Who Should Attend Church?

I recollect a while back I had a discussion vis-à-vis the Lord’s Supper and who should partake of it. The majority in the conversation felt like communion should be open and I felt to the contrary. Now this post is not about the Lord’s Supper but it relates to my reply. My response was essentially that I believe the Lord’s Supper should not be open to all but exclusive—only baptized members of the assembly should observe. Yet there is more to the situation than just having the Lord’s Communion limited to only believers.

My entire contention consisted of not only should the Lord’s Supper be reserved for baptized adult members of the Gemeinde but also the meeting itself. Now as you might have guessed I received considerable pushback for saying that, after all it appears as if “church” has perpetually been open and free to all. Well that’s not case. “Church” or more appropriately the gathering of the ekklesia originally was only comprised of baptized believers and their offspring.

What’s also interesting about this matter is that the proto or radix Anabaptists viewed the situation from a parallel perspective. The Hutterite Peter Riedemann wrote in his Rechenschaft:

God did not wish to have heathens in his worship services, nor did he wish his people to learn the ceremonies of the heathen. In fact, he threatened that if they did that, he would do to them as he had intended to do to the heathen. For the same reason, at the time of the apostles, unbelievers were not permitted to join believers. Paul, too, separates the faithful from the unbelievers. Accordingly, we also wish in this matter and in all things, to be worthy to receive with him the promise of the inheritance. This is possible, insofar as it is in us to follow Christ is our Master. With his help we will keep his command and covenant, not turning aside from it to the right or to the left. May he give us and all others who wholeheartedly want it, his grace to do this, Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[1]

Riedemann alludes to many scriptural passages such as Exodus 12:43 and Numbers 33:55-56. Yet his remarks regarding the Apostle and Paul has the most relevance to this discussion. His mentioning of Paul’s separating of “the faithful from the unbelievers” points to 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1:

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Contextually Paul was speaking to the ekklesia established in Corinth and likewise Riedemann was speaking in respect to the Anabaptist Gemeinde. Only those baptized adult disciples was participants in the fellowship of Christ that routinely came together for edification and partook of the cup and ate of the loaf. All those that have not entered the ekklesia through repentance and rebirth evidenced by water baptism are outside the kingdom thus making their attendance at meetings unwarranted.

 

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[1] Peter Riedemann, Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith: Translation of the 1565 German Edition of Confession of Our Religion, Teaching, and Faith, by the Brothers Who Are Known as the Hutterites, ed. and trans. John J. Friesen, Classics of the Radical Reformation (Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 1999), 180.

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One of the Reasons Why I Love the Anabaptists

There is a story found in The Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren that makes me laugh every time I run across it that exemplifies the boldness of the Anabaptists even under the threat of death. They stood on their beliefs and would get in a wise-ass shot whenever they could to the disdain of their captors. There is one instance where “four brothers . . . were taken prisoner at Kaibel in the Kingdom of Poland.”[1] The reason for their imprisonment was that they were “betrayed, and officials and nobility with their servants surrounded the house, arrested them . . . vowing in their fury that they would make an example of them as a warning to others.”[2]

Once the brothers was confined within stocks and iron fetters the brothers did not let that get them down. For it was not long before “their captors began to feel uneasy, wishing they had never set eyes on the brothers” because of their fearless replies to their captor’s inquisition which demonstrated their innocence.[3]  Yet for some reason the magistrate put six armed guards on them fully armed threatened with death if they fail at their job. Now comes to the part that I truly enjoy, it involves a verbal engagement with the nobleman that really demonstrates the quick wit of the Anabaptists.

The next day the “local official and the nobleman returned and spent the whole day arguing with them, cursing and swearing at them.”[4] The noble man at some point quotes Jesus where he warns of false wolf-like prophets masquerading as sheep. They brothers reply was:

Have you ever heard of sheep tearing wolves? That would be a new one! Everybody knows that wolves tear sheep. Since you hunt us down, torture and kill us, it should be obvious to you that you are the wolves at heart, claiming to be Christ’s sheep. No sheep ever killed a wolf.[5]

When I first read this, I laughed for quite a while but I am sad to say the nobleman did not. I really enjoyed that segment and I respect them for their boldness and way of thinking. If I was in that situation I think I would have reacted the same because even today I upset people when  I stand for what I believe and point obvious yet humorous illogical reasoning.

 

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[1] Hutterian Brethren, trans., The Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren (Rifton, NY: Plough Pub. House, 1987), 1:470.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 471.

[5] Ibid.

Interrogating an Anabaptist: Donald R. Clymer

As I mentioned previously I was going to present a number of interviews, I am entitling this segment Interrogating an Anabaptist. The reason for this is that during the 16th century, Reformation the primary ecclesiastical bodies namely Roman Catholicism and Protestantism would authorize and engage in the interrogation of die Täufer (Anabaptists) regarding their beliefs in order to determine whether they were “heretics” or lined up with their definition of Christianity. This generally led to the untimely death of the Anabaptists being questioned. In these installments, it is my desire to engage in a form of interrogation that would lead to truth, peace and life in place of false teachings, hostility and death.

Therefore I am happy to introduce my first Q&A with someone I consider a good friend, a fount of knowledge regarding the Mennonite Church and a fellow MennoNerd. This individual’s name is Donald R. Clymer but before we get into the questions and answers let’s take a quick look at his bio which reads:

drcl“Donald Clymer teaches Spanish and leads cross-cultural seminars for Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va. He has graduate degrees in Spanish literature and spiritual formation and has worked for Eastern Mennonite Missions and Mennonite Central Committee in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, and through reflection on his intercultural experiences, he has developed a passion for connecting spirituality to cross-cultural learning.”

Now without further ado, I will get right into the interrogating.

  1. Can you tell the readers about your experience growing up in the Mennonite Church?

I grew up in the Mennonite church of the 50s and 60s that was focused on non-conformity which meant a certain type of dress and restrictions on television, movies, bowling and organized sports. Nevertheless, there was a great emphasis on community, and our social life centered on church activities. We were secure in knowing that if we were in any sort of financial trouble through loss of job or illness, our church would help us out. There was an emphasis on service to others as well. We made school kits for less fortunate people, and worked to clean up and rebuild after natural disasters. I have many fond memories of growing in this ethnic culture in spite of the strictures against “the world.”

  1. How do you feel regarding the popularity of Anabaptism or what is being called Neo-anabaptism at present and do you think that if someone goes by that name they should at least take an in-depth look at the historical materials from the individuals in which that designation originally applies?

I am tickled pink that my heritage is being discovered by people across the Christian spectrum. Because of some of the excesses of maintaining the “Ordnung” or “doctrines” of the church, many ethnic Mennonites have left the church. This is true in my own family; of the eleven children, only four remain in the church. Popular was never a word associated with our movement, because Mennonites were considered (and still are by many) a sect by mainstream US American culture.

Perhaps popular will never be an appellation given to Anabaptists, because if  a new “Schwärmer” (what Luther called the new converts to Anabaptism) actually reads the historical documents and sees how costly the discipleship is to which my forbearers committed, they may indeed back down from such a commitment. My forbearers gave their lives for such commitments. Even thought they grew by leaps and bounds back in the 16th Century, they were not very popular with the authorities. Their discipleship involved taking the Sermon on the Mount seriously. I sincerely believe that if a Christian really took the Sermon on the Mount seriously, they would probably not be very popular in our current cultural climate—or any for that matter. The Sermon on the Mount is counter-cultural. I try my best to live up to its demands, but I know that I do not live up to the kind of commitment that my forbearers had.

