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.
(Account from Martyrs Mirror, p. 143)
It is stated that at this time, as the heathen at Augustodonum, now called Autum, in Burgundy, on a feast-day of the goddess Cybele, whom they called the mother of the gods, carried around her image on a wagon, in procession, a certain pious Christian, called Symphorianus, met this image, and refused to worship it; in consequence of which he was apprehended as an impious person, or despiser of the gods, and brought before Heraclius, the Proconsul, who, in that city, exercised the strictest vigilance over the Christians. When he stood before the judgment seat, the Proconsul asked him for his name. Symphorian replied that he was a Christian by religion, was born of Christian parents, and had received the name Symphorian.
The Judge said: “Why didst thou not honor the mother of the gods, or worship her image?”
Symphorian answered: “Because, I am a Christian, and call only upon the living God, who reigns in heaven. But as to the image of Satan I not only do not worship it, but, if you will let me, I will break it in pieces with a hammer.”
The Judge said: “This man is not only sacrilegious at heart, but also obstinate and a rebel; but perhaps he knows nothing of the ordinances or decrees of the Emperor. Let the officer, therefore, read to him the decrees of the Emperors.” The decrees having been read to him, Symphorian said: “I shall notwithstanding never confess that this image is anything but a worthless idol of Satan, but which he persuades men that he is a god; while it is an evident demonstration of their eternal destruction for all those who put their trust in it.”
Upon this confession, the Judge caused him to be scourged and cast into prison, to keep him for some other day. Some time after, he had him brought again before his judgment seat, and addressed him with kind words, saying: “Symphorian, sacrifice to the gods, that thou mayest be promoted to the highest honor and state at court. If not, I call the gods to witness that I am compelled this day, after various tortures, to sentence thee to death.”
Symphorian answered: “What matters it, if we deliver up this life to Christ, since, by reason of debt, in any event we must pay it to Him? Your gifts and presents are mingled with the sweetness of the adulterated honey, with which you poison the minds of the unbelieving. But our treasures and riches are ever in Christ, our Lord, alone; and do not perish through age or length of time; whereas your desire is insatiable, and you possess nothing, even though you have everything in abundance. The joy and mirth which you enjoy in this world, is like fine glass, which, if placed in the radiance and heat of the sun, cracks and breaks in two; but God alone is our supreme happiness.”
After Symphorian had said these and like things before the Judge, Heraclius, the Proconsul, pronounced sentence of death upon him, saying: “Symphorian, having openly been found guilty of death, because he hath blasphemed against the holy altars, shall be executed with the sword.”
When this godly confessor was led to death, to be offered up to Christ, his mother called down to him from the wall of the city this comforting admonition: “Symphorian, my son! my son! remember the living God; let thy heart be steadfast and valiant. We can surely not fear death, which beyond doubt leads us into the true life. Lift up thy heart to heaven, my son, and behold Him who reigns in heaven! Today thy life will not be taken from thee, but be changed into a better one. If thou remainest steadfast today, thou shalt make a happy exchange: leaving this earthly house, thou shalt go to dwell in the tabernacle not made with hands.”
Symphorian, having been thus strengthened by his mother, was taken out of the city, and beheaded there, having commended his soul into the hands of God, in the time of Emperor Aurelian, and Heraclius, the Proconsul, at Autum in Burgundy. His dead body was buried by certain Christians.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Sarah’s slumber slowly grew less deep as the sunlight streamed through the window. She gradually awoke as day dawned. Suddenly, she jerked awake. “Where is my wedding ring?” she thought, looking in horror at her hand. At once she tore back the blankets and began hunting around in the sheets. Failing to find it, she looked under the bed, but could not see it there either. She sat on the bed and racked her brain. “Where could it be? I’ve lost it!”
Lisa finished mixing her bread ingredients and removed the doughy lump from her bowl. She set the mass on the cutting board and was about to begin kneading it when she noticed her wedding ring. “Better take that off,” she thought, and quickly removed it and set it aside on the counter. She then kneaded her bread and did not notice all day that she had forgotten to put her ring back on.
These two women both had something in common – they found themselves without their wedding rings. However, Sarah lost hers, while Lisa left hers. What is the difference, and how does it apply to salvation?
Today, most Protestants/evangelicals believe that once a person is born again, he can never lose or forfeit his salvation. They believe in “unconditional eternal security,” that no matter what the regenerated person does, he will still go to Heaven in the end. Although I believe their position is unscriptural, I also believe that we should avoid saying that a person can lose his salvation.
The Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines “lose” as “To mislay; to part or be separated from a thing, so as to have no knowledge of the place where it is”. The word “lose” has a connotation of innocence and ignorance on the part of the person who did the losing.
If we use that definition of “lose,” then Christians can never lose their salvation. A Christian will never wake up one morning and find to his horror that his salvation is gone, with no idea of what happened. However, he can forfeit his salvation.
The dictionary defines “forfeit” as “To lose or render confiscable, by some fault, offense or crime; to lose the right to some species of property or that which belongs to one; to alienate the right to possess by some neglect or crime”. Forfeit has a strong connotation of fault or guilt on the part of the one who forfeits.
God will never arbitrarily take salvation away from someone to whom He has granted it, but if a person willfully rejects God and walks away from his salvation, he has forfeited it.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:4-8).
“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).
 The Bible teaches against the wearing of wedding rings (see I Timothy 2:9, I Peter 3:3). We use these stories only as illustrations.—Ed.
Originally published in The Witness, March 2013.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Recently my family received an advertisement for a series of DVDs teaching Old Testament stories to children. Across the top of the postcard was the slogan, “The Bible Made Easy.” Then there were pictures of the eight volumes already released, followed by an endorsement saying “My kids are learning the word of God and enjoying every minute of it!” The series was created by Phil Vischer, creator of the very popular VeggieTales video series.
Looking at the covers of these new videos, it is hard to believe they are any more serious than VeggieTales. “Cute” Bible characters sport huge smiles as they are pictured in dramatic moments of their lives. Moses, for instance, smiles from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the Law in his hands.
Seeing the cover artwork for the series makes me deeply question the assertion that children are learning the Word of God. Moses, for instance, was not a “cute” fellow. Mt. Sinai was not something to laugh and joke about. The seriousness of Mt. Sinai and what occurred there is plainly shown in Exodus 19. We are told that “so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake” (Hebrews 12:21). If the impression children get of Moses and Mt. Sinai is anything less than the terrifying awesomeness of God’s descent, clearly showing that He is not Someone to be trifled with, instilling a holy and awesome fear of God, they have not learned what the Word of God has to say about that event!
Who says children need the Word of God made “fun” for them? The Bible is not meant to be “fun”. Sin, salvation, the Kingdom of God, Heaven, and Hell are serious issues not to be made light of. There is nothing wrong with simplifying complex stories or concepts for children to understand, but are we to make the Bible into a show of foolishness in order to “teach” children? Is that really what God wants?
When Paul wrote to the churches, it appears that he intended that his letters would be read by the churches in their normal meetings. Notice that he inserts instructions to the children right in the middle of those letters! That means the children would have been sitting right by their parents, paying attention through Paul’s sometimes hard-to-understand letters. What does that say about modern attempts to dumbdown the Bible to make it “interesting” and “fun” for children?
Such attempts, whether in video form or in Bible storybooks, reduce the Bible to a heap of foolishness to be laughed at and used for entertainment. “I’m bored! I want to watch a Bible tape!” Is this what God wants? What will such attempts lead to? May I suggest that it will lead to adults who take the Bible no more seriously than they did as children – a funny book filled with “cute” or laughable stories, to be used for the amusement of children.
Is God pleased with this? I will leave it to the reader to decide.
