Archive for the ‘Preachers’ Category
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“What if someone broke into your house with a gun?”
Those who are convinced to obey Jesus’ teachings on nonresistance and love of enemies are routinely faced with questions like these. In some such occasions, we must suffer for the cause of Christ. Yet God is real and powerful, and can save His people without the aid of men killing each other.
This was dramatically demonstrated in a New Year’s Eve nighttime prayer service in North Carolina. Larry Wright, the pastor, a retired Army sergeant and city councilman, was preaching at 11:40 PM when the church door swung open.
In walked a young man carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle in one hand, and a clip of ammunition in the other. He began walking up the church’s center aisle. Not knowing whether the gun was loaded, Wright left the pulpit and began walking towards the man, intending to tackle him if he was belligerent.
“Can I help you?” Wright asked the young man. The young man said, “Can you pray for me?” Wright took the rifle, handed it to a deacon, and patted the young man down to make sure he did not have other weapons. He found none. Four husky deacons came up and embraced the young man to help him feel welcome. Wright began to pray for him, and the young man fell to his knees, weeping.
His prayer finished, Wright invited the young man to sit in the front row and listen to the remainder of the sermon. Wright reported, “I finished the message, I did the altar call and he stood right up, came up to the altar, and gave his life to Christ. I came down and prayed with him and we embraced. It was like a father embracing a son.”
Police had come to the scene to detain the young man, but before meeting them, the young man stood before the congregation and apologized to them. He said he had intended to do something terrible, but the Lord had spoken to him.
The young man – himself a veteran, who had just gotten out of prison – was given a mental examination in a hospital. According to one report, however, he returned to the church the next Sunday, asking to be baptized and received as a church member.
Now just imagine how different things could have been if this pastor had responded as so many do – by pulling out a gun and ending this young man’s life. By responding in the peace of Jesus, this pastor spared his congregation the sight of a bloody shooting, kept his own conscience clear from the blood of someone who may not have killed anyhow, and, most importantly, the young man was spared and given an opportunity to repent.
Will we trust God?
Andrew Barksdale, “Fayetteville pastor persuades church gunman to give up rifle,” http://www.fayobserver.com/news/local/fayetteville-pastor-convinces-church-gunman-to-give-up-rifle/article_16efd180-7644-56b0-93e6-d7ec10e87f3c.html (Accessed February 24, 2016)
Tim Stelloh, “North Carolina Pastor Disarms Vet During New Year’s Service,” http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/north-carolina-pastor-disarms-vet-during-new-year-s-service-n489456 (Accessed February 24, 2016)
Carma Hassan & Steve Almasy, “During sermon on violence, N.C. pastor confronts man with rifle,” www.cnn.com/2016/01/02/us/north-carolina-pastor-man-with-gun (Accessed February 24, 2016)
 As far as I know, not a nonresistant or pacifist.
Originally published in The Witness 14(3) (March 2016).
By John M. Brenneman
Originally published in the February 1866 issue of Herald of Truth.
“ ’Tis one thing now to read the Bible through,
And another thing to read to learn and do:
’Tis one thing now to read it with delight,
And quite another thing to read it right.
Some read it with design to learn to read,
But to the subject pay but little heed;
Some read it as their duty once a week,
But no instruction from the Bible seek:
Whilst others read it with but little care,
With no regard to how they read, nor where!
Some read it as a history, to know
How people lived three thousand years ago.
Some read to bring themselves into repute,
By showing others how they can dispute:
Whilst others read because their neighbors do,
To see how long ’twill take to read it through.
Some read it for the wonders that are there,
How David killed a lion and a bear;
Whilst others read, or rather in it look,
Because, perhaps, they have no other book.
Some read the blessed book they don’t know why,
It somehow happens in the way to lie;
Whilst others read it with uncommon care,
But all to find some contradictions there!
Some read as tho’ it did not speak to them,
But to the people at Jerusalem;
One reads it as a book of mysteries,
And won’t believe the very thing he sees:
Another reads through Campbell or through Scott,
And thinks it means exactly what they thought.
Some read to prove a preadopted creed—
Thus understand but little what they read;
For every passage in the book they bend,
To make it suit that all important end!
Some people read, as I have often thought,
To teach the book, instead of being taught.
And some there are who read it out of spite—
I fear there are but few who read it right.
So many people in these latter days
Have read the Bible in so many ways,
That few can tell which system is the best,
For every party contradicts the rest!!”
The above Poetry is, alas! a true description of too many Bible readers in our days. I fear there are but few who read it with such an anxious desire, as did the Ethiopian eunuch. Few there are, I fear, who read it as it is in truth, the word of God. We should read the Bible as a revelation from God to sinful man; wherein our lost, sad and deplorable condition by nature is made fully known unto us; the consequences of a wicked and sinful life of a sinner are plainly shown therein, namely that the wicked shall not go unpunished; and that they, if they continue in their wickedness, shall be destroyed. But the Bible also teaches, that, if the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and return unto the Lord, he will have mercy upon him, and will abundantly pardon. It is certainly the duty of every intelligent person, to read the Bible (if they can read) with a sincere desire to know and do the will of God. For in the Bible “he hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” I fear that there are many Bible readers, to whom the promise of God in Isaiah 66:2, will not reach, where he says, “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”
We should read the Bible with prayerful and upright hearts to learn to know the will of God. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning.” “Search the Scriptures,” says the Savior; “for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” The Bible directs and points us to Christ Jesus, who came to “save sinners.” We should search and read the Bible with a desire to benefit our souls. The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation. Such wisdom is far preferable to that of this world. In the Bible we can behold ourselves as in a mirror, and see what manner of persons we are, what we need, to make us happy and where to go, to get it.
By Mike Atnip
One of the signs of modern, fallen Christianity is the practice of women teaching men and ordaining women to leadership roles. Historically, very few churches practiced this until the last century and a half. The Bible is quite plain in these points, so I usually do not spend a lot of time reading materials that try their best to make the Scriptures say the opposite of their plain meaning. So when someone recently showed me an issue of a magazine that was dedicated to proving that it was scriptural for women to be ordained as ministers (in the official sense of the word) and to teach men, I didn’t pay a lot of attention. I grew up around churches that took that stance and know the arguments.
But one section caught my eye. It was the claim that the early Anabaptists had ordained women preachers. Although the article is careful to not actually call them “ordained ministers,” the inference is clearly there.
During the last several years I have spent a good bit of time reading Anabaptist thought and history … and knew that even some of the foremost “liberal” Mennonite historians (who seem to have gone looking for some proof of it to support their own current practice) had concluded after long research that there were simply no ordained women ministers in early Anabaptism.
Were there zealous women, women who boldly stood their ground when asked in court trials (sometimes accompanied by torture) about their faith? Absolutely! About 1/3 of all Anabaptist martyrs were women. But the bottom line was simple: no recorded case has been found of an early Anabaptist woman being ordained to the ministry in the official sense of the word. The word “minister” means serve (verb), or servant (noun). In that sense, every Anabaptist was considered a “minister.”
So what do we do with the following, taken from page 1120 of the Herald Press edition of the Martyrs Mirror?
The Gospel Trumpet had the following to say about the above section:
Here is an image from Martyrs Mirror (Page 1122, Herald Press, 1950 edition), in which two women are clearly listed with men in the ministry. Ruth Kunstel was “a minister in the word of the Lord” at Muchem, in the Berne jurisdiction, while Ruth Hagen was listed as “an elder” from the Zurich area.
These women followed their New Testament forebears Phebe, the four daughters of Philip, Junia, etc., in ministering the Word of God along with men. This cannot be gainsaid, as it is in plain black-and-white recorded for posterity. Let all who claim the Anabaptist heritage know their history.
At first glance, it does seem to indicate that there were indeed women ordained as a minister and an elder in early Anabaptism. But right away I suspected something: Ruth was probably also a man’s name in that time period. A quick check to the German version would clear up the question, since the German language has a different article (meaning a different form of “the” and “a”) depending on whether the noun is a male noun or a female noun.
The German text of the two Ruths
For those who do not read German (probably the majority of our readers), you will notice the article “einem.” Now take a look at whether that is a male or female article:
Now let’s take another closer look at the English again. Does the English say “Ruth Hagen, an elder,” or does it say “Ruth Hagen, an eldress”?
Obviously, the situation here is that Ruth was a man. Ruth is certainly not a common male name; in fact it is the first time I have run across it myself. Another possibility in this case is a misspelling, since during that time period spelling consistency was basically an every-man-for-himself sort of thing.
To be sure, at first glance it can easily look like the early Anabaptists may have had “women in the ministry.” A closer look proves that the “proof” was bad proof.
For the other “proof” of “women in the ministry,” a little clip of page 481 of Martyrs Mirror was presented:
Let me ask you: Just how much proof does the above clipping give to prove that the early Anabaptists had women ordained as teachers to men?
To be honest, it provides exactly 0% proof. Elizabeth was accused of being a teacher. But she was also (falsely) accused of being Menno Simons’ wife. Or perhaps the authorities were mocking her. But there is no admission on Elizabeth’s part of being a “teacher.” Or, if she did teach, whom did she teach? Children? Other women? Men?
No proof of being a “teacher” is found. Much less whom she taught if she was indeed an ordained “teacher.”
This thing called integrity
All this moved my mind to think of integrity. Integrity has to do with “wholeness.” When speaking of a person’s or a group’s integrity, it carries the idea of being totally honest. For myself, when dealing with Anabaptist history it means admitting—for as much that I admire the Anabaptist movement—that there were some things I cannot agree with. Some of them held wrong ideas about divorce/remarriage. Some of them had really—I mean really—funny ideas about eschatology.
Back to history
Proof of the early church ordaining women as preachers?
The question here is not so much the interpretation that Chrysostom gave of the passage of Scripture, but the question is about the integrity of using one quote of his to support the idea of women preaching in the church. There are several points that could be argued on his interpretation of Romans 16:7. 1. Whether listing both of them together is meant as a husband/wife team, and only Andronicus was officially the apostle. 2. Whether being called an apostle was an indication that Junia taught men. Many women have been sent as apostles (we call them missionaries in our day … “one sent out”) and yet never taught men. If we read the rest of the writings of John Chrysostom, it is quite clear that he felt women should not teach men, nor speak in the church. There are a number of things we could quote from him, but this one suffices:
To such a degree should women be silent, that they are not allowed to speak not only about worldly matters, but not even about spiritual things, in the church. This is order, this is modesty, this will adorn her more than any garments. Thus clothed, she will be able to offer her prayers in the manner most becoming. … [Paul] says, let them not teach, but occupy the station of learners. For thus they will show submission by their silence. (Early Church Fathers, Vol. XXII)
Back to integrity
But let’s look at the integrity of pulling one ambiguous quote out of early church history to prove a point, when there are plenty of other quotes that clearly refute the idea that is trying to be proven. For example:
Their [the married Apostles’] spouses went with them [on their mission trips], not as wives, but as sisters, in order to minister to housewives. It was through them that the Lord’s teaching penetrated also the women’s quarters without any scandal being aroused. Clement of Alexandria (ANF 2.391-Translated from the Latin)
If the daughters of Philip prophesied, at least they did not speak in the assemblies; for we do not find this fact in evidence in the Acts of the Apostles. Much less in the Old Testament. It is said that Deborah was a prophetess … There is no evidence that Deborah delivered speeches to the people, as did Jeremiah and Isaiah. Huldah, who was a prophetess, did not speak to the people, but only to a man, who consulted her at home. The gospel itself mentions a prophetess Anna … but she did not speak publicly. Even if it is granted to a woman to show the sign of prophecy, she is nevertheless not permitted to speak in an assembly. When Miriam the prophetess spoke, she was leading a choir of women … For [as Paul declares] “I do not permit a woman to teach,” and even less “to tell a man what to do.” Origen
And these verses (Romans 16:1-2) teach with apostolic authority that females were appointed to aid the church. Phoebe of Cenchrea was placed in this service, and Paul with great praise and recommendation follows by enumerating her beautiful deeds, saying, “She helped everyone so much, by being close at hand when needed, that she even helped me in my needs and apostolic labors, with a total dedication of her mind.” I would compare her work to that of Lot, who while he always took in strangers, one time even merited practicing hospitality on angels. In the same way Abraham also, who was always practicing hospitality, once merited having the Lord with his angels to be entertained in his tent. So this devout Phoebe, continually assisting and obeying everyone, was once merited with assisting and obeying the Apostle as well. This verse teaches us two things at the same time: There are, as was said, female aides in the church, and such should be considered as part of the service of the church. Those who have assisted many, and by good service have attained to apostolic praise, should be counted as part of that ministry. He also exhorts that those who seek to do good works in the churches, whether in spiritual or fleshly aid, should receive in return the reward and honor from the brethren.
