Archive for the ‘Church History’ Category
By Mike AtnipPlowing in hope
The sun is shining brightly, lifting the last of the morning haze on this beautiful spring day. At the south end of the field the little creek gurgles and giggles over the stones, frothing its way to Pequea Creek less than a mile to the southeast. The squirrels jump from budding tree to budding tree, and a crow circles lazily overhead, cawing loudly. At the sound of the caw, a turkey gobbles on the wooded hill. Nearby, a small waft of smoke languidly curls from the chimney of the little house that the newly married couple of two years calls home.
It is a beautiful day to be plowing!
Back and forth the young farmer goes. The horse plods faithfully along, turning the rich soil over. When his forefathers had settled in these parts less than fifty years earlier, they did not realize at the time that they were settling on what was some of the best farm ground—literally—in the whole world.
Known in Switzerland as the “Swiss Brethren,” their movement had started in 1525 when a small group of men had rebaptized each other in Zurich. Persecution in the following two centuries had forced many of them down into what is now western Germany and eastern France. Beginning in 1710, some of them found their way to Pennsylvania, into what is now Lancaster County. Here they began to be known as Mennonists, and later Mennonites, from their use of the Dutch Mennonite confession of faith known as the Dortrecht Confession. They had presented this Confession to the Pennsylvania civil leaders as a way to show their nonresistant interpretation of Scripture, requesting exemption from military conscription. Their use of this Confession helped them to become known as Mennonists, even though they were formerly known as Swiss Brethren.
At first the immigrant flow was a trickle, then a stream. By the end of the 1700s, some 3000 of these Swiss Brethren had arrived in Philadelphia. Martin Boehm, the man handling the plow, was a second-generation Swiss Brethren immigrant in Lancaster County. His grandfather had been a Swiss Pietist, but had joined the Swiss Brethren in Germany. His father had come to America, probably in hopes of religious liberty.
As he plowed, Martin may have turned up stone arrowheads. Less than ten miles away, at a small reserve on the banks of the Susquehanna River, lived a friendly group of Conestoga Indians. In his childhood, it is probable that Martin had played with the Indian boys, or at least had seen them around.
But that day, Martin had no interest in arrowheads, nor even the beautiful, quiet scenery that was bursting to life all around him. There were no airplanes roaring overhead, no tractor-trailer trucks barreling down the turnpike, not even a chainsaw to provide any noise pollution. If he heard anything of his neighbors it was probably only a neigh of a horse or the sound of an axe ringing through the morning stillness.Distressed
No, Martin was not at peace. As he rested his horse at the end of each fresh furrow, he knelt down and prayed. Getting back up, he would make a fresh furrow, only to stop and pray at the other end.
Back and forth. Back and forth. But despite the serenity that surrounded him, all that seemed to ring through his mind was one word: “Verloren, verloren!” (Lost, lost!)
Finally, he could stand it no longer! He did not wait until the end of the furrow; he stopped the horse in the middle of the field and fell to his knees. He tells the story in his own words, beginning with his ordination to the ministry some months before:
When nominated, I had no desire that the lot might fall on me, and I earnestly besought my brethren to nominate someone in my place, better than myself. This, however, was not done, and the moment came when each nominee was to step forth and take a book. I stepped out, saying inwardly, “Lord, not me. I am too poor.” The books were opened, and the lot or token was mine! Believing, as I did, that this lot falls by divine appointment, I did not feel myself at liberty to refuse obedience to its decision, but felt constrained by my conscience to take upon myself the office of the ministry, and discharge it as best I could.
According to our usage it was not expected from me to preach immediately thereafter, because our elder preacher was still able to preach; but it was my duty to assist him in preaching and exhortation as God would give me ability. I had been reading the Scriptures much, but now read them still more, and with care, in order to impress their reading on my memory, so that I might have something wherewith to preach or exhort.
Sunday came and the elder brother preached. In attempting to follow him by a word of exhortation, I failed, although for some two years past, I had been giving testimony at the close of the sermons, and frequently concluded the meetings.
I continued reading. The next Sabbath I was requested to take part, and rose up, but could say little or nothing. I had charged my mind and memory with some Scripture passages, but when I wanted them, could not bring them to my recollection. I prayed to the Lord to assist me in retaining his word, and strengthen me in my great weakness, that, to some extent at least, I might answer his call.
Some months passed in this way, but it came not. This condition began deeply to distress me—to be a preacher, and yet have nothing to preach, nor to say, but stammer out a few words, and then be obliged to take my seat in shame and remorse! I had faith in prayer, and prayed more fervently.
While thus engaged in praying earnestly for aid to preach, the thought rose in my mind, or as though one spoke to me, saying, “You pray for grace to teach others the way of salvation, and you have not prayed for your own salvation.”
This thought or word did not leave me. “My salvation” followed me wherever I went. I felt constrained to pray for myself; and, while praying for myself, my mind became alarmed. I felt and saw myself a poor sinner. I was lost! My agony became great. I was plowing in the field, and kneeled down at each end of the furrow, to pray. The word “Lost, lost” went every round with me. Midway in the field I could go no further, but sank behind the plow, crying, “Lord save, I am lost!”
The thought or voice said, “I am come to seek and to save that which is lost.”
In a moment, a stream of joy was poured over me. I praised the Lord and left the field, and told my companion what joy I felt.
Martin continues his story, explaining the change that occurred in his outlook toward preaching:
As before this I wished the Sabbath far off, now I wished it was tomorrow. Sunday came: the elder brother preached. I rose to tell my experience, since my call to the ministry. When speaking of my lost estate, and agony of mind, some in the congregation began to weep. This gave me encouragement to speak of our fall and lost condition, and of repentance. The Sabbath following it was the same, and much more. Before I was done, I found myself in the midst of the congregation, where some were weeping aloud!
This caused considerable commotion in our church, as well as among the people generally. It was all new; none of us had heard or seen it before. A new creation appeared to rise up before me, and around me. Now Scripture, before mysterious, and like a dead letter to me, was plain of interpretation; was all spirit, all life.
Like a dream, old things had passed away, and it seemed as if I had awakened to new life, new thoughts, new faith, new love. I rejoiced and praised God with my whole heart. This joy, this faith, this love, I wished to communicate to those around me. But when speaking about it, in public or in private, it made different impressions on different persons. Some gave a mournful look, some sighed and wept and would say, “Oh! Martin, are we indeed lost?”
Yes, mankind is lost! Christ will never find us, till we know that we are lost. My wife was the next lost sinner that felt the same joy, the same love.
Although the story, as it is told above, says that such an experience was a new sort of thing for that congregation, no one really had a big problem with it. In fact, in just five years Martin was chosen as bishop, again by lot. But to get in the lot, he had to have been nominated, a sign that his Mennonist people had confidence in him.
Martin’s zeal for preaching soon caused him to step beyond the normal meeting schedule, and he began to preach midweek in various places. The custom of his day was a church gathering every two weeks. When this custom began is not certain, but it is assumed by some to have begun even before the Swiss Brethren immigrated to America.
Frontier life was generally hard on spiritual life. Families were scattered through the woods with practically no good roads. Travel in such conditions was often hard, especially on large families with lots of little children, the aged, and expectant mothers. Many people have assumed that this hard lifestyle only contributed more to the practice of a church meeting once every two weeks. In fact, in some frontier communities church meetings were held only once every month.
But it was not so in the beginning of the Swiss Brethren movement! The earliest Swiss Brethren Congregational Order reads like this:
Since the almighty, eternal, and merciful God has made his wonderful light break forth in the world in this most dangerous time, we recognize the mystery of his will. His will is for his Word to be made known to us so we may find our way into community with him. For this reason, and in obedience to Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching, we are to observe a new commandment—the commandment to love one another so we may live in brotherly unity and peace. To keep that peace, all of us brothers and sisters have agreed as follows:
1. To meet at least three or four times a week, to exercise ourselves in the teaching of Christ and his apostles, to admonish and encourage one another from the heart to remain faithful to Jesus as we have promised …
Six more points are listed in that congregational order, which, by the way, was found on Michael Sattler right along with the Schleitheim Confession, written by the same hand. But did you notice that they agreed to meet “three or four times a week”? Somewhere along the line that vision was lost. But not only the quantity of the meetings was lost, something happened to the quality.Very sleepy …
In about 1750, a German Pietist living near the Swiss Brethren immigrants in Lancaster County wrote of his experience with them and with the newer German Baptist group. The German Baptists were expressive in their public worship, but of the Mennonists he wrote:
These people [are] modest … and upright in their conduct. They wear plain clothing; proud colors may not be worn by them. Most of the men wear beards. When they are grown up they are baptized and a little water is poured over their heads. Their meetings are very sleepy affairs.
Of course we recognize that what one person may call a “very sleepy” meeting, the next person will not. However, the above writer was not alone in his assessment of the meetings of that era.
So along comes a man with a fresh enthusiasm, a fresh testimony of conversion … and the sleepy are shaken. And shake them Martin did.
He began, along with others, to hold meetings, sometimes by candle light, in the evenings. “Great meetings” were called, probably given that name because they usually lasted for three days—“great” or “big” on length.
Crowds came; Mennonists, German Baptists, Reformed, and, well, about everybody in the community. The other Swiss Brethren ministers had no problem with the meetings. Some of them even helped.The great barn meeting
Five years after Martin’s ordination as a bishop, a “Great Meeting” was called for May 10, 1767, with the location being the barn of Mennonist Isaac Long, just north of the town of Lancaster. It is reported that over 1000 people showed up. While some listened to Martin preach inside the 13-year-old barn, those who could not fit inside listened to some other Mennonist preachers in the orchard.
While this meeting was typical of the “Great Meetings” in many ways, it ended up being a life-changing meeting for Martin. William Otterbein, a Reformed Church minister, listened to Martin tell of his experience. He had experienced something very similar to what Martin had—at about the exact same time Martin had, ten years earlier.
When Martin finished speaking, William rushed to the long-bearded Mennonist preacher and gave him a hug, exclaiming, “Wir sind brüder!” (We are brothers!) These words would be the foundation of their later church name—The United Brethren in Christ.
Those looking on were moved to “praise God aloud, but most of the congregation gave place to their feelings—weeping for joy.” It was an emotional experience.
The Isaac Long house and barn still stands, 245 years after an estimated 1000 people gathered there to hear gospel preaching. While Martin Boehm preached inside the barn, other Mennonist ministers preached to the overflow crowd in the orchard. (Photo taken Dec. 28, 2012) Brotherhood based on experience
There are lots of other details about the story that we do not have space to detail here. About 20 years after that meeting in the barn, Martin Boehm and William Otterbein were elected as the first bishops of a new church movement, The United Brethren in Christ. What we want to look at is the basis of their initial fellowship.
That basis was a common experience. From all appearances, neither one knew the other before meeting in the barn that evening. After listening to Boehm’s experience, Otterbein felt him to be a brother in Christ. He did not know how much Boehm obeyed Jesus’ teaching; he only knew of Boehm’s experience.Brotherhood based on obedience
In contrast, Martin Boehm’s Swiss Brethren (Mennonists) were basing their brotherhood on a common obedience to the teachings of Jesus. To join the congregation, one had to commit to obeying what Jesus had taught on the Sermon on the Mount, and of course, His other teachings as well.
This difference in the basis of brotherhood proved to be problematic for Martin Boehm. He had a decision to make …Too close to disobedience
Martin continued being a bishop among the Swiss Brethren immigrants for about a decade after his meeting Otterbein in that barn. However, some of the Mennonists began to grow leery of his direction. While Martin held firm to following the teachings of Jesus in his own life, he began to associate with others who did not practice Jesus’ teaching about war and swearing oaths.
After several meetings with him, Martin’s fellow Mennonist elders felt they had to excommunicate him. Disobedience to Christ’s teachings was too fundamental of an error for their brotherhood to permit.
The timing was the Revolutionary War. As said, Martin himself never participated in the war, and refused to swear the allegiance oaths that the newly formed states required after the war. Francis Asbury, the famed bishop of the new Methodist movement, likewise refused to participate in both the war and the oath swearing. He and Martin had become good friends. Asbury would end up preaching Martin’s funeral sermon.
Before his death in 1812, Martin Boehm had become a member of the local Methodist Class. He preached, baptized (which included baptizing babies, but it is not clear if Martin himself did this), and held communion with them.
By the time the American Civil War rolled around 50 years later, the Methodists were aiming their sights and pulling the triggers of their guns on other Methodists, on both sides of the front.
The Mennonists were correct in their foresight: evil communications do corrupt good manners!Too close to formality
On the other hand, Martin Boehm felt he had no choice but to leave the Mennonist churches. They demanded of him that he stop fellowshipping with churches that disobeyed Jesus’ teachings, and that he repent of having said such things like “the [Mennonist] bishops lead their people to hell by preaching the ordinances.” Or, saying “the Bible could be burned without harming the church.”
To be sure, the Mennonists should have sat up and paid attention to what Martin was saying, even though his way of wording it probably only irritated them. When people were struggling with their conscience about their sins, they were sometimes counseled by Mennonist elders to “get baptized and take communion.” So they did. Meanwhile, their old carnal heart had never been turned from loving this world to loving Jesus. So instead of repentance and faith in Christ, the seekers were told to “join church and keep the ordinances.”
Robots can keep ordinances. And so can carnal, unregenerate people.
So, the churches contained people who did what the Bible said concerning baptism and communion, but who had not a lick of fervency toward Christ. When church meeting was going on, it was a “very sleepy affair.” But as soon as meeting was over, and the talk outside the chapel doors turned to the price of cattle in the Philadelphia markets, conversations and hearts began to warm!
When it came to spreading the gospel, the neighboring Conestoga Indians never had a sermon preached to them by Mennonists, let alone the ones in the next county over. The Mennonists, it seemed, even had a hard time to send preachers to their own church members who lived very far from home.
Martin felt he could not choose such lifelessness and carnality.What does God think of cold obedience?
The Bible is clear about formality: it is a stench to the nostrils of God. The words “so then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” were not directed towards outright rebels, but to people who at least outwardly obeyed some of God’s commands.
“Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting” reveals God’s attitude toward people who are indeed doing the correct ceremonies, but without a heartfelt obedience.
Remember, robots can keep ordinances. This fellow could probably be programmed to wash feet or take communion!
When it comes to experience, God expects and desires that humanity experience Him. Paul wrote that his desire toward God was “that I might know Him, and the power of his resurrection.” Paul wanted to experience Christ.
Does God want cold obedience? Heartless worship? Sleepy assemblies? Why did He tell us, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment”?
If God did not want an experiential relationship with man, why on earth did He allow the Song of Solomon to be included in the Holy Scriptures?
Scriptural references could be multiplied, but there is no need. It is quite clear that God wants man to experience Him in a personal way.What does God think of disobedient experiences?
One verse suffices to answer the question: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
Disobedience, no matter how great the experiences, is not an option in the kingdom of God. Jesus then continues, making it clearer yet:
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
If there were ever a people who could claim great experiences, the people referred to in these verses would have it. Yet, they will hear those fateful words on the final judgment day: “Depart from me.”
Why? The reason is clear: “work iniquity.”
Disobedience is absolutely incompatible with the kingdom of God.
At this point in our story we will introduce another contemporary of Martin Boehm: Christian Newcomer. Christian was a fellow descendant of the Swiss Brethren immigrants. He, too, had an experience similar to Martin’s. Among other things, his terror of death was made real when a peach stone became lodged in his throat while plowing one day. Feeling himself to be dying, he suddenly got the idea (from God, he felt later) that he should throw himself against a tree about 30 yards away. Using the last of his fading energy, he ran to it and “bounced his shoulders” against it—and out came the stone! He immediately determined to “seek the salvation” of his soul.
He describes the events that followed with these words:
Sometime thereafter, a very heavy tempest arose one evening in the western horizon; presently the whole canopy of Heaven was a black darkness. Tremendous thunder following, clap after clap, and the forked lightning illuminated the objects around me, making darkness visible. This, said I to myself, is perhaps the day of Judgment, of which I have lately dreamed. O! what anguish, fear, and terror took possession of my heart. I walked from room to room, tried to read and to pray, all to no purpose. Fear of hell had seized on me, the cords of death had wound about me. I felt as if wholly forsaken, nor did I know which way to turn. All my prayers committed to memory would not avail.
“O! Eternity! Eternity,” I exclaimed, “which way shall I fly?”
The passage of the door of the house stood open wide. I saw the rain pouring down, the lightning blaze, and heard the thunders roar. I ran, or rather reeled out of the house into the yard a few paces, to the garden fence, and sunk on my knees, determined to give myself wholly and without reserve to Jesus the Savior and Redeemer of mankind, submitting to His will and His will alone.
Having in this manner humbled myself before my Lord and Master, unable to utter a word, a vivid flash of lightning darted across my eyes—at the same instant a clap of thunder. O! what a clap! As it ceased, the whole anguish of soul was removed. I did not know what had happened unto me. My heart felt glad, my soul was happy, my mouth filled with praises and thanksgiving to God for what He had done for me, a poor unworthy creature. I thought if ever a being in this world had cause to praise the Lord, I was that creature. For several nights, tears of gratitude and joy moistened my pillow, and I had many happy hours.