Originally published in The Witness, November 2012.
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 Leora Schmucker
Greetings of love in Jesus’ name! We have a great God who is worthy of all our praise, is worthy of all our love, and is worthy of our whole life!
We live in a time when there are many distractions. The prince of this world is truly out to destroy lives at whatever cost. We have amusement parks, video arcades, theaters, Internet, Facebook, fashion malls, and whatever else you can think of … it’s there. But God would have our hearts stirred to not be entangled with these distractions, but to work for Him and His kingdom. If we are entangled with the affairs of this life, we will have no time left for our Lord. We cannot serve two masters. There seems to be some things trying to steal the time of our dear sisters and brothers (young and old alike). Let us beware of these things, that we can be free from them and in that freedom serve the Lord with our whole hearts.
One thing that we should be aware of is called adornment, and the other is foolishness or looseness. To me it is so amazing how God works. He tells us in His Word what not to adorn ourselves with, but He also tells us what to adorn ourselves with. He tells us what fruit should be coming from our lives, and what fruit shouldn’t be coming from our lives. For every evil way that presents itself, God also shows us the right way. I know many of us would not go to fashion malls to buy our clothes, but I fear that many of us are still looking for clothes that accent the body rather than glorify our Lord. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Mt. 5:8
Analyzing the Scriptures
1 Peter 3:3-6
Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands. Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
Adorn—to deck or beautify; set off; to embellish by anything external or adventitious; to display the beauty or excellence of
Remember, God wants us to adorn ourselves with things that will bring glory to Him; for example if I put some type of clothing on and when people see me and all they notice is my clothing and how great it looks, I’m getting all the glory. But if somebody sees me and they can see the clear countenance on my face and that I’ve been with Jesus, then they will give God all the glory that He deserves and we will be displaying the beauty or excellence of God’s Spirit in our lives.
Plaiting—folding, doubling, braiding
Apparel—clothing; external habiliments or decorations
Ornament—that which embellishes; or something which, added to another thing, renders it more beautiful to the eye
How beautiful is it to our Lord when we are born again and obtain a broken spirit and become meek and quiet! Can people see the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives (as ornaments)? Truly that is an ornament of great price! Remember, we can add ornaments to our lives that bring sadness to our Father. Let us not make Him ashamed to call us His sons and daughters.
Meek—mild of temper; soft; gentle; not easily provoked or irritated; yielding, given to forbearance under injuries
Are we irritated if somebody has something to share with us that will help us in our walk with the Lord? Remember, our Lord wants the fruit of meekness adorning our new lives.
Quiet—still; being in a state of rest; not moving; peaceable; not turbulent; not giving offense; not exciting controversy, disorder, or trouble; mild; meek; contented
With every new style that comes in, are we quick to change for no spiritual reasons, but simply adding something to our life that only brings glory to our fleshly bodies? Are we content with the standard of God for our lives? Are we firm and grounded in what we believe? Do we know why we believe what we believe?
Subjection—the act of subduing; the act of vanquishing and bringing under the dominion of another
Are we under the dominion of our Lord in every aspect of our lives?
Afraid—impressed with fear or apprehension
Amazement—astonishment; confusion or perplexity from a sudden impression of fear, surprise, or wonder
So we are daughters of Sara as long as we do well, and are not impressed with fear with any confusion or perplexity. God is not the author of confusion, because His way is perfect, converting the soul. Remember, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” not the beginning of confusion.
2 Timothy 2:4,16,22
(4) No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. (16) But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. (22) Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Entangleth—to twist or interweave in such a manner as not to be easily separated; to perplex or distract, as with cares
Are we allowing our lives to be interwoven with the fashions and foolishness of this world?
Shun—to avoid; to keep clear of; not to fall on or come in contact with; not to mix or associate with.
Are we shunning the practices of this world? More specifically are we shunning loose and empty talk?
Profane—irreverent to anything sacred; polluted; not pure;
Vain—empty; worthless; having no substance, value or importance
Remember, what we fill ourselves with will come out. If we are filling ourselves with God’s holy Word, then that will be flowing out of our lives. But if we are filling ourselves with vain things, then that shall come out as well.
Is our talk centered on the Bible? Or is it centered on the new clothes that we bought, or the new vehicle we bought, or all the people we meet on Facebook?
Flee—to run with rapidity, as from danger; to hasten from danger; or expected evil
If we are with a group of people whose talk is foolish, do we stay for fear of losing friends, or do we walk (or run) away from the expected or dangerous evil? Remember, the more we interweave our lives with the ways of the world, the harder it is to untangle ourselves.
Lusts—longing desire; eagerness to possess or enjoy; carnal appetite; unlawful desire of carnal pleasure
God will give us the true desires of our heart. We may say that we desire pure things, but if our heart is yearning for unlawful things, we shall yield to those things. Our lives consist not only in what we say, but more importantly what we live. Take courage; the inward desires of our heart can be forever changed through the spiritual operation called the “new birth.”
Righteousness—a state of living in that which God has declared as right. If we are to follow righteousness, then that means we should follow the teachings of Jesus, and strive to imitate what Christ showed us by His example.
Faith—the object of belief; a doctrine or system of doctrines believed.
What truly does our faith consist of? Do we really believe God and what He tells us through His written Word? Remember, it was because Abraham believed God that he was able to sacrifice his only son Isaac through whom Abraham’s descendants would be counted. So if God tells us in His Word to shun ungodliness because it will lead to more ungodliness, do we believe God and flee those things, or do we think that just a little bit of fun won’t hurt?
Charity—love; benevolence; goodwill; that disposition of the heart which inclines men to think favorably of their fellow men, and to do them good; it includes supreme love to God our Maker and universal good will to men
Do we have the love of God dwelling within, and flowing out of our lives like a spring of running water?
Peace—heavenly rest; harmony; freedom from disturbance or agitation
Again, we are to follow the example of our dear Savior Jesus Christ, whose whole life was in perfect harmony with God the Father. Christ was not disturbed or disrupted by the ways of this world, but He was at rest doing His Father’s will. Are we?
Pure—clear; free from moral defilement; without spot; holy; incorrupt;
So we are to follow or have these fruits adorned in our lives, and practicing these things with others who are striving to put them in their own lives. Remember, a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump!
1 Timothy 4:12-13
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
Attendance—service; ministry; attention; regard; careful application of mind
What does our life consist of when we compare our lives to the Word of our Lord?
Conversation—general course of manners; behavior; deportment.
What is our walk really showing about our lives?
Exhortation—advice; counsel; the act or practice of exhorting
Are we encouraging other believers in their walk with God, or are we too involved with the ways of this world?
Doctrine—instruction and confirmation in the truths of the gospel
Are we able to give a clear answer on the faith and hope that lies within us? If we do not continue to seek for answers in God’s holy Word, we will not find, and therefore we will not have, a ready answer.
1 Timothy 2:9-10
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
Shamefacedness—bashfulness; excess of modesty
So we should be adorned with shamefacedness and not giddiness or sensuality.
Sobriety—habitual soberness; seriousness; gravity without sadness or melancholy
Yes, even if we are sober we don’t have to be sad but we can have the joy of the Lord adorning our lives. There should be a light in our eyes because Jesus is the Light of our lives. Truly, if God’s Spirit is dwelling within us we have so much to be thankful for. And it should be evident in every aspect of our lives.
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. Titus 2:11-12
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10
The jewels of modesty, shamefacedness, sobriety, faith, charity, peace, righteousness, meekness, and quietness are truly jewels of great price. These jewels are worth surrendering our whole lives to God our Maker that we may have our lives adorned with them. But if we are surrendered to the prince of the air, we will have the ornaments of pride, envy, hate, jealousy, and so forth. Which one is the more beautiful?
