Archive for the ‘Church History’ Category

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In:Early Church, Endurance, Nonresistance & Nonparticipation, Sin, Spiritual Warfare

Comments Off on Patience in Temptation

We who carry about our very soul, our very body, exposed in this world to injury from all, and exhibit patience under that injury; shall we be hurt at the loss of less important things?  Far from a servant of Christ be such a defilement as that the patience which has been prepared for greater temptations should forsake him in frivolous ones.  If one attempt to provoke you by manual violence, the monition of the Lord is at hand: “To him,” He saith, “Who smiteth thee on the face, turn the other cheek likewise.”  Let outrageousness be wearied out by your patience.  Whatever that blow may be, conjoined with pain and contumely,[1] it shall receive a heavier one from the Lord.  You wound that outrageous one more by enduring: for he will be beaten by Him for whose sake you endure.  If the tongue’s bitterness break out in malediction or reproach, look back at the saying, “When they curse you, rejoice.”  The Lord Himself was “cursed” in the eye of the law; and yet is He the only Blessed One.  Let us servants, therefore, follow our Lord closely; and be cursed patiently, that we may be able to be blessed.

 

(From Tertullian’s work On Patience, written circa 202 A.D.  Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 3, p. 712.)

 

[1] Contumely, n.  Rudeness or reproach compounded of haughtiness and contempt; contemptuousness; insolence; contemptuous language.  (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary).

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In:Early Church, Endurance, Martyrs, The Church

Comments Off on Ignatius’s Epistle to Polycarp

Editor’s Note: Ignatius was a student of the apostle John and a bishop in Antioch. Polycarp was a fellow-student of the apostle John and a bishop in Smyrna. Ignatius wrote this letter to his friend Polycarp while he (Ignatius) was on the way to his martyrdom in Rome. Polycarp was himself to meet with martyrdom some years later in Smyrna.

 

This letter by Ignatius is very inspiring and is full of material for deep reflection. It is my personal favorite of the letters of Ignatius.

 

This translation is taken from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, pp. 93-96. The “shorter version” is used. I have modernized the language somewhat to make it easier for the modern reader.—Ed.

 

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnaeans, or rather, who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: [wishes] abundance of happiness.

 

Having obtained good proof that your mind is fixed in God as upon an immoveable rock, I loudly glorify [His name] that I have been thought worthy [to behold] your blameless face, which may I ever enjoy in God! I entreat you, by the grace with which you are clothed, to press forward in your course, and to exhort all that they may be saved. Maintain your position with all care, both in the flesh and spirit. Have a regard to preserve unity – nothing is better than that. Bear with all, even as the Lord does with you. Support all in love, as you do. Give yourself to prayer without ceasing. Beg for more understanding than you already have. Be watchful, possessing a sleepless spirit. Speak to every man separately, as God enables you. Bear the infirmities of all, as being a perfect athlete [in the Christian life]: where the labor is great, the gain is all the more.

 

If you love the good disciples, you merit no thanks for that; but rather seek by meekness to subdue the more troublesome. Every kind of wound is not healed with the same plaster. Mitigate violent attacks [of disease] by gentle applications. Be in all things “wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove.” For this purpose you are composed of both flesh and spirit, that you may deal tenderly with those [evils] that present themselves visibly before you. And as respects those that are not seen, pray that [God] would reveal them to you, in order that you may be wanting in nothing, but may abound in every gift. The times call for you, as pilots do for the winds, and as one tossed with tempest seeks for the haven, so that both you [and those under your care] may attain to God. Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before you is immortality and eternal life, of which you are also persuaded. In all things may my soul be for yours, and my bonds also, which you have loved.

 

Let not those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines, fill you with apprehension. Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of a noble athlete to be wounded, and yet to conquer. And especially, we ought to bear all things for the sake of God, that He also may bear with us. Be ever becoming more zealous than what you are. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; who cannot be felt with the touch and who cannot suffer pain, yet who became capable of feeling pain on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes.

