Archive for the ‘Anabaptists’ Category

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In:Anabaptists, Salvation and the New Birth, The Church, Theology

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By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

Philip of Hesse was an unusual man for his time. While most governments – Protestant and Catholic alike – were violently persecuting the Anabaptists, he took a milder approach, believing that they could be convinced to rejoin the state church by discussion and softer measures.

 

Among the reformers, Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito of Strasbourg were the friendliest to such an approach,[1] and in 1538, when Philip wanted to make an attempt to reunite the local Anabaptists with the Lutheran state church, he invited Martin Bucer to come debate with them.

 

Several local Anabaptists had been arrested and imprisoned, and Philip needed help to persuade them to recant. Martin Bucer had earlier complained of his inability to persuade Anabaptists to rejoin the state church, but he nevertheless accepted Philip’s invitation and came to Hesse. From October 30 to November 3, 1538, Martin Bucer debated with several Anabaptists in the city of Marburg in Hesse, where they were imprisoned. The subjects discussed included several very familiar ones which frequently came up in discussions between Protestants and Anabaptists – church discipline, baptism, the government, separation from the state church, etc. However, in this particular disputation, there were a few surprises.[2]

 

The Debate

 

On the Anabaptist side, there were two main speakers for the debate – Jörg Schnabel and Leonhard Fälber. Schnabel discussed several topics with Bucer, although the main topic between the two was whether the Anabaptists were justified in separating from the state church. Similarly for Fälber, the main topic of discussion between him and Bucer was the validity of the calling of the Protestant preachers.

 

Why are you Separate?

 

After the opening formalities, the first question asked of Jörg Schnabel was “why they had separated themselves from our [Lutheran] church.” The record says “His answer came back, that he was repelled by false doctrine.”

 

Jörg then proceeded to give his testimony of how he left the Lutheran church. After reading the Bible, he realized that usury was wrong, and also came to realize the importance of church discipline. So he went to his pastor and explained his concerns, and his pastor “conceded that things were ill in the church; he would do his duty, and he, Jorg, was answerable before God that he also look to the matter.” Notwithstanding his assurance that he “would do his duty,” the pastor let the issue drop and did nothing. When Jörg mentioned something to the pastor the second time, he received a colder reply with no apparent interest in changing the abuses in the church. So, Jörg concluded, “he declared to pastor, mayor and town council that he wished to separate from them.” Following this, his pastor told the authorities that Jörg “wanted to overthrow kings and punish all evil with the sword” – which was not true. So Jörg had been arrested.

 

Bucer and Schnabel then went back and forth, arguing the point – were the Anabaptists justified in separating from the state church? Much of the discussion focused on usury and church discipline, since in Schnabel’s mind, these were the two most important issues leading to the Anabaptists’ separation from the Lutherans.

 

Unfortunately, neither of the two seemed to realize that the whole discussion was pointless, since separation was not the root of their disagreement. Rather, the root of their disagreement lay in their differing definitions of the church. If the two could have openly discussed the nature of the church, they would have understood each other’s positions regarding separation better, and would have been better equipped to critique their respective opponents. As it was, the differing definitions were stated more than once, but the nature of the church was never discussed in its own right.

 

Bucer twice defined the church during the debate:

Wherever there is a church which gladly hears God’s Word, that is a Christian church.[3]

 

To this, Jörg replied that

 

if it were the church of Christ then it would have gone ahead with such an understanding; since it hasn’t done it, it is no believing church and he won’t accept it unless he is convinced by the Bible itself.[4]

 

In other words, the true church of Christ would have obeyed God’s Word. Jörg further said:

 

A church would not be condemned which is organized according to the true order of Holy Scripture, namely, with repentance, faith, baptism, doctrine, the laying on of hands, even if it has inadequacies.[5]

 

On the second day of the debate, Bucer directly asked Jörg “if he conceded it to be a church where they believe in the Word of God.” Jörg replied, “those who commit themselves to the truth and stand obediently in Christ, them he respects as a church.”[6] Bucer contradicted him: “Where teaching is Christian, there is a church.”[7]

 

Ultimately, the Anabaptists could not be reconciled with Bucer’s state church because the two had irreconcilable views of what the church was. These different views were the foundation of the entire discussion on why the Anabaptists had separated themselves from the state church. The two views stayed behind the scenes in this particular debate, although each view visibly undergirded each party’s approach to the question of separation, and each side did, more than once, clearly define the church in the debate.

 

To Bucer, the church was the territorial church, and a church was defined or known by its doctrine. He defined the church as the place where the Word was truly preached. The Anabaptist defined the church as that body of people which is obedient to the Word of God.

 

A True Christian Pastor

 

After Jörg’s examination was over, Leonhard Fälber was interviewed. When he came to the witness stand, “First he asked Mr. Butzer from whence came his calling to preach according to the rule of Christ.”[8]

 

This is a surprise! The early Anabaptists were constantly being challenged by the Protestants as to the validity of the calling of their ministers. They were continually challenged to prove that their ministers had been legitimately called and ordained. This is a new twist – in this debate, the Anabaptist turned the tables on the state church, and asked Bucer to prove his own calling! Leonhard added further, “But he [Bucer] hasn’t thereby sufficient evidence as to who sent them.”

 

Bucer was probably quite unprepared for this line of questioning, and gave some vague answers. Leonhard pressed his point: “When I see you come with such signs as Christ commanded of them [ministers], namely that they should be born again, joined to Christ with the death of sins, then I will believe in you.”

 

Bucer rejoined that the Lutherans did not allow anyone to be a preacher who was not “at one with Christ,” to which Leonhard answered by quoting John 3:7 and stating, “Now I know none [no Protestant minister] who has been resurrected in such a rebirth through falling away of the first life; I find that they take the opposite position, do not gather with Christ but rather scatter.”

 

As with the discussion on separation, the discussion of the calling of the preachers was based on another, deeper disagreement – namely, the definition of a Christian. Bucer defined a Christian: “because they confess the faith we must recognize them as Christians even though they haven’t renewed the baptism.” In other words, even though they have not obeyed all of the teachings of the Word of God, they must be acknowledged as Christians based on their oral confession. Leonhard gave a stinging answer to this:

 

I feel that you don’t have a living word for which God sent his beloved Son to us; you have a dead word, as evidenced by your fellowship, else you would draw away from the evil.

 

That is, a true preacher will be known by the fruits of his followers. The Protestant ministers’ congregations were not populated by people who had “been resurrected in such a rebirth through falling away of the first life” – rather, evil abounded! Thus, the Protestant ministers, in Leonhard’s view, did not have a life-giving word from God, but rather a dead word. When Bucer counter-challenged Leonhard, asking if the Anabaptist ministers “had an act or a living word,” Leonhard responded:

 

They have a living word that can bring the people from evil to good and totally renew them.

 

Amen! Drawing people away from evil to good through a total renewal and regeneration of life is the duty of a true preacher of God. Because the Anabaptists saw this truth, and because they knew what a true Christian was, they were able to establish truly holy churches while the Protestant churches sank lower and lower in sin. Why did the Protestant churches degenerate in this way? Remember what Bucer said – “because they confess the faith we must recognize them as Christians”. Confession of faith was all that was necessary to be recognized by them as a true Christian.

 

Conclusion

 

This delightful discussion contains a good challenge for us today. How is it for us? How do we define the church? Is it the place where the Word is rightly preached and the sacrament rightly administered – regardless of how the people live, or whether they know God? Or is the church the body of people gathered to obey God’s Word?

 

What is a Christian? Is it someone who “confesses the faith” with his mouth, who may or may not be living a holy life? Or is it someone who has been drawn from evil to good, and been totally renewed by Christ?

 

Are we Protestants, or are we Anabaptists?

 

[1] Although Bucer did approve of some forms of persecution.

[2] Translation of the debate minutes in Franklin H. Littell, “What Butzer Debated with the Anabaptists at Marburg: A Document of 1538,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 36(3) (July 1962):256-276. All quotations from the debate in this article are from this translation.

[3] Page 262.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Page 263.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Page 276.

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In:Anabaptists, Martyrs

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(Story from Martyrs Mirror, pp. 686-687).

 

This Conrad Koch was kindled with the light of the knowledge of God, when this light, in these latter days, began to rise again, along the River Rhine as well as in the country of Berg, and the truth of the holy Gospel commenced to shine.  Hence he sought, by the divine help, to leave the darkness, and to walk in this brightly shining light; he forsook popery and the worldly and ungodly life, and betook himself to the church of the Lord, heard and laid to heart the Word of the Lord, believed the Gospel, and was baptized, according to the command of Christ, upon faith in Christ Jesus, and confession of his sins, and accordingly, conducted himself in a brotherly and Christian manner in the church, and, in weakness, showed himself edifying and honorable toward all men.  But as he that walks in darkness cannot bear or endure the light, and the envy of the adversary works in his followers, this man was envied by the papists, and accused to the intendant of the revenue; who was judge and ruler of the country in the name of the prince of Juelich.  Thereupon the intendant sent his servants to Houf, where Conrad lived, and they apprehended him; he was ready, and as a lamb, willingly went with them to Loewenburg, one of the seven castles which, on account of their high situation, can be seen from a great distance.  There they brought Conrad into the tower, and placed him in severe confinement, in which he remained nearly half a year; however, he was greatly comforted by the Lord, though he had to suffer much hunger.

 

The intendant ofttimes browbeat him and threatened him most severely, that his life should be taken if he should refuse to renounce his faith.  They tried him very hard with entreaties and solicitations, then with hunger, and also with threats to put him to death; but he remained immovable.  His heart was of good cheer.

 

Now when he had boldly confessed his faith, and no tortures could intimidate him, and the time drew near that he was to die for the truth and depart from this world, the door of his prison was opened, and he went of his own accord, free and unfettered, from the tower of Loewenburg to the village of Houf.  His guide was Barabbas, that is a malefactor who went with him.  His departure took place in great secrecy; and thus he came to Houf, which is some distance from Loewenburg.  But even as Christ was crucified, and Barabbas released, so it was also here.  Conrad was taken to the town hall of Houf, where it was proposed to him, that if he should renounce his faith, his young life should be spared, and his liberty be given him.

 

Manifold wiles were employed against him with great deceitfulness.  The sophists sang things sweet and sour, saying: “Go to church at least once a year and if they do not preach the pure and clear truth, stay away from it thenceforth.”  One of these hypocrites said to Conrad: “My dear Conrad, though we be false, subtle and evil, it cannot harm your soul; do you only fear God and keep peace with all men; what is it to you if our faith is little.”  Conrad replied to the magistrates: “O you ministers of God, you must know that God wants no hypocrites.  This was seen exemplified in old Eleazar, who would rather surrender his life than dissemble.  II Macc. 6:24.[1]  Therefore I also hope to die before I go into your congregation.”  Conrad further said: “Christ is the Head of the church; he that would please Him must show himself a member of His body; now, one must not sever himself from Christ the Captain.  With this Head I want to remain, though it cost my flesh and blood.”  They asked Conrad of what he thought of infant baptism.  He said: “Of this I can only think that it is also one of the pope’s greatest abominations; however if you can prove it by the Word of God, I will suffer myself to be instructed by the church of the Lord.”  “O God,” said Conrad, “to Thee I bring my complaint; O God, what calamity this, that they put to death those who speak the truth!  They can certainly not allege that I have committed anything criminal, and yet they malignantly seek to kill me.  O Lord, forgive them.”  The mandate of the prince of Juelich was then read to him, whereupon the judges passed sentence, upon which the intendant broke the staff.  The sentence was, that Conrad should suffer death, if he did not recant.  And when he had been thus sentenced twice, they took him out [to the place of execution].  When he arrived there, he began to sing: “O God, how gently Thou dost chasten me.  Reach me Thy gracious hand, that my flesh may now shun all sin, vice and shame, that I may rend the old garment, and have eternal joy with Thee.  Christ, I praise Thee, O my supreme God, that I have lived to see this day and hour, that I may now testify to Thy name with my blood.  My dear brethren and sisters, I commend you all to the Lord.  Keep the Gospel of Christ firmly fixed in your hearts; this I leave you for an admonition: fear God, and be valiant; be my followers, even as I am willing to follow Christ the Lord, and to deliver up my life.”  And thus they put this pious man to death with the sword secretly, so that many did not hear of it.  When thieves and murderers are condemned there it is customary to let the whole land know it; but the pious are murdered in secrecy, which is a shame for the judges.  Thus Conrad was beheaded with the sword standing and proved himself a faithful witness of the sufferings of Christ, at Houf, in the land of Berg, which belongs to the prince of Juelich and Cleves.

 

In the year 1565, under the same intendant, who was a very bloodthirsty man, also seven other persons, four brethren and three sisters, had been previously apprehended.  These four brethren were also sentenced that they should be put to death, if they refused to renounce their faith.  But the Lord protected them, and delivered them all out of prison unharmed in their faith, for this bloodthirsty tyrant was smitten by God with sudden death, so that the prisoners were liberated from prison, keeping their faith, and adhering to the truth.

 

[1] An apocryphal book.—Ed.

Peter Riedemann was a prominent early Hutterite leader.  He spent years in prison, during which time he wrote many letters and two confessions of faith.  He was also a prolific hymnwriter.  This hymn is #470 in the Lieder der Hutterischen Brueder; translation by Peter Hoover.  Used by permission.—AVS.

 

The Lord God is my strength and shield, the fortress of my trust. He never leaves me without the comfort of his Holy Ghost.  Though tribulations try me to the limit and anguish fills my soul he gives me love and patience, willingly, to overcome.

 

I will trust and believe in the Lord.  He will not break his promises.  He purifies my heart, gives me a glad conscience, and the power to overcome my fleshly desires.  With compelling temptations and naked lust the wicked one lures my soul.  But the Lord gives me victory!  He lets me overcome the devil and all things that hinder me.  Though they burn me with fire and torture me to death I will testify for my Saviour with irresistible joy!

 

Look, the bridegroom is at hand!  He stands by the cross and waits on his church, the bride.  Great comfort he will give her in the land to which they will go.  Pleasures unending that no one can describe await them there.  So let us go willingly through the narrow door!  Let us squeeze our way into it, leaving the sights and sounds of the tempting world behind us to gain Christ!

 

Even though we must suffer shame, persecution and death for Christ, it is worth it to live forever with him.

 

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In:Anabaptists, Salvation and the New Birth

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From Lieder der Hutterischen Brueder #283; translated by Peter Hoover.  Used by permission.

 

Wolf Sailer wrote several hymns for the suffering Hutterite brotherhood.  They are still preserved by the Hutterites today.

 

Early in the morning I thank God with my whole heart for having brought me through the dark night in which I lay in great pain. I thank him for opening my eyes so I may avoid the world’s abominations in which so many have become entangled. I thank him for waking me up and sweeping sin out of my life.

 

Lord, lead me out now, into the clear light of the sun! Guide me with your rod and staff through dangerous times. The whole world lies in wickedness, paying no attention to the calamity of souls. Hell stands open, ready to swallow those that walk according to their own lusts and make a covenant with death. They love worldly pleasures more than God and miss the Way to heaven, but I have made a promise. I have vowed to stick to the trail that leads to the eternal Kingdom.

 

Protect me Lord from the devil at noon, coming with shining robes, like an angel, to deceive me. Help me through the heat of the day—the ideas and priorities of the world—so I may enter the Sabbath rest with joy.

 

Nothing works greater damage than for a man to spend all his time depressed, feeling sorry for himself. We must let go of ourselves to gain the Kingdom! Our houses, our marriage partners, children, and all created things, even our own lives, we must risk for the honor of God. We cannot seek what is high in the world and please God at the same time.

 

We serve a jealous God. He will have nothing else but our complete love and our whole heart, free of affection for created things.

 

Flee, dark night! Joyful sunlight, drive all evil away! World, I want no more of your honor, pride, and power. I want to love you Lord, alone! Let the sun of your favor shine on my heart since Christ the beloved has carried my sins away.

 

Grace and peace! This is what he brings, and no one needs to die in his sins anymore.

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In:Anabaptists, Early Church, Heresy & False Teachings, Preachers, Sin, The Church

Comments Off on The Ordination of Women and Integrity with History

By Mike Atnip

 

One of the signs of modern, fallen Christianity is the practice of women teaching men and ordaining women to leadership roles. Historically, very few churches practiced this until the last century and a half. The Bible is quite plain in these points, so I usually do not spend a lot of time reading materials that try their best to make the Scriptures say the opposite of their plain meaning. So when someone recently showed me an issue of a magazine that was dedicated to proving that it was scriptural for women to be ordained as ministers (in the official sense of the word) and to teach men, I didn’t pay a lot of attention. I grew up around churches that took that stance and know the arguments.[1]

 

But one section caught my eye. It was the claim that the early Anabaptists had ordained women preachers. Although the article is careful to not actually call them “ordained ministers,” the inference is clearly there.

 

During the last several years I have spent a good bit of time reading Anabaptist thought and history … and knew that even some of the foremost “liberal” Mennonite historians (who seem to have gone looking for some proof of it to support their own current practice) had concluded after long research that there were simply no ordained women ministers in early Anabaptism.

 

Were there zealous women, women who boldly stood their ground when asked in court trials (sometimes accompanied by torture) about their faith? Absolutely! About 1/3 of all Anabaptist martyrs were women. But the bottom line was simple: no recorded case has been found of an early Anabaptist woman being ordained to the ministry in the official sense of the word. The word “minister” means serve (verb), or servant (noun). In that sense, every Anabaptist was considered a “minister.”

 

So what do we do with the following, taken from page 1120 of the Herald Press edition of the Martyrs Mirror?

 

 

The Gospel Trumpet had the following to say about the above section:

 

Here is an image from Martyrs Mirror (Page 1122, Herald Press, 1950 edition), in which two women are clearly listed with men in the ministry. Ruth Kunstel was “a minister in the word of the Lord” at Muchem, in the Berne jurisdiction, while Ruth Hagen was listed as “an elder” from the Zurich area.

 

These women followed their New Testament forebears Phebe, the four daughters of Philip, Junia, etc., in ministering the Word of God along with men. This cannot be gainsaid, as it is in plain black-and-white recorded for posterity. Let all who claim the Anabaptist heritage know their history.

 

At first glance, it does seem to indicate that there were indeed women ordained as a minister and an elder in early Anabaptism. But right away I suspected something: Ruth was probably also a man’s name in that time period. A quick check to the German version would clear up the question, since the German language has a different article (meaning a different form of “the” and “a”) depending on whether the noun is a male noun or a female noun.

 

The German text of the two Ruths

 

 

For those who do not read German (probably the majority of our readers), you will notice the article “einem.” Now take a look at whether that is a male or female article:

 

 

So, “einem diener” translates to English as “a male servant or minister.” In the same way, “einem aeltesten” translates to “a male elder.”[2]

 

Now let’s take another closer look at the English again. Does the English say “Ruth Hagen, an elder,” or does it say “Ruth Hagen, an eldress”?

 

Obviously, the situation here is that Ruth was a man. Ruth is certainly not a common male name; in fact it is the first time I have run across it myself. Another possibility in this case is a misspelling, since during that time period spelling consistency was basically an every-man-for-himself sort of thing.

 

To be sure, at first glance it can easily look like the early Anabaptists may have had “women in the ministry.” A closer look proves that the “proof” was bad proof.

 

For the other “proof” of “women in the ministry,” a little clip of page 481 of Martyrs Mirror was presented:

 

 

Let me ask you: Just how much proof does the above clipping give to prove that the early Anabaptists had women ordained as teachers to men?

