Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Anabaptists

A Christian admonition from 600 years ago

[Barbe means beard. It came to be applied to the person wearing the beard, becoming a term of affection for an uncle and then became the term which Anabaptists in France and Italy used for their ministers. Pragela, a valley in the Alps west of Turin and near the French border was home to a large number of Waldensians.]

An Epistle of the Barbe Bartolemi Tertian to the Evangelical churches of Pragela, circa 1420 AD.

Jesus be with us.

To all our faithful and beloved brethren in Jesus Christ.  I greet you all.  Amen.

This Epistle is to alert your brotherhood, acquitting myself of that trust which is committed to me by God concerning you for the salvation of your souls, according to the light of truth given to us by the Most High.  May every one of you maintain, increase and cherish to your utmost and by no means weaken or diminish those good principles, forms and customs given by those who have gone before us, of which we are not worthy.

For it would be but a very small and poor advantage for us to have been renewed by the fatherly persuasions and the light given to us by God, if we should now give ourselves up to a worldly, diabolical and fleshly conversation, forsaking the principal good, which is God, and the salvation of our souls for a short temporal life.  For the Lord has said in the gospel, What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  And, It were better never to have known the way of righteousness, than having once known it, to walk contrary to it.

Yea, we shall be altogether inexcusable before the righteousness of God, and our condemnation more severe.  For more torment will be inflicted upon those who have had the greatest knowledge.  Wherefore I beseech you by the love of God not to diminish but to increase the love, fear and obedience which is due unto God, and to one another, and also to keep the good customs which you have seen and heard of God, by us and others.  And that you will purge out from among you all those faults and failings which disturb your peace, love and concord, and all that obstructs your liberty in the service of God, and your own salvation and the administration of truth, if you desire that God would prosper you in the temporal and spiritual goods.  For you can do nothing without Him.

If you desire to be heirs of His glory, do as He tells you, If you would enter into life, keep my commandments.  Moreover, let there be among you no vain sports, gluttony, whoredoms, balls or other debaucheries, nor questions, fraud, usury, envy or discord.  Neither support or uphold among you any persons of an evil life who could become a stumbling block or evil example to you.  Rather let love and faithfulness reign among you and all good examples, doing one to another as every one would that it should be done to him.  For otherwise it is not possible that any can be saved, or find grace and favour with God and man in this world, or glory in that which is to come.

And it is necessary that the leaders and those who govern among you see to maintaining these things.  For when the head is sick all the members suffer.  Wherefore, if you hope and desire to possess eternal life and to be held in esteem and favour and to prosper in the world in both spiritual and temporal things, cleanse yourselves from every disorderly way among you so that God may always be with you, Who never forsakes those who put their trust in Him.  But know for certain that God does not answer or dwell with sinners, nor with the soul who desire evil, nor with the man that is a slave to sin.  Wherefore let every one cleanse the way of his own heart and flee from dangers if he would not perish in them.  I shall not say more for the present, except that ye do all these things and the God of Peace be with you all.  Join with us in true, humble and devout prayer.  Greetings to all the faithful and beloved of Christ.  Amen

I am wholly yours, Bartholomeus Tertianus, ready to serve you in all things in our power, according to the will of God.

Seeing French as a Bridge

Some languages are walls, some are artefacts, a few are bridges. A language used only by one tribe or ethnic group is useful for communication within that group, but it is also a wall that prevents communication with, and assimilation by, another group.

Some languages are no longer in daily use but are studied as artefacts for understanding and preserving a heritage. Examples are Gaelic in Nova Scotia and Michif in Saskatchewan. (Michif, a blend of French and Cree, was once widely spoken by the Métis people.)

A member of one tribe wishing to communicate with members of another must either learn their tribal language or yet another language which can serve as a bridge between many tribes. For example, Kiswahili, a blend of Bantu tribal languages and Arabic, is spoken in many East African countries.

There are two world-wide bridge languages, English and French, spoken on every continent and learned as a second language by people in almost every country of the world. I assume that readers of this blog know quite a bit about English, but perhaps not a lot about French as a bridge language.

A generation or two ago it appeared that French in Saskatchewan was on the verge of extinction. It was only in the 1980’s that it became possible to establish French language schools. French immersion schools began in the 1990’s. Today the Conseil des écoles fransaskoises operates 15 schools in communities across the province. These are open to children from homes where at least one parent speaks French. In addition, there are 85 French immersion schools, for children with no prior knowledge of French. Enrolment in these schools is increasing every year.

Non French-speaking parents see French as a bridge to new opportunities for their children. Among those parents are many of Hispanic and Asian descent. French-language radio and TV is available everywhere, the internet gives access to unlimited French-language resources.