This verse (Romans 16:6) teaches that women should labor for the churches of God. For they labor when they teach the young ladies to be modest, to love their husbands, to raise children, to be pure and chaste, to guide their homes, to be hospitable, to wash the saints’ feet, and everything else that is written concerning the service of women. ~Origen
This verse (Romans 16:6) teaches that women should labor for the churches of God. For they labor when they teach the young ladies to be modest, to love their husbands, to raise children, to be pure and chaste, to guide their homes, to be hospitable, to wash the saints’ feet, and everything else that is written concerning the service of women, all of which should be done with chaste conduct. Origen, Commentary on the Book of Romans (translated from the Latin)
For how credible would it seem, that he [the Apostle Paul] who has not permitted a woman even to learn with overboldness, should give a female the power of teaching and of baptizing! “Let them be silent,” he says, “and at home consult their own husbands.” Tertullian (ANF 3.677)
It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; but neither (is it permitted her) to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, nor to stay (in any) sacerdotal office. Tertullian (ANF 4.33)
That a woman ought to be silent in the church: In the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: “Let women be silent in the church. But if any wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.” Also to Timothy: “Let a woman learn with silence, in all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to be set over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not seduced, but the woman was seduced.” Cyprian (ANF 5:546)
We do not permit our women to teach in the Church, but only to pray and hear those that teach; for our Master and Lord, Jesus Himself, when He sent us the twelve to make disciples of the people and of the nations, did nowhere send out women to preach, although He did not lack [women candidates to do this]. For there were with us the mother of our Lord and His sisters; also Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus; Salome, and certain others. For, had it been necessary for women to teach, He Himself [would have] first commanded these also to instruct the people with us. For “if the head of the wife be the man,” it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern the head. Apostolic Constitutions (ANF 7.427, 428)
But if in the foregoing constitutions we have not permitted [women] to teach, how will any one allow them, contrary to nature, to perform the office of a priest? For this is one of the ignorant practices of the Gentile atheism, to ordain women priests to the female deities, not one of the constitutions of Christ. Apostolic Constitutions (ANF 7.429)
Ok, you probably get the point. The mass of early church quotes are clearly against the idea of women teaching men and against ordaining women to leadership roles in the church (unless, like the early Moravian Brethren, the Eldresses only taught or counseled other women or children).
These quotes from the early church neither prove nor disprove if the Bible itself teaches for or against women teaching men or speaking in public assemblies. They do, however, give us a clear indication of how the Ante-Nicene church interpreted Paul’s teachings. The bottom line is, as far as I know, there is no straightforward evidence in early church writings that women (excepting heretical groups like the Montanists) ever taught in a public assembly. I say that with integrity. I say it after having read thousands of pages of church history.
I could be wrong, of course; I don’t know everything there is to know about church history. But my integrity will not let me say otherwise. Do I say that because I happen to believe that Paul’s writings clearly forbid women to be ordained as elders? And that women are not to teach men, or speak in the public assembly?
No, I am being honest with history. I cannot say the same about the Quakers. As much as I like what the Quakers stood for in some areas, my integrity will not permit me to make the Quakers appear as if they forbade women speaking publically in the assemblies. It simply was not so. But the early church and the Anabaptists forbade women to speak in the public assemblies and to teach men. Integrity demands that I say that.
And if we lack integrity in history …
So what do you do with a person or a group who does not seem to have integrity with history? Personally, I find it hard to swallow the same person’s (or group’s) handling of the Holy Scriptures. If they pull an ambiguous quote from Martyrs Mirror and make it appear that the early Anabaptists had ordained women eldresses, or if they use one ambiguous early church quote, but ignore a dozen plain ones … how will they handle the Bible?
Perhaps some of you readers are wondering why I do not take up here an exposition of the Scriptures that touch women preachers. Well, my main point in this short article is not about women preachers, but about integrity. But let us look at one biblical point, again mainly considering integrity.
In the same issue of The Gospel Trumpet, there is a small box concerning Phoebe, the διάκονον [transliterated, “deaconess”] of the church at Cenchrea mentioned in Romans 16:1. The article states:
Many have thought the word servant (diakonos) here means deacon or deaconess, but when the same word is used elsewhere by Paul, it denotes ministers of the gospel:
“Jesus Christ was a minister” (diakonos). Rom. 15:8.
“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers” (diakonos). 1 Cor. 3:5.
“Epaphras our dear fellowservant…a faithful minister” (diakonos). Col. 1:7.
“Thou [Timothy] shalt be a good minister (diakonos) of Jesus Christ.” 1 Tim. 4:6.
“Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister” (diakonos). Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7.
“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers (diakonos) by whom ye believed.” 1 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25.
From the Scriptures selected by The Gospel Trumpet, it could easily be deduced that the Greek word διάκονον always refers to what we think of when we think of an ordained preacher. However … the word “minister” simply means “to aid” (verb) or “one who aids” (noun). Are the quoted texts saying that all those mentioned were ordained preachers? Or is it simply calling them aides, or more specifically “one who executes the commands of another” (Thayer’s Lexicon)? But let’s get down to the integrity of the matter … why was not Romans 13:4 added in the list selected by The Gospel Trumpet?
For he is the minister of God to thee for good …
Who is this “minister”? None other than the civil authority that is over the believer. Yes, the civil authorities are “deacons” of God! In John 2:5, “His mother saith unto the διακόνοις, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” Were those wedding helpers “ordained ministers”?
Obviously my point is that the Greek word διάκονον can refer specifically to an ordained servant of the church (1 Ti. 3:8), or it can simply be the men responsible for filling the waterpots at a marriage, or your town mayor, or the girl who wipes the tables after a meal.
In what sense was Phebe a διάκονον: an aide of the church, or a “minister of the gospel”? From the isolated text of Romans 16:1, nothing can be concluded. We have to take into account the whole NT use of the word, as well as the teachings concerning women and public ministry.
My conclusion—based on the whole of the NT teaching—is that she was simply a woman of the church at Cenchrea who aided the church by carrying Paul’s letter and perhaps taking care of some other unspecified “business” while there. It appears that she had been busy succouring many people in the past, so maybe she was simply on a mission to Rome to bless some needy person or family there. Maybe some expectant mother needed an extra hand for a few months. Maybe a sick sister needed some help. Maybe she taught the younger sisters how to love their husbands. There are myriads of opportunities to aid the church without being an “ordained minister of the gospel.”
But the bottom line is that we really don’t know, from the text of that one verse, in what sense Paul intended the word. But to quote only the verses that tend to use diakonon in a sense of a “minister of the gospel,” and act as if that is the only way to interpret the word diakonon … is that integrity?
I quote the article again:
… but when the same word is used elsewhere by Paul, it denotes ministers of the gospel.
Does integrity ignore obvious evidence to the contrary? That said, simple, honest ignorance can also be involved. Innocent ignorance does not mean a lack of integrity. The difference is when truth is revealed, innocent ignorance will acknowledge its former error. A lack of integrity will just make excuses or ignore the truth.
Agendas and integrity
One of integrity’s mightiest foes is having an agenda. For example, concerning church history, it is common (and I have found myself doing it as well) to go looking in history to find support for a position, instead of to go looking for what position the historical evidence provides. And the same, of course, applies to looking in the Bible to find evidence to support an agenda. We see it all the time in today’s apostate churches with the “gay” agenda. It “blows me away” that people read the Bible and come away saying that sodomite “marriages” are not sin. My integrity simply will not let me say such a thing (and I am not claiming my integrity is perfect). If I felt sodomy was righteous, then I would have to abandon the Bible. Gay “marriage” is the epitome of self-righteousness. I simply do not have any desire to twist Scripture and history that hard. I have very little respect for the integrity of anyone who claims the Bible supports homosexual “marriages.” Scripture is too plain on that subject.
Yet, I realize that sometimes when I read—be it the Bible or history—I sense that an agenda lurks in the shadows, trying to get me to ignore evidence that may contradict my current understanding of an issue. May God help us all to flee from all agendas except the “agenda” to be honest seekers of truth. If the truth of the matter is that the early church and the Anabaptists did ordain women to be preachers to men, then may we have enough integrity to say so. If not, then may we just have enough integrity to not twist and hide evidence so as to support an agenda.
Pray for me!
 I am referring to The Gospel Trumpet, published by the Church of God, Restoration. I grew up in churches very similar to this group and have had close contact in the past with it. I wrote a historical overview of the movement, which can be found at www.primitivechristianity.org or by writing to the address in the front of this magazine.
 Also to be noted is that the German word for minister itself has both a male and a female form. For a lady, it would have to be “einer aeltesterin” and for an eldress, “einer dienerin” (the -in suffix making it feminine).
 While the phrase “women in the ministry” is perfectly valid in the sense of women who served and blessed others, the underlying thought is of ordained women as elders, pastors, or teachers of men.
 Origen, Fragmenta ex commentariis in epistulam i ad Corinthios (in catenis), Greek text published in Claude Jenkins, “Documents: Origen on I Corinthians. IV,” Journal of Theological Studies 10 (1909), p. 41. English translation from Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1976), p. 28.
 Technically the phrase “minister of the gospel” does not specifically refer to preaching. An “aide of the gospel” is simply someone who helps in the cause of the kingdom of God, be it in preaching/teaching, or in helping in physical needs. For that reason I use quotes, since the phrase has come to mean a “preacher of the gospel.”
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
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 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.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Editor’s Note: Because of the nature of this article, several people or groups are mentioned before they are fully described. We suggest you read this article twice to get an understanding of how the different groups and people were inter-related during the Radical Reformation.
Who were the early Anabaptists? For centuries after their origin in 1525, their enemies have villainized the early Anabaptists and attempted to create bias against them. Names like “the radical left wing of the Reformation” were employed against these people, who were supposed to have been “antitrinitarian” (according to some accounts), “did not believe in the government”, “heretics”, or even immoral (polygamous). Although scholars have long since sorted out (albeit incompletely) the many Reformation-era groups which practiced adult baptism, confusion on the topic of who the Anabaptists were persists. This article will attempt to give an introduction to the various Anabaptist groups as well as show why generic references to “the Anabaptists” should be avoided.