  1. Lately the Mennonite Church has made some controversial decisions. Such as allowing women pastors, and recently the licensing of the first openly gay or lesbian pastor, what are your thoughts on that matter?

The original Anabaptists had many women leaders, simply because the male leaders were killed off because of their beliefs. I think women should be allowed to exercise fully the gifts they have been given by God.

Regarding the licensing of an openly gay pastor, I have mixed feelings. My biggest fear is that MCUSA will lose a significant number of churches. I do not want that to happen. I am also torn because I saw the struggle of a gay friend who has many gifts for ministry that have been thwarted because of the church’s position on same sex relationships. I know that among the majority of young adults whom I teach, it is not an issue. In fact, they would consider leaving a non-inviting Mennonite church.

I see the issue somewhat like the head covering that was required of women in the Mennonite church of my youth. 1. Cor. 11 is pretty clear about the need for women to have their head covered during prayer. My grandmother was so convinced of the importance of this scripture that she wore her veiling to bed. This is considered a cultural practice by the majority of the Christian church and is not followed anymore. I think that the homosexual issue is a cultural one, and like divorce and remarriage, will eventually be a non-issue for most churches.

Having said that, I will continue to support the Mennonite Confession of Faith until there is a movement to change it within the larger body.

  1. A few other matters that have always been rather controversial are the Mennonite view of separation and the ban. At present, some have moved away from these practices, do you think this is a move in a positive direction in a negative one?

The ban was never used in my church, at least not in my life time. Excommunication was, which in many levels is more severe than the ban. After watching parts of the series on the Amish on PBS’s American Experience, it is clear that the ban can be abused. I am in favor of the original intent of the ban, which was to make the estranged member of the community miss the fellowship of the group so much that they longed to be restored to full fellowship. The motivation behind that is love and forgiveness. However, it has been used too often as a way to get rid of non-conformists in a vindictive sort of manner.

It would be extremely difficult for any group in our country today to have the kind of community that can make the use of the ban effective. We are FAR too individualistic, and that includes all the ethnic Mennonites that I know. We know way too little about living in true community. The Hutterites, the Amish, and a few Old Order branches of Mennonites, who are mostly rural and related to agricultural employment, have an understanding of community.

  1. I happen to know that you have a specialized focus in Spiritual formation. How have pursuing this area of focus benefitted you in your relationship with God?

When I was torn out of my ethnic background to serve with the Mennonite Church in Honduras, I was traumatized by the oppression and poverty I saw there, and by my own government’s involvement in keeping the oppressive systems in place. I didn’t like the Evangelicals’ answer to poverty—wait for things to be straightened out in heaven. I became enamored by liberation theology and Marxist analysis of social systems. The hope of these two movements were brutally crushed by Reagan in the 80s, propping up some of the most brutal dictatorships known to humankind in every country in Latin America save a few. I became hard and cynical. I needed to restore some hope.

I turned inward instead of outward and discovered, through Jungian dream analysis, that I had as much propensity to hate, be racist, kill and lust as all the people I was condemning. I discovered Christian writers like Morton Kelsey, who used Jungian depth psychology which had really intrigued me and helped me, to develop spiritual disciplines of prayer and contemplation along with dream work. I became so intrigued by this that I went to seminary to specialize in spiritual formation and to train to become a spiritual director. Through this study, and now through my writing, I have been able to turn my cynicism to joy. I have also returned to a better balance of outward activism and inner contemplation; part of the “third way” for which Anabaptists are known.

  1. Have you looked into the historical connections the Mennonite Church had with the Wesleyanism and/or German Pietism? If so what can you share?

I have not done much work on these two influences. I know that the Brethren in Christ movement is a splinter off the Mennonites because of Wesleyan influence, particularly sanctification. I also know that German pietism seeped into Mennonite thought as a way to justify their “Stille im Lande” posture; inner piety rather that outward activism or evangelism.

  1. I understand that Celtic Spirituality has been a big part of your studies, has there been anything that you learned that you rejected because of it going too far away from those teachings or practices you learned while growing up as a Mennonite?

With Celtic spirituality, I am finding more parallels than contradictions with Anabaptist/Mennonite thought. Celtic spirituality is tribal, and as such is more attuned to community, nature and God’s goodness than most of modern Christendom. If one would look at the Amish, and some other Anabaptist groups that still hold to a more tribal existence, we would find a spirituality that has much more in common with Celtic spirituality than the individualistic Christian evangelicalism or Catholicism. Mennonites had the same tribal spirituality until they abandoned the farm and rural communities at about the middle of the 20th Century.

  1. Since you have extensive experience abroad in such places as Latin America and Europe. How have these experiences assisted you in becoming an effective minister and servant inside the Body of Christ and outside of it?

First and foremost, it has made more tolerant and accepting of varying ways of viewing reality. It has helped me to see how many things which we consider to be Biblical are really cultural, or interpreted culturally. Even such black-and-white issues as “thou shalt not steal” depends on how you define personal property culturally. I wrote a blog post on my experience with this.

Secondly, it has helped me to be a better communicator—especially a listener. I’ve had to learn two different languages, and two dialects of one of them. In order to do this, I’ve had to shut my mouth and listen. I have become a compassionate listener.

Thirdly, I have become sensitized to the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. The subtitle of my book Meditations on the Beatitudes is “lessons from the margins.” I include many stories of walking with people who society would like to leave on the dung heap, and how I noticed that they live the beatitudes more faithfully than the majority of those of us who are in middle class US America. Therefore, we have a lot to learn from them. We can’t learn from them if we don’t walk alongside them.

  1. While serving as an assistant professor at Eastern Mennonite University thus allotting you a lot of teaching experience, can you share with the readers anything you picked up that could be employed to become a better teacher of God’s Word? 

For me the key to teaching is motivation. The best way to motivate students is to encourage them with positive feedback. I had a student who was struggling in one of my classes, and I told him that I saw how hard he was working and that I appreciated that. His face lit up like a light bulb. “I have never had any teacher before tell me anything like that.” Applying this to teaching God’s Word, I try to remember that everyone, no matter how annoying, is made in God’s image. I try to have my own God image touch the other person’s God image. This is spiritual formation at its most basic and at its best.

  1. 10.  You also are a writer and have contributed to several journals and have your published book Meditations on the Beatitudes: Lessons from the Margins. What advice can you provide to aspiring writers like me regarding the whole writing process?medidc[1]

 

The thing that I continually come back to is something that Henri Nouwen quotes often in his work: “What is most personal is most universal.” We often think that our inner struggles with identity and sin are too shameful to reveal to the public. But when we make ourselves vulnerable and openly write about these struggles, we touch the souls of others. Henri Nouwen has sold more books on spiritual formation than any other writer, and it is precisely because he openly shared his doubts and struggles. People could identify with him, so they thought, if such a well-educated and religious man struggled like me, I can listen to his advise.

In addition, it is good to practice some writing every day. Keep a journal, even if it is not something that will get published. Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect is the saying, and like any skill (learning language, learning a sport, learning to type), one needs to practice a little every day.

  1. You are also a blogger, and at this time could you share a little about your blog where to locate it and what someone can expect to find there?

My blog can be found at http://donrclymer.blogspot.com/. My passion is the intersection of cross-cultural experience with spirituality, but my blog is more than that. I like to reflect on what it means to be an Anabaptist in a post-modern, post-Christendom world. I like to write about Jungian psychology and its intersection with faith for me. I like to explore Celtic spirituality, the Christian sort, with my own walk with spirituality. I like to write about my experiences in Latin America.

My blog is a way for me to practice writing. I have dozens of blogs that have been started and never finished or published. Maybe someday I will complete them.

