Archive for the ‘Salvation and the New Birth’ Category
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Matthew 5:1-12 Authorized Version
The Sermon on the Mount is undoubtedly the most influential sermon ever preached – and rightly so, considering that it was preached by God Himself. This sermon is the largest single collection of Jesus’ Kingdom commandments and teachings in one place in the Gospels, although by no means the only one.
Jesus began the Sermon with the beatitudes, which reveal attitudes of heart and life which God values. The values which God has and which He has designed His Kingdom to work around are very different from the values of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The regenerated Christian is to have the same system of values which God has, for we are to have the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5).
The first attribute which God values and blesses is humility – “poor in spirit.” Humility is necessary if we are to have salvation. The proud man cannot come to God and beg for his soul. It takes humility to do that. Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).
The next is mourning. The world places little value on mourning; it values parties, merry-making, pleasure-seeking, and fun. But there is a time to mourn, and those who mourn in season are blessed by God.
God also values meekness. Webster defines meekness, “Softness of temper; mildness; gentleness; forbearance under injuries and provocations…humility; resignation; submission to the divine will, without murmuring or peevishness.” The kings, emperors, and conquerors of this world, who fought with weapons of force to get what they wanted, have all passed away sooner or later – but the meek and peaceable Kingdom of God has endured through the centuries. When all the warriors of this world are forgotten, the meek will still exist and will inherit the earth.
God also values a longing after righteousness. The world wants nothing to do with righteousness, and calls it “intolerance.” The apostate church wants nothing to do with righteousness, and calls it “legalism.” But those who hunger and thirst after righteousness have the wonderful promise of God that they will be filled.
The merciful are valued by God, although the world prefers to think “he is getting what he deserves.” The Godly man, motivated by mercy, gives aid to all.
Purity is valued highly by God. God Himself is pure and holy, and would have His people to be as well. The Apostle James tells us that part of the duty of pure religion is “to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
Peacemakers are valued in God’s Kingdom. While the world prefers people who are pushy and get what they want by force, God values people who are willing to bring reconciliation and peace into highly charged situations. Those who make peace imitate the Lord Jesus, Who “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).
Finally, God values those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness and the sake of His Son. When we are persecuted, we have the opportunity to show the character of our Heavenly Father to the fallen world by loving and forgiving our enemies. This is exactly what Jesus did on the cross when He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
God will grant grace to live in a way which conforms to the value system of His Kingdom. “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
Originally published in The Witness, April 2013.
To be redeemed means to be rescued. Redemption is often spoken of in terms of a hostage. When the hostage is set free he is said to be redeemed, whether that redemption came by paying a ransom in money or by someone of superior strength simply liberating the hostage by force.
In this article we are not going to redeem a person, but rather a precious doctrine and Christian experience, from those who have taken it hostage and are forcing it to say and do things that it was never intended to say and do. We are speaking of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and its captor, Pentecostalism.
The mere mention of the baptism of the Holy Ghost sets some people into jitters. They have seen and heard so much commotion and unbiblical practice associated with the Holy Spirit that they automatically get suspicious just hearing the phrase “the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” We understand that concern and have felt some of that same jitteriness. But at the same time, we must not react and throw out either the doctrine or the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We simply need to rescue it from those who have mangled it so badly that it is hardly recognizable. Like Abraham who rose to the occasion and redeemed his nephew Lot from Amraphel and his three sidekicks (Ge. 14), may we rise up and rescue this precious truth and experience from those who have taken it captive.
In the recent issues of The Heartbeat of the Remnant we have focused pretty heavily on the kingdom of God and the neglect of the kingdom teachings in today’s “gospel.” The salvation aspect of the kingdom has been separated from the kingdom itself, and a “gospel” has been made out of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. This is a false gospel, because it almost totally neglects the teachings of Jesus about the kingdom of God. In the same way, some have taken the biblical teachings about the baptism of the Holy Ghost and separated it from the kingdom teachings. In reaction, it is possible to just toss completely the doctrine and experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Rather than react, we want to act and rescue this much-twisted teaching and experience from perversions.
Let God be true and every man a liar. We will use extensive quotes from early Anabaptism in this article. The Anabaptists spoke more about the work and power of the Holy Spirit than any other Reformation-era group. Pilgram Marpeck, for example, seems to mention the Holy Spirit on an average of about once per page in his writings. Yet, he was not even remotely a “Pentecostal.” We use these quotes not because they are Anabaptists and we are trying to be like the early Anabaptists, but rather because they reflect a biblical view of the work and experience of the Holy Spirit among God’s people.
In 1527, in the very earliest days of the Anabaptist revival, some Anabaptists told the Zurich council, “[Believers are those] who have died to the will of the flesh and are now walking in the will of the Spirit, with the fruit of the Spirit.” Amen! ~The problem and the promise
The problem is quite simple to define: sin. When man willfully and knowingly disobeys God, God has to leave. God and sin cannot coexist in the same place.
So what do we do to remedy our situation? By nature we are all born corrupted, that is, with a self-centeredness that is contrary to the nature of God. This self-centeredness causes us to sin, to do actions that are contrary to God’s will. But beyond these actions is the problem of human nature: the very nature of man and the nature of God cannot mix. So how do you reunite man and God?
In an effort to get man to see his sin, God gave Moses a set of laws. These laws gave a basic—but incomplete—framework of what God had declared as the right way for man to live. These laws even became known as “God’s righteousness” to those who held to them.
So now man knew—in a provisional form—what God expected of them. The “schoolmaster” was given to teach them these things. But a problem still existed. These laws had provisions for forgiveness of sins, but not for the restoration of the life of God within man. In other words, there were no ceremonies or sacrifices given in the Mosaic Law where the final result (upon doing them) would be the infilling of God’s Spirit back into the human heart. There was not a ceremony of which the end result was that God said, “When you do this ceremony just right, I will pour My Spirit back into you.” Paul wrote to the Galatians:
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
There was simply no law given, no sacrifice or ceremony available, which could fill a man with the Holy Spirit. That was the weakness of the Mosaic Law, and that was why it had to be replaced by something better.
In the Old Testament, only the prophets and a few select other people are ever spoken of as being full of the Spirit. But there were promises given of a time when the Spirit of God would be poured out on every believer. Let’s look at some of them briefly, in the order they appear in our Bibles.Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. Ps. 104:30 This verse’s context is of the creatures in the sea. But the part we want to focus on is how that the sending of the Spirit of God “creates.” The last Adam is called a “quickening spirit.” 1 Co. 15:45 The word quickening is old English for life-giving or life-imparting. This verse references the fact that the Messiah would impart life through His Spirit. Of course, He would not be doing it to the fishes in the sea, but to men dead in trespasses and sins. “And you hath he quickened …” Ep 2:1 When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence. Is. 4:4-5 We find in Isaiah 4 some promises for the gospel day. We find cleansing and purging “by the spirit of judgment … and of burning.” Then we find the promise of comfort and guidance. When the Messiah came, it was prophesied by John the Baptist that Jesus would baptize “with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” as well as Jesus himself promising to send His Spirit to guide and comfort His people. Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest. Is. 32:15 The context of this verse is an outpouring upon God’s people that would bring about a change from barrenness and desolation to a fruitful and abundant life … when “the spirit be poured upon us from on high.” And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ez. 11:18-20 The context is a restoration of God’s people. We find a promise of cleansing, of unity, of a new spirit, and of a new heart. This would have to be a supernatural work of God, since a man cannot give himself a new spirit. The end result of this change of spirit/heart would be that the recipients would be obedient to God, and reunited with Him. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. Ez. 36:26-28 It is hard to know where to stop quoting in this section of Scriptures! Such rich promises! But to keep the article short we will only quote these two verses. We again see the promise of a new heart, a soft heart. We also find God motivating (causing) the recipients to obedience. And again we see a reunification between God and man. And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD. Ez 37:14 The context (which we will not print here for the sake of space) is a rebirth or resurrection of a bunch of old, dry bones. The powerful promise is that “ye shall live,” and the quickening (life-giving) force is “my spirit.” Again we see the Spirit of God imparting new life. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. Joel 2:28-29 These verses are the most quoted in reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The important point is the words “all flesh.” As mentioned earlier, before the coming of the Messiah only a few select prophets and other individuals were given the Spirit of God. With the coming of the Messiah, the ability to be baptized with that Spirit was opened to “all”; even lowly-valued slaves could be recipients. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Ze. 4:6 The promise connected with this verse is the context of two olive trees which (as we learn later in Revelation) had a direct connection to the lamps. In other words, the lamps had a direct pipeline direct from the olive trees, a never-ending supply of oil straight from the source. This would be the power supply, so to speak, for the candlestick. The “energy” would be from God, not from man’s own abilities and efforts.
From these prophetic utterances we get a glimpse of the working and power of the Spirit of God. The Law also spoke in shadows of the Spirit, most clearly in the “anointing oil.” For this present study, however, we will skip over these types (for the sake of space) and move right into the time of the promise of the outpouring.Holy Ghost and fire
John could not have said it any plainer. He baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize His converts with something more powerful than water: the Holy Spirit and fire. I am sure that puzzled the hearers of those words when they heard them. Baptized with fire?
On the day of Pentecost it happened. Physical tongues of fire sat upon the first recipients of the above-mentioned promises. But something happened deeper than the physical flames. A fire of divine love was lit within them, purging out the old self-centeredness. Water can only wash off exterior filth; fire purifies the actual elements themselves. Wash a silver spoon in water and the food bits come off. Throw the same spoon in a fire and the impurities come out of the silver. In the same way, when a man was baptized with John’s baptism, he could have his sins remitted. But baptize that same man with the Holy Ghost and his sins would be burned out of his heart.
By saying He would baptize with fire, Jesus was using the illustration of the interior cleansing that the Spirit of God would work in a man. Of course, in the very initial outpouring a physical flame was also seen, but that was only a sign or symbol of the invisible flame kindled in the spirit of man. Those physical flames were not necessary to accomplish the interior cleansing, and very, very rarely (if ever) have been seen again since the first outpouring.A second birth
But not only did the Messiah call it being baptized with the Holy Ghost, He spoke of being born of the Spirit. When a leading Jew came to him by night to check Him out, Jesus started talking about being born of the Spirit. He told Nicodemus that unless one was rebirthed, one could not enter His kingdom. When Nicodemus showed obvious confusion, Jesus explained that man’s spirit had to be born of God’s Spirit. In other words, there had to be a renovation on the inside before a man could enter the kingdom. Jesus also explained that although one cannot actually see the Spirit, one could see the results of His work … just like the blowing of the wind. This teaching was not just a parable; the new birth was an actual, but unseen, spiritual birth experience that was just as real as a physical birth.
Jesus then moved right into talking about having eternal life. One thing to remember here is that the name Jehovah is not found in the New Testament. But it actually is there … because Jehovah means “always existent.” When Jesus spoke of giving eternal life, He was speaking of giving Jehovah Himself, the “Eternally-Living.” Whoever would believe on Jesus would receive that Always-Existent Life as a free gift.
It is here that much of modern theology falls short. Too often people read Jesus as saying, “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have forgiveness. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have forgiveness.”
Not so! Jesus came “that they might have life; and that they might have it more abundantly!” Jn. 10:10 (Note again that it doesn’t say forgiveness.) While forgiveness is needed and included in the gospel, we need to remind ourselves that being forgiven and being given the Always-Existent Life are not synonymous: being given Eternally-Existent Life goes way beyond a mere forgiveness. And that life is the Spirit of God, Jehovah himself, coming into man’s heart to dwell there. This was something the Mosaic Law had no provision for. Forgiveness could be obtained under the Law, but not a restoration of the life of God within the human spirit. What a difference! God and man so reconciled that God actually moves into, and becomes reunited with, the spirit of man!This is that!
