Monday, December 29, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Distinctive #26- Apocalyptic

Jesus will return at any time to judge the world, and save his own people. The world can be seen in the terms of apocalyptic according to the Anabaptists: the beast and the whore (the persecuting state and the unfaithful church) verses the saints of God. This reinforced their two kingdoms outlook. It also placed their suffering in the wider cosmic context of God’s plan for all of creation.

Distinctive #25: Non-Speculative Theology

One should accept traditional orthodoxy, but the real business of the church is that of forming disciple communities through catechism that uses biblical categories and terms. Anabaptists used the apostles creed. They were orthodox in their understandings of the Trinity and Christology. (Although some early Dutch Mennonites had a distinctive Christology.)

The Mission of the Church

The ultimate purpose of the church is to establish an alternative nation to those who are in the world, based on the life and teaching of Jesus. It shall not be established by carpenters, city-planners or rulers. Rather, it will be established by God’s power and revelation.

The current Mission of God’s church is to restore God’s people to himself.
God’s people who are:
The lost
The poor
The destroyed
The demonized
The mentally ill
The sick
The oppressed
Those who are taught wrong
In other words, all who are downcast and lacking in faith, and yet are soft-hearted toward God. There are Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus who want to be restored to God—they just don’t know how. There are Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mennonites, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Catholics, Orthodox and those of every Christian stripe and kind who want to be restored. It is our goal to seek out the soft-hearted—wherever and whoever they may be—and restore them.

The church’s mission is not to:
-Keep the faithful entertained and interested in God
-Call those firmly against the Lord (This is the Lord’s arena, not the church’s)

There are churches and missions who train people to be hard-hearted to God and to God’s Spirit. They are training them in superiority, in judgement, in self-exaltation, in focusing on the idols and tasks of this age. They are all rejected. Most Christian rehabs are trainers of the soft-hearted to be hard-hearted.
A few true training facilities: Some Amish, the Bruderhof, Jesus People USA, Reba Place, etc.
But they need to realize that their purpose is not to maintain a community of brothers and sisters in the Lord. Their purpose is to have a community which will train God’s people how to live, behave and work in God’s kingdom.

The Lord rejects:
Plush facilities
Expensive conferences
Christian concerts
The entertaining and care and feeding of the hard-hearted “faithful”
The church is pouring out money into efforts where they can see a “bottom line”—usually in terms of numbers of people or of financial resources. In God’s work there is no “bottom line” apart from the work of the Spirit and the living out of God’s word.

The purity of the church is important, but it is not the purity of the perfect that God seeks, but the purity of the soft-hearted, those moldable by God. Those who are soft hearted will be conformed, in time, as long as the trainers are not too impatient. But the hard-hearted, although they seem to conform in all the outward ways, will never be God’s.

There is a way to tell the difference between the soft hearted and the hard hearted—by looking at their devotion and faith.

The soft hearted are devoted to God and to his ways.
The hard hearted are devoted to their principles and to their desires.
The soft hearted are obedient to God and obey his commands.
The hard hearted are obedient to principles that do not focus on God’s command. They are usually more strict than God’s commands, and insist that others follow their decrees.
The soft hearted are dependant on God and on his power.
The hard hearted will pray, but are dependant on the ways and power of mankind.
The soft hearted believe in God’s promises and will do anything to receive them.
The hard hearted desire their own goals and are often angry at God for not fulfilling their desires.
They speak of God’s promises, but do not think that conformity to the conditions will gain them the promises.
The soft hearted love others and help them toward the Father and with their needs.
The hard hearted think that it is enough to focus on God, and find reasons to judge other followers of God. The hard hearted see their own needs and desires and use them as an excuse to not help others.
The soft hearted are humble, recognizing their own lowliness before God and mankind. They rejoice in that humility and seek to be lowly.
The hard hearted believes that humility is a tragedy at all times and they complain, mourn, and cry every time they are dishonored or suffer. They reject those who reject them and seek self-exaltation at every opportunity, proclaiming it the blessing of God.
The soft hearted are persistent in their devotion to God—obedience, faith, love and humility—and no circumstance or sin against them will turn them away from this way.
The hard hearted are double-minded—desiring both the ways of God and the ways of the world. They often seem to change their minds in what they really want, but what they really want is the ways of the world. In the end, the judgement of the world is what they will receive.

Bringing Back the Lost

We need to go out to them
We need to coax them back
We need to teach them the truth
We need to encourage them to be devoted to God
We need to pray for them and listen to the Spirit for them
We need to train them in focusing on the One Voice, not the multitude of voices around and within them
We need to maintain them (but the focus of the church should not be in matainance, but on restoring.
We need to train them to take up the cross.

The E Word

Originally published in the PNMC Evangel:

In the deep, dark shadows of Christian practice it is rarely spoken of. Private prayer is praised and quiet service is rejoiced in, but who dares speak in this 21st century of… evangelism. Evangelism is sometimes hated, often feared, and certainly not spoken of in polite society. And yet it is as necessary as peacemaking and offering mercy to those in need. Why is evangelism such a nasty word?

Evangelism is often regarded as offensive. This is sometimes because evangelism has an implied arrogance—“I am completely right and you are completely wrong and you need me to teach you the truth.” Tolerance and humility seems to be absent from evangelism. This kind of evangelism is similar to placing a gospel of John in the centerfold of a porno mag. Sure, the gospel is there, but the context is so offensive, that the truth cannot be seen.

Yes, we want to be welcoming. No, of course we do not want to punish someone for believing something different than we do. Nevertheless, it is important that we all believe in something. And if we believe, then we are saying that others’ are wrong about their beliefs that are different. If I believe I am in the bathroom, then those who hold to the opinion that I am in the garage are wrong (at least I hope they are!). If God is in heaven, those who hold the opinion that God is not in heaven are wrong. If Jesus is Lord, those who hold the opinion that Jesus is not Lord is wrong. Tolerance has its place, but once we place tolerance above our conviction about Jesus, then we are no longer Christians, but pluralists.

But evangelism does not have to be done arrogantly. Many people evangelize by speaking of their personal views or personal experience—there is nothing arrogant in just sharing what we experienced ourselves. Evangelism can certainly be done in the midst of teaching—a sermon for instance—but it is more often effective in a context of humility. The formerly blind man in John 9 had this kind of humble evangelism—“Of Jesus’ origins I know nothing, all I know is that I was blind, but now I see.” Later he asks the Pharisees, “Do you want to follow him too?” Although one might question this man’s wisdom, certainly his humility could not be questioned. And yet he was clearly evangelizing.

Nor does evangelism have to be done without gentleness. Evangelism has gotten some bad press by some who do street preaching and knock on doors to evangelize. Many of these people are offensive, rude and obnoxious. However, evangelism does not need to be offensive. It can quietly be done by expressing one’s personal beliefs with a friend. Evangelism can be simply inviting someone to an event at church. Evangelism can be telling your Muslim friend why you do not agree with Christians who want to kill Muslims.

Part of the problem with evangelism is its association with crusades or long monologues. But we must not confuse a manner of doing evangelism with the act itself. Evangelism is no more or less than speaking about Jesus or Jesus’ teaching to those who do not believe. It does not require an altar call or an organ. It is simply calling Jesus our Lord, and his ways are our ways. This means that if we believe in peace because Jesus did, and we are telling others’ about Jesus’ view of peace, then we are evangelizing. It means that if we believe in Jesus’ life, in his teaching, in his lordship over the earth, in the benefits we gain from him—then we cannot fail to tell others about what we know about and have received from Jesus.

So what reason should we evangelize. Let’s get a word from our Sponsor—Jesus:

• Because Jesus told us to—“Preach the gospel to all creation” Mark 16:15

• Because we must talk about Jesus to enter God’s kingdom, and to receive of his blessings—“If anyone confesses me before men, I will confess them before my Father in heaven. Whoever denies me before men, I will deny him before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33

• Because we love people too much to let them live without a chance at Jesus— “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.” Luke 18:16

• Because everyone needs Jesus— “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19

Jesus told us to tell people about him, about his kingdom, about his teaching and about his abundant life. Our speech may be simple or subtle. Our approach does need to take into account the culture and understanding of the person we are speaking to. We need to be as clear as possible. But most of all, we need to speak the word and life of Jesus. No one can receive from God unless they first know about Jesus from someone who knows him.

Let’s get out there and tell ‘em!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Distinctive #24-- Mission

The church must spread the gospel and establish communities all throughout the world. Protestants and Catholics felt that the great commission had already been finished. Anabaptists saw all of Christendom as a mission field. They set up extensive itinerate systems for evangelism. They were very successful for a time, threatening to become the dominant group. But intense persecution counteracted this.

