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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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.