Then it happened. Jesus had told them to stay in Jerusalem until a supernatural power would be poured into them. They waited, praying. Suddenly that “wind” blew and the promises of the Father—which we looked at earlier in this article—were fulfilled. The stony hearts were taken away, and soft, new ones given. A supernatural love was shed abroad in their hearts. There was meekness and brokenness, but at the same time a great boldness. This was Eternal Life! This was a spiritual resurrection! This was a rebirth of their inner man, something they could never have worked up in their own strength. This was the grace of God!
And, of course, on that occasion there were special gifts given also, among them the ability to speak in languages they had never known before. And they could not but help to speak about “the wonderful works of God.” There were, on that occasion, also visible flames sitting above their heads. But these gifts and the visible flames and the roaring sounds were sort of beside the point. Something was happening here that had never happened in the history of mankind. A kingdom was being formed, a kingdom where the King ruled from the inside, not the outside. Eternal Life was being poured into them; Jehovah was sitting on His throne in man’s heart once again.
It was probably a very emotional scene, but the emotions were also beside the point. Many diverse things cause people to get emotional. The emotions of that day were “neither here nor there.” But evidently the emotional outbursts and the speaking in foreign languages caused the scene to appear as if they had just had a full-blown party with too much whiskey and wine flowing.
Peter, who only a few days before had vehemently denied that he even knew Jesus, now was empowered to boldly stand in front of a crowd and proclaim, “This is that which the prophet Joel prophesied about!” When the crowd asked what they needed to do, Peter told them the simple steps to take: repent of their disobedience, be baptized in the name of Jesus (being “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” implied a total submission to Him as King of their life) … and they too could experience the baptism—the spiritual rebirth—of the Holy Spirit.The fruits of that experience
Beginning in Acts 2:41, which is right after the end of Peter’s sermon on that great day, we will pull out a list of results of that baptism of the Spirit: People added to Christ’s kingdom, steadfastness in pure doctrine, daily fellowship, prayer, unity, godly fear, healings, selflessness in sharing of material possessions (freedom from materialism), joy, contentment, boldness for Christ …
Paul, who was not involved in the initial outpouring of the Spirit, later laid out a list of fruit that one would see in the life of the recipient: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Ga. 5:22-23
The thing to notice in this list is that all the fruit mentioned has to do with character attributes, something that takes place in the spirit of man. Let me say before proceeding any further that it is totally erroneous to say that “only the inside counts.” Spiritually rebirthed people are not spiritual schizophrenics who lead a double life, a life where the inside doesn’t match the outside. But on the other hand, it is possible to do the right things with the wrong spirit, or attitude. For example, a person can give all his goods to feed the poor, but he can do that because he really wants to get some praise from men. Or, because he wants to make himself feel good. So he can do the right thing, but from a wrong spirit. When a man is born again of the Spirit, he will begin to do the right things with the right motive.Banjos for Jesus?
Let’s look, but very briefly, at what happens today in many places. A group of people gather. The music starts, the rhythm picks up, the bodies start swaying to the beat, a repetitious phrase rings out (even a very godly phrase), and soon the emotions are boiling fervently. Someone falls to the floor and starts rolling back and forth, back and forth, shrieking out something. The person falling to the floor may be living in adultery, married to someone who has a living spouse from a previous marriage. He may be a member of the Air Force bomber squadron, or perhaps a Hollywood actor. Their jewelry flashes as they roll. As they roll back and forth shrieking, perhaps the pastor will announce, “Look, there are God’s banjos!”
After a while the emotions slow down. The music stops. Everyone goes home, including the “banjos,” who go home to continue living in adultery or dropping bombs on innocent children. The “pastor”—dare we use that term for false prophets?—begs everyone to “give money to the Lord.” He tells them that God intended for His children to live like kings, since they are kings and priests. That is why he drives a Cadillac and lives in a house worth half a million dollars. If you want, he will lay his hands on you and you too can experience being “baptized with the Holy Ghost” and become a banjo for Jesus.Reactions to banjos
For serious disciples of Jesus, the above-described scene is almost disgusting. In reaction, we can easily come to the place where we don’t even want to hear about the baptism of the Holy Ghost. But dear brethren! We must not let the false prophets steal a precious truth and experience from us. There is a genuine baptism of the Holy Ghost, a real rebirth of the human spirit, that Jesus told us that we must go through to enter His kingdom. And we must keep in mind that the kingdom is the goal, not the experience. Being born again by the Spirit is a means to an end, not an end in itself.The genuine experience
For a look at the genuine experience of being born again of the Spirit, we will now turn to some quotes from the early Anabaptists. By using these quotes, we are not saying the early Anabaptists were a perfect people who understood and experienced the Spirit in a perfect way. But we do find their teaching and practice to match closely the biblical teaching and experience. We will start with Dirk Philips, who colabored with Menno Simons.
Therefore, Christ also says he “who believes in me” has eternal life. Jn. 3:16; 11:25 Why? Because he has received a divine power, yes, a quickening power of eternal life—creating life in his heart which so thoroughly penetrates, purifies, and renews, and finally drives, leads, and transposes to the origin from which it has sprung, namely, eternal divine life itself.
So now if anyone who thus believes in Jesus Christ has received such a living power of God and who feels this throughout himself, he is a true believing Christian and confesses Christ according to the Spirit, for he is one Spirit with him. Jn. 3:18; l Co. 6:17. He also actually understands what the flesh of Christ is; for he himself is flesh of the flesh of Christ and bone of his bone. Ep. 5:30 In addition, he has in the Spirit and true faith eaten the flesh of Christ and drunk his blood. Jn. 6:54 Through this he has become united in one common nature with Christ. This knowledge of God and of Christ is eternal life. Jn. 17:3
But whatever anyone says about Jesus Christ without such an inner power of God, without such an enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and without such fellowship and impartation of the divine seed of the character and nature of Jesus Christ, this is idle chatter and like the speech of a blind person who (according to the common proverb) disputes and discusses about color which he has neither seen nor can see. For this reason we wish to have everyone who claims to be a Christian to be faithfully admonished that he thus learn to know Jesus Christ, believe in him, and receive him in order that Jesus Christ on the last day may confess him before God his Father and before the elect angels for his brother, sister, and mother, and receive him into his eternal kingdom. Mt. 12:50
Menno Simons puts the same thing in a bit different wording:
Regeneration … is an inward change, which converts a man by the power of God, through faith, from evil to good, from carnality to spirituality, from unrighteousness to righteousness, out of Adam into Christ, which can in no wise take place with infants. The regenerated live by the power of the new life; they crucify the flesh with its evil lusts; they put off the old Adam with his deeds; they avoid every appearance of evil; they are taught, governed, and influenced by the Holy Ghost. Ro. 1:17.
Behold this is true regeneration with its fruits, of which the Scriptures speak, and comes through faith in the word of God, without which no one, who has arrived to the years of understanding, can be saved; as Christ says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” Jn. 3:3. Yea, it is all in vain, if one were even baptized of Peter, or Paul, or Christ himself, if he were not baptized from above with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Mt. 3:11 As Paul says, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature,’’ Ga. 5:6; 2 Co. 5:17. All who are thus born of God, changed and renewed in the inner man, and translated from Adam into Christ, are ready to obey the word of the Lord, and say with holy Paul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” They deny themselves with all their minds and hearts; they submit to the word and ordinances of the Lord, without dislike or opposition; they receive baptism according to the command of the Lord, Mt. 28:19. They become and manifest themselves as fruitful branches of Christ, the true Vine, and joint heirs in the church of the Lord, John 15:5. They receive forgiveness of their sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Concerning 1 Peter 3:21, Menno had the following to say:
Here Peter teaches us how the inward baptism saves us, by which the inner man is washed, and not the outward baptism by which the flesh is washed; for only this inward baptism, as already stated, is of value in the sight of God, while outward baptism follows only as an evidence of obedience which is of faith; for could outward baptism save without the inner washing, the whole Scriptures which speak of the new man would be spoken to no purpose. The kingdom of heaven would be bound to elementary water; the blood of Christ would be shed in vain, and no one that is baptized could be lost. No, no! Outward baptism avails nothing so long as we are not inwardly renewed, regenerated, and baptized of God, with the heavenly fire and the Holy Ghost.
Peter Riedemann, sometimes called “the second founder of the Hutterites,” wrote a large explanation of his beliefs while imprisoned. Concerning whether the transformation of man is a work of man or a work of God, Peter explained it with these words:
Even though a person speaks with the tongue of angels, (1 Corinthians 13:1) if God does not speak through him, he does not speak God’s Word, (Jeremiah 23:21) because God is the Word. (John 1:1) But when God speaks through a person and wishes to build his temple in that one, God first cuts away what is coarse and wild and is not fitting for his house. He does this through the preaching of repentance. (Luke 3:1-14 Mark 1:1-8 Matthew 3:1-12) When any receive the Word and repent, God places them on the foundation of Christ, (1 Corinthians 3:11) provided they die to sin and become like him in death. They will then be revived through faith and restored to a new life, (Romans 6:1-4) which comes about not through human power (Zechariah 4:6 Deuteronomy 8:1-3) but by God’s grace and work. (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Since this is done not by human effort but by God’s action, (1 Corinthians: 15:20-28), Paul exhorts us as follows: “Yield your members to be instruments of God and his righteousness, so that they may be holy.” (Romans: 6:19) If God is to do anything good in a person, that person must surrender himself to God. (Proverbs 1:22-31) Otherwise, the good cannot be done in him. Just as a person cannot do anything good of himself, so God does not want to do anything in him, unless he gives himself with all his heart to be God’s instrument. Then that person’s surrendered will interweaves itself with the divine will in such a way that the divine will and the human will become one. From now on, God desires, chooses, and works everything in that person. The person allows himself to become God’s instrument (John 15:4-5) and thus may say with the beloved apostle Paul, “Now I live no more, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) This is the way God works in people.
On the other hand, if a person keeps back anything, chooses for himself, or wants or undertakes something on his own and not with God, God’s work is hindered and can make no progress. Such a person remains unprepared for this building and will not be suitable for it. God works in the person who surrenders himself, and God gives proof of his power (Deuteronomy 8:1-4) in the person’s renewal. (Titus 3:1-7) Through this work God enables the person to partake of his Son’s (1 Corinthians 2:9-10) nature and character, (2 Peter 1:3-8) and even, in part, of his unlimited power. This we read in the words, “All things are possible to the one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)The proof is in the pudding
So how do we know that the spirit that comes upon us is really God’s Spirit? This is where Pentecostalism erred from day one. Someone decided that the proof of the baptism of the Holy Ghost was speaking in tongues; if the recipient did not speak in tongues he was not baptized with the Holy Ghost. Unfortunately, they seemed not to realize that the Bible is quite clear: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Mt. 7:16 Notice that it does not say, “by their gifts.” Nor, “by their emotions.” Nor, “by their zeal.”
None of the three things just listed are evil in themselves, and all three are desirable. Yet Pentecostalism as we know it today has been built upon the false premise that one has not been baptized with the Holy Ghost unless he speaks in tongues as proof.
There can be little doubt that the first outpouring of the Spirit mentioned in Acts was an emotional experience. Tears of joy were probably flowing quite freely. Loud shouts of victory may have resounded up the street. Yet Christians are not known by their emotions. In the same way that Pentecostalism was built upon a false premise, others have tried to say that unless you have an extremely emotional experience, you have not been baptized with the Spirit. Our emotional makeup is quite diverse, and we need to exercise extreme caution in trying to make other people respond emotionally just like we do. That said, it does seem strange to think of being forgiven, released from the power of sin, filled with joy, have love spread around in our hearts … all that without some sort of emotion arising within us.
