of falling short of norms and statistical quotas. In the subtle mind-shaping of the young, no room is left for recalling the creative acts of parental love and protection; no thought is to be given to the natural grace and beauty inherent in a sacramental life. At an early age, at school and in premilitary training, man is taught to be man’s enemy, because it is only through mutual control and competition that the herd can be kept in line. A decree recently signed by the East Zone Minister of Defense states that all members of the Armed Forces are to be called upon by their superiors to hate people of different persuasion, and the hatred has to be nourished by constant reporting on the next of rank. What is accomplished is utter restlessness precluding any real measure of life. With a fanatical fervor, Communist youth leaders pretend that there is a global conspiracy of enemies determined to kill the whole working population of the earth.

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Almost every day the danger of a capitalist aggression is projected on the minds of misguided people. Often the enemy is said to be in their own midst, and the system that began with individual spying and reporting becomes a systematic hounding of the people. There have been several cases where parents felt they could no longer fully rely on their own offspring.

This is the kind of life the young generation is supposed to embrace at the age of 14 when they are expected to take the solemn oath of the “Jugendweihe,” the Communist ritual of Youth Dedication. In all outward form and shape, this ritual is an anticipation of the Christian confirmation. It is preceded by a course of so-called cultural instruction lasting from four to six months. As an official outline for these courses of cultural instruction, new Ten Commandments were recently drawn up by Mr. Ulbricht, and these new Ten Commandments were published with the stated purpose of replacing the T en Commandments contained in the Old Testament of the Bible. We are convinced that the living voice of God, speaking through the words of the Bible, will be triumphant in the end. We are the more concerned for the hearts and minds of those who are given no freedom to decide for themselves which of the two sets of Ten Commandments they shall give allegiance. In this context, I wrote to the prime minister of East Germany an open letter containing these words:

Free decision no longer exists when the State employs all its means of propaganda against the institutions of the Church. Teachers, party functionaries, and others have worked over parents and children relentlessly persuading them to submit to the Communist Dedication ritual because only in this way apprenticeship, trade, high school, and university training are open to them. The East German Press which is bound to the directives of the State, is called upon to make propaganda for the Communist ritual by every means; the same is true in the economic order. In the State-sponsored school, the teaching of the Bible is not only prohibited, but children are being herded to the “Jugendweihe” celebration in close ranks. Now even the Post Office is issuing special postage stamps and congratulatory Jugendweihe telegram forms. A totalitarian State is engaged in enforcing acceptance of institutions which are built on the denial of all Christian concepts.

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When we consider the enormous amount of pressure that has gone into this restless drive against Christian faith, it is nothing short of a miracle to see how many people in the East are staying away from the enemies of the Cross. It is a miracle indeed and no human accomplishment of ours.

In spite of all the hardship imposed on the families that do not send their children to the Communist dedication, the Christian confirmation is a very notable event, more notable than it was some 20 years ago. It is true that the number of those attending confirmation classes has become smaller, yet it is still big enough to be a source of embarrassment to the men in power. And what is more bewildering to the Communist rulers is the fact that the two initiative functions of the Church, baptism and confirmation, have become real factors in the process of rethinking the whole of man’s life in the light of the Bible. This process of rethinking and relating the perplexities of life to God’s design, as we have it in the Bible, is just as quiet and firm as it is consistent in its loyal approach to the eternal will of God. In a totalitarian climate, the Christian witness is seldom ostentatious. Even the kind of martyrdom which pastors and Christian laymen are suffering is in most cases a quiet one. And yet there prevails in many Christian communities an outlook of patience and serenity, baffling and bewildering to the promoters of total world revolution and yet recalling rather strikingly the “patience and faith of the saints” praised in the Revelation of St. John.


People looking closely at the totalitarian way of life, see that the life of the “new creation” set forth in the Bible is a very precious gift, utterly unlike what the advocates of World Revolution defined as the new life. The real transformation of human life conditions, the change of the earth to the better, springs from a creative and divine initiative only. However complicated the tensions of a secular society may seem to grow, the Bible reminds us more than once that “the Lord will fight for you, and you shall be quiet in holding your peace!”

