Archive for the ‘Endurance’ Category
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
In the fall, many beehives can become rather defensive and harder for beekeepers to work with. Why would this be?
In the spring, the hive is mostly empty of food, and the bees are bringing in fresh nectar and pollen and are rearing brood at astounding rates. In the fall, an entire summer’s worth of work is stored up in the hive – potentially 100+ pounds of honey and stored pollen, the honey all having been painstakingly evaporated from nectar and covered with a thin wax seal.
All summer, tens of thousands of bees labored to gather and preserve what is now contained in the hive. To compare it to our own lives, think of the basement or pantry shelves, full of a summer’s worth of canning; or think of a barn full of hay and corn bins full of corn.
By fall, the bees have put an enormous investment into what is stored in the hive, and they are depending upon it to get through the winter. It is their reward for hard work in the past; it is their hope for a continued future.
Not only do bees have more goods stored up in the fall; enemies have also increased. Hungry creatures abound in the fall, eager to get a share of the bounty which the bees have stored and converted. Hornets and wasps want to pick off members of the hive, or consume larvae. Even bumblebees will wander into a hive to try to steal honey.
Bees have no eternal future; like ants, their future is here on earth. They have laid up treasure on earth, and once they have procured it, they must defend it.
Man has an eternal future. The less he has on earth, the less he has to worry about, to preserve, and to defend. The more he sends before him, storing up treasure in heaven, the better his eternal future will be.
Let us learn from the bee. Like the ant, we can learn the values and rewards of hard work, diligence, and saving. But we can also learn that earthly treasure brings earthly entanglement. May our hard work, diligence, and saving be directed to the next world – to “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (I Peter 1:4).
Originally published in The Witness September 2016.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“It’s really a shame – to work hard all your life, and have it all taken away in the end.”
A relative said this about another relative, who was spending a lot of money staying in a retirement home. As soon as he said that, Solomon’s words flashed into my mind.
Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity. Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:18-20).
Solomon’s words capture the pain of a realization, near the end of life, of the vanity of laying up treasure on earth. For those who have spent their lives in pursuit of material gain, riches, and pleasures, life’s sunset finds them realizing that it is all over now; the pleasures, the riches, the gain – all of it is over and will be left behind. Life is now just a slow decline to the grave. Was that worth it?
The heavenly-minded Christian, however, has a mindset and reality much different from that of the treasure-accumulating worldling, or that of Solomon. For us, our focus is not on chasing pleasure or treasure on earth. Jesus said,
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
At the end of a life of work and service, the Christian does not realize that everything is over and must be left behind; rather, he realizes that his reward is just about to begin! We have “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4). Our hard-earned inheritance cannot be taken away from us, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10).
Originally published in The Witness September 2016.
By William Law
Editor’s Note: Why do so many professing Christians seem to fall short of the holiness and devotion to God which Christianity teaches? Could it be because they do not actually intend to be as holy as they know they should be?
Reading this challenging piece by William Law, it may seem as though the only thing necessary to be holy is to intend to be so. Far from it, as he himself acknowledges at the end; rather, we must cooperate with God in the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 2:12-13). However, God will not force us into holiness of life against our will; we will never be holy unless we want and intend to be. With that full intention comes an earnest seeking of strength from God to do what we know He desires, and an asking for more light so that we may learn if there is some part of holiness which we do not yet know we must perform.
This selection is chapter 3 from William Law’s book, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. The language has been slightly modernized.—Ed.
It may now be reasonably enquired, how it comes to pass, that the lives even of the better sort of people are thus strangely contrary to the principles of Christianity. But before I give a direct answer to this, I desire it may also be enquired, how it comes to pass that swearing is so common a vice amongst Christians; it is indeed not yet so common amongst women, as it is amongst men. But amongst men this sin is so common, that perhaps there are more than two in three that are guilty of it throughout the whole course of their lives, swearing more or less, just as it happens, some constantly, others only now and then, as it were by chance. Now I ask why is it that two in three of the men are guilty of so gross and profane a sin as this? There is neither ignorance nor human infirmity to plead for it: It is against an express commandment, and the most plain Doctrine of our blessed Saviour.
Do but now find the reason why the generality of men live in this notorious vice, and then you will have found the reason why the generality even of the better sort of people live so contrary to Christianity.