Most likely the men and women in that upper room were zealous (by nature) for God. But the gifts, the emotions, and the zeal are all beside the point. I have seen people who had an emotional experience, but who missed the baptism of the Holy Ghost. And I have seen extremely zealous people, zealous for God, who also missed the rebirth of the Spirit. It usually shows in the attitude, since many are zealous for biblical truths, and are practicing the correct ordinances, and have laid aside the gross sins of the flesh like drinking, swearing, and fornication. Many even practice modest dress, head coverings, and may have even taken up the doctrines of nonresistance and nonaccumulation of wealth. But Christians are not known by their religious zeal.
Zealots often fail in the sins of the spirit, in their attitudes. Others can try to talk to them about the spirit in which they operate and they just simply cannot see it … they have not the Spirit of Christ within to “see the kingdom of God.” All they can see is that they have conformed themselves outwardly to many of Jesus’ teachings—which is wonderful that they have!
But the Holy Spirit does a work of transformation on the inside that cannot be imitated or worked up in the flesh. Great enthusiasm propels zealots onward and they mistakenly believe that they are being compelled by the Spirit of God, when in fact they are compelled only by their religious zeal. And I reiterate that there is nothing wrong with having a great zeal for God. Simply put though, great zeal and the Holy Ghost are not synonyms. Pilgram Marpeck, a South German Anabaptist, explained it this way:
Ah my brethren, how diligently and carefully we have to take heed that we do not consider our own impulse [to be that] of the Holy Spirit, our own course [to be] the course and walk of Christ. …
I have experienced that in myself, also through the narratives of biblical writings, that natural piety hates evil, and is zealous about the good … that [unconverted zealots] are overpowered therein and driven with zeal, exerting themselves considerably.
That is not therefore the compulsion of the Holy Spirit of Christ, nor do they become children through it. … Even today … many persons act because of zeal concerning good, who do not know or suppose otherwise than that they are driven by the Holy Spirit. …
I write all this in order that each one may well see for themselves what drives them, from what source it flows, from what source their drive stems. This the servants do not know. The friends or children, however, know what their Lord does and why the compulsion of the Holy Spirit is in them.Partakers of the divine nature
Thomas von Imbroich was a Swiss Brethren in the early days of the Anabaptist movement. Although he was martyred in his late 20s, he had preached and helped to start a number of congregations up and down the Rhine River. While imprisoned he wrote a widely-used expression of his faith. He has the following to say about the proof of a rebirth by the Holy Ghost:
By these words [Jn. 3:6-8] Christ indicates that the regenerated person becomes spiritual and is born of the Spirit having a spiritual nature, as Peter says. (2 Pe. 1; Ro. 8; Acts 17; Jn. 14) “You may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” By this everyone may know whether he is born of the Spirit, namely, if he has the characteristics of the Spirit, just as the person who is born of the flesh has the characteristics of the flesh—each in his sphere (Jn. 3; 1 Co. 15). Birds have their peculiar nature; so also, wild animals; likewise humans. Each person is minded according to that from which he is born. The person born of the Spirit is therefore spiritually minded (Ro. 8), as Paul says: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
Those who are thus born of this spiritual seed of Abraham will bring spiritual fruits; that is, all kinds of kindness, righteousness, and truth: They are obedient to their Father; they keep his commandments and follow his precepts (Ep. 5; Jn. 10, 14, 15; Is. 55); they abandon ungodly living (Ro. 12), and are not conformed to the world; they seek the things that are above, where Christ is, and not those things that are on earth; they mortify and crucify their sinful flesh (Co. 3): they follow in the footsteps of Jesus (their predecessor) in grief, in wretchedness, in persecution, and are obedient to him unto death (Ga. 3; 1 Pe. 2; He. 11). We therefore say that those who are thus driven by the Spirit of God are the spiritual descendants of Abraham and are children of God (Ro. 4, 8).
You have likely heard the typical definitions of grace. Hans Betz, an early Anabaptist who wrote a number of the songs that formed the core of the original Ausbund, defined grace in simple terms. In song number 88 he writes:
God’s grace is the Holy Spirit, Who is also called the Comforter …
Now if the Holy Spirit leads you, So that you do not yield to sin, God has birthed you anew, In Jesus Christ His Son.
Now I am sure that Hans did not mean that grace and the Holy Spirit are always synonymous. Yet I challenge you to read through the New Testament and put “the Holy Spirit” in every place you read the word “grace.” For example, “For by the Holy Spirit are ye saved, through faith …” Ep. 2:8 The Holy Spirit saves us in the true sense of salvation, which is to rescue or to salvage. By an infilling of the Holy Spirit, we receive power to conquer self, the flesh, the world, and even the devil himself. Now that is grace, truly a free gift! Ac. 2:38; 10:45
“For ye are not under the law, but under the Holy Spirit …” Ro. 6:14 Remembering that the weakness of the Law was that it had no provision to be reunited in spirit with God, we can understand how that the New Covenant is so much superior than the Old. Now the believer can live under the power of the Holy Spirit! Under the Spirit, but over the Law!How to get the Spirit
One of the biggest battles of the early church was the battle against those Jews who did not understand that the Mosaic Law was not to be put on the Gentile believers. Called Judaizers, they felt that the Law was to be kept even after it had been fulfilled. In battling against this idea, Paul asked the Galatians a thought-provoking question: “Did you get baptized with the Holy Ghost because you kept the Law so perfectly, or did you get baptized with the Holy Ghost because you believed on Jesus?” Ga. 3:2
Of course, they all knew that the free gift of the Spirit was because of their faith in Jesus as the promised Prophet, Priest, and King; the Law had no provision to receive an infilling of the Spirit. Paul then followed the first question with a similar one: “The person who led you into the experience of the infilling of the Spirit, did he do that through preaching obedience to the ceremonial laws, or did he do that by preaching faith in Jesus?” Again, they knew it was because of Jesus, not because of keeping the ceremonial laws.Die to live
Hans Betz, the hymn writer mentioned earlier, had the following to say in one of his hymns:
Understand what’s happening: when death occurs, as a man denies his flesh, then man receives from Jesus Christ the life-giving baptism. The same is called fire and spirit, John does tell us; this alone makes holy and pure and makes fellowship with God.
The secret to receiving the “life-giving baptism” of the Holy Spirit is to die; die to our own will in faith that Jesus would lead him aright. This “formula”—if we dare even call it a formula—was foundational throughout early Anabaptism; we could probably fill this magazine with their quotes on the topic. They used the German word gelassenheit to describe it; a “letting loose” of our own will, placing that will into the hands of God. This is death to controlling our own life; we simply submit ourselves to obedience to whatever God, through Christ, has said. If you believe in someone, you will do what that person says.
This is also a renunciation of materialism, fame, and plain old-fashioned pleasure seeking. Jesus, to whom we submit our will, has told us that unless a man “forsake all that he hath,” he cannot be His disciple.The dearth in our day
That word “all” is the key to understanding the dearth of real Holy Spirit power in our churches today. Materialism runs rampant, so rampant that if anyone even suggests that Jesus really meant—I mean really meant—a renunciation of wealth, he may well get his ears boxed … even in conservative Anabaptist churches. To suggest that “all” means for youth (and older ones as well) to renounce sports and pleasure seeking may get a person tagged as “legalist.” To suggest that “all” really means “all,” and that “forsake” really means “forsake,” and that “cannot” means “impossible” seems to put one into the “fanatic” class.
But Jesus really did mean what He said. It is impossible to be His disciple without forsaking all. We may take up a zealous obedience to certain biblical teachings, yet never truly die to self. We may find the perfect theology and expound it ever so clearly, yet never die with Christ. We may go to the ends of the earth, preaching to the unreached tribes in remote corners, denying ourselves of the comforts of modern life … and yet never have forsaken all. Forsaking all is the cross we must take up, the cost we must count before becoming a disciple.
Leonhard Schiemer was an Austrian convert to Anabaptism. He lived but nine months as an Anabaptist before martyrdom, but managed to bring in about 200 others in that short span of time. While in prison he wrote several tracts and a letter to the congregation where he had been ordained as elder. In that letter, he says the following concerning taking up the cross:
“Whoever will be my disciple,” says Christ, “must follow me.” In another place He says, “Without me you can do nothing.” Peter says, “Whoever suffers in the flesh ceases from sin.”
The first light has been our schoolmaster until the other—Christ, who is the light of the world—came. When His Spirit enters me I am no longer under the schoolmaster, but under grace. When this happens the law of works, sin, death, and members ceases, and the law of the Spirit, faith, life, and the heart begins.
But this Spirit is given to no one except he first submit himself to the cross and the chastisement of the Lord.Entering the kingdom of God
Dirk Philips wrote a long tract called “The New Birth and the New Creature.” He had the following to say as a conclusion, and he says it so well that we use that conclusion to conclude this article:
I say this in conclusion: the born-again children of God and new creatures in Christ Jesus are those who are born again out of God the heavenly Father through Christ Jesus and are renewed and sanctified through the Holy Spirit, who have become participants of the divine nature, of the being of Jesus Christ, and of the character of the Holy Spirit.
They are those who have died to sin and still daily die more and more, and experience righteousness; those who never boast in themselves but only in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to them and they to the world; those who in true faith walk according to the rule of Christ and follow in his footsteps, who know no one according to the flesh; those who do not have an appetite for what is human but for what is divine.
In summary, these are righteous and do righteousness just as God out of whom they are born is righteous; these are minded like Christ Jesus and are motivated by the Holy Spirit.
Where this takes place, there one sees the kingdom of God, there one comes into the kingdom of heaven; there is a new creature in Christ Jesus.
This article is far from being a complete exposition of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church. Much could be said of the continuing work He accomplishes; teaching, convicting, leading, and comforting. More could be said of the gifts of the Spirit. More could be said of the unity of the Spirit. More could be said of how the Spirit works in a congregation better than in an individual.
In short, this article focuses mostly upon the initial reception of the Spirit in the believer. This is the beginning, the birth, not the end!
 There are reports of people seeing similar things, but I take a neutral stance as to if it has really happened again. There is nothing to prohibit God from having physical flames appear again when someone is baptized with the Spirit, and I would “put God in a box” to say He will never do it again. But it is beside the point to argue whether God has ever had physical flames appear again.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (March/April 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17 Authorized Version
After His baptism and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began His public ministry with this short and simple sermon: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Despite the fact that this is the message which Jesus preached, some today believe that repentance is not a part of the Gospel and is unnecessary for us today. However, throughout the New Testament, repentance is given as a condition of salvation and a part of God’s message to men.
After Jesus sent them out to preach, the twelve disciples “went out, and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12). Jesus taught that “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples that repentance was part of the message which He wanted to be preached throughout all nations: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). On the day of Pentecost, when asked by the crowd what they should do, “Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). On a later occasion, Peter said: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
Paul also preached repentance. Acts 17:30 says, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent”. Speaking to the elders at Ephesus, Paul said that while he was with them he had spent his time “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). When standing trial before King Agrippa, Paul described his message this way: “But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20).
Some say that we are only required to repent from the single sin of unbelief. While it is true that we must repent of unbelief, that is not the only sin we must repent from. We must repent of our deeds (Revelation 16:11), of our sins (Revelation 9:21), of the sinful works of our hands and idolatry (Revelation 9:20), from dead works (Hebrews 6:1), of uncleanness (II Corinthians 12:21), and of wickedness (Acts 8:22).