Christian continues his story, explaining that while he felt happy for a while, “gradually I lost this pleasing sensation” and “fear returned.” When he asked the Mennonist elder what to do, the reply was to be baptized and join the church and take communion. He wrote:
I took his friendly advice and did as he had counseled me to do; but all this did not restore to me the joyful sensation or inward comfort which I had lost. True, I was not accused, nor did any person even insinuate anything derogatory to my religion, but I knew and felt a deficiency of something within.Feeling saved
As we read Christian’s story, we see him seeking a definite feeling of salvation, an experience. And, he got just that … only to feel it slip away again.
Life went on for the seeking teenager. His father’s death left him in charge of his mother and the family farm. Soon after turning 21, he “entered with” Miss Elizabeth Baer “into a state of matrimony.” That same year, during the winter, he contracted measles, which made his throat swell dangerously shut. He wrote:
O! what unhappiness did I again experience, what a dreadful conviction did I again find myself in; the conviction of sin was more powerful and severe than ever—the burden thereof too heavy almost to be borne. … Heaven appeared to be as brass, wretchedness and distress had fallen heavily upon me … but I still continued to sue and cry for mercy.
When I had been for two days and three nights in this misery, I was reading to the best of my recollection about midnight, in Revelation 12:10-12. At the end of the latter clause of the 11th verse I made a pause, reflecting, “and they loved not their lives unto death.” Then reading again, “therefore rejoice ye heavens and ye that dwell in them.”
The same instant a something (call it conviction or give it what appellation you please) whispered to me, “This is to say all those who are in such a situation as yourself shall rejoice.” [parenthesis original]
In a moment the peace of God and pardon of my sins was manifested in my soul, and the spirit of God bore witness with my spirit, that God for Jesus’ sake had taken away the burden of my sins and shed abroad his love in my poor unworthy heart. O! thou glorious Being; how did my soul feel at the time? Only those who have felt and experienced the same grace will be able to understand or comprehend what I am about to say. Yes, gentle reader! If at that time I could have called a 1000 lives my own, I would have pledged them all, every one of them, to testify to the certainty of my acceptance with God: my joy or rather ecstasy was so great, that I was in some measure as one beside himself … I ran into the yard to give utterance to my feelings … [emphases mine.]
This experience was not his last. He again lost his good feelings for a while, blaming it later upon the fact that he was ashamed to testify publicly about what had happened. Christian then moved to Maryland, where he had another restoration of his former feelings, so much so that he had to leave his house so he could exclaim aloud—in the middle of the night—his joy.
Then he returned to Pennsylvania for a visit. Here he finally found the courage to tell of his experiences when the service was opened at the end for testimony. Recounting his experiences, he touched the Mennonist congregation. He wrote:
… every person present was sensibly touched—all shed tears as well as myself. And I have no doubt many were convinced that a form of religion, whose habitation is only in the head, and is not felt in the heart, is insufficient unto salvation.Experiences that lead to … where?
Did you catch Christian’s concern? “Only in the head …” He, like most people, want to experience God. Just knowing about Him in the head and obeying His ordinances like a robot is simply nauseating to God … and to man, if man would but admit it.
Where did Christian Newcomer’s and Martin Boehm’s experiences lead them? The Mennonists of their time did not have a problem with people experiencing God. What they did have a problem with was when these same men began to base their fellowship on a common experience, rather than a common obedience.
Martin and Christian were some of the leading men in the United Brethren in Christ Church. That denomination made, in its early years, the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ other practical teachings a test of membership. But … they also freely mingled with other churches, like the Methodists, who did NOT make obedience to Jesus’ teachings mandatory.
It was too much for the Mennonists. They felt obligated to break fellowship with people who would not make obedience (as a test of fellowship) mandatory. The mindset of the Swiss Brethren was more that a born-again experience was necessary to change a person’s heart and actions, whereas the mindset of American revivalism was more that a “new birth” gave a person a feeling of assurance.
There is quite a difference in those outlooks. Ponder them well.The fallout
The United Brethren in Christ and the Methodist Episcopal Church worked toward a union for several years. Documents still exist with Martin Boehm’s and Christian Newcomer’s signatures that show both men as actively engaged in the union effort. Things were coming together … old bishop Asbury was encouraging the effort to unite from the Methodist side. He, too, was nonresistant and opposed to oath swearing, just as were both Boehm and Newcomer in their personal views. However, the proposed union made no mention of making obedience to the Sermon on the Mount a requirement for fellowship in the merger.
When Asbury died, the negotiations between the two denominations came to a screeching halt; one of the Methodist bishops after Asbury decided that the only option for a union was for all the United Brethren to officially become Methodists. The United Brethren could not accept that, for whatever reason, even though up until that time they were sharing pulpits and communion freely (as well as ordinations—Methodist William Ryland helped ordain Newcomer). So the two movements parted ways until 1968 rolled around, when they officially joined together to form what is now The United Methodist Church.
Martin Boehm suffered the tragic loss of a big part of his family to an outbreak of disease. But his son Henry “made up for the loss” by living to be 100 years old, a fervent Methodist all the way. He had been chosen as a traveling assistant with Bishop Asbury for several years, then served in the ministry of the Methodist church until his death in 1875. But even though the Methodists lost virtually all their nonresistance in the Civil War, Henry stayed right with them. Somehow experience had forgotten to obey Jesus’ command to love our enemies.
What a sad place for a Swiss Brethren descendant to end up at: allowing his “brothers” to shoot each other.The third option
Thankfully, there is another way. We do not have to choose between cold obedience and exciting disobedience. In Newcomer’s and Boehm’s day, there was a very viable third option. Why they did not choose it, no one knows.
The people of the third option probably attended Martin Boehm’s first “Great Meetings.” They may have even helped him preach at some of them. They sympathized with Martin’s desire for a fellowship that would not tolerate cold formality and preach ordinances as a balm to people who did not love the Lord with all their heart.
But they also sympathized with the Mennonists who would not tolerate preachers that took communion with people who swore oaths and participated in war.
They called the people of this third option “the River Brethren.”Marrying experience and obedience
Experience with God was never meant to be divorced from obedience. But it happened in 18th-century Lancaster County. It actually was happening before then and ever since then.
The problem with (some of) the experiences of people that Martin Boehm fellowshipped with was that they were false experiences, false conversions. True new-birth experiences always—let me repeat always—lead people to a deeper obedience to Christ.
The problem with (some of) the Mennonist obedience was that it was a dead obedience, a mere formality. And it stank in God’s nostrils, probably about as bad as plain old disobedience. True obedience always draws the human heart closer to God, into a relationship with Him.
Never, I repeat, never, never, never divorce obedience from experience in Christianity! When they are divorced, you end up with people who claim obedience, but have hardly a word to say when it comes to sharing Christ with others. Or, you end up with bubbly, excited “believers” who will next pick up a gun and shoot the other bubbly, excited “believers” on the other side of the war front, who may well be a member of the same denomination.Two examples
I think of two examples that I have seen in my day that illustrate the error of divorcing obedience from experience.
Example 1: A young couple grew up in an Old Order Amish church. To be sure, many people in those churches represent a cold obedience: doing many right things, but not knowing, or even caring, why. This young couple then claimed to have a “born-again” experience and wanted out of the Old Order Amish. They wanted to be somewhere where people experienced God.
So out they came. But within weeks, literally, they had ditched their Plain clothes. She came to church wearing a bright yellow dress, bright enough to make a canary jealous as one might say. He came in his T-shirt and blue jeans.
My heart sank. “Born again and conforming so rapidly to the ways of the world?” I asked myself. A year or so later I saw a picture of these two. I didn’t know them. “You remember that couple that left the Amish a while back?” someone prodded my memory. “Oh, yeah …” The girl had no covering, and the young man was dressed in the fashion of the day.
Experiences that lead to disobedience are false experiences. Period.
Example 2: A lady joined a church that expected obedience to the clear teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. She came from an Evangelical background where such obedience is optional, or even called “legalism.” So here she came: long hair and covered head, modest dress, baptism upon confession of faith, communion, feetwashing, etc. She was obeying the teachings of Jesus in those areas.
But what else came with her? An attitude. “We all knew she was mouthy from the day she came,” her minister said of her later.
Unfortunately, her obedience was a farce. An unconverted heart lay underneath those formal obediences. What does a covered head mean on a “mouthy” lady? A submissive, meek and quiet spirit?
Her heart condition eventually revealed itself later on, and she reverted to her former ways. The last I saw her she had her long hair cut off and was wearing pants and jewelry … and her mouth still functioned. But for a time she had lived in obedience to many of the teachings of Jesus, without a true regeneration of her spirit. However, not everyone who has a formal, cold obedience reverts to open carnality. Some people can live their whole life in a moral, dry formality. Remember: robots can keep ordinances.Back to the River Brethren
The so-called “River Brethren” were given that name due to the close proximity of the original members to the Susquehanna River. A good part of the early membership came from Swiss Brethren immigrants. But instead of ditching the Mennonist requirement for obedience, they simply recognized that obedience without experience was sick at heart. And, they recognized, true experiences with God would lead to obedience. One of them wrote:
Those who are born into the kingdom of grace, and have been washed and cleansed by the blood of Christ, are born of God; and they will do the will of God. … The whole man will become changed within and without and become a new creature in Christ Jesus. … The people of God are a peculiar and separate people. They will come out from the world.
Notice the emphasis of the experience: a new character. Another River Brethren lady who had an experience tells what happened to her:
I felt as though I was in another world … old things had passed away and all things became new.
So far, it is all feeling … but let us continue reading her account …
I was now willing to be led by the Spirit. I was dressy before, now I wanted to be plain. When I began to change my dress, my friends turned against me.
I looked around me and wondered whether there was no other way to get to heaven than this narrow path; but there was no other way for me.
The River Brethren did not promote experiences that were mere cheap-shod, hooly-hooping, emotional shindigs. Many of them spent long periods of time making restitution in areas where they had wronged fellow humans. One of them explained it this way:
It is impossible to exercise that faith that will draw the blessings of God upon us if we are at enmity with our fellowmen or hold what we dishonestly took from them, or live in any way in violation of God’s moral law. People have prayed and seemingly cried mightily unto the Lord for days, trying to substitute prayer for confession and faith for honesty. Confession and restoration were first in order, without which no further progress could be made. “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” No amount of praying, no amount of tears, can take the place of these “works meet for repentance.”
In recognition that a person can have a cold, legal obedience, another River Brethren person wrote:
… the Lord wants a clean and perfect heart. I fear that I have only the form which the Church upholds, or in other words, my heart does not accord with my outward appearance. I often wish that when I speak for the cause of Christ, I might speak such words that originate in the heart; for when the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, oh! what joy and happiness we can realize, …A microcosm of Christ’s kingdom
The details are sparse, but it seems that these “River Brethren” knew of and attended some of Martin Boehm’s early “Great Meetings.” They generally approved of the revival that was happening in those early days. But when comparing what their experiences were, and what the later Methodist experiences were, one gets a hint of different expectations.
Another big difference between Martin Boehm’s Methodism and the River Brethren was about what constituted the church. Author Carlton Wittlinger, writing about two centuries later, sums it up with these beautiful words:
The early [River] Brethren perceived the church to be the visible people of God, the community of born-again, obedient, disciplined, interdependent Christians in face-to-face fellowship. It was not a man-made institution created to produce either personal piety or the salvation of “souls,” nor was it the total invisible community of those who had been born again. Salvation, they believed, was not only personal, but corporate; the church as a visible community was to demonstrate the redemption of relationships; it should seek to be nothing less than an earthly microcosm of Christ’s Kingdom. (Wittlinger, 44)
In short, the church was not (as is too often thought) a place where people gather to encourage one another in their feelings of assurance and then go home for the week. The church was to be an earthly microcosm—a miniature model—of Christ’s kingdom working on earth! It was to be a place that revealed the “redemption of relationships”; a place where people actually live out brotherly love in a visible, tangible community of holy people. Well said, Carlton!Now it’s our turn
Have we divorced experience from obedience? It is certainly tempting to do so … to participate in the great debates that happen between those who have experiences, but disobey, and those who keep the ordinances, but are ice-hearted and formal. Those debates can be endless and are often fruitless.
Don’t get caught in that useless debate! True Christian experiences will lead one into a greater obedience, and true obedience will bring a closer, personal walk with the God of heaven.
If our obedience is not drawing us into loving Jesus like the “dove … the undefiled one … the only one of her mother” was admiring—and being admired of—her Lover in the Song of Songs, we had better ditch that obedience and find an obedience that is fiery, heartfelt, and meaningful!
And if our experience is causing us to move away from the simple teachings of the New Testament (nonresistance, separation from the world, holiness, plain dress, etc.), we had better ditch that experience and seek one that moves us to a stronger obedience.
Whatever you do, do not divorce—or try to balance—obedience and experience. They do not balance each other: they walk hand in hand! The more you get of one, the more you automatically get of the other! ~Graphing it out …
Sometimes it helps to see things graphically. The following graphic was made to help us “see” the main points of the previous article. The positions of the mentioned churches are a snapshot as they were in the late 1700s and early 1800s (positions have changed since then). Later history shows that each group had its saints, and each had its share of rotten apples. This graph (and the previous article) is not given to “save” or “unsave” any person or denomination, but to help us grasp what was the basis of their fellowship.
United Brethren: Official teaching stated that members must practice nonresistance and other kingdom characteristics. But … they openly fellowshipped with others who did not follow these teachings, thus essentially making obedience unofficially optional.
Mennonists: While the church wanted members to experience God in a personal way, some of the membership appears to have had only a formal obedience to the ordinances. Thus personal experience became unofficially optional.
River Brethren: Strove for obedience to the kingdom mandates by personally experiencing Christ. No fellowship allowed with anyone who went to war.
Methodists: While Francis Asbury and most of the leadership of the early American Methodism refused to take arms or swear oaths (and personally desired that all Methodists follow their example), members were not disciplined by the church if they did take arms or swear, nor did official church doctrine demand nonresistance and nonswearing of oaths. Thus obedience to the Sermon on the Mount was officially optional.
As another exercise in pondering where we are and where we are headed, let’s look at a graph of four generations of the Boehm family (note that time and position of the changes are generalized, not exact):
All this has been written and graphed out to get each one of us to THINK about where we are, and where we are headed. Where are you and your family/congregation? Where will you and your family/congregation be 25 years from now?Bibliography of major sources
“Boehm and Otterbein | Church of the United Brethren.” Accessed December 14, 2012. http://ub.org/about/boehm-otterbein/.
Durnbaugh, Donald. Brethren in Colonial America: A Source Book on the Transplantation and Development of the Church of the Brethren in the Eighteenth Century. Edited by Donald Durnbaugh. 1st ed. Brethren Pr, 1967.
Lawrence, John. The History of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. W.J. Shuey, 1868.
Newcomer, Christian. The Life and Journal of the Rev’d Christian Newcomer, Late Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Printed by F. G. W. Kapp, 1834.
Ruth, John L. The Earth Is the Lord’s: A Narrative History of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference. Herald Press, 2001.
Spayth, Henry G., and William Hanby. History of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Conference Office of the United Brethren in Christ, 1851.
Wakely, J.B. The Patriarch of 100 Years; Being Reminiscences, Historical and Biographical, of Rev. Henry Boehm. New York: Nelson & Philips, 1875.
Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience – The Story of the Brethren in Christ. Evangel Publishing House, 1978.
 In this article I will use both names, to get ourselves used to the idea that the “Mennonites” of Lancaster County were for the most part descendents of the Swiss Brethren. It was during this era that their identity was being changed to “Mennonite.”
 Some sources indicate that they were descendants of the famous German mystic Jacob Boehme. If so, Martin would have been something like a great-grandson of Jacob. However, definite proof of this relationship seems to be lacking.
The foundation of your fellowship is …
Think about it, if you haven’t. Just what is the basis upon which you and/or your congregation form a fellowship, a brotherhood of believers?
In the story we are looking at, we see a “battle” between fellowship based upon experience and fellowship based upon obedience. There are many other possibilities: fellowship based upon theology, fellowship based around a person/personality, fellowship based upon a common goal (ex. foreign missions), fellowship based upon a common reaction (ex. anti-Catholicism).
Perhaps you are thinking, “My fellowship is based upon a person, the man Christ Jesus!” While that sounds good and looks good on paper, the bottom line is that people use that phrase all the time to mean one aspect of Christ or Christianity. It would do us all well to ponder just what our expectations are when we think of fellowship. Do we demand obedience? Do we expect a common theology? Are we united around a common zeal we may have? Are we gathered around a good preacher?
If a testimony of conversion is required to be a part of your congregation, what is expected in that testimony? If assurance of salvation is testified to, what is the basis of that assurance? An assurance based upon feeling received from an experience? (As in American revivalism.) Or an assurance based upon Christ living within, producing victory over sin? (As in early Anabaptism, and Psalm 41:11.)
The purpose of this article is to stir us to consider the foundation of our brotherhoods. Foundations make or break congregations!
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (January/February 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
Based on a message preached by John D. Martin
The story is told of a shipwrecked sailor who landed on a South Seas island and was seized by the natives. They hoisted him to their shoulders, set him on a wooden throne, and said that he was going to be king for one year. This man discovered that they did this every year.
But after the man had been king for a little while, he began to wonder what they had done with the previous kings because it appeared that no former kings were living on the island. He was told that after the one-year reign, the king was put on a desert island and left there to starve.
But this man was wise. He hired people to go out to the desert island and fertilize it, build irrigation systems, plant trees, and construct buildings. For the rest of the year, the king had men working to furnish the desert island with everything a man would need to live there.
Thus, at the end of his reign, the man was banished to an island of plenty, furnished for abundant living.