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
Are we preparing to meet Jesus? Is God dwelling in us? Is He our God and are we His people?
Remember time is swiftly passing by. We can be here today and gone tomorrow. Do we want to be with Jesus in eternity, or do we want to be with the Devil and his angels? The choices we make for our lives today will affect where we spend eternity. God will not be mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth so shall he reap. Don’t be misled; that verse is also for the believer, not just for the unconverted. Each one of us can ask ourselves, “What are we sowing?”
Concerning adornment, are we sowing the thought that outward beauty is very important, or are we sowing the thought that inward beauty is the most precious thing to have and obtain? And just for clarification, I am not talking about being dirty and unkempt. God is a God of order and cleanliness, but he is not a God of ribbons, bows, frills, laces, expensive and attractive clothing. Remember, the people that design most clothing, design the clothing that it will be appealing and attractive to the eye so that people will buy it.
Again, when people look at us, do they glorify our fleshly body, or are they praising God for the work that He is doing in our lives? It is so important that we understand that it is our inward change of heart that should beautify us. Many people say that we can dress to beautify ourselves because of how God clothes the trees and flowers. But I believe that God designed plant life with many colors because that is the only way to beautify them. With us, He plants in us a beautiful spirit and does not want beautiful clothing to conflict with His work.
Concerning foolishness and looseness, if we are grounded in the Word of God we will not have time for vain babblings and pleasure-seeking idleness. Let us be busy doing the work of our Lord. For example, helping our neighbor who could use an extra hand, or sharing our testimonies with people that we meet. Let us not fear man who can only kill the body, but rather let us fear God who has power to cast body and soul into eternal torment.
As we live in these last times, the message is that “as long as you believe in a god, you’ll be okay.” That is a false message! Jesus tells us there is only one way. Again he says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Praise the Lord that God gave us an example to follow!
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (September/October 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
Based on a message preached by John D. Martin
The story is told of a shipwrecked sailor who landed on a South Seas island and was seized by the natives. They hoisted him to their shoulders, set him on a wooden throne, and said that he was going to be king for one year. This man discovered that they did this every year.
But after the man had been king for a little while, he began to wonder what they had done with the previous kings because it appeared that no former kings were living on the island. He was told that after the one-year reign, the king was put on a desert island and left there to starve.
But this man was wise. He hired people to go out to the desert island and fertilize it, build irrigation systems, plant trees, and construct buildings. For the rest of the year, the king had men working to furnish the desert island with everything a man would need to live there.
Thus, at the end of his reign, the man was banished to an island of plenty, furnished for abundant living.
Now, we all are kings for a little while on this earth. It is our responsibility to decide what we are going to do with the things God has given us. We can keep them here and when we leave have nothing on the other side, or we can send them on ahead to enjoy them for all eternity. That is what the Scripture has clearly said to us. Jesus said, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
Then he told us how to do it. He said, “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not.” We live in a world that offers us tremendous opportunity to do this with extravagance because we live in a very, very needy world. There is no end to the needs to which we can give.The reality
Seven billion people live in our world. Are you aware that one billion out of those seven billion live on less than one dollar a day? Another two billion of the seven billion live on less than two dollars a day. In other words, nearly half of the people in our world struggle to find enough food and water just to survive another day. Almost half … that is an incredible fact!
Here are some more facts. Every day, 29,000 children die of starvation and preventable disease, brought on by contaminated water, infections, malaria, and the like—29,000 children! To help you think a little bit about that reality, by the time this talk is finished, about 1,000 children in the world will have died from preventable causes. All they needed was food, clean water, or proper medical attention.
Teen Mania, a youth ministry, puts on a yearly event to challenge young people. One year they decided to do a demonstration that would make the realities of the world a little more real. To every session (held in various parts of the country), they brought a gold fish in a bowl. They took the gold fish out of the bowl and laid it on the podium, then stepped back to see what would happen. The audience was left to watch the gold fish flop around and die. In every case, someone in the audience could not stand to watch this and ran up to put the fish back in the bowl. The problem is that you are not there when those 29,000 children die in obscurity, often in places that the news media does not reach.
Someone once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” My goal is that by the time you finish reading this article, each one of those 29,000 deaths will be a tragedy, not just a statistic.The golden rule
Suppose you were starving and you knew that some rich teenager could have saved your life if she hadn’t needed that sixth pair of shoes. What would you think if you heard that she was a Christian and you knew what Christianity taught? And you died, knowing that this person had the means to save your life but simply did not care … what would you think?
Every night, 850,000 children go to bed hungry. How much money would it take to prevent this mind-boggling tragedy in our world? Actually, $13 billion would provide the basic nutrition for every starving child in the world.
You may say, “That is a lot of money!” But are you aware that American Christians spend $21 billion/year on soft drinks? If every Christian in the United States gave the money he or she spent on soft drinks, every starving child in the world would have a full stomach.
Do you want to know how much those same people spend on Christmas gifts? An unbelievable $100 billion! That same money would feed and educate almost every needy child in our world. For $3 billion a year, 500,000 people could be saved from blindness that occurs simply from the lack of vitamin A. American Christians spend $5 billion on bottled water.
But the most heart-wrenching thing going on in our world is an injustice that happens to people who have no choice. In our world, 246 million children are in the bonds of child labor. Let me read you an actual account:
My sister is ten years old. Every morning at 7 o-clock she goes to the bonded-labor man. And every night at nine, [that is 14 hours later] she comes home. He treats her badly. He hits her if she is working slowly or if she is talking to the other children. He yells at her. He comes looking for her if she is sick and cannot go to work. This is a terrible thing for her. I don’t care about school or playing. I don’t care about any of that. All I want is to bring my sister home from the bonded-labor man. For 600 rupees I can bring her home. That is the only chance to bring her back, but we do not have the 600 rupees and we will never have 600 rupees.
Six hundred rupees is $14.00.
All over the third-world countries, destitute people get into financial trouble, perhaps a funeral or an illness that they cannot afford to pay for. Not having the money to put food on the table, their children are sold to bonded-labor men. They may earn 10 cents/day, and the interest gets way ahead of the amount they owe. They will work for years to pay off $10 or $15 that was borrowed. To me, that is heart-wrenching. In fact, it is so heart-wrenching that I must do something about it … so much so that I have been talking about it with my family. I can’t handle the fact that 7-year-old children are forced to work like that. What were you doing when you were seven years old?
I want you to think about this. I want to lay a burden on your heart. We live in a country that is unrealistically the richest country that the world has ever seen. I see teenagers, in my own community buying designer clothes, buying $160 sneakers, buying soft drinks, buying fancy cars, buying expensive cool clothes, buying 20 pairs of shoes. You know what goes on, even in our Plain communities.
What does God think about all of this?
God has repeatedly admonished and warned us about our responsibilities. Dozens of Scriptures speak about this. We are going to look at some of them. I hope to cure you forever of selfish materialism. My purpose is to show that your indulgence is someone else’s suffering. Indulgence cannot be practiced with impunity. It costs someone else for you to be selfish with the resources you have.Old Testament admonishments
Proverbs 24:11-12 reads this way, “If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death [and I have just given you some of those accounts] and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not.” Now that may have been true years ago, without all the electronic media we have today. But basically nobody today in our society can say, “We don’t know that these injustices are happening.” It is on your cell phone and computer, even in the newspapers. It is just there, in front of you if you want to know it. And the Scripture says, “Don’t you say to the Lord, ‘We don’t know it.’”
