(Franz Markus /pseudonym/: Modus moriendi der Kirche. Diakonia, 1977, 2, p. 115-119; in Czech: Studie no. 69, 1980, p. 265-269)[*]_


Copyright: heirs of Oto Mádr; used with permission. Translated by Matěj Cepl, 2015. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) License.

Let us suppose that even a church dies. It is not only a hypothetical exercise, even though we believe, that the church will stay until the end of times. Albania is the first country without any religion, at least according to the official; the reality won’t be that far off from that, especially if we consider future prospects. How long can remains of a church structure hold on? How long can believers resist the pressure? And — when will there be more “Albanias”?

It is not very pleasant to think about those tormented brothers and sisters, but do we have assurance, then we ourselves won’t get to the situation of dying church? Are we in it already, perhaps on its doorstep? It is possible to die not only because of the lethal wound, but also because of the protracted deadly disease.

There are three types of process ongoing inside of the church: emerging, blossoming — extinction. All the time and all of these simultaneously.

Emerging church — it is not just something which happened in the Apostolic times and during the missionary foundation of new congregations. Church emerges in each parish, even in each individual, who accepts baptism or who returns to his faith. Even in the each new generation of believers (K. Rahner).

Period of the emerging church inspires, opens new vistas, it gives enthusiasm. It is like spring, like youth.

Flourishing church — it is an adult, fully living organism. Rich offering of spiritual values. Large set of various forms of the internal and external life. Growing challenges, large need of the active people. — Even in the first stage there are individuals who actually belongs to the second one.

This stage is the most satisfying for the active as well as passive use of the niche. Hopes are mostly fulfilled, energy used will most likely return success. Number of members and richly working life give feeling of certainty: experience confirms faith. The community lives in the finished, well equipped house. This stage is considered a norm, and decrease in any direction is understood as decline.

Vanishing church — this is not the same as the persecuted church or internally shaken one: both could have strong even increasing vitality. The church starts to die out when the quantity constantly decreases, but most often when the life of faith is weakening.

Life with the vision of death dejects and suffocates enthusiasm. It is very natural, death cannot stimulates life—if a human stays in the captivity of biological.

Then, as it is known, the normal reactions happen: dreamed of optimism—desperate defiance—bitter pessimism—internal emigration—real escape. However, is something like this necessary? Human? Christian-like?

Take into account, that dying is part of the life of church, in the same manner as birth and full maturity are. All stages are worthy in front of the God, all are in His plan. And therefore it is certain, that in each of these, even in the last one, there is something expected from us, Christians, something glamorous. However, every historical and personal option ask its questions.

We are now concerned with dying particular churches. There is no guarantee for any of them of the immortality on the Earth. Whole large areas are now in “the areas of pagans”, even Jerusalem and Constantinople. Could something similar happen to the Rome and whole Europe? Certainly, the Church of Christ would go on, there is no doubt about that.

There is a theology of arising Church, leaning mostly on the beginnings in the apostolic age, researched mainly by the missiologists. There is also truly majestic theology of the developed Church, studied by the pastoral theology, which benefits from the historical and current experience. Where is the theology of the dying church? There is none. Perhaps because it is not an attractive topic. Perhaps, because it is not deemed necessary. We are content with “the hope against all hope”, with a naive earthly optimism, to which we managed to incorporate the God’s omnipotence. We were saying as Peter “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” and we have never heard the word of Christ “[…] you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23). 1


Biblical quotations are from the The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

A still the theology of the dying church was created, and even in the Central Europe. In the year 1650, when after the Peace of Westphalia for the Czech Brethren all hope of return and restoration of the community faded out, its last bishop Jan Amos Comenius wrote a fine text “The last will and testament of the dying mother The Unity of Brethren”.