Now the reason of common swearing is this: It is because men have not so much as the intention to please God in all their actions. For let a man but have so much piety as to intend to please God in all the actions of his life, as the happiest and best thing in the world, and then he will never swear more. It will be as impossible for him to swear, whilst he feels this intention within himself, as it is impossible for a man that intends to please his Prince, to go up and abuse him to his face.
It seems but a small and necessary part of piety to have such a sincere intention as this; and that he has no reason to look upon himself as a Disciple of Christ, who is not thus far advanced in piety. And yet it is purely for want of this degree of piety, that you see such a mixture of sin and folly in the lives even of the better sort of people. It is for want of this intention that you see men that profess religion, yet live in swearing and sensuality; that you see clergymen given to pride and covetousness, and worldly enjoyments. It is for want of this intention, that you see women that profess devotion, yet living in all the folly and vanity of dress, wasting their time in idleness and pleasure, and in all such instances of state and equipage as their estates will reach. For let but a woman feel her heart full of this intention, and she will find it as impossible to patch or paint, as to curse or swear; she will no more desire to shine at balls and assemblies, or make a figure amongst those that are most finely dressed, than she will desire to dance upon a rope to please spectators: She will know that the one is as far from the wisdom and excellency of the Christian Spirit, as the other.
It was this general intention that made the primitive Christians such eminent instances of piety, that made the goodly fellowship of the saints, and all the glorious army of martyrs and confessors. And if you will here stop and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it. You observe the same Sunday-worship that they did; and you are strict in it, because it is your full intention to be so. And when you as fully intend to be like them in their ordinary common life, when you intend to please God in all your actions, you will find it as possible as to be strictly exact in the service of the church. And when you have this intention to please God in all your actions, as the happiest and best thing in the world, you will find in you as great an aversion to everything that is vain and impertinent in common life, whether of business or pleasure, as you now have to anything that is profane. You will be as fearful of living in any foolish way, either of spending your time or your fortune, as you are now fearful of neglecting the public Worship.
Now who that lacks this general sincere intention, can be reckoned a Christian? And yet if it was amongst Christians, it would change the whole face of the world; true piety and exemplary holiness would be as common and visible as buying and selling, or any trade in life.
Let a clergyman be but thus pious, and he will converse as if he had been brought up by an Apostle; he will no more think and talk of noble preferment, than of noble eating or a glorious chariot. He will no more complain of the frowns of the world, or a small pay, or the lack of a patron, than he will complain of the want of a laced coat, or a running horse. Let him but intend to please God in all his actions, as the happiest and best thing in the world, and then he will know that there is nothing noble in a clergyman, but burning zeal for the salvation of souls; nor any thing poor in his profession, but idleness and a worldly spirit.
Again, let a tradesman have this intention, and it will make him a saint in his shop; his everyday business will be a course of wise and reasonable actions, made holy to God, by being done in obedience to His will and pleasure. He will buy and sell, and labour and travel, because by so doing he can do some good to himself and others. But then, as nothing can please God but what is wise, and reasonable, and holy, so he will neither buy, nor sell, nor labour in any other manner, nor to any other end, but such as may be shown to be wise and reasonable and holy. He will therefore consider not what arts, or methods, or application, will soonest make him richer and greater than his brethren, or remove him from a shop to a life of state and pleasure; but he will consider what arts, what methods, what application can make worldly business most acceptable to God, and make a life of trade a life of holiness, devotion, and piety. This will be the temper and spirit of every tradesman; he cannot stop short of these degrees of piety, whenever it is his intention to please God in all his actions, as the best and happiest thing in the world.
And on the other hand, whoever is not of this spirit and temper in his trade and profession, and does not carry it on only so far as is best subservient to a wise and holy and heavenly life; it is certain that he has not this intention; and yet without it, who can be shown to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
Again, let the gentleman of birth and fortune but have this intention, and you will see how it will carry him from every appearance of evil, to every instance of piety and goodness.
He cannot live by chance, or as humor and fancy carries him, because he knows that nothing can please God but a wise and regular course of life. He cannot live in idleness and indulgence, in sports and gaming, in pleasures and intemperance, in vain expenses and high living; because these things cannot be turned into means of piety and holiness, or made so many parts of a wise and religious life.