The verse continues: “Doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?” So, don’t say “I didn’t know it; they were statistics. I didn’t actually see it happening.” Don’t say that! Not a single person reading this can say, “I don’t know it; I am going to buy my 20th pair of shoes …” Or purchase my dream car. Or build my dream house. Or continue in some other indulgence.
In Proverbs 28:27 we read, “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack.” That is a promise. God said that, not me! Continuing on, we read, “But he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.” I really don’t know what “have many a curse” means, but I don’t want to find it out!
Proverbs 21:13 tells us, “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” Jeremiah 22:16–17 states: “He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD.” He is saying that to judge the cause of the poor and needy is to know God. Will God say you knew Him if you ignore the poor to have your luxuries? Continuing on, he writes, “But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it.”
These are strong Scriptures, and reading them I was much convicted. My life needs some changes, and I intend to make them.
Now let’s look at Ezekiel 16:49: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom …” Now if you ask most people what the sin of Sodom was, they would answer, “homosexuality.” And that is true. However, God surprisingly says, “Pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”
Apparently God puts ignoring the poor in the same category as He puts sexual immorality. God takes our attitude about the poor, as can be seen in the aforementioned Scriptures, very seriously. He has a special eye on the poor; not only for their need, but for your response to their need. He is watching!
God could deal with all these inequities just like He could save the whole world without missionaries. He could do all of that, but He leaves these situations for His children so that they can accept their responsibilities and do what needs to be done. He is watching my attitude toward the poor just like He is watching my attitude toward the lost. He takes it very seriously!New Testament admonishments
Let’s look at Matthew 25, the classic New Testament Scripture on the subject of caring for the poor. It really doesn’t need any comments or explanation.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Most people read this and say, “Well, I thought the final judgment was going to be about whether a person surrendered in obedience unto Christ.” That is true. But the response of John the Baptist is interesting when the people came to him—after he had preached that scorching sermon calling them vipers—saying, “What shall we do?”
John responded, “If you have two coats, give one away. If you have more food then you need, give the extra away.” What strange advice! You would have expected him to say, “You need to turn from your sins!” Well, he was saying that in very practical terms. He was telling them what the fruit of repentance looked like in real life.
If you asked most people what the “fruit of repentance” is, you would get a different picture than what John shared. John told the people that “fruit of repentance” is distributing one’s extra material goods. If so, can most Christians say they actually have ever repented?
Zacchaeus came to Christ saying that he was going to give half of his goods to the poor and restore that which he had wrongfully taken. Do you remember what Jesus said to him? “Today is salvation come to this house!” If genuine repentance is giving away your extra stuff, and if salvation is proved by what you do with your extra stuff, I ask myself, “How much salvation are we really experiencing?”
In Matthew 25 Jesus makes it very clear what judgment is going to be based on. The evidence that you have surrendered your life in faith and obedience to Christ will manifest itself specifically in how you handle your material goods. According to John the Baptist, Zacchaeus, and what Jesus says in this chapter, there has not been genuine repentance, nor faith in Christ, nor a surrender to His lordship, nor obedience to His commands if we are not sharing with the poor. The thing that troubles me is that for years the church has failed to emphasize this fact of the gospel.Blinded
There is a great blind spot in American Christianity. It is amazing what kind of blind spots Christians can have. Are you aware that in this country 150 years ago Christians defended slavery? We look back and say, “How in the world could they possibly have defended slavery?” But they did! And you can be that blind. I hope that we can rid ourselves of blindness about how God requires us to handle the possessions He lends to us.
The world has 143,000,000 orphans because of all the wars and other social catastrophes. There is an anti-Christian Website that plays the song “Jesus Loves Me” while showing pictures of the emaciated children. Then at the end they show a cross covered by a circle with a line through it that means “No.” Then the Website says the following: “He is your God; these are His rules; and you all go to hell.” Now granted, that is a pretty awful message, and they don’t intend for it to do any good. But I am afraid they understand the gospel better sometimes than we do.
The widow gave all that she had. She gave her living, which literally means she had nothing left for the next day. And Jesus said that she had given more than all the rest put together. That is Jesus’ standard: not how much you give, but how much you have left.
I hear people say, “This man is really rich, but he really gives.” According to the parable, God does not measure how much you give; He measures what it costs you to give.
The requirement is that God expects us to know what is going on in our world and to respond to those needs to the extent of our ability. And He will hold us accountable.The resources The United States has 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 5% of its population.
The United States is the richest nation in the world. It has one half of the world’s wealth … and 5% of the world’s population. Did you get that?
In the United State, 160 million adults claim to be Christians. Now think about it: if each professing Christian gave $15 a month, it would literally wipe out starvation in the world. Now I understand that a lot of the starvation situations are political conditions that make it impossible to even get aid to the needy. We are talking only in hypothetical figures here. Not only would starvation be eradicated, it would supply safe drinking water for all children and educate every child not in school.
God has given us more than what we need for only one reason. Did you know that? 2 Corinthians 8:14-15 gives us that reason: “For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.”
If you have more than enough to meet your needs, there is only one reason: so you can help those who do not have enough. It is not yours to use as you wish. In fact, are you aware that the great practical theme of the Scriptures is equity?
The prophets warned Israel time after time concerning inequity, which means that you respond with your resources in a way that is not equitable, or equal. Instead of equality, you lavish your resources on yourself while there are other people in the world who are dying. And God hates it! So He has told us through Paul that the reason some people have more than enough is so that they can give to those who have less, and things can equal out.Getting ahead?
We have a brother in our community who farms organically. He feeds his cattle very little grain—he says it is too expensive—and has basically his whole farm in alfalfa and grazes his cows, without raising any corn. He makes a decent living. He says, “My cows don’t get sick. They have little mastitis and no twisted stomachs. My cows stay in the herd for many years, instead of 2 or 3 years like the cows on farms where they are pushed with energy.” He was thus telling me what a wonderful experience he has farming. He has healthy cows, and he makes a good living.
I was telling a friend of mine about that—a conservative Anabaptist man—and he said, “Yeah, you can make a living doing that, but you can’t get ahead.”
I said, “What do you mean by ‘getting ahead?’”
He replied, “You will never come up with enough money to buy the next farm.”
You see, that is our mentality … “get ahead.” My question is, “Get ahead of whom? God?” God said that if you have extra money, it is not yours to do with as you please. It has been given to you because there are people here in the world who need it, and for some reason God has given it to American Christians, expecting it to flow from America to other parts of the world so that there can be at least some semblance of equality worldwide.
We have an unbelievable opportunity. Let’s consider the response by looking at 2 Corinthians 9:6 (I love this verse!): “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” This is in the context of giving. Next we read, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”
Do you know what the Greek word for “cheerful” is? “Hilaros!” from which we get our English word “hilarious.” God loves a hilarious giver! I mean when he gives, he is in hilarity! It is the most uplifting thing he can think of to do!
God loves such a giver!
Continuing on to verse 8, we read (this verse is taken out of context many times. If you are not living as I was just describing, then this verse does not apply to you): “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” This is for the hilarious giver. I think we all want that kind of blessing. God has clearly told us how to have it.
In Philippians 4:19 we find another promise: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Again this is in the context of giving. Paul is commending the people in Philippi for sending an offering. Let’s look at the verse 17: “Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.” Paul tells them that he is happy to receive the gift, not because it was sent to him but because he knew what the result would be a blessing on their account.
Looking again at verse 19, we see the words “according to his riches.” Now if God gives us “according to his riches,” that is a little bit different from Him giving “out of his riches.” Let me explain …
If I were a millionaire, and you had a $50,000 hospital bill and I paid $40,000 of it, you would say that was a pretty good gift. But the amount would give you no clue how wealthy I really am. However if I paid the whole $50,000 bill and gave you $20,000 on top of that, you would have some idea of how wealthy I am. To the hilarious giver, God gives according to His riches—commensurate with His wealth—not “out of his riches.” This is a tremendous promise!