 

Let not widows be neglected. You should be their protector and friend, second only to the Lord. Let nothing be done without your consent; neither should you do anything without the approval of God, which indeed you do not do, inasmuch as you are steadfast. Let your assembling together be of frequent occurrence: seek after all by name. Do not despise either male or female slaves, yet neither let them be puffed up with conceit, but rather let them submit themselves the more, for the glory of God, that they may obtain from God a better liberty. Let them not long to be set free [from slavery] at the public expense, that they be not found slaves to their own desires.

 

Flee evil arts; but all the more discourse in public regarding them. Speak to my sisters, that they love the Lord, and be satisfied with their husbands both in the flesh and spirit. In like manner also, exhort my brethren, in the name of Jesus Christ, that they love their wives, even as the Lord the Church. If anyone can continue in a state of purity [celibacy], to the honor of Him who is Lord of the flesh, let him so remain without boasting. If he begins to boast, he is undone; and if he reckons himself greater than the bishop, he is ruined. But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, so that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honor of God.

 

[Addressed to the congregation:] Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God! Labor together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God. Please Him under whom you fight, and from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete armor. Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that ye may receive a worthy recompense. Be long-suffering, therefore, with one another, in meekness, as God is towards you. May I have joy of you forever!

 

Seeing that the church which is at Antioch in Syria is, as report has informed me, at peace, through your prayers, I also am the more encouraged, resting without anxiety in God, if indeed by means of suffering I may attain to God, so that, through your prayers, I may be found a disciple [of Christ]. It is fitting, O Polycarp, most blessed in God, to assemble a very solemn council, and to elect one whom you greatly love, and know to be a man of activity, who may be designated the messenger of God; and to bestow on him this honor that he may go into Syria, and glorify your ever active love to the praise of Christ. A Christian has not power over himself, but must always be ready for the service of God. Now, this work is both God’s and yours, when ye shall have completed it to His glory. For I trust that, through grace, ye are prepared for every good work pertaining to God. Knowing, therefore, your energetic love of the truth, I have exhorted you by this brief Epistle.

 

Inasmuch as I have not been able to write to all the churches, because I must suddenly sail from Troas to Neapolis, as the will [of the emperor] enjoins, [I beg that] you, as being acquainted with the purpose of God, will write to the adjacent churches, that they also may act in like manner, such as are able to do so sending messengers, and the others transmitting letters through those persons who are sent by you, that you may be glorified by a work which shall be remembered forever, as indeed you are worthy to be. I salute all by name, and in particular the wife of Epitropus, with all her house and children. I salute Attalus, my beloved. I salute him who shall be deemed worthy to go [from you] into Syria. Grace shall be with him forever, and with Polycarp that sends him. I pray for you to have happiness forever in our God, Jesus Christ, by whom continue in the unity and under the protection of God. I salute Alce, my dearly beloved. Fare well in the Lord.

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In:Early Church, Salvation and the New Birth, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin

Comments Off on “We Follow God”: by Justin Martyr

From Justin Martyr’s First Apology, addressed to the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius. Justin was martyred c. 165 A.D. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, pp. 166-167.

 

What sober-minded man, then, will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied, as we have been taught that the only honor that is worthy of Him is not to consume by fire what He has brought into being for our sustenance, but to use it for ourselves and those who need, and with gratitude to Him to offer thanks by invocations and hymns for our creation, and for all the means of health, and for the various qualities of the different kinds of things, and for the changes of the seasons; and to present before Him petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him…

And thus do we also, since our persuasion by the Word, stand aloof from them [the demons], and follow the only unbegotten God through His Son—we who formerly delighted in fornication, but now embrace chastity alone; we who formerly used magical arts, dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to every one in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all.

 

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In:Early Church, Miscellaneous, Salvation and the New Birth, Sin

Comments Off on Are We Born Dead?