As he thus removes from all appearance of evil, so he hastens and aspires after every instance of goodness. He does not ask what is allowable and pardonable, but what is commendable and praise-worthy. He does not ask whether God will forgive the folly of our lives, the madness of our pleasures, the vanity of our expenses, the richness of our equipage, and the careless consumption of our time; but he asks whether God is pleased with these things, or whether these are the appointed ways of gaining His favor. He does not inquire whether it be pardonable to hoard up money to adorn ourselves with diamonds, and gild our chariots, while the widow and the orphan, the sick and the prisoner need to be relieved; but he asks whether God has required these things at our hands, whether we shall be called to account at the last day for the neglect of them, because it is not his intent to live in such ways as, for ought we know, God may perhaps pardon; but to be diligent in such ways, as we know that God will infallibly reward.
He will not therefore look at the lives of Christians, to learn how he ought to spend his estate; but he will look into the Scriptures, and make every doctrine, parable, precept, or instruction that relates to rich men, a law to himself in the use of his estate.
He will have nothing to do with goodly apparel, because the rich man in the Gospel was clothed with purple and fine linen. He denies himself the pleasures and indulgences which his estate could procure, because our Blessed Saviour says, Woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation. He will have but one rule for charity, and that will be, to spend all that he can that way; because the Judge of quick and dead hath said, that all that is so given, is given to Him.
He will have no hospitable table for the rich and wealthy to come and feast with him in good eating and drinking; because our Blessed Lord says, When thou makest a dinner, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors, lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed. For they cannot recompense thee, for thou shalt he recompensed at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:12, 13, 14).
He will waste no money in gilded roofs or costly furniture: He will not be carried from pleasure to pleasure in expensive state and equipage, because an inspired Apostle hath said, that all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
Let not any one look upon this as an imaginary description of charity, that looks fine in the notion, but cannot be put in practice. For it is so far from being an imaginary impracticable form of life, that it has been practiced by great numbers of Christians in former ages, who were glad to turn their whole estates into a constant course of charity. And it is so far from being impossible now, that if we can find any Christians, that sincerely intend to please God in all their actions as the best and happiest thing in the world, whether they be young or old, single or married, men or women, if they have but this intention, it will be impossible for them to do otherwise. This one principle will infallibly carry them to this height of charity, and they will find themselves unable to stop short of it.
For how is it possible for a man that intends to please God in the use of his money, and intends it because he judges it to be his greatest happiness, how is it possible for such a one in such a state of mind, to bury his money in needless impertinent finery, in covering himself or his horses with gold, whilst there are any works of piety and charity to be done with it, or any ways of spending it well?
This is as strictly impossible as for a man that intends to please God in his words, to go into company on purpose to swear and lie. For as all waste and unreasonable expense is done designedly and with deliberation, so no one can be guilty of it, whose constant intention is to please God in the use of his money.
I have chosen to explain this matter by appealing to this intention, because it makes the case so plain, and because every one that has a mind, may see it in the clearest light and feel it in the strongest manner, only by looking into his own heart. For it is as easy for every person to know, whether he intends to please God in all his actions; as for any servant to know whether this be his intention towards his master. Every one also can as easily tell how he lays out his money, and whether he considers how to please God in it, as he can tell where his estate is, and whether it be in money or land. So that here is no plea left for ignorance or frailty, as to this matter, everybody is in the light, and everybody has power. And no one can fall, but he that is not so much a Christian as to intend to please God in the use of his estate.
You see two persons, one is regular in public and private prayer, the other is not. Now the reason of this difference is not this, that one has strength and power to observe prayer, and the other has not; but the reason is this, that one intends to please God in the duties of devotion, and the other has no intention about it. Now the case is the same in the right or wrong use of our time and money. You see one person throwing away his time in sleep and idleness, in visiting and diversions, and his money in the most vain and unreasonable expenses. You see another careful of every day, dividing his hours by rules of reason and religion, and spending all his money in works of charity; now the difference is not owing to this, that one has strength and power to do thus, and the other has not; but it is owing to this, that one intends to please God in the right use of all his time and all his money, and the other has no intention about it.