What Does That Speak of Us?

How we want to be like Jesus!

We want his righteousness and his ability to please God. We want to live out his life and to always hold on to what is good. For some of us, we want him more than we want anything else - more than life itself, we desire him so. And so should it be.

But it is curious, that though it is clear the gospels teach that we are to live out his life, Jesus himself only mentioned the imitation of himself in one context: that of being persecuted by others.
Jesus said, “Remember the words I spoke to you : ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you, too. (John 15: 18-16:3)”

“If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! (Matthew 10: 34-39)

To be like Jesus is to assuredly be persecuted like Jesus. To not be persecuteted is to fall short of the full call of Jesus and to be like the enemies of Jesus: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their Fathers treated the false prophets. (Matthew 5: 11-12 & Luke 6:26)”

Even to attain godly character, the most sure way is to gain it through persecution. James says that perseverance of your faith comes only through trials (James 1: 2-4 & Romans 5: 3-5).

And Paul says that it is through the perseverance attained by suffering that we gain character like that of Jesus - and that it is through such character that we have hope in Christ!

It is not just an added benefit that we attain the glory of persecution and suffering - it is our very life! In fact, Paul said, “Anyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (II Timothy 3:12)”

If you live a life of the Spirit you will be rejected by mankind. If you live as Jesus lived, you will be insulted and mistreated. If you walk in the teaching of the apostles, you will be spurned and hated. If god truly resides in you, you will even be beaten, arrested, sentenced and killed (Mark 8: 31-38).

This is the meaning of the cross we must hear. This is a daily sacrifice for those who live in God.

The fact that we rarely experience persecution as a church displays our weakness. But the fact that we do everything in our power to turn aside and walk away from the slight persecutions God gives us - that we stand up in court demanding our rights as citizens for protection - when we ought to be standing in our protection God gave us... What does that speak of us?

Jesus on Persecution

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.

Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, 'THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.'
John 15

Distinctive #23-- Suffering

Disciples must be prepared to suffer for their faith. The true church is characterized by suffering. Anabaptists experienced this from both Catholics and Protestants. There were thousands of Anabaptist martyrs.  This helped spread Anabaptism as others saw that their faith was real. But it also caused great distress and eventually quenched the movement. The leaders were killed and the rest went underground.

Friday, November 21, 2008

4 Paths of Economic Surrender: A Scriptural Guide

1. Leaving one’s wealth
Mark 1-2—Disciples left their occupations and families
Mark 10—The disciples told that they will gain eternal life and more for leaving all they had.
John 1—Disciples told to leave their occupations and families

2. Selling one’s wealth and giving to the poor
Luke 12:33—Sell your possessions and give to the poor
Mark 10:21—Sell your possessions and give to the poor
Acts 4:32-37—Many in the church selling what they had, which was then distributed to the poor

3. Becoming a patron of the poor—keeping a certain amount of wealth for the well-being of the righteous poor
Luke 8:2-3—Women who followed Jesus provided for his needs and the needs of the disciples.
Romans 16:2—Phoebe was a patroness of Paul.
II Kings 4:8-11—Elisha had a patron who provided room and board when he was in town

4. Living a life of hospitality to the poor
Luke 16:9—Give unrighteous mammon to those who will welcome you into eternal dwellings
Luke 14:12-14—Invite the poor to your festivals and parties.
Acts 28:7—Pubius welcomed Paul and his companions to stay with him for three days.
Rom 16:3-5; I Cor 16:19—Prisca and Aquilla allowed churches to meet in their homes.
II Tim 1:16—Onesiphorus gave hospitality to Paul
Philemon 1-7—Philemon provided hospitality to Paul and many others.
3 John 5-6—Send brothers on their way in a manner worthy of God.
Matthew 25:31-46—To assist the poor brothers and sisters in Christ is assisting Christ himself.
Matthew 10:40-42—The one who does the smallest act of hospitality in the name of a disciple will not lose his reward.
I John 3:17—Those who do not provide for brothers or sisters in need , yet have the resources, do not know of God’s love.

Paul and Economics, Part II

Paul the apostle, the ancient missionary and theologian, has appeared on a 21st century university campus! With his good friend, Don, a professor of ancient Hebrew literature, they speak the truth of the ancient Christians to students who ask Paul questions!

Adam: Well, I am glad that the church is a bit more economically savvy, now than it was in the ancient past.

Paul: Economically wise? In what way?

Adam: You were just saying that the church provides charity for anyone in need. This system creates laziness and dependence and an unstable economic system. And you were initiating the very system that the Reformation had to do away with—paying for a priestly class that provided nothing to the community.

Paul: Ah, like your pastors today, you mean?

Adam: A pastor today is paid by the excess of a particular community. If a community isn’t fiscally wealthy, they don’t get a pastor. And the pastor is paid because of his or her superior education. So they had to prove their place. Not just show up and say, “I’m an apostle” or a monk or whatever, and expected any stranger to provide for them.

Paul: And this is superior, why?

Adam: Because the church isn’t providing assistance to those who are just taking advantage of the system. This supports the economy of the country, it is not a drain from it.

Paul: So everyone only receives that which they deserve?

Adam: That is correct.

Paul: So no one lives off of charity?

Adam: There are some people who live off of the government. However, eventually, the government will stop giving to those who don’t deserve it.

Paul: I hope so.

Adam: You do? That’s good. I was afraid that you’d be some kind of socialist…

Paul: I hope the government steps out of welfare so the church could step in.

Adam: What?

Paul: It is the church’s witness to the world, to provide charity that no one else provides. It is the demonstration of God’s care to give food to those who are not able to provide for themselves. And that without a large administration, a book of policies or hired workers.

Adam: But you would create a class of unproductive people in society. It would destroy the economy!

Paul: Not at all. Rather, you would have a group who would provide work for people that would be in accord with their ability. Remember, we began this discussion talking about work. It is a principle of the church that everyone should work, should be productive, but that the church should provide charity to everyone in need.

Adam: And you will create a class of people who only do “god work” a spiritual glut.

Paul: You are so concerned about unproductive people. Yet the economic system you support seems to have many people whom I consider unproductive. Pencil pushers, over-qualified decision makers, people who never make food or assist another person, but they only make money or paperwork appear out of thin air. The church would create a class of people who would work to build God’s kingdom. Build a class of people who will be followers of Jesus and not just speakers of Jesus.

Adam: Just as I said, lazy people—unproductive.

Paul: Is it unproductive to know people well enough to be able to meet their needs? Is it unproductive to visit people in the hospital or in prison? Is it unproductive to be friends with the friendless, to provide hope for the depressed? Is it unproductive to create places where the sick can rest in peace instead of on the street? Is it unproductive to grow food and give it to the poor? Is it unproductive to help the “sinners” of society to repent and depend on God’s grace? Is it unproductive to pick up food from those who cannot use it and give it to the needy? Rather, it is a work of honor. And even if it does not pay in this world, those who do this work in Jesus’ name will be rewarded by Him on the final day.
Adam: But you don’t understand. Such a society would economically self-destruct! There is nothing there to provide economic security—just like you were saying about the ancient economy.

Paul: If we have a whole sub-structure of society that is based on work toward mutual need and charity, it would be supported by God’s grace and power. Such a society would never need to worry about their needs because God would provide for them daily and make sure that everyone would be provided for, as long as they share with whoever is in need.

Adam: This is magic, not sound economic principles.

Paul: It seems to me that your capitalism is based on magic. Your “invisible hand” directs economic prosperity, as long as everyone is promoting their own economic self-interest. That’s the theory. But the reality is that you have to have a sub-structure of people perpetually in poverty to support your economic system. You must have a two-tiered structure—the poor struggling for survival behind the scenes, all the while supporting the “middle class” of the West, who are really the ruling aristocrats of today. The immigrants in your country, those who can only afford to work “under the table”, those who work below a living wage in your fast food restaurants and bargain stores, as well as the millions around the world who work on farms and factories— they are all the backbone on which your economic prosperity is dependant on. If you paid them for their work, rather than for the education level of their work, then your whole economy would collapse. The structure is only beginning to creak now, but soon it will fall throughout the world.

Adam: So you are a socialist, as I thought.

Paul: No. A socialist believes that the government should provide for those in need. I don’t think that we need to make demands of the rich. Rather, the Lord makes a request of those who have more than they need, and they obey if they follow the Lord. I am a Christian. I trust in God to provide for me, and do as he commands. That is my real work, to obey the Father through Jesus. And I believe that every Christian should do the same.

Adam: That is just too simplistic to be a real economic system.

