Part I: Evangelize the Gemeinde?

Recently a book was released that I functioned as one of the general editors and contributed a chapter entitled A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World. Just recently I got into a discussion regarding the meaning of something I wrote. The passage in question related to how I defined evangelism. I said:

Evangelism simply put is the transmission of said gospel to those who have not heard it in order for them to accept the invitation to become citizens of God’s Kingdom, which results in them becoming members of the ekklesia.[1]

The pushback I received related to the portion that says “the transmission of said gospel to those who have not heard it”. In my interlocutors’ comprehension evangelism is not limited to only those that have not been espoused to it. Instead it is a perpetual activity that occurs in the context of the local congregation. It is evident in the sermons that is preached weekly and it is found in the context of discipling. Well I am at odds with the above for the following reasons. Initially I am approaching the matter from a non-Protestant or repopish perspective. I look at the issue from a primitive apostolic perspective as indicated in the New Testament and history. Also from the ecclesio-centric understanding of the prototypical Anabaptists.

New Testament

Evangelism is inseparably tied to the gospel, you can’t talk about one without mentioning the other. The terms employed in the Greek is εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) which denotes literally “good news” often translated as “gospel”, the verb form of euangelion, is εὐαγγελίζω (euangelizo) to “announce” or “herald” or “proclaim” the good news or in English evangelize. These terms is seen employed within the context of sharing with unbelievers. Evangelism is heralding the message—making the pronouncement that relates to the king and kingdom. Thus once a Christian has delivered the message or the recipient have heard it all other things that come after is designated as instruction, apologetics or mentoring (discipling). Evangelism cannot be considered as being an aspect of encouraging sanctification for the reason there is a vast distinction between evangelizing and living one’s faith as a testimony.

Also it is important to note that how one defines the gospel will determine its use in the context of the Body. If it is a soterian gospel it will be employed inside especially when one holds to the traditional thinking that majority of the evangelism occurs within the fabricated structure called a “church”. Whereas if the gospel is an invitation to the kingdom then once the invite is accepted you do not need to keep inviting individuals that’s already present.

An objection to this point was it is difficult to escape a gospel that has a soteriological focus after all the Apostle Paul delineated a soterian gospel at 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. There Paul writes:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

If a person looks at 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 as representing the Protestant soterian gospel then there is a problem. Paul did not start that pertinent section (verse 3) off with Χριστός (Christos) or “Christ” and its relation to γραφάς (graphas) the “Scriptures” for nothing. He was focusing on Jesus being the “Messiah” or “Anointed One”. Many treat the term Christ as if it has lost its titular force as a result it has virtually became a last name for Jesus instead of serving as a title to designate messiahship in the minds of professed believers. In ancient “Judaism, “messiah” came to refer to a divinely appointed redeemer who would rule over a restored kingdom of Israel where the dispersed Jews would be gathered at the end of days.”[2] Hence when Paul began with highlighting the gospel he has already in the offset established the kingdom as being the topic. His referencing the scriptures recalls all the messianic promises associated with the kingdom and it’s sovereign.

The Messiah’s death, burial and resurrection was the thing that verified Jesus’ position as the foretold Messiah who would be king. His resurrection validates Jesus being the means in which we individuals experience the new birth which functions as the admission into the kingdom. In the very same chapter that is utilized to communicate the Protestant soterian gospel speaks of the kingdom as the end goal.

But Christ really has been raised from death—the first one of all those who will be raised. Death comes to people because of what one man did. But now there is resurrection from death because of another man. I mean that in Adam all of us die. And in the same way, in Christ all of us will be made alive again. But everyone will be raised to life in the right order. Christ was first to be raised. Then, when Christ comes again, those who belong to him will be raised to life. Then the end will come. Christ will destroy all rulers, authorities, and powers. Then he will give the kingdom to God the Father. Christ must rule until God puts all enemies under his control. The last enemy to be destroyed will be death. As the Scriptures say, “God put everything under his control.” When it says that “everything” is put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself. God is the one putting everything under Christ’s control. After everything has been put under Christ, then the Son himself will be put under God. God is the one who put everything under Christ. And Christ will be put under God so that God will be the complete ruler over everything.[3]

Paul did not create a substitute gospel to replace the one Jesus demarcated all the Apostle did was provide the supplementary knowledge of how to enter the kingdom through faith in the Messiah.