  1. Finally, are there any concluding thoughts you would like to leave everyone with regarding Mennonites, Anabaptism and faith in general?

I have a deep love for my church. I realize that part of it is “bred in the bones,” that is, it’s in my DNA. In my chapter in the forth-coming book however, I write about how I became more than an ethic Mennonite with the right DNA. I became enamored with, and converted by the theology that my heritage espouses.

Related to this, I want to say how energized it makes me feel to see Neo-Anabaptists learning to love the theology of my heritage. I call them “convinced Anabaptists” as opposed to Ethnic Anabaptists. Their zeal for the Anabaptist distinctives far exceeds many of my fellow Mennonites who were born into the faith. They are Anabaptists because they went through a process of evaluating what their faith means, and came out with an Anabaptist position. They are more missional because they know what they believe and are excited about it. They desire to share this new-found belief with others. Unfortunately my church tradition, the Mennonites, has had a long history of being silent because of the persecution of our forbearers. We are afraid that sharing our faith, which is radically counter-cultural, will cause more persecution. New converts, on the other hand, gladly proclaim their faith, like the early Anabaptists, without considering the consequences.

 


[1] Clymer, D. (2013, December) “Resting in the Presence of God: Soul Care for Busy People,”Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction. (pp. 24-31).

Clymer, D. (2013, July). Entertaining Angels. The Mennonite16(7).

Clymer, D. “Male spirituality: a personal journey toward wholeness,” accepted April 2013 for future publication in Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction.

Clymer, D. (2012, December). Where is your Heart?. The Mennonite 15(12).

Clymer, D. (2012, May). Presence, Patience, Prayer. Connections: Spiritual Directors International 21(1) (pp. 10-12).

Clymer, D. (2011, October). As you go . . .are you preaching or walking? . The Mennonite 14(10).

Book. Clymer, D. Meditations on the Beatitudes: Lessons from the Margins:. Cascadia (2011).

Clymer, D. (2011, April). Do you understand what I have done for you?. The Mennonite 14(4).

Clymer, D. (2011, March). “Music and Spiritual Direction,” Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction. (pp. 34-38).

Clymer, D. (2011, February 22). Prayer for Patience and Hope in a Confusing World. Weekly Prayer for Peace. Peace and Justice Network of Mennonite Church USA.

Clymer, D. (2010, March 11). Morning Prayer for Orientation in a Broken World. Weekly Prayer for Peace. Peace and Justice Network of Mennonite Church USA.

Clymer, D. (2010, February). Young adults: We stand amazed in their presence. The Mennonite 13(2).

Clymer, D. (2009, July). Gastfreundschaft: In den Fußstapfen Jesu Online, 2/2009_.

Clymer, D. (2009, June). For I was a stranger and you invited me in. The Mennonite 12(12), 8-10.

Clymer, D. (2009, April). Prayer changes things. The Mennonite 12(8), 14-15.

Also appeared in OurFaithDigest.org, June 2009

Scot McKnight on Anabaptism, Bender, Confusion and How People See It

One of the most respectful popular writers on Anabaptistica is Scot McKnight. Just this morning he reposted a revised blog post on Anabaptism. In it, he had some very interesting words that lean heavily towards one of the things I have been trying to communicate for some time now, not just here but in other places as well.

The article is simply titled “The Anabaptists”. There he addresses what many call the Bender School of Anabaptist thought. The Bender in question is Harold S. Bender (1897-1962) a prominent Mennonite voice that assisted in the resurgence of interest in Anabaptistica thanks to his monumental essay he wrote in 1944 called “The Anabaptist Vision”. He inspired many towards a sincere and beneficial study of 16th century Anabaptism. In addition to how it is beneficial for contemporary service to God. Bender was the one that influenced arguably the father of Neo-Anabaptism John Howard Yoder and the Concern group to begin their life-long study of Anabaptistica.

McKnight writes regarding Bender’s views:

 In Bender’s view, there are three major dimensions of the Reformation: Luther and the Lutherans in Germany, Calvin and the Reformed in Switzerland, and Zwingli-generated and then finished later by others Anabaptism. Anabaptism spread through Switzerland, South Germany, Moravia and then into the Netherlands. An alternative view is that Anabaptism emerged in different places in different ways and that it can’t all be traced back to Zwingli and then the early Swiss Anabaptists.

Here McKnight briefly touches on the Monogenetic vs Polygenetic view of Anabaptist origins. While Bender’s “Anabaptist Vision” has a slant, the same could be said of those that champion the polygenetic view. Scholars such as Gerald J. Mast (aka Gerald Biesecker-Mast) have for the most part demonstrated that the polygenetic origin position does not disqualify Bender’s Anabaptist Vision as being valid.[1]

Returning to McKnight’s sketch of Bender’s vision he provides three areas that one could argue defines The Anabaptist Vision, they are:

1. The essence of Christianity, or the Christian life, is discipleship — a committed following of Christ in all areas of life. The word on the street in the 16th Century, and this word repeated often enough by bitter enemies of the Anabaptists, was that they were consistent and devout Christians. If Luther’s word was “faith,” the word for the Anabaptists was “follow.” The inner conversion was to lead to external transformation.

2. A new conception of the church as a brotherhood of fellowship. The ruling image of a church among the Catholics and Reformers was more national and institutional and sacramental, while the ruling image for the Anabaptists was fellowship or family. Joining was voluntary; the requirement was conversion; the commitment was to holy living and fellowship with one another. Thus, the Anabaptist separated from the “world” to form a society of the faithful. This view of the church led to economic availability and liability for one another.

3. A new ethic of love and peaceful nonresistance. Apart from rare exceptions like Balthasar Hubmaier and the nutcases around Thomas Müntzer, the Anabaptists lived a life shaped by love and nonviolence. They refused to coerce anyone.

Thus, for Bender, the focus was on discipleship not sacraments or the inner enjoyment of justification. The church was not an institution or a place for Word-proclamation in emphasis but instead a brotherhood of love. In addition, against Catholics and Calvinists who believed in social reform, like the Lutherans the Anabaptists were less optimistic about social transformation. But, unlike the Lutherans who split life into the secular and sacred, the Anabaptists wanted a radical commitment that meant the creation of an alternative Christian society.

Confusion and Anabaptism

However, the area of most interest to me is his initial words found in the article. There McKnight articulates:

I am often asked “What is an Anabaptist?” and “Who are the Anabaptists?” If one listened to everyone who claimed an anabaptist connection, it would be easy to be confused. For many today a progressive politics is Anabaptist; for others it means being either Yoderian (John Howard Yoder) or Hauerwasian (Stanley Hauerwas); for others it refers to more conservative living and believing communitarian sorts!

The rise of Anabaptist thinking in contemporary evangelicalism — like David Fitch and Greg Boyd and others — needs to be set into context of Anabaptism itself.

There are a number of things to take note of in the above quote from McKnight. (1) People are in search for an authentic definition of Anabaptism. (2) They want to know who qualifies as Anabaptists. (3) Confusion can come from everyone claiming to be Anabaptist. (4) Progressives are generally held to be Anabaptists at this time, and it is wise of McKnight to qualify their theology by the term “politics” because at the end of the day Progressive theology is actually “political theology”. (5) Originally 20th and 21st century expressions of some form of Anabaptism stem from the original Neo-Anabaptists such as John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. As a side note, this is somewhat ironic because contemporary Progressive Neo-anabaptists have serious difficulties with the key players of the Neo-Anabaptist Movement. (6) Many define Anabaptism within the context of Mennonites and associated groups and finally (7) Anabaptism is being defined by the actions and teachings of Christian celebrities such as Greg Boyd.

