By Chris Turner
DUSSELDORF — I heard the distinct sound of a thick coin hitting the bottom of a tin box. It was a toneless plop. I snapped my head to the left to see a neatly groomed man of about 30 looking up into the face of the statue rising above him. He crossed himself, lowered his head and touched the saint’s feet as he intently mumbled a prayer. He finished, kissed his hand then touched the kiss to the feet as he turned to go. With that, he faded into the crowd and disappeared.
I’ve long made it a point to visit cathedrals when traveling so the coin’s thud was familiar. For me it is always a jolting expression of spiritual desperation. It represents countless people hoping their indulgence buys them favor with a saint who holds sway with Jesus or God; or Mary, Jesus’ mother. The offering never pays off, but who’s to say it won’t the next time, or the next. They keep trying. It’s a fruitless cycle but there is fear in breaking from superstition.
This particular instance landed upon me more profoundly than similar instances because this happened in the Cologne Cathedral, an architecturally astounding structure located just 320 miles west from where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Whittenburg, by this action, Luther unknowingly launched what became the Reformation. Luther was exceedingly disgusted by Catholicism’s practice of indulgences. The sound of the coin’s cold distinctness triggered in me a sense of despair more than of disgust. This man was seeking hope where none would be found or bought. A remarkably sculpted limestone statue could not secure for him what a crucified Lord and a risen Savior has already purchased.
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
I’ve reflected on that moment in the cathedral for a couple weeks now. I hear the coin. I see his face. I feel his despair. “God, deliver these people from bondage,” I whispered then. I whisper it now every time I see the German flag draped on my garage wall to serve as a prayer reminder. It is unfathomable to me that in the country where the idea of spiritual freedom in Jesus spread like wildfire to the masses, the masses today give virtually no thought to Jesus. Cathedrals and churches are now often relics and tourist attractions. Some missiologists claim that Germany is so far from its Reformation roots that it has passed through post-Christian (knowing something of the gospel yet rejecting it) to pre-Christian (no knowledge of the gospel).
No question about it, Germany needs Jesus. So does Tennessee. So does North America and the rest of the world. Close your eyes and jab your finger at a spinning globe. You can’t touch a landmass where the gospel of Christ isn’t needed. Spiritual lostness blankets the world’s people. But here is the great news. As theologian Abraham Kuyper profoundly exclaimed: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” The question is not whether the gospel has the power to save regardless of culture but whether God’s people are going to deliver the message to those cultures.
For decades, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s partnership missions ministry has helped Tennessee Baptists be messengers of Good News in places like Poland, Brazil, West Africa, Central America, Italy and now in Germany, we have the opportunity to give that message back to the people who resurrected it for the Western World 500 years ago. However, we are faced with a challenge. Is it possible for us to now know the spiritual need of that country and do nothing to pierce it with the gospel light?
Every moment we linger another coin drops, another prayer goes unheard by a stone icon, another soul turns and walks toward an eternity separated from a loving Savior whose message of salvation is available to all if only someone would go share it.
Will we go?
Will you go? B&R