The following is the initial reason why the Anabaptists did not evangelize when the Gemeinde gathered.

Anabaptist Reason I

The proto-Anabaptists known as the Swiss Brethren did not have the ekklesia organized in a fashion where evangelism would take place. The reason being that to them it is implied that the gospel was for all intents and purposes was an invitation in the fashion mentioned subsequently. Anabaptists viewed the gathering of the community (Gemeinde) as being something only the baptized member could participate in. They did not have it open for all.

Because a key aspect of their meetings was the Lord’s Supper and according to Article III of The Schleitheim Brotherly Union touching on the subject of “Bread” it states that only those who can partake of the Lord’s Supper must “be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism.” This point is echoed by articulating that “whoever does not share the calling of the one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one spirit, to one body together with all the children of God, may not be made one loaf together with them, as must be true if one wishes truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.”[4] The entirety of the contents housed in the Brotherly Union articulate a separatist ideology and there would be no place for a nonbeliever in their presence nor would they try to evangelize someone at their conventicles since all present would be believers already.

The next installment of this article will cover the second Anabaptist reason why they did not evangelize in the Gemeinde.

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Joanna Harader and A.O. Green, eds., A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World (New York: Ettelloc Publishing, 2014), 5.

[2] Ronald L. Eisenberg, Jewish Traditions: JPS Guide, JPS Guide (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008), 619-20.

[3] 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 Easy-to-Read Version

[4] Michael Sattler, The Schleitheim Confession, trans. John Howard Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977), 11.

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Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

As regards the relationship of salvation and the “Church”, the Magisterial Reformers taught “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” that is “outside the Church there is no salvation”. The origin of the term is understood to have come from Cyprian the so-called Church Father. In his comprehension, “Christ and his church are so closely joined that one cannot enjoy Christ and his salvation unless one is joined to Christ’s church.” Another way he communicated this thought is that an individual “cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your mother”.[1] The following is the commentary is the Reformed view position on this matter.

Martin Luther: “The church is not wood and stone but the assembly of people who believe in Christ. With this church one should be connected and see how the people believe, live, and teach. They certainly have Christ in their midst, for outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.”

John Calvin . . .“For those to whom [God] is Father the church may also be mother . . . . Away from her [the church’s] bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith: “The visible church . . . consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”[2]

Yet this does not convey the idea “that salvation can be found by virtue of the mere association with or participation in the ecclesiological practices of a particularized institutional form of the church.”[3] In other words, the Bible speaks of individuals subsisting as Christ, the Bible refers to the ekklesia as “Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Looking at the matter from the Reformed perspective the gospel, ekklesia and Christ are intertwined and to go without any of those components personal salvation is not possible.

Now the question is does the Anabaptists hold to something similar?

The answer in short is yes, but their conception of redemption or salvation is different from the Reformers and Roman Catholics. While the proto-Anabaptists had a notion of “grace” and “faith”, their view consisted of more than “my personal salvation and my religious history”.[4] The gospel that die Täufer preached was not a soterian gospel but one that focused outside of oneself. It did not concentrate on “my place” in the Kingdom but on welcoming others and making sure that, their fellow brothers and sisters maintained their place it in. In Anabaptist thought “[r]econciliation between individuals belongs as much to the essence of salvation as does reconciliation to God; the two dimensions are inseparable.”[5] To them “man cannot come to God except together with his brother” but not just one’s spiritual sibling but also “the neighbor”, these “constitutes an essential element of one’s personal redemption.”[6]

This is grasped in the Gospels when for instance Jesus said while delivering the Sermon on the Mount. In the fifth chapter of Matthew Jesus articulated:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”[7]

While this entire section addresses the importance of interpersonal relationships and reconciliation between an individual’s brother and sister within the context of one’s faith family. There is more being stated here that is not generally grasped. Usually, these passages are taken no more seriously, than some helpful advice passed on by the Messiah. Yet Jesus employs some strong terms in regards to the consequence of failing to heed his words. He mentions “judgment” and “hell” or more accurately γέενναν (geennan) which is the symbol of eternal destruction or death i.e. the “lake of fire” (Revelation 19:20; 20:6, 14). Yet the focus needs to be narrowed to verses 23-24. It reads:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Now Jesus puts the hearer in a setting a first century Jew would be very familiar with, it involves worshippers at the temple in Jerusalem during Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur was the holiest day of the year for it was the day that Israel received forgiveness of their sins; it was a means of purifying themselves before God. In other words, it was their means of remaining in a saved state. Yet Jesus communicated that more was required than just that, peace or shalom between one’s spiritual brothers and sisters was a key aspect in redemption.