Here therefore let us judge ourselves sincerely, let us not vainly content ourselves with the common disorders of our lives, the vanity of our expenses, the folly of our diversions, the pride of our habits, the idleness of our lives, and the wasting of our time, fancying that these are such imperfections as we fall into through the unavoidable weakness and frailty of our natures; but let us be assured, that these disorders of our common life are owing to this, that we have not so much Christianity as to intend to please God in all the actions of our life, as the best and happiest thing in the world. So that we must not look upon ourselves in a state of common and pardonable imperfection, but in such a state as lacks the first and most fundamental principle of Christianity, that is, an intention to please God in all our actions.
And if anyone was to ask himself, how it comes to pass that there are any degrees of sobriety which he neglects, any practice of humility which he lacks, any methods of charity which he does not follow, any rules of redeeming time which he does not observe, his own heart will tell him, that it is because he never intended to be so exact in those duties. For whenever we fully intend it, it is as possible to conform to all this regularity of life, as it is possible for a man to observe times of prayer.
So that the fault does not lie here, that we desire to be good and perfect, but through the weakness of our nature fall short of it; but it is because we have not piety enough to intend to be as good as we can, or to please God in all the actions of our life. This we see is plainly the case of him that spends his time in sports, when he should be at church; it is not his lack of power, but his lack of intention or desire to be there.
And the case is plainly the same in every other folly of human life. She that spends her time and money in the unreasonable ways and fashions of the world, does not do so, because she lacks power to be wise and religious in the management of her time and money; but because she has no intention or desire of being so. When she feels this intention, she will find it as possible to act up to it, as to be strictly sober and chaste, because it is her care and desire to be so.
This doctrine does not suppose that we have no need of divine grace, or that it is within our own power to make ourselves perfect. It only supposes that through the lack of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all our actions, we fall into such irregularities of life, as by the ordinary means of grace we should have power to avoid.
And that we have not that perfection, which our present state of grace makes us capable of, because we do not so much as intend to have it.
It only teaches us that the reason why you see no real mortification or self-denial, no eminent charity, no profound humility, no heavenly affection; no true contempt of the world, no Christian meekness, no sincere zeal, no eminent piety in the common lives of Christians, is this, because they do not so much as intend to be exact and exemplary in these virtues.
 “Attendance, retinue, as persons, horses, carriages” (Webster’s 1828).
 The confessors were those who suffered imprisonment and perhaps torture for their faith, but were not martyred.
By Matt Drayer
Anabaptists face a lot of pressure to conform to the world. Countless “Christians” feel it is not necessary to be separate from the world, as commanded in Scripture (Romans 12:1-2; II Corinthians 6:14-18; II Timothy 2:4; I Peter 2:9-10; I John 2:15-17). They believe Christians should go to war, participate in politics, enjoy worldly entertainment, live like the world, speak like the world, and dress like the world. They also think Christians of 2015 should disregard the head covering and the holy kiss. I want to encourage my Anabaptist brothers and sisters to stand strong on their Biblical convictions – and (most importantly) to stay focused on Jesus Christ!
It seems that over time, two things tend to happen to Anabaptist congregations:
They lose their first love and start to worship their convictions and traditions. They lose their convictions and start to conform to the churches around them.
A lot has been said about #1. I want to talk about #2. This has been my experience. In the congregation I belong to, we are losing our Anabaptist convictions. I want to share some of the reasons that brought us to where we are. It is not my desire to belittle my church, but to sound a warning to other Anabaptist congregations. I pray this will be helpful.
Failure to teach children. Parents need to pass on solid Biblical Anabaptist teachings to their children. Sadly, most of the parents in our congregation did not do this. They were too busy with their careers, playing golf, and watching television (which used to be discouraged in our church). Now, their children have grown up and became members of the church, but they have very shallow spiritual lives with little or no understanding of Anabaptist convictions.
Public school. Public schools have been a bad influence on our church. The majority of our parents send their children to public schools. Their children want to be involved in sports, dating, prom, etc.…but they also want to be Christians. Thus, the parents start to question our church’s convictions and say, “What’s wrong with sports, dating, prom, etc.?”