Paul: Whatever you want to think. But the reality of it is that God is in control of His people. He knows what work He wants them to do, and we do it, if we are listening to Him. And part of that work is to provide both sustenance and work for those who are in need. Everyone takes their turn. Everyone, at some point, has more than what they need, and so they provide. Everyone, at some point, is in need of assistance and so they receive help.

Adam: I will never need help from anyone.

Paul: Oh, yes you will. And when it happens you will wish that you were a part of a community that assists you instead of treating you like it was your own fault. And when that day happens, cry out to the Lord. Perhaps he will help you.

Distinctive #22-- Common Goods

Disciples must share what they have with those in the church who have needs. This has more recently been called - “Mutual Aid.” This comes from the teaching of Jesus (Luke 12:33) and from the example of the early church in the book of Acts. Salvation encompasses one’s economic practices. Hutterites went on to say that there could be no private property, but everyone in the congregation must hold all goods literally in common. Other Anabaptists simply held a common treasury, used for those in need in the community.

A Sermon On Swearing Oaths

Swearing oaths isn’t really a popular topic today. You can find many books about divorce in the NT or about the relation between government and the Christian, yet Jesus speaks just as much (if not more!) about swearing oaths—especially in Matthew—as he does about these topics. Why don’t we speak on it? For one, it doesn’t really seem relevant. In the first century, and even in the sixteenth century, when Anabaptism began, most people would swear oaths continuously. Some common phrases throughout history are: “May God strike me if I do not…” or, “I swear before God that I will…” or, “May many curses come upon me if I do not…”. But, even so, this topic is not dead. Even though oath-making is rare in our society, the topic Jesus is speaking about is still significant for us and for our daily lives.

First, though, we need to know what Jesus was actually talking about. Let’s look at what he said about swearing oaths:
Read: Matthew 5:33-37—“ Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.' But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes ' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.”

Matthew 23:16-22—"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.' You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.' You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”

What is Jesus talking about?
There are a couple points I want to move quickly over. First of all, Jesus is specifically speaking about the oaths themselves, and how they are problematic. In Matthew 23, Jesus goes into detail that no matter what kind of oath you are making, you are making it before God. The conclusion from this is that every oath, no matter what specifically it is made to, is made before God. Secondly, Jesus says that we are powerless to determine whether we receive a curse on ourselves or not—that is up to God. With this, Jesus says, it is better to say no oaths at all—because they relate to God’s name and they are foolish to make.

But now we have a problem. You see, Paul made oaths. They aren’t as strong as the ones Jesus speaks to the Pharisees about, but Paul states that he is swearing before God that such and such is true. An example is in Romans 9—“I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” Again, this is not as strong as some other oaths, but he is swearing that something is true before Christ.. There are other examples of Paul doing this, and potentially even Jesus. So is Paul just disregarding the teaching of Jesus? I don’t think so.

Again, Paul is swearing that something is true—an oath to declare one’s truthfulness. Jesus is really speaking about something different. He is speaking about an oath about what one would do in the future—a promise, or a guarantee that something would be done in the future. In James, this is more clearly stated, “Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” (4:13-16). James also repeats Jesus’ statement, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” (5:12). So Jesus is specifically speaking to statements about the future—promises in specific.

And what is he saying about those promises? Let’s look at Matthew 5. He says, first of all, don’t use oaths to confirm a promise. Secondly, recognize that the future is in God’s hands, not ours—we have no control over the future. Third, if you make a promise, keep it. If you can’t keep it, just say no.

So what is the main point of what Jesus is saying? Keep your promises! Don’t promise to do something that you will not or cannot do. Don’t use other language to confuse what the promise is or to make it seem that you are making a promise that you really are not. Keep your language simple and do what you say. That’s it. Now, we can see that even if we don’t swear oaths, Jesus’ statement is very relavent to us today.

So let me take this out a bit and give a few applications for us from these texts.

First of all, let’s look at Jesus’ key phrase, “Let your yes be yes and your no, no”. There is something significant here that we often miss practically. We CAN say “no”. In fact, if we cannot do something, we MUST say no. Many of us have a hard time saying “no.” But, according to Jesus’ word, saying “no” is a discipline that we must develop. If we cannot do something, we must say “no” and just accept it. Yes, the person asking you to do something might get upset; they might feel that you have failed them. But you have not. You are refusing to make a promise that is a lie. If you had said “yes” and then not done it, you would have really failed them. But by saying “no” you have stated clearly, ahead of time, what you are and are not able to do.

And that brings up another point. If we are to have integrity in our promises, then we need to be self-aware enough to know what we can and cannot do. It is so easy to say, “Yes, I’ll do that,” when we don’t actually have the time, the energy, the ability, the know-how, or the desire to do it. If we are to follow Jesus’ command to have integrity in our promises, then we have to know what we can and will do. To say “yes” isn’t to say, “I want to do this.” It is to say, “I will do it.” Jesus told a parable about two sons, one who heard what his father wanted and said, “Yes, I’ll do it”, but he never did. The other replied to his father, “No, I won’t do it” and then he changed his mind and he did. Now, Jesus didn’t ask the question that most people would ask—which one was right? Which one was righteous? Rather, he asked a very leading question, “Which one did the will of his father?” Of course, the second one. Both were unrighteous in one way—they both broke their statements. But the second was more righteous because he did what his father asked him to. The first one had the desire, and he had the right response—he sounded submissive and righteous. But he was not. He had every good intention—but the significant thing is that he needed to do what he said he would do. My point is this, Don’t make a promise based on your intention. Rather, be realistic and make a promise based on what you can really do. Otherwise, say “no”. It is better to say no than to break your promise.

Also we need to remember James’ point—we don’t really know what will happen in the future. We can make a promise and then realize that we can’t fulfill it. So when we make a promise, let’s be careful in what we say. Let’s make allowances that the future is in God’s hands, and that anything can happen.
In areas outside of our normal responsibility, especially, let’s offer conditions on our statements. If I have time, if God allows me. This isn’t a loophole for the promise, but it makes our statement have more integrity.

At the same time, in our promises, let’s be clear about what we will and will not do. Oaths were made, many times, in order to complicate the promise, to get a loophole if nessesary. Let’s have our statements have integrity. We should keep our statements simple and clear, so that they can be clearly understood. Let’s not complicate it with a lot of speech, but try our best to be simple.

One other thing. Jesus said that anything but a simple promise made before God to be done—that anything beside that is evil, or from the evil one. This means that any promise we make and then break, we will be judged for that. Anytime we complicate a promise with language that makes it confusing, we will be judged for that. Jesus said, “I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." We need to remember this every time we are making a descision about whether to promise something or to say no.

Distinctive #21-- No Oaths

Disciples are literally not to swear oaths - Matthew 5:33-37. This also meant that Christians could not be a part of much of the civic and economic life of the day which required oaths.

Distinctive #20-- Enemy Love

Disciples are literally to love enemies and not to resist evildoers - Matthew 5:38-48. This means that Christians cannot be political leaders or in the military. This separates all disciples from the world system which demands warfare and violence.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Denominations and Partisanship

I am firmly opposed to the two party system in American politics. It doesn’t really give anyone a real choice, just two sides of the same coin. Real change isn’t possible, because the issues are all blocked by partisan rhetoric and limited logic. No one can take a really effective new look at politics and effect real change. Rather, change is slow and bogged down by the fact that nothing will change until it is obvious to almost everyone that the old system has completely failed.

But is denominationalism just another form of the same kind of system? Are we locked into traditionalism this way? Can we really accomplish anything new and exciting in the Spirit through the forms of denominational agreement? Are we not locked into old institutions, with their old systems of bureaucracy, unable to enact the true change of the Spirit?

And if that is the case, then should we be supporting these old systems? And why do we support them? Because of money? If we follow the old means of doing church business, then the old money and the old resources will follow. But should we be limited by these old means? Or should we be set free to seek out the direction the Holy Spirit is going, so that we can also be freed from these old ways of doing God’s business?

I am not denying God’s Spirit in the denominations, nor in traditional ways. I know that God was there, especially in the past. But it reminds me of an ant trail. Certain worker ants, when they find food or something of benefit to the colony, leave a trail that other ants can follow to the significant resource. And that trail will last, and the ants will follow it, long after the food or resource is gone.

Even so, it seems that denominations follow these trails to the Spirit, only to find, in the end, that the old measures are empty and devoid of the Spirit’s true life. Sure, we can obtain the world’s resources through these old trails—money, denominational contacts, the support of the old guard. But when it is empty of God, what is the use?

We need to first seek God, His kingdom and His righteousness. We need to stop first seeking the resources of this world, as if that’s our real goal. Our goal should always be God through Jesus and the Spirit. If something is but the empty shell which Jesus and the Spirit left behind, then it is time to go. This doesn’t mean that I’m saying that we should leave denominations behind, necessarily. But perhaps we need to see where in a denomination God is really working. Where is the Spirit really moving? Who is living out the life of the power of God? Where is Jesus’ word and live truly being fleshed out in the denomination? That should be the direction of any denomination, leaving the past behind.