Some may think that repentance is a dreary responsibility – laying aside sins and habits so dearly enjoyed. This is not how repentance works! The “goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4b) – it is an act of love and goodness on God’s part to bring a person to a place of repentance. God has meant people to live in holiness and a relationship with Him, not in sin! Repentance may seem burdensome or even impossible, but after you have repented, you will not regret it. I have never met someone who has said, “I wish I had never repented. That was a foolish decision.” Turning from sin and to God is always a good decision because that is how God meant life to be.
“Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26).
Originally published in The Witness, March 2013.
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.
By Mike Atnip
July 16, 1740 was probably just another day for the little port town of New York. It was a growing town, having doubled its population during the last 40 years—from about 5,000 to 10,000. It was not yet New York City.
Into these 10,000 inhabitants stepped a young man named Christian Henry Rauch. He was a man with a mission; a mission to change the world with the gospel, one sinner at a time. Christian had no quixotic dream of converting the whole world. But he did know the power of Christ could change whosoever will. And that included the so-called “red” men of North America. After all, if Christ could change a European, He could surely change a Native American … they were all made of the same stuff and were all from the same original descendent.
Stepping off the ship, Christian really had no idea where to begin his mission. He had been chosen from a group of 12 candidates and commissioned by the Moravian Brethren Church to go to New York to “preach the gospel to the Indians.” When his foot touched the dock, he was walking by faith that God would lead him to the right person. He didn’t know a single soul in New York, nor where to begin to find the people to whom he had been sent to minister.
To Christian’s great surprise, he “happened” to meet fellow missionary Frederic Martin, who “happened” to be in New York at the moment. Frederic took him to meet some pious local people. The report they gave Christian was anything but encouraging. “There’s no use trying to convert those people,” they said. “They have a chapel, preaching, and a schoolteacher already, and they are as much as drunkards now as they have ever been. It is not safe for a white man to live among them.”
Christian thanked them for the information but didn’t let it discourage him. He just kept praying.
Not too many days later Christian heard that a group of Mohican Indians were in town to complain to the authorities that the white people were encroaching upon their lands up the Hudson River. Christian looked them up, and to his great surprise he found he could converse with them in Dutch, although imperfectly. But a bigger problem than the language was the fact that these Indians—described as ferocious in appearance and manners—were seriously intoxicated. He had to wait until they recovered enough from their drunken state to converse with them. Thus the missionary had his first meeting with the people for whom he would pour out his life.
When sobered up, he spoke with Tschoop and Shabasch, both of whom were sachems, or tribal chiefs. Tschoop was a middle-aged man by our standards, but “old” for his time and place: he was somewhere around 40 years of age. Somewhere along the line, Dutch traders had nicknamed him Job, which name his fellow Indians had made into Tschoop. The name stuck. Why he had been called “Job” is unknown: perhaps it had to do with Tschoop being a crippled man and quite an unhandsome sight—different sources mention his great physical uncomeliness—like Job in his afflicted state. Another version is that he earned the name from his natural wisdom.
But unlike Job of the Bible, Tschoop was a servant of alcohol. In fact, he was known to be one of the worst of his people for succumbing to the firewater that the white man had introduced to the red man. So much so that when Christian went to visit his two new friends the second time just a few days later, both were so drunken that they could neither stand nor talk. But he had managed earlier to get their permission to return with them to their village to be their teacher in spiritual matters, so he remained undaunted. However, in the confusion of meeting up with them at a predetermined place, they returned home without him when the time came for them to leave.
Christian found out that his new friends lived at Shekomeko, a small Indian town near the Connecticut border, and so started out for a visit. He arrived on August 16, just one month after landing in New York. And the story of a revival began. But before the revival, great testing had to come.Announcing the news
Tschoop had announced to the village that Christian would be their teacher, so immediately upon arriving Christian told them why he had come:
I come here from beyond the great ocean to tell you the good news! God, our Creator, so loved us that He became a human, lived 30 years in this world, went about doing good to all men, and was then nailed to the cross and shed His precious blood, dying so that we might be set free from sin …
The audience listened with great attention while he spoke. But the next day Christian found that the majority of his listeners simply laughed at him in derision when he tried to explain things further. Tschoop had listened to Christian’s first message as well, but he was so intoxicated that he remembered only one word from the whole sermon: “blood.”
Christian rose to the occasion by simply pressing ahead. Day by day he visited in their huts and tried to tell them his message. But things got worse before they got better. He was refused in many of their homes and wandered from village to village trying to find a receptive ear, and finding none. In fact, Tschoop even looked for an opportunity to shoot Christian, but the right moment never appeared. Shabasch simply tried to avoid him.Blood, peace, and liberty
But several things would not let Tschoop rest: that one word he remembered and dreamed about, “blood,” the great peace which Rauch possessed, and the good news of deliverance.
Later in life, Tschoop explained it this way:
Brethren, I have been a heathen, and have grown old among the heathen; therefore I know how heathen think. Once a preacher came and began to explain to us that there was a God. We answered, “Do you think we are so stupid as to not know that? Go back to where you came from!”
Later another preacher came and began to teach us, saying, “You must not steal, lie, nor get drunk.” We answered, “You fool, do you think we don’t know that? First teach yourself and your own people to stop doing those things! Who steals, lies, and gets drunk more than your own people?” And we sent him away also.
After some time Brother Christian Henry Rauch came into my hut and sat down beside me and spoke to me like this: “I come to you in the name of the Lord of heaven and earth. He sent me to let you know that He will make you happy and deliver you from the misery in which you presently lie. That is the reason He became a human and gave His life as a ransom for humanity and poured out His blood for humanity …”
It was the message of freedom from sin that seemed to strike deep into the heart of Tschoop and his people. They already knew there was a God. They knew that this God wanted them to live morally and uprightly. And so they had sent home the earlier missionaries who came to tell them what they already knew. But here came a missionary with a different message … the message of deliverance, of a changed life with power over sin through Christ!
And freedom came by blood? Tschoop was confused.
Ever since that first message in which he only remembered that one word, “blood,” he had wondered about it. But not only wondered about it, he actually had dreams about blood! Tschoop thought it really strange that someone could go around talking about blood, yet seem so peaceful. So one day he asked the missionary about that blood. The conversation went like this:
“Why do you talk about the blood with such joy in your heart?” ask Tschoop.
“Because it is the blood of your Creator, who came to die and cleanse you from your sin,” replied Christian.
“But how can blood cleanse from sin?” came the honest question.
“If you get the blood into your heart,” explained Christian, “the desire for drink will leave.”
“If you love Him, the blood will work upon you,” explained the missionary.
“But I am so given to drink,” protested the debauched man.
“If you get the blood into your heart,” explained Christian, “the desire for drink will leave.”
And then there was the peace …
It “blew Tschoop away” that Christian Rauch could come into his hut with such security and peace. One day Christian came to his home to speak to him about Christ. After finishing, Christian said he was tired and wondered if it would be alright if he would take a nap there. The permission was granted and Christian promptly lay down on the floor and dozed off. Tschoop, looking upon the peacefully sleeping missionary, explained his feelings like this:
This man cannot be a bad man; he fears no evil, not even from us, who are so savage and cruel, but sleeps comfortably, and places his life in our hands. I might kill him, and throw him out into the woods, and who would even know it? But this gives him no concern.Cleansed by the blood!
I have been a poor, wild heathen, and for forty years as ignorant as a dog. I was the greatest drunkard, and the most willing slave of the devil; and as I knew nothing of our Savior, I served vain idols, which I now wish to see destroyed by fire. Of this I have repented with many tears.
When I heard that Jesus was also Savior of the heathen, I felt it to be my duty to offer myself with soul, body, and spirit to Him.
But my nearest relations, my wife and children, were my enemies; and my greatest enemy was my wife’s mother. She told me that I was worse than a dog if I would not believe in her idol. But my eyes being opened, I understood that what she said was nothing but folly, for I knew that she had received her idol from her grandmother. It is made of leather, and decorated with wampum. Since she is the oldest person in the house, she made us worship it, which we have done, until our teacher came and told us of the Lamb of God who shed His blood and died for us ignorant people.
I was astonished at this doctrine, and as often as I heard it preached, my heart grew warm. I even dreamed that our teacher stood before me and preached it to me. Now I feel and believe that our Savior alone can help me by the power of his blood, and no one else.
I believe that He is my God, and my Savior, who died on the cross for me, a sinner. I wish to be baptized, and frequently long for it most ardently. I am lame and cannot travel in winter, but in April or May I will come to you. The enemy has often tried to make me unfaithful; but what I loved before, I consider more and more as worthless and sinful. I am your poor, wild Tschoop.
When Tschoop surrendered his will to Christ, the blood flowed … from Christ to Tschoop’s heart, rebirthing his inner man.
The Moravians had a different view of the blood atonement than the popular assumption that the blood of Jesus is like the pagans’ offering to appease the wrath of the angry gods. You know, like, “The gods are angry! Quick! Offer them a sacrifice to appease their wrath!” Not so, in Moravian theology.
According to Zinzendorf, the wounds of Christ were the key to rebirth. When the wounds were opened on the cross, blood flowed out … that is, the life of Christ. This flowing blood symbolized the Holy Spirit pouring out of the Messiah, which was then sprinkled into the spirit of sinful men—men like Tschoop—cleansing them of all sin. In short, the blood atonement was like a spiritual blood transfusion. The blood of Christ, His Spirit, would flow out of Christ and into a drunk, sobering him up. This life of the Messiah would flow into vengeful men and turn them into gentle, forgiving gentlemen. This Spirit, flowing out of the wounds of Christ, would take perverted men and turn them into faithful husbands and fathers. This blood, flowing out of Christ, would cleanse all selfishness out of fallen humanity. Indeed, there was—and still is—power in the blood of Christ to cleanse from all sin!
Tschoop would never be the same again! The old drunken, carousing, self-centered warrior was turned into a gentle, moral, and sober follower of Jesus.And others, too
Not very much later, Shabasch experienced the grace that changes sinners into saints. And others followed, not only in Shekomeko, but in the neighboring villages of Wachquatnach and Pachgatgoch.
On Februrary 11, 1742, Christian had the privilege of baptizing the first three Native Americans into the fold—Shabasch being one of them—near Oley, Pennsylvania. They had travelled to Pennsylvania for the occasion, and there Christian was ordained as a deacon, and then the three Indians were baptized by him at a meeting attended by quite a number of different denominational leaders. This baptism was a moving sensation among the Pennsylvanians. But Tschoop could not attend since he was too crippled to make the journey. However, on April 16, 1742, Tschoop also received baptism at the hands of Christian, back in Shekomeko.
The four converts were also a sensation among their own people. From 30 miles away their people travelled to Shekomeko to see and hear: to see the changed countenances on the faces of the men, and to hear the missionary and the converts’ testimony and preaching. Tschoop’s situation was described with the following words:
His teacher had repeatedly told him that no one but the crucified Savior could help him, and that He was always ready to do so, if he would only submit. But he had loved so many other things, and he despaired of giving them up. He had stuck fast to the world, was full of self-love, making a god of his belly. He also feared the reproach of man, and yet convinced that unless he surrendered his whole heart to the Savior, he would be damned on account of his unbelief.
