On November 9th, 1989 the Berlin Wall was breached, its first sections sundered by freedom-longing East Germans. With the rest of the world, I watched in rapt attention. Like many, I had prayed for this moment, that the people of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union might live in freedom. But despite my prayers, I had not believed that the wall would come down in my lifetime.
Three world leaders—Pope John II, President Ronald Reagan, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—had the vision and moral courage to call for the birth of freedom in the Eastern bloc countries. Their intervention led to the wall’s destruction. As did another human factor: the “Monday Sermons.”
On a recent trip to Singapore I heard the story of the Monday Sermons from Ching Cheong, Senior Correspondent for the Singapore newspaper The Straights Times. Mr. Cheong approached me to ask if the Monday Sermons had inspired the name of our Monday Church efforts. I confessed that I had never heard of the Monday Sermons. Ching looked at me with some suspicion as if to ask, “How could you not have heard of the Monday Sermons?”
Ching’s own testimony is both tragic and wonderful. He was falsely accused by the People’s Republic of China of spying for Taiwan and spent 1000 days in prison. His incarceration included torture and 100 days of solitary confinement, leading him to despair. He was ready to take his life. But in the darkness, God spoke to him through a Bible Ching had acquired, and he came to know his Savior, Jesus Christ. Perhaps his own imprisonment in the Communist system and his subsequent release led Ching to investigate the history behind the razing of the Berlin Wall.
That story centers around one man, Pastor Christian Fuhrer of the Saint Nikolai Evangelical Lutheran Church in Leipzig, Germany. Fuhrer followed the example of a man who had profoundly shaped his life, German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Like Bonhoeffer before him, Fuhrer understood that the church needed to speak for justice in a culture of injustice and oppression. He famously said: “It is not the throne and the altar but the street and the altar that belong together.” Fuhrer believed the church needs to go outside its walls, engaging the market place and the public square on weekdays. Thus in 1980 he began public meetings on the street in front of the sanctuary to pray for peace between the Eastern and Western bloc countries of Europe.
Pastor Fuhrer understood that the church is to create a space for people to flourish. The sanctuary of Saint Nikolai became that space. Fuhrer stated: “Everything that could not be discussed in public could be discussed in church, and in this way the church represented a unique spiritual and physical space in which people were free.” Both Christians and non-Christians gathered to talk of a future in which East Germany might join West Germany in freedom.
On Monday, September 20, 1982 the “Peace Prayer” began. It continued every Monday until the wall fell. During these gatherings, Pastor Fuhrer would speak and the people would recite the Sermon on the Mount and pray.
The Peace Prayer gatherings began small. But in early 1989, the East German authorities began to bring pressure on Fuhrer and those gathered to discontinue the prayer for peace. This demand simply resulted in more people coming to Nikolai church on Mondays to hear Pastor Fuhrer’s Monday Sermon and to recite the Sermon on the Mount and pray.
On October 9, 1989, what has been called the “Miracle of Leipzig” occurred. Over 70,000 people gathered for the Monday Sermon. The people brought candles to face 8,000 armed security forces with guns. Candles vs guns! A blood bath was expected. But the security forces listened to the sermon and held their fire.
The concept of the Monday Sermons, like the Monday church, is powerful. It is one way pastors can lead their congregants to be the church on Monday. God intends that the church be his people on Monday (through Saturday), not just on Sunday. We are to be his people in the public square (per Pastor Furer’s call) and in the market place. Theology is not just a seminary topic, or a discussion inside the church walls. It is for the street, the hospital, the research lab, the university, the market place, and the public square. John Calvin preached in the Geneva cathedral on Sunday and on weekdays taught practical theology to pastors and civic leaders in the cathedral chapel. From such places pastors like Luther and Calvin preached “Monday Sermons” that led to the Protestant Reformation. The ideas of the reformation changed economic and political expectations for freedom all over the world.
The world is in debt to Thatcher, Reagan and John Paul … and also to a little known pastor and his congregation whose faithfulness forms a major part of the story behind the fall of the Iron Curtain.
For more on Fuhrer and St Nikolai see Deborah Potter’s article: The Church That Helped Bring Down the Berlin Wall.
– Darrow Miller