The gospel is full of teachings and warnings about materialism, yet everybody wrings their hands in our Plain churches and says, “We are drowning in our materialism …” while refusing to obey the Gospel’s plain solution to the problem.
Look! We are in a war against the world, and the world is basically a materialistic world that values only the things you can see and feel and touch. The best way to win the war against materialism is by extravagant giving.
Matthew 6:1–4 shows us how our giving is to be done: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”
To the Jewish mind, the word “alms” meant any righteous deed, but we think of it in terms of giving.
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret …” And here is the part that excites me! “. . . and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
In reaction to the Roman Catholics, with their “means of grace,” we have gone to the other extreme and said there are no means of grace. But there are means of grace. One of them is given to us in these verses. When we give alms, God rewards us openly, although not necessarily with money, in return.Openly rewarded
Let me give you an example of a man whom God rewarded openly in a tremendous way. And you probably did not know what was behind the scenes. I am referring to John Wesley.
John Wesley chose to live on what today would be a salary of about $20,000/year here in the United States. He never changed that through his entire life. The hidden side of this is that John Wesley wrote many books and was involved in handling large sums of money, earning approximately $160,000 a year in our economy. Yet he never took out for his own expenses more than the $20,000 salary he paid himself.
I visited the Wesley museum in London where he preached and stood there convicted. Here was a man who was famous and could have had basically anything he wanted in material goods. He had supporters who would have gladly given him any honor or position he wanted. But John Wesley was a man who cared about the poor in London.
Exhibit after exhibit in that museum show the lengths to which he would go just to help one prisoner or poor person who was in trouble. John Wesley was an extravagant giver. In fact, at one point in his life tea became expensive, and he quit drinking tea so that he would have that much more to give to the poor. He was involved in prison ministry, poor houses, the cause of freeing slaves in England … basically anybody in need captured John Wesley’s heart. Here is an actual account:
Wesley had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found he had little left.O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?
It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself, “Will thy Master say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful steward’? Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold’!
There is a reason that at his death someone made the following comment about Wesley. “When Wesley departed from this world, he left a battered hat, a worn coat, a tattered Bible, and the Methodist Church.”
And that was not just a happenstance. His extravagant, self-sacrificing giving explains why God blessed his ministry extravagantly.
Let’s turn now to some very often misunderstood verses in Luke 16:
And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
He was still giving away, unjustly, his lord’s money!
Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
He had no authorization to do this! But he was getting prepared for getting fired.
And the lord [whom he had just ripped off!] commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
This man knew that it was to his advantage to make friends with his lord’s money. But we don’t understand that. Our Lord says, “Do it!” But we don’t do it.
And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
Now I don’t understand what all that means, but it is clear that we are to do with our money what the unjust steward did with his money. The next part is what I really want to look at.
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
Jesus then explains what He is referring to …
If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
What true riches? The kind that John Wesley experienced. God says, “Money is a test. Money is the least on my scale of importance, and I am going to watch you and see what you do with it. And then when I see what you have done with your money, I will decide whether to give you the true riches, the kind the John Wesley enjoyed in his ministry.”
Does that explain why there is so little power, so little gifting, so little effect of our witness and testimony? It may just be that the Lord is looking at the materialism—that we all know exists among us—and the waste of our resources on extravagances, luxuries, and frivolous things, and that He is telling Himself, “If that is what they do with what I consider as the least important thing, I will never give them the things that are really important.”
Let’s turn now to Isaiah 58:10-11 and consider some tremendous promises, given in the context of fasting. “And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity.” John Wesley didn’t live in obscurity. Everybody knew who he was. I am not saying we should seek for fame, but that is what the Bible says.
“And thy darkness be as the noonday. And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” This is a promise given to those who reach out their hand to the poor.
Christians do practice this principle to a degree, and what they do proves that these promises are true. After Hurricane Katrina, Christians sacrificed to give the city food, water, and shoulders to cry on. It was obvious to the people of New Orleans that the Christians were doing the lion’s share of the restoration work. A Jewish doctor looking on made this comment after it was over: “There are no longer any agnostics in New Orleans.”Taking Jesus at His word
Eric Camille is a dear brother from Tallahassee, Florida. We were one of his first contacts with Anabaptists. He looked up Anabaptists, and Shippensburg Christian Fellowship came to his attention, so he traveled the whole way from Tallahassee with his dear wife to visit our congregation. He told me: “Anabaptism is beautiful! Absolutely beautiful! I did not know that there were people like this. But the thing that surprises me is that you people keep it within the four walls of your church buildings. You folks should be down on the streets of the cities helping the poor and lifting the fallen.”
He and his wife take what resources they have—and he is not a wealthy man—and go down to the slums of the city on a regular basis with food and prepare it on the sidewalk to feed the hungry. He said, “I don’t understand you people, why you are not taking this to the streets.” And he hasn’t joined any of our churches as a result because he sees this lack as our tremendous blind spot.Joyful obedience
John 15 tells us that if we obey the Lord, our joy will be full. Let me give you an account:
Sunday in our church we were studying the story of the rich young man in Mark 10. Later, I received the following e-mail from one of our members:
My wife and I went home, emptied all our clothes onto the bed, got several bags of canned goods and, all the baby clothes our son has grown out of in addition to the toys he does not play with anymore. I took several hundred dollars cash that I was saving to upgrade the front lawn.
By the way, how much do you put into your front lawn? I cannot imagine the amount of money people put into their lawns.
We drove over to the projects downtown and prayed. I prayed for the people I didn’t know who were about to receive what I had too much of.
In the first house was a man about 30 who had a baby and needed some clothes. Perfect! I had my clothes to give him and the baby toys and clothes. He needed money for groceries, so I gave him $100. . . .
The next house had a couple who needed some clothing for the wife and money for a car payment. So I gave her my wife’s clothes and $100.
We prayed with each family and told them we came with God.
I got such a rush out of this that we got home and got more things together to give away. My wife and I are now consistently serving at the homeless center downtown. I am going to start teaching art and graphics at the homeless learning center.
This man got a charge out doing this! I ask you, what gives you your “kicks”? What do you get a rush out of doing? Is it that new gadget? Is it that extravagant automobile that you really don’t need? Isn’t it far more than mere transportation? Why not admit that it also was bought to make an expensive statement?
Why don’t you do what this man did? You will be surprised at what it will do for you!Sacrificial love testifieth loudly
Tertullian identified the outpouring of sacrificial love as the key factor to explain the multitudes that came to Christ in those first centuries.
Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place. Not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” We are to overcome evil with good.
Ghandi was once asked by E. Stanley Jones—who had desperately tried to get Ghandi to make a commitment to Christ—what hindered him from committing his life to Jesus. Ghandi replied, “The Christians.”
Suppose we Anabaptists repented of our materialism and became known for our sacrificial and extravagant generosity in obedience to Christ? Yes, some of this does happen, but the people around us also know that we have piles of money left. We are known for our wealth and being people who have money. Suppose we were known as people who have depleted our resources for the sake of God’s Kingdom and are the most generous people on the face of the earth.
You can help change this! Coupled with nonresistance, obeying Christ in hilarious giving would be the most powerful testimony in the world. Will we be remembered as the generation that rose up for the cause of world poverty the best we could with our small numbers? Or will our history show that we were the most selfish generation in history who loved its soft drinks, fancy cars, cosmetics, extravagant clothes, expensive electronic gadgets, oversized houses, and costly vacations?Reaping lavishly
This is serious! God is not mocked! He said whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap. Galatians 6:7–10 has a “negative” side, but it also has a “positive” side. In fact, the emphasis is on the positive. I want to inspire, not scold. “Be not deceived . . . “he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
You have Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are starving. You have the opportunity to sow much for a bountiful harvest of blessing.Saving time?