Because God is not I Was. God is I Am.

And finally, we should not allow the resources of God’s people be limited to those who are a part of a denomination. We should allow God’s resources be used by whoever is doing God’s work, and take it away from those who are only following the structure of old tradition.

Who is giving generously for the poor, not just seeking the least for the least?
Who is living successfully on faith, not just depending on a regular salary for doing the same old thing?
Who is receiving the outcast and helping them life for Jesus, not just keeping an arm’s distance from those outside the church?
Who is discipling the people of God, not just educating them?
Who is getting the world ready for Jesus’ coming, not just talking about it?
Who is building bridges between the separated, not just creating new divisions?
Who is delivering the healing of God, not just the pomp and circumstance that surrounds it?
Who is living out God’s generosity, faithfulness, mercy, truth and forgiveness, not just preaching about it?

This first group should be the focus of any denomination. The second group is the empty shell that should be discarded. However, the difficulty is that the first group is hidden within each denomination. They are the ones who cannot be found unless sought for. They are the hidden saints, the secret heart of the body of Christ. If any denomination, any conference, any board, any bishop, any minister is worth the salt of the earth they claim to be, they will spend their energy seeking these out and pouring all of their effort supporting them.

Otherwise, the denomination is no light of the world, no city on the hill. It is just another part of the shadow f the world.

Set aside the ways of the world, and find the hidden power of God within your ranks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How I Became An Anabaptist

I read a Jack Chick tract in middle school that introduced me to Christian commitment, and I took it seriously. But I didn't surrender my life to Jesus until I was 13 at a Vacation Bible School at a non-denominational church. I joined that church, which was an evangelical, dispensational-doctrine church. I eventually got involved in a pentecostal missions group, Youth With A Mission, and my participation in ministry in my home church was cut off at that point, because of their disagreement with pentecostal doctrine.

I went to Bible School, beginning in 1986. While I was there, I had many questions about the foundation of what we believe. I determined that the only thing that I believed was Jesus, based on him raising from the dead. If that was the case, I surmised, then the whole of Christian doctrine should be re-formed, beginning with the life and teaching of Jesus. So I wrote out all the teachings of Jesus, each saying on a separate index card, and reorganized them according to subject. Then I wrote conclusions on each topic on other index cards, and this was the core of my theology. In doing this, I had to re-interpret Paul, especially about what he said about faith and works, and found that understanding Paul makes more sense understood in the light of Jesus, rather than the other way around.

Later, I was reading a biography of Martin Luther. The author, rather anachronistically, said that Luther opposed a group called "Mennnonites", who believed in obeying the Sermon on the Mount literally. I said to myself, "That's the kind of group I want to be a part of" and so looked in the Yellow Pages for Mennonite churches. At that time, there were two Mennonite churches in the area. I visited both of them, but at Peace Mennonite I met William Higgins, who was an avid student of both theology and Anabaptism. His approach to theology was similar to mine and so my family and I tried the church out. One of the things that amazed us was the community involvement in the church-- some folks were living on the church grounds, and everyone was involved in each other's lives, in a postitive way. We saw this as doing what the early church did as well-- live in communities that were involved with each other.

So we joined Peace Mennonite, and later the PNMC supported our beginning a church among the homeless and the mentally ill. In looking around at other denominations, I realize that while other denominations would accept our ministry, they would not have accepted a church made up of the homeless and mentally ill, which has very little financial support.

Thus, the Anabaptists were a fit for us theologically, socially and for our calling.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Justice II

O God, I look afar and I see your name be slandered
Your people-- your children O God!--
are suffering under the judgement of men.
The righteous are condemned to prison
The merciful are shown no mercy
The holy are slandered and included with the evil
The blessed are insulted and cursed
But worst of all, O God
The greatest crime
Those who claim to be following you
Those who seek you in your word
Those who use your name so solemnly yet glibly
Those who call themselves "the children of God"
They are the perpetuators of the crimes.
They revile the deeds of righteousness
They blaspheme your word by twisting it against your servants
They oppress the ones you have set free
They make war against the peacemakers
They refuse service to your poor
They harangue your prophets and apostles,
hoping to put them to death.

O God deliver your servants
Redeem them from the hands of your enemies
Take them out from under the thumbs of their oppressors
And give them freedom in your sight.

Be glorified in it, my Lord
I ask not that you redeem them by politics
I ask not that you redeem them by war
not by diplomacy
not by honors
not by memory
Rather, redeem them by the vindication of Jesus through resurrection
redeem them by the true judgment of your word
by your swift and righteous hand
by the coming of the Holy One
by the separating of wheat and chaff
by the final anointing
through a Kingdom Come.

Your Kingdom come, O God
Your glorious light shine
Come quickly now, Lord Jesus
Bring to this earth your peace and justice
And so increase your glory.

Menno Simons: Signs of A Healthy Church

Found in: Anabaptism in Outline

1. By an unadulterated, pure doctrine. Mat 28:20; Mark 16:15; John 8:52; Gal. 1

2. By a scriptural use of the sacramental signs. Mat 28:19; Mark 16; Rom 6:4; Col 2:12; I Cor 12:13; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; I Cor 11:22, 23

3. By obedience to the Word. Mat. 7; Luke 11:28; Jn 7:18; 15:10; James 1:22

4. By unfeigned, brotherly love. Jn 13:34; Rom 13:8; I Cor 13:1; I Jn 3:18;4:7-8

5. By a bold confession of God and Christ Mt 10:32; Mk 8:29; Rom 10:9; I Tim 6:13

6. By oppression and tribulation for the sake of God’s word.Mt 5:10; 10:39; 16:24; 24:9; Luk 6:28; Jn 15:20; II Tim 2:9; 3:12; I Pet 1:6; 3:14; 4:13; 5:10; I Jn 3:13

Friday, October 17, 2008

Distinctive #19-- The Ban

When a person breaks their baptismal pledge to follow Jesus the church is to call them to repentance. If they do not repent, they are placed out of the church - Matthew 18:15-20. This is the proper way to purify the church, not persecution and death. The Christendom model either overlooks issues of immorality or it uses the criminal justice system to kill people for matters of faith.

Distinctive #18-- Community Egalitarianism

Within the congregation there is no sharp difference between leaders and followers. Anabaptists did not like the Catholic scheme whereby priests are placed on a higher level because they mediate God to the people. They taught that God is no respecter of persons. They had leaders, but they were common people from the congregation who seemed gifted and called to serve the rest.

Distinctive #17-- Localism

Each local congregation is qualified and responsible to decide what should be taught in it. They should also call, support and discipline their own pastors. Luther thought that political leaders should decide what the faith of their people would be. Anabaptists taught that each congregation should decide for themselves - not the state or the clergy or the scholars.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Five Little Known Facts About The Amish

A.J. Jacobs is a writer, who recently wrote about his year of attempting to live out every command of the Torah (including stoning an adulterer) in his book, "The Year of Living Biblically". He wrote this post on the Amish, a group that came out of the Mennonites, and published it in Mental Floss. Check it out here:

During my year of living biblically, I made several pilgrimages across America. I wanted to embed myself in various communities that live the Bible literally in their own way – from Hasidic Jews to evangelical Christians. I also invited religious people to my house. I think I’m the only person in American history to out-Bible talk a Jehovah’s Witness. After about three hours, he looked at his watch and said, “I gotta go.”

One of my first trips was to Amish country in Lancaster County. My wife and I drove down from New York (I’m proud to say that I have absolutely no urge to make a double entendre when we passed Intercourse, Pennsylvania, which I see as a great moral victory).

To be biblically honest, I was a little leery of going to Amish country - the Amish have been a go-to religious punchline for so long, sort of the Carrot Top or Jazzercise of American spirituality, and I didn’t want to fall into that trap. I didn’t want to seem like I was mocking them.

In the end, I’m glad I went. I learned a huge amount and got to experience the beauty of the Amish culture. Plus, I got to hear an Amish joke told by an actual Amish person, which was a pleasant surprise.

Here are five Amish facts I learned during my year:If you browse websites about the Amish, you’ll often see a lot of pictures of the backs of their heads. The Amish follow strictly the second commandment – you shall not make graven images. And they are also concerned with appearing vain. So they don’t like their faces photographed. They compromise by showing the back of their heads.

Amish have beards in accordance with Leviticus, which forbids the shaving of the corners of your beard. But they do shave their moustaches. The moustache was thought to have military associations by the early Amish, who came over from Switzerland in the 18th century.