But in another letter, Tschoop himself described what happened:
But now I am happy, for I know that our Savior has done so much for me; I am now as much humbled as I was sorrowful. As soon as I felt that I loved Him, I immediately wished for brethren who loved Him also. Therefore I love my brother Rauch, and you, and all my brethren here, and all brethren everywhere, even those whom I shall never see in this world. All who love the Lord Jesus, I love and salute. I rejoice more and more because our Savior makes others likewise happy, and not me only. I am always glad when our Brethren make known to us the Word; it is sweet to my taste, and I attend closely, that I may be as the Bible directs. And it is easy. There are men who say, ‘The Bible is a hard book.’ But I have not found it so; it is all sweet and easy. I therefore wait patiently until I come to the hard part. Since I so far only know it easy and sweet, and can say nothing more except that I feel the power of our Savior’s blood. Signed—John, your brother.And more yet …
More and more Indians humbled themselves and let Jesus be the King of their life. Indeed, nothing less than a revival was occurring! By the end of 1742, 26 Native Americans had been added to the fold. One person described it in these words:
It was truly delightful to see the poor Indians coming from places 25 miles distant to hear the new preacher, who, as they expressed it, spoke of God who became man, and loved the Indians so much that He gave His life to save them from the devil and the service of sin.
More missionaries arrived to help with the work, among them Gottlob Buettner. By July of 1743, a little over a year after the first baptisms, a 20 foot by 30 foot chapel was built at Shekomeko. The famed Conrad Weiser wrote the following to one of the missionaries after a visit to Shekomeko:
The faith of the Indians in our Lord Jesus Christ, their simplicity and natural deportment, and their experience of the grace procured for us by the sufferings of Jesus have impressed upon my mind with a firm belief that God is with you. I thought myself seated in a company of early Christians. They attended with great seriousness and devotion; their eyes were steadily fixed upon their teachers as if they would eat their words. Tschoop was the interpreter and behaved himself in the best manner. I esteem him a man anointed with grace and Spirit. The text of Scripture, ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever’ appeared to me as an eternal truth when I watched the venerable patriarchs of the American Indian church sitting around me as living witnesses of the power of Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Their prayers are had in remembrance in the sight of God and may God fight against their enemies. May the Almighty give to you and your assistants an open door to the hearts of all the heathen.
August Spangenberg, who for many years was one of the most important leaders at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, wrote the following in his journal upon visiting Shekomeko:
The nearer we approached to Shekomeko, the more veneration we found among all ranks of people for the great work of God in that place. The Justice of Peace at Milsy accompanied us, and declared that he would rather allow his right arm to be cut off than force the brethren to adhere to the Act passed against them, for he was thoroughly convinced that the grace of God had, by their means, wrought miracles in Shekomeko.
But when we arrived and were witnesses of it, then, dear brothers, dead indeed must be the man who could refrain from shedding tears of joy and gratitude for the grace bestowed upon this people! It is impossible to express what is felt here; God has done the work.
As we rode into town we met a man standing beside the road with a most remarkable countenance. We immediately thought of Tschoop and addressed him by name, and found that we were not mistaken. He received us with great kindness and brought us immediately to the missionaries.
Then the venerable elder, Abraham, came to see us and greeted us, and though he was marked, after the Indian custom, with a figure of a snake on each cheek, yet the grace of our Savior was so visible in his countenance, that we were struck with awe and amazement. The rest of the assistants came one after another and gave us a welcome in the most affectionate manner. Indeed, there was not a single one of the congregation that did not express joy at our arrival. They appeared altogether as meek as lambs.
While we were thus surrounded by our Indian brethren and sisters, I took up a Bible and the following text occurred to me: ‘Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my mother, sister, and brother.’
An Indian who had deviated from the right path wished to be readmitted, but the brethren could not trust him as yet. When we afterward held a lovefeast with all the baptized, 70 in number, he came likewise, stood at a distance, and looked upon his brethren with repentance and contrition in his countenance. We called him forward; upon which he went and sat down in a corner.
During love feast the presence of the Lord was powerfully felt. I spoke of the happiness granted to us by virtue of the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, appealing to their own experience, and they affirmed what I said to be true.
Afterward, Isaac exhorted the brethren to be continually humble and low in their own eyes; never to forget the sufferings and death of Jesus, and not only to think of it in Shekomeko, but in the woods and when out hunting. We closed our love feast with prayer and supplication, and with tears commended these precious souls, and our venerable brethren who have labored among them, to God, our almighty Savior.Enemies arise
Conrad Weiser had written, “may God fight against their enemies.” And enemies arose, although the Indian converts had laid down the war hatchet to follow Jesus. The “enemies” were the rum traders. Like the men in the book of Acts who were losing business because of Paul’s preaching, the rum traders started losing business at Shekomeko and the surrounding villages. And they were upset.
In an effort to counteract the revival, they started some rumors in the area. One rumor was that the Moravian missionaries were actually Roman Catholics in disguise, and they intended to turn the Indian nations to Rome. This, of course, did not go over well with the white population in the area, who were basically either Reformed or Anglican. Another story that got started was that the missionaries intended to sell the Indian children as slaves. As well, the Moravians were also reputed to be in league with the French, with 3000 arms ready to distribute to the Indians against the English.
There were also other denominations who wanted to bring the Indian converts into their fold. When a white man tried to convince Shabasch that the Moravian missionaries were not the “privileged” teachers that the Indian converts held them up to be, Shabasch replied:
That may be so. But I know what they have told me, and what God has worked within me. Look at my poor fellow Indians lying there drunk at your door. Why do you not send privileged teachers to convert them? Four years ago I also lived like an animal, and none of you troubled yourselves about me. But when the brethren came they preached the cross of Christ, and I have experienced the power of His blood, so that sin has no longer dominion over me. That’s the kind of teachers we want.
The reply of the white man is not recorded; there is not much he could have said. The salvation of the Moravian teachers brought conversion and power over sin, while drunks were lying at the door of their retractors. “The proof was in the pudding!”Disobey Jesus to save the mission post?
Eventually the rumors did their intended work. The town of Sharon, near Shekomeko, remained under arms for a whole week, and some of the colonists fled the area. The colony of New York passed an Act in 1745 that basically forbade anyone to do mission work among the Indians within the colony unless they would swear to two things. One, that they “rejected transubstantiation, the worship of the Virgin Mary, purgatory, etc,” and two, that they were loyal to the British king.
But before the Act was passed, the missionaries at Shekomeko were arrested. They were brought before the magistrates, but were always acquitted. The Justice of Peace at Filkentown even said—after acquitting them—that “he must acknowledge the mission in Shekomeko to be the work of God, because by the labor of the brethren the most savage heathen had been so evidently changed that he, and many other Christians, were put to shame by their godly walk and conversation.”
The Moravian missionaries were not Catholics, and neither were they opposed to the king. But … the “problem” was that Jesus had told them not to swear oaths. So they were stuck with either disobeying Jesus’ explicit command, or abandoning their mission outreach at Shekomeko.
They chose to obey Jesus.
At first the converts at Shekomeko decided among themselves to “stick it out” without their teachers. Gottlob Buettner had died right before the missionaries pulled out, exhorting the converts to “abide faithful unto the Lord to the end … and he expired while they were singing.”Moving on …
The converts in the villages held out for a few years, but circumstances eventually forced them to move on. White settlers made the claim that the ground upon which Shekomeko was built was not actually Indian land. Furthermore, a rumor was started that the Indians of Shekomeko were in league with the French. So great was the affect of this rumor that the inhabitants of Rhinebeck demanded a warrant—refused to them, thankfully—to kill all the Indians at Shekomeko.
As much as they loved their village, the villagers “saw the handwriting on the wall.” In April of 1746, the first 10 families packed up and headed out to seek asylum near their teachers in Pennsylvania. There, new villages were started, close to Bethlehem. Friedenshutten [shelters of peace] and Gnaddenhutten [shelters of grace] became Christian Indian villages, with refugees from Shekomeko and surrounding villages, along with converts from other Indian nations. Each family was given a plot of ground, and soon beautiful fields graced the valleys. The inhabitants also lived off of the wild game, with up to 15-20 deer being harvested daily, as well as wild berries, nuts, and honey.
The congregation met twice daily. Translation work was in process. New believers were taught. Strict and faithful discipline was observed. Cleanliness and orderliness prevailed. And alcohol was banned entirely from the Christian Indian villages.
The number of the Indian converts increased to about 500, and the chapel had to be enlarged only three years after it was built in 1746. Widows and orphans were cared for. The love of war was replaced by harmony.Tragedies
The story of the Moravian missions to the American Indians continued on for many years. By the time the eastern Indian nations had been pushed—what little was left of them—all the way to Kansas in the 1800s, many such villages had been built in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario. But not without price. Gnaddenhutten, mentioned above, was raided during the French and Indian War and several of the missionaries were killed. It was soon abandoned, and eventually the Indian converts found other places to settle further north and west. In Ohio, another village also named Gnaddenhutten suffered a massacre in which over 90 nonresistant Indians were mercilessly butchered to death by white colonists during the Revolutionary War. The stories of these villages—as worthy as they are for retelling—are too long to include here.
Tschoop became a translator and instructor of Indian languages and customs at Bethlehem for new missionaries. But his story is not long. It is the story of the smallpox among the Native Americans. Tschoop became a victim on August 27, 1746, along with over a dozen other neighboring Indians at the time. Smallpox (and similar diseases) is thought to have reduced the Native American population from several million, at the “discovery” of America by the Europeans, to several hundred thousand by the mid-1800s. Whole villages were almost totally wiped out by the dreaded disease to which the Indians were not resistant. Very few Native Americans who contracted it survived.
Tschoop lies buried along with 58 other Native American converts—from about eight different tribes—in God’s Acre in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The cemetery in Moravian communities was called God’s Acre because the Moravians saw the dead bodies “as seeds being planted, awaiting the resurrection to the final judgment.” When the trumpet sounds, all those dead bodies will “sprout” like so many seeds for the Savior!
In Memory of TSCHOOP, a Mohican Indian, Who, in holy baptism, April 16, 1742, received the name of JOHN; One of the first-fruits of the mission at Shekomeko, and a remarkable instance of the power of divine grace, whereby he became a distinguished teacher among his nation. He departed this life in full assurance of faith, at Bethlehem, August 27, 1746
There shall be one fold and one Shepherd. John x. 16.
 Frederic was in New York from the St. Thomas (West Indies) mission, which is where the first two Moravian missionaries, Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann, had gone a few years earlier. Neither Dober nor Nitschmann had stayed long on the island (Nitschmann a few months and Dober about two years).
 The Dutch had founded “New Amsterdam” as a trading post in 1625, but had ceded it to the English in 1664, who promptly renamed it “New York.” Thus the Dutch language had been introduced among the native population.
 The Moravians were not the first to preach to the American Indians, nor the first to have converts from them. But the Moravian Brethren were eventually the most successful in making disciples of Jesus—men and women who followed Jesus’ teachings—from among the Native Americans. Quite a number of nonresistant Christian Indian villages were formed during the following decades.
 Returning to the theme of the flowing blood being a symbol of the life (Spirit) flowing out of the Messiah to enliven sinners, this phrase and sentence is like “apples of gold upon silver platters” when thus interpreted.
 Conrad was an official government agent to the Indian nations, helping in treaty negotiations and land purchases. His homestead, near Womelsdorf, PA, is now a State Historic Site. Conrad also was a member, for about six years, of the Ephrata Cloister, at Ephrata, PA.
 Abraham [Shabasch] had evidently been ordained as an “elder” [older brother, to be a spiritual counselor to the younger] and the others here mentioned were “assistants” of some sort in the Moravian system of church administration. It is to be noted that the Moravian use of some terms like “elder” does not equal what we normally think of when we use those same terms today.