It is not the high cost of living, but the cost of high living that is hurting us. I am amazed at what has happened in my generation. Let me give you an example from my own home. I grew up on a farm and we took a bath once a week in a tin tub. That wasn’t unusual; that is the way everybody did: bathe once a week and change your clothes. Mom washed on Monday morning, all the clothes for a family of 13, and she was done with the wash for the week.
When my twin brothers were born, the last in the family, my father thought my mother needed some help so he bought her an automatic washer and dryer. Coupled with the bathroom built a few years previously, this enabled all 13 of us to take a bath and change into clean clothes every day … and my mother washed every day with her automatic washer. She then had less time than she had before!
Yes, our “labor-saving” devices have robbed us. When I was a boy, we visited all over the community throughout the whole week. Today, we visit maybe on Sunday, but we never visit someone on a Tuesday evening, especially unannounced.
When I was a boy, we never called anyone before paying a visit. We just said, “Let’s go visit someone,” and got in the car. We children would say to our parents, “If we get all the work done early tonight, may we go visiting?” And they would agree because we all loved to go visiting. We would go to the first place, unannounced, and if they were not home we went to the next, until we found someone home.
My father and mother together had 19 brothers and sisters, and we visited all of them once or twice a year, plus many friends. Nobody today that I know visits like that. Why? Because we have our automatic washers and other “time-saving” devices.
As another example, our great-grandmothers had a carpet in the parlor, the only carpet in the house. The only maintenance that carpet got was to have the lint picked off it occasionally and to get hung over the clothesline each spring for the dust to be beaten out of it. So the children said, “Let’s help grandma out. Let’s buy her a vacuum cleaner.” Now she doesn’t have to take the carpet out and hang it over the clothesline.
The rest of the story is that we now put carpet in every room of the house and sweep it every other day.
That is what I mean when I say our problem is “not the high cost of living, but the cost of high living.” We have put ourselves in bondage with our luxuries and our high expectations of what life should be. In the meantime, we have less money and time for the desperate people in our world who will die physically and spiritually without our help. The key to freedom from this deadly snare is to be extravagant with our compassion and try to bring some sense of equity between us and the needs of our world.Battleship, or luxury liner?
We are in a battle. I will finish with a story:
In the 1940s the US government commissioned William Francis Gibbs to work with the United States Lines to build a troop carrier for the navy, the likes of which had never been built before, at a cost of $78 million. It was to be equipped to carry 15,000 troops. In 1952, the SS United States was completed. It could travel at 44 mph, faster than any other ship. It could cover 10,000 miles without stopping for food or supplies. It could travel anywhere in the world in less than 10 days. It was the fastest and most reliable troop carrier in the world.
The problem is that it never carried any troops! Somebody convinced the United States Lines to turn the ship into a luxury liner for heads of state and celebrities. By the time they finished refurbishing it, the ship carried only 2000 passengers instead of 15,000. It had 695 staterooms, four dining salons, three bars, two theaters, five acres of open deck, a heated swimming pool, and was fully air-conditioned.
It was no longer a vessel for battle, but a means of indulgence so that wealthy people could comfortably ride across the Atlantic Ocean.
Did you know that the church was designed for battle? We are in a war! Christ wants to mobilize every one of you to wage a great offensive for the Kingdom of God right where you are.
Have we turned the church into a luxury liner? A song we sometimes sing says, “In your costly temples praying, let thy kingdom come we pray, are but idle words of meaning, if from these [the needy] we turn away.”
Are we willing to turn the church into a troop carrier for battle? Are we willing to obey the clear orders of Jesus concerning the tragic needs of our world? Are we willing to forsake our costly comforts to meet the great needs in the inner cities, the hostile regions of the Middle East, and the disease-ridden parts of “third-world” countries? Are we willing to make the richest country in the world a means for exalting Christ through the investment of our resources?Just passing through …
Pilgrims have lots of resources to invest because they travel light. An American tourist once paid a visit to the renowned Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi had a simple room, with a few books, plus a table and a cot. The puzzled American asked, “My! Where is your furniture?”
Hofetz replied, “Where is yours?”
“Huh,” was the reply, “I am just a tourist. I am just here passing through.”
The rabbi replied, “So am I.”
This message is available in video, audio, pdf, mobi, and epub formats at www.elcristianismoprimitivo.com/english/our-world-and-our-wealth.htm
 Editorial note: Money values are hard to calculate across centuries due to the difference in purchasing power. The salary figure given here may actually be high, as another calculation of the value is closer to $14,000/year. The point is that John Wesley lived on what was basically a “minimum wage” salary and gave away the rest. In one particularly prosperous year it is said that he gave away 98% of his income.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (November/December 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Dean Taylor
Pulling into the local pretzel shop here in Lancaster County, the scene was pretty predictable. Buggies, horse ties, and old bicycles outside. Inside the old building, a plainly dressed, Old-Order Mennonite lady took my pretzel order. I paid and was about to head out to my car with my nice, warm bag of salted pretzels when I noticed two stacks of papers sitting on the counter. Looking closer I discovered, to my surprise, that these papers were actually voter registration forms and a “tract” explaining why voting for the conservative President was the only “Christian” choice.
Picking up the paper I asked the young lady, “So I didn’t know that conservative Anabaptists voted. When did this start?”
To this the Mennonite lady responded, “Well, it’s getting so bad that they are starting to.”
I answered back, “Historically it has never helped the church to get involved in politics.”Election time
Yes, it’s election time again, and the headlines are full of statistics and touching stories, all proclaiming their different sides of the political arguments. Depending on which news source you read, it would be easy to believe that the other side is Satan himself. Conservative Evangelicals are putting up quite a stink over this election and unquestioningly preaching the idea that voting in this election is a moral obligation. The socialist agenda of the current administration is seen as a major threat to the conservative way of life, and therefore voting against the “Liberal-Socialist” agenda is seen as almost important as walking an aisle. The left is no better, and more than ever they have learned to use spiritual overtones and self-righteous-sounding arguments to justify their agendas.
But who would the Apostles vote for? In the early church, saying “Jesus is Lord” was actually a political statement. This phrase was in direct contradiction to the cry of Romans, “Caesar is Lord.” The closest equivalent to this sentiment in our day would be saying, “Jesus for president!” In the early church this was not mere sentimentality. After the death and resurrection of the Jesus, this motto became the early Christian battle cry.What does that mean practically?
So what did saying “Jesus is Lord” mean practically? To the early Christians it meant a separation from the politics of Rome and a purposeful establishing of a new nation called “The Kingdom of God.” Throughout history, radical followers of Jesus have charted the same course.
What is the answer to the question “Who would the apostles vote for?” I believe that they would vote for Jesus. But to a statement like that some may be thinking, “That all sounds nice and spiritual, but isn’t it okay to simply recognize that Jesus is the “real King in your heart,” but to still go ahead and vote for others—just in case?” Others ask, “Isn’t it better to vote for the lesser evil?”
History has proven that for serious Christians with conviction, voting for the “lesser evil” is a bad idea. Whether we want to admit it or not, the facts of history cry out that when the church has thrown in their lot with the different “lesser evils” of their day, it has led to both the church and the state losing out.
Throughout history when the politicians have vied for the attention of the church, their issues have appeared so justifiable—so important. The political activists have made it seem apathetic, un-American, and yes, even un-Christian not to get involved.