The Amish do tell Amish jokes. My wife and I stayed at an Amish man’s house, and he told us one. (Note: Please lower your expectations. The Amish are working with some pretty tight constraints here). Okay, here goes:

The joke and more Amish facts after the jump…

Q: What happened when the Mennonite man married the Amish woman?
A: She drove him buggy.”

The Amish perform a foot-washing ritual, in accordance with the New Testament’s John 13:5, which says “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example…”

Amish sports are the quietest sports in the world. Here’s what my wife and I saw as we were leaving Amish country.

“I spot a cluster of about 30 buggies. We pull over to see what’s happening. We have stumbled onto an Amish baseball game. Many discourage competitive sports. But here are 18 Amish teenage boys, their sleeves rolled up, their shirts and suspenders dark with sweat. Julie and I watch for a long time. These kids are good, but something is off about the game. I realize after a few minutes what it is: This is the quietest baseball game I’ve ever seen. No trash talk. No cheering from the parents in the stands. Near silence, except for the occasional crack of the bat. It is eerie and peaceful and beautiful.”

Article: Loving Enemies

Christians Send Love to Indian Leader Despite Ongoing Violence

The Christian Post reports that Christians all over India have decided to present Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik with flowers on his 62nd birthday on Oct. 16. Christian leaders and laymen have both joined in email campaigns, urging believers to wish the chief minister a happy birthday and to express "love" even after the pain and suffering the Christian community has been undergoing following violence on churches and clergies in the Indian state of Orissa. "Since we love those who hate us, please do not fail to send him special birthday greetings from the Christian community, especially from those who are impressed by his efforts to uphold the honor of women and enforce the rule of law in this state," states the email being circulated among the Christians.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Distinctive #16-- Volunteerism

Each person must decide in their conscience what they will believe and should not be
persecuted for this. Each person should be able to choose what they believe without coercion or pressure. If someone wants to be baptized, let them choose it. If not, that is their choice.

How To Treat A Secular Government

What to recognize about governments
The government is appointed by God
Every government only gains its authority from God—even evil governments. Although governments may misuse or even abuse their authority, the authority itself comes from God. Thus, we need to respect the authority of the government, no matter who is using it. (John 20:11)

The government represents God
The government is meant to do some of God’s work on earth—specifically, to punish those who do evil and to reward those who do good. This does not mean that the government is God’s servant, necessarily. Satan also punishes the evil at God’s bidding, but he is not an obedient servant of God. But ideally, the government does God’s will. (Romans 13:1)

The government will be judged by God
Men do not have the right to judge governments. Even as a government’s authority and work has been given to it by God, so it is God who evaluates and determines the fate of governments. Often, God is patient and willing to wait for change. But some governments will be destroyed by God immediately: specifically those treat the needy badly and those who do much unnecessary violence. (Psalm 82)

There is only one truly godly government
The only government that has been appointed, approved and having passed testing by God is the kingdom of God, led by Jesus. No other government can call themselves approved by God. Nor can any other government call itself truly “Christian.” (John 18:36)

What not to do
Resist them when they do injustice against you
We do not resist authorities, but we are supposed to submit to them. We don’t need to complain against them, hate them or speak evil against them. Instead, if a government does us wrong, we pray about it and ask God for justice. (Matthew 5:39)

Judge them for not following the laws or principles of God’s kingdom.
Although the governments represent God, they do not understand the principles of God, except in the most general notions. And so it is not our job to judge them or condemn them for what they do not know. We can inform them of what God says, but it is God’s right to judge them and to punish them if they were inadequate. (I Corinthians 5:9-10)

Rebel against the authorities
We don’t need to do evil to the government. If the government is to be fought against, then we can pray for God to judge them, according to his will.
(Romans 13:2)

Obey them when they tell you to disobey the principles of Jesus.
We must take care to always place God and God’s will in our lives above the government’s will and desire. We submit to governments in all things except when they tell us to disregard the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. (Acts 4:19)

What to do
Give honor to whom honor is due
Government officials require that we speak politely to them, with the proper titles. Whatever honor is expected, we should give it. (Romans 13:7)

Pay taxes when you are required to
All governments require us to pay taxes to them. Even if you feel that the government isn’t representing you or doing what you think is right, you still have to pay the taxes that they demand of you. (Romans 13:7)

Pray for the leadership
We need to pray for government officials so that we will show respect for the officials, and also so God will direct the authorities to have wisdom to create a society of peace, so the church can do what God is directing them to do. (I Timothy 2:1-2)

Submit to authorities, even when you come to harm
We are to submit to authorities, even if they do evil, even if they irritate us, even if they harm us. This is how we show that we are fully submitted to God and will do good, even if others do us evil. (I Peter 2:13-24)

Obey all laws, unless they tell you to disobey God
Since the governments have the authority of God and act for God, we need to obey them. Even if you think the law is wrong or unjust, obey it. The only time we disobey, is if they tell us to disobey God. (Colossians 3:22)

Do good to those who do harm to you
When government officials do harm to us, we are to respond with blessings and prayers for their benefit. We do not curse them or abuse them, but instead do what we can to benefit them. (Romans 12:17-21)

Warn them away from God’s judgement by encouraging them to repent
If governmental officials do evil in God’s sight—especially if they are enacting unnecessary violence or harming the needy—they need to be warned that God will judge them unless they repent. (Ezekiel 33:9)

What you don’t have to do
Participate in the government
Many feel that it is one’s civic duty to vote in governmental elections, sign appropriate petitions or to participate in neighborhood meetings. However, since we, as Christians, belong to the kingdom of God, we should focus our attention on participating with God’s people, not a secular government. (James 4:4)

Agree with any particular politics or politician
Some Christians feel that a certain politics is the only real Christian choice, or that a certain politician is the “godly candidate.” However, we do not need to support any policy, politics or candidate. Rather, we need to focus on policies and decisions within the church and among those who represent Jesus. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

Call the nation we live in “our country”
The nation of all those who follow Jesus is not the one they were born in or the one they live in—it is the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God has no king but God and no lord but Jesus and no realm on the earth. The non-godly government we live in the midst of is not “our” country. It is the country we live in . Our nation is only the kingdom of God. (II Corinthians 6:14-18)

Protest injustices
The ungodly governments of this world will do unjust and evil things sometimes. We do not need to protest them, although we might warn them what God will do in response. Some might choose to protest, and receive what persecution comes with gladness. But it is not necessary. However, when some in the church who represent God does open evil, then we need to respond. (I Corinthians 5:9-11)

Honor government leaders, but focus on God’s will among God’s people.

Distinctiv #15-- Politcal Nonconformity

Followers of Jesus must be faithful to the teaching of Jesus, even if this brings them into conflict with the political authorities placed over them by God - Acts 5:29. The church is a prophetic voice to the powers that be of the new way of Jesus. It also calls governments to account for their actions of injustice that go against God’s will for governments. This was especially the case when governments persecuted the Anabaptists.

9-11-- An Application of Two Kingdom Theology

The following was written on 9-11-01, just two hours after the attack on the twin towers.

"I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." I Timothy 2:1-4

1. Pray for the victims.
Let us pray for those who have been devastated by this tragedy. Pray for the widows, orphans and husbands of those who have recently died. Pray for those in the hospital, that the Lord might heal them. Pray for those who are questioning why God would allow such a thing to happen, that the Lord might give them strength.

2. Recognize that it is not evil for the government to have some kind of retaliation.
It is normal for the U.S. government to want to retaliate when there has been such a horrible injustice done. They are operating under the principles given to Noah. “Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.”—Genesis 9:6. Even so, governments today act under the same principles and so they are rightly to be feared by those who do evil. “But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”—Romans 13:4.

3. Hate no race or religion.
There is no cause for anyone to hate a people, race, religion or country because of what happened. This was the act of a small group of murderers, not of a whole people or religion.
If it was Iraq, for example, it was not the people of Iraq, who are innocently trying to live their own lives of desperation.

If it was a group of fundamentalist Muslims that perpetrated the act, it does not represent Islam as a whole. The far majority of Muslims are people trying to overcome sin in their lives by worshipping God—they do not hate Americans, nor would they support a horrible action such as this.

It is possible that it was a group of fundamentalist “Christians” who is declaring war against the world financial market and the U.S. military. If it is so, do we reject Christianity? Do we declare all Christians to be hate-mongers, and reject those who adhere to it? Of course not. Even so, there is no cause for anyone to hate another people, another religion because of what a few insane people did.