Supporting non-Anabaptist children. Too often, children that were raised in our church choose not to be a part of our church. Although they claim to be Christians, these (now grown up) children live in ways that drastically go against the convictions of our church. The parents of these children usually side with them because they do not want to admit that their children are wrong. Thus, numerous members of our congregation do not support our Anabaptist convictions because their hearts are with their non-Anabaptist children.
Failure to teach converts. Obviously, we want to rescue the perishing, but we also need to “make them disciples” (Matthew 28:19). We’ve helped a few people in our community get converted and they became members of our church (praise God!). But unfortunately, nobody taught these converts what we believe and what we stand for. Therefore, they do not embrace the convictions of the church.
Marrying into the church. Another problem we have is when somebody raised in our church (but is not a member), marries somebody from the community and brings them to church. Here is what usually happens: They want to go to church somewhere, so they come to our church, everybody is happy, and then they become members. However, the person from the community does not share the convictions of our church – they simply joined our church because their spouse did – and they subtly bring in non-Anabaptist ideas.
Voting. As a church with Anabaptist roots, we have always discouraged members from being a part of the government. However, somewhere along the line, voting became acceptable (and eventually encouraged). This has blurred the line of political involvement and caused our members to get caught up in the hysteria – taking sides, bashing the “opponents,” trusting in political parties, and accepting things (like war) in their justification of voting for certain people. Thus, the Kingdom of God is mixed with the kingdom of this world, and Anabaptist convictions are disappearing.
No teaching from the pulpit. Because of everything I mentioned, there is now a wide range of thoughts and opinions in our church. Therefore, church leadership is afraid to step on toes and does not explain Anabaptist convictions (or even bring them up) from the pulpit.
Brothers and sisters, I repeat, stand strong in your convictions! Please guard against the things I mentioned – “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (II Corinthians 2:11). May God bless you.
Originally published in The Witness January 2015.
We who carry about our very soul, our very body, exposed in this world to injury from all, and exhibit patience under that injury; shall we be hurt at the loss of less important things? Far from a servant of Christ be such a defilement as that the patience which has been prepared for greater temptations should forsake him in frivolous ones. If one attempt to provoke you by manual violence, the monition of the Lord is at hand: “To him,” He saith, “Who smiteth thee on the face, turn the other cheek likewise.” Let outrageousness be wearied out by your patience. Whatever that blow may be, conjoined with pain and contumely, it shall receive a heavier one from the Lord. You wound that outrageous one more by enduring: for he will be beaten by Him for whose sake you endure. If the tongue’s bitterness break out in malediction or reproach, look back at the saying, “When they curse you, rejoice.” The Lord Himself was “cursed” in the eye of the law; and yet is He the only Blessed One. Let us servants, therefore, follow our Lord closely; and be cursed patiently, that we may be able to be blessed.
(From Tertullian’s work On Patience, written circa 202 A.D. Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 3, p. 712.)
 Contumely, n. Rudeness or reproach compounded of haughtiness and contempt; contemptuousness; insolence; contemptuous language. (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary).
Editor’s Note: Ignatius was a student of the apostle John and a bishop in Antioch. Polycarp was a fellow-student of the apostle John and a bishop in Smyrna. Ignatius wrote this letter to his friend Polycarp while he (Ignatius) was on the way to his martyrdom in Rome. Polycarp was himself to meet with martyrdom some years later in Smyrna.
This letter by Ignatius is very inspiring and is full of material for deep reflection. It is my personal favorite of the letters of Ignatius.
This translation is taken from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, pp. 93-96. The “shorter version” is used. I have modernized the language somewhat to make it easier for the modern reader.—Ed.
Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnaeans, or rather, who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: [wishes] abundance of happiness.
Having obtained good proof that your mind is fixed in God as upon an immoveable rock, I loudly glorify [His name] that I have been thought worthy [to behold] your blameless face, which may I ever enjoy in God! I entreat you, by the grace with which you are clothed, to press forward in your course, and to exhort all that they may be saved. Maintain your position with all care, both in the flesh and spirit. Have a regard to preserve unity – nothing is better than that. Bear with all, even as the Lord does with you. Support all in love, as you do. Give yourself to prayer without ceasing. Beg for more understanding than you already have. Be watchful, possessing a sleepless spirit. Speak to every man separately, as God enables you. Bear the infirmities of all, as being a perfect athlete [in the Christian life]: where the labor is great, the gain is all the more.