Now, we all are kings for a little while on this earth. It is our responsibility to decide what we are going to do with the things God has given us. We can keep them here and when we leave have nothing on the other side, or we can send them on ahead to enjoy them for all eternity. That is what the Scripture has clearly said to us. Jesus said, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
Then he told us how to do it. He said, “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not.” We live in a world that offers us tremendous opportunity to do this with extravagance because we live in a very, very needy world. There is no end to the needs to which we can give.The reality
Seven billion people live in our world. Are you aware that one billion out of those seven billion live on less than one dollar a day? Another two billion of the seven billion live on less than two dollars a day. In other words, nearly half of the people in our world struggle to find enough food and water just to survive another day. Almost half … that is an incredible fact!
Here are some more facts. Every day, 29,000 children die of starvation and preventable disease, brought on by contaminated water, infections, malaria, and the like—29,000 children! To help you think a little bit about that reality, by the time this talk is finished, about 1,000 children in the world will have died from preventable causes. All they needed was food, clean water, or proper medical attention.
Teen Mania, a youth ministry, puts on a yearly event to challenge young people. One year they decided to do a demonstration that would make the realities of the world a little more real. To every session (held in various parts of the country), they brought a gold fish in a bowl. They took the gold fish out of the bowl and laid it on the podium, then stepped back to see what would happen. The audience was left to watch the gold fish flop around and die. In every case, someone in the audience could not stand to watch this and ran up to put the fish back in the bowl. The problem is that you are not there when those 29,000 children die in obscurity, often in places that the news media does not reach.
Someone once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” My goal is that by the time you finish reading this article, each one of those 29,000 deaths will be a tragedy, not just a statistic.The golden rule
Suppose you were starving and you knew that some rich teenager could have saved your life if she hadn’t needed that sixth pair of shoes. What would you think if you heard that she was a Christian and you knew what Christianity taught? And you died, knowing that this person had the means to save your life but simply did not care … what would you think?
Every night, 850,000 children go to bed hungry. How much money would it take to prevent this mind-boggling tragedy in our world? Actually, $13 billion would provide the basic nutrition for every starving child in the world.
You may say, “That is a lot of money!” But are you aware that American Christians spend $21 billion/year on soft drinks? If every Christian in the United States gave the money he or she spent on soft drinks, every starving child in the world would have a full stomach.
Do you want to know how much those same people spend on Christmas gifts? An unbelievable $100 billion! That same money would feed and educate almost every needy child in our world. For $3 billion a year, 500,000 people could be saved from blindness that occurs simply from the lack of vitamin A. American Christians spend $5 billion on bottled water.
But the most heart-wrenching thing going on in our world is an injustice that happens to people who have no choice. In our world, 246 million children are in the bonds of child labor. Let me read you an actual account:
My sister is ten years old. Every morning at 7 o-clock she goes to the bonded-labor man. And every night at nine, [that is 14 hours later] she comes home. He treats her badly. He hits her if she is working slowly or if she is talking to the other children. He yells at her. He comes looking for her if she is sick and cannot go to work. This is a terrible thing for her. I don’t care about school or playing. I don’t care about any of that. All I want is to bring my sister home from the bonded-labor man. For 600 rupees I can bring her home. That is the only chance to bring her back, but we do not have the 600 rupees and we will never have 600 rupees.
Six hundred rupees is $14.00.
All over the third-world countries, destitute people get into financial trouble, perhaps a funeral or an illness that they cannot afford to pay for. Not having the money to put food on the table, their children are sold to bonded-labor men. They may earn 10 cents/day, and the interest gets way ahead of the amount they owe. They will work for years to pay off $10 or $15 that was borrowed. To me, that is heart-wrenching. In fact, it is so heart-wrenching that I must do something about it … so much so that I have been talking about it with my family. I can’t handle the fact that 7-year-old children are forced to work like that. What were you doing when you were seven years old?
I want you to think about this. I want to lay a burden on your heart. We live in a country that is unrealistically the richest country that the world has ever seen. I see teenagers, in my own community buying designer clothes, buying $160 sneakers, buying soft drinks, buying fancy cars, buying expensive cool clothes, buying 20 pairs of shoes. You know what goes on, even in our Plain communities.
What does God think about all of this?
God has repeatedly admonished and warned us about our responsibilities. Dozens of Scriptures speak about this. We are going to look at some of them. I hope to cure you forever of selfish materialism. My purpose is to show that your indulgence is someone else’s suffering. Indulgence cannot be practiced with impunity. It costs someone else for you to be selfish with the resources you have.Old Testament admonishments
Proverbs 24:11-12 reads this way, “If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death [and I have just given you some of those accounts] and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not.” Now that may have been true years ago, without all the electronic media we have today. But basically nobody today in our society can say, “We don’t know that these injustices are happening.” It is on your cell phone and computer, even in the newspapers. It is just there, in front of you if you want to know it. And the Scripture says, “Don’t you say to the Lord, ‘We don’t know it.’”
The verse continues: “Doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?” So, don’t say “I didn’t know it; they were statistics. I didn’t actually see it happening.” Don’t say that! Not a single person reading this can say, “I don’t know it; I am going to buy my 20th pair of shoes …” Or purchase my dream car. Or build my dream house. Or continue in some other indulgence.
In Proverbs 28:27 we read, “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack.” That is a promise. God said that, not me! Continuing on, we read, “But he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.” I really don’t know what “have many a curse” means, but I don’t want to find it out!
Proverbs 21:13 tells us, “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” Jeremiah 22:16–17 states: “He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD.” He is saying that to judge the cause of the poor and needy is to know God. Will God say you knew Him if you ignore the poor to have your luxuries? Continuing on, he writes, “But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it.”
These are strong Scriptures, and reading them I was much convicted. My life needs some changes, and I intend to make them.
Now let’s look at Ezekiel 16:49: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom …” Now if you ask most people what the sin of Sodom was, they would answer, “homosexuality.” And that is true. However, God surprisingly says, “Pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”
Apparently God puts ignoring the poor in the same category as He puts sexual immorality. God takes our attitude about the poor, as can be seen in the aforementioned Scriptures, very seriously. He has a special eye on the poor; not only for their need, but for your response to their need. He is watching!
God could deal with all these inequities just like He could save the whole world without missionaries. He could do all of that, but He leaves these situations for His children so that they can accept their responsibilities and do what needs to be done. He is watching my attitude toward the poor just like He is watching my attitude toward the lost. He takes it very seriously!New Testament admonishments
Let’s look at Matthew 25, the classic New Testament Scripture on the subject of caring for the poor. It really doesn’t need any comments or explanation.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Most people read this and say, “Well, I thought the final judgment was going to be about whether a person surrendered in obedience unto Christ.” That is true. But the response of John the Baptist is interesting when the people came to him—after he had preached that scorching sermon calling them vipers—saying, “What shall we do?”
John responded, “If you have two coats, give one away. If you have more food then you need, give the extra away.” What strange advice! You would have expected him to say, “You need to turn from your sins!” Well, he was saying that in very practical terms. He was telling them what the fruit of repentance looked like in real life.
If you asked most people what the “fruit of repentance” is, you would get a different picture than what John shared. John told the people that “fruit of repentance” is distributing one’s extra material goods. If so, can most Christians say they actually have ever repented?
Zacchaeus came to Christ saying that he was going to give half of his goods to the poor and restore that which he had wrongfully taken. Do you remember what Jesus said to him? “Today is salvation come to this house!” If genuine repentance is giving away your extra stuff, and if salvation is proved by what you do with your extra stuff, I ask myself, “How much salvation are we really experiencing?”
In Matthew 25 Jesus makes it very clear what judgment is going to be based on. The evidence that you have surrendered your life in faith and obedience to Christ will manifest itself specifically in how you handle your material goods. According to John the Baptist, Zacchaeus, and what Jesus says in this chapter, there has not been genuine repentance, nor faith in Christ, nor a surrender to His lordship, nor obedience to His commands if we are not sharing with the poor. The thing that troubles me is that for years the church has failed to emphasize this fact of the gospel.Blinded
There is a great blind spot in American Christianity. It is amazing what kind of blind spots Christians can have. Are you aware that in this country 150 years ago Christians defended slavery? We look back and say, “How in the world could they possibly have defended slavery?” But they did! And you can be that blind. I hope that we can rid ourselves of blindness about how God requires us to handle the possessions He lends to us.
The world has 143,000,000 orphans because of all the wars and other social catastrophes. There is an anti-Christian Website that plays the song “Jesus Loves Me” while showing pictures of the emaciated children. Then at the end they show a cross covered by a circle with a line through it that means “No.” Then the Website says the following: “He is your God; these are His rules; and you all go to hell.” Now granted, that is a pretty awful message, and they don’t intend for it to do any good. But I am afraid they understand the gospel better sometimes than we do.
The widow gave all that she had. She gave her living, which literally means she had nothing left for the next day. And Jesus said that she had given more than all the rest put together. That is Jesus’ standard: not how much you give, but how much you have left.
I hear people say, “This man is really rich, but he really gives.” According to the parable, God does not measure how much you give; He measures what it costs you to give.
The requirement is that God expects us to know what is going on in our world and to respond to those needs to the extent of our ability. And He will hold us accountable.The resources The United States has 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 5% of its population.
The United States is the richest nation in the world. It has one half of the world’s wealth … and 5% of the world’s population. Did you get that?
In the United State, 160 million adults claim to be Christians. Now think about it: if each professing Christian gave $15 a month, it would literally wipe out starvation in the world. Now I understand that a lot of the starvation situations are political conditions that make it impossible to even get aid to the needy. We are talking only in hypothetical figures here. Not only would starvation be eradicated, it would supply safe drinking water for all children and educate every child not in school.
God has given us more than what we need for only one reason. Did you know that? 2 Corinthians 8:14-15 gives us that reason: “For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.”
If you have more than enough to meet your needs, there is only one reason: so you can help those who do not have enough. It is not yours to use as you wish. In fact, are you aware that the great practical theme of the Scriptures is equity?
The prophets warned Israel time after time concerning inequity, which means that you respond with your resources in a way that is not equitable, or equal. Instead of equality, you lavish your resources on yourself while there are other people in the world who are dying. And God hates it! So He has told us through Paul that the reason some people have more than enough is so that they can give to those who have less, and things can equal out.Getting ahead?
We have a brother in our community who farms organically. He feeds his cattle very little grain—he says it is too expensive—and has basically his whole farm in alfalfa and grazes his cows, without raising any corn. He makes a decent living. He says, “My cows don’t get sick. They have little mastitis and no twisted stomachs. My cows stay in the herd for many years, instead of 2 or 3 years like the cows on farms where they are pushed with energy.” He was thus telling me what a wonderful experience he has farming. He has healthy cows, and he makes a good living.
I was telling a friend of mine about that—a conservative Anabaptist man—and he said, “Yeah, you can make a living doing that, but you can’t get ahead.”
I said, “What do you mean by ‘getting ahead?’”
He replied, “You will never come up with enough money to buy the next farm.”
You see, that is our mentality … “get ahead.” My question is, “Get ahead of whom? God?” God said that if you have extra money, it is not yours to do with as you please. It has been given to you because there are people here in the world who need it, and for some reason God has given it to American Christians, expecting it to flow from America to other parts of the world so that there can be at least some semblance of equality worldwide.
We have an unbelievable opportunity. Let’s consider the response by looking at 2 Corinthians 9:6 (I love this verse!): “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” This is in the context of giving. Next we read, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”
Do you know what the Greek word for “cheerful” is? “Hilaros!” from which we get our English word “hilarious.” God loves a hilarious giver! I mean when he gives, he is in hilarity! It is the most uplifting thing he can think of to do!
God loves such a giver!
Continuing on to verse 8, we read (this verse is taken out of context many times. If you are not living as I was just describing, then this verse does not apply to you): “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” This is for the hilarious giver. I think we all want that kind of blessing. God has clearly told us how to have it.
In Philippians 4:19 we find another promise: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Again this is in the context of giving. Paul is commending the people in Philippi for sending an offering. Let’s look at the verse 17: “Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.” Paul tells them that he is happy to receive the gift, not because it was sent to him but because he knew what the result would be a blessing on their account.
Looking again at verse 19, we see the words “according to his riches.” Now if God gives us “according to his riches,” that is a little bit different from Him giving “out of his riches.” Let me explain …
If I were a millionaire, and you had a $50,000 hospital bill and I paid $40,000 of it, you would say that was a pretty good gift. But the amount would give you no clue how wealthy I really am. However if I paid the whole $50,000 bill and gave you $20,000 on top of that, you would have some idea of how wealthy I am. To the hilarious giver, God gives according to His riches—commensurate with His wealth—not “out of his riches.” This is a tremendous promise!
The gospel is full of teachings and warnings about materialism, yet everybody wrings their hands in our Plain churches and says, “We are drowning in our materialism …” while refusing to obey the Gospel’s plain solution to the problem.
Look! We are in a war against the world, and the world is basically a materialistic world that values only the things you can see and feel and touch. The best way to win the war against materialism is by extravagant giving.
Matthew 6:1–4 shows us how our giving is to be done: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”
To the Jewish mind, the word “alms” meant any righteous deed, but we think of it in terms of giving.
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret …” And here is the part that excites me! “. . . and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
In reaction to the Roman Catholics, with their “means of grace,” we have gone to the other extreme and said there are no means of grace. But there are means of grace. One of them is given to us in these verses. When we give alms, God rewards us openly, although not necessarily with money, in return.Openly rewarded
Let me give you an example of a man whom God rewarded openly in a tremendous way. And you probably did not know what was behind the scenes. I am referring to John Wesley.
John Wesley chose to live on what today would be a salary of about $20,000/year here in the United States. He never changed that through his entire life. The hidden side of this is that John Wesley wrote many books and was involved in handling large sums of money, earning approximately $160,000 a year in our economy. Yet he never took out for his own expenses more than the $20,000 salary he paid himself.
I visited the Wesley museum in London where he preached and stood there convicted. Here was a man who was famous and could have had basically anything he wanted in material goods. He had supporters who would have gladly given him any honor or position he wanted. But John Wesley was a man who cared about the poor in London.
Exhibit after exhibit in that museum show the lengths to which he would go just to help one prisoner or poor person who was in trouble. John Wesley was an extravagant giver. In fact, at one point in his life tea became expensive, and he quit drinking tea so that he would have that much more to give to the poor. He was involved in prison ministry, poor houses, the cause of freeing slaves in England … basically anybody in need captured John Wesley’s heart. Here is an actual account:
Wesley had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found he had little left.O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?
It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself, “Will thy Master say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful steward’? Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold’!
There is a reason that at his death someone made the following comment about Wesley. “When Wesley departed from this world, he left a battered hat, a worn coat, a tattered Bible, and the Methodist Church.”
And that was not just a happenstance. His extravagant, self-sacrificing giving explains why God blessed his ministry extravagantly.
Let’s turn now to some very often misunderstood verses in Luke 16:
And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
He was still giving away, unjustly, his lord’s money!
Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
He had no authorization to do this! But he was getting prepared for getting fired.
And the lord [whom he had just ripped off!] commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
This man knew that it was to his advantage to make friends with his lord’s money. But we don’t understand that. Our Lord says, “Do it!” But we don’t do it.
And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
Now I don’t understand what all that means, but it is clear that we are to do with our money what the unjust steward did with his money. The next part is what I really want to look at.
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
Jesus then explains what He is referring to …
If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
What true riches? The kind that John Wesley experienced. God says, “Money is a test. Money is the least on my scale of importance, and I am going to watch you and see what you do with it. And then when I see what you have done with your money, I will decide whether to give you the true riches, the kind the John Wesley enjoyed in his ministry.”
Does that explain why there is so little power, so little gifting, so little effect of our witness and testimony? It may just be that the Lord is looking at the materialism—that we all know exists among us—and the waste of our resources on extravagances, luxuries, and frivolous things, and that He is telling Himself, “If that is what they do with what I consider as the least important thing, I will never give them the things that are really important.”
Let’s turn now to Isaiah 58:10-11 and consider some tremendous promises, given in the context of fasting. “And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity.” John Wesley didn’t live in obscurity. Everybody knew who he was. I am not saying we should seek for fame, but that is what the Bible says.
“And thy darkness be as the noonday. And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” This is a promise given to those who reach out their hand to the poor.
Christians do practice this principle to a degree, and what they do proves that these promises are true. After Hurricane Katrina, Christians sacrificed to give the city food, water, and shoulders to cry on. It was obvious to the people of New Orleans that the Christians were doing the lion’s share of the restoration work. A Jewish doctor looking on made this comment after it was over: “There are no longer any agnostics in New Orleans.”Taking Jesus at His word
Eric Camille is a dear brother from Tallahassee, Florida. We were one of his first contacts with Anabaptists. He looked up Anabaptists, and Shippensburg Christian Fellowship came to his attention, so he traveled the whole way from Tallahassee with his dear wife to visit our congregation. He told me: “Anabaptism is beautiful! Absolutely beautiful! I did not know that there were people like this. But the thing that surprises me is that you people keep it within the four walls of your church buildings. You folks should be down on the streets of the cities helping the poor and lifting the fallen.”