 The original stone would have probably only had his name and possibly the date of his death. It was replaced with the one mentioned here. As of the writing of this article, the stone mentioned here has also been replaced by another. On a side note, Christian Rauch died at Old Carmel, Jamaica, in 1763. The story of his missionary life at Shekomeko is only the beginning!
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (November/December 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Martin Weninger
Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Martin Weninger “Lingky,” a Swiss Brethren Anabaptist leader, explaining to the (Reformed) state church why the Anabaptists could not fellowship with the state church. The basic answer – that the state churches did not require following Christ in holiness in accord with His Word, but rather allowed every kind of sin and vice to go unpunished – was a standard answer across many types of Anabaptists all across Europe. In the case of the Swiss Reformed churches, the state church leaders confessed that the charges were true and (at least in the canton of Bern) tried repeatedly to reform the populace – apparently without much success.
Weninger’s tract is an excellent apologetic for a holy church and a holy Christian life, following the commands of Jesus and the Apostles. It is an excellent apologetic for avoiding those teachers who would discount the need for holiness and obedience. Even if they have some good things to say, if they do not require holiness and obedience, we are not to listen to them! Of course, neither the Scriptures nor the early Anabaptists (Weninger included) believed in the possibility of sinless perfection on earth, but it is still a fact that Christians are “dead to sins, [that we] should live unto righteousness” (I Peter 2:24).
It is sad but true that the historical record reveals that in 1538, Weninger recanted his faith. Whether he repented afterwards and rejoined the persecuted Swiss Brethren church or not is not known. “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13).
This English version of Weninger’s tract was translated by John C. Wenger and was originally published in the July 1948 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review. We gratefully acknowledge the permission of the Mennonite Historical Society to use it.—AVS.
The knowledge of and obedience to the will of God, that righteousness which springs from faith in Christ and also results in works (Phil. 1, 3, Titus 3, Heb. 11, James 2) wish I, Martin Weninger, called Lingky, to all those who seek to worship God in the spirit, with their hearts in the truth, and to serve Him with words and works unto His praise in Christ, Amen (Col. 3, I Cor. 10).
I have been admonished by Brother Galle Hafner to prepare a vindication respecting the church attendance of the children of the world who walk in the uncleanness of impure lusts like other heathen (I Thes. 4, I Pet. 1 and 4). This I am inclined to do, to show to everyone who asketh the reason of the hope which is in me.
Christ commands us to guard ourselves from the mixed teaching of the Pharisees and the befuddled expositors who pose as teachers of the Scripture but know not what they set forth or say (Matt. 16, I Tim. 1) and teach what is not profitable—just as the teaching of the priests does not profit—for base gain. Tit. 1: [They are] lazy bellies which may not produce works, all with deceitful minds, just like our priests. David says, They teach only sins, and glory in their pride and speak vain contradictions (Ps. 59), just as our priests also do now, teaching sins and hardening [people] in sins with their frivolous teaching, as it stands in Ezekiel 13 and Jeremiah 23. They minimize to the people the shadow of the wantonness of their life of sin (Jer. 8, 6, II Pet. 2), saying peace when there is no peace and promising freedom to those who ridicule God with their doings and walk after the lust and desire of their evil heart (Jer. 23, II Pet. 2), and they themselves are servants of corruption and sin (Rom. 6, John 8). They are called the Christians, even pious Christians and Brethren, who walk in darkness and have no fellowship with the light of Christ (I John 1), and whom the apostle of God calls children of the devil, as he says: He who does the right is of God and has the new birth of the Spirit, but he who does not do the right, but commits sin, is of the devil and not of God, because sin is also not of God. He has never known God and will also not see Him (I John 2, 3, 5 and III John 1). He who transgresses the teaching of Christ has no God (II John 1), and all his piety will no longer have any significance (Ezek. 18, 33, James 2).
By such evident witness it is now clear that the doctrine of the priests is not of God, and that it does not correspond with the doctrine of Christ and the apostles. Furthermore it is no wonder that such false apostles and deceptive workers pose as apostles of Christ, because the god and prince of this world himself (II Cor. 4, John 12, 14, Eph. 2), the devil, poses as an angel of light. It is no wonder that his servants also, who draw the wanton people to themselves (II Pet. 2, Jer. 23) and harden them in sin so that they so much the less repent (Ezek. 13) and live, pose as preachers of light, whose end will be according to their works (II Cor. 11).
Now when such hirelings, shepherds who have bargained for a definite wage, see the wolf coming they flee and do not lay down their lives for the sake of the sheep (John 10). Such shepherds the little sheep of Christ will not hear. But the foolishness of such shepherds who are come as from Christ whether [or not] He sent them, will be manifested to many people in the Free Territories [of Aargau], moved as they are by a seditious, blood-thirsty spirit which brought destruction in the rebellion of Korah, etc. Also many Zwinglian priests have turned back to the pope in Turgau, disregarding how it went with those for whom they had promised to stake their lives, and having been found to be liars (Apoc. 2). He who had not wished to recognize this must now see that it is true.
They teach contrary to Paul (Rom. 6) that one cannot be free of sin and live in righteousness: “One must sin to the grave; no one can keep the commandments of God” (I John 3, 5) which is not true. The apostle of God testifies, Christ bore our sins on His back that we might be without sin and live in righteousness. How can the priests dare to say that no one can do the right and not live without sin? (John 1, I Pet. 2, 3): Christ took away our sin and undid the work of the devil. The work of the devil which Christ undid was sin, the sin of death, the death of damnation: as Paul testifies in Hebrews 2 that Christ took away the power of the devil, who had the power of eternal death, so that He might deliver us who all our life had been in fear of death and in bondage to slavery, that is, sin: as it stands in Titus 2: He delivered us from all kinds of unrighteousness. How would He have delivered us from the power and imprisonment of the devil if we lived in sin to the devil and had not received power, grace for grace, to oppose the devil by the firm faith of Christ? We who seek to be justified through Him, if we yet lived in sin, what would we have from Christ? (Gal. 2) For He broke the bond and led captivity captive and gave gifts to the people, and we are released (Psalm 124, II Tim. 2, Eph. 4). Sinners will not stand in the judgment of God nor remain in the congregation of the righteous (Psalm 1, 5). Sinners will be destroyed with one another and be wiped out (Psalm 37, I Cor. 6, II Pet. 2, Matt. 7, 13, Luke 13).
Therefore beware of the fickle man and the sinner who walks in two streets (Eccl. 2, Luke 16), and beware of him who is bound by and entangled in sin, for at the last he will be taken and burned in the fire (IV Esdr. 16, John 15). Now observe how the poor priests weaken the passion of Christ and employ it for lasciviousness and a cloak of wickedness (I Pet. 2, Jude 1). Peter says: As those who are free and yet not using the freedom for evil. As also Paul admonishes (Gal. 5): Stand fast in your freedom and cast it not from you for its reward is great (Heb. 10). As Jesus Christ has set you free do not allow yourselves to be joined to the servile yoke. For where the Spirit of Christ is there is freedom, and the body is dead for the sake of sin (Rom. 8, II Cor. 3). He who hath not the Spirit is not of Christ (Rom. 8). For those who are Christ’s have crucified their flesh and destroyed their evil desires by desisting from the lusts of error (Gal. 5, Eph. 4). Therefore as the kingdom of Christ is internal (Luke 17), firmly within us, we have grace to do God’s will and service, and to please Him with discipline and fear (Heb. 12, Ezek. 36, I John 5). Since therefore we are under grace sin cannot reign in our mortal body (Rom. 6). For this reason did Christ die for all, that all who live should not live unto themselves, nor in their lusts, but unto Him who died for us and rose [from the dead] (I Cor. 6, II Cor. 5, I Thes. 5). We do not shun the light. For whoever is of God hears God’s Word (John 8, 18, I John 4). The priests wander and are not in the light for their works are evil (John 3, 7, 8). For there is no darkness in the light (II Cor. 6). It also has no fellowship with the darkness. Those who teach others and do it not themselves, from them the wrath of God will not long be withheld (Rom. 2, Matt. 7, Luke 6, Psalm 50). “Lord, we have preached….” But He will profess to them: “I know you not. Ye have done evil (Matt. 7). Depart from me.” Christ calls those His brethren who hear God’s Word and do the will of His Father.
Dear one, How many are now Christ’s brethren who do God’s will? Therefore your fellowship is not a brotherhood of Christ. For you have as brethren: adulterers, heavy-drinkers, blasphemers, misers, usurers, dancers, carnival [masqueraders], alley ruffians: without a ban to make any difference, whether a person do evil or good. Dear one, Why? For this reason, that the priests who ought to discipline the people are themselves just like the people (Hosea 4). Therefore Paul teaches and admonishes us to keep clear of such people (II Tim. 2). For we may not be in the devil’s fellowship (I Cor. 10). The devil has fellowship with those who obey him in sin. But from those who withstand him he flees (James 4, I Pet. 5). David says, I dwell not with the wanton people, and have not fellowship with the hypocrites, and hate the assembly of the wicked (Psalm 26).
Now since they do not preach the doctrine of Christ, and consent not to the saving words of the doctrine of godliness, Paul teaches us to shun them (I Tim. 6, Rom. 16). For they could pervert the faith of many, like Philetus and Hymenaeus, of whom Paul teaches us to keep clear (II Tim. 2). He who brings not the doctrine of Christ, receive him not into your house and greet him not (II John 1). He who greets him has fellowship with his evil works. How should I follow him into a temple or to other places? If he would follow me, I should have nothing to do with him so as not to have part in his evil works. A teacher [minister] shall be an example of the flock in love, faith, purity and good works, and care for the sheep (John 10, I Tim. 4, 3, II Tim. 1, Tit. 2, I Pet. 5, Matt. 5). This is completely lacking among them, as the Scripture testifies. Who would regard those as God’s apostles who lack the witness of an apostle? Now it is evident that the priests have neither the doctrine nor manner of life of apostles; yet they say they are apostles and that the Lord is among them.
They call the Gospel a burden which no one can keep, contrary to the word of Jeremiah 23: Thou shalt not call my Word a burden. For Christ says (Matt. 11): My yoke is sweet; my burden light. John testifies, His commandments are not severe (I [John] 5). And we keep His commandments, and do what is pleasing before Him (I John 3). It is He who hath made us acceptable, and worketh in us both to will and to accomplish [it] (II Cor. 5, 3, Phil. 2, Ezek. 36). He hath created and prepared us unto good [works] that we should walk therein (Eph. 2). Therefore the might and all the glory belong to God alone (II Cor. 4, Dan. 9). Christ teaches that we should guard ourselves from those of this world who lead astray, for if it were possible they would lead astray even the elect (Matt. 24, II Pet. 3). Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, not from men nor through men but sent of God alone (Gal. 1). The rulers of the world have chosen the priests and commissioned them for a specified wage. Therefore it is of the world, and the [world] heareth them (I John 4). Thereby is fulfilled that which Paul prophesied (II Tim. 4): They will choose teachers for themselves who will tickle their ears, and [they will] not hear the truth, the saving doctrine of Christ, as also now the sect of the Nazarenes is everywhere spoken against (Acts 24, 28). John says, He who saith that he hath fellowship with Christ, and walketh in darkness, that is, in sin (Eph. 5), doth lie and speaketh not the truth. Therefore the priests tickle their ears with lies, in that they attribute to them the name and fellowship of Christ while they nevertheless still walk in darkness. And Paul testifies that He is become the Cause of salvation for those who obey His will in His death or suffering (Heb. 5, I Thes. 5).