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

It is often said that “We are born spiritually dead” or “We are born dead in trespasses and sins.”  In other words, as soon as a little, pure, sweet, innocent baby is born, he is spiritually languishing in corruption, sin, and death.  Some would go so far as to say that any infant or child dying unbaptized (or unsaved) will go to hell for eternity.  Others say that although the infant is spiritually dead, if the baby dies, he will go to heaven despite being unsaved (?) due to the grace of God.  Are these claims true?

When Does Spiritual Death Occur?

The Apostle Paul teaches very clearly in Romans 7 regarding spiritual death and when it occurs.

What shall we say then?  Is the law sin?  God forbid.  Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.  But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.  For without the law sin was dead.  For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.  And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.  For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.  Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.  Was then that which is good made death unto me?  God forbid.  But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful (Romans 7:7-13).

Paul had been teaching earlier in the chapter that by the death of Christ, all those in the New Covenant are dead to the Law of Moses, and we may now “serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”  Immediately, then, Paul anticipates the question which may be asked: Is the Law inherently wrong or sinful, since the “motions of sins” were actually “by the law” and “did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (verse 5)?

To this question, Paul gives an emphatic no.  The Law points out what sin is (for example, covetousness), but it is human nature that what is forbidden is doubly attractive, simply for the reason that it is forbidden.  The Law, then, makes opportunities for sin, and Paul says that the commandment against covetousness actually helped to foster covetousness in his own life.  The sin (such as covetousness) was “dead” in Paul’s life before he knew God’s standard.

Now we come to the sentence which is important to our question: “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”  Notice that Paul was “alive without the law once.”  Does this mean physical life?  The context tells us that it does not, for “I died” later in the verse obviously refers to spiritual death.  (Paul was physically alive when he was writing the letter to the Romans.)  So from this we learn that children, such as the Apostle Paul as a little boy, are born and grow up spiritually alive.  Is the spiritual life of children the same as that of mature adults who make a conscious decision to follow Christ?  No.  However, although children have not experienced the new birth, they do not need to until they have died spiritually.  The Apostle Paul did not need to experience the new birth when he was “alive without the law once,” nor could he have.[1]

So when did Paul die spiritually?  Notice that he says “when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”  The spiritual death was the result, not of some guilt imputed to him from Adam, but of his own personal, conscious sin against the will of God.  Paul was able to sin on this level once he came face-to-face with God’s righteous standard revealed in the Law of Moses.  Was Paul a naughty little boy on occasion before then?  Probably he was, just like all little boys (and girls) are.  But he was not in conscious sin against the Law of God on the same level as when he was older.  When did the commandment come to Paul?  Did his parents teach him from the Law?  They probably did, at least the Ten Commandments and probably more; Paul’s father was a member of the Pharisees, “the most straitest sect of our religion” (Acts 23:6; 26:5).  We cannot say exactly when Paul had the experiences recounted in the following verses.  Perhaps it was due to his father’s or rabbi’s teaching from the Law; perhaps it was due to his own reading from the Law; or perhaps it did not occur until he began to sit at the feet of Gamaliel and learn the Law.  In any event, it did not occur until he had the knowledge and mental understanding of what God required and he was able to interact with the Law (so to speak) at a mature level.[2]  The exact timing of these events in Paul’s life is a side question; what we can see clearly in this passage is that it was only once sin had been stirred up in his life by the Law of Moses that he died spiritually.  We can say the same for every infant – born and raised spiritually alive, but dead spiritually when, like Adam, they knowingly and willingly sin against God stirred up by the prohibitions of God’s will.

Savior of All Men

For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe (I Timothy 4:10).

