History is built by ordinary people.
Last September we published The BERLIN WALL and the Unlikely Power of A Monday Church. The post described the role of Pastor Christian Fuhrer and his Saint Nikolai Evangelical Lutheran Church in triggering the fall of the Berlin wall. Recently, a friend read that post and responded with the following request: “I would like your enlightenment on why the sermon on the mount that Pastor Christian Fuehrer preached in 1989 could finally lead to the collapse of the Berlin Wall?”
This column comprises my response to that request.
Every movement has multiple people who engage to change the course of history. First and foremost, of course, is the initiative of the sovereign God of history. He directs the course of nations and history. The fall of the Berlin wall is an example of His hand ordering human history.
God also uses the actions of free human beings to alter history, including people whose names become known, and those who remain unknown and unsung.
Three people of global stature were instrumental in the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the ensuing collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc. They were Pope John Paul II, England’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and US President Ronald Reagan. These three stood squarely for freedom. At every turn they challenged the legitimacy of Communist authorities and encouraged the citizens of the Soviet Empire to yearn to breathe free. History reads differently as a result.
Other people “came out of nowhere” to impact the destiny of nations. One was an unknown blue-collar electrician at Poland’s Gdańsk Shipyard, Lech Walesa. Walesa, a union organizer, founded Solidarity, the first free-trade union in the Soviet Empire. Under Walesa’s leadership the Solidarity movement boldly challenged the Communist authorities.
Christian Fuehrer was another of the “quiet people” who changed history. He was a pastor who called his people to live in freedom. He challenged them to resist the tyranny with love and non-violent resistance. He understood, as did Bonhoeffer, that “The church is only the church when it exists for others.” Fuehrer’s church was a Monday Church.
I am reminded of Larry Ward, the founder of the relief and development organization Food for the Hungry International. Larry was overwhelmed by the burden of 37,000 people dying every day of starvation. One day he heard the voice of God, “Larry, they die one at a time; you can help them one at a time!” Larry mortgaged his house and bought food to save the lives of a few starving people. Years later millions of people around the world are alive because of the efforts of this one man whose name has mostly been forgotten.
We catch the sense of the wonder of how God uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways, from the apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth:
Our work as God’s servants gets validated – or not – in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our posts, alertly, unswervingly … in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we are doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all 2 Corinthians 6: 3-10, The Message.
The young Helen Keller, trapped in the darkness of her world (she was deaf and blind) became an inspiration to millions of people. She understood the wonder of the ordinary:
I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along not by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.
My friend, Pastor George Grant, writing in his book The Micah Mandate said:
After all, the future of our culture does not depend upon political messiahs or institutional solutions. Neither does it depend on the emergence of some new brilliant spokesman or inspiring leader. Instead, the future of our culture depends upon ordinary men and women in the church who are willing to live lives of justice, mercy and humility before God.
In short, God uses people in positions of power, and people without names, to shape history. This is the message of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. It was this sermon that provided the vision, motivation, and courage for Pastor Fuehrer and the citizens of East Berlin to launch non-violent civil disobedience against the regime. Fuhrer spoke of one of his predecessors, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., applying the principles of the Sermon on the Mount. He said King “prepared and executed this idea of nonviolence, peaceful resistance, in a wonderful way. Then it became our turn to apply the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount here in Leipzig.”
He continued, “In church, people had learned to turn fear into courage, to overcome the fear and to hope, to have strength. They came to church and then started walking, and since they did not do anything violent, the police were not allowed to take action.”
God used a pastor whose name was not known by the world, and what he knew of the application of the Sermon on the Mount, to lead the people of his city to stand for freedom and against tyranny though non-violent civil disobedience.
Now it’s your turn!
– Darrow Miller