What Does “Anabaptist” Mean?
The word “Anabaptist” (Weidertauffer in German) simply means “rebaptizer”. It was a term of derision used for the groups of radical Christian brethren who refused to be satisfied with the magisterial (state church) reform efforts of the Protestants. The name was also applied to other groups who practiced adult baptism. Therefore, it was from the beginning an extremely generic term.
Two Major Divisions of Anabaptists
Because of the generic nature of the term “Anabaptist”, it makes sense that there would be some variation amongst those who were thus named. The name was applied by their enemies, and it applies across the entire European continent and across fifty years of church history. With so much time and space encompassed by the name, quite a bit of variation is to be expected.
All of the early Anabaptist groups can be divided into two major categories: the Scriptural or evangelical Anabaptists and the fringe Anabaptists. The Scriptural Anabaptists were those whose main concern was to establish pure churches after the New Testament pattern. They held to “sola Scriptura” (although in a different manner from the Reformers) and believed in the New Birth. The fringe Anabaptists were all the other Reformation-era groups which practiced adult baptism but were not Scriptural in orientation like the evangelical/Scriptural/normative Anabaptists. As such, they make what paleontologists call a “wastebasket taxon” – a group where any difficult fossil is thrown! Of course, a few folks, such as Hans Hut and Hans Denck, are hard to group into either class, further complicating the picture. In this article, I will first discuss in turn the major beliefs of all the Scriptural Anabaptists, then the distinctives of the different groups of Scriptural Anabaptists. The same will then be done for the fringe Anabaptists.
Major Beliefs of the Scriptural Anabaptists
Most Scriptural Anabaptists held strongly to the following beliefs:
1. Regeneration or the new birth is a radical event which completely transforms a filthy sinner into a truly holy saint.
2. Baptism is for regenerated people only.
3. They emphasized following Christ in life.
4. The church is a voluntary association of the regenerated, kept pure by the ban or excommunication, which has the purpose of giving the light of Christ to the world and helping each member on in following Him. This was accompanied by a belief in the separation of church and state (the church free from the interference of the state, the church not trying to run the affairs of the state).
5. All worldly force was rejected (nonresistance) as was serving in the government for Christians.
6. The swearing of oaths is rejected.
Groups of Scriptural Anabaptists
The Scriptural Anabaptists can be further subdivided into two smaller divisions before the level of individual groups: the non-communitarian and the communitarian. The communitarian Anabaptists favored full community of goods, where private property was totally eliminated. The non-communitarian Anabaptists favored brotherhood sharing and aid, but allowed private property to a certain extent. They said that all goods were “common” in the sense of being available for the use of the brotherhood. The non-communitarian groups will be outlined here first.
Date of Origin: 1525 Major Leaders: Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, George Blaurock, Michael Sattler Where name originated: Unknown; possibly because they originated in Switzerland and called each other “brothers” Geographical Locations: Switzerland, southern Germany, Moravia Mode of Baptism: Pouring & Immersion Modern Descendants: Amish & most American Mennonites, Swiss Mennonites
The Swiss Brethren were the original group of Anabaptists. They originated in Zürich, Switzerland, where Ulrich Zwingli was leading the Reformation. A group of zealous young men – most notably Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz – followed Zwingli and enthusiastically supported him. Eventually, their study of the Scriptures showed them that they could no longer support Zwingli’s program, especially because he consistently capitulated to the demands of the Zürich Council in matters of church reform. The group finally stepped aside from Zwingli’s program in a visible way when they accepted water baptism by pouring in Felix Manz’s mother’s courtyard.
The Swiss Brethren group grew greatly in the early days and continued to grow for more than 100 years. Remnants of the Swiss Brethren (now called Mennonites) still persist in their native Switzerland. Most Mennonites and essentially all Amish in North America are descended from the Swiss Brethren. The Swiss Brethren believed in nonresistance, nonswearing, the authority of the entire brotherhood in making decisions, the responsibility of the brotherhood to meet the needs of its own members, etc. They were heavily persecuted and met in barns, woods, etc. There is a cave near Zürich called the “Täuferhöhle”, or Anabaptist Cave, because of the Swiss Brethren meetings held there. The origin of the name “Swiss Brethren” (German Schweizer Bruder) is unknown. It is sometimes assumed that the group received this name because they originated in Switzerland and called each other “brother”. The first known use of the name is in the Hutterite Chronicle, where it is stated that in 1542 that some former Philipites (who will be discussed later) joined the Swiss Brethren. The Hutterites seemed to use the term “Swiss Brethren” as a term of derision for the Philipites because the latter had abandoned community of goods and reverted to ownership of private property. One Moravian document says that the Schweizer Bruder received their name from Hans Schweizer, about whom nothing more is known. Wherever the name came from and regardless of whom it was first applied to, the term “Swiss Brethren” came to refer to that group of primarily Swiss and South German Anabaptists represented by Grebel, Manz, Blaurock, and Michael Sattler.
Date of Origin: 1530s Major Leaders: Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, Leonaert Bouwens Where name originated: from Menno Simons; invented by the Anabaptists’ enemies Geographical Locations: the “Low Countries”, including the Netherlands and Northern Germany Mode of Baptism: Pouring Modern Descendants: a few American Mennonites, Dutch Mennonites, Russian (Old Colony) Mennonites
The Dutch Mennonites originated out of the confused mass of fringe Anabaptism in the Low Countries in the early to mid-1530s. Obbe and Dirk Philips, both illegitimate sons of a Catholic priest, joined the Anabaptist fellowship of the Melchiorites-turning-Münsterites. Obbe was baptized and ordained by Münsterite missionaries and began to baptize and ordain others, such as his brother Dirk, whom he ordained. When the Münsterites began to turn revolutionary, Dirk and Obbe stood – almost alone – against such ideas. The small circle of peaceful Anabaptists who stood against the revolutionary excesses of the Münsterites et al. became known as “Obbenites”, after Obbe Philips. It was this brotherhood which ordained other bishops, including David Joris, Adam Pastor, Gillis of Aachen, and Menno Simons. After the fall of the “Anabaptist kingdom” of Münster, Obbe’s conscience was tormented by the fact that he had been deceived by these people and allowed himself to be baptized and ordained by them. He felt that his ordination was invalid. He eventually left the brotherhood which he had helped lead during its turbulent years. Leadership was left in the hands of Menno Simons and Dirk Philips. Menno proved to be a capable leader, and the Anabaptists’ enemies dubbed the church the “Mennist” or “Mennonist” church. The Dutch Mennonites developed completely independently of the Swiss Brethren. During the Mennonites’ early years, there was no contact between them and other Scriptural forms of Anabaptism. They developed their convictions on the New Birth, separation from the world, the sword, the oath, etc., from the Scriptures. When they finally did contact the Swiss Brethren in the mid to late 1500s, they both had already formed their sets of basic convictions and found that in all but two points they agreed. The first of these points was how the excommunicated should be treated. The Swiss Brethren interpreted Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 5:11, “with such an one no not to eat,” as applying only to “eating” the Lord’s Supper. The Dutch Mennonites believed that this “eating” meant any eating, and that the excommunicated should be shunned. The second point of difference was that the Dutch ministers held to a different view of the Incarnation than the Swiss. However, not all of the Dutch Mennonites held this view; after the death of Menno and Dirk, the view seems to have died out among the Mennonites. The Dutch Mennonites also had a slightly different congregational practice from the Swiss. They were otherwise quite similar.
The Dutch Mennonites endured horrible persecution through the 1570s. Burning at the stake was the usual mode of execution, although beheading, drowning, and burying alive (for women) were also used. Once persecution stopped, the church began to relax, the people became rich and happy, and all that they had stood for amidst persecution began to slowly melt away. The group also began to splinter, beginning quite soon after Menno’s death and even before.
These groups of Anabaptists were either strictly communitarian or were communitarian at some point in their history.
Date of Origin: 1526 Major Leaders: Jacob Weidemann, Pilgram Marpeck Where name originated: Stäbler = staff-bearers, after nonresistance; Austerlitz Brethren, after the city they lived in; Pilgramites, for Pilgram Marpeck Geographical Locations: Moravia & southern Germany Mode of Baptism: pouring & immersion Modern Descendants: none; the Hutterites are indirect descendants
The Stäbler originated in a dispute between Balthasar Hubmaier and Hans Hut. Both were trying to establish Anabaptist congregations in the city of Nikolsburg. Hubmaier wanted a state church and did not accept nonresistance. Hut was nonresistant and refused to accept a state church. The congregation Hut founded became known as the Stäbler, staff-bearers, because they refused to carry swords. This group was left under the leadership of “one-eyed Jacob” Weidemann.
Weidemann soon began to teach community of goods, claiming that it was the mark of the true church. Nevertheless, his group did not practice it until they were expelled from the territory of the lords of Liechtenstein, who were members of the Schwertler (Hubmaier) group. The now very poor group put community of goods into practice as they left. Weidemann spread out a coat on the ground and his entire congregation put their goods in a heap on it. They thus earned another name, “those of the little heap”. Their most often-used name, however, was “Austerlitz Brethren”, because they moved to Austerlitz. Pilgram Marpeck, an important early Anabaptist leader, appears to have originally been a member of the Austerlitz Brethren after his conversion and before his leaving the area for Strasbourg (southern Germany). Marpeck was, in a sense, a “bridge Anabaptist”. He tried to work for the reconciliation of all Anabaptist groups. His efforts, unfortunately, were unsuccessful. He was rebuffed by the Hutterites. He considered the Swiss Brethren to be legalists who were not a true church.
The Austerlitz Brethren and the other (Pilgramite) congregations associated with them seem on the whole to have been a bit more lax than other Anabaptist fellowships, particularly on separation from the world and the oath. The Austerlitz Brethren believed a Christian could swear oaths without sin. Marpeck’s view is unknown, but some of his associates accepted swearing on certain occasions. The Austerlitz Brethren/Pilgramites (who may have referred to all of their churches by the name “Fellows of the Covenant”) eventually went extinct. The Austerlitz congregation itself scattered when the Anabaptists were expelled from Moravia; Jacob Weidemann was martyred in Vienna, Austria. After his death, remnants of his congregation joined the Hutterites. They had, before this, abandoned community of goods, with the other congregations they were in fellowship with. Marpeck’s congregations in southern Germany came to an end in about 1573; the last remnants of these churches were snuffed out by the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation in about 1620.
Although they have no direct modern descendants, the Hutterites – who still live in community of goods – are in a roundabout way the descendants of the original “ones of the little heap”.
Date of Origin: c. 1527 Major Leaders: Gabriel Ascherham Where name originated: from Gabriel Ascherham Geographical Locations: Silesia, Moravia, Poland Modern Descendants: none
Gabriel Ascherham was an Anabaptist leader who established a communitarian church similar to the Hutterites. In 1531, at the suggestion of evangelist Jakob Hutter, the Gabrielite, Philipite, and proto-Hutterite communities bound themselves together in a loose union with Gabriel serving as bishop over all three communities. In 1533, upon Jakob Hutter’s return to Moravia, the union disintegrated in the Schism of 1533. When the Moravian nobles banished the Anabaptists from their territories, the Gabrielites abandoned community of goods and fled. Little is known of the development of Gabriel’s life and thought, but it is clear that he became a spiritualist in his later days – i.e., one who believes that if one’s heart is right and he has the Holy Spirit, everything is fine, regardless of what he does with Scriptural commands. Thus he justified infant baptism and even said that the unsaved children of believers could be baptized. He denounced the Hutterites for “legalism” and their view of community of goods. It seems that his followers, as a whole, were unwilling to go in Gabriel’s direction, and defected to the Hutterites. At the time of his death, Gabriel was a “shepherd without sheep”, as some have said. Most of the remnants of his followers eventually joined the Hutterites.