I am happy that there is someone that sees the issues I have with this ill defining of Anabaptism. While many choose to ignore me or think, I am off base maybe Scott McKnight will fare better than I have.


[1] See: Gerald J. Mast, “The Anabaptist Vision and Polygenesis Historiography,” in The C. Henry Smith Series, vol. v. 6, Separation and the Sword in Anabaptist Persuasion: Radical Confessional Rhetoric from Schleitheim to Dordrecht (Telford, PA: Cascadia Pub. House, 2006), 35-67.

Disciple Making

This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality for the month of February. MennoNerds is exploring through this event Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what it means concerning participation in the mission of God.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[1]

To the proto-Anabaptists, the passages of scripture that relate to the Great Commission (Matthew 28; Mark 16) were most significant verses, no “words of the master were given more serious attention by His Anabaptist followers than the Great Commission.”[2] The Anabaptists understand that faith should work and evidence in the individual’s lives thus “the Great Commission was fundamental to individual witness and to the ordered community of believers as well. The proof text appeared repeatedly in Anabaptist sermons and apologetic writing.”[3] No “texts appear more frequently than the above in the confessions of faith and court testimonies of the Anabaptists, and none show more clearly the degree to which Anabaptism was different in conviction and type from the intact and stable ways of magisterial Protestantism.”[4]

While Protestantism was “intact and stable” in the sense that that their missionary spirit was lacking because of their system of maintaining the population of the church through births and infant baptism the Anabaptists saw things differently regarding their origin and purpose.B

The Anabaptists saw their community as forming and taking shape by means of the Holy Spirit, this same Holy Spirit not only gathered them but also compelled them to go forth; the Spirit of God not only had fashioned new a being but also gave birth to the evangelical Täufer (Anabaptist).

They pretty much framed their evangelism and disciple making method on the words of the Great Commission. In their estimation, the emphasis was on teaching prior to baptism. This was very controversial at that time for the reason that the norm was pedobaptism. To Rome and Protestantism to teach an individual the aspects of the gospel and the rudimentary elements of the Christian faith was impossible simply for the reason that an infant lacked the intellectual capacity to comprehend not to mention obey which was something most adults could not do. However since the Anabaptists held to disciples’ baptism their interpretation of the passage was not difficult to fathom and apply.

It must be noted that this controversial interpretation did not originate with the Anabaptists; it actually became known with one of their foremost influences. That individual was Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 –1536), commonly known as Erasmus, the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online states:

German Anabaptism also shows no small degree of influence by Erasmus, especially among the leaders on the Lower Rhine . . . . Erasmus offered so much that was in accord with Anabaptist teaching, that he was suspected not only of promoting their cause, but even of being one of them . . . In designating the Bible as the sole source of Christian truth, in promoting the use of the Bible in the vernacular, in stressing that “Christianity is essentially a life of discipleship of Christ,” he expressed common Anabaptist demands.[5]

The emphasis was on “teaching”, it preceded baptism, and it was the means to make disciples. Prior to the inception of the first Anabaptist congregation, one of the co-founders of Anabaptism wrote in December of 1524 following his quotation of Mathew 28; Mark 16; and the 10th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:

From which words one can clearly see how the apostles understood the command of Christ from Matthew, as related above, namely, that as they went forth they should teach all nations, that to Christ is given all power in heaven and in earth, and that forgiveness of sins in his name should be given to everyone who, believing on his name, should do righteous works from a changed heart. After the receiving of this teaching and the descent of the Holy Spirit, which was evidenced to those who had heard the word of Peter by the speaking in tongues, they were thereafter poured over with water, meaning that just as they also were poured over with water externally to signify for the inner cleansing and dying to sin.[6]

This interpretation harmonizes with Erasmus’ famed paraphrases compiled from Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles. Erasmus wrote:

After you have taught them these things, and they believe what you have taught them, have repented their previous lives and are ready to embrace the doctrine of the gospel [in their life], then immerse them in water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, so that by this holy sign they may believe that they have been delivered freely through the benefit of my death from the filthiness of all their sins and now belong to the number of God’s children.[7]

While the mode of baptism differ, the overall thinking parallels, namely that teaching consisting of the fundamental elements of Christianity should precede baptism. Evidence of regeneration manifested in good works should already be present in the candidate’s life prior to baptism as well. One of those indicators of authentic faith is their desire to obey the Lord Jesus’ Great Commission. That being to make disciples in the same fashion that they were carried through the initiation. Obedience should be one of those elementary principles instilled in the candidate and to the Anabaptists going out preaching, teaching and making disciples was one of the foremost things communicated.

From all this we see that preparation and investment is the key to disciple making. The Christian must not feel that it is not their place to evangelize or at the very most invite an unbeliever to their church so the pastor can evangelize the person from the pulpit. This was the folly of the Magisterial Reformers.[8] Every Christian is a minister and has an obligation to make disciples. Jesus said that the two most essential commandments were ““The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these”” (Mark 12:28-31NIV).

Therefore, if we are to love our neighbor to such an extremely personal degree then a genuine believer will invest the time in personally proclaiming to them the gospel, if they show interest the believer will teach them the finer rudimentary points of the Christian faith. They will also prepare them for baptism and finally in listing but not importance emphasize obedience manifested in good works, the chief being making disciples.


[2] Franklin Hamlin Littell, The Anabaptist View of the Church: A Study in the Origins of Sectarian Protestantism, Dissent and Nonconformity 11 (Paris, Ark: Baptist Standard Bearer, 2001), 110.

[3] Ibid., 111.

[4] Ibid., 109.

[6] Felix Manz, Petition of Defense (1524), quoted in Abraham Friesen, “Acts 10: The Baptism of Cornelius as Interpreted by Thomas Müntzer and Felix Manz”, Mennonite Quarterly Review 64, no. 1 (January 1, 1990): 7.

[7] Desiderius Erasmus, “Paraphrases of the New Testament,” in Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami Opera Omnia (1706; repr. Hildesheim, Leiden: Brill, 1962), 7:146, quoted in Abraham Friesen, Erasmus, the Anabaptists, and the Great Commission (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1998), 50-51.

[8] Rick Warren, “The Anabaptists and the Great Commission: The Effect of the Radical Reformers on Church Planting,” in The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists, Restoring New Testament Christianity: Essays in Honor of Paige Patterson (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 85-86.

 

The Swiss Brethren and Worship: Part II

In the previous post addressed some of the items employed by the Swiss Brethren within the context of the Gemeinde, namely the Froschauer Bible, Swiss Brethren Concordance, Ausbund and Golden Apples in Silver Bowls. Some more elements were employed by the Brethren that will be covered here followed by my final thoughts regarding their nature and use in addition to whether a first century method of worship is attainable at present.

 

Bound Volumes (Sammelbänder)

Prior to the formation of Golden Apples in Silver Bowls there was during the closing of the 16th century “the writings of several Anabaptist martyrs had gained a kind of canonical status among the Swiss Brethren. Particularly favored were Michael Sattler, Thomas Imbroich and Matthaes Cervaes, who writings were cited authoritatively in Swiss Brethren correspondence and apologetical works.”[1] The works of the above-mentioned individuals plus various accounts of martyrdom of Dutch Anabaptists branch and prayers was bounded together for use by the Swiss Brethren.