In what way is God the “Saviour of all men,” and why is it said that he is “specially” the Savior of those that believe?  This must mean that He is also, in a sense, the Savior of those who do not believe.  Comparison with other Scriptures (such as Romans 7) leads us to the conclusion that God is unconditionally the savior of all men in infancy, but is the savior of those mature people who meet the Gospel conditions – such as faith (belief).[3]

Many Go in Thereat

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

Related to the idea that people are “born spiritually dead” is the statement sometimes made that people are “born on the broad road.”  In Matthew 7, however, Jesus teaches us that the broad gate which leads to destruction is a gate which “many…go in.”  People must enter into the broad way; they are not born there without any personal choice in the matter.  When a man comes to the age of understanding, he must make a personal choice whether he will go into the broad way or the narrow way.  Praise God, a man on the broad way can repent and enter the narrow way; but they are not born onto the broad way.

Of Such is the Kingdom of God

And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.  But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.  Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.  And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16).

Jesus welcomed the children to Himself and blessed them, and specifically said that “of such is the kingdom of God.”  Had these children been baptized?  We have no hint of it in this passage.  Had they experienced some kind of crisis conversion?  Not likely.  They were simply, as Paul was, “alive without the law,” and Jesus gave them what they needed and could have at their age – a blessing from God.

The Mouths of Babes and Sucklings

And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say?  And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?  (Matthew 21:15-16).

Jesus taught that God has “perfected praise” out of the mouths of innocent little children.  Their praises are highly pleasing to God.  How can this be reconciled with the idea that they are lost sinners?  “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight” (Proverbs 15:8).

Dead in Trespasses and Sins

You might be thinking, “But doesn’t the Bible say, ‘born dead in trespasses and sins’?”  It actually does not.  This is a misquotation of Ephesians 2:1: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (compare with Colossians 2:13).  Notice: They were dead, not “born dead.”  The following two verses show that the people being referred to could not have been infants; they are said to have “walked according to the course of this world” and to have lived “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.”

The Early Christians

The early Christians believed that infants and young children were innocent and pure, and that, if they died, they would be saved.

Hermas (c. 150) wrote:

…they are as infant children, in whose hearts no evil originates…for all infants are honorable before God, and are the first persons with Him.[4]

Irenaeus (c. 180), a disciple of Polycarp (who was a disciple of the Apostle John), wrote:

And again, who are they that have been saved, and received the inheritance?  Those, doubtless, who do believe God, and who have continued in His love; as did Caleb [the son] of Jephuneh and Joshua [the son] of Nun, and innocent children, who have had no sense of evil.[5]

Tertullian (c. 198), regarding the idea of infant baptism, wrote:

And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children…The Lord does indeed say, “Forbid them not to come unto me.”  Let them “come,” then, while they are growing up; let them “come” while they are learning, while they are learning whither to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ.  Why does the innocent period of life hasten to the “remission of sins?”[6]

He also wrote (c. 207):

But, behold, Christ takes infants, and teaches how all ought to be like them, if they ever wish to be greater.  The Creator, on the contrary, let loose bears against children, in order to avenge His prophet Elisha, who had been mocked by them.[7]  This antithesis is impudent enough, since it throws together things so different as infants and children,—an age still innocent, and one already capable of discretion—able to mock, if not to blaspheme.  As therefore God is a just God, He spared not impious children, exacting as He does honor for every time of life, and especially, of course, from youth.  And as God is good, He so loves infants as to have blessed the midwives in Egypt, when they protected the infants of the Hebrews which were in peril from Pharaoh’s command.  Christ therefore shares this kindness with the Creator.[8]

Cyprian (c. 250) wrote that “Infancy is still yet innocent and unconscious of worldly evil.”[9]

Origen (185-254) was one of the most famous Christian teachers of his time and wrote the first surviving set of Bible commentaries.  While teaching that even infants are subject to sin’s defilement (he quoted the Septuagint rendering of Job 14:4-5 several times: “No one is pure from uncleanness, even if his life should be one day long”),[10] he nevertheless taught the following in his Commentary on Romans (written c. 246):

But this law [referring to natural law, or the law of the conscience] is found in man neither at all times nor from the beginning, when a man is born, but rather he lives without this law for a certain time, while his age does not allow it, just as Paul himself acknowledges when he says, “I was once alive without the law.”  Therefore, at that time, when we lived without the law, we did not know covetousness.  He did not say: I was not having it; but: “I was not knowing it,” as if covetousness existed, but it was not known what it was.  But when reason arrives and the natural law finds a place within us in the advancement of age, it begins to teach us what is good and to turn us away from evils.  Thus, when it says, “You shall not covet,” we learn from it what we did not know before: Covetousness is evil.

