What is The Wittenburg Door and why is it needed?

The Wittenburg Door is a satire magazine that has punctured the pretenses of the church for 50 years (give or take a few years of hiatus).

A youth minister named Mike Yaconelli helped start the magazine  with a band of “holy fools” back in the early 1970s.

This was during the days of the “Jesus Movement” on college campuses in an America filled with cultural turmoil and searching youth.

These young, dedicated believers took great delight in exposing Christianity’s feet of clay and tipping over its idols. They shared a passion to use the magazine to expose abuses of religion through confrontational, unconventional, sarcastic, and sharp-edged satire.

(Satire is a time-honored prophetic tool–it was used by the Old Testament prophets and by Jesus himself with wonderful effect.)

“I think we all saw a lot of things wrong in the church,” recalls Ben Patterson, the magazine’s first editor.  That was an understatement.

They named the publication after the cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany, where the great reformer  Martin Luther nailed up his 95 Theses. The Door’s purpose was to call the church to accountability.

The Wittenburg Door started out with 16-pages typed on a typewriter, with almost no illustrations other than a little clip art. It was printed in black and white on flimsy newsprint. It had the look and feel of other “underground” radical  newspapers springing up in cities around the country.

Early on, an unnamed designer misspelled the name on the logo as The Wittenburg Door. But no one was inclined to change the title back.

The circulation peaked at about 20,000 in the 1980s. Often banned in Christian bookstores and kept under the counter in seminary libraries, The Door served for years as a touchstone of hope for thousands of its readers who were often on the periphery of church life. It gave people permission to be different from the normal “churchianity”  they saw around them.

But by 1995, Yaconelli had mellowed. He also had founded Youth Specialties, a resource company for youth ministries. The magazine “no longer really fit within the context” of what the company was doing, according to Karla Yaconelli, his wife.

Yaconelli sold the magazine for $1 to the Trinity Foundation, a Dallas-based non-profit that had gained notoriety for exposing televangelist fraud and abuses.

With Trinity as publisher the magazine expanded its size, added color throughout, won design awards and got plenty of publicity. But for a number of reasons  it failed to solve the problem of a dwindling subscription list, and had to stop publishing in  2008.

For 50 years, The Wittenburg Door has  gone after people who take themselves too seriously, using humor to point out when they are putting their self-interests above the message of Christ.

We think the prophetic message of The Door is needed as much today as it ever was.

There are many seemingly more “important” ministries the church is engaged in. But when Christian institutions undertake ministry while full of pretense and hypocrisy, all their good works turn to chaff. And there are too many churches generating chaff today.

Why then does the church– and the world– need the mocking voice of a holy fool?

For the same reason every kingdom needs a jester.

In the medieval court, the  jester was a counterweight to the gravity of the king, a reminder to those in authority of the need for humility.

The jester is a clown, a fool, a buffoon who can’t take himself seriously in this world, yet abides in the center of worldly power. He holds a mirror up to those in charge.

–The jester’s floppy crown and jangly sceptre show the true backruptcy of the ruling power.

–His broad comedy, ribald insults and clever jibes combine to make a serious point even as they entertain.

–His juggling emphasizes the impermanence of this world.

–His sleight of hand tricks show we can’t trust our senses.

The point is this world and our assumptions about it are absurd. The jester highlights that absurdity. He has nothing to lose and nothing to prove.

The Door’s mission–like the jester’s– is to mercilessly make fun of the petty, frivolous side issues that consume most church congregations and clergy, and skewer pop religion and cult heresies, driving a wedge between soul and spirit.

The Door exposes life’s grand charade, rips away the cloak hiding the idolatry in both our society and our personal lives. It points out the futility of all our self-effort. 

When the church is finished laughing at itself, it’s ready to preach the cross in humility.

Today there is no other magazine performing this needed service. At least that we are aware.

The result is an increasingly misguided idea of what the gospel is, the growth in popularity of the health and wealth message, scandals, political power grabs and a gradual surrender to spiritual malaise and cultural forces across the denominational spectrum.