Those who hold fast to the beginning of the nature of Christ (as He then has imparted His nature in those things, for those who are God’s, from youth to the end of life), [it is] they [who] partake of Christ (Heb. 3). Therefore Christ says, He that endureth unto the end (Matt. 10) shall be saved. But not by doing wrong, but by doing right, as it stands in Ezekiel 18. But those who persevere in wrongdoing until the end Christ calls false Christians and false apostles who lead many astray (Matt. 24). As Paul also testifies: Evil men and those who lead [men] astray shall wax worse and worse, leading astray and allowing themselves to be led astray (II Tim. 3). It is true that they say they know God, and [yet] they are disobedient and an abomination before God and unfitted for all good works (Tit. 1, I John 1, 2). These are they who love the sensual pleasures of temporal life more than God, and have no love for the good, and have the appearance of a godly manner of life but deny its power (II Tim. 3). Paul admonishes us to turn away from such a spurious faith. Concerning separation read II Corinthians 6, Apocalypse 18, Acts 19, Ephesians 5, II Timothy 2, I Peter 4, John 15. One is to separate oneself from their evil works, and not from the world, in so far as one may keep oneself unspotted from them (I Cor. 5, James 1, II Pet. 1, 4, Eph. 4). The preaching of the priests is also an unfruitful work, when they give testimony from the pulpit; [their] preaching does not help; people are getting worse and worse; no one is improving. And the testimony is true, also of the priests, that the wrong is getting the upper hand (Matt. 24). As the Lord said of the time of Lot and of Noah, so it is in [our] country; let Him come when He will.
Now you have testimony that the priests, and Christ and His apostles, do not have one doctrine. For the priests speak vain contradictions, as has been noted and proved sufficiently on the basis of the truth. Paul teaches us to judge spiritual things spiritually and not according to appearances (I Cor. 2), and not like the Jews did (John 7). He who lives carnally and is carnal-minded can neither perceive God’s ways nor the things of the Spirit. To him it is foolishness and a conundrum for he cannot know it, for it must be judged spiritually. Therefore everyone is lying [when he says] that he does not wish to judge, that it is not given to him; it is blasphemy (I Pet. 2) [when he says] that he does not recognize [the truth]—he is passing judgment on himself, receiving the reward of unrighteousness.
If it [Anabaptism] is of God no man can withstand it. But if it is not of God it will disappear of itself (Acts 5, Matt. 15). Those of Zurich did not wish to be lords ; and if it should cost them their land, it must be dug out by the roots. Basle, too. Behold, it is getting green again in their land first. Psalm 124: If the Lord were not with us they would have swallowed us up alive; our bones would be no more. Our shield and protector is God. Through the faith and patience of Christ we overcome our enemies, following the example of Christ. All glory and honor be to God alone in His church in Christ Jesus.
God’s Seal: II Timothy 2[:19]
The right done from the fear of God is acceptable to God
Acts 10, etc.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jeremiah 31:31-33
“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord GOD.” Ezekiel 11:19-21
In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, God established the Old or Mosaic Covenant – the Law – with the children of Israel. Most Bible readers will be quite aware of the fact that this law was not kept by the children of Israel to whom it was given. After the giving of the Ten Commandments when Moses went up Mount Sinai for forty days, the children of Israel – under the leadership of Aaron – broke the commandments they had just been given, indulging in idolatry and adultery. Moses came down the mountain and, seeing what they were doing, broke the two stone tablets which God had given him on the mountain. The children of Israel had broken the covenant which had not even been completely given at that time.
This was not an isolated incident. The Hebrews throughout the time of the Old Testament continued to break the covenant again and again. As a nation they would rebel against God, worship idols, and live in sin. The covenant God had made with them was broken.
It was not God’s fault that the covenant He had made “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12) was broken, but through the Prophet Jeremiah, He promised a New Covenant and a fresh start. This New Covenant would be made with the houses of Israel and Judah; everyone who voluntarily places himself under this New Covenant is grafted into the olive tree of Israel, from which all of the unbelieving and disobedient Jews have been cut off until such time as they repent (Romans 11:17-25). We notice next in this passage that this covenant would be “not according to the covenant that I made” before. How would this covenant be different? In the Old Covenant, God made lists of laws which were written on stone tablets and on paper. It was the job of the priests to make sure that the people knew the laws so that they could be kept. This New Covenant, however, would be different in that God would “put [His] law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts”. This does not mean that the New Covenant would not have written laws, but that those laws would be stamped thoroughly on the heart of the people who had accepted the New Covenant – written on their hearts so that they would obey God out of love and because it was an inner conviction to do so, not because they were compelled to.
The Prophet Ezekiel gives more information about this then-future time when the New Covenant would be made. He says that the people under this covenant would be given “one heart”. How can many people be given one heart? The answer is found in II Peter 1:4, where we are informed that this “new heart” is none other than God’s heart: “that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature”. God would impart His own Heart (Spirit) to His people! This is how they can share one heart and how His laws can be written upon our hearts. If we have God’s own heart within us, we will naturally desire and actually do the things which God wants us to!
God, through Ezekiel, goes on to say that He would remove the old, stony hearts and give hearts of flesh – warm, soft, living, and active. The purpose and result of this “heavenly heart surgery” is seen in verse 20: “That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them”. The problem with the Mosaic Law was not its requirements, although they were lower than God’s ultimate requirements. The problem was that laws, in and of themselves, have no power to give life. Any law is simply a mirror. By that mirror, a man can see whether he is measuring up to the standard or not. A simple example is a speed limit sign. If a man drives past a speed limit sign, he can look at his speedometer, look at the sign, and see the requirement of the law and whether he is living up to it or not. But the speed limit sign has no ability to make the driver tap the brakes to slow down and bring himself into conformity with the law. The same is true of the Law of Moses. The Law made demands on peoples’ lives and could be used as a mirror for an individual to evaluate how he compared with what God had commanded. But there was no “life clause” in the Law to provide the power to be able to keep the standard of righteousness which was given! “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).
The New Covenant, on the other hand, has higher requirements than the Mosaic Covenant did. If the children of Israel for thousands of years failed to live up to the requirements of the Mosaic Law, how could anyone possibly hope to hold to an even higher standard? The biggest difference between the two covenants is summed up in one word: life. The dead human spirit cannot keep God’s standard of righteousness – not even the Mosaic standard. Death and sin rule over the unregenerated soul, keeping it in bondage to disobedience and rebellion against God (Romans 5:12-21). Nevertheless, in the spiritual operation called the New Birth, Jesus Christ will impart the promised “heart of flesh,” full of the heavenly life of God Himself, filled with the Law of God, and which overthrows the devilish reign of Sin and Death. The result of this miracle is called VICTORY, and the response of the new saint is PRAISE! Hallelujah for the New Covenant!
Practical Application: Many practical applications might be drawn from these passages and the principles discussed, but I would like to focus on one in particular. Jeremiah tells us that God would write His laws on the hearts of those who accept the New Covenant. It is possible to obey the laws of the New Covenant (the commands of Jesus and the Apostles), at least in outward form, without having them written on the heart. How is it possible to discern if these laws are written on one’s heart? We normally call something written on one’s heart a “conviction.” Anything not done out of conviction is not written on one’s heart. If you find yourself in doubt, ask yourself the following questions: do I obey some principle of the New Covenant (for instance, separation from the world, the woman’s head covering, or nonresistance) simply because it is what the church expects? Or because it is what my parents expect? Or because if I did not, I would suffer negative social consequences among the people in my congregation(s)? Do I love to find some way to be “borderline” from what the New Testament requires – i.e., just on the edge of disobedience? If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then I beg you to examine yourself in the light of God’s Word and ask yourself if you truly are under the New Covenant or are under the Old Law of outward compulsion. Then go to God and ask Him for the New Heart, filled with the Law of God, which will make one delight in doing His Will!
Originally published in The Witness, November 2012.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Many people are of the opinion that once a man is truly born again, he can never lose his salvation. The Apostle Peter did not share this perspective.
“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (II Peter 2:20-22).
My concern for this message is to expose a detour that our Anabaptist churches took in the past century. As I was growing up, the message that I heard was what I call a “save ME gospel.” Now the term “kingdom of God” was used very loosely—as it is in many church circles—but I don’t think I ever heard, in all my growing up years, a message specifically on the kingdom. In this message I want to make it very clear what the kingdom of God is.
It is not about us! That is where the problem came in the shift of focus when I was growing up. The main thing in the messages that I heard was “We need to get saved!”
That certainly is true, but “getting saved” is a means to an end; not an end in itself. Unfortunately, “getting saved” was made an end in itself, and much of the revival preaching was focused on that end. Therefore, I would like to make it clear what the original gospel of Jesus Christ really was.
The original gospel message
The original gospel was the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus began His ministry by saying, “Repent …” Now, the classic words usually following this would be, “… or you will be lost,” or “you will go to hell!”
But Jesus did not say that. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In other words, “The kingdom is right there for you to grasp, it’s at hand.” Six verses later, after calling His first four disciples, it says He “went about all Galilee … preaching the gospel of the kingdom.” Mt. 4:23 Do you know that Jesus never called the gospel anything else but “the gospel of the kingdom”? In every instance where you find the content of the gospel described, it is “the gospel of the kingdom.” Every time, in the entire gospel record!
Jesus’ two most important statements were the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer. Both of these begin and end with an emphasis on the kingdom of God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of God.” “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
Referring to the end of time, Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” I ask you a searching question: Has the gospel of the kingdom been preached unto the ends of the earth, or has it been a “save ME gospel”?
Now I want to make one thing clear before proceeding: God uses imperfect means. I believe the gospel has been preached in many parts of the world, and despite a wrong emphasis, many people have been reconciled to God.
Parables of the kingdom
Basically all of Jesus’ parables focus on the kingdom: the kingdom is as a treasure in a field, the kingdom is as a merchant, the kingdom is as a net, the kingdom is as leaven, the kingdom is as a mustard seed …
I want to ask you a question: If I were to ask you what the seed was in the parable of the sower, what would you say?
[Response from someone in the audience: “The Word of God!”]
That’s what most people say! And that is true in a general sense, but specifically it says it is the “word of the kingdom”! I never noticed that until recently. We are so used to reading our Bible through certain lenses. Six months ago I would have probably said the same thing [as the responder from the audience.] When Jesus interprets the parable of the tares, He says the seed is “the children of the kingdom.” That excites me!
Here I am, speaking to approximately 400 seeds! What should happen is that all you seeds will go out there and be planted and grow up to be a kingdom expression of the gospel! Not just a personal experience of people getting ready to go to heaven, but a kingdom expression of the gospel should grow up around every kingdom Christian. Because you are the “seed of the kingdom.”
The kingdom in church history
But, when we turn to the history of the church, it is not very far along before we see a drastic change in focus. How many of you can recite the “Apostles’ Creed”? [A few raise hands.] Tell me, what is the word that the Apostles’ Creed begins with?
That’s interesting! The Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father.” Neither the Apostles’ Creed nor any of those other major creeds after the first centuries say a single thing about the kingdom. Only the Creed of Constantinople says at the end, “… and He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” It places the kingdom “out there” somewhere in the future, but says nothing about its present reality.
The result of losing the kingdom centrality in the gospel is a difference in a person’s outlook. If the focus is on ME, then the preaching I heard all my life was truly “gospel preaching,” where the most important thing in the world is for me to “get saved.” And before I proceed, I want to make it clear that “getting saved” is a very important thing, and heaven and hell are two very important realities we must resolve in the right way.
But that is not God’s most important concern for the present age. What God wants is a corporate expression, a society of the redeemed. Thus, personal salvation is an important means to an end and not an end in itself. God cannot express His kingdom until He has redeemed people that He can use to show to everyone what the whole world would be like if everybody obeyed the King!