He and his wife take what resources they have—and he is not a wealthy man—and go down to the slums of the city on a regular basis with food and prepare it on the sidewalk to feed the hungry. He said, “I don’t understand you people, why you are not taking this to the streets.” And he hasn’t joined any of our churches as a result because he sees this lack as our tremendous blind spot.Joyful obedience
John 15 tells us that if we obey the Lord, our joy will be full. Let me give you an account:
Sunday in our church we were studying the story of the rich young man in Mark 10. Later, I received the following e-mail from one of our members:
My wife and I went home, emptied all our clothes onto the bed, got several bags of canned goods and, all the baby clothes our son has grown out of in addition to the toys he does not play with anymore. I took several hundred dollars cash that I was saving to upgrade the front lawn.
By the way, how much do you put into your front lawn? I cannot imagine the amount of money people put into their lawns.
We drove over to the projects downtown and prayed. I prayed for the people I didn’t know who were about to receive what I had too much of.
In the first house was a man about 30 who had a baby and needed some clothes. Perfect! I had my clothes to give him and the baby toys and clothes. He needed money for groceries, so I gave him $100. . . .
The next house had a couple who needed some clothing for the wife and money for a car payment. So I gave her my wife’s clothes and $100.
We prayed with each family and told them we came with God.
I got such a rush out of this that we got home and got more things together to give away. My wife and I are now consistently serving at the homeless center downtown. I am going to start teaching art and graphics at the homeless learning center.
This man got a charge out doing this! I ask you, what gives you your “kicks”? What do you get a rush out of doing? Is it that new gadget? Is it that extravagant automobile that you really don’t need? Isn’t it far more than mere transportation? Why not admit that it also was bought to make an expensive statement?
Why don’t you do what this man did? You will be surprised at what it will do for you!Sacrificial love testifieth loudly
Tertullian identified the outpouring of sacrificial love as the key factor to explain the multitudes that came to Christ in those first centuries.
Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place. Not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” We are to overcome evil with good.
Ghandi was once asked by E. Stanley Jones—who had desperately tried to get Ghandi to make a commitment to Christ—what hindered him from committing his life to Jesus. Ghandi replied, “The Christians.”
Suppose we Anabaptists repented of our materialism and became known for our sacrificial and extravagant generosity in obedience to Christ? Yes, some of this does happen, but the people around us also know that we have piles of money left. We are known for our wealth and being people who have money. Suppose we were known as people who have depleted our resources for the sake of God’s Kingdom and are the most generous people on the face of the earth.
You can help change this! Coupled with nonresistance, obeying Christ in hilarious giving would be the most powerful testimony in the world. Will we be remembered as the generation that rose up for the cause of world poverty the best we could with our small numbers? Or will our history show that we were the most selfish generation in history who loved its soft drinks, fancy cars, cosmetics, extravagant clothes, expensive electronic gadgets, oversized houses, and costly vacations?Reaping lavishly
This is serious! God is not mocked! He said whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap. Galatians 6:7–10 has a “negative” side, but it also has a “positive” side. In fact, the emphasis is on the positive. I want to inspire, not scold. “Be not deceived . . . “he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
You have Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are starving. You have the opportunity to sow much for a bountiful harvest of blessing.Saving time?
It is not the high cost of living, but the cost of high living that is hurting us. I am amazed at what has happened in my generation. Let me give you an example from my own home. I grew up on a farm and we took a bath once a week in a tin tub. That wasn’t unusual; that is the way everybody did: bathe once a week and change your clothes. Mom washed on Monday morning, all the clothes for a family of 13, and she was done with the wash for the week.
When my twin brothers were born, the last in the family, my father thought my mother needed some help so he bought her an automatic washer and dryer. Coupled with the bathroom built a few years previously, this enabled all 13 of us to take a bath and change into clean clothes every day … and my mother washed every day with her automatic washer. She then had less time than she had before!
Yes, our “labor-saving” devices have robbed us. When I was a boy, we visited all over the community throughout the whole week. Today, we visit maybe on Sunday, but we never visit someone on a Tuesday evening, especially unannounced.
When I was a boy, we never called anyone before paying a visit. We just said, “Let’s go visit someone,” and got in the car. We children would say to our parents, “If we get all the work done early tonight, may we go visiting?” And they would agree because we all loved to go visiting. We would go to the first place, unannounced, and if they were not home we went to the next, until we found someone home.
My father and mother together had 19 brothers and sisters, and we visited all of them once or twice a year, plus many friends. Nobody today that I know visits like that. Why? Because we have our automatic washers and other “time-saving” devices.
As another example, our great-grandmothers had a carpet in the parlor, the only carpet in the house. The only maintenance that carpet got was to have the lint picked off it occasionally and to get hung over the clothesline each spring for the dust to be beaten out of it. So the children said, “Let’s help grandma out. Let’s buy her a vacuum cleaner.” Now she doesn’t have to take the carpet out and hang it over the clothesline.
The rest of the story is that we now put carpet in every room of the house and sweep it every other day.
That is what I mean when I say our problem is “not the high cost of living, but the cost of high living.” We have put ourselves in bondage with our luxuries and our high expectations of what life should be. In the meantime, we have less money and time for the desperate people in our world who will die physically and spiritually without our help. The key to freedom from this deadly snare is to be extravagant with our compassion and try to bring some sense of equity between us and the needs of our world.Battleship, or luxury liner?
We are in a battle. I will finish with a story:
In the 1940s the US government commissioned William Francis Gibbs to work with the United States Lines to build a troop carrier for the navy, the likes of which had never been built before, at a cost of $78 million. It was to be equipped to carry 15,000 troops. In 1952, the SS United States was completed. It could travel at 44 mph, faster than any other ship. It could cover 10,000 miles without stopping for food or supplies. It could travel anywhere in the world in less than 10 days. It was the fastest and most reliable troop carrier in the world.
The problem is that it never carried any troops! Somebody convinced the United States Lines to turn the ship into a luxury liner for heads of state and celebrities. By the time they finished refurbishing it, the ship carried only 2000 passengers instead of 15,000. It had 695 staterooms, four dining salons, three bars, two theaters, five acres of open deck, a heated swimming pool, and was fully air-conditioned.
It was no longer a vessel for battle, but a means of indulgence so that wealthy people could comfortably ride across the Atlantic Ocean.
Did you know that the church was designed for battle? We are in a war! Christ wants to mobilize every one of you to wage a great offensive for the Kingdom of God right where you are.
Have we turned the church into a luxury liner? A song we sometimes sing says, “In your costly temples praying, let thy kingdom come we pray, are but idle words of meaning, if from these [the needy] we turn away.”
Are we willing to turn the church into a troop carrier for battle? Are we willing to obey the clear orders of Jesus concerning the tragic needs of our world? Are we willing to forsake our costly comforts to meet the great needs in the inner cities, the hostile regions of the Middle East, and the disease-ridden parts of “third-world” countries? Are we willing to make the richest country in the world a means for exalting Christ through the investment of our resources?Just passing through …
Pilgrims have lots of resources to invest because they travel light. An American tourist once paid a visit to the renowned Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi had a simple room, with a few books, plus a table and a cot. The puzzled American asked, “My! Where is your furniture?”
Hofetz replied, “Where is yours?”
“Huh,” was the reply, “I am just a tourist. I am just here passing through.”
The rabbi replied, “So am I.”
This message is available in video, audio, pdf, mobi, and epub formats at www.elcristianismoprimitivo.com/english/our-world-and-our-wealth.htm
 Editorial note: Money values are hard to calculate across centuries due to the difference in purchasing power. The salary figure given here may actually be high, as another calculation of the value is closer to $14,000/year. The point is that John Wesley lived on what was basically a “minimum wage” salary and gave away the rest. In one particularly prosperous year it is said that he gave away 98% of his income.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (November/December 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Dean Taylor
Pulling into the local pretzel shop here in Lancaster County, the scene was pretty predictable. Buggies, horse ties, and old bicycles outside. Inside the old building, a plainly dressed, Old-Order Mennonite lady took my pretzel order. I paid and was about to head out to my car with my nice, warm bag of salted pretzels when I noticed two stacks of papers sitting on the counter. Looking closer I discovered, to my surprise, that these papers were actually voter registration forms and a “tract” explaining why voting for the conservative President was the only “Christian” choice.
Picking up the paper I asked the young lady, “So I didn’t know that conservative Anabaptists voted. When did this start?”
To this the Mennonite lady responded, “Well, it’s getting so bad that they are starting to.”
I answered back, “Historically it has never helped the church to get involved in politics.”Election time
Yes, it’s election time again, and the headlines are full of statistics and touching stories, all proclaiming their different sides of the political arguments. Depending on which news source you read, it would be easy to believe that the other side is Satan himself. Conservative Evangelicals are putting up quite a stink over this election and unquestioningly preaching the idea that voting in this election is a moral obligation. The socialist agenda of the current administration is seen as a major threat to the conservative way of life, and therefore voting against the “Liberal-Socialist” agenda is seen as almost important as walking an aisle. The left is no better, and more than ever they have learned to use spiritual overtones and self-righteous-sounding arguments to justify their agendas.
But who would the Apostles vote for? In the early church, saying “Jesus is Lord” was actually a political statement. This phrase was in direct contradiction to the cry of Romans, “Caesar is Lord.” The closest equivalent to this sentiment in our day would be saying, “Jesus for president!” In the early church this was not mere sentimentality. After the death and resurrection of the Jesus, this motto became the early Christian battle cry.What does that mean practically?
So what did saying “Jesus is Lord” mean practically? To the early Christians it meant a separation from the politics of Rome and a purposeful establishing of a new nation called “The Kingdom of God.” Throughout history, radical followers of Jesus have charted the same course.
What is the answer to the question “Who would the apostles vote for?” I believe that they would vote for Jesus. But to a statement like that some may be thinking, “That all sounds nice and spiritual, but isn’t it okay to simply recognize that Jesus is the “real King in your heart,” but to still go ahead and vote for others—just in case?” Others ask, “Isn’t it better to vote for the lesser evil?”
History has proven that for serious Christians with conviction, voting for the “lesser evil” is a bad idea. Whether we want to admit it or not, the facts of history cry out that when the church has thrown in their lot with the different “lesser evils” of their day, it has led to both the church and the state losing out.
Throughout history when the politicians have vied for the attention of the church, their issues have appeared so justifiable—so important. The political activists have made it seem apathetic, un-American, and yes, even un-Christian not to get involved.
However, when the records of history are reviewed, it is amazing how the church’s entanglement with these seemingly “good causes” has littered the trail with casualties, often leading entire communities off course.Mennonite Nazis
A painful example of good intentions turned really bad is the case of the Mennonite political involvement in Germany during WWII. In some respects I would rather forget this chapter of our Anabaptist history. However, I feel that if we are going to lift up the good things we have done, then we also need to be honest with our mistakes—and this was a big one! I believe that understanding these mistakes could help to keep us from making similar mistakes in the near future.
The Mennonite church in Holland, northern Germany, and Prussia was one of the first to receive the gospel during the early years of the Anabaptist revivals of the 1500s. However, by the 1700s the materialistic slide of the Mennonites in Holland had its effects on Prussia as well. By the late 1700s, the Mennonites of northern Germany had enjoyed more connection with their conservative Protestant and Evangelical neighbors. Some of this had good result. However, economic and societal pressures bit by bit diluted the German Mennonites—almost completely—into mainline society. By the time of the Franco-Prussian wars of the 1890s and WWI in the 1920s, many Mennonites were getting involved with politics, nationalism, and even starting to fight in wars.After WWI
After WWI conditions were tough for all Germans—Mennonites included. The penalties placed on the German people by America and their allies crippled the economic stability of Germany. Farmers were hit particularly hard. Many farmers incurred large debts and were even forced to export their crops to support the surrounding countries hurt by the war.
The stock market crash of 1929 made a terrible situation even worse. Not only did it further crush the German economy, it also caused an uneasiness by revealing an unexpected weakness of western industry and capitalism. The ripple effect of this crash in the already-struggling post WWI Germany was devastating.Could the two crosses be fused? Joseph Stalin and Marxism
Added to this economic pressure in the West, the Russian Revolution led by Joseph Stalin was wreaking havoc all over the East. Notably affected by this revolution were the German Mennonite Brethren in Russia. Stalin’s reign of terror was notorious. German Mennonites frequently heard stories of how the “Communists” were making matters in Russia unbearable. By this time, some of their Russian Mennonite brethren had enormous farms. These farms became sitting ducks to Stalin’s forced economic plans of state ownership. Naturally, anti-communist feelings were strong.
Everyone was looking for answers. But they were looking in the wrong place. Their Bibles apparently were no longer looked at as a blueprint. Some looked to Western ideas of democracy and capitalism; others looked to the East and wanted to try the new “Marxism.” Regardless, everyone longed for a new, bold nationalism that would restore their honor and protect what little wealth, freedom, and property they had left.Major compromise
At this point a zealous, strong-handed political conservative by the name Adolf Hitler came to the scene. Hitler promised a unification of the German people, protection against the Communists, and a list of new “economic stimulus packages.” All these ideas promised Christian morality and prosperity for all good Germans. Some had cautions about Hitler’s intensity. But when it became election time, it was the “issues” that people voted for … and Adolf Hitler had the political cure of the day. It should always be remembered that Hitler was voted in by a fair democratic election process. Many liberals preferred the Communists. But the conservative Evangelicals, along with the German Mennonites, gave their vote for the new guy with the little mustache … complete with their new motto, “Heil Hitler.”The new plan
As part of a new “stimulus package,” in 1933 Hitler canceled all farming debts and reformed trade relations to benefit the German farmers. These changes actually made the German farmers part of the privileged class. Communist supporters were hauled off to concentration camps and many of the territories taken from Germany after WWI were quickly given back by rapid military actions. Germans were thrilled with these changes. When Austria fell to the marching armies, Germans were electrified. The Protestants were so happy that they even took down the cross that rested over the very castle where Martin Luther had translated the Bible, and put up a Swastika in its place.What was the spiritual cost?
What was the effect of Nazi nationalism on the Mennonites? Historically, the Mennonites had a heritage of separation from worldly politics. Could they get involved in politics and still stand against this new mindset? In a word—no.
Sadly, the Mennonites of Germany joined in with the jubilant nationalistic feelings that were spreading. As a matter of record, the German Mennonites were so happy with their new Führer that they wanted to express their official gratitude to him. In a telegram written September 10, 1933, the sentiments of a church council that had just taken place were expressed:
To Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Berlin:
The Conference of East and West Prussian Mennonites, assembled today in Tiegenhagen, Free State of Danzig, feels deep gratitude for the powerful revival that God has given our nation through your energy, and promises joyful cooperation in the upbuilding of our Fatherland through the power of the Gospel, faithful to the motto of our forefathers: No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.” (Emphasis and italics mine.)
I’m sure Hitler didn’t take time to answer every telegram that he received, but this one he replied to personally:
For your loyalty and your readiness to cooperate in the upbuilding of the German nation, expressed in your letter to me, I express my sincere thanks. —Adolf HitlerYikes!
Now to the defense of these German Mennonites, we have to remember that the atrocities that Hitler committed were not completely known at this time. On the other hand, there is a very important lesson to learn from just that point. When the church gives its support and affirmation to the ways of this world, when the church condones “lesser evil,” it finds itself praising an antichrist.Quick seduction
Caught up in the feeling of the day, in 1933 the United (Vereinigung) Mennonites stopped asking for special treatment as conscientious objectors from war. In 1934 “nonresistance” was removed from the Mennonite confession of faith.
In 1939 when the German armies took over Prussia bringing the Mennonites of Danzig to be united with the rest of Germany, the Mennonites saw it as an act of God. Emil Händiges, of the United (Vereinigung) Mennonites wrote:
Our German peoples have endured unspeakable difficulties under the Polish yoke during its twenty year foreign rule. The most difficult at the end. Then God, the Lord, helped them through the hand of our Führer and freed them. We thank our Führer for this act of liberation.
Mennonite and conservative Evangelical journals praised these military conquests by the German soldiers. These journals frequently quoted from the Prophets and the book of Revelation, showing Germany’s place as “God’s people” in prophecy.Nazi belt buckle, emblazoned with the words “God with us.” Gott mit Uns
Today it is easier to think of these German soldiers as committed pagans and monsters. “After all,” we tell ourselves, “how else could they have conducted all of those terrible deeds?” The sober truth is that most of those German soldiers claimed to be Christians. Astonishingly, the belt buckle worn by all of these so-called “Christian” Nazi soldiers boldly proclaimed, “Gott mit Uns.”
By 1940 the subtle influence of this political leaven had almost completely taken over the German Mennonites. Issuing a proclamation representing the political posture of the Mennonite Union during this time, the United Mennonite church wrote: “The Conference will not do anything that would even have the faintest appearance of opposing the policies of our leader (Führer).”
Reading this stuff, I had to ask, “Could this still be called Anabaptist?” I don’t personally think so. But more importantly, can they be called followers of Jesus? These changes were a pretty far cry from the decree of separation from the world and shunning of earthly government that was espoused by the early Anabaptists in the words of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. It is obvious that their original convictions had grown stale.Fresh faith
During this time of compromise, there were small groups of first-generation Anabaptists on the scene. A first-generation Hutterite group led by Eberhard Arnold was just becoming organized during this time period. Enthusiastically embracing the foundational ideas of Anabaptism, they were dismayed over the posture of their Mennonite spiritual cousins.
When the Nazi authorities found out about these new Anabaptists, they became alarmed. The Hutterites’ radical theological and, particularly, their strong economic stance was more than the Nazis would stand for. But because of their radical stance, the loosening Mennonites were getting heat for also being called “Anabaptist.” When the authorities asked the politically-friendly Mennonites if they were associated with the new Hutterite group, the Mennonites didn’t exactly stand up for them. In a united effort of both the northern and southern Mennonites, an official disclaimer stated: “The Hutterites belonged neither to the Vereinigung (Union) of German Mennonite Churches, nor to any other organization within our Free German Mennonite Church.”