 

To be honest, it provides exactly 0% proof. Elizabeth was accused of being a teacher. But she was also (falsely) accused of being Menno Simons’ wife. Or perhaps the authorities were mocking her. But there is no admission on Elizabeth’s part of being a “teacher.” Or, if she did teach, whom did she teach? Children? Other women? Men?

 

No proof of being a “teacher” is found. Much less whom she taught if she was indeed an ordained “teacher.”

 

This thing called integrity

 

All this moved my mind to think of integrity. Integrity has to do with “wholeness.” When speaking of a person’s or a group’s integrity, it carries the idea of being totally honest. For myself, when dealing with Anabaptist history it means admitting—for as much that I admire the Anabaptist movement—that there were some things I cannot agree with. Some of them held wrong ideas about divorce/remarriage. Some of them had really—I mean really—funny ideas about eschatology.

 

Back to history

 

But before we talk more about integrity, let’s look at the same magazine and one of the “proofs” (shown below) that it gives of the early church having “women in the ministry.”[3]

 

  Proof of the early church ordaining women as preachers?

 

The question here is not so much the interpretation that Chrysostom gave of the passage of Scripture, but the question is about the integrity of using one quote of his to support the idea of women preaching in the church. There are several points that could be argued on his interpretation of Romans 16:7. 1. Whether listing both of them together is meant as a husband/wife team, and only Andronicus was officially the apostle. 2. Whether being called an apostle was an indication that Junia taught men. Many women have been sent as apostles (we call them missionaries in our day … “one sent out”) and yet never taught men. If we read the rest of the writings of John Chrysostom, it is quite clear that he felt women should not teach men, nor speak in the church. There are a number of things we could quote from him, but this one suffices:

 

To such a degree should women be silent, that they are not allowed to speak not only about worldly matters, but not even about spiritual things, in the church. This is order, this is modesty, this will adorn her more than any garments. Thus clothed, she will be able to offer her prayers in the manner most becoming. … [Paul] says, let them not teach, but occupy the station of learners. For thus they will show submission by their silence. (Early Church Fathers, Vol. XXII)

 

Back to integrity

 

But let’s look at the integrity of pulling one ambiguous quote out of early church history to prove a point, when there are plenty of other quotes that clearly refute the idea that is trying to be proven. For example:

 

Their [the married Apostles’] spouses went with them [on their mission trips], not as wives, but as sisters, in order to minister to housewives. It was through them that the Lord’s teaching penetrated also the women’s quarters without any scandal being aroused. Clement of Alexandria (ANF 2.391-Translated from the Latin)

 

If the daughters of Philip prophesied, at least they did not speak in the assemblies; for we do not find this fact in evidence in the Acts of the Apostles. Much less in the Old Testament. It is said that Deborah was a prophetess … There is no evidence that Deborah delivered speeches to the people, as did Jeremiah and Isaiah. Huldah, who was a prophetess, did not speak to the people, but only to a man, who consulted her at home. The gospel itself mentions a prophetess Anna … but she did not speak publicly. Even if it is granted to a woman to show the sign of prophecy, she is nevertheless not permitted to speak in an assembly. When Miriam the prophetess spoke, she was leading a choir of women … For [as Paul declares] “I do not permit a woman to teach,” and even less “to tell a man what to do.” Origen[4]

 

And these verses (Romans 16:1-2) teach with apostolic authority that females were appointed to aid the church. Phoebe of Cenchrea was placed in this service, and Paul with great praise and recommendation follows by enumerating her beautiful deeds, saying, “She helped everyone so much, by being close at hand when needed, that she even helped me in my needs and apostolic labors, with a total dedication of her mind.” I would compare her work to that of Lot, who while he always took in strangers, one time even merited practicing hospitality on angels. In the same way Abraham also, who was always practicing hospitality, once merited having the Lord with his angels to be entertained in his tent. So this devout Phoebe, continually assisting and obeying everyone, was once merited with assisting and obeying the Apostle as well. This verse teaches us two things at the same time: There are, as was said, female aides in the church, and such should be considered as part of the service of the church. Those who have assisted many, and by good service have attained to apostolic praise, should be counted as part of that ministry. He also exhorts that those who seek to do good works in the churches, whether in spiritual or fleshly aid, should receive in return the reward and honor from the brethren.

 

This verse (Romans 16:6) teaches that women should labor for the churches of God. For they labor when they teach the young ladies to be modest, to love their husbands, to raise children, to be pure and chaste, to guide their homes, to be hospitable, to wash the saints’ feet, and everything else that is written concerning the service of women. ~Origen  

This verse (Romans 16:6) teaches that women should labor for the churches of God. For they labor when they teach the young ladies to be modest, to love their husbands, to raise children, to be pure and chaste, to guide their homes, to be hospitable, to wash the saints’ feet, and everything else that is written concerning the service of women, all of which should be done with chaste conduct. Origen, Commentary on the Book of Romans (translated from the Latin)

 

For how credible would it seem, that he [the Apostle Paul] who has not permitted a woman even to learn with overboldness, should give a female the power of teaching and of baptizing! “Let them be silent,” he says, “and at home consult their own husbands.” Tertullian (ANF 3.677)

 

It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; but neither (is it permitted her) to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, nor to stay (in any) sacerdotal office. Tertullian (ANF 4.33)

 

That a woman ought to be silent in the church: In the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: “Let women be silent in the church. But if any wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.” Also to Timothy: “Let a woman learn with silence, in all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to be set over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not seduced, but the woman was seduced.” Cyprian (ANF 5:546)

 

We do not permit our women to teach in the Church, but only to pray and hear those that teach; for our Master and Lord, Jesus Himself, when He sent us the twelve to make disciples of the people and of the nations, did nowhere send out women to preach, although He did not lack [women candidates to do this]. For there were with us the mother of our Lord and His sisters; also Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus; Salome, and certain others. For, had it been necessary for women to teach, He Himself [would have] first commanded these also to instruct the people with us. For “if the head of the wife be the man,” it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern the head. Apostolic Constitutions (ANF 7.427, 428)

 

But if in the foregoing constitutions we have not permitted [women] to teach, how will any one allow them, contrary to nature, to perform the office of a priest? For this is one of the ignorant practices of the Gentile atheism, to ordain women priests to the female deities, not one of the constitutions of Christ. Apostolic Constitutions (ANF 7.429)

 

Ok, you probably get the point. The mass of early church quotes are clearly against the idea of women teaching men and against ordaining women to leadership roles in the church (unless, like the early Moravian Brethren, the Eldresses only taught or counseled other women or children).

 

These quotes from the early church neither prove nor disprove if the Bible itself teaches for or against women teaching men or speaking in public assemblies. They do, however, give us a clear indication of how the Ante-Nicene church interpreted Paul’s teachings. The bottom line is, as far as I know, there is no straightforward evidence in early church writings that women (excepting heretical groups like the Montanists) ever taught in a public assembly. I say that with integrity. I say it after having read thousands of pages of church history.

 

I could be wrong, of course; I don’t know everything there is to know about church history. But my integrity will not let me say otherwise. Do I say that because I happen to believe that Paul’s writings clearly forbid women to be ordained as elders? And that women are not to teach men, or speak in the public assembly?

 

No, I am being honest with history. I cannot say the same about the Quakers. As much as I like what the Quakers stood for in some areas, my integrity will not permit me to make the Quakers appear as if they forbade women speaking publically in the assemblies. It simply was not so. But the early church and the Anabaptists forbade women to speak in the public assemblies and to teach men. Integrity demands that I say that.

 

And if we lack integrity in history …

 

So what do you do with a person or a group who does not seem to have integrity with history? Personally, I find it hard to swallow the same person’s (or group’s) handling of the Holy Scriptures. If they pull an ambiguous quote from Martyrs Mirror and make it appear that the early Anabaptists had ordained women eldresses, or if they use one ambiguous early church quote, but ignore a dozen plain ones … how will they handle the Bible?

 

Perhaps some of you readers are wondering why I do not take up here an exposition of the Scriptures that touch women preachers. Well, my main point in this short article is not about women preachers, but about integrity. But let us look at one biblical point, again mainly considering integrity.

 

In the same issue of The Gospel Trumpet, there is a small box concerning Phoebe, the διάκονον [transliterated, “deaconess”] of the church at Cenchrea mentioned in Romans 16:1. The article states:

 

Many have thought the word servant (diakonos) here means deacon or deaconess, but when the same word is used elsewhere by Paul, it denotes ministers of the gospel:

“Jesus Christ was a minister” (diakonos). Rom. 15:8.

“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers” (diakonos). 1 Cor. 3:5.

“Epaphras our dear fellowservant…a faithful minister” (diakonos). Col. 1:7.

“Thou [Timothy] shalt be a good minister (diakonos) of Jesus Christ.” 1 Tim. 4:6.

“Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister” (diakonos). Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7.

“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers (diakonos) by whom ye believed.” 1 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25.

 

From the Scriptures selected by The Gospel Trumpet, it could easily be deduced that the Greek word διάκονον always refers to what we think of when we think of an ordained preacher. However … the word “minister” simply means “to aid” (verb) or “one who aids” (noun). Are the quoted texts saying that all those mentioned were ordained preachers? Or is it simply calling them aides, or more specifically “one who executes the commands of another” (Thayer’s Lexicon)? But let’s get down to the integrity of the matter … why was not Romans 13:4 added in the list selected by The Gospel Trumpet?

For he is the minister of God to thee for good …

Who is this “minister”? None other than the civil authority that is over the believer. Yes, the civil authorities are “deacons” of God! In John 2:5, “His mother saith unto the διακόνοις, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” Were those wedding helpers “ordained ministers”?

 

Obviously my point is that the Greek word διάκονον can refer specifically to an ordained servant of the church (1 Ti. 3:8), or it can simply be the men responsible for filling the waterpots at a marriage, or your town mayor, or the girl who wipes the tables after a meal.

 

In what sense was Phebe a διάκονον: an aide of the church, or a “minister of the gospel”?[5] From the isolated text of Romans 16:1, nothing can be concluded. We have to take into account the whole NT use of the word, as well as the teachings concerning women and public ministry.

 

My conclusion—based on the whole of the NT teaching—is that she was simply a woman of the church at Cenchrea who aided the church by carrying Paul’s letter and perhaps taking care of some other unspecified “business” while there. It appears that she had been busy succouring many people in the past, so maybe she was simply on a mission to Rome to bless some needy person or family there. Maybe some expectant mother needed an extra hand for a few months. Maybe a sick sister needed some help. Maybe she taught the younger sisters how to love their husbands. There are myriads of opportunities to aid the church without being an “ordained minister of the gospel.”

 

But the bottom line is that we really don’t know, from the text of that one verse, in what sense Paul intended the word. But to quote only the verses that tend to use diakonon in a sense of a “minister of the gospel,” and act as if that is the only way to interpret the word diakonon … is that integrity?

 

I quote the article again:

… but when the same word is used elsewhere by Paul, it denotes ministers of the gospel.

Does integrity ignore obvious evidence to the contrary? That said, simple, honest ignorance can also be involved. Innocent ignorance does not mean a lack of integrity. The difference is when truth is revealed, innocent ignorance will acknowledge its former error. A lack of integrity will just make excuses or ignore the truth.

 

Agendas and integrity

 

One of integrity’s mightiest foes is having an agenda. For example, concerning church history, it is common (and I have found myself doing it as well) to go looking in history to find support for a position, instead of to go looking for what position the historical evidence provides. And the same, of course, applies to looking in the Bible to find evidence to support an agenda. We see it all the time in today’s apostate churches with the “gay” agenda. It “blows me away” that people read the Bible and come away saying that sodomite “marriages” are not sin. My integrity simply will not let me say such a thing (and I am not claiming my integrity is perfect). If I felt sodomy was righteous, then I would have to abandon the Bible. Gay “marriage” is the epitome of self-righteousness. I simply do not have any desire to twist Scripture and history that hard. I have very little respect for the integrity of anyone who claims the Bible supports homosexual “marriages.” Scripture is too plain on that subject.

 

Yet, I realize that sometimes when I read—be it the Bible or history—I sense that an agenda lurks in the shadows, trying to get me to ignore evidence that may contradict my current understanding of an issue. May God help us all to flee from all agendas except the “agenda” to be honest seekers of truth. If the truth of the matter is that the early church and the Anabaptists did ordain women to be preachers to men, then may we have enough integrity to say so. If not, then may we just have enough integrity to not twist and hide evidence so as to support an agenda.

 

Pray for me!

[1] I am referring to The Gospel Trumpet, published by the Church of God, Restoration. I grew up in churches very similar to this group and have had close contact in the past with it. I wrote a historical overview of the movement, which can be found at www.primitivechristianity.org or by writing to the address in the front of this magazine.

[2] Also to be noted is that the German word for minister itself has both a male and a female form. For a lady, it would have to be “einer aeltesterin” and for an eldress, “einer dienerin” (the -in suffix making it feminine).

[3] While the phrase “women in the ministry” is perfectly valid in the sense of women who served and blessed others, the underlying thought is of ordained women as elders, pastors, or teachers of men.

[4] Origen, Fragmenta ex commentariis in epistulam i ad Corinthios (in catenis), Greek text published in Claude Jenkins, “Documents: Origen on I Corinthians. IV,” Journal of Theological Studies 10 (1909), p. 41. English translation from Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1976), p. 28.

[5] Technically the phrase “minister of the gospel” does not specifically refer to preaching. An “aide of the gospel” is simply someone who helps in the cause of the kingdom of God, be it in preaching/teaching, or in helping in physical needs. For that reason I use quotes, since the phrase has come to mean a “preacher of the gospel.”

 

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

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In:Anabaptists, James, Matthew, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on How Does God View the Swearing of Oaths?

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

  “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath” (James 5:12)

 

“I am content.”

 

A twenty-four year old young man stood before the city council of colonial New York City and said these words.  What was he content with?  He was content to be put back in jail.  For what cause?  For refusing to disobey the words of Jesus.

 

Early in 1745, young David Zeisberger had set off with Christian Frederick Post to learn the language of the Mohawk Indians.  The two young Moravian missionaries were arrested and charged with refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to the King of England.  The colony of New York had a new law which stated that “Every Vagrant Preacher, Moravian, Disguised Papist [Roman Catholic], or any other person presuming to reside among and teach the Indians” who had no license and had not taken the oath “shall be treated as a person taking upon him to seduce the Indians from his Majesty’s interest.”  The council read the new law to David, and asked him if he would take the oath.  He replied, “I hope the honorable Council will not force me to do it.”  They said, “We will not constrain you; you may let it alone if it is against your conscience; but you will have to go to prison again.”

 

“I am content,” David told them.  So back into jail he went, with his companion, for a total of fifty-one days.  “We count it an honor to suffer for the Saviour’s sake,” David wrote.

 

These two Moravians sat in a New York prison for standing against the swearing of oaths.  For others, refusal to swear has led to death.  How does God view the swearing of oaths?  Is swearing really that bad – or might it be, as some suggest, an act of worship which is highly pleasing to God?

 

What does Jesus say?

 

What is an Oath?

 

Before discussing whether oaths are right, we must first understand what oaths are.  Those who defend the swearing of oaths define an oath as “calling God to witness to the truth of a statement.”  (We will see why they define it this way later.)  However, Jesus had a different definition of oaths.

 

“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!  Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?  And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.  Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?  Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.  And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.  And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon” (Matthew 23:16-22).

 

In this passage, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for making rules concerning which oaths could be broken without guilt and which ones had to be kept inviolable.  Notice what the Pharisees were swearing by: the temple, the gold of the temple, the altar, and the gift on the altar.  Obviously, these were oaths, and Jesus treated them as such.  However, none of them were “calling God to witness”!  We see then that this cannot be the true definition of an oath.  There are two parts to an oath: 1) the oath itself (“I swear”) and 2) the confirmation: what is being sworn by.  People swear by many things, for instance, “I swear to God” or “I swear by my mother’s grave.”  Some even swear without a confirmation, just saying “I swear that…”  There are the judicial oaths in courts, service oaths for public office or military service, and the Hippocratic oath for medical professionals.  These are all oaths.  The writer of the book of Hebrews affirms that oaths are sworn by something greater than the swearer and are used for confirmation of something asserted: “For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife” (Hebrews 6:16).  We see in this verse that the purpose of oaths is for confirmation of a statement based on the authority or weight of something greater than the swearer.

 

First Oath in the Bible

 

The first recorded oath in the Bible was given by a Godly man, Abraham.  In Genesis 21:22-24, 27, & 31, we read:

 

“And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.  And Abraham said, I will swear…And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant…Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.”

 

The Law of Moses

 

Amid the flames, clouds, smoke, and trumpetings on Mount Sinai, God gave a covenant to Moses to give to the people of Israel.  This law would be the standard of righteousness until the Messiah came to replace it.  The Mosaic Law has plenty to say about oaths, and it is essential to understand exactly what the Law allowed and did not allow when we are discussing the subject of oaths.

 

Under the Law of Moses, oaths were permitted, and the children of Israel made extensive use of them in Old Testament times.  In fact, under certain circumstances, the Law actually commanded the use of oaths.  In Exodus 22:10-12, we read:

 

“If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good.  And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof.”

 

In this passage, we learn that if the animal was lost to the owner in some way, the man who was keeping it was to swear an oath that he was not guilty of stealing or destroying his neighbor’s animal.  This oath released him from being required to replace the animal for his neighbor.  The neighbor was required to accept the oath as confirmation that his neighbor was innocent.

 

In the book of Deuteronomy, God includes swearing by His Name as part of the service which He desired from the Israelites and mentions it in the context of a rejection of idolatry.

 

“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.  Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you;  (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 6:13-15).

 

“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.  He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21).

 

Oaths were also required in the service of the priests.  Numbers 5 records what was to be done with a woman who was suspected by her husband of unfaithfulness.  She was to be brought to the priest, who was to perform a ceremony to allow the Lord to reveal whether she was guilty or innocent.  Part of this ceremony involved an oath:

 

“And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse: But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband: Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen” (Numbers 5:19-22).

 

Not only were oaths permitted and commanded in the Mosaic Law, God Himself made use of oaths on more than one occasion.  For instance, in Jeremiah 22:5, God declares: “But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.”  In Exodus 17, after a battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites, Moses built an altar and called it Jehovah—nissi, “Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16).  (See also Deuteronomy 7:8; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6:13, 16; Isaiah 45:23).

 

So we see that not only were oaths permitted under the Law of Moses, they were actually required in some circumstances, and God Himself swore.  Nevertheless, there were restrictions which were applied even under the Mosaic Law which are important to understand.

 

Restrictions on Swearing

 

The Law of Moses strictly forbade false oaths – swearing to something which was not true, or swearing that a person would do something and then not doing it.

 

If a man swore to do something and was unable to perform it, the Law considered it sin and required that he bring a trespass offering to the priest.

 

“Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these.  And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin” (Leviticus 5:4-6).

 

Numbers 30:1-2 also commands that oaths were to be kept:

 

“And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded.  If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.”

 

Swearing falsely was also forbidden.  Leviticus 6:2a, 3-5 says:

 

“If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD…Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.”

 

God further declared in Leviticus 19:12:

 

“And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.”

 

The prophets, who called the people to return to the Lord and repent of their transgressions, also spoke against false oaths.  Zechariah includes false oaths in a list of things which God declares that He hates.

 

“These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD” (Zechariah 8:16-17).

 

In the book of Malachi, those who swear falsely are put in the same list with sorcerers and adulterers:

 

“And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:5).

 

Another restriction was given by Joshua near the end of his life.  He warned against swearing by the names of false gods.