He who would have us to consider the lilies of the field, how they grow without toiling, calls us to remember that our abiding strength lies not in competing with the standards and methods of the surrounding world, but in quietness and confidence firmly founded on the given oneness with Him who loved us first and who called us first. He who is love is by no means diverted from his saving intent by the frantic efforts of estranged creatures given to vile affections and, as a consequence of their willful estrangement, abandoned by God himself to revolting practices of dishonouring their lives among themselves. These sayings of the Bible have come to life again in our time of trial and testing. If it is true that we be dead with Christ, we shall also live with him in our times of trial and testing. And here I should like to prove my third point: In the utter darkness of a world estranged from the saving God, his word has become relevant again; the living Bible has become the source of new hope.

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The new hope did not originate from our own insight; rather it has emerged from the amount of reality which is the major impact of God’s Holy Writ. Where injustice prevailed, where, for instance, the Communist rulers would demand preferential verdicts on members of the Communist party over against trespassers not belonging to the party, we proclaimed the voice of the righteous Lord who is said in the Bible to be no respecter of persons. Where the new officers of the Communist armed forces made hatred for people of other conviction the main condition of both political and military action, we put on the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit which is ultimately a spirit of charity and forgiveness. Through the living words of the Bible, we became indeed protected by the shield of faith and enabled to quench the fiery darts of the wicked. This is how we were reassured that it is a mighty weapon that helps us in the fight for life.

The fight begins early: Those who make their decisions for baptism and Christian confirmation are facing the lot of the underprivileged; it is also a revealing fact that many young people are only too glad to get away from the rigid drive of a drab uniform life where there is no possibility of fulfillment, no proper place for the individual, no challenge to the person nor any chance to live up to an inherited standard of decency. Like a hidden treasure, the impact of the Bible has come alive with an enriching power. In a way utterly unknown at a time when I was a junior, the young Christians of East Germany, the members of our “Junge Gemeinde,” are coming together to study the Old and New Testaments through careful exposition, but also in a very practical way. As they sit down to re-evaluate themselves in the light of the Gospel, they feel bound to find new methods for representing the living Christ in their daily lives. Often they begin their evening hours of fellowship with a common reading of the weekly Psalm in the Christian year. They have become greatly aware that the man Jesus Christ, “to whom no affliction, no suffering is alien,” is praying the Psalter through the mouth of his Church. So they pray in Christ’s name; they pray not merely from the natural cravings of their human heart; they pray in the manhood put on by Christ. Even if one verse of a Psalm is not subjectively one’s prayer, it is still the prayer of some other member in the fellowship of the faithful.

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As our young Christians act in this corporate way, they act in obedience; they act in the name of Christ, and their prayer falls within the promise that it will be heard. Joining in with the biblical prayer of Christ, their responses are reaching the ears of God, and it is their experience already that the risen Christ has become their intercessor. They are also much aware that in their witness to the outside world, their own words and even their innermost feelings are apt to fail quickly. In an agonized world, they have learned to realize that they can render no effective help to a human being entangled in this dying world if they do not bring from the household of God the treasures new and old, speaking out of the abundance of God’s Word the wealth of directions, admonitions, and consolations placed upon record as landmarks resplendent and reascendent on the road towards freedom and fulfillment. It is here that a new sense of neighborly responsibility is reawakening. In an area where the human mind is involved in a battle of life and death, the Bible is seldom if ever read for private purposes of a merely pious edification. The corporate reader of God’s universal design is able to discern the social implications of that design. The voicing of the Father’s appeal enables the faithful listener to find out his own part in His vast purpose. The vastness and greatness of his purpose becomes evident in a battlefield where the souls of many are perishing, and lives are doomed to disintegrate. It is here that the challenge of God’s saving voice is presented in a life-saving action, an action by men conscious of being fellow-laborers with God, however few in number. Their apprehension of God’s holy writ is a blessing which they no longer fail to appreciate. They can hear the urgency of God’s imperative call, “As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he may turn from the broad way of destruction. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! For why will you die, O House of Israel?”