It wasn’t long until this new Hutterite community was raided. Fortunately, most of them made it out of the country, and the new group ended up as refugees in England. When England, the US, and Canada would not let the new group settle in their countries, the American Mennonites came to their rescue through the help of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The MCC helped the Hutterites immigrate to Paraguay, conveniently close to a group of Colony Mennonites that the MCC was already helping.More Mennonite Nazis!?
However, just when the Hutterites thought they were far, far away from the dreadful politics of their homeland, they discovered that thousands of miles away, virtually in the “middle of nowhere,” these South American Mennonites were also indoctrinated with Nazi politics!
The Mennonites there in Paraguay were living in terrible conditions and they spoke frequently to the Mennonites of Germany. Many felt that if Germany defeated Russia, then the Colony Mennonites would have a chance to leave South America and come live in Germany.
Like their brethren in Germany, the Mennonites of Paraguay had also had council meetings to discuss the advantages of Nazi politics. After their church council, they also blessed the Nazi government and saw the Nazis as the political party that was upholding conservative Christian values. After the conference, the Colony Mennonites of Paraguay wrote:
With greatest excitement we German Mennonites of the Paraguayan Chaco follow the events in our beloved Motherland and experience in spirit the national revolution of the German people. We are happy that in Germany, after a long time, a government that freely and openly professes God as Creator stands at the head of the nation … With special sympathy we hear that the current government takes seriously the realization of Christian principles in social, economic, and cultural life and especially emphasizes the protection of the family. (Emphasis mine.)
One youth leader writing home to Paraguay, while studying in Germany, wrote: “If one lives through such weeks in Germany, one is drawn involuntarily under the spell of the Führer and can do nothing else than confess oneself a National Socialist.”
The new Hutterites were disappointed. The living conditions of Paraguay were horrible indeed, but they felt that the freedom of worship was worth the cost. Emmy Arnold once wrote in a letter, “Better hookworm, than hooked cross (swastika).”
Responding to the lack of education and deplorable living conditions of the Colony Mennonites, the Hutterites quickly went to work trying to educate and offer social aid to the different Mennonite groups. Holding preaching services and hymn sings, some repentance progress was made. However, it was still a hard, upward fight. On one occasion, when the Hutterites came into a church building that the Mennonites had generously opened for them to worship in, the Hutterites were met with a framed picture of Adolf Hitler. The picture was front and center … right over the communion table!The war ends
We know how part of the war story ended. Germany lost the war, Hitler committed suicide, and soon all the atrocities of the Nazi party were being broadcast to the world. The Mennonites as well as conservative Protestant, Catholic, and Evangelical groups repented of their support of this antichrist. Mennonite leaders even repented publically. The Mennonites of South America followed suit, and eventually the political answers of the little German Führer were vehemently discarded.
Yet, somehow, something was lost by this pandemic compromise. I believe that something was particularly lost from the Mennonites. Compromise of this magnitude from mainline Protestants and Catholics was one thing … the world was somewhat used to seeing that. But when even the “radical Christians” were seen bending their knee to this evil, then something deep was lost.
The German church that emerged out of WWII Germany was anemic. Secularism has claimed the day, and today radical Christianity is virtually unheard of there.How did this happen to the Mennonites?
When I lived in Germany 20 years ago, I was a new convert to many of these Anabaptist ideas like nonresistance and separation from worldly politics. Walking into a Mennonite church there, I noticed on the walls the war memorials of Mennonites who had fought in the war. My guide was a man in his seventies who remembered the war period well. I asked him, “How did this happen? How did the Mennonites get swept up into all of this Nazi nationalism?”
He somberly told me, “It came over us like a revival.”
That was an impressive answer, and I am sure that at the end it did indeed come on them like that. But was it completely unexpected? I now think that the compromise was more insidious than the Mennonites were aware of. As the years go by and I watch the way modern conservative Mennonites respond to politics, I can somewhat understand how this could happen again. I now think that instead of being a sudden change, it rather happened because of a long time of slow compromise. James Peter Regier says it well in the conclusion of his excellent essay on this historic time period of Mennonite history:
It seems then, that the biggest flaw of the Mennonites was not any immediate error. Instead, it was the natural consequence of years of gradual theological adaptations and compromises to better fit within the German community. When National Socialism came, the Mennonites no longer had the capacity to resist.Have we learned our lesson?
Have we learned our lesson? Have we learned that trusting in “good” political strategies is a really bad idea? The Mennonite lady at the pretzel bakery said that things are getting so bad that Mennonites simply have to start getting involved in politics.
It is exactly because the world is getting so bad that it is time to leave the failed solutions of the world and to start showing a model to the world of what the world would look like if we all would simply follow the teachings of Jesus.So is voting a sin?
As we have seen, the issue is a subtle one. On the one hand, it seems so innocent. We might ask, “So what’s wrong with just telling someone who our choice would be for President?” That may seem innocent enough, but perhaps it is just this type of subtlety that warranted Jesus casting this rebuke: “Beware of the leaven of Herod.” Akin to the insidious pathos of pharisaical thinking, Jesus warned that the infection of “worldly political thinking” can grow in us, leading to our eventual spiritual destruction.
Jesus’ use of the metaphor “leaven” in this context is sobering. This word picture brings to mind the way we use leaven (today called yeast) in cooking. The small amount of yeast necessary to make a loaf of bread rise starts out seemingly innocuous and insignificant. However, once added to the dough, it is not long before that small bit of yeast affects the entire loaf, often swelling it to two or three times its original size. It happened to the Mennonites in Germany during WWII, and it can easily happen today if we look to worldly politics for our answers.
How is it with us today—in what way do we apply Jesus’ warning to “beware of the leaven of Herod?” Have we learned our lesson from history? We must learn from history that the world never has, and never will, come up with a lasting ultimate solution to their problems. Their shortsighted cures will always lack the clarity to see the root causes of their disease. As Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
If through this political season you have felt yourself infatuated with the agenda of worldly solutions, then please accept this lesson from the Mennonite Nazis and repent before you find yourself venerating the devil himself!
 For example, the Mennonites of Danzig shared a formal relationship with the Moravians of Herrnhut, who were only a few hundred kilometers away. When these Mennonites made their way to Russia, a large revival followed.
 This salute is often translated as “Hail, Hitler.” However, the German word “Heil” can also have connotations of “salvation” or “healing.” Thus the salute could have been used in the sense of seeing Hitler as a savior or healer of the German nation.
 Hans-Jürgen Goertz, “Nationale Erhebung und Religiöser Niedergang,” Mennonitsche Geschichtsblätter 31 (1974): 64. Quoted in: Mennonite Life, Mennonitische Vergangenheitsbewältigung: Prussian Mennonites, the Third Reich, and Coming to Terms with a Difficult Past, James Peter Regier, March 2004. http://www.bethelks.edu/mennonitelife/2004Mar/regier.php (Without Regier’s article, my article would not have been possible.)
 Emmy Barth. No Lasting Home: A Year in the Paraguayan Wilderness. Plough Publishing House, 2009, 39-48. Available online at: http://cdn.plough.com/~/media/Files/Plough/ebooks/pdfs/n/nolastinghomeEN.pdf
 “Emil Händiges offered his public repentance at the Fourth Mennonite World Conference in 1948. Referring to such Anabaptist and Mennonite founders as Conrad Grebel, Thomas Müntzer, and Menno Simons, Händiges recalled that the movement had, among other things, been founded on a teaching of nonresistance.” (Quoted from: Regier, Mennonitische Vergangenheitsbewältigung.)
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (November/December 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
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By Mike Atnip
July 16, 1740 was probably just another day for the little port town of New York. It was a growing town, having doubled its population during the last 40 years—from about 5,000 to 10,000. It was not yet New York City.
Into these 10,000 inhabitants stepped a young man named Christian Henry Rauch. He was a man with a mission; a mission to change the world with the gospel, one sinner at a time. Christian had no quixotic dream of converting the whole world. But he did know the power of Christ could change whosoever will. And that included the so-called “red” men of North America. After all, if Christ could change a European, He could surely change a Native American … they were all made of the same stuff and were all from the same original descendent.
Stepping off the ship, Christian really had no idea where to begin his mission. He had been chosen from a group of 12 candidates and commissioned by the Moravian Brethren Church to go to New York to “preach the gospel to the Indians.” When his foot touched the dock, he was walking by faith that God would lead him to the right person. He didn’t know a single soul in New York, nor where to begin to find the people to whom he had been sent to minister.
To Christian’s great surprise, he “happened” to meet fellow missionary Frederic Martin, who “happened” to be in New York at the moment. Frederic took him to meet some pious local people. The report they gave Christian was anything but encouraging. “There’s no use trying to convert those people,” they said. “They have a chapel, preaching, and a schoolteacher already, and they are as much as drunkards now as they have ever been. It is not safe for a white man to live among them.”
Christian thanked them for the information but didn’t let it discourage him. He just kept praying.
Not too many days later Christian heard that a group of Mohican Indians were in town to complain to the authorities that the white people were encroaching upon their lands up the Hudson River. Christian looked them up, and to his great surprise he found he could converse with them in Dutch, although imperfectly. But a bigger problem than the language was the fact that these Indians—described as ferocious in appearance and manners—were seriously intoxicated. He had to wait until they recovered enough from their drunken state to converse with them. Thus the missionary had his first meeting with the people for whom he would pour out his life.
When sobered up, he spoke with Tschoop and Shabasch, both of whom were sachems, or tribal chiefs. Tschoop was a middle-aged man by our standards, but “old” for his time and place: he was somewhere around 40 years of age. Somewhere along the line, Dutch traders had nicknamed him Job, which name his fellow Indians had made into Tschoop. The name stuck. Why he had been called “Job” is unknown: perhaps it had to do with Tschoop being a crippled man and quite an unhandsome sight—different sources mention his great physical uncomeliness—like Job in his afflicted state. Another version is that he earned the name from his natural wisdom.
But unlike Job of the Bible, Tschoop was a servant of alcohol. In fact, he was known to be one of the worst of his people for succumbing to the firewater that the white man had introduced to the red man. So much so that when Christian went to visit his two new friends the second time just a few days later, both were so drunken that they could neither stand nor talk. But he had managed earlier to get their permission to return with them to their village to be their teacher in spiritual matters, so he remained undaunted. However, in the confusion of meeting up with them at a predetermined place, they returned home without him when the time came for them to leave.
Christian found out that his new friends lived at Shekomeko, a small Indian town near the Connecticut border, and so started out for a visit. He arrived on August 16, just one month after landing in New York. And the story of a revival began. But before the revival, great testing had to come.Announcing the news
Tschoop had announced to the village that Christian would be their teacher, so immediately upon arriving Christian told them why he had come:
I come here from beyond the great ocean to tell you the good news! God, our Creator, so loved us that He became a human, lived 30 years in this world, went about doing good to all men, and was then nailed to the cross and shed His precious blood, dying so that we might be set free from sin …
The audience listened with great attention while he spoke. But the next day Christian found that the majority of his listeners simply laughed at him in derision when he tried to explain things further. Tschoop had listened to Christian’s first message as well, but he was so intoxicated that he remembered only one word from the whole sermon: “blood.”
Christian rose to the occasion by simply pressing ahead. Day by day he visited in their huts and tried to tell them his message. But things got worse before they got better. He was refused in many of their homes and wandered from village to village trying to find a receptive ear, and finding none. In fact, Tschoop even looked for an opportunity to shoot Christian, but the right moment never appeared. Shabasch simply tried to avoid him.Blood, peace, and liberty
But several things would not let Tschoop rest: that one word he remembered and dreamed about, “blood,” the great peace which Rauch possessed, and the good news of deliverance.
Later in life, Tschoop explained it this way:
Brethren, I have been a heathen, and have grown old among the heathen; therefore I know how heathen think. Once a preacher came and began to explain to us that there was a God. We answered, “Do you think we are so stupid as to not know that? Go back to where you came from!”
Later another preacher came and began to teach us, saying, “You must not steal, lie, nor get drunk.” We answered, “You fool, do you think we don’t know that? First teach yourself and your own people to stop doing those things! Who steals, lies, and gets drunk more than your own people?” And we sent him away also.
After some time Brother Christian Henry Rauch came into my hut and sat down beside me and spoke to me like this: “I come to you in the name of the Lord of heaven and earth. He sent me to let you know that He will make you happy and deliver you from the misery in which you presently lie. That is the reason He became a human and gave His life as a ransom for humanity and poured out His blood for humanity …”
It was the message of freedom from sin that seemed to strike deep into the heart of Tschoop and his people. They already knew there was a God. They knew that this God wanted them to live morally and uprightly. And so they had sent home the earlier missionaries who came to tell them what they already knew. But here came a missionary with a different message … the message of deliverance, of a changed life with power over sin through Christ!
And freedom came by blood? Tschoop was confused.
Ever since that first message in which he only remembered that one word, “blood,” he had wondered about it. But not only wondered about it, he actually had dreams about blood! Tschoop thought it really strange that someone could go around talking about blood, yet seem so peaceful. So one day he asked the missionary about that blood. The conversation went like this:
“Why do you talk about the blood with such joy in your heart?” ask Tschoop.
“Because it is the blood of your Creator, who came to die and cleanse you from your sin,” replied Christian.
“But how can blood cleanse from sin?” came the honest question.
“If you get the blood into your heart,” explained Christian, “the desire for drink will leave.”
“If you love Him, the blood will work upon you,” explained the missionary.
“But I am so given to drink,” protested the debauched man.
“If you get the blood into your heart,” explained Christian, “the desire for drink will leave.”
And then there was the peace …
It “blew Tschoop away” that Christian Rauch could come into his hut with such security and peace. One day Christian came to his home to speak to him about Christ. After finishing, Christian said he was tired and wondered if it would be alright if he would take a nap there. The permission was granted and Christian promptly lay down on the floor and dozed off. Tschoop, looking upon the peacefully sleeping missionary, explained his feelings like this:
This man cannot be a bad man; he fears no evil, not even from us, who are so savage and cruel, but sleeps comfortably, and places his life in our hands. I might kill him, and throw him out into the woods, and who would even know it? But this gives him no concern.Cleansed by the blood!
I have been a poor, wild heathen, and for forty years as ignorant as a dog. I was the greatest drunkard, and the most willing slave of the devil; and as I knew nothing of our Savior, I served vain idols, which I now wish to see destroyed by fire. Of this I have repented with many tears.
When I heard that Jesus was also Savior of the heathen, I felt it to be my duty to offer myself with soul, body, and spirit to Him.
But my nearest relations, my wife and children, were my enemies; and my greatest enemy was my wife’s mother. She told me that I was worse than a dog if I would not believe in her idol. But my eyes being opened, I understood that what she said was nothing but folly, for I knew that she had received her idol from her grandmother. It is made of leather, and decorated with wampum. Since she is the oldest person in the house, she made us worship it, which we have done, until our teacher came and told us of the Lamb of God who shed His blood and died for us ignorant people.
I was astonished at this doctrine, and as often as I heard it preached, my heart grew warm. I even dreamed that our teacher stood before me and preached it to me. Now I feel and believe that our Savior alone can help me by the power of his blood, and no one else.
I believe that He is my God, and my Savior, who died on the cross for me, a sinner. I wish to be baptized, and frequently long for it most ardently. I am lame and cannot travel in winter, but in April or May I will come to you. The enemy has often tried to make me unfaithful; but what I loved before, I consider more and more as worthless and sinful. I am your poor, wild Tschoop.
When Tschoop surrendered his will to Christ, the blood flowed … from Christ to Tschoop’s heart, rebirthing his inner man.
The Moravians had a different view of the blood atonement than the popular assumption that the blood of Jesus is like the pagans’ offering to appease the wrath of the angry gods. You know, like, “The gods are angry! Quick! Offer them a sacrifice to appease their wrath!” Not so, in Moravian theology.
According to Zinzendorf, the wounds of Christ were the key to rebirth. When the wounds were opened on the cross, blood flowed out … that is, the life of Christ. This flowing blood symbolized the Holy Spirit pouring out of the Messiah, which was then sprinkled into the spirit of sinful men—men like Tschoop—cleansing them of all sin. In short, the blood atonement was like a spiritual blood transfusion. The blood of Christ, His Spirit, would flow out of Christ and into a drunk, sobering him up. This life of the Messiah would flow into vengeful men and turn them into gentle, forgiving gentlemen. This Spirit, flowing out of the wounds of Christ, would take perverted men and turn them into faithful husbands and fathers. This blood, flowing out of Christ, would cleanse all selfishness out of fallen humanity. Indeed, there was—and still is—power in the blood of Christ to cleanse from all sin!
Tschoop would never be the same again! The old drunken, carousing, self-centered warrior was turned into a gentle, moral, and sober follower of Jesus.And others, too
Not very much later, Shabasch experienced the grace that changes sinners into saints. And others followed, not only in Shekomeko, but in the neighboring villages of Wachquatnach and Pachgatgoch.
On Februrary 11, 1742, Christian had the privilege of baptizing the first three Native Americans into the fold—Shabasch being one of them—near Oley, Pennsylvania. They had travelled to Pennsylvania for the occasion, and there Christian was ordained as a deacon, and then the three Indians were baptized by him at a meeting attended by quite a number of different denominational leaders. This baptism was a moving sensation among the Pennsylvanians. But Tschoop could not attend since he was too crippled to make the journey. However, on April 16, 1742, Tschoop also received baptism at the hands of Christian, back in Shekomeko.