 

“Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left; That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them: But cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day” (Joshua 23:6-8).

 

Oaths were not a light thing among the ancient Israelites.  They took oaths very seriously.  An example of this is found in I Samuel 14.  King Saul, in the middle of a battle with the Philistines, swore an oath: “Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies” (I Samuel 14:24).  All the people, who “feared the oath” (verse 26), refrained from eating anything, even when passing by a piece of honeycomb dropped from the hive – except Jonathan, who had not heard of his father’s oath.  He nearly lost his life for eating when his father had rashly cursed anyone who ate that day.

 

Oaths were taken so seriously that any oath or vow which a woman made was subject to the approval of her husband or father, who could nullify her oath or vow if he so chose (Numbers 30:3-16).

 

So we see that with some important exceptions, oaths were permitted and even required under the Old Covenant.  But the day came when the reign of the Law of Moses ended.

 

A New Kingdom

 

“Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” cried John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2).  People from all over Judaea flocked to hear this man, dressed in camel’s hair, preach about the coming of the new Kingdom.  Then one day, John greeted the King Himself with these words: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b).  “The law and the prophets were until John,” Jesus later said; “since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16).  The reign of Moses’ Law had ended, and the King was here to establish the laws by which His Kingdom would operate.  Among the laws which He set up was a radically different standard on the swearing of oaths.

 

Jesus’ Words on Oaths

 

Jesus addressed the subject of oaths in the most influential sermon of all time, the Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 5:33-37, we read:

 

“Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”

 

Jesus made clear the radical new standard which He was requiring of those in His Kingdom – no oaths at all, for any purpose, in any way.  “Swear not at all,” He said.  There is nothing unclear about this instruction.

 

James’ Words on Swearing

 

Jesus was not the only one to instruct the citizens of the Kingdom of God to abstain from swearing.  The Apostle James wrote:

 

“But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” (James 5:12).

 

In this verse, we again find the answer to the question “does God want His children to swear oaths?”  James tells us “swear not,” and then instructs us to avoid swearing by heaven, earth, or “by any other oath.”  “Any other” would include swearing by God Himself.

 

This verse also gives us the answer to the question “is the subject of swearing really all that important?”  The Book of James discusses many topics – responding to the trials of life, partiality, the relationship of faith and works, controlling our tongues, strife, separation from the world, wealth, etc.  These are undoubtedly important issues.  Nevertheless, when he arrives at the topic of swearing, he begins with “But above all things, my brethren” – in other words, this one topic is more important than anything else discussed in the entire book!

 

What Were They Forbidding?

 

In spite of the clear instructions given by Jesus and James, there are some today – and there have been some for centuries – who insist that the swearing of oaths is permissible, or perhaps even highly pleasing to God.  They insist that what Jesus and James were actually forbidding was only false and frivolous oaths – not any oath.  There are some serious problems with this view.  First, if they meant to forbid only false and frivolous oaths, why did they not say that they were forbidding false and frivolous oaths?  Secondly, why did they use such absolute language – “Swear not at all,” “swear not…by any other oath”?  Thirdly, Jesus was clearly following the pattern of the other sections in the Sermon on the Mount where He raised the standards of the Law of Moses (“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time…But I say unto you”).  The Law of Moses forbade false oaths, as we have seen; if Jesus only forbade false oaths, He would not have raised the standard at all.

 

Did Paul Swear?

 

Those who defend the swearing of oaths point to the epistles of Paul, claiming that he swore several times in his writings.  The verses quoted here are used to support this claim:

 

“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (Romans 1:9). “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 9:1). “But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay” (II Corinthians 1:18). “Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth” (II Corinthians 1:23). “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not” (II Corinthians 11:31). “Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not” (Galatians 1:20). “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:8). “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness” (I Thessalonians 2:5). “Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity” (I Timothy 2:7).

 

What is it in these verses which lead some to believe that the Apostle Paul swore oaths?  Do you remember that those who defend the swearing of oaths define an oath as “calling on God for confirmation”?  In all of these verses, Paul calls on God to confirm what he is saying.  Those who defend oaths, then, take these as oaths and as confirmation that it is perfectly acceptable to God to swear oaths.  But God is not the author of confusion.

 

As we pointed out before, their definition of the word oath is faulty, and thus their conclusion regarding these verses is also faulty.  Although Paul did call on God to confirm his words, he did not use oaths (saying “I swear”).

 

Whenever a teaching of Jesus seems to be contradicted by Paul, we must find a way to harmonize the two which leaves Jesus’ words supreme – not the other way around.  Jesus is the King, and the servant is not greater than his master (John 13:16, 15:20) – even if that servant is the great Apostle Paul.  (Of course, Paul’s writings never do contradict Jesus’ words.)

 

The Early Church on the Swearing of Oaths

 

We have seen that whereas the Old Covenant allowed and even required some oaths, they are strictly forbidden under the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.  The early Christians of the first two generations after the apostles held to this view.

 

Justin Martyr, about the year 160 A.D., wrote, “And with regard to our not swearing at all, and always speaking the truth, He commanded as follows: ‘Swear not at all.’”[1]  Irenaeus (student of Polycarp, who was a student of John the Apostle) wrote: “He commanded them not only not to swear falsely, but not even to swear at all.”[2]  Tertullian wrote, “Of perjury I am silent, since even swearing is not lawful.”[3]

 

The Early Anabaptists

 

The early Anabaptists (Dutch Mennonites, Swiss Brethren, and Hutterites) took firm stands against the swearing of oaths.  Their writings on the subject are well worth reading, because they faced several of the same objections which we do today when we insist on obedience to Christ’s teachings on this subject.[4]

 

The Schleitheim Confession (written 1527), the earliest Anabaptist confession of faith, was written by the Swiss Brethren and took a strong stand against oaths:

 

“We are agreed as follows concerning the oath: The oath is a confirmation among those who are quarreling or making promises.  In the Law it is commanded to be performed in God’s Name, but only in truth, not falsely.  Christ, who teaches the perfection of the Law, prohibits all swearing to His [followers], whether true or false,—neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by our head,—and that for the reason which He shortly thereafter gives, For you are not able to make one hair white or black.  So you see it is for this reason that all swearing is forbidden: we cannot fulfill that which we promise when we swear, for we cannot change [even] the very least thing on us.

“Now there are some who do not give credence to the simple command of God, but object with this question: Well now, did not God swear to Abraham by Himself (since He was God) when He promised him that He would be with him and that He would be his God if he would keep His commandments,—why then should I not also swear when I promise to someone?  Answer: Hear what the Scripture says: God, since He wished more abundantly to show unto the heirs the immutability of His counsel, inserted an oath, that by two immutable things (in which it is impossible for God to lie) we might have a strong consolation.  Observe the meaning of this Scripture: What God forbids you to do, He has power to do, for everything is possible for Him.  God swore an oath to Abraham, says the Scripture, so that He might show that His counsel is immutable.  That is, no one can withstand nor thwart His will; therefore He can keep His oath.  But we can do nothing, as is said above by Christ, to keep or perform [our oaths]: therefore we shall not swear at all.

“Then others further say as follows: It is not forbidden of God to swear in the New Testament, when it is actually commanded in the Old, but it is forbidden only to swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem and our head.  Answer: Hear the Scripture, He who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by Him who sitteth thereon.  Observe: it is forbidden to swear by heaven, which is only the throne of God: how much more is it forbidden [to swear] by God Himself!  Ye fools and blind, which is greater, the throne or Him that sitteth thereon?”[5]

 

Menno Simons, in a book which he wrote against Reformed theologian Martin Micron, wrote:

 

“That these things are so your unscriptural glosses [comments, explanations] concerning the oath make plain.  Christ says, Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths; but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool.  Matt. 5:33-35.  And you, Micron, say that nothing but light-minded, false oaths are hereby prohibited, as if Moses allowed Israel to swear light-mindedly and falsely, and that Christ under the New Testament merely forbade these, notwithstanding that all intelligent readers know that it was not merely allowed Israel to swear truly but it was also commanded them to do so.  Lev. 19:12; Deut. 10:20.

“If the Israelites then, as you hold, had the liberty in this matter that we have, and if it be such a glorious thing and an honor to God rightly to swear by the name of God, as you make bold to lie against your God, then tell me (Dear me) why Wisdom did not say, You have heard that it hath been said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, and I say the same thing.  Instead Christ says, Moses commanded not to forswear thyself, but I say unto you, Thou shalt not swear at all.”[6]

 

In another book, Menno wrote:

 

“Nearly everything which is transacted before the magistracy must be affirmed by an oath, although the Lord has so plainly forbidden the swearing of oaths to all Christians.  Matt. 5:34…We confess and heartily believe that no emperor or king may rule as superior, nor command contrary to His Word, since He is the Head of all princes, and is the King of all kings, and unto Him every knee shall bow which is in heaven, in earth, or under the earth.  He has plainly forbidden us to swear, and pointed us to yea and nay alone.  Therefore it is that through fear of God we do not swear, nor dare to swear, though we must hear and suffer much on that account from the world…it should be observed that Christ Jesus does not in the New Testament point His disciples to the Law in regard to the matter of swearing—the dispensation of imperfectness which allowed swearing, but He points us now from the Law to yea and nay, as to the dispensation of perfectness, saying, Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time (that is, to the fathers under the law by Moses), Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths (that is, thou shalt swear truly and fulfill thine oath): but I (Christ) say unto you my disciples, Swear not at all (that is, neither truly nor falsely), neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth, for it is his footstool, neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.  Here you have Christ’s own doctrine and ordinance concerning swearing.”[7]

 

Peter Reidemann, an important early Hutterite leader, wrote:

 

“Therefore Christ, in order to drive away the shadows that the light of truth—which light he is himself—may shine upon us, cometh and saith, ‘Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old: Thou shalt swear no false oath but shalt perform thine oath unto God.  But I say unto you that ye swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil’—that is the devil.

“Now, if one should say, as they all interpret it, false and superficial swearing is forbidden, but when one sweareth out of love, necessity and the profit of one’s neighbour, it is well done and not wrong—this happeneth when human reason goeth before the knowledge of God, and where human cleverness desireth to rule over the Spirit of God, and not allow itself to be controlled by the same.  For just so did Eve look at the forbidden fruit, and chose the same at the counsel of the serpent, which she followed more than the counsel of God, therefore was she deceived by its cunning and led into death.  So it is still: whosoever will please men cannot be Christ’s servant.  For truly here one cannot let reason rule or twist the scriptures in accordance with human presumption or opinion, for that is futile, but one must give God the honour and leave his command unaltered…Therefore saith James, ‘Above all things, dear brothers, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into hypocrisy.’  Here James will have no oath at all, whether small or great, to avoid hypocrisy.  Therefore, let men twist it as they will and dress it up and adorn it as they may, no good will be found in human swearing, for Christ himself saith, ‘Let your speech be,  Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.’  The evil one, however, is the devil, that teareth good from the heart of men and planteth evil.

“Therefore the devout will walk in the truth, allow it to rule and guide them and hold to the same; whatsoever it stirreth, speaketh and doeth within them, believe and observe the same; and this for the sake of the truth which is God himself, which dwelleth in them.  Therefore they neither need nor desire any oath.”[8]

 

The Dortrecht Confession (also known as the 18 Articles of Faith), written by the Dutch Mennonites in 1632, states in Article 15:

 

“Regarding the swearing of oaths, we believe and confess, that the Lord Jesus has dissuaded his followers from and forbidden them the same; that is, that he commanded them to ‘swear not at all,’ but that their ‘Yea’ should be ‘yea’ and their ‘Nay nay.’  From which we understand that all oaths, high and low, are forbidden; and that instead of them we are to confirm all our promises and covenants, declarations and testimonies of all matters, merely with ‘Yea that is yea,’ and ‘Nay that is nay;’ and that we are to perform and fulfill at all times, and in all things, to every one, every promise and obligation to which we thus affirm, as faithfully as if we had confirmed it with the most solemn oath.  And if we thus do, we have confidence that no one—not even the government itself—will have just cause to require more of us.  Matt. 5:34-37; James 5:12; II Cor. 1:17.”[9]

 

Application for Today

 

To take a stand against swearing oaths is, at first glance, not nearly as costly a decision today as it was for the early Anabaptists.  They decided to stand with Christ on this issue at risk of life and limb.  Today, if we want to take a stand against oath-swearing, we simply ask to affirm instead of swear if necessary, and no one seems to care.  Nevertheless, Jesus’ teachings about oaths ought to affect our lives profoundly.

 

Jesus wants our yes to be yes and our no to be no.  James says the same thing.  Our speech ought to be so reliable that we do not need oaths to confirm what we say.  We should be known as honest people because Jesus has transformed our lives.  We do not need oaths anymore because everyone knows that whatever we say will be true and reliable.

 

We also must be careful in our everyday speech to avoid oaths.  Interjecting “I swear” into a conversation is an oath, a violation of the command of Jesus Christ.  Such expressions as “by George,” “by Jove,” or even “by golly” are abbreviated oaths – the confirmation without the swearing.  If we use these expressions, perceptive people will not take us seriously when we say we do not believe in swearing oaths.  Furthermore, they are, in and of themselves, violations of Jesus’ commandments and therefore sin.

 

Lying and exaggeration must be completely eradicated from our speech.  Otherwise, we open ourselves up to the criticism that we refuse to swear because we know we are not telling the truth.  May such things never be heard.  Rather, may all know that we refuse to swear oaths because we have accepted the Kingdom of God, with its high standard of honesty, and are following the commands and teachings of Christ and the Apostles which forbid oaths – and everything we say is scrupulously honest and, as God grants power, within the standards of righteousness which He has set for His Kingdom.

 

May we earnestly pray to God that He would tame our tongues.  “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  God can tame it for us, and a tamed tongue must be one of the most remarkable proofs of a regenerated life.  “For in many things we offend all.  If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2).

[1] Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, p. 168

[2] Ibid., volume 1, p. 408

[3] Ibid., volume 3, p. 67.  A few early Christians allowed swearing under some circumstances, but discouraged it.

[4] There were over ten different groups of early Anabaptists – some of them quite strange.  Some of these groups allowed the swearing of oaths.  For the purposes of this article, when we talk about the early Anabaptists, we are referring to the Dutch Mennonites, the Swiss Brethren, and the Hutterites.

[5] J. C. Wenger, translator, “The Schleitheim Confession of Faith,” Mennonite Quarterly Review October 1945, pp. 251-252

[6] Menno Simons, “Epistle to Martin Micron,” 1554, in J. C. Wenger, editor, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, Herald Press, pp. 922-923

[7] Menno Simons, “Confession of the Distressed Christians,” 1552, in J. C. Wenger, editor, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, Herald Press, pp. 518-519

[8] Peter Reidemann, Confession of Faith, Plough Publishing, pp. 197-198, 204-205

[9] Dortrecht Confession of Faith, in A Devoted Christian’s Prayer Book, 1967,  Pathway Publishers, pp. 107-108

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In:Anabaptists, Heresy & False Teachings, Salvation and the New Birth, Theology

Comments Off on Redeeming the Baptism of the Holy Ghost from Pentecostalism

By Mike Atnip   Introduction

 

To be redeemed means to be rescued. Redemption is often spoken of in terms of a hostage. When the hostage is set free he is said to be redeemed, whether that redemption came by paying a ransom in money or by someone of superior strength simply liberating the hostage by force.

 

In this article we are not going to redeem a person, but rather a precious doctrine and Christian experience, from those who have taken it hostage and are forcing it to say and do things that it was never intended to say and do. We are speaking of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and its captor, Pentecostalism.

 

The mere mention of the baptism of the Holy Ghost sets some people into jitters. They have seen and heard so much commotion and unbiblical practice associated with the Holy Spirit that they automatically get suspicious just hearing the phrase “the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” We understand that concern and have felt some of that same jitteriness. But at the same time, we must not react and throw out either the doctrine or the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We simply need to rescue it from those who have mangled it so badly that it is hardly recognizable. Like Abraham who rose to the occasion and redeemed his nephew Lot from Amraphel and his three sidekicks (Ge. 14), may we rise up and rescue this precious truth and experience from those who have taken it captive.

 

In the recent issues of The Heartbeat of the Remnant we have focused pretty heavily on the kingdom of God and the neglect of the kingdom teachings in today’s “gospel.” The salvation aspect of the kingdom has been separated from the kingdom itself, and a “gospel” has been made out of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. This is a false gospel, because it almost totally neglects the teachings of Jesus about the kingdom of God. In the same way, some have taken the biblical teachings about the baptism of the Holy Ghost and separated it from the kingdom teachings. In reaction, it is possible to just toss completely the doctrine and experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Rather than react, we want to act and rescue this much-twisted teaching and experience from perversions.

 

Let God be true and every man a liar. We will use extensive quotes from early Anabaptism in this article. The Anabaptists spoke more about the work and power of the Holy Spirit than any other Reformation-era group. Pilgram Marpeck, for example, seems to mention the Holy Spirit on an average of about once per page in his writings. Yet, he was not even remotely a “Pentecostal.” We use these quotes not because they are Anabaptists and we are trying to be like the early Anabaptists, but rather because they reflect a biblical view of the work and experience of the Holy Spirit among God’s people.

 

In 1527, in the very earliest days of the Anabaptist revival, some Anabaptists told the Zurich council, “[Believers are those] who have died to the will of the flesh and are now walking in the will of the Spirit, with the fruit of the Spirit.” Amen! ~

  The problem and the promise

 

The problem is quite simple to define: sin. When man willfully and knowingly disobeys God, God has to leave. God and sin cannot coexist in the same place.

 

So what do we do to remedy our situation? By nature we are all born corrupted, that is, with a self-centeredness that is contrary to the nature of God. This self-centeredness causes us to sin, to do actions that are contrary to God’s will. But beyond these actions is the problem of human nature: the very nature of man and the nature of God cannot mix. So how do you reunite man and God?

 

In an effort to get man to see his sin, God gave Moses a set of laws. These laws gave a basic—but incomplete—framework of what God had declared as the right way for man to live. These laws even became known as “God’s righteousness” to those who held to them.

 

So now man knew—in a provisional form—what God expected of them. The “schoolmaster” was given to teach them these things. But a problem still existed. These laws had provisions for forgiveness of sins, but not for the restoration of the life of God within man. In other words, there were no ceremonies or sacrifices given in the Mosaic Law where the final result (upon doing them) would be the infilling of God’s Spirit back into the human heart. There was not a ceremony of which the end result was that God said, “When you do this ceremony just right, I will pour My Spirit back into you.” Paul wrote to the Galatians:

Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

There was simply no law given, no sacrifice or ceremony available, which could fill a man with the Holy Spirit. That was the weakness of the Mosaic Law, and that was why it had to be replaced by something better.

 

In the Old Testament, only the prophets and a few select other people are ever spoken of as being full of the Spirit. But there were promises given of a time when the Spirit of God would be poured out on every believer. Let’s look at some of them briefly, in the order they appear in our Bibles.

Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. Ps. 104:30 This verse’s context is of the creatures in the sea. But the part we want to focus on is how that the sending of the Spirit of God “creates.” The last Adam is called a “quickening spirit.” 1 Co. 15:45 The word quickening is old English for life-giving or life-imparting. This verse references the fact that the Messiah would impart life through His Spirit. Of course, He would not be doing it to the fishes in the sea, but to men dead in trespasses and sins. “And you hath he quickened …” Ep 2:1 When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence. Is. 4:4-5 We find in Isaiah 4 some promises for the gospel day. We find cleansing and purging “by the spirit of judgment … and of burning.” Then we find the promise of comfort and guidance. When the Messiah came, it was prophesied by John the Baptist that Jesus would baptize “with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” as well as Jesus himself promising to send His Spirit to guide and comfort His people. Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest. Is. 32:15 The context of this verse is an outpouring upon God’s people that would bring about a change from barrenness and desolation to a fruitful and abundant life … when “the spirit be poured upon us from on high.” And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ez. 11:18-20 The context is a restoration of God’s people. We find a promise of cleansing, of unity, of a new spirit, and of a new heart. This would have to be a supernatural work of God, since a man cannot give himself a new spirit. The end result of this change of spirit/heart would be that the recipients would be obedient to God, and reunited with Him. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. Ez. 36:26-28 It is hard to know where to stop quoting in this section of Scriptures! Such rich promises! But to keep the article short we will only quote these two verses. We again see the promise of a new heart, a soft heart. We also find God motivating (causing) the recipients to obedience. And again we see a reunification between God and man. And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD. Ez 37:14 The context (which we will not print here for the sake of space) is a rebirth or resurrection of a bunch of old, dry bones. The powerful promise is that “ye shall live,” and the quickening (life-giving) force is “my spirit.” Again we see the Spirit of God imparting new life. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. Joel 2:28-29 These verses are the most quoted in reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The important point is the words “all flesh.” As mentioned earlier, before the coming of the Messiah only a few select prophets and other individuals were given the Spirit of God. With the coming of the Messiah, the ability to be baptized with that Spirit was opened to “all”; even lowly-valued slaves could be recipients. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Ze. 4:6 The promise connected with this verse is the context of two olive trees which (as we learn later in Revelation) had a direct connection to the lamps. In other words, the lamps had a direct pipeline direct from the olive trees, a never-ending supply of oil straight from the source. This would be the power supply, so to speak, for the candlestick. The “energy” would be from God, not from man’s own abilities and efforts.

From these prophetic utterances we get a glimpse of the working and power of the Spirit of God. The Law also spoke in shadows of the Spirit, most clearly in the “anointing oil.” For this present study, however, we will skip over these types (for the sake of space) and move right into the time of the promise of the outpouring.

  Holy Ghost and fire

 

John could not have said it any plainer. He baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize His converts with something more powerful than water: the Holy Spirit and fire. I am sure that puzzled the hearers of those words when they heard them. Baptized with fire?

 

On the day of Pentecost it happened. Physical tongues of fire sat upon the first recipients of the above-mentioned promises. But something happened deeper than the physical flames. A fire of divine love was lit within them, purging out the old self-centeredness. Water can only wash off exterior filth; fire purifies the actual elements themselves. Wash a silver spoon in water and the food bits come off. Throw the same spoon in a fire and the impurities come out of the silver. In the same way, when a man was baptized with John’s baptism, he could have his sins remitted. But baptize that same man with the Holy Ghost and his sins would be burned out of his heart.

 

By saying He would baptize with fire, Jesus was using the illustration of the interior cleansing that the Spirit of God would work in a man. Of course, in the very initial outpouring a physical flame was also seen, but that was only a sign or symbol of the invisible flame kindled in the spirit of man. Those physical flames were not necessary to accomplish the interior cleansing, and very, very rarely (if ever)[1] have been seen again since the first outpouring.

  A second birth

 

But not only did the Messiah call it being baptized with the Holy Ghost, He spoke of being born of the Spirit. When a leading Jew came to him by night to check Him out, Jesus started talking about being born of the Spirit. He told Nicodemus that unless one was rebirthed, one could not enter His kingdom. When Nicodemus showed obvious confusion, Jesus explained that man’s spirit had to be born of God’s Spirit. In other words, there had to be a renovation on the inside before a man could enter the kingdom. Jesus also explained that although one cannot actually see the Spirit, one could see the results of His work … just like the blowing of the wind. This teaching was not just a parable; the new birth was an actual, but unseen, spiritual birth experience that was just as real as a physical birth.

 

Jesus then moved right into talking about having eternal life. One thing to remember here is that the name Jehovah is not found in the New Testament. But it actually is there … because Jehovah means “always existent.” When Jesus spoke of giving eternal life, He was speaking of giving Jehovah Himself, the “Eternally-Living.” Whoever would believe on Jesus would receive that Always-Existent Life as a free gift.

 

It is here that much of modern theology falls short. Too often people read Jesus as saying, “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have forgiveness. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have forgiveness.”

 

Not so! Jesus came “that they might have life; and that they might have it more abundantly!” Jn. 10:10 (Note again that it doesn’t say forgiveness.) While forgiveness is needed and included in the gospel, we need to remind ourselves that being forgiven and being given the Always-Existent Life are not synonymous: being given Eternally-Existent Life goes way beyond a mere forgiveness. And that life is the Spirit of God, Jehovah himself, coming into man’s heart to dwell there. This was something the Mosaic Law had no provision for. Forgiveness could be obtained under the Law, but not a restoration of the life of God within the human spirit. What a difference! God and man so reconciled that God actually moves into, and becomes reunited with, the spirit of man!

  This is that!

 

Then it happened. Jesus had told them to stay in Jerusalem until a supernatural power would be poured into them. They waited, praying. Suddenly that “wind” blew and the promises of the Father—which we looked at earlier in this article—were fulfilled. The stony hearts were taken away, and soft, new ones given. A supernatural love was shed abroad in their hearts. There was meekness and brokenness, but at the same time a great boldness. This was Eternal Life! This was a spiritual resurrection! This was a rebirth of their inner man, something they could never have worked up in their own strength. This was the grace of God!

 

And, of course, on that occasion there were special gifts given also, among them the ability to speak in languages they had never known before. And they could not but help to speak about “the wonderful works of God.” There were, on that occasion, also visible flames sitting above their heads. But these gifts and the visible flames and the roaring sounds were sort of beside the point. Something was happening here that had never happened in the history of mankind. A kingdom was being formed, a kingdom where the King ruled from the inside, not the outside. Eternal Life was being poured into them; Jehovah was sitting on His throne in man’s heart once again.

 

It was probably a very emotional scene, but the emotions were also beside the point. Many diverse things cause people to get emotional. The emotions of that day were “neither here nor there.” But evidently the emotional outbursts and the speaking in foreign languages caused the scene to appear as if they had just had a full-blown party with too much whiskey and wine flowing.

 

Peter, who only a few days before had vehemently denied that he even knew Jesus, now was empowered to boldly stand in front of a crowd and proclaim, “This is that which the prophet Joel prophesied about!” When the crowd asked what they needed to do, Peter told them the simple steps to take: repent of their disobedience, be baptized in the name of Jesus (being “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” implied a total submission to Him as King of their life) … and they too could experience the baptism—the spiritual rebirth—of the Holy Spirit.

  The fruits of that experience

 

Beginning in Acts 2:41, which is right after the end of Peter’s sermon on that great day, we will pull out a list of results of that baptism of the Spirit: People added to Christ’s kingdom, steadfastness in pure doctrine, daily fellowship, prayer, unity, godly fear, healings, selflessness in sharing of material possessions (freedom from materialism), joy, contentment, boldness for Christ …

 

Paul, who was not involved in the initial outpouring of the Spirit, later laid out a list of fruit that one would see in the life of the recipient: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Ga. 5:22-23

 

The thing to notice in this list is that all the fruit mentioned has to do with character attributes, something that takes place in the spirit of man. Let me say before proceeding any further that it is totally erroneous to say that “only the inside counts.” Spiritually rebirthed people are not spiritual schizophrenics who lead a double life, a life where the inside doesn’t match the outside. But on the other hand, it is possible to do the right things with the wrong spirit, or attitude. For example, a person can give all his goods to feed the poor, but he can do that because he really wants to get some praise from men. Or, because he wants to make himself feel good. So he can do the right thing, but from a wrong spirit. When a man is born again of the Spirit, he will begin to do the right things with the right motive.

  Banjos for Jesus?

 

Let’s look, but very briefly, at what happens today in many places. A group of people gather. The music starts, the rhythm picks up, the bodies start swaying to the beat, a repetitious phrase rings out (even a very godly phrase), and soon the emotions are boiling fervently. Someone falls to the floor and starts rolling back and forth, back and forth, shrieking out something. The person falling to the floor may be living in adultery, married to someone who has a living spouse from a previous marriage. He may be a member of the Air Force bomber squadron, or perhaps a Hollywood actor. Their jewelry flashes as they roll. As they roll back and forth shrieking, perhaps the pastor will announce, “Look, there are God’s banjos!”[2]

 

After a while the emotions slow down. The music stops. Everyone goes home, including the “banjos,” who go home to continue living in adultery or dropping bombs on innocent children. The “pastor”—dare we use that term for false prophets?—begs everyone to “give money to the Lord.” He tells them that God intended for His children to live like kings, since they are kings and priests. That is why he drives a Cadillac and lives in a house worth half a million dollars. If you want, he will lay his hands on you and you too can experience being “baptized with the Holy Ghost” and become a banjo for Jesus.

  Reactions to banjos

 

For serious disciples of Jesus, the above-described scene is almost disgusting.[3] In reaction, we can easily come to the place where we don’t even want to hear about the baptism of the Holy Ghost. But dear brethren! We must not let the false prophets steal a precious truth and experience from us. There is a genuine baptism of the Holy Ghost, a real rebirth of the human spirit, that Jesus told us that we must go through to enter His kingdom. And we must keep in mind that the kingdom is the goal, not the experience. Being born again by the Spirit is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

  The genuine experience

 

For a look at the genuine experience of being born again of the Spirit, we will now turn to some quotes from the early Anabaptists. By using these quotes, we are not saying the early Anabaptists were a perfect people who understood and experienced the Spirit in a perfect way. But we do find their teaching and practice to match closely the biblical teaching and experience. We will start with Dirk Philips, who colabored with Menno Simons.

 

Therefore, Christ also says he “who believes in me” has eternal life. Jn. 3:16; 11:25 Why? Because he has received a divine power, yes, a quickening power of eternal life—creating life in his heart which so thoroughly penetrates, purifies, and renews, and finally drives, leads, and transposes to the origin from which it has sprung, namely, eternal divine life itself.

 

So now if anyone who thus believes in Jesus Christ has received such a living power of God and who feels this throughout himself, he is a true believing Christian and confesses Christ according to the Spirit, for he is one Spirit with him. Jn. 3:18; l Co. 6:17. He also actually understands what the flesh of Christ is; for he himself is flesh of the flesh of Christ and bone of his bone. Ep. 5:30 In addition, he has in the Spirit and true faith eaten the flesh of Christ and drunk his blood. Jn. 6:54 Through this he has become united in one common nature with Christ. This knowledge[4] of God and of Christ is eternal life. Jn. 17:3

 

But whatever anyone says about Jesus Christ without such an inner power of God, without such an enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and without such fellowship and impartation of the divine seed of the character and nature of Jesus Christ, this is idle chatter and like the speech of a blind person who (according to the common proverb) disputes and discusses about color which he has neither seen nor can see. For this reason we wish to have everyone who claims to be a Christian to be faithfully admonished that he thus learn to know Jesus Christ, believe in him, and receive him in order that Jesus Christ on the last day may confess him before God his Father and before the elect angels for his brother, sister, and mother, and receive him into his eternal kingdom. Mt. 12:50[5]

 

Menno Simons puts the same thing in a bit different wording:

 

Regeneration … is an inward change, which converts a man by the power of God, through faith, from evil to good, from carnality to spirituality, from unrighteousness to righteousness, out of Adam into Christ, which can in no wise take place with infants. The regenerated live by the power of the new life; they crucify the flesh with its evil lusts; they put off the old Adam with his deeds; they avoid every appearance of evil; they are taught, governed, and influenced by the Holy Ghost. Ro. 1:17.

 

Behold this is true regeneration with its fruits, of which the Scriptures speak, and comes through faith in the word of God, without which no one, who has arrived to the years of understanding, can be saved; as Christ says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” Jn. 3:3. Yea, it is all in vain, if one were even baptized of Peter, or Paul, or Christ himself, if he were not baptized from above with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Mt. 3:11 As Paul says, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature,’’ Ga. 5:6; 2 Co. 5:17. All who are thus born of God, changed and renewed in the inner man, and translated from Adam into Christ, are ready to obey the word of the Lord, and say with holy Paul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” They deny themselves with all their minds and hearts; they submit to the word and ordinances of the Lord, without dislike or opposition; they receive baptism according to the command of the Lord, Mt. 28:19. They become and manifest themselves as fruitful branches of Christ, the true Vine, and joint heirs in the church of the Lord, John 15:5. They receive forgiveness of their sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.[6]

 

Concerning 1 Peter 3:21, Menno had the following to say:

 

Here Peter teaches us how the inward baptism saves us, by which the inner man is washed, and not the outward baptism by which the flesh is washed; for only this inward baptism, as already stated, is of value in the sight of God, while outward baptism follows only as an evidence of obedience which is of faith; for could outward baptism save without the inner washing, the whole Scriptures which speak of the new man would be spoken to no purpose. The kingdom of heaven would be bound to elementary water; the blood of Christ would be shed in vain, and no one that is baptized could be lost. No, no! Outward baptism avails nothing so long as we are not inwardly renewed, regenerated, and baptized of God, with the heavenly fire and the Holy Ghost.[7]

 

Peter Riedemann, sometimes called “the second founder of the Hutterites,” wrote a large explanation of his beliefs while imprisoned. Concerning whether the transformation of man is a work of man or a work of God, Peter explained it with these words:

 

Even though a person speaks with the tongue of angels, (1 Corinthians 13:1) if God does not speak through him, he does not speak God’s Word, (Jeremiah 23:21) because God is the Word. (John 1:1) But when God speaks through a person and wishes to build his temple in that one, God first cuts away what is coarse and wild and is not fitting for his house. He does this through the preaching of repentance. (Luke 3:1-14 Mark 1:1-8 Matthew 3:1-12) When any receive the Word and repent, God places them on the foundation of Christ, (1 Corinthians 3:11) provided they die to sin and become like him in death. They will then be revived through faith and restored to a new life, (Romans 6:1-4) which comes about not through human power (Zechariah 4:6 Deuteronomy 8:1-3) but by God’s grace and work. (Ephesians 2:1-10).

 

Since this is done not by human effort but by God’s action, (1 Corinthians: 15:20-28), Paul exhorts us as follows: “Yield your members to be instruments of God and his righteousness, so that they may be holy.” (Romans: 6:19) If God is to do anything good in a person, that person must surrender himself to God. (Proverbs 1:22-31) Otherwise, the good cannot be done in him. Just as a person cannot do anything good of himself, so God does not want to do anything in him, unless he gives himself with all his heart to be God’s instrument. Then that person’s surrendered will interweaves itself with the divine will in such a way that the divine will and the human will become one. From now on, God desires, chooses, and works everything in that person. The person allows himself to become God’s instrument (John 15:4-5) and thus may say with the beloved apostle Paul, “Now I live no more, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) This is the way God works in people.

 

On the other hand, if a person keeps back anything, chooses for himself, or wants or undertakes something on his own and not with God, God’s work is hindered and can make no progress. Such a person remains unprepared for this building and will not be suitable for it. God works in the person who surrenders himself, and God gives proof of his power (Deuteronomy 8:1-4) in the person’s renewal. (Titus 3:1-7) Through this work God enables the person to partake of his Son’s (1 Corinthians 2:9-10) nature and character, (2 Peter 1:3-8) and even, in part, of his unlimited power. This we read in the words, “All things are possible to the one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)[8]

  The proof is in the pudding

 

So how do we know that the spirit that comes upon us is really God’s Spirit? This is where Pentecostalism erred from day one. Someone decided that the proof of the baptism of the Holy Ghost was speaking in tongues; if the recipient did not speak in tongues he was not baptized with the Holy Ghost. Unfortunately, they seemed not to realize that the Bible is quite clear: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Mt. 7:16 Notice that it does not say, “by their gifts.” Nor, “by their emotions.” Nor, “by their zeal.”

 

None of the three things just listed are evil in themselves, and all three are desirable. Yet Pentecostalism as we know it today has been built upon the false premise that one has not been baptized with the Holy Ghost unless he speaks in tongues as proof.

 

There can be little doubt that the first outpouring of the Spirit mentioned in Acts was an emotional experience. Tears of joy were probably flowing quite freely. Loud shouts of victory may have resounded up the street. Yet Christians are not known by their emotions. In the same way that Pentecostalism was built upon a false premise, others have tried to say that unless you have an extremely emotional experience, you have not been baptized with the Spirit. Our emotional makeup is quite diverse, and we need to exercise extreme caution in trying to make other people respond emotionally just like we do. That said, it does seem strange to think of being forgiven, released from the power of sin, filled with joy, have love spread around in our hearts … all that without some sort of emotion arising within us.

 

Most likely the men and women in that upper room were zealous (by nature) for God. But the gifts, the emotions, and the zeal are all beside the point. I have seen people who had an emotional experience, but who missed the baptism of the Holy Ghost. And I have seen extremely zealous people, zealous for God, who also missed the rebirth of the Spirit. It usually shows in the attitude, since many are zealous for biblical truths, and are practicing the correct ordinances, and have laid aside the gross sins of the flesh like drinking, swearing, and fornication. Many even practice modest dress, head coverings, and may have even taken up the doctrines of nonresistance and nonaccumulation of wealth. But Christians are not known by their religious zeal.

 

Zealots often fail in the sins of the spirit, in their attitudes. Others can try to talk to them about the spirit in which they operate and they just simply cannot see it … they have not the Spirit of Christ within to “see the kingdom of God.” All they can see is that they have conformed themselves outwardly to many of Jesus’ teachings—which is wonderful that they have!

 

But the Holy Spirit does a work of transformation on the inside that cannot be imitated or worked up in the flesh. Great enthusiasm propels zealots onward and they mistakenly believe that they are being compelled by the Spirit of God, when in fact they are compelled only by their religious zeal. And I reiterate that there is nothing wrong with having a great zeal for God. Simply put though, great zeal and the Holy Ghost are not synonyms. Pilgram Marpeck, a South German Anabaptist, explained it this way:

 

Ah my brethren, how diligently and carefully we have to take heed that we do not consider our own impulse [to be that] of the Holy Spirit, our own course [to be] the course and walk of Christ. …

 

I have experienced that in myself, also through the narratives of biblical writings, that natural piety hates evil, and is zealous about the good … that [unconverted zealots] are overpowered therein and driven with zeal, exerting themselves considerably.

 

That is not therefore the compulsion of the Holy Spirit of Christ, nor do they become children through it. … Even today … many persons act because of zeal concerning good, who do not know or suppose otherwise than that they are driven by the Holy Spirit. …

 

I write all this in order that each one may well see for themselves what drives them, from what source it flows, from what source their drive stems. This the servants do not know. The friends or children, however, know what their Lord does and why the compulsion of the Holy Spirit is in them.[9]

  Partakers of the divine nature

 

Thomas von Imbroich was a Swiss Brethren in the early days of the Anabaptist movement. Although he was martyred in his late 20s, he had preached and helped to start a number of congregations up and down the Rhine River. While imprisoned he wrote a widely-used expression of his faith. He has the following to say about the proof of a rebirth by the Holy Ghost:

 

By these words [Jn. 3:6-8] Christ indicates that the regenerated person becomes spiritual and is born of the Spirit having a spiritual nature, as Peter says. (2 Pe. 1; Ro. 8; Acts 17; Jn. 14) “You may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” By this everyone may know whether he is born of the Spirit, namely, if he has the characteristics of the Spirit, just as the person who is born of the flesh has the characteristics of the flesh—each in his sphere (Jn. 3; 1 Co. 15). Birds have their peculiar nature; so also, wild animals; likewise humans. Each person is minded according to that from which he is born. The person born of the Spirit is therefore spiritually minded (Ro. 8), as Paul says: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”[10]

 

Those who are thus born of this spiritual seed of Abraham will bring spiritual fruits; that is, all kinds of kindness, righteousness, and truth: They are obedient to their Father; they keep his commandments and follow his precepts (Ep. 5; Jn. 10, 14, 15; Is. 55); they abandon ungodly living (Ro. 12), and are not conformed to the world; they seek the things that are above, where Christ is, and not those things that are on earth; they mortify and crucify their sinful flesh (Co. 3): they follow in the footsteps of Jesus (their predecessor) in grief, in wretchedness, in persecution, and are obedient to him unto death (Ga. 3; 1 Pe. 2; He. 11). We therefore say that those who are thus driven by the Spirit of God are the spiritual descendants of Abraham and are children of God (Ro. 4, 8).