Date of Origin: c. 1527 Major Leaders: Philip Plener, Blasius Kühn Where name originated: from Philip Plener Geographical Locations: Moravia Modern Descendants: none
Philip Plener was the elder of the Philipite community, another group of communitarian Anabaptists living in Moravia. His community grew because of the great numbers of Anabaptists coming to tolerant Moravia from other lands. Plener’s community eventually settled in Auspitz and established community of goods in 1529. In 1535, when the Anabaptists were expelled from Moravia, Plener and his assistant, Blasius Kühn, went about on horseback looking for a place to settle. Finding none, they announced to the group that each man would have to fend for himself. One group of Philipites went back to southern Germany, where they were probably absorbed into the Swiss Brethren. Others eventually joined the Hutterites.
One group of Philipites intended to return to Germany via the Danube River. Philip ordained Michael Schneider as the elder of this group. The Roman Catholics were alerted of the coming of these Anabaptists and caught the entire group and imprisoned them in the castle at Passau. Here they were imprisoned for five years. Although some were tortured, none were executed. A few died in prison and a few recanted and were released; others escaped. During their imprisonment, these Philipites wrote many hymns. These hymns were later used by the Hutterites and later by the Swiss Brethren as the core of the Ausbund, the German hymnbook still used by the Amish.
Date of Origin: c. 1527 Major Leaders: Jakob Hutter, Hans Amon, Peter Reidemann Where name originated: from Jakob Hutter Geographical Locations: Moravia, South Tyrol Mode of Baptism: Pouring Modern Descendants: Hutterites
The Hutterites had a rough starting as a group. Wilhelm Reublin, a Swiss Brethren evangelist and one of the original Zürich circle, joined the Austerlitz Brethren (Stäbler) and soon grew discontented with some of the rules and the actions of the leaders. He led a group away from the Austerlitz Brethren. Unfortunately, they soon found out the fact that they were united in their opposition to Jacob Weidemann did not mean they were united enough to be a church together. They experienced problems and Reublin was expelled as an Ananias because he preached community of goods but had kept some money secretly for himself. Jakob Hutter’s converts fleeing from South Tyrol then began to join the group, called at this point by historians the “proto-Hutterite community”. The group suffered through several other leaders and the Great Schism of 1533. After Jakob Hutter’s martyrdom, they came to be called Hutterites. They held to strict community of goods and nonresistance. They also opposed the paying of war taxes, as had Hans Hut and the Austerlitz Brethren. Unfortunately, some or perhaps many of them looked with scorn on all other groups of Anabaptists – particularly the Swiss Brethren. Although the Hutterites had a rough start, they proved to be a very vigorous and zealous group of Anabaptists. Their missionaries roamed far and wide across Europe, even long after the Swiss Brethren had, for the most part, stopped evangelizing. Their well-organized communities made ambitious missionary projects possible which could not have been carried out by the less structured Swiss Brethren or Dutch Mennonites. The Hutterites survive today, chiefly in the western United States and Canada.
There are many themes which recur several times among the fringe Anabaptists. These did not all occur in every fringe group, but they are common to more than one of these groups.
1. Belief in an invisible church. This means that they did not believe in an organized, “visible” church. Each person could do just fine all by himself, without Christian fellowship or organization being necessary. Thus all church authority was rejected as well as gathering together for fellowship and instruction.
2. Marginalization of baptism. Because of spiritualist/invisible church tendencies, baptism was often marginalized, up to and including outright rejection of adult/believer’s baptism. Thus in a sense, some of these groups hardly qualify for the label “Anabaptist”, even if we use that title very loosely.
3. Allowing the use of the sword.
4. Extra-biblical revelation, particularly in the form of special dreams and visions given to the prophets and prophetesses of the group.
Date of Origin: 1520s Major Leaders: Balthasar Hubmaier, Hans Spittelmaier Where name originated: Schwertler = sword bearers; from rejection of nonresistance Geographical Locations: southern Germany, Nikolsburg Mode of Baptism: Pouring Modern Descendants: none
Balthasar Hubmaier was an able defender of the principle of believer’s baptism and is known as “the theologian of the Anabaptists”. He was perhaps one of the most well-educated Anabaptists of all, having been at one time head of a university. Although he fellowshipped for a time with the Swiss Brethren, he never agreed with them on nonresistance. He participated in the Peasant’s War of 1525 and even had two nonresistant Anabaptists banished from his Anabaptist city of Waldshut.
Hubmaier eventually attempted to establish an Anabaptist state church from his new home in Nikolsburg. He broke with Hans Hut over this issue and over the use of the sword. His opponents, the Stäbler, eventually developed into the Austerlitz Brethren and far outlasted his Schwertler party. Hubmaier was imprisoned in 1527 by the Roman Catholics and recanted what he felt were secondary points of minor significance, i.e., concerning Mary. He hoped thereby to obtain release, but his plan did not work. He was later burned at the stake, leaving his followers confused as to what direction he wanted them to take. His churches died out in 1529.
Date of Origin: 1530s Major Leaders: Hans Denck, Ludwig Haetzer Where name originated: over-emphasis of inner spiritual life at the expense of following Biblical commands Geographical Locations: principally southern Germany Modern Descendants: none
The Spiritualists were a group of Anabaptists principally associated with Strasbourg in what was then part of southern Germany (now in France). Hans Denck, a friend of Hans Hut, was perhaps one of the most important of these Anabaptists. He baptized others for a time but soon decided that inner baptism was all that mattered. Not long before his death, he promised to never baptize anyone again and also approved of the swearing of oaths. His spiritualistic thinking, that only what was inside mattered, led him to forsake some or all of his Anabaptist convictions.
These Spiritualists descended from the medieval Mystics, who had emphasized the rebirth of the spirit and other internal aspects of the Christian life. When these Spiritualist/Mystic Anabaptists encountered persecution because of baptism, they seem to have easily slipped back into the mentality of “outward things do not matter; only inward things do”.
Ludwig Haetzer was a friend of Hans Denck. Denck may have baptized him. He was a scholar who did much writing, including hymn writing, and translating of Old Testament and Apocryphal books into German. His connection to the Anabaptists is rather ambiguous; he was finally executed for adultery.
Date of Origin: c. 1528 Major Leaders: Oswald Glait, Andreas Fisher Geographical Locations: Silesia Modern Descendants: none
This is one group which it takes a “judgment call” to put in the fringe group or the Scriptural group. With no judging whether the people involved were born again or not, it was decided to place them in the fringe group because their making a significant issue of the Sabbath question was certainly not normative for most Anabaptists. In addition, they rejected, at least in part, a basic belief of the Scriptural Anabaptists – that the New Testament has superseded the Old.
About 1528, Oswald Glait, who had been an active Anabaptist leader for a short time, published a book defending the view of a literal observance of a seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath rest. Andreas Fisher also wrote in defense of this view. Caspar Schwenckfeld, an opponent of Pilgram Marpeck, wrote a reply to Glait’s book and Martin Luther also wrote against these Anabaptists. When this movement died out is not certain, although it did not last long.
Date of Origin: 1530 Major Leaders: Melchior Hoffman Where name originated: from Melchior Hoffman Geographical Locations: Holland, Germany, England Mode of Baptism: Pouring Modern Descendants: none
Melchior Hoffman became a Lutheran early in life and in 1523 became a Lutheran preacher. He began to develop his ideas on prophecy, one of his favorite subjects, during his time as a Lutheran. His ideas on eschatology (end-times events), in addition to his lack of education (he was a simple furrier), resulted in his lack of acceptance among the Lutherans. In Strasbourg, he met and joined the Anabaptists. He was particularly drawn to a man and woman who claimed to have received prophetic visions. He soon published their “revelations”. Hoffman progressively grew convinced that he was Elijah who was to herald the coming of Christ. He visited the Netherlands and introduced Anabaptism there. When some of his followers were martyred, he recommended that baptism be suspended for two years because the building of the Second Temple had also been delayed for two years. Meanwhile, he continued to write and publish. He claimed that no one in his day preached the true Gospel. He looked with scorn on the Swiss Brethren. Finally, an aged Anabaptist from Friesland “prophesied” that Hoffman was indeed Elijah, that he would be imprisoned in Strasbourg for six months, then would be released and (with the help of other ministers) would spread Anabaptism over the whole world. Hoffman excitedly rushed back to Strasbourg, had himself arrested, and swore an oath that he would eat and drink nothing except bread and water until he could point to Jesus Himself. Ten years later, Melchior Hoffman died in prison. Despite his strange teachings, Hoffman did embrace nonresistance and warned his followers against sedition, rebellion, and polygamy. After his death, his followers continued a policy of “invisible church” – conforming to accepted state church practices to avoid persecution. They eventually died out, although they still existed as late as 1560.
Date of Origin: 1530s Major Leaders: Jan Mathys, Jan van Leiden, Bernhard Rothmann Where name originated: from Münster, city which they believed would be the “New Jerusalem” Geographical Locations: Netherlands, primarily Münster and Amsterdam Modern Descendants: none
While Melchior Hoffman was convinced that he was Elijah, he and his followers could not for sure decide who should be recognized as “Enoch”. Caspar Schwenckfeld and Cornelius Polterman were the main contenders for the position. While Melchior Hoffman was imprisoned (before his first six months had expired), a new competitor for the title of “Enoch” appeared – a Dutch baker by the name of Jan Mathys. When he heard from some of the other Melchiorites that Polterman was Enoch, he threatened with hellfire any who dared to reject his claims. In this way, he was able to procure the submission of some of the Melchiorites.
Meanwhile, in the town of Münster, in Westphalia, Germany, a reformer named Bernhard Rothmann was dissatisfied with the Lutheran doctrines he was being forced by the town council to uphold. When Mathys arrived at the city, Rothmann joined the Anabaptists along with many from the city. Following a vision of three suns (probably just a display of sundogs), the Münster Anabaptists resorted to force and captured control of the city government. They promptly banished all who would not submit to rebaptism. Mathys then issued a call to all Anabaptists to come to the “New Jerusalem”, which, he claimed, was not to be Strasbourg as Melchior Hoffman had said but was actually to be Münster. He invited all oppressed Anabaptists – indeed, everyone – to come join the “Kingdom” at Münster, and thousands answered the call.
It was not long before a combined Catholic and Protestant army under the leadership of the Catholic Bishop of Münster had besieged the “Anabaptist Kingdom”. Mathys “prophesied” that the world would end on Easter Sunday, 1534. On that day he took a few of his men and tried to drive away the bishop’s army in Old Testament style. They failed and Mathys was killed.