If you love the good disciples, you merit no thanks for that; but rather seek by meekness to subdue the more troublesome. Every kind of wound is not healed with the same plaster. Mitigate violent attacks [of disease] by gentle applications. Be in all things “wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove.” For this purpose you are composed of both flesh and spirit, that you may deal tenderly with those [evils] that present themselves visibly before you. And as respects those that are not seen, pray that [God] would reveal them to you, in order that you may be wanting in nothing, but may abound in every gift. The times call for you, as pilots do for the winds, and as one tossed with tempest seeks for the haven, so that both you [and those under your care] may attain to God. Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before you is immortality and eternal life, of which you are also persuaded. In all things may my soul be for yours, and my bonds also, which you have loved.
Let not those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines, fill you with apprehension. Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of a noble athlete to be wounded, and yet to conquer. And especially, we ought to bear all things for the sake of God, that He also may bear with us. Be ever becoming more zealous than what you are. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; who cannot be felt with the touch and who cannot suffer pain, yet who became capable of feeling pain on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes.
Let not widows be neglected. You should be their protector and friend, second only to the Lord. Let nothing be done without your consent; neither should you do anything without the approval of God, which indeed you do not do, inasmuch as you are steadfast. Let your assembling together be of frequent occurrence: seek after all by name. Do not despise either male or female slaves, yet neither let them be puffed up with conceit, but rather let them submit themselves the more, for the glory of God, that they may obtain from God a better liberty. Let them not long to be set free [from slavery] at the public expense, that they be not found slaves to their own desires.
Flee evil arts; but all the more discourse in public regarding them. Speak to my sisters, that they love the Lord, and be satisfied with their husbands both in the flesh and spirit. In like manner also, exhort my brethren, in the name of Jesus Christ, that they love their wives, even as the Lord the Church. If anyone can continue in a state of purity [celibacy], to the honor of Him who is Lord of the flesh, let him so remain without boasting. If he begins to boast, he is undone; and if he reckons himself greater than the bishop, he is ruined. But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, so that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honor of God.
[Addressed to the congregation:] Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God! Labor together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God. Please Him under whom you fight, and from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete armor. Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that ye may receive a worthy recompense. Be long-suffering, therefore, with one another, in meekness, as God is towards you. May I have joy of you forever!
Seeing that the church which is at Antioch in Syria is, as report has informed me, at peace, through your prayers, I also am the more encouraged, resting without anxiety in God, if indeed by means of suffering I may attain to God, so that, through your prayers, I may be found a disciple [of Christ]. It is fitting, O Polycarp, most blessed in God, to assemble a very solemn council, and to elect one whom you greatly love, and know to be a man of activity, who may be designated the messenger of God; and to bestow on him this honor that he may go into Syria, and glorify your ever active love to the praise of Christ. A Christian has not power over himself, but must always be ready for the service of God. Now, this work is both God’s and yours, when ye shall have completed it to His glory. For I trust that, through grace, ye are prepared for every good work pertaining to God. Knowing, therefore, your energetic love of the truth, I have exhorted you by this brief Epistle.
Inasmuch as I have not been able to write to all the churches, because I must suddenly sail from Troas to Neapolis, as the will [of the emperor] enjoins, [I beg that] you, as being acquainted with the purpose of God, will write to the adjacent churches, that they also may act in like manner, such as are able to do so sending messengers, and the others transmitting letters through those persons who are sent by you, that you may be glorified by a work which shall be remembered forever, as indeed you are worthy to be. I salute all by name, and in particular the wife of Epitropus, with all her house and children. I salute Attalus, my beloved. I salute him who shall be deemed worthy to go [from you] into Syria. Grace shall be with him forever, and with Polycarp that sends him. I pray for you to have happiness forever in our God, Jesus Christ, by whom continue in the unity and under the protection of God. I salute Alce, my dearly beloved. Fare well in the Lord.
By Brother Henry
From the January 1871 issue of Herald of Truth, p. 10. Title ours. All capitalization and emphasis as in the original.