The Strasbourg Discipline

The Strasbourg Discipline was drawn up in 1568 was the means to find a “more concrete basis for unity in 1568 when representatives from numerous Swiss Brethren congregations met in Strasbourge to formulate a common church order, or discipline (Ordnung).”[2] This document became the codified stand relating to “ecclesiological and ethical practices that would shape the Swiss Brethren”.[3] It was originally drawn and accepted in 1568 and reaffirmed in the year 1607. It contains 23 articles touching on practical questions that were being asked during that time in history in relation to congregational life. It was not binding in the fashion that creeds or confessions of faith are in Popish and Repopish circles. The document served as testimony to their efforts to move towards a monolithic comprehension of the faith specifically in practical areas.

This concludes the listing I previously mentioned, I am sure supplementary materials could be posited but this is as far as my studies will permit now. Now to answer the question, is it possible to adopt and practice first century style of worship?

My Response

I believe that it is in fact possible, if we would notice that all of the items utilized are analogs to the process in which the first century ekklesia. While in the New Testament, we have epistles written by Apostles or early disciples that bear the brand of inspiration. This does apply to the entirety of these men’s writings. At 1 Corinthians 5:9 we read “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people”.

Paul had written to that ekklesia prior to what we designate as 1 Corinthians. No one knows what happened to this letter other that it was not inspired and it is lost. Another occurrence is when Paul transcribed “When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). Here Paul references a circular epistle that no longer is in existence that was previously dispatched to the ekklesia in Laodicea.

Therefore, the first century ekklesia received non-inspired instruction from those appointed to function as teachers i.e. the elders.

They affirmed and applied the magisterial Reformer’s theoretical talking point regarding the authority of scripture and a literal hermeneutic. Donald B. Kraybill confirms this in Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites. He tells us that the “Anabaptist groups accept the Bible as the Word of God and as central to Christian faith and practice. Similar to Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther…and John Calvin…Anabaptists turned to the Bible, more than to church tradition, for the norms of faith and practice.”[4]

His words shed light on the primary point that I am attempting to make. Take note that he mentions that the “Anabaptists turned to the Bible, more than to church tradition, for the norms of faith and practice”. Thus, he is implying that the Reformed Magisterium looked elsewhere for assistance in their interpretation of scripture. Kevin Giles adds:

None of the magisterial Reformers took the slogan sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”) to literally mean solo scriptura (“Scripture only”). Scripture was their primary and ultimate authority, but they were committed to reading it in light of how the church had understood it across the centuries. On the central doctrines of the faith they argued that what they were teaching was what the best of theologians from the past had taught and how they had understood the Scriptures. There was nothing novel, they insisted, in what they were teaching on the central doctrines of the faith. Only when it was crystal clear that what the medieval church believed and practiced patently contradicted the plain meaning of Scripture did they reject any doctrine or practice.[5]

Now the question needs to be raised, did the Anabaptists fair differently in this regard? Returning to the words of Kraybill to answer this inquiry, he adds to his earlier words by stating the “Anabaptists generally believe that the Bible should be interpreted through the process that involves the discernment of the church and the guidance of the HOLY SPIRIT.”[6]  Thus, we see that the Anabaptists relied on outside assistance for interpreting the Bible. No one can ever judge the guidance of the Spirit if in fact God’s Spirit is actually at work. That is not the area of focus. What one’s focus needs to be fixed on is the how the “discernment of the church” played a chief role in their comprehension of the biblical texts.

Who makes up the “church”? As mentioned previously the 16th century Anabaptists utilized the German term Gemeinde as a correspondent to the Greek ekklesia. This term can denote “community” or “congregation”. Moreover, to them all those that followed the parameters established by them would be held as being a member of the Gemeinde. Many teach that the Anabaptists communal hermeneutic solely applied to the local Gemeinde. This may be accurate to a degree but they also had a universal communal hermeneutic.

Take for instance when the Schleitheim Confession of 1527 was codified it was adopted not only by those present at the assembly but it was quickly dispersed throughout the Swiss and South German Gemeinden (communities or congregations) and accepted. The very document being addressed presently has an article that “shepherd” and one of his responsibilities was to “teach” (Article V).

It is possible to emulate the Swiss Brethren, which in turn emulates the first century means of worship. Many do it already but do not recognize it, now the question they need to answer is from which community directs their hermeneutic?


[1] Stayer et al., A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, ed. John D. Roth and James M. Stayer (Boston: Brill, 2007), 372.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 373.

[4] Donald B. Kraybill, Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites. Baltimore (MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 27.

[5] Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2012), 53.

[6] Ibid., 28.

The Swiss Brethren and Worship: Part I

The Anabaptists “must be seen as people trying to recover the pure church of apostolic times, a goal nearly impossible for a state controlled church to which all were forced to belong.”[1] Even at present, this can be a difficult task and professed believers at present do not have a state sanctioned and enforced ‘church’. Or is it? This blog post will look at how the 16-17th century Anabaptists studied the Bible, edified their members, worshipped and defended their comprehension of the faith.

There is very little evidence extant regarding the makeup of the Swiss Brethren’s meetings except for a few eyewitness accounts. A Lutheran vicar by the name of Elias Schad from Strasbourge reported to have witnessed a Swiss Brethren conference. He:

reported that 200 Swiss Brethren—gathered from Switzerland, Breisgau, Westerich, Württemberg, Alsace and Moravia—had met secretly at night in a forest clearing just outside the city. After a series of short sermons from the epistles, the participants knelt and began to pray–“murmuring as if a nest of hornets were swarming.” Then, following a period of general greetings, the elders invited the group to raise questions related to the sermon or, if the Spirit so led, to offer “something to edify the brethren.”….The meeting finally broke up at 2:00 a.m.[2]

Within the context of the 16th-17th century Swiss Brethren Gemeinde they utilized a number of items for the purpose of worship, ministry, and the edification of the assembly. These books consisted of “a hymnal known as the Ausbund; a concordance of scriptural passages central to Swiss Brethren theology; and a compilation of martyr stories and devotional literature published as Golden Apples in Silver Bowls—were all texts prominently associated with the Swiss Brethren tradition that both reflected and reinforced a distinctive identity.”[3]

The following will be a presentation of the aforementioned items, while not listed I will begin with the Bible that the 16th-17th Swiss Anabaptists employed during their time.

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Froschauer Bible (1524-1529)

The Froschauer Bible (also known as the Zürich Bible) was printed and disseminated by a recognized publisher in Zürich, Switzerland that went by the name of Froschauer. The Old Testament (The Prophets) was primarily translated in German by two anabaptists named Ludwig Haetzer and Hans Denk in the month of April in the year 1527. The New Testament  was largely based on Luther’s translation of the New Testament with a slight altering of the word order and contemporary terms (at the time) was used in the text overall plus it held over 200 illustrations. This made it popular among the people and highly favored especially by the Swiss Anabaptists.

Swiss Brethren Concordance

Swiss Brethren Concordance (Concondanzt vnd zeyger)

This pocket-sized volume touched on 66 different scriptural subjects. It was used not just for personal enrichment but also for apologetic purposes while witnessing or engaged in public debates. Biblical excerpts and their location was the only thing present in the concordance for the Brethren believed that the scriptures was clear enough and no additional instruction towards the passages’ application was required.

Ausbund

Ausbund

The early Anabaptists i.e. the Swiss Brethren made use of hymns in their worship. The initial Anabaptist hymnbook, the Ausbund saw publication in the 1560s. It is now considered the oldest Christian hymnbook that is still employed in the world. It was originally a collection of 51 (sometimes 53) songs sung in worship by the Swiss Brethren. The Ausbund was written by some Philippites in the castle of Passau on the Danube (present-day southeastern Germany) while imprisoned for their faith (1535-1540).[4]  Some of the other  Ausbund contributors were George Blaurock, Felix Mantz, Micheal Sattler and Hans Betz. Those whose hymns were included originated outside of the Swiss Brethren context as well. Some were for instance the Spiritualist Sabastian Franck and a the Bohemian Brethren among a whole range of thers. The hymns found their muse and content from such scriptural passages as the Psalter, the Sermon on the Mount and the Paternoster i.e. Lord’s Prayer.