However, when the records of history are reviewed, it is amazing how the church’s entanglement with these seemingly “good causes” has littered the trail with casualties, often leading entire communities off course.Mennonite Nazis
A painful example of good intentions turned really bad is the case of the Mennonite political involvement in Germany during WWII. In some respects I would rather forget this chapter of our Anabaptist history. However, I feel that if we are going to lift up the good things we have done, then we also need to be honest with our mistakes—and this was a big one! I believe that understanding these mistakes could help to keep us from making similar mistakes in the near future.
The Mennonite church in Holland, northern Germany, and Prussia was one of the first to receive the gospel during the early years of the Anabaptist revivals of the 1500s. However, by the 1700s the materialistic slide of the Mennonites in Holland had its effects on Prussia as well. By the late 1700s, the Mennonites of northern Germany had enjoyed more connection with their conservative Protestant and Evangelical neighbors. Some of this had good result. However, economic and societal pressures bit by bit diluted the German Mennonites—almost completely—into mainline society. By the time of the Franco-Prussian wars of the 1890s and WWI in the 1920s, many Mennonites were getting involved with politics, nationalism, and even starting to fight in wars.After WWI
After WWI conditions were tough for all Germans—Mennonites included. The penalties placed on the German people by America and their allies crippled the economic stability of Germany. Farmers were hit particularly hard. Many farmers incurred large debts and were even forced to export their crops to support the surrounding countries hurt by the war.
The stock market crash of 1929 made a terrible situation even worse. Not only did it further crush the German economy, it also caused an uneasiness by revealing an unexpected weakness of western industry and capitalism. The ripple effect of this crash in the already-struggling post WWI Germany was devastating.Could the two crosses be fused? Joseph Stalin and Marxism
Added to this economic pressure in the West, the Russian Revolution led by Joseph Stalin was wreaking havoc all over the East. Notably affected by this revolution were the German Mennonite Brethren in Russia. Stalin’s reign of terror was notorious. German Mennonites frequently heard stories of how the “Communists” were making matters in Russia unbearable. By this time, some of their Russian Mennonite brethren had enormous farms. These farms became sitting ducks to Stalin’s forced economic plans of state ownership. Naturally, anti-communist feelings were strong.
Everyone was looking for answers. But they were looking in the wrong place. Their Bibles apparently were no longer looked at as a blueprint. Some looked to Western ideas of democracy and capitalism; others looked to the East and wanted to try the new “Marxism.” Regardless, everyone longed for a new, bold nationalism that would restore their honor and protect what little wealth, freedom, and property they had left.Major compromise
At this point a zealous, strong-handed political conservative by the name Adolf Hitler came to the scene. Hitler promised a unification of the German people, protection against the Communists, and a list of new “economic stimulus packages.” All these ideas promised Christian morality and prosperity for all good Germans. Some had cautions about Hitler’s intensity. But when it became election time, it was the “issues” that people voted for … and Adolf Hitler had the political cure of the day. It should always be remembered that Hitler was voted in by a fair democratic election process. Many liberals preferred the Communists. But the conservative Evangelicals, along with the German Mennonites, gave their vote for the new guy with the little mustache … complete with their new motto, “Heil Hitler.”The new plan
As part of a new “stimulus package,” in 1933 Hitler canceled all farming debts and reformed trade relations to benefit the German farmers. These changes actually made the German farmers part of the privileged class. Communist supporters were hauled off to concentration camps and many of the territories taken from Germany after WWI were quickly given back by rapid military actions. Germans were thrilled with these changes. When Austria fell to the marching armies, Germans were electrified. The Protestants were so happy that they even took down the cross that rested over the very castle where Martin Luther had translated the Bible, and put up a Swastika in its place.What was the spiritual cost?
What was the effect of Nazi nationalism on the Mennonites? Historically, the Mennonites had a heritage of separation from worldly politics. Could they get involved in politics and still stand against this new mindset? In a word—no.
Sadly, the Mennonites of Germany joined in with the jubilant nationalistic feelings that were spreading. As a matter of record, the German Mennonites were so happy with their new Führer that they wanted to express their official gratitude to him. In a telegram written September 10, 1933, the sentiments of a church council that had just taken place were expressed:
To Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Berlin:
The Conference of East and West Prussian Mennonites, assembled today in Tiegenhagen, Free State of Danzig, feels deep gratitude for the powerful revival that God has given our nation through your energy, and promises joyful cooperation in the upbuilding of our Fatherland through the power of the Gospel, faithful to the motto of our forefathers: No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.” (Emphasis and italics mine.)
I’m sure Hitler didn’t take time to answer every telegram that he received, but this one he replied to personally:
For your loyalty and your readiness to cooperate in the upbuilding of the German nation, expressed in your letter to me, I express my sincere thanks. —Adolf HitlerYikes!
Now to the defense of these German Mennonites, we have to remember that the atrocities that Hitler committed were not completely known at this time. On the other hand, there is a very important lesson to learn from just that point. When the church gives its support and affirmation to the ways of this world, when the church condones “lesser evil,” it finds itself praising an antichrist.Quick seduction
Caught up in the feeling of the day, in 1933 the United (Vereinigung) Mennonites stopped asking for special treatment as conscientious objectors from war. In 1934 “nonresistance” was removed from the Mennonite confession of faith.
In 1939 when the German armies took over Prussia bringing the Mennonites of Danzig to be united with the rest of Germany, the Mennonites saw it as an act of God. Emil Händiges, of the United (Vereinigung) Mennonites wrote:
Our German peoples have endured unspeakable difficulties under the Polish yoke during its twenty year foreign rule. The most difficult at the end. Then God, the Lord, helped them through the hand of our Führer and freed them. We thank our Führer for this act of liberation.
Mennonite and conservative Evangelical journals praised these military conquests by the German soldiers. These journals frequently quoted from the Prophets and the book of Revelation, showing Germany’s place as “God’s people” in prophecy.Nazi belt buckle, emblazoned with the words “God with us.” Gott mit Uns
Today it is easier to think of these German soldiers as committed pagans and monsters. “After all,” we tell ourselves, “how else could they have conducted all of those terrible deeds?” The sober truth is that most of those German soldiers claimed to be Christians. Astonishingly, the belt buckle worn by all of these so-called “Christian” Nazi soldiers boldly proclaimed, “Gott mit Uns.”
By 1940 the subtle influence of this political leaven had almost completely taken over the German Mennonites. Issuing a proclamation representing the political posture of the Mennonite Union during this time, the United Mennonite church wrote: “The Conference will not do anything that would even have the faintest appearance of opposing the policies of our leader (Führer).”
Reading this stuff, I had to ask, “Could this still be called Anabaptist?” I don’t personally think so. But more importantly, can they be called followers of Jesus? These changes were a pretty far cry from the decree of separation from the world and shunning of earthly government that was espoused by the early Anabaptists in the words of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. It is obvious that their original convictions had grown stale.Fresh faith
During this time of compromise, there were small groups of first-generation Anabaptists on the scene. A first-generation Hutterite group led by Eberhard Arnold was just becoming organized during this time period. Enthusiastically embracing the foundational ideas of Anabaptism, they were dismayed over the posture of their Mennonite spiritual cousins.
When the Nazi authorities found out about these new Anabaptists, they became alarmed. The Hutterites’ radical theological and, particularly, their strong economic stance was more than the Nazis would stand for. But because of their radical stance, the loosening Mennonites were getting heat for also being called “Anabaptist.” When the authorities asked the politically-friendly Mennonites if they were associated with the new Hutterite group, the Mennonites didn’t exactly stand up for them. In a united effort of both the northern and southern Mennonites, an official disclaimer stated: “The Hutterites belonged neither to the Vereinigung (Union) of German Mennonite Churches, nor to any other organization within our Free German Mennonite Church.”