The last census showed that there are 750,000 people in the four western provinces of Canada who consider themselves fluent in French. Not all are people of French ancestry. On several occasions a few years ago I dropped in on meetings of a French Toastmasters Club in Saskatoon while my wife was at medical appointments. The secretary of the club at that time was a young lady whose last name was Reddekopp.

The situation in Louisiana is much like Saskatchewan 25 years ago. After trying to suppress French for many years, the state has decided to celebrate its French heritage. There are now French-language schools and French immersion schools. The state has placed billboards at entry points proclaiming Bienveue en Louisiane, and joined the international Francophonie organisation. The state of Maine is making tentative steps to encourage the learning of French.

There are currently 300 million French-speaking people in the world and it is estimated that by 2050 there will be 500 million. The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite has congregations and/or missions in seven of the French-speaking countries of Africa.

Personally, I feel there are two reasons for Anabaptist/Mennonite Christians to be interested in French. We are accustomed to dating the history of our faith from the activities of Dutch and German speaking people in the 16th century. But for a millennium prior to that the heartland of Anabaptist Christianity was found in the south of France and among the French-speaking people in the Alpine valleys. Much of that history was obscured by intense persecution, but I feel it is worth investigating and attempting to sort out the true from the false that history books tell us of those times. The second reason is that there are so many French-speaking people throughout the world who need to hear the gospel in a purer form than what is being told by many evangelists today.

My current reading list

Your Life is a Book – How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir, Brenda Peterson & Sarah Jane Freymann- Kobo e-book
Everyone has a story to tell. However, most of us are not naturally endowed with the ability to select the parts that may be most interesting to others and how to tell them without appearing teachy-preachy. I found this book informative and encouraging, albeit a touch New-Agey.

The North-West is our Mother, Jean Teillet , copyright 2019, published by HarperCollins, Toronto.
A history of the Métis nation of Western Canada, written by a Métis historian. This is a wholly different perspective than histories written by those who viewed all indigenous people, including Métis, as ignorant and irresponsible savages. Ms. Teillet has done meticulous and thorough research and the result is a book that takes all points of view into account and includes details unknown or deliberately omitted by other historians.

Defying Jihad, Esther Ahmad, copyright 2019, published by Tyndale Momentum, Carol Stream, Illinois.
A young Muslim lady in Pakistan meets Jesus in a dream and her life is forever changed. This is her story of escape from her father who is disgraced by her rejection of Islam, her confrontations with Muslim clerics, her marriage, how they lived in hiding in Pakistan, then as refugees in Malaysia and finally found a home in the USA.

Le roi des derniers jours, Barret & Gurgand, copyright 1981 and published by Hachette, Paris.
.This is a well-researched account of the city of Munster from 1534-1535. This was a Roman Catholic city that turned to a radical form of Anabaptism. They grew more and more radical, feeding on dreams and visions, believing that Jesus was about to return and establish His kingdom at Munster. They prepared to defend themselves from the surrounding forces, made Jan of Leiden their king, adopted community of goods and polygamy. They were defeated in 1535 and most of them perished.

Cathares, la contre-enquête, Anne Bresson & Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, copyright 2008, published by Albin Michel, Paris.
Anne Bresson is one of the leading authorities on the history of the medieval Albigenses or Cathars of southern France. She has drawn much information from the records of the testimonies of the Albigenses before the Inquisitors and is favourably inclined toward their faith. This is a difficult area of research and so little information is available, and I’m afraid that some of what she has discovered may have come from individuals who had accepted divergent teachings and who were somewhat connected to, but not part of, the Albigensian faith.

Beyond Order, 12 more rules for life, Jordan Peterson, copyright 2021, published by Random House Canada.
Jordan Peterson is a Canadian psychiatrist, university professor and public intellectual. His first book, 12 Rules for life, has sold five million copies. This is a follow up, offering counsel for how to face life when it is chaotic. Jordan Peterson is the polar opposite of the woke sensibility that is creeping over our world. He does not explicitly call himself a Christian, but finds in the Bible the best guiding principles for a fulfilling and useful life.

Hills of Zion, Andrew Lambdin
I don’t even have this book yet, but it is a novel about the Waldensians set in 1208-1209.

The Bible is enough

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

A reader of my French blog recently mentioned the book Le roi des derniers jours, l’exemplaire et très cruelle histoire des rebaptisés de Münster (1534-1535), written by Barret and Gurgand, first published by Hachette in 1981.

I obtained a copy of the book and found it a meticulous, almost day by day account of how currents of lutheran and anabaptist thought entered a Roman Catholic city until its citizens opted for a form of anabaptism that at first conformed quite closely to Biblical anabaptism.

The first divergence of the Munsterites from mainstream anabaptism was to take political control of the city. This led to further steps, as seeing themselves as the New Jerusalem prepared for Christ’s return to reign, arming themselves to resist the army assembled by the Roman Catholic bishop, naming John of Leiden as king, community of goods and polygamy. Dreams and visions provided the basis for all of these steps. The supposed latter day kingdom of Christ came to a horrible end in June 1535.