The four converts were also a sensation among their own people. From 30 miles away their people travelled to Shekomeko to see and hear: to see the changed countenances on the faces of the men, and to hear the missionary and the converts’ testimony and preaching. Tschoop’s situation was described with the following words:
His teacher had repeatedly told him that no one but the crucified Savior could help him, and that He was always ready to do so, if he would only submit. But he had loved so many other things, and he despaired of giving them up. He had stuck fast to the world, was full of self-love, making a god of his belly. He also feared the reproach of man, and yet convinced that unless he surrendered his whole heart to the Savior, he would be damned on account of his unbelief.
But in another letter, Tschoop himself described what happened:
But now I am happy, for I know that our Savior has done so much for me; I am now as much humbled as I was sorrowful. As soon as I felt that I loved Him, I immediately wished for brethren who loved Him also. Therefore I love my brother Rauch, and you, and all my brethren here, and all brethren everywhere, even those whom I shall never see in this world. All who love the Lord Jesus, I love and salute. I rejoice more and more because our Savior makes others likewise happy, and not me only. I am always glad when our Brethren make known to us the Word; it is sweet to my taste, and I attend closely, that I may be as the Bible directs. And it is easy. There are men who say, ‘The Bible is a hard book.’ But I have not found it so; it is all sweet and easy. I therefore wait patiently until I come to the hard part. Since I so far only know it easy and sweet, and can say nothing more except that I feel the power of our Savior’s blood. Signed—John, your brother.And more yet …
More and more Indians humbled themselves and let Jesus be the King of their life. Indeed, nothing less than a revival was occurring! By the end of 1742, 26 Native Americans had been added to the fold. One person described it in these words:
It was truly delightful to see the poor Indians coming from places 25 miles distant to hear the new preacher, who, as they expressed it, spoke of God who became man, and loved the Indians so much that He gave His life to save them from the devil and the service of sin.
More missionaries arrived to help with the work, among them Gottlob Buettner. By July of 1743, a little over a year after the first baptisms, a 20 foot by 30 foot chapel was built at Shekomeko. The famed Conrad Weiser wrote the following to one of the missionaries after a visit to Shekomeko:
The faith of the Indians in our Lord Jesus Christ, their simplicity and natural deportment, and their experience of the grace procured for us by the sufferings of Jesus have impressed upon my mind with a firm belief that God is with you. I thought myself seated in a company of early Christians. They attended with great seriousness and devotion; their eyes were steadily fixed upon their teachers as if they would eat their words. Tschoop was the interpreter and behaved himself in the best manner. I esteem him a man anointed with grace and Spirit. The text of Scripture, ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever’ appeared to me as an eternal truth when I watched the venerable patriarchs of the American Indian church sitting around me as living witnesses of the power of Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Their prayers are had in remembrance in the sight of God and may God fight against their enemies. May the Almighty give to you and your assistants an open door to the hearts of all the heathen.
August Spangenberg, who for many years was one of the most important leaders at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, wrote the following in his journal upon visiting Shekomeko:
The nearer we approached to Shekomeko, the more veneration we found among all ranks of people for the great work of God in that place. The Justice of Peace at Milsy accompanied us, and declared that he would rather allow his right arm to be cut off than force the brethren to adhere to the Act passed against them, for he was thoroughly convinced that the grace of God had, by their means, wrought miracles in Shekomeko.
But when we arrived and were witnesses of it, then, dear brothers, dead indeed must be the man who could refrain from shedding tears of joy and gratitude for the grace bestowed upon this people! It is impossible to express what is felt here; God has done the work.
As we rode into town we met a man standing beside the road with a most remarkable countenance. We immediately thought of Tschoop and addressed him by name, and found that we were not mistaken. He received us with great kindness and brought us immediately to the missionaries.
Then the venerable elder, Abraham, came to see us and greeted us, and though he was marked, after the Indian custom, with a figure of a snake on each cheek, yet the grace of our Savior was so visible in his countenance, that we were struck with awe and amazement. The rest of the assistants came one after another and gave us a welcome in the most affectionate manner. Indeed, there was not a single one of the congregation that did not express joy at our arrival. They appeared altogether as meek as lambs.
While we were thus surrounded by our Indian brethren and sisters, I took up a Bible and the following text occurred to me: ‘Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my mother, sister, and brother.’
An Indian who had deviated from the right path wished to be readmitted, but the brethren could not trust him as yet. When we afterward held a lovefeast with all the baptized, 70 in number, he came likewise, stood at a distance, and looked upon his brethren with repentance and contrition in his countenance. We called him forward; upon which he went and sat down in a corner.
During love feast the presence of the Lord was powerfully felt. I spoke of the happiness granted to us by virtue of the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, appealing to their own experience, and they affirmed what I said to be true.
Afterward, Isaac exhorted the brethren to be continually humble and low in their own eyes; never to forget the sufferings and death of Jesus, and not only to think of it in Shekomeko, but in the woods and when out hunting. We closed our love feast with prayer and supplication, and with tears commended these precious souls, and our venerable brethren who have labored among them, to God, our almighty Savior.Enemies arise
Conrad Weiser had written, “may God fight against their enemies.” And enemies arose, although the Indian converts had laid down the war hatchet to follow Jesus. The “enemies” were the rum traders. Like the men in the book of Acts who were losing business because of Paul’s preaching, the rum traders started losing business at Shekomeko and the surrounding villages. And they were upset.
In an effort to counteract the revival, they started some rumors in the area. One rumor was that the Moravian missionaries were actually Roman Catholics in disguise, and they intended to turn the Indian nations to Rome. This, of course, did not go over well with the white population in the area, who were basically either Reformed or Anglican. Another story that got started was that the missionaries intended to sell the Indian children as slaves. As well, the Moravians were also reputed to be in league with the French, with 3000 arms ready to distribute to the Indians against the English.
There were also other denominations who wanted to bring the Indian converts into their fold. When a white man tried to convince Shabasch that the Moravian missionaries were not the “privileged” teachers that the Indian converts held them up to be, Shabasch replied:
That may be so. But I know what they have told me, and what God has worked within me. Look at my poor fellow Indians lying there drunk at your door. Why do you not send privileged teachers to convert them? Four years ago I also lived like an animal, and none of you troubled yourselves about me. But when the brethren came they preached the cross of Christ, and I have experienced the power of His blood, so that sin has no longer dominion over me. That’s the kind of teachers we want.
The reply of the white man is not recorded; there is not much he could have said. The salvation of the Moravian teachers brought conversion and power over sin, while drunks were lying at the door of their retractors. “The proof was in the pudding!”Disobey Jesus to save the mission post?
Eventually the rumors did their intended work. The town of Sharon, near Shekomeko, remained under arms for a whole week, and some of the colonists fled the area. The colony of New York passed an Act in 1745 that basically forbade anyone to do mission work among the Indians within the colony unless they would swear to two things. One, that they “rejected transubstantiation, the worship of the Virgin Mary, purgatory, etc,” and two, that they were loyal to the British king.
But before the Act was passed, the missionaries at Shekomeko were arrested. They were brought before the magistrates, but were always acquitted. The Justice of Peace at Filkentown even said—after acquitting them—that “he must acknowledge the mission in Shekomeko to be the work of God, because by the labor of the brethren the most savage heathen had been so evidently changed that he, and many other Christians, were put to shame by their godly walk and conversation.”
The Moravian missionaries were not Catholics, and neither were they opposed to the king. But … the “problem” was that Jesus had told them not to swear oaths. So they were stuck with either disobeying Jesus’ explicit command, or abandoning their mission outreach at Shekomeko.
They chose to obey Jesus.
At first the converts at Shekomeko decided among themselves to “stick it out” without their teachers. Gottlob Buettner had died right before the missionaries pulled out, exhorting the converts to “abide faithful unto the Lord to the end … and he expired while they were singing.”Moving on …
The converts in the villages held out for a few years, but circumstances eventually forced them to move on. White settlers made the claim that the ground upon which Shekomeko was built was not actually Indian land. Furthermore, a rumor was started that the Indians of Shekomeko were in league with the French. So great was the affect of this rumor that the inhabitants of Rhinebeck demanded a warrant—refused to them, thankfully—to kill all the Indians at Shekomeko.
As much as they loved their village, the villagers “saw the handwriting on the wall.” In April of 1746, the first 10 families packed up and headed out to seek asylum near their teachers in Pennsylvania. There, new villages were started, close to Bethlehem. Friedenshutten [shelters of peace] and Gnaddenhutten [shelters of grace] became Christian Indian villages, with refugees from Shekomeko and surrounding villages, along with converts from other Indian nations. Each family was given a plot of ground, and soon beautiful fields graced the valleys. The inhabitants also lived off of the wild game, with up to 15-20 deer being harvested daily, as well as wild berries, nuts, and honey.
The congregation met twice daily. Translation work was in process. New believers were taught. Strict and faithful discipline was observed. Cleanliness and orderliness prevailed. And alcohol was banned entirely from the Christian Indian villages.
The number of the Indian converts increased to about 500, and the chapel had to be enlarged only three years after it was built in 1746. Widows and orphans were cared for. The love of war was replaced by harmony.Tragedies
The story of the Moravian missions to the American Indians continued on for many years. By the time the eastern Indian nations had been pushed—what little was left of them—all the way to Kansas in the 1800s, many such villages had been built in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario. But not without price. Gnaddenhutten, mentioned above, was raided during the French and Indian War and several of the missionaries were killed. It was soon abandoned, and eventually the Indian converts found other places to settle further north and west. In Ohio, another village also named Gnaddenhutten suffered a massacre in which over 90 nonresistant Indians were mercilessly butchered to death by white colonists during the Revolutionary War. The stories of these villages—as worthy as they are for retelling—are too long to include here.
Tschoop became a translator and instructor of Indian languages and customs at Bethlehem for new missionaries. But his story is not long. It is the story of the smallpox among the Native Americans. Tschoop became a victim on August 27, 1746, along with over a dozen other neighboring Indians at the time. Smallpox (and similar diseases) is thought to have reduced the Native American population from several million, at the “discovery” of America by the Europeans, to several hundred thousand by the mid-1800s. Whole villages were almost totally wiped out by the dreaded disease to which the Indians were not resistant. Very few Native Americans who contracted it survived.
Tschoop lies buried along with 58 other Native American converts—from about eight different tribes—in God’s Acre in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The cemetery in Moravian communities was called God’s Acre because the Moravians saw the dead bodies “as seeds being planted, awaiting the resurrection to the final judgment.” When the trumpet sounds, all those dead bodies will “sprout” like so many seeds for the Savior!
In Memory of TSCHOOP, a Mohican Indian, Who, in holy baptism, April 16, 1742, received the name of JOHN; One of the first-fruits of the mission at Shekomeko, and a remarkable instance of the power of divine grace, whereby he became a distinguished teacher among his nation. He departed this life in full assurance of faith, at Bethlehem, August 27, 1746
There shall be one fold and one Shepherd. John x. 16.
 Frederic was in New York from the St. Thomas (West Indies) mission, which is where the first two Moravian missionaries, Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann, had gone a few years earlier. Neither Dober nor Nitschmann had stayed long on the island (Nitschmann a few months and Dober about two years).
 The Dutch had founded “New Amsterdam” as a trading post in 1625, but had ceded it to the English in 1664, who promptly renamed it “New York.” Thus the Dutch language had been introduced among the native population.
 The Moravians were not the first to preach to the American Indians, nor the first to have converts from them. But the Moravian Brethren were eventually the most successful in making disciples of Jesus—men and women who followed Jesus’ teachings—from among the Native Americans. Quite a number of nonresistant Christian Indian villages were formed during the following decades.
 Returning to the theme of the flowing blood being a symbol of the life (Spirit) flowing out of the Messiah to enliven sinners, this phrase and sentence is like “apples of gold upon silver platters” when thus interpreted.
 Conrad was an official government agent to the Indian nations, helping in treaty negotiations and land purchases. His homestead, near Womelsdorf, PA, is now a State Historic Site. Conrad also was a member, for about six years, of the Ephrata Cloister, at Ephrata, PA.
 Abraham [Shabasch] had evidently been ordained as an “elder” [older brother, to be a spiritual counselor to the younger] and the others here mentioned were “assistants” of some sort in the Moravian system of church administration. It is to be noted that the Moravian use of some terms like “elder” does not equal what we normally think of when we use those same terms today.
 The original stone would have probably only had his name and possibly the date of his death. It was replaced with the one mentioned here. As of the writing of this article, the stone mentioned here has also been replaced by another. On a side note, Christian Rauch died at Old Carmel, Jamaica, in 1763. The story of his missionary life at Shekomeko is only the beginning!
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (November/December 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Martin Weninger
Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Martin Weninger “Lingky,” a Swiss Brethren Anabaptist leader, explaining to the (Reformed) state church why the Anabaptists could not fellowship with the state church. The basic answer – that the state churches did not require following Christ in holiness in accord with His Word, but rather allowed every kind of sin and vice to go unpunished – was a standard answer across many types of Anabaptists all across Europe. In the case of the Swiss Reformed churches, the state church leaders confessed that the charges were true and (at least in the canton of Bern) tried repeatedly to reform the populace – apparently without much success.
Weninger’s tract is an excellent apologetic for a holy church and a holy Christian life, following the commands of Jesus and the Apostles. It is an excellent apologetic for avoiding those teachers who would discount the need for holiness and obedience. Even if they have some good things to say, if they do not require holiness and obedience, we are not to listen to them! Of course, neither the Scriptures nor the early Anabaptists (Weninger included) believed in the possibility of sinless perfection on earth, but it is still a fact that Christians are “dead to sins, [that we] should live unto righteousness” (I Peter 2:24).
It is sad but true that the historical record reveals that in 1538, Weninger recanted his faith. Whether he repented afterwards and rejoined the persecuted Swiss Brethren church or not is not known. “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13).
This English version of Weninger’s tract was translated by John C. Wenger and was originally published in the July 1948 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review. We gratefully acknowledge the permission of the Mennonite Historical Society to use it.—AVS.
The knowledge of and obedience to the will of God, that righteousness which springs from faith in Christ and also results in works (Phil. 1, 3, Titus 3, Heb. 11, James 2) wish I, Martin Weninger, called Lingky, to all those who seek to worship God in the spirit, with their hearts in the truth, and to serve Him with words and works unto His praise in Christ, Amen (Col. 3, I Cor. 10).
I have been admonished by Brother Galle Hafner to prepare a vindication respecting the church attendance of the children of the world who walk in the uncleanness of impure lusts like other heathen (I Thes. 4, I Pet. 1 and 4). This I am inclined to do, to show to everyone who asketh the reason of the hope which is in me.
Christ commands us to guard ourselves from the mixed teaching of the Pharisees and the befuddled expositors who pose as teachers of the Scripture but know not what they set forth or say (Matt. 16, I Tim. 1) and teach what is not profitable—just as the teaching of the priests does not profit—for base gain. Tit. 1: [They are] lazy bellies which may not produce works, all with deceitful minds, just like our priests. David says, They teach only sins, and glory in their pride and speak vain contradictions (Ps. 59), just as our priests also do now, teaching sins and hardening [people] in sins with their frivolous teaching, as it stands in Ezekiel 13 and Jeremiah 23. They minimize to the people the shadow of the wantonness of their life of sin (Jer. 8, 6, II Pet. 2), saying peace when there is no peace and promising freedom to those who ridicule God with their doings and walk after the lust and desire of their evil heart (Jer. 23, II Pet. 2), and they themselves are servants of corruption and sin (Rom. 6, John 8). They are called the Christians, even pious Christians and Brethren, who walk in darkness and have no fellowship with the light of Christ (I John 1), and whom the apostle of God calls children of the devil, as he says: He who does the right is of God and has the new birth of the Spirit, but he who does not do the right, but commits sin, is of the devil and not of God, because sin is also not of God. He has never known God and will also not see Him (I John 2, 3, 5 and III John 1). He who transgresses the teaching of Christ has no God (II John 1), and all his piety will no longer have any significance (Ezek. 18, 33, James 2).
By such evident witness it is now clear that the doctrine of the priests is not of God, and that it does not correspond with the doctrine of Christ and the apostles. Furthermore it is no wonder that such false apostles and deceptive workers pose as apostles of Christ, because the god and prince of this world himself (II Cor. 4, John 12, 14, Eph. 2), the devil, poses as an angel of light. It is no wonder that his servants also, who draw the wanton people to themselves (II Pet. 2, Jer. 23) and harden them in sin so that they so much the less repent (Ezek. 13) and live, pose as preachers of light, whose end will be according to their works (II Cor. 11).
Now when such hirelings, shepherds who have bargained for a definite wage, see the wolf coming they flee and do not lay down their lives for the sake of the sheep (John 10). Such shepherds the little sheep of Christ will not hear. But the foolishness of such shepherds who are come as from Christ whether [or not] He sent them, will be manifested to many people in the Free Territories [of Aargau], moved as they are by a seditious, blood-thirsty spirit which brought destruction in the rebellion of Korah, etc. Also many Zwinglian priests have turned back to the pope in Turgau, disregarding how it went with those for whom they had promised to stake their lives, and having been found to be liars (Apoc. 2). He who had not wished to recognize this must now see that it is true.