Jesus reminded his Jewish listeners that when someone sinned they disturbed their relationship with God and the sacrifice was meant to reestablish that relationship. Yet it was more to the matter than that, sacrifices was never intended to atone for “deliberate sin, for what the Jews called ‘the sin of a high hand’.”[8] The sacrifices was for unintentional sin, that is if “someone committed a sin unawares, or was swept into sin in a moment of passion when self-control broke, then sacrifice was effective; but if a person deliberately, defiantly, callously and with open eyes committed sin, then sacrifice was powerless to atone.”[9] In order for their sacrifice to be effective the:

sacrifice had to include confession of sin and true penitence; and true penitence involved the attempt to rectify any consequences sin might have had. The great Day of Atonement was held to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation, but the Jews were quite clear that not even the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement could avail unless people were first reconciled to their neighbors. The breach between human beings and God could not be healed until human beings could reconcile their differences . . . . The Jews were quite clear that people had to do their utmost to put things right themselves before they could be right with God.

Therefore the Israelite would himself positioned before the very altar of God ready to set things right between himself and the Creator and realize that there is conflict between himself and his sister or brother. Upon realizing this, they would leave their sacrifice and search the whole of Jerusalem in order to reconcile. After the person would have, done all they could to repair damaged relations regardless of the outcome they would only then return to offer their sacrifice to God with a clear conscience.

From the perspective of Protestant soteriology, one takes care of their personal salvation first then looks into other matters. Yet the way of God, Jesus and Anabaptism the welfare of others is priority over one’s own.

Loving one’s neighbor is also stressed in scripture and it too conditions salvation. When asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40). No one has to guess which individuals or groups makes is a person’s neighbor. A neighbor is comprised of the entire body of humanity (Luke 10:25-37). The Apostle Paul summed up the matter by saying, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Therefore, in light of this one can conclude that yes there is no salvation outside of the church but there is also no salvation without doing good works in the church and outside of it.

 

 

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[1] Marcus Peter Johnson, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 206.

[2] Ibid., 207.

[3] Ibid.

[4] J. Denny Weaver, Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2005), 190.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Robert Friedmann, The Theology of Anabaptism: An Interpretation (1973; repr., Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 1999), 81.

[7] Matthew 5:21-26 New International Version

[8] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, rev. and updated. ed., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 164.

[9] Ibid.

Upgrades and Baptism

I tweeked the blog a little, rewrote the About section, changed the title, added a header image and I went and purchased an official domain. I plan to invest more money later and add some more upgrades. I am not exactly sure when as of yet. However, I know I will hire a graphic designer to create an official header for my brand.  However, while I am at it I am going to address the reasoning behind the header image.

Naturally, it is an image of water but not just any water. It symbolizes the waters of baptism. Baptism at present seems to have lost the significance it once had or rather the import the archetypal Anabaptists put into it. It was not just a symbol of some past empty event. It was one’s entrance into the Body of Christ or Gemeinde. This German term denotes “a union of settlers bound together by ties of neighborhood, cooperation, interdependence, friendship, or relatedness”.[1] In English, it could be identified with the words ‘commune’, ‘community’ or ‘congregation’ this word was the nearest the German language had to ekklesia.

In Anabaptists thought, the Gemeinde was the visible manifestation of the Kingdom on earth; it was not the kingdom in the sense that each and every assurance of God were realized but in an applied sense. 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 harmony 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 and why it is important to me and should be highlighted. I will flesh out the meaning and importance of Gemeinde in a latter blog post.


[1] David C. Steinmetz, ed., The Bible in the Sixteenth Century (duke Monographs in Medieval and Renaissance Studies) (North Carolina: Duke University Press Books, 1990), 9.