 

Thus, all the scriptures cited above testify that no one is born of God who does not have such faith and has not received the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance (Ep. l).[11]

  Grace!

 

You have likely heard the typical definitions of grace. Hans Betz, an early Anabaptist who wrote a number of the songs that formed the core of the original Ausbund,[12] defined grace in simple terms. In song number 88 he writes:

 

God’s grace is the Holy Spirit, Who is also called the Comforter …

 

Now if the Holy Spirit leads you, So that you do not yield to sin, God has birthed you anew, In Jesus Christ His Son.

 

Now I am sure that Hans did not mean that grace and the Holy Spirit are always synonymous. Yet I challenge you to read through the New Testament and put “the Holy Spirit” in every place you read the word “grace.” For example, “For by the Holy Spirit are ye saved, through faith …” Ep. 2:8 The Holy Spirit saves us in the true sense of salvation, which is to rescue or to salvage. By an infilling of the Holy Spirit, we receive power to conquer self, the flesh, the world, and even the devil himself. Now that is grace, truly a free gift! Ac. 2:38; 10:45

 

“For ye are not under the law, but under the Holy Spirit …” Ro. 6:14 Remembering that the weakness of the Law was that it had no provision to be reunited in spirit with God, we can understand how that the New Covenant is so much superior than the Old. Now the believer can live under the power of the Holy Spirit! Under the Spirit, but over the Law!

  How to get the Spirit

 

One of the biggest battles of the early church was the battle against those Jews who did not understand that the Mosaic Law was not to be put on the Gentile believers. Called Judaizers, they felt that the Law was to be kept even after it had been fulfilled. In battling against this idea, Paul asked the Galatians a thought-provoking question: “Did you get baptized with the Holy Ghost because you kept the Law so perfectly, or did you get baptized with the Holy Ghost because you believed on Jesus?” Ga. 3:2

 

Of course, they all knew that the free gift of the Spirit was because of their faith in Jesus as the promised Prophet, Priest, and King; the Law had no provision to receive an infilling of the Spirit. Paul then followed the first question with a similar one: “The person who led you into the experience of the infilling of the Spirit, did he do that through preaching obedience to the ceremonial laws, or did he do that by preaching faith in Jesus?” Again, they knew it was because of Jesus, not because of keeping the ceremonial laws.

  Die to live

 

Hans Betz, the hymn writer mentioned earlier, had the following to say in one of his hymns:

 

Understand what’s happening: when death occurs, as a man denies his flesh, then man receives from Jesus Christ the life-giving baptism. The same is called fire and spirit, John does tell us; this alone makes holy and pure and makes fellowship with God.

 

Whoever has this baptism is planted into the death of Christ; all his desires thus being crucified, he is thereby born anew. This birth has, in Jesus Christ, taken place through water and spirit.[13]

 

The secret to receiving the “life-giving baptism” of the Holy Spirit is to die; die to our own will in faith that Jesus would lead him aright. This “formula”—if we dare even call it a formula—was foundational throughout early Anabaptism; we could probably fill this magazine with their quotes on the topic. They used the German word gelassenheit to describe it; a “letting loose” of our own will, placing that will into the hands of God. This is death to controlling our own life; we simply submit ourselves to obedience to whatever God, through Christ, has said. If you believe in someone, you will do what that person says.

 

This is also a renunciation of materialism, fame, and plain old-fashioned pleasure seeking. Jesus, to whom we submit our will, has told us that unless a man “forsake all that he hath,” he cannot be His disciple.

  The dearth in our day

 

That word “all” is the key to understanding the dearth of real Holy Spirit power in our churches today. Materialism runs rampant, so rampant that if anyone even suggests that Jesus really meant—I mean really meant—a renunciation of wealth, he may well get his ears boxed … even in conservative Anabaptist churches. To suggest that “all” means for youth (and older ones as well) to renounce sports and pleasure seeking may get a person tagged as “legalist.” To suggest that “all” really means “all,” and that “forsake” really means “forsake,” and that “cannot” means “impossible” seems to put one into the “fanatic” class.

 

But Jesus really did mean what He said. It is impossible to be His disciple without forsaking all. We may take up a zealous obedience to certain biblical teachings, yet never truly die to self. We may find the perfect theology and expound it ever so clearly, yet never die with Christ. We may go to the ends of the earth, preaching to the unreached tribes in remote corners, denying ourselves of the comforts of modern life … and yet never have forsaken all. Forsaking all is the cross we must take up, the cost we must count before becoming a disciple.

 

Leonhard Schiemer was an Austrian convert to Anabaptism. He lived but nine months as an Anabaptist before martyrdom, but managed to bring in about 200 others in that short span of time. While in prison he wrote several tracts and a letter to the congregation where he had been ordained as elder. In that letter, he says the following concerning taking up the cross:

 

“Whoever will be my disciple,” says Christ, “must follow me.” In another place He says, “Without me you can do nothing.” Peter says, “Whoever suffers in the flesh ceases from sin.”

 

The first light has been our schoolmaster until the other—Christ, who is the light of the world—came. When His Spirit enters me I am no longer under the schoolmaster, but under grace. When this happens the law of works, sin, death, and members ceases, and the law of the Spirit, faith, life, and the heart begins.

 

But this Spirit is given to no one except he first submit himself to the cross and the chastisement of the Lord.

  Entering the kingdom of God

 

Dirk Philips wrote a long tract called “The New Birth and the New Creature.” He had the following to say as a conclusion, and he says it so well that we use that conclusion to conclude this article:

 

I say this in conclusion: the born-again children of God and new creatures in Christ Jesus are those who are born again out of God the heavenly Father through Christ Jesus and are renewed and sanctified through the Holy Spirit, who have become participants of the divine nature, of the being of Jesus Christ, and of the character of the Holy Spirit.

 

They are those who have died to sin and still daily die more and more, and experience righteousness; those who never boast in themselves but only in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to them and they to the world; those who in true faith walk according to the rule of Christ and follow in his footsteps, who know no one according to the flesh; those who do not have an appetite for what is human but for what is divine.

 

In summary, these are righteous and do righteousness just as God out of whom they are born is righteous; these are minded like Christ Jesus and are motivated by the Holy Spirit.

 

Where this takes place, there one sees the kingdom of God, there one comes into the kingdom of heaven; there is a new creature in Christ Jesus.

This article is far from being a complete exposition of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church. Much could be said of the continuing work He accomplishes; teaching, convicting, leading, and comforting. More could be said of the gifts of the Spirit. More could be said of the unity of the Spirit. More could be said of how the Spirit works in a congregation better than in an individual.

 

In short, this article focuses mostly upon the initial reception of the Spirit in the believer. This is the beginning, the birth, not the end!

[1] There are reports of people seeing similar things, but I take a neutral stance as to if it has really happened again. There is nothing to prohibit God from having physical flames appear again when someone is baptized with the Spirit, and I would “put God in a box” to say He will never do it again. But it is beside the point to argue whether God has ever had physical flames appear again.

[2] I have heard that very phrase, believe it or not.

[3] Disgust is like anger, an emotion that we do not want to let rule our attitudes.

[4] The meaning of knowledge here is more than a head knowledge, but to “know Him personally.”

[5] Cornelius J. Dyck, William E. Keeney, and Alvin J. Beachy, eds., The Writings of Dirk Philips, (Herald Press, 1992), 149–50.

[6] Menno Simons, Complete Works of Menno Simon (Pathway Publishers, 1995), 27.

[7] Ibid., 28.

[8] Peter Riedemann and John J. Friesen, Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith (Herald Press, 1999), 178-9.

[9] William Klassen and Walter Klaassen, eds., The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, New edition (Wipf & Stock Pub, 2000), 511–2.

[10] Leonard Gross, Golden Apples in Silver Bowls (Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, 1999), 77–78.

[11] Ibid., 98.

[12] The Ausbund is a German language Anabaptist hymnal, still in use among the Old Order Amish.

[13] Ausbund, Song 108.

 

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (March/April 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

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In:Anabaptists, Endurance, Preachers, Salvation and the New Birth, The Church

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By Mike Atnip

Plowing in hope

 

The sun is shining brightly, lifting the last of the morning haze on this beautiful spring day. At the south end of the field the little creek gurgles and giggles over the stones, frothing its way to Pequea Creek less than a mile to the southeast. The squirrels jump from budding tree to budding tree, and a crow circles lazily overhead, cawing loudly. At the sound of the caw, a turkey gobbles on the wooded hill. Nearby, a small waft of smoke languidly curls from the chimney of the little house that the newly married couple of two years calls home.

 

It is a beautiful day to be plowing!

 

Back and forth the young farmer goes. The horse plods faithfully along, turning the rich soil over. When his forefathers had settled in these parts less than fifty years earlier, they did not realize at the time that they were settling on what was some of the best farm ground—literally—in the whole world.

 

Known in Switzerland as the “Swiss Brethren,” their movement had started in 1525 when a small group of men had rebaptized each other in Zurich. Persecution in the following two centuries had forced many of them down into what is now western Germany and eastern France. Beginning in 1710, some of them found their way to Pennsylvania, into what is now Lancaster County. Here they began to be known as Mennonists, and later Mennonites, from their use of the Dutch Mennonite confession of faith known as the Dortrecht Confession. They had presented this Confession to the Pennsylvania civil leaders as a way to show their nonresistant interpretation of Scripture, requesting exemption from military conscription. Their use of this Confession helped them to become known as Mennonists, even though they were formerly known as Swiss Brethren.[1]

 

At first the immigrant flow was a trickle, then a stream. By the end of the 1700s, some 3000 of these Swiss Brethren had arrived in Philadelphia. Martin Boehm, the man handling the plow, was a second-generation Swiss Brethren immigrant in Lancaster County. His grandfather had been a Swiss Pietist, but had joined the Swiss Brethren in Germany.[2] His father had come to America, probably in hopes of religious liberty.

 

As he plowed, Martin may have turned up stone arrowheads. Less than ten miles away, at a small reserve on the banks of the Susquehanna River, lived a friendly group of Conestoga Indians. In his childhood, it is probable that Martin had played with the Indian boys, or at least had seen them around.

 

But that day, Martin had no interest in arrowheads, nor even the beautiful, quiet scenery that was bursting to life all around him. There were no airplanes roaring overhead, no tractor-trailer trucks barreling down the turnpike, not even a chainsaw to provide any noise pollution. If he heard anything of his neighbors it was probably only a neigh of a horse or the sound of an axe ringing through the morning stillness.

  Distressed

 

No, Martin was not at peace. As he rested his horse at the end of each fresh furrow, he knelt down and prayed. Getting back up, he would make a fresh furrow, only to stop and pray at the other end.

 

Back and forth. Back and forth. But despite the serenity that surrounded him, all that seemed to ring through his mind was one word: “Verloren, verloren!” (Lost, lost!)

 

Finally, he could stand it no longer! He did not wait until the end of the furrow; he stopped the horse in the middle of the field and fell to his knees. He tells the story in his own words, beginning with his ordination to the ministry some months before:

 

When nominated, I had no desire that the lot might fall on me, and I earnestly besought my brethren to nominate someone in my place, better than myself. This, however, was not done, and the moment came when each nominee was to step forth and take a book. I stepped out, saying inwardly, “Lord, not me. I am too poor.” The books were opened, and the lot or token was mine! Believing, as I did, that this lot falls by divine appointment, I did not feel myself at liberty to refuse obedience to its decision, but felt constrained by my conscience to take upon myself the office of the ministry, and discharge it as best I could.

 

According to our usage it was not expected from me to preach immediately thereafter, because our elder preacher was still able to preach; but it was my duty to assist him in preaching and exhortation as God would give me ability. I had been reading the Scriptures much, but now read them still more, and with care, in order to impress their reading on my memory, so that I might have something wherewith to preach or exhort.

 

Sunday came and the elder brother preached. In attempting to follow him by a word of exhortation, I failed, although for some two years past, I had been giving testimony at the close of the sermons, and frequently concluded the meetings.

 

I continued reading. The next Sabbath I was requested to take part, and rose up, but could say little or nothing. I had charged my mind and memory with some Scripture passages, but when I wanted them, could not bring them to my recollection. I prayed to the Lord to assist me in retaining his word, and strengthen me in my great weakness, that, to some extent at least, I might answer his call.

 

Some months passed in this way, but it came not. This condition began deeply to distress me—to be a preacher, and yet have nothing to preach, nor to say, but stammer out a few words, and then be obliged to take my seat in shame and remorse! I had faith in prayer, and prayed more fervently.

 

While thus engaged in praying earnestly for aid to preach, the thought rose in my mind, or as though one spoke to me, saying, “You pray for grace to teach others the way of salvation, and you have not prayed for your own salvation.”

 

This thought or word did not leave me. “My salvation” followed me wherever I went. I felt constrained to pray for myself; and, while praying for myself, my mind became alarmed. I felt and saw myself a poor sinner. I was lost! My agony became great. I was plowing in the field, and kneeled down at each end of the furrow, to pray. The word “Lost, lost” went every round with me. Midway in the field I could go no further, but sank behind the plow, crying, “Lord save, I am lost!”

 

The thought or voice said, “I am come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

 

In a moment, a stream of joy was poured over me. I praised the Lord and left the field, and told my companion what joy I felt.

 

Martin continues his story, explaining the change that occurred in his outlook toward preaching:

 

As before this I wished the Sabbath far off, now I wished it was tomorrow. Sunday came: the elder brother preached. I rose to tell my experience, since my call to the ministry. When speaking of my lost estate, and agony of mind, some in the congregation began to weep. This gave me encouragement to speak of our fall and lost condition, and of repentance. The Sabbath following it was the same, and much more. Before I was done, I found myself in the midst of the congregation, where some were weeping aloud!

 

This caused considerable commotion in our church, as well as among the people generally. It was all new; none of us had heard or seen it before. A new creation appeared to rise up before me, and around me. Now Scripture, before mysterious, and like a dead letter to me, was plain of interpretation; was all spirit, all life.

 

Like a dream, old things had passed away, and it seemed as if I had awakened to new life, new thoughts, new faith, new love. I rejoiced and praised God with my whole heart. This joy, this faith, this love, I wished to communicate to those around me. But when speaking about it, in public or in private, it made different impressions on different persons. Some gave a mournful look, some sighed and wept and would say, “Oh! Martin, are we indeed lost?”

 

Yes, mankind is lost! Christ will never find us, till we know that we are lost. My wife was the next lost sinner that felt the same joy, the same love.

 

Although the story, as it is told above, says that such an experience was a new sort of thing for that congregation, no one really had a big problem with it. In fact, in just five years Martin was chosen as bishop, again by lot. But to get in the lot, he had to have been nominated, a sign that his Mennonist people had confidence in him.

 

Martin’s zeal for preaching soon caused him to step beyond the normal meeting schedule, and he began to preach midweek in various places. The custom of his day was a church gathering every two weeks. When this custom began is not certain, but it is assumed by some to have begun even before the Swiss Brethren immigrated to America.

 

Frontier life was generally hard on spiritual life. Families were scattered through the woods with practically no good roads. Travel in such conditions was often hard, especially on large families with lots of little children, the aged, and expectant mothers. Many people have assumed that this hard lifestyle only contributed more to the practice of a church meeting once every two weeks. In fact, in some frontier communities church meetings were held only once every month.

 

But it was not so in the beginning of the Swiss Brethren movement! The earliest Swiss Brethren Congregational Order reads like this:

 

Since the almighty, eternal, and merciful God has made his wonderful light break forth in the world in this most dangerous time, we recognize the mystery of his will. His will is for his Word to be made known to us so we may find our way into community with him. For this reason, and in obedience to Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching, we are to observe a new commandment—the commandment to love one another so we may live in brotherly unity and peace. To keep that peace, all of us brothers and sisters have agreed as follows:

1. To meet at least three or four times a week, to exercise ourselves in the teaching of Christ and his apostles, to admonish and encourage one another from the heart to remain faithful to Jesus as we have promised …

 

Six more points are listed in that congregational order, which, by the way, was found on Michael Sattler right along with the Schleitheim Confession, written by the same hand. But did you notice that they agreed to meet “three or four times a week”? Somewhere along the line that vision was lost. But not only the quantity of the meetings was lost, something happened to the quality.

  Very sleepy …

 

In about 1750, a German Pietist living near the Swiss Brethren immigrants in Lancaster County wrote of his experience with them and with the newer German Baptist group. The German Baptists were expressive in their public worship, but of the Mennonists he wrote:

 

These people [are] modest … and upright in their conduct. They wear plain clothing; proud colors may not be worn by them. Most of the men wear beards. When they are grown up they are baptized and a little water is poured over their heads. Their meetings are very sleepy affairs.

 

Of course we recognize that what one person may call a “very sleepy” meeting, the next person will not. However, the above writer was not alone in his assessment of the meetings of that era.

 

So along comes a man with a fresh enthusiasm, a fresh testimony of conversion … and the sleepy are shaken. And shake them Martin did.

 

He began, along with others, to hold meetings, sometimes by candle light, in the evenings. “Great meetings” were called, probably given that name because they usually lasted for three days—“great” or “big” on length.

 

Crowds came; Mennonists, German Baptists, Reformed, and, well, about everybody in the community. The other Swiss Brethren ministers had no problem with the meetings. Some of them even helped.

  The great barn meeting

 

Five years after Martin’s ordination as a bishop, a “Great Meeting” was called for May 10, 1767, with the location being the barn of Mennonist Isaac Long, just north of the town of Lancaster. It is reported that over 1000 people showed up. While some listened to Martin preach inside the 13-year-old barn, those who could not fit inside listened to some other Mennonist preachers in the orchard.

 

While this meeting was typical of the “Great Meetings” in many ways, it ended up being a life-changing meeting for Martin. William Otterbein, a Reformed Church minister, listened to Martin tell of his experience. He had experienced something very similar to what Martin had—at about the exact same time Martin had, ten years earlier.

 

When Martin finished speaking, William rushed to the long-bearded Mennonist preacher and gave him a hug, exclaiming, “Wir sind brüder!” (We are brothers!) These words would be the foundation of their later church name—The United Brethren in Christ.

 

Those looking on were moved to “praise God aloud, but most of the congregation gave place to their feelings—weeping for joy.” It was an emotional experience.

 

The Isaac Long house and barn still stands, 245 years after an estimated 1000 people gathered there to hear gospel preaching. While Martin Boehm preached inside the barn, other Mennonist ministers preached to the overflow crowd in the orchard. (Photo taken Dec. 28, 2012)   Brotherhood based on experience

 

There are lots of other details about the story that we do not have space to detail here. About 20 years after that meeting in the barn, Martin Boehm and William Otterbein were elected as the first bishops of a new church movement, The United Brethren in Christ.[3] What we want to look at is the basis of their initial fellowship.