4. Followers of Jesus do not take part in retaliation.
Although the U.S. government will retaliate in some way against the group that did this, that does not mean that Christians need to support or take part in retaliation. Jesus said, “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.” Matthew 5:43-44. Paul said, “Do not return evil for evil, but good.” This is the basic teaching of Scripture. That when people do evil against us, we are to return good to them. Even so, we should not pursue or participate in any way the retaliation that will certainly come. Let us reject the hatred that may come over us, asking for God’s strength to love those who have done such evil. Let us also reject the hatred that comes from others, looking for our support. May the Lord give us grace to gently rebuke those who, in their grief, are looking for scapegoats.

5. Pray for your enemies.
In response to those who have perpetrated this evil, let us follow what Scripture says, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Pray for these evil people, that the Lord would cause them to repent and so that they may be saved. Pray that the Lord would work his grace among these people, and draw them to himself. Pray that they may see the faces of the dead and dying; the faces of the orphans, widows and husbands left behind and “weep and mourn and grieve” because of their sin.

6. Love those who hate you.
Also, let us encourage others to love these who are hated so. Let us ask the question, “What is the best thing for these who have performed such evil?” First of all, the best thing would be for them to repent and believe in Jesus, who taught the way of peace and reconciliation through sacrifice, not war, hatred and death. Secondly, it is best for these to be brought to trial and put in prison, both for their own safety and so that they do not commit any more crimes like this. God desires that everyone be saved, even people who commit terribly evil acts (II Peter 3:9).

7. Pray for peace for all.
Also, as believers, we are to pray for those in the government, in order that we might live peaceful and quiet lives. Not only for us, but also for the innocent who surround the ones who committed such a deed. For every murderer, there is a wife or a mother or a friend who had nothing to do with the evil deed. But if the government goes in without regard to the innocent, then this tragedy will be increased. Pray for those who are involved in responding to this tragedy, that they might hurt no one, but be able to pursue the justice of this world with wisdom and love for all, pursuing peace.

A Summary of Two Kingdom Theology

Passages: Matthew 23:2-3; Mark 12:13-17; Romans 12:14-13:8; Matthew 5:38-48; Daniel 2:21,44; I Peter 2:4-25; II Cor 6:14-18; Revelation 18:2-5; Matthew 5:3-12; I Corinthians 7:17-23; Ephesians 2:19-22

1. For the follower of Christ, God alone is King and Jesus alone is Lord of Lords. The followers of Jesus together belong to the kingdom of God, not to any kingdom of this world. The kingdom of God is made up of those who are righteous in God through Christ.

2. God is the establisher of authority over the earth. He has given authority to mankind to rule all the creatures of the earth. God establishes and desposes kings and authorities on the earth to rule mankind. These kings and authorities are often evil, dedicating themselves to idolatry, but they continue to have God’s authority.

3. While the follower of Jesus is submitted primarily to Christ, while they are living in a country, they act as ambassadors from the kingdom of God to that nation, and thus are accountable to that nation.

4. The follower of Christ is to submit to the authorities on earth they are specifically under, as long as the authority does not command the follower of Christ to reject the word of Christ.

5. The follower of Christ is not to act as those who are outside the kingdom of God, but to be separate from the kingdom of this world in action—being obedient to the Spirit and not to the flesh—and in attitude—following the principles of love as taught by Christ, not the principles of the flesh or the world.

6. On the final day, God will destroy all of the current governments and place the oppressed and righteous of his people in charge of all the peoples on earth.
7. The follower of Christ should not put themselves under the submission of the world in any way they are able to avoid it, especially in areas in which compromise one’s obedience to Christ.

8. To battle oppression by those in authority, Scripture has four methods:
a. Cry out to the Lord for deliverance;
b. Speak to those doing the evil, warning them of God’s judgment if they continue;
c. Suffer for doing good under those who are evil;
d. Create communities of Christ’s righteousness.

1. Non-violent resistance
To resist authority, even if they are oppressing you, is opposed to Scripture. Even though the resistance might cause the authorities to yield their oppression, salvation comes from God, not from earthly authorities, governments or civil rights.

2. Patriotism
For the follower of Jesus, fealty is to be given to God alone through Christ. While they submit to the governing authorities in which they live, they do so as visitors, not subjects.

3. Partnerships with unbelievers
Any kind of partnership with an unbeliever should be rejected. This includes marriages, business partnerships, financial partnerships, or any partnership in which authority is split between unbelievers and a follower of Christ. Grants may be accepted from unbelievers, as long as they do not have strings which compromise one’s obedience to Christ.

4. Service in the police or military or politics
Service in the police or the military easily compromises Jesus’ commands by calling upon their forces to do evil to others for the sake of defense, security or vengeance. If one who has come to the Lord finds oneself in such a position, then continue to do so until the position forces one to compromise obedience to Jesus. At that point, the follower of Jesus must obey Jesus, no matter what the consequences. A follower of Jesus should not, however, join the police, military or run for office for to do so would too easily compromise one’s obedience to Jesus. Don’t make things difficult for yourself.

Distinctive #14-- Two Kingdoms

The church is a separate social entity from the rest of society which is “the world.” These two kingdoms have different standards. You are either among the people of God or you are a part of the world. There is no neutral ground. The dividing line between these two kingdoms is believer’s baptism. This is a rejection of the Christendom conception of a church that is fused together with the state into one social entity, living by one standard. True disciples who live by the teaching of Jesus will not fit in with the world system around them.

Faith And Works-- A Bible Study

Sin leads us to hell
Matthew 5:20—Murder leads us to hell.
Matthew 5:21-22—Hatred of any kind, including insulting a brother, leads us to hell
Matthew 5:27-29—Evil lust of any kind, including adultery and lustful looking leads us to hell
Matthew 18:7-9—Causing a “little one” to stumble leads one to hell
Matthew 23:33—The Pharisees are condemned to hell because of their actions
Mark 9:42-48—Cast away anything that causes you to sin, or else you will go to hell.
Matthew 3:10—Whoever does not do good works will be punished eternally.
Matthew 7:19—Whoever does not do good works go to hell.
Matthew 13:40-42—The judgment day condemns those who are lawless and stumbling blocks
Matthew 25:41-46—The goats are punished eternally for not helping those who represent Jesus.
James 1:14-15—Temptation leads to sin, and sin leads to death
James 5:1-5—The rich will be punished eternally because of their evil actions.
Jude 1:7—Sodom and G., by their evil actions were punished by eternal fire

Those who persist in sin will not enter the kingdom of God

I Corinthians 6:9-10—Those who are characterized by evil acts will not enter into the kingdom.
Galatians 5:19-21—Those who act in accordance with the desires of the flesh will not enter the kingdom of God.
Ephesians 5:5-6—Sinners will not partake of the inheritance of Christ but will have the wrath of God.
Hebrews 10:26-31—The believer who persists in sin will be judged on the final day with fire
Revelation 21:8—those who abide in sin and cowardice will be punished in the lake of fire

Our eternal destiny is based on our actions, whether good or bad
Matthew 5:20—Unless your righteousness exceeds the Pharisees’ you will not enter God’s kingdom
Romans 6:16—One is a slave, either to sin, which leads to death, or to God which leads to obedience
Matthew 12:36-37—One is justified or condemned by every careless word they utter
Romans 2:6, 9-11—God will give to each person according to their deeds; distress to those who sin and peace to those who do righteousness
John 5:28-29—On the last day, the Son will raise the evil to punishment and the good to life
Revelation 20:12-13—All will be judged on the last day according to the deeds which are written in the book of life, whether evil or good.
Matthew 16:27—At Jesus’ return, God will repay everyone according to their deeds
II Corinthians 5:10—Everyone will be repaid according to their deeds, whether good or evil.
II Corinthians 11:15—Satan’s servants will end according to their deeds
Titus 1:15-16—Those who do evil deny God
Revelation 2:23—Jesus will give each one within the church according to the deeds done
Revelation 14:13—The dead in the Lord are blessed because their deeds follow after them.

