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.