After Mathys’ death, another man, Jan van Leiden, took over leadership of Münster. He had himself crowned king, eventually built himself a throne in the town square, and called himself the “third David” (Jesus being the second) and the “joyous king of all”. Leiden introduced polygamy into the “Kingdom” because of a shortage of men in the besieged city. As starvation set in, Leiden held amusements in the market place – such as dancing and theatricals – for the public amusement. This, of course, did not make the people forget their hunger. A revolt inside the city was brutally suppressed. Finally, due to a betrayal from inside the city, the bishop’s armies were able to successfully invade Münster. Leiden and two of his associates were captured, put in iron cages, and toured around Europe for display. Leiden finally recanted his errors and admitted that he had never received revelations from God. The three were finally tortured to death and the cages were hung from the church tower in Münster, where they remain to this day.
Date of Origin: 1535 Major Leaders: Jan van Geelen, Jan van Batenberg Where name originated: from the Oldeklooster (Old Cloister) which they seized Geographical Locations: Bolsward, Freisland, in the Netherlands Modern Descendants: none
It is perhaps somewhat of an exaggeration to put the Old Cloisterites in a separate group from the Münsterites; indeed, Jan van Geelen, their leader, was one of the “twelve prophets” of Münster. Nevertheless, their story is distinct from the Münster story.
On March 30, 1535, some Melchiorites/Münsterites seized the Old Cloister in Bolsward, Friesland (Netherlands). They then wanted to take, by force, the entire province of Freisland. An imperial officer was given the task of retaking the monastery, a job which he found more difficult to do than he had supposed. He had to besiege the cloister, bombard it with artillery fire, and charge it three times. It fell on April 7. About 300 Anabaptists died in the fighting. Of the rest, 37 were instantly beheaded and 132 were taken prisoner. Of these, 55 were later executed. Jan van Geelen escaped harm!
It is a possibility that one of the participants in the Old Cloister event, Peter Simons, was a brother of Menno Simons.
Davidjorists or Davidians
Date of Origin: 1540s Major Leaders: David Joris Where name originated: from David Joris Geographical Locations: primarily the Netherlands Modern Descendants: none
As a young man, David Joris joined the Lutherans, then the Melchiorites, and finally the Obbenites. Among the Obbenites he was ordained a bishop. Before long, unfortunately, he became convinced that he was a “third David” who was receiving direct revelation from God. He claimed that Christ did not bring in a full revelation of truth, but that instead both Old and New Testaments were now superseded by his own writings. He believed in an invisible church and also believed that sin of the body does not affect the spirit. He allowed polygamy. Despite these weaknesses, he refused the use of the sword and did not agree with the Batenbergers on this point.
When Menno Simons warned against the false prophet in his famous book Foundation of Christian Doctrine, Joris took offense and wrote to Menno challenging him to a great battle. Menno replied in a brief letter, telling Joris in effect to not write to him anymore until he would accept the absolute authority of the Scriptures.
Tired of persecution, Joris finally took his family to Basel where, under the pseudonym Jan van Bruges, he claimed to be a Reformed refugee. He was allowed to stay and became one of the pillars of the Reformed state church there. Meanwhile, he continued to secretly correspond with his many followers. He died in Basel in 1556. Years after his death, a dispute among his followers revealed to the Basel authorities that the respected “Jan van Bruges” was really the notorious heretic, David Joris! The Reformed authorities then had his corpse dug up and burned with as many of his writings as they could find. Joris’s following eventually disintegrated, although it did not happen immediately following his death or his cremation.
Batenbergers or Zwaardgeesten
Date of Origin: 1535 Major Leaders: Jan van Batenberg Where name originated: Batenbergers from Jan van Batenberg; Zwaardgeesten = “sword minded” Geographical Locations: Netherlands Modern Descendants: none
The Batenbergers were followers of Jan van Batenberg, who had been a participant in the incident at the Old Cloister. After the fall of Münster in 1535, remnants of the Münsterite group were attracted to the Batenbergers. They were essentially organized bandits, believing that it was right to rob church buildings and practice polygamy. van Batenberg believed that he was Elijah who was to appear before Christ. In December 1537, he was arrested. While in prison, he betrayed many Anabaptists and tried to convince the authorities that he had always opposed plans of plunder and attack (!). He was executed in 1538. Another of the Batenbergers’ leaders was executed in 1544. They seem to have gone extinct sometime in the 1550s.
Date of Origin: 1550s Major Leaders: Adam Pastor Where name originated: from Adam Pastor Geographical Locations: Netherlands Modern Descendants: none
The Adamites were the only Anabaptist group which was antitrinitarian. Adam Pastor (whose original name was Roelof Martens), the leader of the group, was a Catholic priest. He left the priesthood in 1533 and became a Münsterite. He later left the Münsterites and joined the Obbenites/Mennonites. Menno Simons ordained him an elder in the early or mid-1540s. Pastor later became an anti-trinitarian and questioned the deity of Jesus Christ. Three debates were held with him in 1547. Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, and other Mennonite bishops tried to show Pastor the error of his ways, but he refused to give up his theological opinions. Dirk Philips excommunicated him at the end of the last meeting, presumably acting in behalf of all the bishops.
Pastor continued to preach and attracted a small following. In order to counteract his influence, Menno Simons wrote a pamphlet titled Confession of the Triune God, which was originally circulated in handwritten form but was eventually printed. Dirk wrote a 20-stanza hymn, “You Christian Brothers Together,” and a letter against Pastor’s ideas.
In 1552, Pastor requested another discussion with the Mennonite bishops. He felt that he was not given a fair hearing in the three meetings of 1547. Menno and Dirk agreed and the meeting was held, but it was fruitless. Neither side would relent.
Pastor died sometime between 1560 and 1570 and his following disintegrated. Among all the known Dutch Anabaptist martyrs, only one (Herman van Vlekwijk) was known to be an antitrinitarian.
Is it Fair to say “the Anabaptists”?
Having seen the many different groups of people, some of them quite different from each other, which practiced adult baptism and were thus called “Anabaptists”, it is my opinion that it is not fair to say “the Anabaptists believed this” or “the Anabaptists practiced this” without clarification of exactly which Anabaptists are being referred to. In a sense, it cannot even be said that “the Anabaptists” practiced adult baptism because some groups (such as the Spiritualists) eventually abandoned the baptism of adults.
To say “the Anabaptists this” or “the Anabaptists that” would be comparable to saying “the pedobaptists believed and practiced this, that, or the next thing.” Among the pedobaptists were the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, and the Reformed (Calvinists/Zwinglians) – obviously a very disparate collection of groups. The only connecting link between all pedobaptists was the baptism of infants. The various pedobaptist groups did not even share their main arguments in support of pedobaptism. Because it would thus be unfair to talk about the pedobaptists as a homogenous group, it would also be unfair to talk of the Anabaptists as one homogenous group.
God has had His righteous remnant through all of time. It is my belief that in the sixteenth century, the Scriptural Anabaptists made up a good portion of that remnant. However, not everything called “Anabaptist” is necessarily good or wholesome. The days of the Reformation were filled with many strange characters and bizarre beliefs, but the Scriptural Anabaptists were able to steer clear of these influences for the most part. Their Biblical convictions live on today among their descendants, including the Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites.
1. The Anabaptist Story, by William Estep 2. Mennonites in Europe, by John Horsch 3. Hutterite Beginnings, by Werner O. Packull 4. The Life and Thought of Michael Sattler, by C. Arnold Snyder 5. The Drummer’s Wife, by Joseph Stoll 6. The Secret of the Strength, by Peter Hoover 7. Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, ed. by George H. Williams & Angel M. Mergal 8. The Writings of Dirk Philips, ed. by Cornelius J. Dyck, William E. Keeney, & Alvin J. Beachy 9. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, edited by J. C. Wenger 10. The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, edited by William Klassen & Walter Klaassen 11. Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith, translated by John J. Friesen 12. They Harry the Good People Out of the Land, by John S. Oyer 13. Anabaptism in Outline, ed. by Walter Klaassen 14. “Pilgram Marpeck and the Fellows of the Covenant: The Short and Fragmentary History of the Rise and Decline of an Anabaptist Denominational Network,” by Martin Rothkegel, Mennonite Quarterly Review 85 (January 2011):7-36 15. Songs of the Ausbund, Vol. 1, by Ohio Amish Library 16. The following articles on the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (www.gameo.org): “Wideman, Jakob (d. 1535/6),” by Robert Friedmann “Austerlitz Brethren,” by Christian Hege “Ascherham, Gabriel (d. 1545),” by Robert Friedmann “Gabrielites,” by Robert Friedmann “Philippites,” by Robert Friedmann “Plener, Philipp (16th century),” by Robert Friedmann “Schwertler,” by Harold S. Bender “Denck, Hans (ca. 1500-1527),” by Christian Neff & Walter Fellmann “Haetzer, Ludwig (1500-1529),” by Gerhard Goeters “Sabbatarian Anabaptists,” by William Klassen “Sabbatarianism,” by Daniel Liechty “Melchior Hoffman,” by Christian Neff & Werner O. Packull “Melchiorites,” by Cornelius Krahn “Münster Anabaptists,” by Cornelius Krahn, Nanne van der Zijpp, & James M. Stayer “Oldeklooster (Friesland, Netherlands),” by Christian Neff & Nanne van der Zijpp “Batenburg, Jan van (1495-1538),” by Jacob Loosjes “David Joris (ca. 1501-1556),” by Gerhard Hein & Gary K. Waite “Adam Pastor (d.1560/70),” by Christian Neff & Harold S. Bender “Adamites,” by Nanne van der Zijpp “Antitrinitarianism,” by Robert Friedmann “Unitarianism,” by Harold S. Bender “God (Trinity), Doctrine of,” by James A. Reimer
Originally published in The Witness June 2012.
The story of Johnny Kline
By Mike Atnip
In our minds, let’s travel back in time to the late 1850s and imagine a scene …
Two boys push their sticks through the July dust, pretending—as boys are wont to do—that the sticks are plows and horses turning over the rocky Virginia mountain soil in preparation to plant the corn. The morning sun is rising high over the ridge now, and the heat of the day is just beginning to show itself fierce when the sound of horseshoes clashing with rocks cause the boys to stop their plowing and glance down the rock-strewn path toward the creek below. A shaggy ol’ mare appears with a black-coated man, in a large black hat, on its back.
“It’s Johnny Kline!” they blurt out, almost in unison.
And with that, two pairs of bare feet speed up the path toward the log cabin. Bursting through the open front door, they exclaim the news, as only little boys can do.
“It’s Johnny Kline! It’s Johnny Kline! Johnny Kline is coming!”
The other children look up from their various duties and amusements, and spontaneous smiles spread as if a contagion has hit the home. The mother quickly sizes up the house and begins to straighten the furniture a bit—as mothers are wont to do—and commands one of the boys to run and tell father, who is in the field behind the house hoeing corn.
Two bare feet peel through the corn rows, as only a country boy can do, and before the feet have stopped their pounding, the morning news is gushing out, “Daddy, come! Johnny Kline is coming! He’s coming up the path! I saw him!”
“OK, son, I am coming.” And with four more quick slashes at some especially pernicious-looking weeds, the father shoulders his hoe and strides towards the cabin below, his quick gait belying his own excitement at the news.
Visitors in the “hollers” of the Virginia mountains were rare, and the mere fact of someone coming up the path would have caused a stir in the household. But when that familiar old mare and that familiar black coat and hat, with that familiar white hair hanging out from under it, made their appearance, it was nearly impossible for the children to keep from smiling and giggling with excitement as they bounced from window to window, peeping in embarrassed joy at the visitor as he dismounted and tied the reins to the rail, then loosened the saddle on ol’ Nell.
