Solus Christus

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

I entered the church door holding luggage in both hands, as my taxi drove away on Usedomestraße, West Berlin. “Wo ist der Goddesdienst?”  I asked. A big, friendly German man gestured upstairs for the worship service, and put my bags in a side-room. As I walked up the spiral staircase, hearing the distant thrum of a minister’s voice, I was deeply glad. I made it on time to this place, where from 1948-1969, my wife’s cousin Dr. Gerhard Gesch pastored this little city church. I could almost hear his life story as I walked up the curving steps.

In Berlin, he had been born to parents whose faith was of the Old Lutheran variety, Bible-centered and holding on to the teachings, liturgies and songs of German Protestants for centuries. Early on, he showed a brilliant mind and chose training in church ministry. After ordination, he pursued a Doctorate in philosophy and wrote several books. He got pastoral experience as a hospital chaplain before being called to serve at the prestigious St. Lawrence Cathedral in Nuremberg. This was in the early 1930s, before Adolf Hitler was elected as Chancellor.

Which Reich?
Gerhard Gesch married a woman from a locally respected family in the community; they supported the rise of the National Socialist Party over the next decade in its rise to power. Dr. Gesch became deeply troubled by the “Aryan question” and signed a Declaration by pastors in Bavaria that disagreed with the policy of barring all Jews from participating in Christian worship.

Strengthened with a thorough knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, his sermons contrasted Nazi ideology with truth. Had not God’s Son come to earth as a Jew, in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3? Was not the Lord’s purpose and desire to save people from every tongue and nation, according to Revelation 7:9? Is Christ alone (solus Christus) the real foundation of our worthiness and acceptance before God, or is it our racial “purity”? We owe obedience to the government only to the extent that it does not cause us to break God’s laws. The Reich (kingdom) of Christ will outlast every Reich of man, because salvation is in the name of Jesus, not Hitler or any other leader.

The consequences of Gerhard’s decision were swift. First, his wife sued for divorce under pressure from her family; he lost his home and little son. Then the Gestapo arrested Gesch on trumped-up charges of immorality and threw him in political prison, thereby losing his ministry and reputation. Held somewhere in a concentration camp for a few years, he was fortunately released to mandatory military service when he posed no further threat. Somehow surviving the war, he rebuilt his life in Leipzig and remarried, before being called to this church in Berlin to preach the gospel. Christ was his only hope, in captivity and in freedom.

All this swirled through my mind as I entered the sanctuary and slid into a pew. The service was interesting, although very traditional. At the end, we sang “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” in German . . . and I lingered on that great hymn of Luther’s, which Gerhard’s life encapsulated:

“A mighty fortress is our God, a sword and shield victorious;
he breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod and wins salvation glorious. […]
Though hordes of devils fill the land all threat’ning to devour us,
we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpow’r us. […]
God’s word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes, who fear it;
For God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house, goods, honour, child or spouse,
though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.
The Kingdom’s ours forever.”

(Moravian hymnal translation)

 

  • Brian Huseland teaches fifth grade in Spokane, Washington, where he lives with his wife Jennifer (Curt Gesch’s niece), five daughters, three pianos and a dog. In June he travelled to Wittenberg and Berlin for a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

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