The oldest known edition possess the printing year of 1564 and it is entitled Etliche schöne christliche Gesäng wie dieselbigen zu Passau von den Schweizer Brüdern in der Gefenknus im Schloss durch göttliche Gnade gedicht und gesungen warden. Ps. 139 (Genuinely Beautiful Christian Songs Which Were Written and Sung Through God’s Grace by the Swiss Brethren in the Passau Castle Prison). Later another edition that contained 130 hymns and it actually employed the name Ausbund in the title. Over time, various anabaptist groups added to and altered the Ausbund to the degree where it currently exists in its final form totaling some 800 pages. At present, the Amish use it in their churches.

Golden Apples and Silver Bowls

Golden Apples in Silver Bowls (Güldene Aepffel in Silbern Schalen)

It was initially collected with the revised edition of the 1632 Dutch Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith in 1702. Later it became a standalone compilation. The contents were a compilation of martyr testimonies, prayers and admonitions. Used by the Swiss Anabaptists as a devotional.

In the second part of the this series I will address some aspects of their worship and close with whether I think it is possible to adopt and practice first century style of worship.


[1] James F. White, Protestant Worship: Traditions in Transition (Louisville, Ky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), 82.

[2] Stayer et al., A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, ed. John D. Roth and James M. Stayer (Boston: Brill, 2007), 369-70.

[3] Ibid., 370.

[4] This group did not last too long because of a lack of strong leadership, they were most likely assimilated into the Swiss Brethren assembly in their area thus some works refer to them as member of the Swiss Brethren.

The Core Message of 16th Century Anabaptism: The Gospel

In an earlier post, I listed the Core Beliefs and Practices of the 16th Century Anabaptists. However that was not ‘THE’ core message or belief, all those others find their foundation to be the one I am addressing at this time. I hinted at this in an earlier post. In the present day, many celebrate the writings of N.T. Wright and Scott Mcknight for their refocus on the ‘Kingdom of God’. However, this is nothing innovative, the New Testament Gospels has an unmistakable emphasis on the Kingdom. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible states:

The word ‘kingdom’ is found fifty-five times in Matthew; twenty times in Mark, forty-six times in Luke and five times in John. When allowance is made for the use of the word to refer to secular kingdoms and for parallel verses of the same sayings of Jesus, the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ and equivalent expressions (e.g., ‘Kingdom of heaven,’ ‘his kingdom’) occurs about eighty times. . .These statistics show the great importance of the concept in the teachings of Jesus. . .There can, therefore, be little doubt that the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ expresses the main theme of His teaching.[1]

Furthermore, Jesus declared that his gospel was the Kingdom in many instances. However, during the Reformation era the sola fide or sola gratia model became the embodiment of the gospel. This thinking eventually infiltrated Anabaptism during the era of orthodoxy when Anabaptist groups began their evolution into institutionalized bodies and they began to formulate systematic formalized doctrine.[2] Individuals like Menno Simons began to articulate formal theological codifications that paralleled the Reformers. Simons is recorded as teaching in the work The Complete writings of Menno Simons as saying, “we teach with Christ and say, “Believe the gospel,” Mark. 1:15. That gospel is the glad tidings and promulgation of the favor and grace of God toward us, and the forgiveness of our sins through Christ Jesus.” This is in harmony with Reformation language, particularly Luther when voicing his fixation with justification and salvation. The first generation (nonorthodox) did not emphasize personal salvation in the fashion that was common during that time and what we see at present. Salvation was in the focus for Soterians (salvationists) that is those that hold to sola fide theology.

While the phrase the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” is not frequently found in the corpus of Anabaptist literature, it is the heart of the Anabaptist thought and praxis. This is discovered when one looks at their writings from all-encompassing perspective. Within the context of Anabaptism, we see a dualistic theme that plays throughout the entirety of the Anabaptist written corpus. This dichotomy is called the “Two Kingdoms” or “Two Worlds” it is alternatively known as simply “Kingdom Theology”.  James M. Stayer subscribes that the above-mentioned dualism is what defined Anabaptism, he writes, what “was typically Anabaptist was not violence or non-violence but rejection of the wickedness of the world, as represented by the established church government.”[3] Returning our attention back to the epoch of orthodoxy, all did not follow the path of the Reformers within the ranks of the Swiss Brethren was member named Hans Schnell (also known as Hans Beck). He was the first to enunciate a lucid and fully formed treatise on Two Kingdom theology from the Anabaptist perspective.[4] His treatment is known under the following (extremely long) title.

Thorough Account From God’s Word, How to Distinguish Between the Temporal and Spiritual Regimes, Each with Its Order; and Concerning the Power of the Temporal Sword: Whether a Magistrate May, in Accord with the Demand of His Office, Wield the Sword over Evildoers in Order to Bestow Vengeance, Fight Against His Enemies, Preserve and Protect the Citizenry with Force; and Whether He May at the Same Time Be and Remain a Christian in the Peaceable Kingdom of Christ.”[5]

According to Schnell:

There are two different kingdoms on earth—namely, the kingdom of this world and the peaceful kingdom of Christ. These two kingdoms cannot share or have communion with each other. The people in the kingdom of this world are born of the flesh, are earthly and carnally minded. The people in the kingdom of Christ are reborn of the Holy Spirit, live according to the Spirit, and are spiritually minded. The people in the kingdom of the world are equipped for fighting with carnal weapons—spear, sword, armor, guns and powder. The people in Christ’s kingdom are equipped with spiritual weapons—the armor of God, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit to fight against the devil, the world, and their own flesh, together with all that arises against God and his Word. The people in the kingdom of this world fight for a perishable crown and an earthly kingdom. The people in Christ’s kingdom fight for an imperishable crown and an eternal kingdom. Christ made these two kingdoms at variance with each other and separated. There will therefore be no peace between them. In the end, however, Christ will crush and destroy all the other kingdoms with his power and eternal kingdom. But his will remain eternally. Christ has chosen his elect from the darkness of this world and called them to his heavenly kingdom and enlightened them through the Holy Spirit with the true godly understanding of his eternal truth. One can distinguish the children of God and the children of this world by their fruits. The children of God let their light shine with good works before the children of this world, so that they shine amid this perverse generation like a light in all honesty.

Another frequently seen focus in the foreground of Anabaptist thinking and writing was ‘obedience’ or ‘Nachfolge Christi’. Nachfolge meant ‘following’ and when one follows Christ they would in essence behave in the manner of Kingdom nationals. As citizens of the Kingdom, one would receive salvation from the dark authorities (World) which happens to apply in a spiritual and concrete sense later i.e. a person that authentically follows Christ now would be a citizen in the future Kingdom via resurrection. The Kingdom of God exists in two modes, one present the other future. In Anabaptists thought, the Gemeinde (From the German meaning community or congregation) was the visible manifestation of the Kingdom on earth; it was not the kingdom in the sense that every assurance of God was realized but in a practical sense. It is the real-world manifestation of the theological concept of ‘already’ and ‘not yet’.