“But sin, receiving an opportunity, worked in me through the commandment all kinds of covetousness.”  That law of which he says, “For I would not have known covetous desire had the law not said: You shall not covet,” is also called the commandment.  Thus he says that by an opportunity afforded by this commandment, in which we are forbidden to covet, sin was kindled all the more intensely within us and worked all kinds of covetousness within us.  For because the flesh lusts against the Spirit, i.e., against the law that says, “You shall not covet,” it is likewise opposed to it and engages it in battle in a certain manner, so that not only would it satisfy the covetousness but also it would conquer an enemy.

This then is the opportunity that he says comes from the commandment.  For these things that are forbidden are somehow longed for more passionately.  On this account, though the commandment is holy and just and good—for what prohibits evil must of necessity be good—yet by prohibiting covetousness it instead provokes and kindles it; and through the good it worked death in me.  The Apostle is showing by these things, however, that the origin of sin has arisen from covetousness.  As long as the law is issuing prohibitions, whether it is Moses’ law, which says, “You shall not covet,” or even natural law, as I have explained above, whatever is forbidden is desired all the more tenaciously…

“For apart from the law sin is dead.  But I was once alive without the law.  But when the commandment came, sin revived.  I, however, died; and the very commandment that was unto life was found to be unto death to me.”  Up above has already been conducted a full investigation of practically all these matters.  Therefore, in order that we not be constantly repeating the same things, we shall briefly call to remembrance what was previously said.  We showed how sin is dead in us without law, i.e., before the mind within us grows vigorous when it reaches the age of reason, when we introduced the example of the little child who strikes or curses his father or mother.  In such a case it would appear that at least according to the law, which forbids striking and cursing the father and mother, a sin was committed.  Yet that sin is said to be dead since the law is not yet present within the child to teach him that what he is doing ought not be done.  It is certain that Paul and all men have lived at one time without this law, namely, the age of childhood.  After all, during that time everyone is equally not yet capable of this natural law.  For Paul’s confession concerning this would not seem to be true.  Indeed how will it be proved that Paul once lived without the law of Moses, seeing that he declares himself to be a Hebrew of Hebrews and circumcised on the eighth day according to the precepts of the law?  On the contrary, in the way in which we have said, in childhood he also once lived without natural law.  He did not say that sin did not exist in man at this time, but that sin was dead and afterward revived when natural law came and began to forbid covetousness.  This law raised sin from the dead, so to speak.  In fact this is the nature of sin, if what the law forbids to be done happens.  Therefore, when sin revived, he says, “I died.”  “I.”  Who does he mean?  Doubtless, the soul that had committed what the law was forbidding to be done; for “the soul that sins,” as the prophet says, “shall itself die.”  The commandment, therefore, that had been given unto life, i.e., unto [the life] of the soul, that it might teach the soul the works that lead to life, was found to have surrendered it over to death when it does not flee the things forbidden but desires them all the more passionately.[11]

Summary

The idea that “we are all born spiritually dead” cannot be found in Scripture; rather, there are several Scriptures which clearly teach against such an idea.  The early Christians believed that infants and young children are pure, innocent, and saved, and sinful actions which they do are not counted as sin against them until “the commandment [comes]” and sin revives.

Knowing the truth on this subject can help safeguard us against such errors as infant baptism and child evangelism and can provide comfort in knowing that our departed little ones are safe with Christ.