Comenius sees the end of the Unity of Brethren as the fate common to all humans, kingdoms, and churches. In our time, he writes, there are many changes, the new era emerges, God wants to restore the countenance of the Earth. The Unity served the God’s will, and God allowed for its sins its expulsion from the native land. Before its death the mother church wants to divide its spiritual wealth and experience to its children and friends: the hope of the eternal kingdom for the faithful ones, the repentance and crying to the unfaithful ones. After the dissolution of the church structures he encourages its preachers: “Serve to the Christ, wherever you can, in any evangelical church, which would be interested in your service.” Faithful should “join any unity, where you will see the truth of the Christ’s gospel, pray for its peace and seek its building in good by being a good example to others, and by true prayers”, so that the God’s wrath against the Christians should be propitiated. It bequests to the individual churches its own spiritual experience, but also criticism and advice. It bequests to the Czech nation its own spiritual inheritance, sheltered throughout evil times and extended by the work of its sons. Here he express rather definite perspective for this life: reacquiring of the national independence in future. — As a Christian Comenius resigns in the faith on the future of its church [meaning denomination], and as a patriot believes emphatically in the future of its nation.

Too large differences in the historical situation and in the ecclesiology don’t allow us to accept positively as whole this so far the only(?) theology of the dying church. However, it is obvious, that even the Catholic Christians, who did not want to “bow their heads in front of the Baal” had to many times in their history and in the present time clarify the meaning and principles of their life in the dying church. It would be worthy to know what was the specific theology of our brothers in the North Africa, North Europe, Japan, when they saw how they are deluged by the enemy flood.

The limit situation forces us to open our eyes. Is it wise to wait for so long though? Openness towards death gives the depth to our life, as we have learned from the existentialism, and before that from various exercises on the theme of Memento mori. Is it worthy to assume the situation of the dying church and ask God first: what is the meaning of it, and second: what the God asks from his own in such situation.

What is the sense of the fact, that churches of Paul, Cyprian, Basil, Augustin had to die? When the Old Testament church was on the edge of downfall, its prophets had this explanation: God punishes unfaithful and disobedient nation. Certainly, the God can punish and call to wake up those who are concerned, and others. The destruction of one church rouses to the search of our conscience, to the repentance.

Heroism of martyrs, faithfulness of the last ones in their loneliness, strength of the oppressed, all these are values which cannot be acquired in other circumstances. It is the highest testimony for God. It is the love until death. The power of his mercy will be revealed, which fills the weak people with such enormous might.

The Book of Job could give us also one answer, because the deadly misfortune of the just individual as well as the faithful community asks explanation, what is the meaning of this. Job did not know other answer — when he rejected the theory of punishment — than the total God’s sovereignty. God can give us difficult tasks, and he does not have logically explain himself to us. God has the right to get our obedience, by its He is acknowledged and honored as the Lord.

Religious benefit of people rises up from the suffering and death, not only the God’s glory. When the heavy tests fall on brothers and sisters, it stirs whole Church to help, to pray, to live better. The exchange of gifts then happens, because even the endangered local Church have something to give: example of extraordinary faithfulness, its prayers — the particular church [congregation] crucified with the Christ pray for the whole Church, for the close ones, for the unknown ones, for enemies, for everybody. And more, the true Christian love to neighbor, free of any wish for revenge or egocentrism, gives trustworthy testimony for the Gospel of love in the time of the extreme danger (see 1Peter 3:2).

The New Testament is full of the eschatological hope in the glorious coming of the Christ and completion of the God’s kingdom. The first Christians considered themselves in the same to be the last ones. It was their alive conscience that “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18). Whatever evil happens it has to be taken as a test, which is to be endured so that we may have participation in the God’s glory (see 1Peter 4:12-13).

Even when we know that the reward from God is His answer in the human form for the longings of our heart, current understanding doesn’t like the word “reward” (is it a humbleness or pride?). There is on the other hand very simple and way more nice explanation, taking into consideration our today’s knowledge of the nature, like the Teilhard’s philosophy of evil as the necessary part of the natural and general process of evolution. Theology cannot have serious problems with that. After all the God’s word became human, integrating itself to the natural processes, it went through birth, adulthood and death. So that only his church should have the privilege to be taken out of this natural giant process of natural and human life brought to the movement by the God? While living on the earth, it must as human and freely submit itself to the natural necessity of (partial) dying, and to declare by that the God as originator and rules of the Universe.