 

That basis was a common experience. From all appearances, neither one knew the other before meeting in the barn that evening. After listening to Boehm’s experience, Otterbein felt him to be a brother in Christ. He did not know how much Boehm obeyed Jesus’ teaching; he only knew of Boehm’s experience.

  Brotherhood based on obedience

 

In contrast, Martin Boehm’s Swiss Brethren (Mennonists) were basing their brotherhood on a common obedience to the teachings of Jesus. To join the congregation, one had to commit to obeying what Jesus had taught on the Sermon on the Mount, and of course, His other teachings as well.

 

This difference in the basis of brotherhood proved to be problematic for Martin Boehm. He had a decision to make …

  Too close to disobedience

 

Martin continued being a bishop among the Swiss Brethren immigrants for about a decade after his meeting Otterbein in that barn. However, some of the Mennonists began to grow leery of his direction. While Martin held firm to following the teachings of Jesus in his own life, he began to associate with others who did not practice Jesus’ teaching about war and swearing oaths.

 

After several meetings with him, Martin’s fellow Mennonist elders felt they had to excommunicate him. Disobedience to Christ’s teachings was too fundamental of an error for their brotherhood to permit.

 

The timing was the Revolutionary War. As said, Martin himself never participated in the war, and refused to swear the allegiance oaths that the newly formed states required after the war. Francis Asbury, the famed bishop of the new Methodist movement, likewise refused to participate in both the war and the oath swearing. He and Martin had become good friends. Asbury would end up preaching Martin’s funeral sermon.

 

However, in the Methodist churches, while most of the early ministers and members held to nonresistance and nonswearing of oaths, these two points were not a requirement to enter the brotherhood.

 

Before his death in 1812, Martin Boehm had become a member of the local Methodist Class. He preached, baptized (which included baptizing babies, but it is not clear if Martin himself did this), and held communion with them.

 

By the time the American Civil War rolled around 50 years later, the Methodists were aiming their sights and pulling the triggers of their guns on other Methodists, on both sides of the front.

 

The Mennonists were correct in their foresight: evil communications do corrupt good manners!

  Too close to formality

 

On the other hand, Martin Boehm felt he had no choice but to leave the Mennonist churches. They demanded of him that he stop fellowshipping with churches that disobeyed Jesus’ teachings, and that he repent of having said such things like “the [Mennonist] bishops lead their people to hell by preaching the ordinances.” Or, saying “the Bible could be burned without harming the church.”

 

To be sure, the Mennonists should have sat up and paid attention to what Martin was saying, even though his way of wording it probably only irritated them. When people were struggling with their conscience about their sins, they were sometimes counseled by Mennonist elders to “get baptized and take communion.” So they did. Meanwhile, their old carnal heart had never been turned from loving this world to loving Jesus. So instead of repentance and faith in Christ, the seekers were told to “join church and keep the ordinances.”

 

Robots can keep ordinances. And so can carnal, unregenerate people.

 

So, the churches contained people who did what the Bible said concerning baptism and communion, but who had not a lick of fervency toward Christ. When church meeting was going on, it was a “very sleepy affair.” But as soon as meeting was over, and the talk outside the chapel doors turned to the price of cattle in the Philadelphia markets, conversations and hearts began to warm!

 

When it came to spreading the gospel, the neighboring Conestoga Indians never had a sermon preached to them by Mennonists,[4] let alone the ones in the next county over. The Mennonists, it seemed, even had a hard time to send preachers to their own church members who lived very far from home.

 

Martin felt he could not choose such lifelessness and carnality.

  What does God think of cold obedience?

 

The Bible is clear about formality: it is a stench to the nostrils of God. The words “so then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” were not directed towards outright rebels, but to people who at least outwardly obeyed some of God’s commands.

 

“Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting” reveals God’s attitude toward people who are indeed doing the correct ceremonies, but without a heartfelt obedience.

 

 

Remember, robots can keep ordinances. This fellow could probably be programmed to wash feet or take communion!

 

When it comes to experience, God expects and desires that humanity experience Him. Paul wrote that his desire toward God was “that I might know Him, and the power of his resurrection.” Paul wanted to experience Christ.

 

Does God want cold obedience? Heartless worship? Sleepy assemblies? Why did He tell us, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment”?

 

If God did not want an experiential relationship with man, why on earth did He allow the Song of Solomon to be included in the Holy Scriptures?

 

Scriptural references could be multiplied, but there is no need. It is quite clear that God wants man to experience Him in a personal way.

  What does God think of disobedient experiences?

 

One verse suffices to answer the question: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

 

Disobedience, no matter how great the experiences, is not an option in the kingdom of God. Jesus then continues, making it clearer yet:

 

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

 

If there were ever a people who could claim great experiences, the people referred to in these verses would have it. Yet, they will hear those fateful words on the final judgment day: “Depart from me.”

 

Why? The reason is clear: “work iniquity.”

 

Disobedience is absolutely incompatible with the kingdom of God.

 

Period.

  Christian Newcomer

 

At this point in our story we will introduce another contemporary of Martin Boehm: Christian Newcomer. Christian was a fellow descendant of the Swiss Brethren immigrants. He, too, had an experience similar to Martin’s. Among other things, his terror of death was made real when a peach stone became lodged in his throat while plowing one day. Feeling himself to be dying, he suddenly got the idea (from God, he felt later) that he should throw himself against a tree about 30 yards away. Using the last of his fading energy, he ran to it and “bounced his shoulders” against it—and out came the stone! He immediately determined to “seek the salvation” of his soul.

 

He describes the events that followed with these words:

 

Sometime thereafter, a very heavy tempest arose one evening in the western horizon; presently the whole canopy of Heaven was a black darkness. Tremendous thunder following, clap after clap, and the forked lightning illuminated the objects around me, making darkness visible. This, said I to myself, is perhaps the day of Judgment, of which I have lately dreamed. O! what anguish, fear, and terror took possession of my heart. I walked from room to room, tried to read and to pray, all to no purpose. Fear of hell had seized on me, the cords of death had wound about me. I felt as if wholly forsaken, nor did I know which way to turn. All my prayers committed to memory would not avail.

 

“O! Eternity! Eternity,” I exclaimed, “which way shall I fly?”

 

The passage of the door of the house stood open wide. I saw the rain pouring down, the lightning blaze, and heard the thunders roar. I ran, or rather reeled out of the house into the yard a few paces, to the garden fence, and sunk on my knees, determined to give myself wholly and without reserve to Jesus the Savior and Redeemer of mankind, submitting to His will and His will alone.

 

Having in this manner humbled myself before my Lord and Master, unable to utter a word, a vivid flash of lightning darted across my eyes—at the same instant a clap of thunder. O! what a clap! As it ceased, the whole anguish of soul was removed. I did not know what had happened unto me. My heart felt glad, my soul was happy, my mouth filled with praises and thanksgiving to God for what He had done for me, a poor unworthy creature. I thought if ever a being in this world had cause to praise the Lord, I was that creature. For several nights, tears of gratitude and joy moistened my pillow, and I had many happy hours.

 

Christian continues his story, explaining that while he felt happy for a while, “gradually I lost this pleasing sensation” and “fear returned.” When he asked the Mennonist elder what to do, the reply was to be baptized and join the church and take communion. He wrote:

 

I took his friendly advice and did as he had counseled me to do; but all this did not restore to me the joyful sensation or inward comfort which I had lost. True, I was not accused, nor did any person even insinuate anything derogatory to my religion, but I knew and felt a deficiency of something within.

  Feeling saved

 

As we read Christian’s story, we see him seeking a definite feeling of salvation, an experience. And, he got just that … only to feel it slip away again.

 

Life went on for the seeking teenager. His father’s death left him in charge of his mother and the family farm. Soon after turning 21, he “entered with” Miss Elizabeth Baer “into a state of matrimony.” That same year, during the winter, he contracted measles, which made his throat swell dangerously shut. He wrote:

 

O! what unhappiness did I again experience, what a dreadful conviction did I again find myself in; the conviction of sin was more powerful and severe than ever—the burden thereof too heavy almost to be borne. … Heaven appeared to be as brass, wretchedness and distress had fallen heavily upon me … but I still continued to sue and cry for mercy.

 

When I had been for two days and three nights in this misery, I was reading to the best of my recollection about midnight, in Revelation 12:10-12. At the end of the latter clause of the 11th verse I made a pause, reflecting, “and they loved not their lives unto death.” Then reading again, “therefore rejoice ye heavens and ye that dwell in them.”

 

The same instant a something (call it conviction or give it what appellation you please) whispered to me, “This is to say all those who are in such a situation as yourself shall rejoice.” [parenthesis original]

 

In a moment the peace of God and pardon of my sins was manifested in my soul, and the spirit of God bore witness with my spirit, that God for Jesus’ sake had taken away the burden of my sins and shed abroad his love in my poor unworthy heart. O! thou glorious Being; how did my soul feel at the time? Only those who have felt and experienced the same grace will be able to understand or comprehend what I am about to say. Yes, gentle reader! If at that time I could have called a 1000 lives my own, I would have pledged them all, every one of them, to testify to the certainty of my acceptance with God: my joy or rather ecstasy was so great, that I was in some measure as one beside himself … I ran into the yard to give utterance to my feelings … [emphases mine.]

 

This experience was not his last. He again lost his good feelings for a while, blaming it later upon the fact that he was ashamed to testify publicly about what had happened. Christian then moved to Maryland, where he had another restoration of his former feelings, so much so that he had to leave his house so he could exclaim aloud—in the middle of the night—his joy.

 

Then he returned to Pennsylvania for a visit. Here he finally found the courage to tell of his experiences when the service was opened at the end for testimony. Recounting his experiences, he touched the Mennonist congregation. He wrote:

 

… every person present was sensibly touched—all shed tears as well as myself. And I have no doubt many were convinced that a form of religion, whose habitation is only in the head, and is not felt in the heart, is insufficient unto salvation.

  Experiences that lead to … where?

 

Did you catch Christian’s concern? “Only in the head …” He, like most people, want to experience God. Just knowing about Him in the head and obeying His ordinances like a robot is simply nauseating to God … and to man, if man would but admit it.

 

But …

 

Where did Christian Newcomer’s and Martin Boehm’s experiences lead them? The Mennonists of their time did not have a problem with people experiencing God. What they did have a problem with was when these same men began to base their fellowship on a common experience, rather than a common obedience.

 

Martin and Christian were some of the leading men in the United Brethren in Christ Church. That denomination made, in its early years, the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ other practical teachings a test of membership. But … they also freely mingled with other churches, like the Methodists, who did NOT make obedience to Jesus’ teachings mandatory.

 

It was too much for the Mennonists. They felt obligated to break fellowship with people who would not make obedience (as a test of fellowship) mandatory. The mindset of the Swiss Brethren was more that a born-again experience was necessary to change a person’s heart and actions, whereas the mindset of American revivalism was more that a “new birth” gave a person a feeling of assurance.

 

There is quite a difference in those outlooks. Ponder them well.

  The fallout

 

The United Brethren in Christ and the Methodist Episcopal Church worked toward a union for several years. Documents still exist with Martin Boehm’s and Christian Newcomer’s signatures that show both men as actively engaged in the union effort. Things were coming together … old bishop Asbury was encouraging the effort to unite from the Methodist side. He, too, was nonresistant and opposed to oath swearing, just as were both Boehm and Newcomer in their personal views. However, the proposed union made no mention of making obedience to the Sermon on the Mount a requirement for fellowship in the merger.

 

When Asbury died, the negotiations between the two denominations came to a screeching halt; one of the Methodist bishops after Asbury decided that the only option for a union was for all the United Brethren to officially become Methodists. The United Brethren could not accept that, for whatever reason, even though up until that time they were sharing pulpits and communion freely (as well as ordinations—Methodist William Ryland helped ordain Newcomer). So the two movements parted ways until 1968 rolled around, when they officially joined together to form what is now The United Methodist Church.

 

Martin Boehm suffered the tragic loss of a big part of his family to an outbreak of disease. But his son Henry “made up for the loss” by living to be 100 years old, a fervent Methodist all the way. He had been chosen as a traveling assistant with Bishop Asbury for several years, then served in the ministry of the Methodist church until his death in 1875. But even though the Methodists lost virtually all their nonresistance in the Civil War, Henry stayed right with them. Somehow experience had forgotten to obey Jesus’ command to love our enemies.

 

What a sad place for a Swiss Brethren descendant to end up at: allowing his “brothers” to shoot each other.

  The third option

 

Thankfully, there is another way. We do not have to choose between cold obedience and exciting disobedience. In Newcomer’s and Boehm’s day, there was a very viable third option. Why they did not choose it, no one knows.

 

The people of the third option probably attended Martin Boehm’s first “Great Meetings.” They may have even helped him preach at some of them. They sympathized with Martin’s desire for a fellowship that would not tolerate cold formality and preach ordinances as a balm to people who did not love the Lord with all their heart.

 

But they also sympathized with the Mennonists who would not tolerate preachers that took communion with people who swore oaths and participated in war.

 

They called the people of this third option “the River Brethren.”

  Marrying experience and obedience

 

Experience with God was never meant to be divorced from obedience. But it happened in 18th-century Lancaster County. It actually was happening before then and ever since then.

 

The problem with (some of) the experiences of people that Martin Boehm fellowshipped with was that they were false experiences, false conversions. True new-birth experiences always—let me repeat always—lead people to a deeper obedience to Christ.

 

The problem with (some of) the Mennonist obedience was that it was a dead obedience, a mere formality. And it stank in God’s nostrils, probably about as bad as plain old disobedience. True obedience always draws the human heart closer to God, into a relationship with Him.

 

Never, I repeat, never, never, never divorce obedience from experience in Christianity! When they are divorced, you end up with people who claim obedience, but have hardly a word to say when it comes to sharing Christ with others. Or, you end up with bubbly, excited “believers” who will next pick up a gun and shoot the other bubbly, excited “believers” on the other side of the war front, who may well be a member of the same denomination.

  Two examples

 

I think of two examples that I have seen in my day that illustrate the error of divorcing obedience from experience.

 

Example 1: A young couple grew up in an Old Order Amish church. To be sure, many people in those churches represent a cold obedience: doing many right things, but not knowing, or even caring, why. This young couple then claimed to have a “born-again” experience and wanted out of the Old Order Amish. They wanted to be somewhere where people experienced God.

 

So out they came. But within weeks, literally, they had ditched their Plain clothes. She came to church wearing a bright yellow dress, bright enough to make a canary jealous as one might say. He came in his T-shirt and blue jeans.

 

My heart sank. “Born again and conforming so rapidly to the ways of the world?” I asked myself. A year or so later I saw a picture of these two. I didn’t know them. “You remember that couple that left the Amish a while back?” someone prodded my memory. “Oh, yeah …” The girl had no covering, and the young man was dressed in the fashion of the day.

 

Experiences that lead to disobedience are false experiences. Period.

 

Example 2: A lady joined a church that expected obedience to the clear teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. She came from an Evangelical background where such obedience is optional, or even called “legalism.” So here she came: long hair and covered head, modest dress, baptism upon confession of faith, communion, feetwashing, etc. She was obeying the teachings of Jesus in those areas.

 

But what else came with her? An attitude. “We all knew she was mouthy from the day she came,” her minister said of her later.

 

Unfortunately, her obedience was a farce. An unconverted heart lay underneath those formal obediences. What does a covered head mean on a “mouthy” lady? A submissive, meek and quiet spirit?

 

Her heart condition eventually revealed itself later on, and she reverted to her former ways. The last I saw her she had her long hair cut off and was wearing pants and jewelry … and her mouth still functioned. But for a time she had lived in obedience to many of the teachings of Jesus, without a true regeneration of her spirit. However, not everyone who has a formal, cold obedience reverts to open carnality. Some people can live their whole life in a moral, dry formality. Remember: robots can keep ordinances.

  Back to the River Brethren

 

The so-called “River Brethren” were given that name due to the close proximity of the original members to the Susquehanna River. A good part of the early membership came from Swiss Brethren immigrants. But instead of ditching the Mennonist requirement for obedience, they simply recognized that obedience without experience was sick at heart. And, they recognized, true experiences with God would lead to obedience. One of them wrote:

 

Those who are born into the kingdom of grace, and have been washed and cleansed by the blood of Christ, are born of God; and they will do the will of God. … The whole man will become changed within and without and become a new creature in Christ Jesus. … The people of God are a peculiar and separate people. They will come out from the world.

 

Notice the emphasis of the experience: a new character. Another River Brethren lady who had an experience tells what happened to her:

 

I felt as though I was in another world … old things had passed away and all things became new.

 

So far, it is all feeling … but let us continue reading her account …

 

I was now willing to be led by the Spirit. I was dressy before, now I wanted to be plain. When I began to change my dress, my friends turned against me.

 

Here we see the experience is leading her toward obedience,[5] not a mere feeling of assurance of salvation. This was what original Swiss Anabaptism would have promoted. She continues later, saying:

 

I looked around me and wondered whether there was no other way to get to heaven than this narrow path; but there was no other way for me.

 

The River Brethren did not promote experiences that were mere cheap-shod, hooly-hooping, emotional shindigs. Many of them spent long periods of time making restitution in areas where they had wronged fellow humans. One of them explained it this way:

 

It is impossible to exercise that faith that will draw the blessings of God upon us if we are at enmity with our fellowmen or hold what we dishonestly took from them, or live in any way in violation of God’s moral law. People have prayed and seemingly cried mightily unto the Lord for days, trying to substitute prayer for confession and faith for honesty. Confession and restoration were first in order, without which no further progress could be made. “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” No amount of praying, no amount of tears, can take the place of these “works meet for repentance.”

 

In recognition that a person can have a cold, legal obedience, another River Brethren person wrote:

 

… the Lord wants a clean and perfect heart. I fear that I have only the form which the Church upholds, or in other words, my heart does not accord with my outward appearance. I often wish that when I speak for the cause of Christ, I might speak such words that originate in the heart; for when the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, oh! what joy and happiness we can realize, …

  A microcosm of Christ’s kingdom

 

The details are sparse, but it seems that these “River Brethren” knew of and attended some of Martin Boehm’s early “Great Meetings.” They generally approved of the revival that was happening in those early days. But when comparing what their experiences were, and what the later Methodist experiences were, one gets a hint of different expectations.

 

Another big difference between Martin Boehm’s Methodism and the River Brethren was about what constituted the church. Author Carlton Wittlinger, writing about two centuries later, sums it up with these beautiful words:

 

The early [River] Brethren perceived the church to be the visible people of God, the community of born-again, obedient, disciplined, interdependent Christians in face-to-face fellowship. It was not a man-made institution created to produce either personal piety or the salvation of “souls,” nor was it the total invisible community of those who had been born again. Salvation, they believed, was not only personal, but corporate; the church as a visible community was to demonstrate the redemption of relationships; it should seek to be nothing less than an earthly microcosm of Christ’s Kingdom. (Wittlinger, 44)

 

In short, the church was not (as is too often thought) a place where people gather to encourage one another in their feelings of assurance and then go home for the week. The church was to be an earthly microcosm—a miniature model—of Christ’s kingdom working on earth! It was to be a place that revealed the “redemption of relationships”; a place where people actually live out brotherly love in a visible, tangible community of holy people. Well said, Carlton!