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The multitude of those who belong to the people of God is great, and the responsibility for all those who were baptized into the Church Universal through God’s prevenient grace cannot be taken away at the whim of alien usurpers. In a world raging with death, we cannot afford to shut ourselves up in an ivory tower. When the Communists came out with their recent proposals for an all-German settlement, this in fact was one of their subtle suggestions, that freedom of liturgy and worship should be provided for unthin the limits of some sacred ghetto. It is the kind of assignment which they accorded to the Orthodox church in Russia which has always been a community stressing the inside life rather than her mission to the world. But the Church in East Germany is a Protestant Church, and as a Protestant Church of the Reformation it is a Church existing alone on the Bible as the living Word of the living God. Fortified by his presence alone, a new generation of people living with the Bible is a Protestant generation in the true historic sense of that word; if it is a community suffering from untold hardships, it is yet a Church engaged in the good fight There is no longer a no-man’s land of nominal Christians; the line of division is far too sharp to make allowance for any private religiousness. What we rejoice in is a fellowship of deeply responsible fellow-laborers with a working-relationship based on trust in the life-saving gifts which are latent in the Book of the Old Covenant and even more unfolded in the pages of the New Testament. With this wholesome recommitment to Bible truths and Bible values, we would apply to the present situation in East Germany the saying of one of the early martyrs of the Christian Church: “We are called upon to stand upright amid the ruins of the dying world. We are not to lie down on the ground with those who have no hope!” Our hope is the Creator and Preserver of mankind whose voice is coming alive with a new power. It is not our own plans or accomplishments that will make us free. The God who is the Lord of history is crossing our paths constantly testing and even cancelling our own projects. But then He also shows us that God’s way must be done and God’s way can be done. Within a dying world under a totalitarian climate, the Church of the Reformation already stands out as the only community where man trusts man and one member bears the other one’s burden. This is the good Samaritan’s service rendered by a partnership in obedience. “We must obey God rather than men” was the apostle’s reply to those who had warned him not to preach in the name of Jesus. ‘We must obey God rather than men” was also our reply to the hirelings of Hitler when they arrested us in order to suppress the voice of the Church. Hitler’s power had to collapse just as the authority of the high priests is gone and even the Roman Empire. But the heritage of the apostles has greatly survived, and as their living witness passes through the faithful members of our Christian fellowship, we are raised from this dying world already to proclaim the glorious liberty set aside for His people, the children of Light. It remains of course true what is said in the Gospel that the children of this world are ever more cunning than the children of Light in their generation. It remains the fashion of this world to be impressed with outward strokes of success such as increase of material production achieved by the Communists in certain parts of the world. There continues to be the road favored by the children of this world to be carried away with glaring prophesies of a paradise on earth. It is said to be a paradise made by men alone, and while they proceed on the road of earthly imagery and self-deceit, they become victims of the subtle propaganda made for the Communist idea of “New Life.” But the Lord says: “I know you have a name of being alive, and you are dead!”

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Against a life distorted and utterly unreal, against the wavering shadows of a motion unrelated to the source of light, we may rise to show forth the praises of him who has called us out of darkness. And firmly we trust in the promise God gave to his covenant people. It is the Prince of Life in whom we abide, and his own abiding words are these: “He who hears my word, has life. He has passed from death to life everlasting!”

Otto Dibelius is European President of the World Council of Churches; chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany and Bishop of Berlin and Brandenburg. He has often and courageously lifted his voice in behalf of the Protestant community in Germany’s East Zone over against Communist pressures. “A Living Bible in a Dying World” was the British and Foreign Bible Society Lecture for 1959.

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