The mountain people of Virginia (during the Civil War, the western counties of Virginia would break away from Virginia and call themselves West Virginia) were an independent lot: tough as hickory saplings, hard to get to know, “uned’rcated,” and suspicious by nature of strangers invading their hidden “hollers.” But Johnny Kline had travelled their rocky paths for many years now, and by his kind and gentle nature had won the hearts of many of these backwoods folks, to the point that they almost revered him. No, he would refuse to be called “Reverend,” but due to his repeated visits in these almost forgotten places, the mere mention of his name would strike a genuine reverence in their hearts for many years after his death.
The reason was quite simple: Johnny Kline cared about them. And they knew that.Fourth generation revival
John Kline was born June 17, 1797, in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. He was the great-grandson of Elder George Kline. His great-grandfather had emigrated from Germany as a Lutheran minister and taken up residence in New Jersey where he met the Schwarzenau Brethren, later called the “Dunkers,” the “German Baptists,” or the “Church of the Brethren.” George joined the fledgling movement and was later ordained among them. In those early days, zeal for revival was fresh and the Brethren won converts—like George—into their movement.
But as usually happens, the following generations lost some of “the cutting edge” of the kingdom message, and too many of them settled into the formalities of going to meeting, keeping the ordinances, and maintaining an outward separation … all of which are very good and right. But the kingdom of God is more than keeping ordinances and attending preaching services. The kingdom of God is also being delivered from a self-centered life … into a life of service to others.
More than one hundred years had passed since the German Baptist revival had begun, and too many were sleepy. The frontiers of America were opening up and there were rich farmlands to clear and houses and barns to build. It was oh, so easy to slip into the routine of “church,” and let the extension of God’s kingdom take a backseat to the everyday pressing needs of frontier life.
John Kline found himself a young believer in such a church. The historical records do not indicate that John was ever tempted to abandon his church. In fact, throughout his diary he constantly exclaims thanksgiving and joy in the fellowship he found among his Brethren. He wrote in a letter to a friend:
… as to the progress of the church, it is but little I think, and it is owing to the coldness of our brethren. We are all too much for the world and accumulation of worldly things. This brings darkness and a gloss over the Gospel, and of course makes people think that they are just as good as any other Christian. It is true that according to morality and honesty, they are often equally as good, but large numbers of our children do not have, as it were, any parental rule. They are taught more how to rise in the world then how to love Christ and deny themselves. This is the way things are going. They generally have a taste for the world in the things of the world. But, oh, how will it be with these parents who speak so little with their children of Christ and self-denial, who only have the world at heart? I am fearful, oh I tremble, when I think of it, and my heart weeps over the daughter of Zion who has defiled herself.
Did he ever wonder if fourth generation churches—sleepy, though doctrinally orthodox—could be revived? I certainly have wondered that. In fact, it is probably more correct for me to say that I seriously doubt that will happen, in the majority of cases.
John simply put his hand to the plow … and became an instrument of revival. Just because very few in his church were reaching out in evangelistic endeavors did not stop him from starting an endeavor. Rare as it is that a sleepy, fourth generation church revives, John proved that it can happen!Into the hills
John lived on a farm at what is now Broadway, Virginia. Broadway is located in the Shenandoah Valley, nestled up to the Appalachian range on the west. The Valley was comfortably settled and economically prospering in John’s day. But the story changed as soon as one followed the north branch of the Shenandoah River through a narrow gap—Brock’s Gap—in the first range of hills. In these rugged mountains lived the poor folks, those who could not afford the rich farm lands of the broad Valley, much less the lands of the coastal plains further east. These folks were “mountain people.” They were poorer, less educated, less respected, and—in the beginning of John Kline’s ministry—practically unchurched.
John Kline set out to change that. I don’t think he sat down one day and said, “You know, I think I will make a goal of starting several churches in the mountains before I die.” No, he simply saw a need and stepped in to fill it. It meant more than preaching. It meant, sometimes, giving economic aid to those who listened to his preaching. He wrote in his diary concerning the poor people west of the Gap:
We found some of the members in a very poor condition. One sister, in particular, moved my feelings deeply. Her husband is somewhat dissipated and does not provide for his family as he should. She is the mother of three small children; and, judging from their present appearance, they have undergone a good deal of suffering for lack of food and clothing. None of them have any shoes; and the thin coverings they have on are so patched and darned that one can hardly tell the kind of goods they were originally made of.
I inquired how they were off in the way of food. She replied that they had about a peck of corn meal in the house and several bushels of potatoes buried in the garden; and she reckoned they could do right well till she could get some more washing and other work to do. I gave that patient, uncomplaining sister three dollars out of my own pocket money. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” There is a day coming when we shall more fully realize this truth than now.Good habits
It is not hard to start a bad habit. In fact, all we have to do is start coasting along in life, and living a self-centered life will become as habitual as breathing. But John Kline started habits of service to others. One of these habits was to make an evangelistic trip into the mountain counties of Virginia (now West Virginia), on a regular basis. In the beginning he sometimes went alone. In later years he usually took another brother with him, as his good habits began to wear off on others. These trips were usually carried out in the fall of the year, and lasted several weeks. He would mount his faithful Nell—she took him an estimated 30,000 miles in her life, equal to more than one time around the world—and head up into the hills.
He would preach at appointed meetings, of course, but he would also visit the sick, read Scripture to the elderly, warn sinners to repent, speak personally to the children and young folks, and in every house he stopped at he would not leave until he had tried to testify. He noted in his diary:
In all my visits I make it a point not to leave a house without making an effort to speak on the subject of religion, and say something that may leave an impression for good.
At the time of his death, the results of his labors could be seen in the formation of a number of Bible-practicing “Dunker” churches in those rugged hills. A baptism here, and two over there, and later another one here again. And over the years little congregations would form … just from the labors of ol’ Johnny Kline and Nell, practicing his good habits year after year.
He wrote in his diary, when he was just beginning his outreaches into the mountains:
One man may sometimes strike a hard stone a good many times without breaking it; when another may take the same hammer, strike it in a slightly different place, or in a different way, and it falls to pieces. It may be that the first man’s strokes accomplished more than he knew of. The force of his blows may have diminished the solidity of the stone, and thus made it easier for the second man to break. If I cannot see much fruit of my labor here now, perhaps some, who will come after me, may.The preacher
John focused his evangelistic attention on the neighboring counties. In addition, he usually made the trip to the annual conference of the Brethren. The conference was held at a different location each year. Sometimes it was close by, in Virginia, but more often it was in the Midwestern states. John would saddle up Nell and begin the long journey, preaching as he went. He would then return, preaching as he went. In later years, when the railroads were laid out, he went by train. The early journeys usually took a month, sometimes two. These travels became the means of his acquaintance with different congregations, and as a rule they were delighted when Johnny Kline passed through.
John’s style of preaching was generally expository. Strong’s Concordance and similar study aids have given expository preaching a knock in the head. Today there is a strong tendency to look up a bunch of Scriptures on a certain topic and speak topically. In John’s day it was the custom to read off a verse, or perhaps several verses, and take off preaching from there.
This style of preaching lent itself more to weaving real life stories and applications into the sermon. In this, John excelled. An example is found when a friend told him the story of some Indian squaws who were butchering a turkey. They pulled the feathers and then proceeded to remove the guts. Next they put the turkey on to boil, using the very same water they had washed it in. John used that illustration:
That minister who gets up and in a beautiful and glowing discourse sets forth the Christian “cleansed from all filthiness of flesh and spirit,” and then comes down [from his pulpit] to mix with the world, and follow its fashions and vanities, is cooking his turkey in the same water he washed it in. The professor of religion who, to appearance, makes a very humble confession of his sins, with seeming repentance and deep contrition of heart, only to go away and thrust himself again into the filthiness of his former life, is cooking his turkey in the same water he washed it in.
On another occasion he spoke of laurel, a plant well known to his hearers:
In my travels among the mountains of our Virginia, I have often seen the laurel holding out its evergreen but poisonous leaves in sprays of most enticing beauty. Miles and miles of road, in one unbroken stretch, may be seen densely hedged on either hand by this beautiful emblem of sin and death. Herds of cattle and flocks of sheep are every year driven over these roads. Every herdsman and shepherd knows the danger to be apprehended from the inclination … to “sidle” off the plain and beaten track and pluck the green leaves of the laurel to their own destruction.
Many a time have I overtaken flocks of sheep, some of which were lying along the road “down with the staggers.” This last is the name of the disease which is brought on by taking laurel. The old sheep avoid it. They will not taste it. … It is hardly necessary for me to point out to you the lesson of instruction to be gathered from what I have just said. …
The Prophet Isaiah speaks of some who “are drunken, but not with strong drink.” I fancy I hear someone in the congregation say: “I guess they must have taken laurel.” Precisely so, friend! They took the laurel that has been the ruin of thousands of the Lord’s sheep and lambs. Let me tell you exactly what I mean.
The love of worldly pleasure is laurel of one kind. It blooms forth in the desire for fine dress, lively company, night gatherings, social parties, and the like things.
Worldly treasure is laurel of another kind. It blooms forth in the desire for worldly possessions, no matter how obtained, and only to gratify selfish ends. I have known some old sheep to take this kind.
Ambition to be great and highly honored is still another kind. This is the “deer-tongued” laurel, the very tallest kind that grows, and has the richest-looking flowers. But it is just as poisonous as any, and it blooms forth in the desire to be admired for beauty, to be looked up to for superior power and wisdom, and to be held in high honor for great deeds. I have known old sheep and even leaders of the flock to eat this kind until they staggered considerably …
With such practical, everyday illustrations, John was able to bring forth the rich treasures of the kingdom in terms the listeners could appreciate.Facing culture head on Slavery
John Kline did well among the mountain people to the west of his home. His real battle was to the east, in the flat lands of the coastal plain of Virginia. Here were the rich and politically powerful slaveholders.
In 1782, about 15 years before John Kline was even born, the Brethren had declared themselves firmly against slavery. The minutes for the 1782 Annual Conference begin with these words:
It has been unanimously considered that it cannot be permitted in any wise by the church, that a member should or could purchase Negroes, or keep them as slaves.
This plain, simple declaration caused little problem in Pennsylvania, where most of the early Brethren settled. But once they began to move south of the Mason-Dixon line, it was culturally incorrect. And as long as the Brethren kept that conviction to themselves, it cost them little. They refused to hire slaves from neighbors, if the wages went to the owner and not the slave. If someone desired to unite with the Brethren, he was not permitted to do so until he had released his slaves, with the exception of those under age. In this case, it was determined to be better for the owner to raise the child, send him/her to school, train him/her in an occupation, and then officially release him/her when he/she became of legal age. Again, this caused little concern to slaveholders in the south, if a man wanted to release his slaves. But as the years passed by, some of the southern States began to make it harder and harder for slaves to be freed, until it became practically impossible to legally free slaves in some areas.
What to do? The slavery question was splitting some denominations down the middle, with a northern version and a southern version. While many of the denominations did not like the idea of slavery, they were unwilling to stand up against the culture and declare it to be anti-Christian to force another person, against his will, to a lifetime of servitude. So they compromised, to be politically correct.