 

[1] This is one of the problems with child evangelism – little innocent children, who should be taught to love Jesus at a simple, age-appropriate level, are instead pressed to “ask Jesus into their hearts” so that they can escape the damnation of hell.  At the stage before the Law has stirred up the lust to sin in them, they are still “alive without the law” and must not be pressed into an adult experience with Christ.  Trying to do so may result in so-called “conversions” in the short run, but in the end can cause confusion at best; at worst, it may cause sin, doubt, and apostasy.

[2] This probably happens for most people well before 20 years old.  Paul explains that for heathens who have no knowledge of the true God or of the Scriptures, they still are accountable for the revelation of God through their own consciences (Romans 2:12-29), so the “law” comes to them in the form of “natural law,” the law in their consciences.

[3] I am indebted to George R. Brunk I and his son, George II, for this commentary.  They explained this Scripture in this fashion.

[4] Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF), volume 2, p. 53.

[5] ANF, volume 1, p. 502.

[6] ANF, volume 3, p. 678.

[7] This was written against the Gnostics, who claimed that the Creator God (the “Demiurge”), the God of the Old Testament, was not the Father of Jesus.  These two sentences give a Gnostic argument urged against the orthodox Christians, to which Tertullian replies as follows.

[8] ANF, volume 3, p. 386.

[9] David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, 1998, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 93.

[10] For this reason Origen supported infant baptism – the first Christian teacher known to have done so.

[11] Thomas P. Scheck, translator, Origen: Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Books 6-10, 2002, Catholic University of America Press, pp. 31-33.

 

Originally published in The Witness, February 2014.

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

Comments Off on Hymn by Wolf Sailer

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:Bible - General, Preachers

Comments Off on “How Readest Thou?”

Luke 10:26

 

By John M. Brenneman

 

Originally published in the February 1866 issue of Herald of Truth.

 

“ ’Tis one thing now to read the Bible through,

And another thing to read to learn and do:

’Tis one thing now to read it with delight,

And quite another thing to read it right.

Some read it with design to learn to read,

But to the subject pay but little heed;

Some read it as their duty once a week,

But no instruction from the Bible seek:

Whilst others read it with but little care,

With no regard to how they read, nor where!

Some read it as a history, to know

How people lived three thousand years ago.

Some read to bring themselves into repute,

By showing others how they can dispute:

Whilst others read because their neighbors do,

To see how long ’twill take to read it through.

Some read it for the wonders that are there,

How David killed a lion and a bear;

Whilst others read, or rather in it look,

Because, perhaps, they have no other book.

Some read the blessed book they don’t know why,

It somehow happens in the way to lie;

Whilst others read it with uncommon care,

But all to find some contradictions there!

Some read as tho’ it did not speak to them,

But to the people at Jerusalem;

One reads it as a book of mysteries,

And won’t believe the very thing he sees:

Another reads through Campbell or through Scott,

And thinks it means exactly what they thought.

Some read to prove a preadopted creed—

Thus understand but little what they read;

For every passage in the book they bend,

To make it suit that all important end!

Some people read, as I have often thought,

To teach the book, instead of being taught.

And some there are who read it out of spite—

I fear there are but few who read it right.

So many people in these latter days

Have read the Bible in so many ways,

That few can tell which system is the best,

For every party contradicts the rest!!”

 

The above Poetry is, alas!  a true description of too many Bible readers in our days.  I fear there are but few who read it with such an anxious desire, as did the Ethiopian eunuch.  Few there are, I fear, who read it as it is in truth, the word of God.  We should read the Bible as a revelation from God to sinful man; wherein our lost, sad and deplorable condition by nature is made fully known unto us; the consequences of a wicked and sinful life of a sinner are plainly shown therein, namely that the wicked shall not go unpunished; and that they, if they continue in their wickedness, shall be destroyed.  But the Bible also teaches, that, if the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and return unto the Lord, he will have mercy upon him, and will abundantly pardon.  It is certainly the duty of every intelligent person, to read the Bible (if they can read) with a sincere desire to know and do the will of God.  For in the Bible “he hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”  I fear that there are many Bible readers, to whom the promise of God in Isaiah 66:2, will not reach, where he says, “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”

 

We should read the Bible with prayerful and upright hearts to learn to know the will of God.  “For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning.”  “Search the Scriptures,” says the Savior; “for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.”  The Bible directs and points us to Christ Jesus, who came to “save sinners.”  We should search and read the Bible with a desire to benefit our souls.  The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation.  Such wisdom is far preferable to that of this world.  In the Bible we can behold ourselves as in a mirror, and see what manner of persons we are, what we need, to make us happy and where to go, to get it.