  Now it’s our turn

 

Have we divorced experience from obedience? It is certainly tempting to do so … to participate in the great debates that happen between those who have experiences, but disobey, and those who keep the ordinances, but are ice-hearted and formal. Those debates can be endless and are often fruitless.

 

Don’t get caught in that useless debate! True Christian experiences will lead one into a greater obedience, and true obedience will bring a closer, personal walk with the God of heaven.

 

If our obedience is not drawing us into loving Jesus like the “dove … the undefiled one … the only one of her mother” was admiring—and being admired of—her Lover in the Song of Songs, we had better ditch that obedience and find an obedience that is fiery, heartfelt, and meaningful!

 

And if our experience is causing us to move away from the simple teachings of the New Testament (nonresistance, separation from the world, holiness, plain dress, etc.), we had better ditch that experience and seek one that moves us to a stronger obedience.

 

Whatever you do, do not divorce—or try to balance—obedience and experience. They do not balance each other: they walk hand in hand! The more you get of one, the more you automatically get of the other! ~

Graphing it out …

Sometimes it helps to see things graphically. The following graphic was made to help us “see” the main points of the previous article. The positions of the mentioned churches are a snapshot as they were in the late 1700s and early 1800s (positions have changed since then). Later history shows that each group had its saints, and each had its share of rotten apples. This graph (and the previous article) is not given to “save” or “unsave” any person or denomination, but to help us grasp what was the basis of their fellowship.

 

 

United Brethren: Official teaching stated that members must practice nonresistance and other kingdom characteristics. But … they openly fellowshipped with others who did not follow these teachings, thus essentially making obedience unofficially optional.

 

Mennonists: While the church wanted members to experience God in a personal way, some of the membership appears to have had only a formal obedience to the ordinances. Thus personal experience became unofficially optional.

 

River Brethren: Strove for obedience to the kingdom mandates by personally experiencing Christ. No fellowship allowed with anyone who went to war.

 

Methodists: While Francis Asbury and most of the leadership of the early American Methodism refused to take arms or swear oaths (and personally desired that all Methodists follow their example), members were not disciplined by the church if they did take arms or swear, nor did official church doctrine demand nonresistance and nonswearing of oaths. Thus obedience to the Sermon on the Mount was officially optional.

 

As another exercise in pondering where we are and where we are headed, let’s look at a graph of four generations of the Boehm family (note that time and position of the changes are generalized, not exact):

 

 

All this has been written and graphed out to get each one of us to THINK about where we are, and where we are headed. Where are you and your family/congregation? Where will you and your family/congregation be 25 years from now?

  Bibliography of major sources

“Boehm and Otterbein | Church of the United Brethren.” Accessed December 14, 2012. http://ub.org/about/boehm-otterbein/.

Durnbaugh, Donald. Brethren in Colonial America: A Source Book on the Transplantation and Development of the Church of the Brethren in the Eighteenth Century. Edited by Donald Durnbaugh. 1st ed. Brethren Pr, 1967.

Lawrence, John. The History of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. W.J. Shuey, 1868.

Newcomer, Christian. The Life and Journal of the Rev’d Christian Newcomer, Late Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Printed by F. G. W. Kapp, 1834.

Ruth, John L. The Earth Is the Lord’s: A Narrative History of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference. Herald Press, 2001.

Spayth, Henry G., and William Hanby. History of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Conference Office of the United Brethren in Christ, 1851.

Wakely, J.B. The Patriarch of 100 Years; Being Reminiscences, Historical and Biographical, of Rev. Henry Boehm. New York: Nelson & Philips, 1875.

Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience – The Story of the Brethren in Christ. Evangel Publishing House, 1978.

 

[1] In this article I will use both names, to get ourselves used to the idea that the “Mennonites” of Lancaster County were for the most part descendents of the Swiss Brethren. It was during this era that their identity was being changed to “Mennonite.”

 

[2] Some sources indicate that they were descendants of the famous German mystic Jacob Boehme. If so, Martin would have been something like a great-grandson of Jacob. However, definite proof of this relationship seems to be lacking.

 

[3] Incidentally, this was the first denomination born on US soil.

 

[4] At least none are known of. That said, the Mennonists were friendly to the Conestogas and did give them food and shelter at times.

 

[5] This is, of course, only one area of obedience. There are many, many other areas. But unadorned dress is a big one for many ladies.

 

 

The foundation of your fellowship is …

… what?

 

Think about it, if you haven’t. Just what is the basis upon which you and/or your congregation form a fellowship, a brotherhood of believers?

 

In the story we are looking at, we see a “battle” between fellowship based upon experience and fellowship based upon obedience. There are many other possibilities: fellowship based upon theology, fellowship based around a person/personality, fellowship based upon a common goal (ex. foreign missions), fellowship based upon a common reaction (ex. anti-Catholicism).

 

Perhaps you are thinking, “My fellowship is based upon a person, the man Christ Jesus!” While that sounds good and looks good on paper, the bottom line is that people use that phrase all the time to mean one aspect of Christ or Christianity. It would do us all well to ponder just what our expectations are when we think of fellowship. Do we demand obedience? Do we expect a common theology? Are we united around a common zeal we may have? Are we gathered around a good preacher?

 

If a testimony of conversion is required to be a part of your congregation, what is expected in that testimony? If assurance of salvation is testified to, what is the basis of that assurance? An assurance based upon feeling received from an experience? (As in American revivalism.) Or an assurance based upon Christ living within, producing victory over sin? (As in early Anabaptism, and Psalm 41:11.)

 

The purpose of this article is to stir us to consider the foundation of our brotherhoods. Foundations make or break congregations!

 

 Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (January/February 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

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In:Anabaptists, Nonresistance & Nonparticipation, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin, The Church, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on Mennonite Nazis: A Lesson from History

By Dean Taylor

Suggested Resource: Pilgrims and Politics

 

Pulling into the local pretzel shop here in Lancaster County, the scene was pretty predictable. Buggies, horse ties, and old bicycles outside. Inside the old building, a plainly dressed, Old-Order Mennonite lady took my pretzel order. I paid and was about to head out to my car with my nice, warm bag of salted pretzels when I noticed two stacks of papers sitting on the counter. Looking closer I discovered, to my surprise, that these papers were actually voter registration forms and a “tract” explaining why voting for the conservative President was the only “Christian” choice.

 

Picking up the paper I asked the young lady, “So I didn’t know that conservative Anabaptists voted. When did this start?”

 

To this the Mennonite lady responded, “Well, it’s getting so bad that they are starting to.”

 

I answered back, “Historically it has never helped the church to get involved in politics.”

Election time

 

Yes, it’s election time again, and the headlines are full of statistics and touching stories, all proclaiming their different sides of the political arguments. Depending on which news source you read, it would be easy to believe that the other side is Satan himself. Conservative Evangelicals are putting up quite a stink over this election and unquestioningly preaching the idea that voting in this election is a moral obligation. The socialist agenda of the current administration is seen as a major threat to the conservative way of life, and therefore voting against the “Liberal-Socialist” agenda is seen as almost important as walking an aisle. The left is no better, and more than ever they have learned to use spiritual overtones and self-righteous-sounding arguments to justify their agendas.

 

But who would the Apostles vote for? In the early church, saying “Jesus is Lord” was actually a political statement. This phrase was in direct contradiction to the cry of Romans, “Caesar is Lord.” The closest equivalent to this sentiment in our day would be saying, “Jesus for president!” In the early church this was not mere sentimentality. After the death and resurrection of the Jesus, this motto became the early Christian battle cry.

What does that mean practically?

 

So what did saying “Jesus is Lord” mean practically? To the early Christians it meant a separation from the politics of Rome and a purposeful establishing of a new nation called “The Kingdom of God.” Throughout history, radical followers of Jesus have charted the same course.

 

What is the answer to the question “Who would the apostles vote for?” I believe that they would vote for Jesus. But to a statement like that some may be thinking, “That all sounds nice and spiritual, but isn’t it okay to simply recognize that Jesus is the “real King in your heart,” but to still go ahead and vote for others—just in case?” Others ask, “Isn’t it better to vote for the lesser evil?”

 

History has proven that for serious Christians with conviction, voting for the “lesser evil” is a bad idea. Whether we want to admit it or not, the facts of history cry out that when the church has thrown in their lot with the different “lesser evils” of their day, it has led to both the church and the state losing out.

 

Good causes

 

Throughout history when the politicians have vied for the attention of the church, their issues have appeared so justifiable—so important. The political activists have made it seem apathetic, un-American, and yes, even un-Christian not to get involved.

 

However, when the records of history are reviewed, it is amazing how the church’s entanglement with these seemingly “good causes” has littered the trail with casualties, often leading entire communities off course.

Mennonite Nazis

 

A painful example of good intentions turned really bad is the case of the Mennonite political involvement in Germany during WWII. In some respects I would rather forget this chapter of our Anabaptist history. However, I feel that if we are going to lift up the good things we have done, then we also need to be honest with our mistakes—and this was a big one! I believe that understanding these mistakes could help to keep us from making similar mistakes in the near future.

 

The Mennonite church in Holland, northern Germany, and Prussia[1] was one of the first to receive the gospel during the early years of the Anabaptist revivals of the 1500s. However, by the 1700s the materialistic slide of the Mennonites in Holland had its effects on Prussia as well. By the late 1700s, the Mennonites of northern Germany had enjoyed more connection with their conservative Protestant and Evangelical neighbors. Some of this had good result.[2] However, economic and societal pressures bit by bit diluted the German Mennonites—almost completely—into mainline society. By the time of the Franco-Prussian wars of the 1890s and WWI in the 1920s, many Mennonites were getting involved with politics, nationalism, and even starting to fight in wars.

After WWI

 

After WWI conditions were tough for all Germans—Mennonites included. The penalties placed on the German people by America and their allies crippled the economic stability of Germany. Farmers were hit particularly hard. Many farmers incurred large debts and were even forced to export their crops to support the surrounding countries hurt by the war.

 

The stock market crash of 1929 made a terrible situation even worse. Not only did it further crush the German economy, it also caused an uneasiness by revealing an unexpected weakness of western industry and capitalism. The ripple effect of this crash in the already-struggling post WWI Germany was devastating.

Could the two crosses be fused? Joseph Stalin and Marxism

 

Added to this economic pressure in the West, the Russian Revolution led by Joseph Stalin was wreaking havoc all over the East. Notably affected by this revolution were the German Mennonite Brethren in Russia. Stalin’s reign of terror was notorious. German Mennonites frequently heard stories of how the “Communists” were making matters in Russia unbearable. By this time, some of their Russian Mennonite brethren had enormous farms. These farms became sitting ducks to Stalin’s forced economic plans of state ownership. Naturally, anti-communist feelings were strong.

 

Everyone was looking for answers. But they were looking in the wrong place. Their Bibles apparently were no longer looked at as a blueprint. Some looked to Western ideas of democracy and capitalism; others looked to the East and wanted to try the new “Marxism.” Regardless, everyone longed for a new, bold nationalism that would restore their honor and protect what little wealth, freedom, and property they had left.

Major compromise

 

At this point a zealous, strong-handed political conservative by the name Adolf Hitler came to the scene. Hitler promised a unification of the German people, protection against the Communists, and a list of new “economic stimulus packages.” All these ideas promised Christian morality and prosperity for all good Germans. Some had cautions about Hitler’s intensity. But when it became election time, it was the “issues” that people voted for … and Adolf Hitler had the political cure of the day. It should always be remembered that Hitler was voted in by a fair democratic election process. Many liberals preferred the Communists. But the conservative Evangelicals, along with the German Mennonites, gave their vote for the new guy with the little mustache … complete with their new motto, “Heil Hitler.”[3]

The new plan

 

As part of a new “stimulus package,” in 1933 Hitler canceled all farming debts and reformed trade relations to benefit the German farmers. These changes actually made the German farmers part of the privileged class. Communist supporters were hauled off to concentration camps and many of the territories taken from Germany after WWI were quickly given back by rapid military actions. Germans were thrilled with these changes. When Austria fell to the marching armies, Germans were electrified. The Protestants were so happy that they even took down the cross that rested over the very castle where Martin Luther had translated the Bible, and put up a Swastika in its place.[4]

What was the spiritual cost?

 

What was the effect of Nazi nationalism on the Mennonites? Historically, the Mennonites had a heritage of separation from worldly politics. Could they get involved in politics and still stand against this new mindset? In a word—no.

 

Sadly, the Mennonites of Germany joined in with the jubilant nationalistic feelings that were spreading. As a matter of record, the German Mennonites were so happy with their new Führer[5] that they wanted to express their official gratitude to him. In a telegram written September 10, 1933, the sentiments of a church council that had just taken place were expressed:

To Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Berlin:

The Conference of East and West Prussian Mennonites, assembled today in Tiegenhagen, Free State of Danzig, feels deep gratitude for the powerful revival that God has given our nation through your energy, and promises joyful cooperation in the upbuilding of our Fatherland through the power of the Gospel, faithful to the motto of our forefathers: No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.”[6] (Emphasis and italics mine.)

I’m sure Hitler didn’t take time to answer every telegram that he received, but this one he replied to personally:

For your loyalty and your readiness to cooperate in the upbuilding of the German nation, expressed in your letter to me, I express my sincere thanks. —Adolf Hitler

Yikes!

 

Now to the defense of these German Mennonites, we have to remember that the atrocities that Hitler committed were not completely known at this time. On the other hand, there is a very important lesson to learn from just that point. When the church gives its support and affirmation to the ways of this world, when the church condones “lesser evil,” it finds itself praising an antichrist.

Quick seduction

 

Caught up in the feeling of the day, in 1933 the United (Vereinigung) Mennonites stopped asking for special treatment as conscientious objectors from war. In 1934 “nonresistance” was removed from the Mennonite confession of faith.

 

In 1939 when the German armies took over Prussia bringing the Mennonites of Danzig to be united with the rest of Germany, the Mennonites saw it as an act of God. Emil Händiges, of the United (Vereinigung) Mennonites wrote:

Our German peoples have endured unspeakable difficulties under the Polish yoke during its twenty year foreign rule. The most difficult at the end. Then God, the Lord, helped them through the hand of our Führer and freed them. We thank our Führer for this act of liberation.[7]

 

Mennonite and conservative Evangelical journals praised these military conquests by the German soldiers. These journals frequently quoted from the Prophets and the book of Revelation, showing Germany’s place as “God’s people” in prophecy.[8]

Nazi belt buckle, emblazoned with the words “God with us.” Gott mit Uns

 

Today it is easier to think of these German soldiers as committed pagans and monsters. “After all,” we tell ourselves, “how else could they have conducted all of those terrible deeds?” The sober truth is that most of those German soldiers claimed to be Christians. Astonishingly, the belt buckle worn by all of these so-called “Christian” Nazi soldiers boldly proclaimed, “Gott mit Uns.”[9]

 

By 1940 the subtle influence of this political leaven had almost completely taken over the German Mennonites. Issuing a proclamation representing the political posture of the Mennonite Union during this time, the United Mennonite church wrote: “The Conference will not do anything that would even have the faintest appearance of opposing the policies of our leader (Führer).”

 

Reading this stuff, I had to ask, “Could this still be called Anabaptist?” I don’t personally think so. But more importantly, can they be called followers of Jesus? These changes were a pretty far cry from the decree of separation from the world and shunning of earthly government that was espoused by the early Anabaptists in the words of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. It is obvious that their original convictions had grown stale.

Fresh faith

 

During this time of compromise, there were small groups of first-generation Anabaptists on the scene. A first-generation Hutterite group led by Eberhard Arnold[10] was just becoming organized during this time period. Enthusiastically embracing the foundational ideas of Anabaptism, they were dismayed over the posture of their Mennonite spiritual cousins.

 

When the Nazi authorities found out about these new Anabaptists, they became alarmed. The Hutterites’ radical theological and, particularly, their strong economic stance was more than the Nazis would stand for. But because of their radical stance, the loosening Mennonites were getting heat for also being called “Anabaptist.” When the authorities asked the politically-friendly Mennonites if they were associated with the new Hutterite group, the Mennonites didn’t exactly stand up for them. In a united effort of both the northern and southern Mennonites, an official disclaimer stated: “The Hutterites belonged neither to the Vereinigung (Union) of German Mennonite Churches, nor to any other organization within our Free German Mennonite Church.”[11]

 

It wasn’t long until this new Hutterite community was raided. Fortunately, most of them made it out of the country, and the new group ended up as refugees in England. When England, the US, and Canada would not let the new group settle in their countries, the American Mennonites came to their rescue through the help of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The MCC helped the Hutterites immigrate to Paraguay, conveniently close to a group of Colony Mennonites that the MCC was already helping.

More Mennonite Nazis!?

 

However, just when the Hutterites thought they were far, far away from the dreadful politics of their homeland, they discovered that thousands of miles away, virtually in the “middle of nowhere,” these South American Mennonites were also indoctrinated with Nazi politics!

 

The Mennonites there in Paraguay were living in terrible conditions and they spoke frequently to the Mennonites of Germany. Many felt that if Germany defeated Russia, then the Colony Mennonites would have a chance to leave South America and come live in Germany.[12]

 

Like their brethren in Germany, the Mennonites of Paraguay had also had council meetings to discuss the advantages of Nazi politics. After their church council, they also blessed the Nazi government and saw the Nazis as the political party that was upholding conservative Christian values. After the conference, the Colony Mennonites of Paraguay wrote:

With greatest excitement we German Mennonites of the Paraguayan Chaco[13] follow the events in our beloved Motherland and experience in spirit the national revolution of the German people. We are happy that in Germany, after a long time, a government that freely and openly professes God as Creator stands at the head of the nation … With special sympathy we hear that the current government takes seriously the realization of Christian principles in social, economic, and cultural life and especially emphasizes the protection of the family.[14] (Emphasis mine.)

One youth leader writing home to Paraguay, while studying in Germany, wrote: “If one lives through such weeks in Germany, one is drawn involuntarily under the spell of the Führer and can do nothing else than confess oneself a National Socialist.”[15]

 

The new Hutterites were disappointed. The living conditions of Paraguay were horrible indeed, but they felt that the freedom of worship was worth the cost. Emmy Arnold once wrote in a letter, “Better hookworm, than hooked cross (swastika).”

 

Responding to the lack of education and deplorable living conditions of the Colony Mennonites, the Hutterites quickly went to work trying to educate and offer social aid to the different Mennonite groups. Holding preaching services and hymn sings, some repentance progress was made. However, it was still a hard, upward fight. On one occasion, when the Hutterites came into a church building that the Mennonites had generously opened for them to worship in, the Hutterites were met with a framed picture of Adolf Hitler. The picture was front and center … right over the communion table![16]

The war ends

 

We know how part of the war story ended. Germany lost the war, Hitler committed suicide, and soon all the atrocities of the Nazi party were being broadcast to the world. The Mennonites as well as conservative Protestant, Catholic, and Evangelical groups repented of their support of this antichrist. Mennonite leaders even repented publically.[17] The Mennonites of South America followed suit, and eventually the political answers of the little German Führer were vehemently discarded.

 

Yet, somehow, something was lost by this pandemic compromise. I believe that something was particularly lost from the Mennonites. Compromise of this magnitude from mainline Protestants and Catholics was one thing … the world was somewhat used to seeing that. But when even the “radical Christians” were seen bending their knee to this evil, then something deep was lost.

 

The German church that emerged out of WWII Germany was anemic. Secularism has claimed the day, and today radical Christianity is virtually unheard of there.

How did this happen to the Mennonites?