Jesus ruled over them as the head of the Gemeinde (or in the New Testament Greek ekklesia) however in the future he will rule over a restored paradisiac earth deficient of the societal ills that exist at present (Col. 1:13; Ps. 110:1-7; Heb. 10:12–13; Rev. 21-22). The work titled The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision: a Sixieth Anniversary Tribute to Harold S. Bender notes. “These two views, the kingdom present in every reborn Christian (or present where two or three are assembled in the Master’s name), and the kingdom as the new order to be expected at any moment and for which proper preparation is needed, are intermixed in Anabaptist thought just as they are in the original source of the teaching, the Gospels.”[6]

The members of the Gemeinde lived out the ethics of the Kingdom (The Sermon on the Mount and The Rule of Christ). It was a family of transformed believers living in synchronization with each other and their Creator. Baptism was the means of becoming a citizen of the Kingdom and a member of the household of faith. This is only one of the reasons why baptism was so important to the 16th century Anabaptists. Now the question that needs to be answered is what could this CORE message be described as? The answer is very simple, it is the gospel as I implied in the offset. This aspect takes some explaining. I have been searching numerous works for months now and it is very difficult to find the word ‘gospel’ in the early material (that I have access to in English) beyond their use of it in the sense of the Four Gospels penned by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

There is an instance or two where I am not entirely sure what is meant. Nevertheless, we have to look beyond the typical Popish and Repopish categories and look at what the word gospel and related terms indicate. The noun evangelion, translated gospel simply denotes ‘glad tidings’ or ‘good news’. Gospel is the content of the message that is proclaimed; alternatively speaking it is what is preached. Related to this is the verb evangelizo and it suggests to ‘carry’ or ‘bring good news’. This is related to evangelistes and it is generally translated as ‘evangelist’ and implies a ‘bringer of good tidings’ if you must a ‘messenger’ that conveys significant news to the people. Since the Kingdom was the Anabaptist principal message to the general public, one can have confidence in arguing that their gospel was the Kingdom of God in contrast to the Repopish and Popish soterian proclamation.


[1] Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Zondervan, 1976), 3:804.
[2] The era or epoch of orthodoxy reaches from the 1570s to the nineteenth century.
[3] James M. Stayer, German Peasants’ War and Anabaptist Community of Goods (Montreal: Mcgill-Queens Univ Press, 1994), 123.
[4] Martin Luther had a Two Kingdom theology as well. See “Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms by William J. Wright”: http://lutherantheologystudygroup.blogspot.com/2010/10/martin-luthers-understanding-of-gods.html
[6] Guy F. Hershberger, ed., The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision: a Sixieth Anniversary Tribute to Harold S. Bender (dissent and Nonconformity), Dissent and Nonconformity 22 (1957; repr., Paris, Ark: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 2000), 110-11.

Anabaptism: What is the Gospel?

Jez Bayes wrote a simple yet provocative blog article that asks the above question. However, there are rules to answering this inquiry. They are:

“Try to answer it in as few words as possible, and try to stay focused on The Gospel, not the response it requires…”

Well my answer to this was:

 “The gospel is the Kingdom; it will be the instrument that will bring to fruition all the purposes of God.

This is the gospel, and it was the gospel of the 16th century Anabaptists. In my next post I will demonstrate why I believe this to have been the case.

I Am Not a Pacifist but a Christian Non-resister

Anabaptist Dirk Willems rescues his pursuer an...

Anabaptist Dirk Willems rescues his pursuer and is subsequently burned at the stake in 1569.

This post is a contribution to The New Pacifism: Cases For & Against Nonviolent Ethics hosted by Political Jesus.

What I am propositioning is nothing new but it is not popular. Since things, that lack popularity or is trendy generally is brushed aside or overlooked which is somewhat ironic since the position I am advocating is the original Anabaptist stance. Their view was not pacifism but non-resistance or more appropriately Christian non-resistance. Many fail to recognize the difference between it and pacifism but there are some distinctions nonetheless.

Pacifism                                                                                 

We will begin by defining pacifism, it is contracted from the Latin terms pax and facere, which denotes ‘peace’, and ‘to make’.  Thus, pacifism means to be a “peacemaker” and to be frank that is what the Lord instructed his disciples to become (Matthew 5:9). However, there is more to pacifism than just being defined in a fashion that coincides with something the Lord stated in his famous sermon.

Pacifists generally see peace in a static fashion, peace is a cessation of war but the biblical concept of peace is dynamic in meaning. To the ancient Hebrews the word for peace is the term שָׁלוֹם. Transliterated it is shalom; it has the lexical significance of “completeness”, “soundness” (as in mental or physical), “welfare”, “contentment” and “peace”. It denotes a full-orbed state; it “is iridescent in meaning, connoting well-being. Shalom may denote (material) prosperity….ethical relations among humans…or eschatological (messianic) hope that brings peace among nations”[1] This sort of thinking appears to be absent in present-day pacifism.

It is also wise to take note that there are many varieties of pacifism, for instance, there are:

•             Absolute Pacifism

•             Contingent Pacifism

•             Secular Pacifism

•             Maximal Pacifism

•             Minimal Pacifism

•             Universal Pacifism

•             Particular Pacifism

•             Skeptical Pacifism

•             Prima Facie Pacifism

•             Transformational Pacifism

•             Consequentialist Pacifism

•             Deontological Pacifism

However, while there are various nuances to the movement contemporary pacifists demonstrate certain qualities. Pacifists seek peace among bodies (nations and ‘races’ or ethnic group) in doing so they blur the lines between the ekklesia and state will work with political agencies to achieve a goal. Inspiration for their actions is by and large for humanitarian purposes.

Christian Nonresistance 

To the Anabaptists nonresistance is codified in the words found at Matthew 5:38-44:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Here Jesus was correcting a false interpretation of the Law but also laying down a principle for all to follow.[2] He was not advocating for an individual to present his or her literal ‘other cheek’ to someone if slapped to be struck again. What he was encouraging was that we should not retaliate physically when force is exercised against us. We should not allow ourselves to be provoked into something that could lead to more dire consequences. Physical violence should be avoided at all cost and to return physical force with force just leads to more violence. The Apostles Paul and Peter stress a more detailed emphasis of the principle in their writings (Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 3:9).

There is a means to resist evil without returning it with physical resistance but in its place, it should be returned with prayer and love in order to win over the individual. Added to love and prayer is knowledge, sympathy and reason. The motivating factor behind all this is principled love also known as ‘agape’ love. Conrad Grebel the co-founder of the Swiss Brethren and held to be the “Father of Anabaptists” wrote:

“The gospel and its adherents are not to be protected by the sword, nor [should] they [protect] themselves… True believing Christians are sheep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter. They must be baptised in anguish and tribulation, persecution, suffering and death, tried in fire, and must reach the fatherland of eternal rest not by slaying the physical but the spiritual. They use neither worldly sword nor war, since killing has ceased with them entirely.”[3]

Christian non-resistance does not view matters from a purely secular or ‘worldly’ perspective, it is more grounded in Christian principles. It does not return negative actions with negative reactions. It does not return force with force (Proverbs 24:29). Not saying most pacifists return physical violence with physical violence but they do reply just as forcefully in nonphysical means. The idea is not to approach a matter in a fashion to incite a violent physical reaction. While it is easy to speak of Christian non-resistance it also helpful to look at two examples of how this is practiced. Those instances are found in martyrdoms of Stephen of the Acts of the Apostles fame and in the life of a 16th century Anabaptist by the name of Dirk Willems.

Stephen (Acts 7)

In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the account of how Stephen whom the scriptures speak of him as being someone that was “full of grace and power” (AA 6:8). However, some in opposition to Christianity from “the Synagogue of the Freedmen” came to disrupt his witness however “they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Vss. 9-10). Because of this they “they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God”, this eventually led to the religious authorities took him away. While in their presence ““This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us” (Vss. 11-15).