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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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(Account from Martyrs Mirror, p. 143)

 

It is stated that at this time, as the heathen at Augustodonum, now called Autum, in Burgundy, on a feast-day of the goddess Cybele, whom they called the mother of the gods, carried around her image on a wagon, in procession, a certain pious Christian, called Symphorianus, met this image, and refused to worship it; in consequence of which he was apprehended as an impious person, or despiser of the gods, and brought before Heraclius, the Proconsul, who, in that city, exercised the strictest vigilance over the Christians.  When he stood before the judgment seat, the Proconsul asked him for his name.  Symphorian replied that he was a Christian by religion, was born of Christian parents, and had received the name Symphorian.

 

The Judge said: “Why didst thou not honor the mother of the gods, or worship her image?”

 

Symphorian answered: “Because, I am a Christian, and call only upon the living God, who reigns in heaven.  But as to the image of Satan I not only do not worship it, but, if you will let me, I will break it in pieces with a hammer.”

 

The Judge said: “This man is not only sacrilegious at heart, but also obstinate and a rebel; but perhaps he knows nothing of the ordinances or decrees of the Emperor.  Let the officer, therefore, read to him the decrees of the Emperors.”  The decrees having been read to him, Symphorian said: “I shall notwithstanding never confess that this image is anything but a worthless idol of Satan, but which he persuades men that he is a god; while it is an evident demonstration of their eternal destruction for all those who put their trust in it.”

 

Upon this confession, the Judge caused him to be scourged and cast into prison, to keep him for some other day.  Some time after, he had him brought again before his judgment seat, and addressed him with kind words, saying: “Symphorian, sacrifice to the gods, that thou mayest be promoted to the highest honor and state at court.  If not, I call the gods to witness that I am compelled this day, after various tortures, to sentence thee to death.”

 

Symphorian answered: “What matters it, if we deliver up this life to Christ, since, by reason of debt, in any event we must pay it to Him?  Your gifts and presents are mingled with the sweetness of the adulterated honey, with which you poison the minds of the unbelieving.  But our treasures and riches are ever in Christ, our Lord, alone; and do not perish through age or length of time; whereas your desire is insatiable, and you possess nothing, even though you have everything in abundance.  The joy and mirth which you enjoy in this world, is like fine glass, which, if placed in the radiance and heat of the sun, cracks and breaks in two; but God alone is our supreme happiness.”

 

After Symphorian had said these and like things before the Judge, Heraclius, the Proconsul, pronounced sentence of death upon him, saying: “Symphorian, having openly been found guilty of death, because he hath blasphemed against the holy altars, shall be executed with the sword.”

 

When this godly confessor was led to death, to be offered up to Christ, his mother called down to him from the wall of the city this comforting admonition: “Symphorian, my son!  my son!  remember the living God; let thy heart be steadfast and valiant.  We can surely not fear death, which beyond doubt leads us into the true life.  Lift up thy heart to heaven, my son, and behold Him who reigns in heaven!  Today thy life will not be taken from thee, but be changed into a better one.  If thou remainest steadfast today, thou shalt make a happy exchange: leaving this earthly house, thou shalt go to dwell in the tabernacle not made with hands.”

 

Symphorian, having been thus strengthened by his mother, was taken out of the city, and beheaded there, having commended his soul into the hands of God, in the time of Emperor Aurelian, and Heraclius, the Proconsul, at Autum in Burgundy.  His dead body was buried by certain Christians.

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