It wasn’t long until this new Hutterite community was raided. Fortunately, most of them made it out of the country, and the new group ended up as refugees in England. When England, the US, and Canada would not let the new group settle in their countries, the American Mennonites came to their rescue through the help of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The MCC helped the Hutterites immigrate to Paraguay, conveniently close to a group of Colony Mennonites that the MCC was already helping.More Mennonite Nazis!?
However, just when the Hutterites thought they were far, far away from the dreadful politics of their homeland, they discovered that thousands of miles away, virtually in the “middle of nowhere,” these South American Mennonites were also indoctrinated with Nazi politics!
The Mennonites there in Paraguay were living in terrible conditions and they spoke frequently to the Mennonites of Germany. Many felt that if Germany defeated Russia, then the Colony Mennonites would have a chance to leave South America and come live in Germany.
Like their brethren in Germany, the Mennonites of Paraguay had also had council meetings to discuss the advantages of Nazi politics. After their church council, they also blessed the Nazi government and saw the Nazis as the political party that was upholding conservative Christian values. After the conference, the Colony Mennonites of Paraguay wrote:
With greatest excitement we German Mennonites of the Paraguayan Chaco follow the events in our beloved Motherland and experience in spirit the national revolution of the German people. We are happy that in Germany, after a long time, a government that freely and openly professes God as Creator stands at the head of the nation … With special sympathy we hear that the current government takes seriously the realization of Christian principles in social, economic, and cultural life and especially emphasizes the protection of the family. (Emphasis mine.)
One youth leader writing home to Paraguay, while studying in Germany, wrote: “If one lives through such weeks in Germany, one is drawn involuntarily under the spell of the Führer and can do nothing else than confess oneself a National Socialist.”
The new Hutterites were disappointed. The living conditions of Paraguay were horrible indeed, but they felt that the freedom of worship was worth the cost. Emmy Arnold once wrote in a letter, “Better hookworm, than hooked cross (swastika).”
Responding to the lack of education and deplorable living conditions of the Colony Mennonites, the Hutterites quickly went to work trying to educate and offer social aid to the different Mennonite groups. Holding preaching services and hymn sings, some repentance progress was made. However, it was still a hard, upward fight. On one occasion, when the Hutterites came into a church building that the Mennonites had generously opened for them to worship in, the Hutterites were met with a framed picture of Adolf Hitler. The picture was front and center … right over the communion table!The war ends
We know how part of the war story ended. Germany lost the war, Hitler committed suicide, and soon all the atrocities of the Nazi party were being broadcast to the world. The Mennonites as well as conservative Protestant, Catholic, and Evangelical groups repented of their support of this antichrist. Mennonite leaders even repented publically. The Mennonites of South America followed suit, and eventually the political answers of the little German Führer were vehemently discarded.
Yet, somehow, something was lost by this pandemic compromise. I believe that something was particularly lost from the Mennonites. Compromise of this magnitude from mainline Protestants and Catholics was one thing … the world was somewhat used to seeing that. But when even the “radical Christians” were seen bending their knee to this evil, then something deep was lost.
The German church that emerged out of WWII Germany was anemic. Secularism has claimed the day, and today radical Christianity is virtually unheard of there.How did this happen to the Mennonites?
When I lived in Germany 20 years ago, I was a new convert to many of these Anabaptist ideas like nonresistance and separation from worldly politics. Walking into a Mennonite church there, I noticed on the walls the war memorials of Mennonites who had fought in the war. My guide was a man in his seventies who remembered the war period well. I asked him, “How did this happen? How did the Mennonites get swept up into all of this Nazi nationalism?”
He somberly told me, “It came over us like a revival.”
That was an impressive answer, and I am sure that at the end it did indeed come on them like that. But was it completely unexpected? I now think that the compromise was more insidious than the Mennonites were aware of. As the years go by and I watch the way modern conservative Mennonites respond to politics, I can somewhat understand how this could happen again. I now think that instead of being a sudden change, it rather happened because of a long time of slow compromise. James Peter Regier says it well in the conclusion of his excellent essay on this historic time period of Mennonite history:
It seems then, that the biggest flaw of the Mennonites was not any immediate error. Instead, it was the natural consequence of years of gradual theological adaptations and compromises to better fit within the German community. When National Socialism came, the Mennonites no longer had the capacity to resist.Have we learned our lesson?
Have we learned our lesson? Have we learned that trusting in “good” political strategies is a really bad idea? The Mennonite lady at the pretzel bakery said that things are getting so bad that Mennonites simply have to start getting involved in politics.
It is exactly because the world is getting so bad that it is time to leave the failed solutions of the world and to start showing a model to the world of what the world would look like if we all would simply follow the teachings of Jesus.So is voting a sin?
As we have seen, the issue is a subtle one. On the one hand, it seems so innocent. We might ask, “So what’s wrong with just telling someone who our choice would be for President?” That may seem innocent enough, but perhaps it is just this type of subtlety that warranted Jesus casting this rebuke: “Beware of the leaven of Herod.” Akin to the insidious pathos of pharisaical thinking, Jesus warned that the infection of “worldly political thinking” can grow in us, leading to our eventual spiritual destruction.
Jesus’ use of the metaphor “leaven” in this context is sobering. This word picture brings to mind the way we use leaven (today called yeast) in cooking. The small amount of yeast necessary to make a loaf of bread rise starts out seemingly innocuous and insignificant. However, once added to the dough, it is not long before that small bit of yeast affects the entire loaf, often swelling it to two or three times its original size. It happened to the Mennonites in Germany during WWII, and it can easily happen today if we look to worldly politics for our answers.
How is it with us today—in what way do we apply Jesus’ warning to “beware of the leaven of Herod?” Have we learned our lesson from history? We must learn from history that the world never has, and never will, come up with a lasting ultimate solution to their problems. Their shortsighted cures will always lack the clarity to see the root causes of their disease. As Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
If through this political season you have felt yourself infatuated with the agenda of worldly solutions, then please accept this lesson from the Mennonite Nazis and repent before you find yourself venerating the devil himself!
 For example, the Mennonites of Danzig shared a formal relationship with the Moravians of Herrnhut, who were only a few hundred kilometers away. When these Mennonites made their way to Russia, a large revival followed.
 This salute is often translated as “Hail, Hitler.” However, the German word “Heil” can also have connotations of “salvation” or “healing.” Thus the salute could have been used in the sense of seeing Hitler as a savior or healer of the German nation.
 Hans-Jürgen Goertz, “Nationale Erhebung und Religiöser Niedergang,” Mennonitsche Geschichtsblätter 31 (1974): 64. Quoted in: Mennonite Life, Mennonitische Vergangenheitsbewältigung: Prussian Mennonites, the Third Reich, and Coming to Terms with a Difficult Past, James Peter Regier, March 2004. http://www.bethelks.edu/mennonitelife/2004Mar/regier.php (Without Regier’s article, my article would not have been possible.)
 Emmy Barth. No Lasting Home: A Year in the Paraguayan Wilderness. Plough Publishing House, 2009, 39-48. Available online at: http://cdn.plough.com/~/media/Files/Plough/ebooks/pdfs/n/nolastinghomeEN.pdf
 “Emil Händiges offered his public repentance at the Fourth Mennonite World Conference in 1948. Referring to such Anabaptist and Mennonite founders as Conrad Grebel, Thomas Müntzer, and Menno Simons, Händiges recalled that the movement had, among other things, been founded on a teaching of nonresistance.” (Quoted from: Regier, Mennonitische Vergangenheitsbewältigung.)
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (November/December 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
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