After being questioned by the religious ruling body whether the accusations were true or not Stephen presented a magnificent defense of his faith where it culminates in a climatic point namely that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands” (Vss. 48-50). In response, the account says in verses 54-59:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.

Dirk Willems (Anabaptist):

“Dirk was caught, tried and convicted as an Anabaptist in those later years of harsh Spanish rule under the Duke of Alva in The Netherlands. He escaped from a residential palace turned into a prison by letting himself out of a window with a rope made of knotted rags, dropping onto the ice that covered the castle moat.

Seeing him escape, a palace guard pursued him as he fled. Dirk crossed the thin ice of a pond, the “Hondegat,” safely. His own weight had been reduced by short prison rations, but the heavier pursuer broke through.

Hearing the guard’s cries for help, Dirk turned back and rescued him. The less-than-grateful guard then seized Dirk and led him back to captivity. This time the authorities threw him into a more secure prison, a small, heavily barred room at the top of a very tall church tower, above the bell, where he was probably locked into the wooden leg stocks that remain in place today. Soon he was led out to be burned to death.”

Dirk Willems was executed on May 16, 1569; the more detailed accounts explain that the wind blew to a degree where his death was slow and agonizing. His ordeal was finally put to an end when someone took pity on him and quickly ended his life. As cruel as his death was what we want to focus on is his initial arrest.

The only thing Willems was guilty of was being rebatized, holding conventicles and rebatizing others, the official document that records his ‘crimes’ and sentence states:

he was rebatized at the age of fifteen, eighteen or twenty years…at his house, at divers hours, harbored and admitted secret conventicles and prohibited doctrines, and that he also permitted several persons to be rebaptized in his aforesaid house; all of which is contrary to our holy Christian faith, and to the decrees of his royal majesty, and ought not to be tolerated, but severely punished, for an example to others; therefore, we the aforesaid judges, having, with mature deliberation of council, examined and considered all that was to be considered in this matter, have condemned and do condemn by these presents in the name; and in the behalf, of his royal majesty, as Count of Holland, the aforesaid Dirk Willems, prisoner, persisting obstinately in his opinion, that he shall be executed with fire, until death ensues; and declare all his property confiscated, for the benefit of his royal majesty.[4]

Both of these accounts exhibit Christian non-resistance in action. They are superb models to be emulated. Both Stephen and Dirk Willems could have attempted to fight against their attackers even though their enemies’ intentions were obvious to all. They could have fought for their freedom and in the case of Dirk Willems he could have let his pursuer perish in the icy pond but he instead showed love towards his persecutor. A Christian is to demonstrate compliance with the desires of God even at the cost of undergoing martyrdom.

Both Pacifists and Christian non-resisters possess a disdain for war and many pacifists reject physical violent retaliation when it is brought against them. Yet as mentioned earlier numerous pacifists will react with nonviolent force.  Pacifists will employ the Empire’s political arena; or promote picketing, sit-ins or encourage individuals to vote in political elections for a certain party and various other things of this nature in order to force those in opposition to yield to their demands. Christian non-resistance requires that its practitioners stay away from such things. While there may be some things that pacifists strive against such as inequality and various other social ills and they must be admired for feeling disdain for these problems. Christian non-resisters understand that peace has to begin with God and the individual this in turn will compel the person to seek peace with others. The ‘Two Kingdoms’ as the Anabaptists called it must exist in a state of disconnection.

Along with this every so often, pacifists will alienate those they are supposed to be trying to win with their agendas.  Instead of spending time and energy in the political arena, or supporting social programs, non-resisters direct their resources towards investing in the lives of others personally. Obeying God supersedes one’s own self-interests or agendas. Biblical non-resistance is the best cure for social ills or justice issues. It recognizes one’s neighbors as existing as image bearing creations of God. Many times others will not readily recognize this but when they become citizens of the Kingdom of God their desire to obey through being informed by the scriptures and transformed by the Holy Spirit their worldview dramatically changes.

Stephen Russell affirms much of what has been stated in Overcoming Evil God’s Way: The Biblical and Historical Case for Nonresistance. He opens with pacifism and talks to the problems inherent in the position. To him:

this word could be a very adequate description of the teaching I wish to elaborate. But there is one problem—the way the word has come to be used in our culture. It does not mean the approach to life that Jesus calls His disciple to follow. Instead it is used in a very general sense for any and all opposition to war. But in general usage it almost never means the absolute rejection of war as a way to solve our problems. Rather it is commonly used to mean a rejection of war as the primary or initial means to obtain political or national goals. Most people who advocate pacifism, or use that term to describe their position, are willing at some point to use force, at least for their own defense.[5]

In Russell’s estimation, non-resistance is “the traditional term used by Anabaptists for their understanding of Christ’s teaching concerning love of neighbor, patience in relationships, and peace.”[6] He further explicates that in “German, the mother tongue of most early Anabaptists, the teaching was called Wehrlosigkeit, or defenselessness. It indicated the unwillingness of the peaceful Anabaptists to carry weapons or to defend themselves. To distinguish themselves from other Christians, they called themselves die wehrlosen Christen, of defenseless Christians.”[7] Contrasting this with pacifism:

biblical nonresistance is the true attempt to “make peace.” It attempts to make peace, or perhaps better, it attempts to offer peace in place of the natural response that man makes when thwarted or attacked. It does not have a backup position that allows it to support violent action or warfare in cases when all else fails to bring peace…Nor does it allow taking of human life to defend another human life in cases where that life is being threatened. It is not peace itself that is being honored, but the image of God in the other human being, as well as the commandments of Jesus. It is not earthly peace that is being sought as it was the highest possible good.[8]

Overall pacifists seem at times to have a naïve idea that peace can be achieved entirely on the efforts of humans. They may interject Jesus’ name or speak of the Kingdom but their methods reveal where they are ideologically speaking.  The reality is that evil and sin will be present until this age ends and the Kingdom is fully realized.

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[1]  Donald E. Gowan, The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 354.

[2] Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible regarding Matthew 5:38. He writes, “An eye for an eye – Our Lord refers here to the law of retaliation mentioned See Exodus 21:24…which obliged the offender to suffer the same injury he had committed. The Greeks and Romans had the same law. So strictly was it attended to at Athens, that if a man put out the eye of another who had but one, the offender was condemned to lose both his eyes, as the loss of one would not be an equivalent misfortune. It seems that the Jews had made this law (the execution of which belonged to the civil magistrate) a ground for authorizing private resentments, and all the excesses committed by a vindictive spirit. Revenge was often carried to the utmost extremity, and more evil returned than what had been received. This is often the case among those who are called Christians.”

[3] Conrad Grebel and Leland Harder, The Sources of Swiss Anabaptism: The Grebel Letters and Related Documents (Scottdale, Pa. [u.a.]: Herald Pr, 1985), 290.

[4] Thieleman J. van Braght and I. Daniel Rupp, The Bloody Theatre, or Martyrs’ Mirror, of the Defenceless Christians: Who Suffered and Were Put to Death for the Testimony of Jesus, Their Savior, from the Time of Christ Until the Year A.D. 1660 (Near Lampeter Square, Lancaster Co., Pa: David Miller, 1837), 659-60.

[5] Stephen Russell, Overcoming Evil God’s Way: The Biblical and Historical Case for Nonresistance (Guys Mills, Pennsylvania: Faithbuilders Resource Group, 2008), 4-5.

[6] Ibid., 6.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 6-7.