Our brethren in Europe had to go through fiery trials for a period of approximately ten years (1936–1945).
To flee from religious persecution that was gaining momentum in Germany, Brethren W. Maas and O. Welp went to Holland, A. Rieck to Portugal, A. Mueller to Switzerland, and E. Stark to Denmark.
|In 1926, the General Conference office was installed in this building (Isernhagen, near Hannover, Germany), which was sold shortly before the Reform Movement in Germany was dissolved by the authorities (May 11 and 12, 1936).|
Besides the external problems, which were serious enough, there were also internal problems, as there had been in every period of the church of God. The Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, as well as the history of the church, show that the presence of such things is one of the characteristics of the church militant. Our narrative is not what some people might call "an Egyptian story" (the Egyptian historians would narrate only their victories and say no word about their defeats). If we tried to give the impression that crises never occurred in our history, some of the brethren might object: "The prophesied reformatory movement, according to the Spirit of Prophecy, must face serious internal problems, such as contending against apostasies and apostates, combating dictatorship and the spirit of supremacy, and meeting fanaticism. These problems belong to the prophetic picture of the movement for revival and reformation. Where are they?" Such an objection would be perfectly warranted. We will deal with this question in detail further ahead.
One of the first problems arising in the General Conference administration was that Otto Welp, his son (W. O. Welp), and his son-in-law (A. W. Doerschler) had a serious disagreement with W. Maas, the new president elected in 1934. An atmosphere of tension existed until a reconciliation took place in 1944.
Brethren W. O. Welp, A. W. Doerschler and O. Kramer, who were also called "Denver leaders," were partially satisfied when they realized that at least one aspect of their complaints was not in vain. But they also complained against authoritarianism, as their letters reveal. And this evil, they said, was not removed under the administration of Brother Maas; rather, it was transmitted to the next administration. They stated in one of their letters: "And those who rightfully protested against the [arbitrariness] of the leaders were branded as being in rebellion."
The internal crisis persisted for a long time. External difficulties, instead of being instrumental in settling problems expeditiously, hampered the required solution year after year. Developments in the political world discouraged the idea of convening a General Conference session in those hazardous days.
The situation in Europe was a matter of great concern to our leading brethren. They could see that our people would soon have to go through fiery trials. It was evident that an international conflict was forthcoming. When a new wave of persecution should burst upon them–and when, standing before the authorities, they would be brought face to face with loss of income, loss of property, imprisonment, torture, and even death for the truth’s sake–they should be prepared to give a uniform answer. Therefore, during a meeting held in Budapest, Hungary, June 1938, the General Conference Executive Committee decided, among other things:
"That a declaration be prepared concerning the principles of our faith, which is to be presented to the authorities in countries where difficulties shall arise for our churches."
It was also resolved at that meeting,
"That the next General Conference session be prepared for 1940."
But this decision was not carried out. The tenseness of the international political situation delayed the calling of another General Conference session until 1948.
In 1942 Brother Maas became very ill and passed away on March 12, 1944. Those who were with him the last few days of his life testified that he felt the assurance of sins forgiven and that he was at peace with the Lord and also with his brethren.
A. Mueller, who was living in Switzerland, was appointed by the General Conference Committee to carry the responsibility of the work until the convening of the next General Conference session. So, the General Conference office was transferred from Geulle, Holland, to Basel, Switzerland, and Brother Mueller served the Reform Movement as the General Conference president from 1942 to 1948.
While the war was raging in Europe, the spirit of independence, overzealousness, and fanaticism on the one hand, and the spirit of arbitrariness, with a certain amount of inconsistency in the administration of the new General Conference president on the other hand, tended to upset the work in many places. But by the help of God, "in all these things" those who stood for the truth were "more than conquerors through Him that loved us."
During that gloomy period of persecution and terror, many believers in Europe died as martyrs for the truth’s sake. Others suffered imprisonment, encampment, hunger, cold, and distress. Only by the grace of God were these souls able to remain faithful to the end.