Repentance from sin gives forgiveness and a right standing before God; But those who do not repent will be punished and condemned
Ezekiel 18:30-32—God judges everyone according to what they do. Therefore repent and turn away from your sin and God will forgive, for he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone.
Jonah 3: 1-10—Nineveh was not destroyed because they repented
Matthew 3:4-8—The people came to John, confessed their sins and were baptized by him.
Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3—John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Mark 1:15—Jesus’ basic message was to repent and to believe in the gospel
Luke 5:32—Jesus came to call sinners to repentance
Luke 10:13—Woe to cities of Israel because they did not repent
Luke 11:32—Nineveh will condemn the generation of Jesus on the judgment day because Jesus’ generation did not repent
Luke 13:1-5—Unless you repent, great punishment will come upon you
Luke 15:1-10—The Lord rejoices at the repentance of sinners
Luke 24:47—Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations.
Acts 2:38—Repent and be baptized
Acts 3:19—Repent so your sins will be wiped away.
Acts 5:31—Jesus grants repentance to Israel and the forgiveness of sins
Acts 8:22—Repent that your intention might be forgiven you
Acts 11:18—God granted to the gentiles the repentance that leads to life
Acts 20:21—Paul taught repentance and faith in Jesus
Acts 26:20—Paul taught repentance, turning to God and doing acts in accordance with repentance
II Timothy 2:25—God might grant repentance to them leading to the knowledge of the truth
II Peter 3:9—God does not desire anyone to be punished but that all would come to repentance
Revelation 2:5—Repent or else Jesus will come and take the lampstand out of its place
I Corinthians 6:11—Some of you were evildoers, but now you are justified and sanctified

We are led by God to do the pure works of the Law— the moral commands
Matthew 5:17-19—Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law and Prophets, but to fulfill them
Matthew 7:12—This is the L&P—to do to others as you would have them do to you
Matthew 22:36-40—The L&P depend on loving God and loving your neighbor
Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42—The weightier commandments of the L&P are justice and mercy—do those as well as the minor ones
Luke 10:26-28—Love God and love your neighbor and you will live
Acts 24:14—Paul believes everything in accordance with the L&P
Romans 2:13-16—Anyone who does the law is justified, even those who do not know the law
Romans 8:4—The requirement of the law is fulfilled by those who walk in the Spirit
Romans 13:8-10—The law is fulfilled by obeying, “love your neighbor as yourself”
I Corinthians 9:9-10—God uses the law to speak to his people today
Galatians 5:14, 22-23—The whole law is fulfilled by “Love your neighbor”; The fruit of the Spirit is love, etc. against which there is no law
Galatians 6:2—Bear each other’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ
James 1:25—The one who lives by the law of liberty will be blessed in what he does
James 2:8-13—the law of liberty, the royal law is “love your neighbor as yourself”, the rest of it is just applications of it
James 4:11—Whoever speaks against a brother speaks against the law and judges it and such a one is not a doer of the law.

Faith is action based on the promises of God
Luke 18:7-8—Faith is persistant prayer for God’s justice
John 8:30-32- Those who believe Jesus follow him; those who follow him obey him.
Romans 6:5-6—Through faith, we are dead to sin.
Galatians 2:20—Having the faith of Jesus is living the life of Jesus.
Hebrews 11:8, 17, 34-35—Faith acts in obedience to God, based on his promises.
Hebrews 11:3-12:3—Faith is following the example of the saints of God and Jesus.
James 2:5-8—The promise of God is that the poor of faith receive the kingdom, and so the action of faith is to love the needy.
Revelation 14:12—Faith is obedience to God and to the Son.

The teaching of Jesus and the day of judgement
Matthew 25:31-46—The sheep are offered their reward—entrance into the kingdom—because of their obedience to Jesus’ words—the helping of those who represent Jesus. The goats are punished on judgement day because of their disobedience to Christ’s teaching in the same area.
Matthew 7:21-27; Luke 6:46-49—The one who hears and obeys Jesus’ teaching stands firm on judgment day; the one who does not is destroyed on judgement day.
II John 9-11—The one who does not adhere to the teaching that Jesus taught is to be treated as separated from the people of God and they do evil deeds.
I Timothy 6:3-5 – The one who does not adhere to the teaching that Jesus taught does evil deeds
Revelation 2:26—Whoever keeps Jesus’ deeds to the end is he who overcomes and will gain reward.

Predestination and Good Deeds
Matthew 25:31-46—Those who do what is righteous were predestined to live in the kingdom with the Father.
Ephesians 2:10—The good works of those who are in Jesus were predestined by God.
II Thessalonians 2:13—The believer was predestined by God to be holy by the Spirit.

Distinctive #13-- A Visible Church

The church is not invisible - made up of those with faith in their hearts alone. One’s inner experience of God (if real) will show up in an outward conformity to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. Thus the true people of God will be marked by baptism and a godly life. The spiritualists thought that inner spirituality was enough. Anabaptists insisted that the inner and the outer are connected. Real disciples are known by their fruits - Matthew 7:16.

Distinctive #12-- Children Are Innocent

On the basis of texts like Matthew 19:14 children should be seen as innocent. There is no need for a sacrament such as infant baptism that can wash away the effects of original sin for them. They are not punished for sin until they come to the age of accountability. Therefore they should wait and be baptized as believers.

Distinctive #11-- Believer's Baptism

According to the New Testament baptism is only for believers. It is the pledge of a believer to live a new life as a part of God’s community. It is about discipleship. Since the water is only water, it does an infant no good. The scriptural pattern is always that faith precedes water baptism. Baptism is like a monastic vow. All who choose it commit to walk according to Jesus’ teaching. It is the beginning of a life of discipleship, set apart from the world.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Distinctive #10- The Lord's Supper

This is a memorial of the death of Jesus and is only for baptized believers who are committed to obedience to Jesus. The idea of the supper as a memorial was learned from Zwingli and/or the Dutch Sacramentists. The bread and wine are only bread and wine. They do not change in essence as in Catholicism. They point to the death of Jesus.

Distinctive #9- Non-Sacramental Ordinances

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are simply outward signs of God’s grace working in you by the Spirit. A sacrament is “a visible sign of an invisible grace.” In Catholic thought the visible sign conveys the invisible grace by the mere performance of the act. There are seven Catholic sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Ordination, Confirmation, Penance, Marriage, and Extreme unction. It is through these acts that God’s grace (salvation) is given to people. For Anabaptists, the two outward signs do not convey the grace. They are a means by which a person testifies to the presence of grace already within them.

Complete Mennonite Confession of Faith

The whole text of the Mennonite Confession of Faith (1995) is found at this site, where the index is given for each chapter:

Mennonite Confession of Faith Summary 1995

Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective
1. We believe that God exists and is pleased with all who draw near by faith. We worship the one holy and loving God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally. God has created all things visible and invisible, has brought salvation and new life to humanity through Jesus Christ, and continues to sustain the church and all things until the end of the age.

2. We believe in Jesus Christ , the Word of God become flesh. He is the Savior of the world, who has delivered us from the dominion of sin and reconciled us to God by his death on a cross. He was declared to be Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. He is the head of the church, the exalted Lord, the Lamb who was slain, coming again to reign with God in glory.

3. We believe in the Holy Spirit , the eternal Spirit of God, who dwelled in Jesus Christ, who empowers the church, who is the source of our life in Christ, and who is poured out on those who believe as the guarantee of redemption.

4. We believe that all Scripture is inspired by God through the Holy Spirit for instruction in salvation and training in righteousness. We accept the Scriptures as the Word of God and as the fully reliable and trustworthy standard for Christian faith and life. Led by the Holy Spirit in the church, we interpret Scripture in harmony with Jesus Christ.

5. We believe that God has created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, and that God preserves and renews what has been made. All creation has its source outside itself and belongs to the Creator. The world has been created good because God is good and provides all that is needed for life.

6. We believe that God has created human beings in the divine image. God formed them from the dust of the earth and gave them a special dignity among all the works of creation. Human beings have been made for relationship with God, to live in peace with each other, and to take care of the rest of creation.

7. We confess that, beginning with Adam and Eve, humanity has disobeyed God, given way to the tempter, and chosen to sin . All have fallen short of the Creator's intent, marred the image of God in which they were created, disrupted order in the world, and limited their love for others. Because of sin, humanity has been given over to the enslaving powers of evil and death.

8. We believe that, through Jesus Christ, God offers salvation from sin and a new way of life. We receive God's salvation when we repent and accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. In Christ, we are reconciled with God and brought into the reconciling community. We place our faith in God that, by the same power that raised Christ from the dead, we may be saved from sin to follow Christ and to know the fullness of salvation.

9. We believe that the church is the assembly of those who have accepted God's offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the new community of disciples sent into the world to proclaim the reign of God and to provide a foretaste of the church's glorious hope. It is the new society established and sustained by the Holy Spirit.

10. We believe that the mission of the church is to proclaim and to be a sign of the kingdom of God. Christ has commissioned the church to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe all things he has commanded.

11. We believe that the baptism of believers with water is a sign of their cleansing from sin. Baptism is also a pledge before the church of their covenant with God to walk in the way of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Believers are baptized into Christ and his body by the Spirit, water, and blood.

12. We believe that the Lord's Supper is a sign by which the church thankfully remembers the new covenant which Jesus established by his death. In this communion meal, the church renews its covenant with God and with each other and participates in the life and death of Jesus Christ, until he comes.

13. We believe that in washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus calls us to serve one another in love as he did. Thus we acknowledge our frequent need of cleansing, renew our willingness to let go of pride and worldly power, and offer our lives in humble service and sacrificial love.