But the Brethren said “No.” Slavery was a sin. Other churches were making concessions because of the new laws that made it hard to release slaves. The Brethren still said “No!” John noted in his diary, concerning a council meeting at his congregation:
Decide the question as to what the churches here in the slaveholding States should require of any slave owner desiring to come into the church. A very delicate matter to act upon in the present sensitive condition of public feeling on slavery. But it is the aim of the Brethren here not to offend popular feeling, so long as that feeling does not attempt any interference with what they regard and hold sacred as their line of Christian duty. Should such opposition arise, which I greatly fear will be the case at no distant day, it will then be seen that it is the fixed purpose and resolve of the Brotherhood to “obey God rather than men.” It was decided in council that every slaveholder coming into the church must give up his or her slaves as property; and yet not turn them off houseless and homeless, but allow them to remain, and labor, and be fed and clothed as usual, until suitable and lawful provisions can be made for their complete emancipation.
In this we see the Christian response to a culturally acceptable sin. Not only were the slaves to be released, but they were to be released with dignity. And if releasing them would open them up to being recaptured and resold into captivity (which became a reality in some areas), then the release was done in such a way to help prevent this. For this reason, it was acknowledged that allowing the slaves the opportunity to continue working for their previous master as employees until they could legally be released would certainly be Christ-like. The point to keep in mind is that this option cost the slaveholder financially; he had bought the slave, and likely before he got his investment back he would start paying him prevailing wages and help him get a start in his free life. It would have been simpler to kick him out onto the street.
That’s what happens when the kingdom of God breaks into an ungodly culture!Distilleries
One year prior to the 1782 Conference that spoke against slavery, the Brethren also spoke against another socially acceptable sin—alcoholic drinks. While the Bible does not call drinking alcohol sin, drunkenness certainly is. Recognizing the propensity of men toward drunkenness, the Brethren began to forbid the members of their churches to operate distilleries. The 1781 Annual Meeting minutes on this subject read as follows:
We heartily counsel all the brethren who have distilleries, that they should by all means endeavor to put them away in order to escape from the evil so often arising from them, and to avoid offense …
This may seem strange to those of us who have grown up in churches where alcohol is never used, except medicinally. But in John Kline’s day, it was acceptable in most churches to sit down at the end of the day and have a beer. A totally abstentious church was rare.
But seeing the evils of the misuse of alcohol, the Brethren looked at the culture around them and basically said, “We are not going that way. We follow Christ. Alcohol is no longer a necessity [see On Drinking Wine], and alcohol consumption is wrecking our society. Therefore we will not manufacture alcoholic beverages.”
Not only did he never manufacture any, it is recorded of John Kline that he never even drank any alcohol, other than perhaps for medicinal purposes.
That’s what happens when the kingdom of God breaks into an ungodly culture!War
John saw it coming. He wrote in his diary in 1847, after being told of a slave auction in which a mother and her children—a daughter of twelve years old, and two boys eight and ten—were sold and separated:
They were now parted, never to see each other anymore. There was no hope left them of ever hearing from each other again. The gentleman said the little boys did not seem to mind it so very much; but, said he, the agony of the mother and the distress of the daughter were past description. It is to be hoped that such heart-rending scenes are not often to be witnessed; and I do believe that the time is not far distant when the sun will rise and set upon our land cleansed of this foul stain, though it may be cleansed with blood. I would rejoice to think that my eyes might see that bright morning; but I can have no hope of that.
Fourteen years passed. That “bright morning” did not come. In fact, the “cleansing of blood” appeared imminent. On January 1, 1861, John noted in his diary:
The year opens with dark and lowering clouds in our national horizon. I feel a deep interest in the peace and prosperity of our country; but in my view both are sorely threatened now. Secession is the cry further south; and I greatly fear its poisonous breath is being wafted northward towards Virginia on the wings of fanatical discontent. … The perishable things of earth distress me not, only insofar as they affect the imperishable. Secession means war; and war means tears and ashes and blood. It means bonds and imprisonments, and perhaps even death to many in our beloved Brotherhood, who, I have the confidence to believe, will die rather than disobey God by taking up arms.
And war it was. The Brethren were acquainted with war in their history. During the tumultuous days of what is called The Revolutionary War, they had been harangued by sympathizers of the American forces for refusing to partake in the rebellion against Great Britain. In fact, the persecution was part of the reason for the emigration to Virginia and other areas. Their land and property had been confiscated in Philadelphia, so they left to look for new homes.
As the year 1861 rolled on, the Civil War began. And John Kline took to the offensive. No, he did not pick up his rifle; he picked up his pen and began to write to members of Congress and other politicians, explaining the teachings of the Brethren and why they could not bear arms. His goal was … well, I shall let John himself explain his motive, with the diary entry for December 20, 1861:
Write to John Hopkins, to John C. Woodson, and to Charles Lewis. I can but entreat these men to stand in defense of our Brethren, and try to devise some plan by which they can be exempted from the necessity of bearing arms. I feel sure that if we can be rightly understood as to our faith and life, there will be some way provided for their exemption. The Brotherhood is a unit, heart and hand against arms-bearing. These things I make known to these men; not, however, in any spirit of defiance, but in the spirit of meekness and obedience to what we in heart believe to be the will of the Lord. Many have already expressed to me their determination to flee from their homes rather than disobey God.
“Flee rather than disobey God.” It was this simple dedication to the will of God that made the Brethren strong. God gives grace to those who are willing to bear the cost of following Jesus—cost what it may. But to those who only have a form of godliness, with no surrender to do the will of Christ, grace will not flow to them.
John’s letters and pleas paid off. The recipients of the letters were moved to write in a conscientious objector exemption in their draft laws. However, there was a $500 fine, plus a tax of two percent of the value of the goods of the person seeking exemption.
The brothers set to work collecting the payments of those affected, and when some of the young men could not afford the fine, others in the Brotherhood helped them out. John Kline himself put up some of the money for the fines.
That’s what happens when the kingdom of God breaks into an ungodly culture!In this unique photograph, Sarah Bowman and Catherine Showalter deliver food to the Brethren men in jail for refusing to bear arms in the Civil War. Underground Railroad
In spite of official exemption from bearing arms, some local officials did cause the Brethren problems. John Kline spent time in jail on three different occasions, but was promptly released in each occasion. And when some of the young Brethren were caught trying to escape to the North to avoid conscription, John was soon at the jail to encourage them to stand true.
On April 18, 1863, John received a caller … at 1 a.m. It was Abraham Funk, asking for his help with a man with a broken leg.
George Sellers had escaped from the Southern army. He was part of a group of men making their way north towards freedom, by night, with some “help” along the way. Abraham Funk was one such “helper.” Leaving Abe’s house about 11 p.m., the group was walking along a road when the cry of “Rebel scouts!” went through the group. They quickly jumped into the ditch, not realizing that it was an embankment about 100 feet deep. Only George was hurt, with a fractured leg.
Since John Kline practiced some medicine, he was called upon. He wrote in his diary for that day:
We are keeping the whole matter a profound secret to save the life of a good man. He was taken back to Abraham Funk’s, where he is at this time receiving treatment in secret from me.
About a month later, John left to attend Annual Meeting, reporting that George “is nearly well, and in fine spirits.” John Kline’s involvement in helping George was not a political statement for one side or the other. It was simply trying to help another human to live righteously, even if that meant going against the grain of the surrounding culture.
That’s what happens when the kingdom of God breaks into an ungodly culture!Plain dress
Wherever the natural man goes, the natural passions and desires go. Wherever the kingdom of God goes, the natural passions and desires have to go … that is, leave!
One natural desire of humanity is to be recognized as “somebody.” Pride is another name for it. What the person is “recognized” as varies, as some (usually women) want to recognized as pretty. Others (usually men) want to be recognized as tough. Some want to be “in,” others want to be weird, some want to be cool, and some even want to be recognized as superreligious—all by the way they dress.
Jesus has another route. This route is to wear simple, utilitarian clothing that does not naturally attract the human eye as pretty, tough, “in,” “weird,” “cool,” or even superreligious—like the special robes used by some ministers—just for the looks of it. Through the ages men have called it plain dress, or simple clothing.
In John Kline’s day, Methodists, Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren all promoted the wearing of plain dress. In fact, from a distance one could not tell who that man on the horse was—was he a Methodist, or Amish, or a Quaker? All of them wore the same basic black coat with a split up the tail so that it would naturally fall over both sides of the saddle. On his head was his umbrella and sunshade—a large-brimmed black hat with a low crown. Since a man often could not know what kind of weather he may run into before he returned home, the hat was standard gear outside, as protection from hot sun and rain.
In contrast, the general population tried to spice up their looks by flashing colors, feathers or a tall crown on the hat, big brass buttons on the coat, a sword on the side, a wig on the head, sleeves rolled up to show off the muscles … anything to give them some sort of special recognition in the flesh as tough, “in,” weird, cool, or handsome.
John Kline and the Brethren simply used unassuming clothes that caused no special attraction to their flesh. Modest in cut, low-key in color, and utilitarian. Some sneered and some admired them for their simplicity; neither sneer nor compliment turned them aside. The Brethren did not try to “fit in” to society, nor were they trying to be weird—they were simply taking Jesus seriously in His teachings, in practical ways.
That’s what happens when the kingdom of God breaks into an ungodly culture!John’s final days
They warned John. He felt it coming.
In 1864 he made a trip to Hagers-town, Indiana to attend the Annual Conference of the German Baptists. Recognizing his leadership skills and supreme Christian character, for the last four years his brothers in Christ had chosen him to be moderator of the conference.
John did not know it, of course, but he sort of sensed it: it would be his last Annual Conference. In his closing discourse, he spoke the following words, which ended up being prophetic:
Brethren and friends, let me say to you, that it is the duty, and not only the duty, but the highest attainment of Christian liberty, to be with Jesus and to give knowledge to all around that one has not only been, but now is every day, with Jesus. True godliness, however, does not desire to make a display of itself; it seeks no prominence in the world; neither does it aspire to receive the applauses of men. It does not ride upon the tempest of religious disputes, nor clothe itself with the whirlwind of fanatical excitement. But, like the divine Spirit from which it springs, it speaks in the still, small voice of tender compassion and love. Like its Lord, it enters the house of the humble, contrite heart, and would have no man know it; but it cannot be hid.Now, Brethren and friends, I have only touched some of the chords in the beautiful anthem of my theme. I now leave it with you, hoping that you may learn every note in it; and by the sweet music of a good life delight the ears and warm the hearts of all who hear its rich harmonies. Possibly you may never see my face or hear my voice again. I am now on my way back to Virginia, not knowing the things that shall befall me there. But I feel that I have done nothing worthy of bonds or of death; and none of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.
It was May 19, 1864. The Civil War was raging. John had been given passes by both the North and South to cross the lines so that he could attend Conference. In those stormy days, the mere fact of crossing from one side of the lines to the other would be enough to raise suspicion—on either side. John knew his trip was a dangerous one. But a few days after his sermon, he took the train back to Maryland, where he then mounted on Nell once more and crossed the mountains back into Virginia, without incident.
On June 15, John went on Nell a few miles and repaired a clock for a neighbor. While there, a group of young, Rebel cavalrymen saw Nell outside and called John to the door to ask him where he was going after he left there. They were neighbors … and John indicated that he would head straight over the ridge, for home. Did he realize that they were asking him so they could waylay him? We don’t know … but it is highly probable that he did suspect something fishy. He had been threatened already, and the day before he had warned a non-Brethren friend that this man’s life was in danger from Southern sympathizers in the area.