Concerning the damage caused by the fact that one church doesn’t exist anymore, we cannot overestimate ourselves and underestimate the God’s providential love. We are bound to prove the absolute trust in God here more than anywhere else and to declare his glory. “If it is my will […] what is that to you?” (John 21:23)

Is this everything to be said? Is everything clear now? Thanks God, it isn’t. The God’s precepts remain unexplorable and his paths cannot be expressed aptly, so that it is possible and necessary “[to] humble yourselves […] under the mighty hand of God”. The meaning will be revealed even more even more and particularly personally to those who will decide with all his person to accept offered precious opportunity: to live together the last days of one church, to persist with the Crucified to the last breath — if it is the God’s will.

What then God expects from those who belong to Him in the state of the dying Church? Basically the same what in the every other state of the life of the Church: ministry in full. We just want to emphasize what is specific for this situation:

  1. Accept the death! From the practical point of view that means for example that a priest in a parish which is dying out. He need to understand this situation as yet another task and look for the values related to such situation. Look manly towards the future. Don’t deceive yourself or others by the false comfort. Don’t look for the escape in false delights. The only one mean of the death of the church should be totally rejected: your own betrayal. Leave with dignity, without panic and without hysteria. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.” (Ro 14:8)

  2. Live intensely! Concentrate all spiritual energy from margins to the center. Don’t be sad from the poverty of the periphery and from the lack of some external signs of life, but use them to your advantage. Alpha and omega is the personal live faith and alive community(-ies). Mature to the highest purity of ministry without prospect, without personal goals. Faithfulness in the most pure form, only for God, by the example of the Christ’s submission. Loneliness as an opportunity to become “perfect and permanent sacrifice”. Don’t close to yourself, but try to be more immersed in the cycle of the mythical Body. Pray and bring sacrifices for the salvation of the world. Don’t live in the midst of others as a sad saint, but give others light and warmth of your presence. Build powerful and resistant spiritual life on your own deep foundations. “To love God … through the destruction of Troy and Carthage and without consolation … Who loves God through evil (and through pain), is loved by the real God.” (Simone Weil)

  3. To give out the best of yourself! The great thoughts and deeds survives its originators for a long time. The Unity of Brethern existed just for some two centuries and it never had more than ten percent of the population, and yet much of its spiritual heritage still lives in the Czech nation. Stimulating questions to ask: What will remain after us for those who are outside, what kind of taste will the words “Christian” and “catholic” have? What kind of heritage could follow up those who will perhaps after a long time found the Church in this area again? If “the time is short” that we should pull ourselves together to our maximum for the history and for the eternity.

  4. Don’t die! That means not willing to let the church die. Who is dying is still alive! Even the weakest flame of life can burn up again. Nothing gives us right to play into the hands of death by our resignation. Passive suicide is not martyrdom. Thinner is the thread the bigger is our responsibility to bring the life to future.

“Accept death” and “Not die” — how does it go together? As the reply let us hear words of the famous friend of dying ones: “Many patients, who were able to overcome angst of death and who accept their own finality, they were able to mobilize their all inner strength and resources, and fight for their recovery and return.” (Elisabeth Küblerová-Rossová)

Editor’s comment:

“It seems that exactly in this last sentence is hidden the solution, proper key to the interpretation of this remarkable tract. The author doesn’t want to have “funeral talks”, but to mobilize all power, and not by the “cheap consolation”, but by the will to truth, liberating manly look, which looks face to face even the worst imaginable options without illusions and fear — but with the fear of Abraham on the Mount Moriah, with the faith of Job, who know that the God cannot present the accounts to us or to accommodate to our expectations and criteria, with the faith and obedience to the God’s Son, who accepts from the Father’s hands the chalice of suffering.

We can assume, that Mádr did not thought this opusculum in the difficult years of seventies, but that this part of his theology and spirituality grew up even in the prison, in the fifties, when he waited for the execution judgment. Therefore, the radical thoughts of this small work resembles somehow the sharpness of the last Bonhoeffer’s and Delp’s texts. This spiritual position, we believe, is quite unique and rare and precious in the Czech theological literature and the Czech spirituality.”

(Tomáš Halík: Faith and culture in the contemporary Czech society, Manuscript, page 130)