Not long since a mother talked to me about her children, and said they obeyed her very well, only they wanted their clothes more fashionable than she was willing they should. Her youngest daughter, who was perhaps twelve years old, said that if they did not have their clothes something near like other people, they would be laughed at and made sport of. Well the little girl was right; those who do not love and obey God, and make light of his commandments, as though he did not mean what he said, do laugh at those who love and obey him and try to keep his commandments. Good people never laugh at those who try to please God, and we must not forget that he has said, “Come ye out from among them, and touch not the unclean thing (the wickedness and foolishness of the world), and I will receive you and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters.” We must not forget that Jesus says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself (forsake everything that belongs to this world, that is vain and foolish), and take up his cross, and follow me.” Again we read, “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
Now then, children, whose friend do you wish to be? or who would you like to have for your friend, the wicked people of this world or God? I think you will all say, I want God to be my friend. Well then, if you want him to be your friend, you must become willing to be laughed at by the people. They who are not willing to be laughed at in this world, must be laughed at and rejected after they die. If we are not willing to be laughed at, we will be the enemies of God, and hear what God says about his enemies, “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” Luke 19:27.
Would you not rather have God to be your friend and be laughed at now, than to be laughed at by him and never be permitted to live with him in heaven? “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision.” Psalm 2:4. “The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him; for he seeth that his day is coming.” Ps. 37:12, 13. “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh,” Prov. 1:26. Read also the rest of the verses of this chapter. Hear what the Bible says about those who laugh at others and do not obey God, “Woe unto you that laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep,” Luke 6:25.
Jesus our Savior also was laughed at, as we read, “And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him.” Mark 10:34. “And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand; and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him.” [Matthew 27:29].
Now I hope this little girl, and all the little girls and boys who read this, will hereafter try to please and obey God, and be willing to be laughed at for Jesus’ sake.
By John M. Brenneman
From the January 1871 issue of Herald of Truth
Another year has passed away,
Which brings us nearer to the tomb;
Should we not all then watch and pray
And seek for an eternal home?
Another year is now begun
Which possibly may be our last;
Our race perhaps we may have run
Before the present year is past.
This year may close the pilgrimage
Of our short life on earth below;
Let us then heed the privilege
Of being well prepared to go.
This year our destiny may seal,
For future joys, or misery;
Soon Jesus will himself reveal,
In glory and great majesty.
To judge the world in righteousness,
When sinners will be cast away,
To outer darkness and distress,
But saints shall with their Jesus stay.
Wake up ye mortals, and be wise,
As days, and months, and years pass by;
O haste and make a noble choice—
In Jesus trust, to Jesus fly.
What awful scenes may we behold,
Before the present year rolls round—
O let us then not live so cold;
Soon may the Lord us all confound.
O let us think how short is time,
In which we may great wealth secure—
O Lord, do thou our hearts incline,
To seek for treasures ever sure.
Soon, soon the harvest day may close,
The summer soon be ended too;
Yet we may gather, yet may choose,
And yet avoid eternal woe.
Come, fellow pilgrim, haste away
To Jesus Christ who bids you come,
For here we cannot always stay;
Then let us seek in heaven a home.
Peter Riedemann was a prominent early Hutterite leader. He spent years in prison, during which time he wrote many letters and two confessions of faith. He was also a prolific hymnwriter. This hymn is #470 in the Lieder der Hutterischen Brueder; translation by Peter Hoover. Used by permission.—AVS.
The Lord God is my strength and shield, the fortress of my trust. He never leaves me without the comfort of his Holy Ghost. Though tribulations try me to the limit and anguish fills my soul he gives me love and patience, willingly, to overcome.
I will trust and believe in the Lord. He will not break his promises. He purifies my heart, gives me a glad conscience, and the power to overcome my fleshly desires. With compelling temptations and naked lust the wicked one lures my soul. But the Lord gives me victory! He lets me overcome the devil and all things that hinder me. Though they burn me with fire and torture me to death I will testify for my Saviour with irresistible joy!
Look, the bridegroom is at hand! He stands by the cross and waits on his church, the bride. Great comfort he will give her in the land to which they will go. Pleasures unending that no one can describe await them there. So let us go willingly through the narrow door! Let us squeeze our way into it, leaving the sights and sounds of the tempting world behind us to gain Christ!
Even though we must suffer shame, persecution and death for Christ, it is worth it to live forever with him.
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.