Without The Door, there’s no one to lance that festering boil.

Written by John Rutledge in 2009 and still applicable today.

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Not familiar with the History of The Door ?

The Wittenburg Door has been around for 50 years. For those that aren’t familiar with the history of the magazine, here is a great documentary produced by our very own Managing Editor, Murray Stiller. Featuring some of our former and current contributors.

Nailin It to the Church; Religious Satire and the World According to the Wittenburg Door from Murray Stiller on Vimeo.

Armed with razor sharp wit, private investigator licenses, and a vow of poverty, The Wittenburg Door magazine satirizes Christians who take themselves too seriously.

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What Is Your Favorite Back Issue Of The Door?

As our volunteer staff rummages through the old files of the Door Magazine, we’ve come across a few gems that we can’t wait to share with you. Some of you have asked about getting copies of the old zine. We have most of the renditions (216 editions) digitized and are getting ready for download at the new Door Store.

We also have a warehouse with a limited supply of print copies. We plan on making them available to you as well. But keep in mind, there truly is a limited supply of the original printed magazines, so once they’re gone, they’re gone. Subscribe today and we can keep you posted. And while you’re at it, send all of your friends.

For the old fans of the Door…what is your favorite issue, article, interview, or cartoon that still makes you chuckle? You know the one that went over the line just a little bit, the time you shook your head and smiled because you knew most of your friends wouldn’t approve?

Here is one that was recently requested. This cartoon by Den Hart was first published in Issue #41 (1978). This was so popular that it was reprinted in Issue #114 (1990) and then again in Issue #150 (1996).

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How To Follow The Door in 2021

Brethren,

As you reflect on all that has transpired over the passing year, just remember that the Word of Jesus was the original super spreader.

But in the many years since the Door closed its doors all sorts of new religious sects have set up shop, and with them came many new gods in new guises and flashy raiment, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. With so many new gods popping up all the time we needed a new array of communication tools to help report on it.

  • For those of you who want to catch up with the Door via email, I urge you to sign up for the newsletter. You’ll not only receive a digest of new posts from the Door website but also exclusive email-only content.
  • The Door is also on Facebook and Instagram these days, if that’s your thing. And we have a YouTube channel.
  • For the more tech savvy, we also have a nice RSS feed that updates itself every time new content is published to the Door website. If you don’t already have one, just do a search for “RSS feed readers” and pick one you like. Then copy/paste the feed URL (https://wittenburgdoor.com/feed) into your reader.

As FDR said, there is nothing to fear but missing out.

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We’re Back, But We’ve Lost Our Rolodex

So, you’ve found us. We’ve come out of hiding. Well to be fair, we weren’t actually hiding as much as just sitting around waiting for you to call. We’ve been here all along but haven’t updated the site since we went digital in 2008. And since that turned out to be such an amazing year, it only seemed fitting to come back before the next recession. They say comedy is all about the timing. 

It’s already 2020 and yikes what a year, see what happens when we leave? Well the good news is that we’re back! Well, almost.

We have assembled a slightly younger and even more clueless crew to carry on the mantle.

Feel free to poke around this site and get reacquainted with some of the articles. And before you try to send us a message through one of our broken links to tell us… we know, these articles are old and out of date, you can’t leave comments, and most of the links don’t work. But that’s what happens when you are about to turn 50.

That’s right! Next year marks the 50th Anniversary of The Wittenburg Door and we can’t wait to share what we have in store. But unfortunately, you will have to. Just a little bit longer. I promise.

If you are a previous fan, contributor, or would like to be, send us an email. We have lost touch with everybody. Assume we have no way of contacting you if you were a previous subscriber or contributor. The previous gang lost the Rolodex.

We’d love to get in touch with all of you, old fans and new. Some say satire is a bit tricky these days, but I think we are up for the challenge. Let’s see what happens.

The new Doorkeepers are at your service.

-Gus Mujica, Publisher

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