Finishing the clock repair, John got on Nell and headed for home. On top of the little ridge, two men, Jake Acker and Joe Riddle, waited in the woods. Jake had been chosen to fire the first shot. After John passed by, Jake raised his gun for a moment, then lowered it. He could not bring himself to shoot the innocent old man in the back. “I can’t shoot that man!” he told Joe.
“You ain’t no soldier!” returned Joe.
And a shot rang out. White-haired John Kline fell off of Nell. Joe approached John, and seeing that he wasn’t dead yet, he fired another shot at point blank range, so close that it left powder burns on John’s clothes. Their dirty deed finished, the two men escaped.
No one ever openly confessed to murdering John, but everyone in the community sort of knew who was responsible. Since the Brethren followed Jesus and obeyed Him, no charges were ever brought against the men. And since the Civil War still raged, the civil authorities were too occupied to worry about the collateral effect of an old preacher getting shot.
Some of John’s neighbors had wrongly suspected that John was secretly carrying information to the Northern armies in the guise of his trip to Annual Conference. It is very likely that his stand against slavery and participation in war played into the circumstances as well.
And so they murdered John Kline in cold blood. He was about his business for the Lord, doing his duty of blessing his neighbors. While he wasn’t killed for directly refusing to orally deny Christ, his adherence to the principles of the kingdom of God certainly led up to his death. Thus he belongs in the long list of those martyred for Jesus.Dying at his post
Some time before his murder, Johnny Kline had written a poem about one of his fellow preachers, John Miller, who had died as a young man.
Away from his home and the friends of his youth He hasted, the herald of mercy and truth, For the love of his Lord and to seek for the lost— Soon, alas! was his fall, but he died at his post.
The stranger’s eye wept that in life’s brightest bloom One gifted so highly should sink to the tomb; For in order he led in the van of his host, And he fell like a soldier, he died at his post.
He wept not for himself that his warfare was done, The battle was fought and the victory won, But he whispered of those whom his heart clung to most, “Tell my brethren for me that I died at my post.”
He asked not a stone to be sculptured with verse; He asked not that fame should his merits rehearse; But he asked as a boon when he gave up the ghost, That his brethren might know that he died at his post.
Victorious his fall, for he rose as he fell, With Jesus his Master in glory to dwell, He passed o’er the stream and has reached the bright court, For he fell like a martyr; he died at his post.
And can we the words of his exit forget? O, no, they are fresh in our memory yet. An example so brilliant shall not be lost; We will fall in the work, we will die at our post.
John Kline wrote these words about someone else, not about his own life. However, it is safe to say that John penned these words almost prophetically concerning his own life. Yes, indeed, Johnny Kline died at his post.
May you and I follow him as he followed Christ. ~
(Note that the picture at the beginning of the story is NOT John Kline.)
 Not referring to “indentured servanthood,” where a person of his own free will sells himself for a determined amount of time (possibly his entire life), usually to pay off debts. Indentured servanthood is essentially a long-term labor contract. On the other hand, anyone captured against his will and sold by another person is kidnapped, which Paul listed as a sin (menstealers-1 Ti. 1:10) right along with such sins as murder, prostitution, homosexuality, and lying.
 He uses “sensitive,” but not meaning they were sensitive in conscience, but that the subject was one that caused a lot of emotional feelings when talked about in society. Much like the topics of abortion and gay “marriage” are today.
 With the exception, perhaps, of the use of a beard. The Quakers and Methodists did not tend to let their beards grow, while the Brethren, Amish, and early Mennonites all generally wore a beard. The first Mennonites in Lancaster County, PA were known as “the long-bearded Swissers” by some of their neighbors.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (September/October 2011), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
Based on the message given by Mose Stoltzfus at Bro. Denny Kenaston’s funeral service
I find it incredibly difficult to put thirty-plus years into a few minutes of expression, in great feebleness. I want to read Isaiah 57:1.
The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.
It has been thirty plus years since I found Bro. Denny and his wife sitting hippie style on the floor at a wedding reception in Sparta, Tennessee. My wife and I were invited to their home the next day for a meal, and I remember Bro. Denny trying to learn how to run a woodstove and stirring a fire with a poker. I remember how Denny had awakened to feed the fire in the middle of the night and God had spoken to him, “Denny, go stir up the churches.”
I asked him, in light of something happening here in Lancaster County, whether he would consider such a thing as working together, and I think his answer was, “I’d go anywhere to preach the gospel.” I have found that to be a true statement, from the dark, difficult regions of Africa, to all over the US and Canada and other parts of the world.
Our relationship was incredibly unique. Different ones have come to me through the years and referred to our relationship as a near husband/wife relationship, and I would have to say that it had its similarities to that type of relationship. It was divine, I believe. I remember coming home from Tennessee that time—in December it will be 31 years—and there was something that held my spirit in the hand of God and that seemed that something was about to happen, or that God had done something in our hearts that was not human. I still believe that very firmly.
We were very different men, but that difference was complimentary to each other, as I knew that whatever I faced or the mistakes I made, Bro. Denny loved me … and I loved him.
And that paved the way for many, many years of being able to understand each other, to the point of it not being a battle for me to know what he was thinking, and it was not a battle for him to know what I was thinking. We’d get into many difficult situations in church work, and as we would confer together, our hearts would often blend in an amazing way to come up with an answer for a situation we were facing. I thank God from the depth of my heart for this great privilege which was beyond any words I can put together.
It was a great difficulty, that—due to the growth of the congregation at Charity Christian Fellowship—Denny and I separated into two congregations. Many men have considered it a mistake that we were separated in our ministry, and we have to let that in the hands of God, but that is certainly a possibility.
Concerning Denny’s input in my life, first of all, I was wounded a bit and struggling with things, 30 years ago. He came from a very different perspective—not coming from my traditional background—which was a tremendous help to me in not becoming a bitter man, and to respond rightly through difficulties, condemnations, or rejections. I often cried to him in those difficult times and he led me to think and feel right about all those things and to continue on. I remember many times when we had difficult experiences, trying to find some broader acceptance in the body of Christ, and would get a closed door. Denny would say, “Well, we’ll just go on. We’ll just go on and do God’s work.”
Last night a verse came to my mind in Hebrews 1, where it is speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ:
But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
I am not trying to make Denny a messiah or lift him up above that which is right to do, but I would only like to explain his love for righteousness as I knew it through the years.
This man loved righteousness, beyond a shadow of doubt in my heart!
First of all, he taught us much of the centrality of Jesus Christ. His love for the Lord Jesus was expressed in many messages and conversations. Denny loved righteousness!
He often preached out of Colossian 1, “in whom, of whom” and he would go on with that in the centrality of Jesus Christ. He loved the book of Isaiah and often preached out of it, and he loved Isaiah’s vision when he saw God high and lifted up and His train filled the temple, and he saw his own undoneness. Denny compared that to our human experience as we saw the holiness of God. Bro. Denny loved the attributes of God and preached them here in Bible School, and preached them in great detail.
Another attribute about him is that he loved the gospel. He had a hold of the gospel message in a concise way. For many years we took trips to New York City to Washington Square Park and I was always thrilled in my heart as he would get up and give a little description of his hippie life of smoking marijuana and living in sin and fornication, and how God changed his life from top to bottom. And he would put the gospel message in a concise way as the people sat and stood spellbound, many times, listening to the gospel story of the change made in this man. Many of the listeners would have had a hard time believing that God could change such a man.
Bro. Denny loved righteousness, in that he had an unparalleled devotional life beyond anything that I knew. When we travelled together, staying up late at night, he would still try to rise early so he could have his devotional time with the Word of God. When I first saw his Bible soon after we met, and saw the two year’s worth of notes (the time in which he had spent in Hammond, Indiana, trying to find out who he was and what he believed), he had so many notes in his wide-margined Bible that it was beyond anything I had ever seen. I was touched and impressed by that.
He was a man that if it was in the Bible, he believed and sought to practice it. It didn’t matter what it was … whether about brotherhood or other Anabaptist doctrines that were a bit new to him when we met. He embraced them. Because he believed in a literal practice of the Word of God, when he came upon the holy kiss and feetwashing, he embraced them and similar doctrines and they were no problem to him. If it was in the Bible, then it was in his life and with a passion he sought to practice them. His Baptist friends did not understand this at times and were intimidated or embarrassed by it, but he would often challenge them, “Is it in the Bible?”
Bro. Denny loved his family, and would begin to pray for the little one as soon as pregnancy was discovered, before it came into the world. He also loved the “remnant” people—those coming out of apostatizing churches— and had a heart for them and was quick to answer a phone call from anywhere if it was from someone from his Evangelical background who was reading the Bible and trying to find their way. I tended to minister more to people from my background, the Plain People, and he tended towards his background. But we often crossed over and this helped to balance us out.
But I must also say, and without any apologies, that Bro. Denny HATED iniquity. He was a hateful man, if I can say it that plain and boldly. He HATED iniquity! He hated sin. He hated the world.
I was often tremendously challenged as we went out to witness in the streets in the local fairs and places like that, and he would walk up to the professed “Christian” world that was there to enjoy the night on the town, and ask them whether they hated the world … and they didn’t know what to say in light of the fair and the rides and the gambling dens and the much food, etc. He HATED iniquity!
And he hated his past life. I remember him looking at the cover of a magazine, I believe it was Time or Newsweek, when Jim and Tammy Bakker’s sin and corruption came to light. He picked it up threw it back down, saying, “I can’t read this stuff; it’s defiling due to my past life.” That’s how he hated iniquity.
He also hated mediocrity. He hated complacency. He was a fervent man, and when he sold out to God, he gave it all he had. He HATED mediocrity. He pled against it, he prayed against it, he preached against it, he talked against it. It was always so refreshing to take a look at ourselves and see where we may have been slipping in material pursuits or anything when we had those types of conversations together.
He was a great visionary. I was that type of person myself, and what a joy it was to sit down and talk and dream together. In 1993 we purchased a tent and put together a trailer with three prayer rooms and would travel together preaching in the US and Canada. Later we did some separately, and also did some local tent meetings. We would alternate preaching. Afterwards, we would sit together and talk about what God was doing. In those days, much of our talk was positive—men were calling for help and men were responding and repenting and seeking victory over sin. There was a revival going on across the land—which we did not start, by the way, but was well on its way before we ever met—and a seeking after righteousness and practical Christianity as the mainline churches deteriorated into worldliness. In those days much of our talk was positive as we shared together.
But I also have to tell you that Bro. Denny had a period of grief. And if he would have been here these days, and if we would sit back in the office here or in some living room, and reminisce about what has happened and the people that have come through, there would be a deep grief on our brother’s heart. He was grieved at the departing of the church. He was grieved at the changes people made. He was grieved at the drift that was so obvious and evident, both on the outside and the inside.
The question I have at the close is, “Who is going to follow his faith?”
I don’t think he would be interested at all that you would pay your respects to his frame, his dead body. My plea is that you consider his faith, his example of life. And that grief can be turned into joy when he ends up meeting you across that great beyond.
1 Corinthians 15:26 says, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” That has been destroyed for Bro. Denny. He awaits the great resurrection day when his spirit shall unite with a new body and he will be entire and whole for all eternity.
If I were to put an epitaph upon his gravestone, it would be that which was said of John the Baptist:He was a burning and shining light.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (July/August 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.