14. We practice discipline in the church as a sign of God's offer of transforming grace. Discipline is intended to liberate erring brothers and sisters from sin, and to restore them to a right relationship with God and to fellowship in the church. The practice of discipline gives integrity to the church's witness in the world.

15. We believe that ministry is a continuation of the work of Christ, who gives gifts through the Holy Spirit to all believers and empowers them for service in the church and in the world. We also believe that God calls particular persons in the church to specific leadership ministries and offices. All who minister are accountable to God and to the community of faith.

16. We believe that the church of Jesus Christ is one body with many members, ordered in such a way that, through the one Spirit, believers may be built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

17. We believe that Jesus Christ calls us to discipleship , to take up our cross and follow him. Through the gift of God's saving grace, we are empowered to be disciples of Jesus, filled with his Spirit, following his teachings and his path through suffering to new life. As we are faithful to his way, we become conformed to Christ and separated from the evil in the world.

18. We believe that to be a disciple of Jesus is to know life in the Spirit . As the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ takes shape in us, we grow in the image of Christ and in our relationship with God. The Holy Spirit is active in individual and in communal worship, leading us deeper into the experience of God.

19. We believe that God intends human life to begin in families and to be blessed through families. Even more, God desires all people to become part of the church, God's family. As single and married members of the church family give and receive nurture and healing, families can grow toward the wholeness that God intends. We are called to chastity and to loving faithfulness in marriage.

20. We commit ourselves to tell the truth , to give a simple yes or no, and to avoid the swearing of oaths.

21. We believe that everything belongs to God, who calls the church to live in faithful stewardship of all that God has entrusted to us, and to participate now in the rest and justice which God has promised.

22. We believe that peace is the will of God. God created the world in peace, and God's peace is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, who is our peace and the peace of the whole world. Led by the Holy Spirit, we follow Christ in the way of peace, doing justice, bringing reconciliation, and practicing nonresistance, even in the face of violence and warfare.

23. We believe that the church is God's holy nation, called to give full allegiance to Christ its head and to witness to every nation, government, and society about God's saving love.

24. We place our hope in the reign of God and its fulfillment in the day when Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. He will gather his church, which is already living under the reign of God. We await God's final victory, the end of this present age of struggle, the resurrection of the dead, and a new heaven and a new earth. There the people of God will reign with Christ in justice, righteousness, and peace for ever and ever.

Herald Press, 1995

Distinctive #8- Spirit Regeneration

The one who believes is born of the Spirit. Believers are new creations in Christ and are thus able to do God’s will. We are not simply forgiven sinners, who continue in sin. We are forgiven and transformed by the Spirit so that we can obey God. For Luther God’s grace is best emphasized when we see God as accepting us despite our continued sin. This keeps us from thinking we can earn our salvation. For Anabaptists God’s grace is best emphasized when we see God’s grace powerfully transforming us. All the good we do is a testimony to God’s powerful work in us.

Distinctive #7- Human Choice

Although all people are sinners, God makes it possible for all to choose to have faith and be saved. Luther’s concept of predestination is wrong. People do have a choice. God does not predetermine everything. Also Luther’s idea of total depravity is overstated. We are sinful, but by God’s grace we can choose to turn to God.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Distinctive #6- Saved By Grace Through Faith

Salvation is a gift of God’s grace, based on what Jesus has done, that must be received by faith. Salvation is not based on deeds we do, religious or otherwise. Anabaptists learned this from Luther. But they emphasized that this grace, if it is real will produce acts of righteousness. Only the one who does the will of the Father in heaven will ultimately be saved - Matthew 7:21.

Constantine, The Apostle of Compromise

Posted on the MySpace Mennonite Group under the topic "How Much Can We Really Blame On Constantine?"

There are a couple things that are unique to Constantine himself, as opposed to other emperors before him:

First of all, he made an open attempt to find points of common interest between Christians and pagans, especially sun worshippers.

Constantine's family religion was sun worship, and so he promoted sun worship in the empire. Christianity was a popular new religion and he used them to gain political leverage, especially against the other two Roman rulers who were competing against Constatine to be emperor.

So Constantine did encourage the church to worship on Sunday because Sunday was the day the sun worshippers worshipped. While some early Christians worshipped on the first day of the week, it was probably on the evening of what we would call Saturday, but the Jewish folks would call the first day.

Also, the Chi Rho, the symbol of Constantine's vision, looked suspiciously-- almost exactly-- like his family crest, which was the symbol of the rising sun between two hills.

So Constantine catered to the church, trying to make them feel as a part of the Roman people, not as outsiders.

The second unique thing Constatine did is to invite the church into the political process. He passed a law which required bishops to act as a court of appeals if a Christian didn't like a decision coming down from a Roman judge. While I think that Constantine's motivation was good-- to prevent further persecution or misunderstanding-- but many bishops at the time was opposed to this law. But there was nothing they could do about it.

He also put himself as arbitrator over the council of Nissea. Nissea was chosen because it was right next to Constantinople. Now Constantine didn't make a ruling, but he did act as mediator.

These three items, I think, give adequate reason to name Constantinism after Constantine. First of all, he actively knocked down the wall of separation between the church and the world. Secondly, he got the church involved in the poltical life of the current state instead of focusing only on the kingdom of God. Thirdly, he encouraged the state to get involved in church business.

If you have any questions about it, read what Eusibius says about Constantine. He gives the emperor greater praise than he does any saint of the church, and the emperor didn't get baptized until he was one foot in the grave and then in his crypt, he put himself amidst the twelve apostles!

Constantine was a great political mind. But he was terrible for the church.

I recently found out that near the end of his life, Constantine killed his wife and one of his sons. Not exactly the act of a "Christian" emperor-- or perhaps he was the model for almost all Christian poltical leaders after him?

Disttinctive #5- Restorationism

The goal is not so much reform as it is a restoration of the apostolic/New Testament church. It is not enough to take the medieval church and tinker with it (Luther, Zwingli). One must get back past the fall of the church with Constantine and restore the practices of the New Testament church. This is all that is important.

Distinctive #4- Biblicism

The end of all Bible study is to do what it says. We literally do whatever Jesus and the apostles teach, whatever the consequences.

The Really Brief Mennonite History

When Martin Luther first began his reformation of the Roman Catholic church in 1519, there were many who agreed with his focus on faith and Scripture, and they called themselves “evangelicals”. There was a small group in Zurich, Switzerland that felt that the evangelicals were not focusing enough on what the Bible really said, especially concerning that baptism is for those who have faith, not for infants. They were called Anabaptists (which means “re-baptizers”) because they baptized those who were supposedly baptized as infants. Because the Anabaptists held to these positions in opposition to both the Catholic and Evangelical (or “protestant”) governments, which legalized religious beliefs, the Anabaptists were declared criminals and arrested, tortured and killed by all governments in Europe for the next 100 years. Even evangelical leaders such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli encouraged political leaders to arrest and kill Anabaptists.

Fleeing persecution and seeking to spread the gospel around the world caused Anabaptists to spread all over Europe, from the Netherlands to Russia. Later, the Anabaptists moved to America, seeking to hold their beliefs without persecution. As they came to the United States, the immigration officials saw that most Anabaptists carried a writing of Menno Simons, a popular Anabaptist writer of the mid 1500s, and so they labeled them “Mennonists” or, later, “Mennonites”.

Today there are more than a million people who are a part of Anabaptist or Mennonite communities. There are many Anabaptist groups, including the Mennonite Church, the Brethren in Christ, the Amish and the Hutterites. More than half of all the Mennonites in the world are found in Africa, India, Indonesia and Brazil. Mennonites have established many cooperative ministries including international aid organizations, health services, mutual insurance programs, service to the needy in North America, and conscientious objector programs.

Distinctive #3- The Bible Is Accessible

The literal meaning of Scripture is available to the common person - Matthew 11:25. Although learning is not bad, there is no need for elitist popes or scholars to dictate to all what the Scriptures teach. On the other hand, all interpreters must rely upon the Spirit and desire to obey the Scriptures to truly understand them. Only these are truly qualified to interpret Scripture.

Distinctive #2-- The Precedence of the New Testament

The Bible is not flat. The teaching of Jesus and the apostles takes precedence over the Law and Prophets. We come to understand the Old Testament through Jesus and the apostles. The Old Testament has the character of promise. The New testament is all about fulfillment. Now that the promises are being fulfilled this should be the primary focus - especially the gospels and the Sermon on the Mount.

Anabaptist Distinctive #1- Scripture Alone

Scripture is the supreme authority over the church. Catholic popes, councils or traditions are not the authority. Theologians like Luther or Zwingli are not the authority. City or national governments are not the authority.