They teach contrary to Paul (Rom. 6) that one cannot be free of sin and live in righteousness: “One must sin to the grave; no one can keep the commandments of God” (I John 3, 5) which is not true. The apostle of God testifies, Christ bore our sins on His back that we might be without sin and live in righteousness. How can the priests dare to say that no one can do the right and not live without sin? (John 1, I Pet. 2, 3): Christ took away our sin and undid the work of the devil. The work of the devil which Christ undid was sin, the sin of death, the death of damnation: as Paul testifies in Hebrews 2 that Christ took away the power of the devil, who had the power of eternal death, so that He might deliver us who all our life had been in fear of death and in bondage to slavery, that is, sin: as it stands in Titus 2: He delivered us from all kinds of unrighteousness. How would He have delivered us from the power and imprisonment of the devil if we lived in sin to the devil and had not received power, grace for grace, to oppose the devil by the firm faith of Christ? We who seek to be justified through Him, if we yet lived in sin, what would we have from Christ? (Gal. 2) For He broke the bond and led captivity captive and gave gifts to the people, and we are released (Psalm 124, II Tim. 2, Eph. 4). Sinners will not stand in the judgment of God nor remain in the congregation of the righteous (Psalm 1, 5). Sinners will be destroyed with one another and be wiped out (Psalm 37, I Cor. 6, II Pet. 2, Matt. 7, 13, Luke 13).
Therefore beware of the fickle man and the sinner who walks in two streets (Eccl. 2, Luke 16), and beware of him who is bound by and entangled in sin, for at the last he will be taken and burned in the fire (IV Esdr. 16, John 15). Now observe how the poor priests weaken the passion of Christ and employ it for lasciviousness and a cloak of wickedness (I Pet. 2, Jude 1). Peter says: As those who are free and yet not using the freedom for evil. As also Paul admonishes (Gal. 5): Stand fast in your freedom and cast it not from you for its reward is great (Heb. 10). As Jesus Christ has set you free do not allow yourselves to be joined to the servile yoke. For where the Spirit of Christ is there is freedom, and the body is dead for the sake of sin (Rom. 8, II Cor. 3). He who hath not the Spirit is not of Christ (Rom. 8). For those who are Christ’s have crucified their flesh and destroyed their evil desires by desisting from the lusts of error (Gal. 5, Eph. 4). Therefore as the kingdom of Christ is internal (Luke 17), firmly within us, we have grace to do God’s will and service, and to please Him with discipline and fear (Heb. 12, Ezek. 36, I John 5). Since therefore we are under grace sin cannot reign in our mortal body (Rom. 6). For this reason did Christ die for all, that all who live should not live unto themselves, nor in their lusts, but unto Him who died for us and rose [from the dead] (I Cor. 6, II Cor. 5, I Thes. 5). We do not shun the light. For whoever is of God hears God’s Word (John 8, 18, I John 4). The priests wander and are not in the light for their works are evil (John 3, 7, 8). For there is no darkness in the light (II Cor. 6). It also has no fellowship with the darkness. Those who teach others and do it not themselves, from them the wrath of God will not long be withheld (Rom. 2, Matt. 7, Luke 6, Psalm 50). “Lord, we have preached….” But He will profess to them: “I know you not. Ye have done evil (Matt. 7). Depart from me.” Christ calls those His brethren who hear God’s Word and do the will of His Father.
Dear one, How many are now Christ’s brethren who do God’s will? Therefore your fellowship is not a brotherhood of Christ. For you have as brethren: adulterers, heavy-drinkers, blasphemers, misers, usurers, dancers, carnival [masqueraders], alley ruffians: without a ban to make any difference, whether a person do evil or good. Dear one, Why? For this reason, that the priests who ought to discipline the people are themselves just like the people (Hosea 4). Therefore Paul teaches and admonishes us to keep clear of such people (II Tim. 2). For we may not be in the devil’s fellowship (I Cor. 10). The devil has fellowship with those who obey him in sin. But from those who withstand him he flees (James 4, I Pet. 5). David says, I dwell not with the wanton people, and have not fellowship with the hypocrites, and hate the assembly of the wicked (Psalm 26).
Now since they do not preach the doctrine of Christ, and consent not to the saving words of the doctrine of godliness, Paul teaches us to shun them (I Tim. 6, Rom. 16). For they could pervert the faith of many, like Philetus and Hymenaeus, of whom Paul teaches us to keep clear (II Tim. 2). He who brings not the doctrine of Christ, receive him not into your house and greet him not (II John 1). He who greets him has fellowship with his evil works. How should I follow him into a temple or to other places? If he would follow me, I should have nothing to do with him so as not to have part in his evil works. A teacher [minister] shall be an example of the flock in love, faith, purity and good works, and care for the sheep (John 10, I Tim. 4, 3, II Tim. 1, Tit. 2, I Pet. 5, Matt. 5). This is completely lacking among them, as the Scripture testifies. Who would regard those as God’s apostles who lack the witness of an apostle? Now it is evident that the priests have neither the doctrine nor manner of life of apostles; yet they say they are apostles and that the Lord is among them.
They call the Gospel a burden which no one can keep, contrary to the word of Jeremiah 23: Thou shalt not call my Word a burden. For Christ says (Matt. 11): My yoke is sweet; my burden light. John testifies, His commandments are not severe (I [John] 5). And we keep His commandments, and do what is pleasing before Him (I John 3). It is He who hath made us acceptable, and worketh in us both to will and to accomplish [it] (II Cor. 5, 3, Phil. 2, Ezek. 36). He hath created and prepared us unto good [works] that we should walk therein (Eph. 2). Therefore the might and all the glory belong to God alone (II Cor. 4, Dan. 9). Christ teaches that we should guard ourselves from those of this world who lead astray, for if it were possible they would lead astray even the elect (Matt. 24, II Pet. 3). Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, not from men nor through men but sent of God alone (Gal. 1). The rulers of the world have chosen the priests and commissioned them for a specified wage. Therefore it is of the world, and the [world] heareth them (I John 4). Thereby is fulfilled that which Paul prophesied (II Tim. 4): They will choose teachers for themselves who will tickle their ears, and [they will] not hear the truth, the saving doctrine of Christ, as also now the sect of the Nazarenes is everywhere spoken against (Acts 24, 28). John says, He who saith that he hath fellowship with Christ, and walketh in darkness, that is, in sin (Eph. 5), doth lie and speaketh not the truth. Therefore the priests tickle their ears with lies, in that they attribute to them the name and fellowship of Christ while they nevertheless still walk in darkness. And Paul testifies that He is become the Cause of salvation for those who obey His will in His death or suffering (Heb. 5, I Thes. 5).
Those who hold fast to the beginning of the nature of Christ (as He then has imparted His nature in those things, for those who are God’s, from youth to the end of life), [it is] they [who] partake of Christ (Heb. 3). Therefore Christ says, He that endureth unto the end (Matt. 10) shall be saved. But not by doing wrong, but by doing right, as it stands in Ezekiel 18. But those who persevere in wrongdoing until the end Christ calls false Christians and false apostles who lead many astray (Matt. 24). As Paul also testifies: Evil men and those who lead [men] astray shall wax worse and worse, leading astray and allowing themselves to be led astray (II Tim. 3). It is true that they say they know God, and [yet] they are disobedient and an abomination before God and unfitted for all good works (Tit. 1, I John 1, 2). These are they who love the sensual pleasures of temporal life more than God, and have no love for the good, and have the appearance of a godly manner of life but deny its power (II Tim. 3). Paul admonishes us to turn away from such a spurious faith. Concerning separation read II Corinthians 6, Apocalypse 18, Acts 19, Ephesians 5, II Timothy 2, I Peter 4, John 15. One is to separate oneself from their evil works, and not from the world, in so far as one may keep oneself unspotted from them (I Cor. 5, James 1, II Pet. 1, 4, Eph. 4). The preaching of the priests is also an unfruitful work, when they give testimony from the pulpit; [their] preaching does not help; people are getting worse and worse; no one is improving. And the testimony is true, also of the priests, that the wrong is getting the upper hand (Matt. 24). As the Lord said of the time of Lot and of Noah, so it is in [our] country; let Him come when He will.
Now you have testimony that the priests, and Christ and His apostles, do not have one doctrine. For the priests speak vain contradictions, as has been noted and proved sufficiently on the basis of the truth. Paul teaches us to judge spiritual things spiritually and not according to appearances (I Cor. 2), and not like the Jews did (John 7). He who lives carnally and is carnal-minded can neither perceive God’s ways nor the things of the Spirit. To him it is foolishness and a conundrum for he cannot know it, for it must be judged spiritually. Therefore everyone is lying [when he says] that he does not wish to judge, that it is not given to him; it is blasphemy (I Pet. 2) [when he says] that he does not recognize [the truth]—he is passing judgment on himself, receiving the reward of unrighteousness.
If it [Anabaptism] is of God no man can withstand it. But if it is not of God it will disappear of itself (Acts 5, Matt. 15). Those of Zurich did not wish to be lords ; and if it should cost them their land, it must be dug out by the roots. Basle, too. Behold, it is getting green again in their land first. Psalm 124: If the Lord were not with us they would have swallowed us up alive; our bones would be no more. Our shield and protector is God. Through the faith and patience of Christ we overcome our enemies, following the example of Christ. All glory and honor be to God alone in His church in Christ Jesus.
God’s Seal: II Timothy 2[:19]
The right done from the fear of God is acceptable to God
Acts 10, etc.
(Account from Martyrs Mirror, pp. 140-141)
In the ancient records of the pious witnesses of Jesus Christ, an account is given of Marinus, a citizen of Jerusalem, of noble descent, who, although he belonged to the nobility, entertained a sincere affection for the true Christians, who at that time were oppressed beyond measure. On this account his enviers, who were jealous of the honor of his nobility, severely accused and charged him with being a Christian; which he also confessed, when he was brought before the Judge; yea, he declared with a loud and clear voice, that he was certainly a Christian. The Judge then gave him three hours’ respite to consider, whether he would die as a Christian, or whether he would sacrifice to the gods and the Emperor.
As he went away from the tribunal, Theotecnes, the bishop of the church in that city, took him by the hand, and led him to the meeting, in the meeting-place, strengthened him with many words in the faith, and, placing before him the sword which he was wont to carry at his side, and also the Gospel [book], he asked him which of the two he would choose?
When Marinus, with a firm faith, stretched forth his hands for the Gospel, choosing it instead of the sword, Theotecnes said to him: “O my son! keep that which thou hast chosen, and, despising this present life, hope for the eternal. Depart in good confidence, and receive the crown which the Lord has prepared for thee.”
Marinus accordingly returned to the tribunal, and was forthwith called by the lord’s servant, for the appointed time had come; he did not delay or wait until he was asked, but said of his own accord: that he had considered the matter, and that it was established by the law of the fathers, that God must be obeyed rather than men. Eusebius Pamphilius [an ancient church historian] writes, that when Marinus had answered thus, the Judge immediately gave sentence that he should be beheaded.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Onophrius Griesinger and Leonhard Lochmair (formerly a Roman Catholic priest) were sent by the Hutterites living in Moravia as evangelists to South Tyrol. As had happened with several evangelistic teams before them, they were hunted down and arrested by the authorities. Lochmair was arrested first, in April 1538. He was imprisoned and examined and recanted. Before long, however, he repented of his weak wavering and declared himself no longer willing to recant his faith.
In the meantime, strong efforts were made by the government to track down Onophrius. On May 20, 1538, fifteen strong men were ordered to find him. It took until August 28, 1538, for the authorities to finally catch up with him – with the help of an infiltrator who betrayed Onophrius.
Onophrius was put in the safe prison in Brixen, the same prison where Lochmair was confined. Onophrius and Leonhard soon found a way to communicate with each other. They discovered that they shared the same food bowl. Leonhard scratched a note in the bottom of the bowl, telling Onophrius of his recantation, his repentance, and his desire to be reaccepted into the brotherhood. Onophrius wrote a note back, saying that he had been forgiven and reaccepted. Onophrius then wrote a note to the brethren back in Moravia, asking that Leonhard be reaccepted. (How he got the note delivered is still unknown.)
Onophrius was tortured twice, but refused to confess to knowing of any plans among the brotherhood for rebellion against the government (of course, they had no such plans). The local officials wanted to execute Onophrius secretly before dawn, but representatives of the emperor were there to ensure that he was sentenced to a public burning.
On October 31, 1538, Onophrius was executed for the sake of the truth of the Gospel. Oswald Schuster, another Anabaptist, was present at the execution. Just before Onophrius was put in the fire, he came forward and shook Onophrius’s hand. He was quickly arrested but later escaped from prison and fled to Moravia with Onophrius’s widow.
Onophrius’s execution was a hard day for the officials. The locals were not pleased with the fact that he was being executed. Mercenaries had been hired for crowd control, but even they were angry with the authorities for what was being done to Onophrius. There was a heavy rain that day, which dampened the fire and prolonged the torture of death. The captain of the mercenaries demanded that Onophrius be beheaded, a more merciful method of execution. The authorities would not go against the Emperor’s orders that Anabaptists were to be burned alive. However, they did bring some dry wood to bring a quicker end to Onophrius’s suffering.
Onophrius did not die in vain. The provost in charge of the execution, after seeing Onophrius die and being greatly moved at his integrity and steadfastness, raised his hand and swore an oath that he would never again sentence another Anabaptist. The captain of the mercenaries, who had demanded a more merciful end to Onophrius’s sufferings, later went to Moravia and joined the Hutterites.
In the meantime, Onophrius’s fellow prisoner, Leonhard Lochmair, lay in prison. He was finally beheaded in late 1538.
Hutterite Beginnings, by Werner O. Packull
Originally published in The Witness, January 2012.
My concern for this message is to expose a detour that our Anabaptist churches took in the past century. As I was growing up, the message that I heard was what I call a “save ME gospel.” Now the term “kingdom of God” was used very loosely—as it is in many church circles—but I don’t think I ever heard, in all my growing up years, a message specifically on the kingdom. In this message I want to make it very clear what the kingdom of God is.
It is not about us! That is where the problem came in the shift of focus when I was growing up. The main thing in the messages that I heard was “We need to get saved!”
That certainly is true, but “getting saved” is a means to an end; not an end in itself. Unfortunately, “getting saved” was made an end in itself, and much of the revival preaching was focused on that end. Therefore, I would like to make it clear what the original gospel of Jesus Christ really was.
The original gospel message
The original gospel was the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus began His ministry by saying, “Repent …” Now, the classic words usually following this would be, “… or you will be lost,” or “you will go to hell!”
But Jesus did not say that. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In other words, “The kingdom is right there for you to grasp, it’s at hand.” Six verses later, after calling His first four disciples, it says He “went about all Galilee … preaching the gospel of the kingdom.” Mt. 4:23 Do you know that Jesus never called the gospel anything else but “the gospel of the kingdom”? In every instance where you find the content of the gospel described, it is “the gospel of the kingdom.” Every time, in the entire gospel record!
Jesus’ two most important statements were the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer. Both of these begin and end with an emphasis on the kingdom of God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of God.” “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
Referring to the end of time, Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” I ask you a searching question: Has the gospel of the kingdom been preached unto the ends of the earth, or has it been a “save ME gospel”?
Now I want to make one thing clear before proceeding: God uses imperfect means. I believe the gospel has been preached in many parts of the world, and despite a wrong emphasis, many people have been reconciled to God.
Parables of the kingdom
Basically all of Jesus’ parables focus on the kingdom: the kingdom is as a treasure in a field, the kingdom is as a merchant, the kingdom is as a net, the kingdom is as leaven, the kingdom is as a mustard seed …
I want to ask you a question: If I were to ask you what the seed was in the parable of the sower, what would you say?
[Response from someone in the audience: “The Word of God!”]
That’s what most people say! And that is true in a general sense, but specifically it says it is the “word of the kingdom”! I never noticed that until recently. We are so used to reading our Bible through certain lenses. Six months ago I would have probably said the same thing [as the responder from the audience.] When Jesus interprets the parable of the tares, He says the seed is “the children of the kingdom.” That excites me!
Here I am, speaking to approximately 400 seeds! What should happen is that all you seeds will go out there and be planted and grow up to be a kingdom expression of the gospel! Not just a personal experience of people getting ready to go to heaven, but a kingdom expression of the gospel should grow up around every kingdom Christian. Because you are the “seed of the kingdom.”
The kingdom in church history
But, when we turn to the history of the church, it is not very far along before we see a drastic change in focus. How many of you can recite the “Apostles’ Creed”? [A few raise hands.] Tell me, what is the word that the Apostles’ Creed begins with?
That’s interesting! The Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father.” Neither the Apostles’ Creed nor any of those other major creeds after the first centuries say a single thing about the kingdom. Only the Creed of Constantinople says at the end, “… and He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” It places the kingdom “out there” somewhere in the future, but says nothing about its present reality.
The result of losing the kingdom centrality in the gospel is a difference in a person’s outlook. If the focus is on ME, then the preaching I heard all my life was truly “gospel preaching,” where the most important thing in the world is for me to “get saved.” And before I proceed, I want to make it clear that “getting saved” is a very important thing, and heaven and hell are two very important realities we must resolve in the right way.
But that is not God’s most important concern for the present age. What God wants is a corporate expression, a society of the redeemed. Thus, personal salvation is an important means to an end and not an end in itself. God cannot express His kingdom until He has redeemed people that He can use to show to everyone what the whole world would be like if everybody obeyed the King!