 

When I lived in Germany 20 years ago, I was a new convert to many of these Anabaptist ideas like nonresistance and separation from worldly politics. Walking into a Mennonite church there, I noticed on the walls the war memorials of Mennonites who had fought in the war. My guide was a man in his seventies who remembered the war period well. I asked him, “How did this happen? How did the Mennonites get swept up into all of this Nazi nationalism?”

 

He somberly told me, “It came over us like a revival.”

 

That was an impressive answer, and I am sure that at the end it did indeed come on them like that. But was it completely unexpected? I now think that the compromise was more insidious than the Mennonites were aware of. As the years go by and I watch the way modern conservative Mennonites respond to politics, I can somewhat understand how this could happen again. I now think that instead of being a sudden change, it rather happened because of a long time of slow compromise. James Peter Regier says it well in the conclusion of his excellent essay on this historic time period of Mennonite history:

It seems then, that the biggest flaw of the Mennonites was not any immediate error. Instead, it was the natural consequence of years of gradual theological adaptations and compromises to better fit within the German community. When National Socialism came, the Mennonites no longer had the capacity to resist.[18]

Have we learned our lesson?

 

Have we learned our lesson? Have we learned that trusting in “good” political strategies is a really bad idea? The Mennonite lady at the pretzel bakery said that things are getting so bad that Mennonites simply have to start getting involved in politics.

 

I disagree.

 

It is exactly because the world is getting so bad that it is time to leave the failed solutions of the world and to start showing a model to the world of what the world would look like if we all would simply follow the teachings of Jesus.

So is voting a sin?

 

As we have seen, the issue is a subtle one. On the one hand, it seems so innocent. We might ask, “So what’s wrong with just telling someone who our choice would be for President?” That may seem innocent enough, but perhaps it is just this type of subtlety that warranted Jesus casting this rebuke: “Beware of the leaven of Herod.” Akin to the insidious pathos of pharisaical thinking, Jesus warned that the infection of “worldly political thinking” can grow in us, leading to our eventual spiritual destruction.

 

Jesus’ use of the metaphor “leaven” in this context is sobering. This word picture brings to mind the way we use leaven (today called yeast) in cooking. The small amount of yeast necessary to make a loaf of bread rise starts out seemingly innocuous and insignificant. However, once added to the dough, it is not long before that small bit of yeast affects the entire loaf, often swelling it to two or three times its original size. It happened to the Mennonites in Germany during WWII, and it can easily happen today if we look to worldly politics for our answers.

 

How is it with us today—in what way do we apply Jesus’ warning to “beware of the leaven of Herod?” Have we learned our lesson from history? We must learn from history that the world never has, and never will, come up with a lasting ultimate solution to their problems. Their shortsighted cures will always lack the clarity to see the root causes of their disease. As Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 

If through this political season you have felt yourself infatuated with the agenda of worldly solutions, then please accept this lesson from the Mennonite Nazis and repent before you find yourself venerating the devil himself!

 

[1] Prussia covered basically (in varying degrees during history) what is now northern Poland and parts of northeastern Germany.

[2] For example, the Mennonites of Danzig shared a formal relationship with the Moravians of Herrnhut, who were only a few hundred kilometers away. When these Mennonites made their way to Russia, a large revival followed.

[3] This salute is often translated as “Hail, Hitler.” However, the German word “Heil” can also have connotations of “salvation” or “healing.” Thus the salute could have been used in the sense of seeing Hitler as a savior or healer of the German nation.

[4] Metaxas, Eric. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Thomas Nelson, 2010. 308.

[5] Führer means “leader.”

[6] Hans-Jürgen Goertz, “Nationale Erhebung und Religiöser Niedergang,” Mennonitsche Geschichtsblätter 31 (1974): 64. Quoted in: Mennonite Life, Mennonitische Vergangenheitsbewältigung: Prussian Mennonites, the Third Reich, and Coming to Terms with a Difficult Past, James Peter Regier, March 2004. http://www.bethelks.edu/mennonitelife/2004Mar/regier.php (Without Regier’s article, my article would not have been possible.)

[7] Emil Händiges, “Vereinigung der Deutschen Mennonitengemeinden: Eine Notwendige Berichtigung,” Mennonitische Blätter 81, No. 6 (June 1934): 6.

[8] Steven Mark Schroeder, “Prussian Mennonites in the Third Reich and Beyond: The Uneasy Synthesis of National and Religious Myths” (Master’s Thesis: University of British Columbia, 2001), 26.

[9] God with us.

[10] This group later became known as “The Bruderhof.”

[11] Schroeder, “Prussian Mennonites,” 18.

[12] Emmy Barth. No Lasting Home: A Year in the Paraguayan Wilderness. Plough Publishing House, 2009, 39-48. Available online at: http://cdn.plough.com/~/media/Files/Plough/ebooks/pdfs/n/nolastinghomeEN.pdf

[13] The Chaco is the semi-arid area of western Paraguay, a veritable wilderness now turned into productive crop and grazing lands by the industrious Mennonites.

[14] John D. Thiesen. Mennonite & Nazi?: Attitudes among Mennonite Colonists in Latin America, 1933–1945 (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 1999), 73.

[15] Barth, “No Lasting Home,” 40.

[16] See picture this page. From Mennonite Church USA Archives in North Newton, Kansas.

[17] “Emil Händiges offered his public repentance at the Fourth Mennonite World Conference in 1948. Referring to such Anabaptist and Mennonite founders as Conrad Grebel, Thomas Müntzer, and Menno Simons, Händiges recalled that the movement had, among other things, been founded on a teaching of nonresistance.” (Quoted from: Regier, Mennonitische Vergangenheitsbewältigung.)

[18] Regier, Mennonitische Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

 

 

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (November/December 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

 

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Church and State

 

Pilgrims and Politics

By Martin Weninger

 

Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Martin Weninger “Lingky,” a Swiss Brethren Anabaptist leader, explaining to the (Reformed) state church why the Anabaptists could not fellowship with the state church. The basic answer – that the state churches did not require following Christ in holiness in accord with His Word, but rather allowed every kind of sin and vice to go unpunished – was a standard answer across many types of Anabaptists all across Europe. In the case of the Swiss Reformed churches, the state church leaders confessed that the charges were true and (at least in the canton of Bern) tried repeatedly to reform the populace – apparently without much success.

  Weninger’s tract is an excellent apologetic for a holy church and a holy Christian life, following the commands of Jesus and the Apostles. It is an excellent apologetic for avoiding those teachers who would discount the need for holiness and obedience. Even if they have some good things to say, if they do not require holiness and obedience, we are not to listen to them! Of course, neither the Scriptures nor the early Anabaptists (Weninger included) believed in the possibility of sinless perfection on earth, but it is still a fact that Christians are “dead to sins, [that we] should live unto righteousness” (I Peter 2:24).

  It is sad but true that the historical record reveals that in 1538, Weninger recanted his faith. Whether he repented afterwards and rejoined the persecuted Swiss Brethren church or not is not known. “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13).

 

  This English version of Weninger’s tract was translated by John C. Wenger and was originally published in the July 1948 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review. We gratefully acknowledge the permission of the Mennonite Historical Society to use it.—AVS.

 

The Text

 

The knowledge of and obedience to the will of God, that righteousness which springs from faith in Christ and also results in works (Phil. 1, 3, Titus 3, Heb. 11, James 2) wish I, Martin Weninger, called Lingky, to all those who seek to worship God in the spirit, with their hearts in the truth, and to serve Him with words and works unto His praise in Christ, Amen (Col. 3, I Cor. 10).

  I have been admonished by Brother Galle Hafner to prepare a vindication respecting the church attendance of the children of the world who walk in the uncleanness of impure lusts like other heathen (I Thes. 4, I Pet. 1 and 4). This I am inclined to do, to show to everyone who asketh the reason of the hope which is in me.

  Christ commands us to guard ourselves from the mixed teaching of the Pharisees and the befuddled expositors who pose as teachers of the Scripture but know not what they set forth or say (Matt. 16, I Tim. 1) and teach what is not profitable—just as the teaching of the priests does not profit—for base gain. Tit. 1: [They are] lazy bellies which may not produce works, all with deceitful minds, just like our priests. David says, They teach only sins, and glory in their pride and speak vain contradictions (Ps. 59), just as our priests also do now, teaching sins and hardening [people] in sins with their frivolous teaching, as it stands in Ezekiel 13 and Jeremiah 23. They minimize to the people the shadow of the wantonness of their life of sin (Jer. 8, 6, II Pet. 2), saying peace when there is no peace and promising freedom to those who ridicule God with their doings and walk after the lust and desire of their evil heart (Jer. 23, II Pet. 2), and they themselves are servants of corruption and sin (Rom. 6, John 8). They are called the Christians, even pious Christians and Brethren, who walk in darkness and have no fellowship with the light of Christ (I John 1), and whom the apostle of God calls children of the devil, as he says: He who does the right is of God and has the new birth of the Spirit, but he who does not do the right, but commits sin, is of the devil and not of God, because sin is also not of God. He has never known God and will also not see Him (I John 2, 3, 5 and III John 1). He who transgresses the teaching of Christ has no God (II John 1), and all his piety will no longer have any significance (Ezek. 18, 33, James 2).

  By such evident witness it is now clear that the doctrine of the priests is not of God, and that it does not correspond with the doctrine of Christ and the apostles. Furthermore it is no wonder that such false apostles and deceptive workers pose as apostles of Christ, because the god and prince of this world himself (II Cor. 4, John 12, 14, Eph. 2), the devil, poses as an angel of light. It is no wonder that his servants also, who draw the wanton people to themselves (II Pet. 2, Jer. 23) and harden them in sin so that they so much the less repent (Ezek. 13) and live, pose as preachers of light, whose end will be according to their works (II Cor. 11).

  Now when such hirelings, shepherds who have bargained for a definite wage, see the wolf coming they flee and do not lay down their lives for the sake of the sheep (John 10). Such shepherds the little sheep of Christ will not hear. But the foolishness of such shepherds who are come as from Christ whether [or not] He sent them, will be manifested to many people in the Free Territories [of Aargau], moved as they are by a seditious, blood-thirsty spirit which brought destruction in the rebellion of Korah, etc. Also many Zwinglian priests have turned back to the pope in Turgau, disregarding how it went with those for whom they had promised to stake their lives, and having been found to be liars (Apoc. 2). He who had not wished to recognize this must now see that it is true.

  They teach contrary to Paul (Rom. 6) that one cannot be free of sin and live in righteousness: “One must sin to the grave; no one can keep the commandments of God” (I John 3, 5) which is not true. The apostle of God testifies, Christ bore our sins on His back that we might be without sin and live in righteousness. How can the priests dare to say that no one can do the right and not live without sin? (John 1, I Pet. 2, 3): Christ took away our sin and undid the work of the devil. The work of the devil which Christ undid was sin, the sin of death, the death of damnation: as Paul testifies in Hebrews 2 that Christ took away the power of the devil, who had the power of eternal death, so that He might deliver us who all our life had been in fear of death and in bondage to slavery, that is, sin: as it stands in Titus 2: He delivered us from all kinds of unrighteousness. How would He have delivered us from the power and imprisonment of the devil if we lived in sin to the devil and had not received power, grace for grace, to oppose the devil by the firm faith of Christ? We who seek to be justified through Him, if we yet lived in sin, what would we have from Christ? (Gal. 2) For He broke the bond and led captivity captive and gave gifts to the people, and we are released (Psalm 124, II Tim. 2, Eph. 4). Sinners will not stand in the judgment of God nor remain in the congregation of the righteous (Psalm 1, 5). Sinners will be destroyed with one another and be wiped out (Psalm 37, I Cor. 6, II Pet. 2, Matt. 7, 13, Luke 13).

  Therefore beware of the fickle man and the sinner who walks in two streets (Eccl. 2, Luke 16), and beware of him who is bound by and entangled in sin, for at the last he will be taken and burned in the fire (IV Esdr. 16, John 15). Now observe how the poor priests weaken the passion of Christ and employ it for lasciviousness and a cloak of wickedness (I Pet. 2, Jude 1). Peter says: As those who are free and yet not using the freedom for evil. As also Paul admonishes (Gal. 5): Stand fast in your freedom and cast it not from you for its reward is great (Heb. 10). As Jesus Christ has set you free do not allow yourselves to be joined to the servile yoke. For where the Spirit of Christ is there is freedom, and the body is dead for the sake of sin (Rom. 8, II Cor. 3). He who hath not the Spirit is not of Christ (Rom. 8). For those who are Christ’s have crucified their flesh and destroyed their evil desires by desisting from the lusts of error (Gal. 5, Eph. 4). Therefore as the kingdom of Christ is internal (Luke 17), firmly within us, we have grace to do God’s will and service, and to please Him with discipline and fear (Heb. 12, Ezek. 36, I John 5). Since therefore we are under grace sin cannot reign in our mortal body (Rom. 6). For this reason did Christ die for all, that all who live should not live unto themselves, nor in their lusts, but unto Him who died for us and rose [from the dead] (I Cor. 6, II Cor. 5, I Thes. 5). We do not shun the light. For whoever is of God hears God’s Word (John 8, 18, I John 4). The priests wander and are not in the light for their works are evil (John 3, 7, 8). For there is no darkness in the light (II Cor. 6). It also has no fellowship with the darkness. Those who teach others and do it not themselves, from them the wrath of God will not long be withheld (Rom. 2, Matt. 7, Luke 6, Psalm 50). “Lord, we have preached….” But He will profess to them: “I know you not. Ye have done evil (Matt. 7). Depart from me.” Christ calls those His brethren who hear God’s Word and do the will of His Father.

  Dear one, How many are now Christ’s brethren who do God’s will? Therefore your fellowship is not a brotherhood of Christ. For you have as brethren: adulterers, heavy-drinkers, blasphemers, misers, usurers, dancers, carnival [masqueraders], alley ruffians: without a ban to make any difference, whether a person do evil or good. Dear one, Why? For this reason, that the priests who ought to discipline the people are themselves just like the people (Hosea 4). Therefore Paul teaches and admonishes us to keep clear of such people (II Tim. 2). For we may not be in the devil’s fellowship (I Cor. 10). The devil has fellowship with those who obey him in sin. But from those who withstand him he flees (James 4, I Pet. 5). David says, I dwell not with the wanton people, and have not fellowship with the hypocrites, and hate the assembly of the wicked (Psalm 26).

  Now since they do not preach the doctrine of Christ, and consent not to the saving words of the doctrine of godliness, Paul teaches us to shun them (I Tim. 6, Rom. 16). For they could pervert the faith of many, like Philetus and Hymenaeus, of whom Paul teaches us to keep clear (II Tim. 2). He who brings not the doctrine of Christ, receive him not into your house and greet him not (II John 1). He who greets him has fellowship with his evil works. How should I follow him into a temple or to other places? If he would follow me, I should have nothing to do with him so as not to have part in his evil works. A teacher [minister] shall be an example of the flock in love, faith, purity and good works, and care for the sheep (John 10, I Tim. 4, 3, II Tim. 1, Tit. 2, I Pet. 5, Matt. 5). This is completely lacking among them, as the Scripture testifies. Who would regard those as God’s apostles who lack the witness of an apostle? Now it is evident that the priests have neither the doctrine nor manner of life of apostles; yet they say they are apostles and that the Lord is among them.

  They call the Gospel a burden which no one can keep, contrary to the word of Jeremiah 23: Thou shalt not call my Word a burden. For Christ says (Matt. 11): My yoke is sweet; my burden light. John testifies, His commandments are not severe (I [John] 5). And we keep His commandments, and do what is pleasing before Him (I John 3). It is He who hath made us acceptable, and worketh in us both to will and to accomplish [it] (II Cor. 5, 3, Phil. 2, Ezek. 36). He hath created and prepared us unto good [works] that we should walk therein (Eph. 2). Therefore the might and all the glory belong to God alone (II Cor. 4, Dan. 9). Christ teaches that we should guard ourselves from those of this world who lead astray, for if it were possible they would lead astray even the elect (Matt. 24, II Pet. 3). Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, not from men nor through men but sent of God alone (Gal. 1). The rulers of the world have chosen the priests and commissioned them for a specified wage. Therefore it is of the world, and the [world] heareth them (I John 4). Thereby is fulfilled that which Paul prophesied (II Tim. 4): They will choose teachers for themselves who will tickle their ears, and [they will] not hear the truth, the saving doctrine of Christ, as also now the sect of the Nazarenes is everywhere spoken against (Acts 24, 28). John says, He who saith that he hath fellowship with Christ, and walketh in darkness, that is, in sin (Eph. 5), doth lie and speaketh not the truth. Therefore the priests tickle their ears with lies, in that they attribute to them the name and fellowship of Christ while they nevertheless still walk in darkness. And Paul testifies that He is become the Cause of salvation for those who obey His will in His death or suffering (Heb. 5, I Thes. 5).

  Those who hold fast to the beginning of the nature of Christ (as He then has imparted His nature in those things, for those who are God’s, from youth to the end of life), [it is] they [who] partake of Christ (Heb. 3). Therefore Christ says, He that endureth unto the end (Matt. 10) shall be saved. But not by doing wrong, but by doing right, as it stands in Ezekiel 18. But those who persevere in wrongdoing until the end Christ calls false Christians and false apostles who lead many astray (Matt. 24). As Paul also testifies: Evil men and those who lead [men] astray shall wax worse and worse, leading astray and allowing themselves to be led astray (II Tim. 3). It is true that they say they know God, and [yet] they are disobedient and an abomination before God and unfitted for all good works (Tit. 1, I John 1, 2). These are they who love the sensual pleasures of temporal life more than God, and have no love for the good, and have the appearance of a godly manner of life but deny its power (II Tim. 3). Paul admonishes us to turn away from such a spurious faith. Concerning separation read II Corinthians 6, Apocalypse 18, Acts 19, Ephesians 5, II Timothy 2, I Peter 4, John 15. One is to separate oneself from their evil works, and not from the world, in so far as one may keep oneself unspotted from them (I Cor. 5, James 1, II Pet. 1, 4, Eph. 4). The preaching of the priests is also an unfruitful work, when they give testimony from the pulpit; [their] preaching does not help; people are getting worse and worse; no one is improving. And the testimony is true, also of the priests, that the wrong is getting the upper hand (Matt. 24). As the Lord said of the time of Lot and of Noah, so it is in [our] country; let Him come when He will.

  Now you have testimony that the priests, and Christ and His apostles, do not have one doctrine. For the priests speak vain contradictions, as has been noted and proved sufficiently on the basis of the truth. Paul teaches us to judge spiritual things spiritually and not according to appearances (I Cor. 2), and not like the Jews did (John 7). He who lives carnally and is carnal-minded can neither perceive God’s ways nor the things of the Spirit. To him it is foolishness and a conundrum for he cannot know it, for it must be judged spiritually. Therefore everyone is lying [when he says] that he does not wish to judge, that it is not given to him; it is blasphemy (I Pet. 2) [when he says] that he does not recognize [the truth]—he is passing judgment on himself, receiving the reward of unrighteousness.

  If it [Anabaptism] is of God no man can withstand it. But if it is not of God it will disappear of itself (Acts 5, Matt. 15). Those of Zurich did not wish to be lords ; and if it should cost them their land, it must be dug out by the roots. Basle, too. Behold, it is getting green again in their land first. Psalm 124: If the Lord were not with us they would have swallowed us up alive; our bones would be no more. Our shield and protector is God. Through the faith and patience of Christ we overcome our enemies, following the example of Christ. All glory and honor be to God alone in His church in Christ Jesus.

 

God’s Seal: II Timothy 2[:19]

The right done from the fear of God is acceptable to God

Acts 10, etc.

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