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Tearing down history’s walls

A BRONZE CHARIOT PULLED BY FOUR PRANCING STEEDS and held aloft by the six-pillared Brandenburg Gate guarded the most famous dividing line in the world: the Berlin Wall. Facing towards the eastern sector, the chariot watched over this heavily-guarded checkpoint, one of a handful allowing traffic between East and West Berlin. Then came that November night in 1989 when the Wall was pounded into oblivion by euphoric crowds. The smashing of that wall accelerated the implosion of communist regimes all across eastern Europe.

Today the chariot looks down on crowds of camera-toting tourists walking freely between the Gate’s pillars. The concrete slabs of the wall have long been pulverised into small souvenir pieces sent around the world. A line of bricks in the roads and parks now traces the site of the former wall through the city, inlaid here and there with a bronze plaque reading: Berliner Mauer 1961-1989. Close to the western side of the Brandenburg Gate a row of white crosses reminds passers-by of those who died in the attempt to escape to the west.

That Wall may be gone but there is still a wall in people’s minds and hearts, says Free Church pastor Hans-Peter Pache, of the Lucas Fellowship. Divisions between ossies and wessies, (easterners and westerners), Germans and foreigners, old and young, and charismatics and non-charismatics show that unity did not all come overnight.

Yet Hans-Peter and fellow-pastor Axel Nehlsen have been living towards a vision of unity in the city for several years now. Their vision is for believers from all sorts of churches across the city to celebrate their unity in diversity, working together to demonstrate the hope of the gospel in every sphere of city life: education, politics, business, healthcare, family-life, entertainment, the media – and of course, in the church itself.

In a city of four million, only 120,000 regularly attend church, of which perhaps only half profess a living faith. Hans-Peter and Axel want to see that number rise to 400,000, ten percent of the inhabitants. Axel, a state-church pastor, believes hundreds of new churches need to be planted in the city for this to happen: mega-churches, small churches, contemporary and traditional, German-speaking and in other languages. “Only with this sort of variety will we reach the city,” he declares.

Hans-Peter is even more specific. He believes Berlin needs 1700 new churches. But that requires long-term thinking, like building a cathedral, he says, which begins by planting a grove of oak trees to be ready in 100 years!

Pache and Nehlsen have been building relationships with other pastors through prayer breakfasts over the past five years, sharing their vision of unity. This breakfast meeting has now grown into Gemeinsam für Berlin (Together for Berlin), a relationally-based network of leaders from some 140 churches and organisations seeking to shape every sector of the city with the gospel.

Past initiatives often worked independently of each other, lament the pastors. “We cannot work that way any more. More and more leaders are asking how Christians from different traditions can help each other to fulfil their common calling.”

Axel acknowledges the catalytic role Campus Crusade for Christ (Agape) played helping to bring churches from different denominations together. “Since they were not a local denomination, they were not a threat,” he explains. Campus workers like Duane Conrad have helped to build partnerships across a wide spectrum of backgrounds.

The values of Gemeinsam für Berlin include:
– embracing the whole body of Christ in the city and welcoming new models of church, such as youth congregations, cells, house churches and ethnic fellowships;
– recognising that evangelistic and social responsibilities for Berlin must be fulfilled together;
– affirming that working together means unity with diversity, not uniformity and compromise;
– and building relationships of openness and trust between leaders as models for right relationships in the local congregations.

Gemeinsam für Berlin promotes city-wide prayer for Berlin with a monthly forum for leaders and district prayer groups, as well as distributing prayer information through a communication office run by Nehlsen.

Hans-Peter told me on a visit to Berlin a few weeks ago how his thinking had been shaped by the teaching of Dennis Peacocke, who began regularly visiting Europe from America at our invitation in the early nineties. Hans-Peter became a regular participant in the Transforum conferences in Switzerland, organised by Walter D√ºrr, where he grew in his understanding of God’s purposes for the whole of society, not just the church. These insights have fed the Gemeinsam f√ºr Berlin vision. Now many more church leaders are beginning to look beyond their church walls to recognise their role as salt and light in the city. The first Transforum conference in Berlin is planned for November 4-7 this year. More information about that event and Gemeinsam f√ºr Berlin can be found via www.gfberlin.de.

Just imagine if this sort of vision caught on in cities and towns all across Europe! And why not?

What is happening in Berlin is what we want to encourage through Hope for Europe: networks and partnerships across cities, and nations and all across Europe. The occasion for my visit to Berlin earlier this year, accompanied by Gordon-Showell-Rogers, Markku Harpponen and others from Hope for Europe, was to present a HOPE Award to the leadership of Gemeinsam für Berlin, in recognition of a wonderful model of unity with diversity emerging from a city globally infamous for division.

Could what that bronze chariot witnessed in the physical one day become a spiritual reality? Should not we attack the walls separating believers with the same vigour as those crowds in 1989, pulverising them into oblivion? If so, surely a powerful spirit of unity would spread out from Berlin, bringing transformation to cities across the continent!

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

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