That’s what Christianity is all about. We are talking about community, society, corporate relationships, so that the world looking on can say, “Wow!” It is like what the queen of Sheba said when she saw Solomon’s court: “What a great God they must have! What a beautiful kingdom! I cannot believe what I see! I did not know that human beings could live together this way!”
That’s what kingdom is all about!
But you see, if you concentrate only on your personal salvation and you don’t really make the kingdom to be the heart of your gospel—as did Jesus, Paul, and the others labored to teach it—then you have individual Christians who have no vision for submission to a corporate practice. I wonder just what the world looking on does see?
The great paradigm shift
Now, I stand here guilty with all of you; we have all been involved in this paradigm shift. It is because we have not been taught that the end of our salvation is to be involved in something larger than ourselves.
The kingdom of God is the society of the redeemed. As I mentioned, this gospel of the kingdom was lost in the early centuries to an individualistic salvation. And during the last century Anabaptism swallowed it also, and we wonder why we have so much individualism now. It is the fruit of a distorted gospel. We need to get back—it is a burden of my heart—to the kingdom gospel, instead of a “save ME gospel.”
Jesus used the word “kingdom” (in reference to the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God) at least 124 times, and He never referred to the gospel as anything else. If Jesus focused on the kingdom, then that is the centrality of His message, not a marginal issue. He said, “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent.” Lk. 4:43 He tells us very explicitly why He came—to preach the kingdom!
Is the kingdom ever taught today? Well, in dispensationalist circles, the kingdom is to happen somewhere off in the future. You know, I think the Devil has used every strategy he can think of to get the focus off the kingdom. I really do! So the dispensationalist has put the kingdom off into the future … it is coming. This makes Jesus’ teaching irrelevant for today. That is what some people do with the teaching about the kingdom.
Other people, such as Augustine and Calvin, made the kingdom the central theme of their teaching, but it was a carnal kingdom ruled by force. Thus we have these two distortions, two wrong concepts, of the kingdom of God. So the message is lost.
Why did Jesus focus His message on the kingdom of God? Because that was God’s original purpose; that is why man was created. Salvation was not the main theme of God’s original work with man. Man was not “lost” when he was created. God created man so that he would have dominion and express God’s authority on this earth.
The first use of the word kingdom in the Bible is in Exodus 19:6, where it states, “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests …” That makes it very clear what serving God is all about. We are mediating God’s rule on earth. He is the King; we are simply His subjects expressing His rule and authority, first of all in our own lives and fellowships, and then to the conscience of the world around us. Notice God says “ye shall be unto me,” not unto us (as humans) a kingdom of priests. The purpose of the kingdom is to show God’s benevolent rule, through us.
The world does not understand God. When they think about God, they view Him as a negative entity, as some sort of grumpy sovereign out there who enjoys giving lots of rules to make life hard … His ways are not good, and if you follow them, you will never be happy. That is the world’s concept of God. Therefore God’s purpose is that through this society of the redeemed, this little colony of heaven on earth, the world would get a glimpse of His true attractive character and have a desire to respond properly to Him.
Now the Devil has perverted the idea of the kingdom, which is why people have difficulty with it. Some leaders have perverted the idea of God’s kingdom and left a bad taste in our mouth. In the Old Testament, God initially wanted all men to be that kingdom of priests, but this purpose got lost, so He chose a nation. We will not take the time to do so now, but it is an interesting study to go through the Old Testament and see what God wanted to do with that nation. He told them, “I want to lift you up on high, so that all the nations will say, ‘What a God they have! What laws they have! What nation has been more blessed?’” He said, “I will make you the lender and not the borrower. You will be number one among the nations … if you keep all of my commandments.”
You see, that is the only way people will be blessed, by a total surrender. Now, I told you of the fragmentation that has taken place in our churches. We don’t understand submission of our lives to God and to each other for the sake of the kingdom of God.
We saw that in the Old Testament that God wanted a kingdom that would demonstrate to the whole world what a nation would look like if God was the King. And only briefly did the world ever see that, under David and somewhat under Solomon. That was it. Then we come into the New Testament.
I want to show you that the preaching of the gospel as being the gospel of the kingdom didn’t end with Christ. My goal with this message is to make all of you passionate church builders. I want you to forget about yourself, and get your relationship with God established, and then lose yourself in something bigger than yourself!
Look in Acts 19:8. What did Paul preach? “And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God was Paul’s message; it was not a “save ME gospel.” Now look at Acts 20:25. “And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.”
I want to ask you another searching question. When you “preach the gospel,” do you preach the kingdom of God? I hope so, and if you haven’t been doing so, I hope you start! Now let’s go to the end of Paul’s life, described in Acts 28:23. “And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God.” Again, we see that the kingdom was the message! Then after Paul ends up a prisoner in his own rented house, what is he preaching in the very last verse of Acts? “The kingdom of God!”
Now, I think if Paul’s gospel had been a “save ME gospel” it would not have been stated that way. The coming of the kingdom of God was the message.
A present reality
This kingdom is a present reality, and the effects of the kingdom show, as in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25. This is what should happen when the kingdom is genuinely expressed.
If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
This is the kind of authority that the gathered body has when it is gathered in unity. It is a true kingdom expression of authority. Psalm 89:7 tells us that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.”
What is the church, as denoted by the Greek term ekklesia? If you ask most people what that means, they will say, “the called out ones.” My question is, “called out to what?” Are they called out just to enjoy each other’s fellowship?
In Acts 19, when the uproar took place in Ephesus, the town clerk came on the scene and said, “We are going to be criticized for this disorder. If something needs to be resolved, there is a proper order. If anything needs to be done, it shall be determined in a lawful ekklesia (assembly).”
If you had gone to a Greek town and asked for the ekklesia, they would have taken you to the town council! It was a governing body; ekklesia means a body of people called out to govern (guide, lead). Now suppose you went to the U.S. Congress when they were dismissing, and asked them what had happened that day. Suppose they said, “We had a wonderful fellowship together! We were so encouraged! We had a fellowship meal, and it was a wonderful potluck dinner; you should have seen it! I was so glad I came to Congress, because I was so discouraged, but now I am really inspired!”
You would probably say, “That is not the reason you were supposed to be meeting together! You were not supposed to be there for yourself! You were supposed to be there to make good laws for this country, for yourself, for the assembly, and for the whole nation.”
A kingdom of peace
And that is why we are here, to give guidance to the nations. The early church demonstrated that. Concerning the Pax Romana, history books tell you that it was because the Roman army was so formidable and its punishments so terrifying that other nations dared not resist Rome’s rule. But if you read the early church writings, you get a different story. They say the reason for those 200 years of peace—which coincided with the first centuries of the church—was that the Prince of Peace had come and established a kingdom of peace, and this kingdom’s prayers and influence were keeping the world at peace! Interestingly, those 200 years of peace ended about the same time that the early church began to lose its practice of nonresistance.
The most tragic compromise the church ever made was its compromise of nonresistance.
Since that time, some of the most horrible things have happened “in the name of Jesus”: the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery in America, the American Civil War, and World Wars I and II.
People say, “What do you do with a man like Hitler?” Well, most of the people in Germany were Lutherans. If the church had never lost its stand on nonresistance, Hitler would have had no army! Almost none of the wars in Western civilization would have ever occurred. Do you see now what happened to this kingdom? It got messed up with tragic and unspeakably horrible consequences.
I have to tell you—and I have heard this in testimonies from various people—that the most powerful testimony of the church has been its testimony of nonresistance. We live in a world that is sick of war, hatred, violence, killing, and all the things that go along with war. To hear that there is a group of people—the Anabaptists—who for 500 years has been able to live together in peace without the sword is about the most appealing message we could ever give to the world.
I hope that by now you understand what the gospel of the kingdom is: a gospel that says, “Yes, God wants to save human beings and take them to heaven, but the most important part is that He wants them to be an expression of His kingdom here on earth.” I will again state my definition of the kingdom of God: A group of people who show to everyone what the whole world would look like if everybody obeyed the King!
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (September/October 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
News agencies and Internet bloggers pounced on the news of a new “gospel” unveiled at a conference in Rome recently. The fragment, dubbed the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” allegedly mentions Jesus as being married.
Finding spurious gospels is not new. Along with the four canonical Gospels giving accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, pseudo-Christian groups in the first centuries of the church (most notably the Gnostics) produced their own “holy writings,” including The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Acts of Peter, etc. Of course, the books were not actually written by the people they were named for.
This new “gospel” is not a complete work at all – rather it is a tiny scrap of papyrus with eight partial lines of text on one side and a few words on the other. What is so exciting about it? Lines 3-5 read, “deny. Mary is [?not] worthy of it…Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…she will be able to be my disciple.” Several secular news agencies are taking this as “evidence” that Jesus Christ was married and hyping the fragment intensely. Although it is simply a scrap, it was given the name “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”
In the midst of the excitement, it is good to keep the following points in mind:
1. There is essentially no context at all for the statement about the “wife”. We have no idea what the Jesus character in the text was saying. What if the original (complete) text said, “My wife is the church, whom I shall take to Heaven to be where I am.” It is a possibility! 2. The dating of the fragment is quite uncertain, but the scholar who announced it has tentatively dated the text (not the fragment) to the second century A.D. The fragment itself she believes to be from the fourth century. Obviously, the canonical gospels, which were written in the first century by people who knew Jesus personally or (as in the case of Mark and Luke) knew those who knew Jesus, are more reliable than this undated, unattributed scrap even from a secular viewpoint. 3. Very few scholars are willing at this point to vouch for the authenticity of the text. Many are strongly suspicious that it is a modern forgery; some are absolutely convinced that it is. Even Prof. Karen King, who unveiled the fragment, admitted to having doubts about its authenticity. Some have questioned why the scrap is a perfect rectangle. Might someone have found it as part of a larger text and cut out the small piece – perhaps because the broader context gave information about what the “wife” comment meant which made it sound less sensational? 4. Even if the scrap is genuinely ancient (mid-2nd century, as Prof. King suggested) and is suggesting that Jesus was married (in a literal sense), that does not mean that the real Jesus actually was married. It only means that one author who wrote this document may have believed that Jesus was married. (For all we know, the author may have been disputing such an idea or simply making some scribblings for his own amusement.) Prof. King wrote that the text “does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married, given the late date of the fragment and the probable date of original composition only in the second half of the second century.”
Need this new scrap shake anyone’s faith in what the Biblical Gospels say about Jesus’ life? No. Its late date and lack of context make it essentially worthless even from a secular viewpoint in telling us anything about Jesus’ life. Those who have experienced the power of Jesus in their lives personally need not let any evidence shake them away from their own experiential knowledge of the truth of the Bible.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”
Holy Bible, Authorized Version
There is an enormous amount of discussion of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife online. Here are a few main references:
1. Henry B. Smith, Jr., “Brief Reflections on the So-Called ‘Jesus Wife’ Fragment,” http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2012/09/24/Brief-Reflections-on-the-So-Called-Jesus-Wife-Fragment.aspx (Accessed September 27, 2012)
2. Tim Chaffey, “Was Jesus Married?,” http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2012/09/21/feedback-was-jesus-married (Accessed September 27, 2012)
3. Karen L. King & AnneMarie Luijendijk, “ ‘Jesus said to them, “My wife…”’ A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus,” draft of paper submitted to Harvard Theological Review, http://www.hds.harvard.edu/sites/hds.harvard.edu/files/attachments/faculty-research/research-projects/the-gospel-of-jesuss-wife/29865/King_JesusSaidToThem_draft_0920.pdf
4. Lillian Kwon, “ ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Historian Admits to Having Doubts About Authenticity,” http://www.christianpost.com/news/gospel-of-jesus-wife-historian-admits-to-having-doubts-about-authenticity-82229/ (Accessed September 27, 2012)
(Account from Martyrs Mirror, pp. 897-899)
In the year of our Lord 1572, the lords of justice at Dortrecht in Holland, laid their hands on two very meek and dear friends of God, who followed their Saviour, the slain Lamb of the cross, Jesus Christ, and were not of the least of the members of the church of the Lord scattered abroad in all countries, in showing forth, as lights in this world, their eminent virtues among this evil and perverse generation. They were both taken out of the fold like lambs for the slaughter, the circumstances being as follows:
First, Adriaenken Jans’ daughter was suddenly apprehended. She resided at Molenaersgraef, in the Papendrecht district; which was under the jurisdiction of the city of Dortrecht, and because she was said to be a heretic, she was seized and imprisoned in the Vuylpoort.
After that the plan was formed to capture Jan Wouterss van Kuyck, who resided in the city, but frequently changed his abode, so as not to be so easily recognized. To this end, the bailiff, having learned where he resided (namely, in the street leading to the Rietdijck, near the New Gate, in a room which was reached from the street by a flight of stairs), came with his beadles and unexpectedly, and without asking anything, ascended the stairs, where Jan Wouterss met him just as he opened the door. The bailiff said, since he did not know him: “Does Jan van Kuyck reside here?” to which this good, upright and very sincere man, not willing to speak contrary to the truth, answered yes, adding that it was he himself.
These words he spoke very loudly, in order that his dear wife, who was back in the room, should hear it and flee, which she did: his only daughter, however, a child of only about seven years, remained in the room and saw her father apprehended, to which no attention was paid. The ministers of justice immediately laid their hands upon this friend of God, and forcibly bound him, whereupon he said: “O my lords, how you bind me, as though I were a wicked man; however, you bind not me, but yourselves.” Then a great lamentation arose among them; however, they proceeded, and led him, as a defenseless lamb that is overcome by wolves, from the Rietdijck to the Vuylpoort, about half an hour’s walk through the city, where they put him into another cell than the one in which Adriaenken Jans was confined, though within the same walls and under the same roof of said prison.
In the meantime both had to suffer much temptation, according to the body as well as in regard to the soul; several times they were severely tortured, stripped, and scourged, so that almost the entire city spoke about their sufferings and misery, as Jan Wouterss subsequently also indicated in one of his letters.
The [Roman Catholic] clergy also assailed them much according to the soul, in order to deprive them, by many wiles and snares, of the treasure of a true faith; but they were not able to accomplish anything with either of them; hence they [the two martyrs], were finally sentenced to death in open court, to be executed with fire, on the water front of the city, near a certain lime kiln, where now the new fortification is, between the mill that stands upon the bastion, and the rampart; however, with the condition, that Adriaenken Jans should not really die by fire, but should prior to her burning be strangled at the stake, which lesser penalty of death we do not find to have been executed on Jan Wouterss.
In the meantime both prepared themselves for death with great desire and inward joy, unable sufficiently to praise God that they had been counted worthy to deliver up their bodies as a sacrifice for His holy name’s sake.
When the hour of their departure had come, both were tied together; however, they fell upon their knees, and quietly offered up, before they were led forth, an earnest prayer to God the Lord, that He would strengthen them in their impending suffering, to persevere unto the end.
Thereupon their mouths (for fear that they should speak something to the people), were gagged with a piece of wood, or some other instrument made for this purpose, and they were thus led from the prison which presented a pitiful sight. Jan Wouterss, however, pulled out the piece of wood, or instrument, with one hand, which it appears was not bound, and cried with a loud voice: “O Lord, strengthen Thy feeble servant: and Thy poor handmaiden. It is for Thy name’s sake that we have come to this for which we have willingly prepared ourselves.”
When he had said this, one of his fellow believers, whose heart, as it seems, had been set aflame hereby mightily pressed his way through the people, and coming before him, said: “Strive valiantly, dear brother, you will suffer no more hereafter.”
Thereupon Jan Wouterss instantly pulled open his jacket and showed him his breast bloody from the scourging inflicted upon him in prison and said: “I already bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus;” and he lifted up his eyes to heaven, looking longingly as it were to the heavenly resting place.
In the meanwhile, before all this was properly noticed, because of the surging crowd, said person went out of sight and disappeared among the people; whereupon some of the servants of justice murmured and sternly asked, where this man was. This occurred near the swine market, close by the New Haven. They went on and soon arrived at the place of execution, where two stakes stood erected near, and around which an innumerable multitude was gathered.
Having arrived there, they ascended the height, or erected scaffold, where they on their knees again quietly prayed to God, though Jan Wouterss only was able to speak, since the mouth of Adriaenken Jans was well gagged with the previously mentioned piece of wood, or instrument.
When they had risen, preparations were first made to strangle Adriaenken Jans, whereupon she placed herself at the stake.
Then Jan Wouterss said: “This is the day of salvation.” But the underbailiff, hearing this, sternly cried: “Be silent.” Thereupon Jan Wouterss said: “Why should I keep silent; I certainly speak nothing that is evil.”
In the meantime Adriaenken Jans was strangled…
The servants of justice then turned to Jan Wouterss, who cheerfully, yea, with a smiling countenance, placed himself at the other stake, which stood close by, where he while being fastened to it, noticed that some of his fellow believers stood among the people, to see his end; to whom, without naming any one, he cried aloud: “Adieu and farewell, my dear brethren and sisters, I will herewith commend you to the Lord, to the Lord who shed His blood for us.” With this he made haste and prepared himself for death, commending his soul to God in these words: “O God, who art my strength, I commend my spirit into Thy hands.”
Then fire was set to the wood piled around him, and this friend of God was burned alive, as it appears, with his dead sister, to the great sorrow of many that stood around and were filled with commiseration at the sight of it.
This was the end of these two dear favorites of the Lord, of whom no one spake any evil (touching their life), but whom every one praised on account of their virtuous walk.