That’s what Christianity is all about. We are talking about community, society, corporate relationships, so that the world looking on can say, “Wow!” It is like what the queen of Sheba said when she saw Solomon’s court: “What a great God they must have! What a beautiful kingdom! I cannot believe what I see! I did not know that human beings could live together this way!”
That’s what kingdom is all about!
But you see, if you concentrate only on your personal salvation and you don’t really make the kingdom to be the heart of your gospel—as did Jesus, Paul, and the others labored to teach it—then you have individual Christians who have no vision for submission to a corporate practice. I wonder just what the world looking on does see?
The great paradigm shift
Now, I stand here guilty with all of you; we have all been involved in this paradigm shift. It is because we have not been taught that the end of our salvation is to be involved in something larger than ourselves.
The kingdom of God is the society of the redeemed. As I mentioned, this gospel of the kingdom was lost in the early centuries to an individualistic salvation. And during the last century Anabaptism swallowed it also, and we wonder why we have so much individualism now. It is the fruit of a distorted gospel. We need to get back—it is a burden of my heart—to the kingdom gospel, instead of a “save ME gospel.”
Jesus used the word “kingdom” (in reference to the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God) at least 124 times, and He never referred to the gospel as anything else. If Jesus focused on the kingdom, then that is the centrality of His message, not a marginal issue. He said, “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent.” Lk. 4:43 He tells us very explicitly why He came—to preach the kingdom!
Is the kingdom ever taught today? Well, in dispensationalist circles, the kingdom is to happen somewhere off in the future. You know, I think the Devil has used every strategy he can think of to get the focus off the kingdom. I really do! So the dispensationalist has put the kingdom off into the future … it is coming. This makes Jesus’ teaching irrelevant for today. That is what some people do with the teaching about the kingdom.
Other people, such as Augustine and Calvin, made the kingdom the central theme of their teaching, but it was a carnal kingdom ruled by force. Thus we have these two distortions, two wrong concepts, of the kingdom of God. So the message is lost.
Why did Jesus focus His message on the kingdom of God? Because that was God’s original purpose; that is why man was created. Salvation was not the main theme of God’s original work with man. Man was not “lost” when he was created. God created man so that he would have dominion and express God’s authority on this earth.
The first use of the word kingdom in the Bible is in Exodus 19:6, where it states, “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests …” That makes it very clear what serving God is all about. We are mediating God’s rule on earth. He is the King; we are simply His subjects expressing His rule and authority, first of all in our own lives and fellowships, and then to the conscience of the world around us. Notice God says “ye shall be unto me,” not unto us (as humans) a kingdom of priests. The purpose of the kingdom is to show God’s benevolent rule, through us.
The world does not understand God. When they think about God, they view Him as a negative entity, as some sort of grumpy sovereign out there who enjoys giving lots of rules to make life hard … His ways are not good, and if you follow them, you will never be happy. That is the world’s concept of God. Therefore God’s purpose is that through this society of the redeemed, this little colony of heaven on earth, the world would get a glimpse of His true attractive character and have a desire to respond properly to Him.
Now the Devil has perverted the idea of the kingdom, which is why people have difficulty with it. Some leaders have perverted the idea of God’s kingdom and left a bad taste in our mouth. In the Old Testament, God initially wanted all men to be that kingdom of priests, but this purpose got lost, so He chose a nation. We will not take the time to do so now, but it is an interesting study to go through the Old Testament and see what God wanted to do with that nation. He told them, “I want to lift you up on high, so that all the nations will say, ‘What a God they have! What laws they have! What nation has been more blessed?’” He said, “I will make you the lender and not the borrower. You will be number one among the nations … if you keep all of my commandments.”
You see, that is the only way people will be blessed, by a total surrender. Now, I told you of the fragmentation that has taken place in our churches. We don’t understand submission of our lives to God and to each other for the sake of the kingdom of God.
We saw that in the Old Testament that God wanted a kingdom that would demonstrate to the whole world what a nation would look like if God was the King. And only briefly did the world ever see that, under David and somewhat under Solomon. That was it. Then we come into the New Testament.
I want to show you that the preaching of the gospel as being the gospel of the kingdom didn’t end with Christ. My goal with this message is to make all of you passionate church builders. I want you to forget about yourself, and get your relationship with God established, and then lose yourself in something bigger than yourself!
Look in Acts 19:8. What did Paul preach? “And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God was Paul’s message; it was not a “save ME gospel.” Now look at Acts 20:25. “And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.”
I want to ask you another searching question. When you “preach the gospel,” do you preach the kingdom of God? I hope so, and if you haven’t been doing so, I hope you start! Now let’s go to the end of Paul’s life, described in Acts 28:23. “And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God.” Again, we see that the kingdom was the message! Then after Paul ends up a prisoner in his own rented house, what is he preaching in the very last verse of Acts? “The kingdom of God!”
Now, I think if Paul’s gospel had been a “save ME gospel” it would not have been stated that way. The coming of the kingdom of God was the message.
A present reality
This kingdom is a present reality, and the effects of the kingdom show, as in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25. This is what should happen when the kingdom is genuinely expressed.
If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
This is the kind of authority that the gathered body has when it is gathered in unity. It is a true kingdom expression of authority. Psalm 89:7 tells us that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.”
What is the church, as denoted by the Greek term ekklesia? If you ask most people what that means, they will say, “the called out ones.” My question is, “called out to what?” Are they called out just to enjoy each other’s fellowship?
In Acts 19, when the uproar took place in Ephesus, the town clerk came on the scene and said, “We are going to be criticized for this disorder. If something needs to be resolved, there is a proper order. If anything needs to be done, it shall be determined in a lawful ekklesia (assembly).”
If you had gone to a Greek town and asked for the ekklesia, they would have taken you to the town council! It was a governing body; ekklesia means a body of people called out to govern (guide, lead). Now suppose you went to the U.S. Congress when they were dismissing, and asked them what had happened that day. Suppose they said, “We had a wonderful fellowship together! We were so encouraged! We had a fellowship meal, and it was a wonderful potluck dinner; you should have seen it! I was so glad I came to Congress, because I was so discouraged, but now I am really inspired!”
You would probably say, “That is not the reason you were supposed to be meeting together! You were not supposed to be there for yourself! You were supposed to be there to make good laws for this country, for yourself, for the assembly, and for the whole nation.”
A kingdom of peace
And that is why we are here, to give guidance to the nations. The early church demonstrated that. Concerning the Pax Romana, history books tell you that it was because the Roman army was so formidable and its punishments so terrifying that other nations dared not resist Rome’s rule. But if you read the early church writings, you get a different story. They say the reason for those 200 years of peace—which coincided with the first centuries of the church—was that the Prince of Peace had come and established a kingdom of peace, and this kingdom’s prayers and influence were keeping the world at peace! Interestingly, those 200 years of peace ended about the same time that the early church began to lose its practice of nonresistance.
The most tragic compromise the church ever made was its compromise of nonresistance.
Since that time, some of the most horrible things have happened “in the name of Jesus”: the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery in America, the American Civil War, and World Wars I and II.
People say, “What do you do with a man like Hitler?” Well, most of the people in Germany were Lutherans. If the church had never lost its stand on nonresistance, Hitler would have had no army! Almost none of the wars in Western civilization would have ever occurred. Do you see now what happened to this kingdom? It got messed up with tragic and unspeakably horrible consequences.
I have to tell you—and I have heard this in testimonies from various people—that the most powerful testimony of the church has been its testimony of nonresistance. We live in a world that is sick of war, hatred, violence, killing, and all the things that go along with war. To hear that there is a group of people—the Anabaptists—who for 500 years has been able to live together in peace without the sword is about the most appealing message we could ever give to the world.
I hope that by now you understand what the gospel of the kingdom is: a gospel that says, “Yes, God wants to save human beings and take them to heaven, but the most important part is that He wants them to be an expression of His kingdom here on earth.” I will again state my definition of the kingdom of God: A group of people who show to everyone what the whole world would look like if everybody obeyed the King!
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (September/October 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Barbara Ste. Marie
“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:5).
Rahab was a woman from Jericho. She had a home on the wall of the city and her whole family lived in the city as well. Life probably seemed good to her, until the city heard of the mighty deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt by the Lord God. Let us read the portion about Rahab from the account of the taking of Jericho.
“And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country. And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country. And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were: And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof. And the men pursued after them the way to Jordan unto the fords: and as soon as they which pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate. And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof; And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token: And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death. And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee. Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall. And she said unto them, Get you to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers be returned: and afterward may ye go your way. And the men said unto her, We will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear. Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household, home unto thee. And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him. And if thou utter this our business, then we will be quit of thine oath which thou hast made us to swear. And she said, According unto your words, so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed: and she bound the scarlet line in the window. And they went, and came unto the mountain, and abode there three days, until the pursuers were returned: and the pursuers sought them throughout all the way, but found them not. So the two men returned, and descended from the mountain, and passed over, and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all things that befell them: And they said unto Joshua, Truly the LORD hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us” (Joshua 2:1-24).
Rahab was living an independent, worldly, do as you please lifestyle. She was living in open sin. All was good until the news of the Israelites coming to conquer Jericho was spread throughout the city. Still this would not have been such terrible news; they had their own mighty men to protect the city and the city walls were tall and broad. Wide enough to have houses built on top: Rahab’s own house was atop the wall. This news would not have been horrifying enough to make their hearts melt with fear and drain the courage from the men and make them faint, but for the fact of Israel’s God.
The inhabitants of Jericho had heard of the deliverance from Egypt, how the Lord God dried up the Red Sea for their passage through, then released the waters and destroyed all of Pharaoh’s armies; how the Lord gave them victory over the Amorite kings on the other side of the Jordan River; how the Lord kept and prepared them in the wilderness. They heard of the power of the Almighty Lord.
Rahab heard all of this too, and she took it into her heart. This news changed her – changed her whole life. Hebrews 11:31 says “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.”
Rahab had faith in Israel’s God. She had true living faith, faith that made her risk her own life for the spies from Israel. She took them in, hid them, lied about their whereabouts, and after speaking with them sent them away in another direction.
Rahab could have been overwhelmed by fear, like the rest of the people of Jericho. She could have turned over the spies to the king’s men to try to stop what was coming, but she saw the One True Living God. She had not seen His mighty acts with her eyes but she “saw” them clearly with her heart of faith. She abandoned whatever gods her people had and whatever they would expect her to do, to serve the Living God by hiding the spies. Rahab then asked them to promise by the Lord that they would save her father’s household. They swore they would save her and her father’s house, and Rahab gathered her family into her house on the wall and bound the scarlet thread in the window as a sign. She had faith that even though destruction would come, she would be saved and even her relatives with her.
“And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho” (Joshua 6:24-25).
Rahab had a living faith, a faith that makes one do things they never would have done before, trusting and believing in God’s power and direction, a faith that causes people to leave the world and surrender to God’s will.
Rahab loved the Lord the rest of her life while dwelling in Israel and her reward here on earth was to bring forth a son in the line of the Messiah (Matthew 1:5).
Rahab’s faith changed her. James 2:24-26 says “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Rahab’s faith allowed her to hide the spies and send them out another way because she trusted God and put her life in His Hands.
A natural outpouring of her faith was to do good to His people. She did not just believe with her mind and then go about her worldly life, living the same but thinking “I will be saved from the destruction to come.”
Let us remember the actions of Rahab and ask ourselves, has my faith changed me? Have I seen God’s mighty works through the eyes of faith? Do I have faith in action? Is my faith dead (without the Spirit) or alive unto good works?
“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11).
Originally published in The Witness 10(7) (July 2012)