A treatise by Menno Simons on the Blasphemy of John of Leiden appeared earlier that year, possible occasioned by the death of his brother who had gotten caught up in that movement. Menno was still a Roman Catholic priest at the time he wrote this but renounced that faith at the beginning of 1536 and united with the peaceful anabaptists.

In his writing against John of Leiden he states that Christians have only one king, Jesus Christ and his kingdom is a spiritual kingdom of love and peace. Christians cannot bear arms or fight, cannot mete out punishment to evildoers. The ultimate judge of all will be Jesus Christ when he comes again and that day has not come yet.

Some years later he included the following thoughts in another writing:

Brethren, I tell you the truth and lie not. I am no Enoch, I am no Elijah. I am not one of those who sees visions, I am no prophet who can teach and prophesy otherwise than what is written in the Word of God and understood in the Spirit. (Whosoever tries to teach something else will soon leave the track and be deceived.) I do not doubt that the merciful Father will keep me in his Word so that I shall write or speak nothing but that which I can prove by Moses, the prophets, the evangelists and other apostolic Scriptures and doctrines, explained in the true sense, Spirit, and intent of Christ. Judge ye that are spiritually minded.

Once more, I have no visions nor angelic visitations. Neither do I desire such lest I be deceived. The Word of Christ alone is sufficient for me. If I do not follow his testimony, then verily all that I do is useless, and even if I had such visions and inspirations, which is not the case, even then it would have to be conformable to the Word and Spirit of Christ, or else it would be mere imagination, deceit, and satanic temptation. For Paul says, Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith. Romans 12:6.

Mennonites: ethnic group, culture or faith?

In the first few centuries of the Christian era the faith spread far and wide through Asia, Europe and Africa. Then came the time when the Emperor Constantine professed to espouse the Christian faith. For a time persecution ceased.

But the church that made peace with the Imperial power became corrupted by peace and power. Many Christians refused to be part of such a church and maintained the original purity of the faith. So persecution began once more, this time by a church that had become earthly and pagan, yet still called itself Christian. From the records of the persecutions by the Imperial church it is evident that the network of pure churches still stretched across much of the known world.

By the late Middle Ages there was still a network of churches that stretched from Bulgaria to England. They were known as Cathars, Bogomils, Waldenses, Albigenses, Lollards and many other names, but there was communication between them all. The Inquisition, a major, systematic escalation of the persecution almost succeeded in destroying those churches.

In the 1500’s the remnant of the persecuted reorganized and are known to history as Mennonites, after the name of Menno Simons, one of their more prominent leaders. Churches were organized in Flanders, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the Palatinate. The members of these churches spoke Dutch or German. Some of the members in Flanders also spoke French.

Mennonites today are often thought of as a unique Dutch/German ethnic group. Many among them have lost the faith but held on to their Dutch/German culture, leading to confusion as to what it means to be a Mennonite.

I am a Mennonite by faith, but not by culture. I think that should be considered the norm. Our faith goes back to the Apostolic era, it did not begin with Menno Simons (he strongly denied being the founder of a church).

I am a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. A large part of the membership of this church in North America is made up of people of Dutch/German ancestry. This causes confusion, within the church and without.

Yet when it comes to sharing the gospel in other lands, there is no confusion. It is the gospel we are endeavouring to share, not language or lifestyle. There are members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in 40 countries around the world. Some are indigenous, not under the tutelage of a mission organization, others are moving in that direction as quickly as local members are ready to take leadership positions, some are new missions.

Much of the international growth has come as a result of tract distribution. Gospel Tract and Bible Society, an agency of the church, distributes millions of tracts, in over 100 languages. In the last few years this has been accelerated by their website. You can find the website here. People can read tracts online, print them for reading at home, order copies for distribution, and ask questions. Some of those with questions may ask “Where is this church? Why isn’t it in my country?” Enough questions like that, ones that show a serious spiritual longing, and a visit is made and a mission may begin.

We are told that the website reaches a new demographic. Previously, many of those who ordered tracts were church leaders or evangelists, now it is more individuals who are searching to understand what Christianity is all about, what Jesus means for their personal life, their home.

Another change in recent years is a great increase of inquiries from French-speaking countries. There are members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in six French-speaking countries in Africa and a new mission in a seventh. Visits have been made with interested people in France and there are plans to place a family there for at least a few months.

I also have a French blog, on which I post articles about the Anabaptist faith in history and today. The readership isn’t all that big as yet, but so far this year there have been people from 51 countries who have taken a look at that blog. The top five countries were, in order, the USA, Morocco, Canada, Bénin and France. Do those first two countries surprise you? There are French-speaking people all over the world.

Francophone Anabaptists

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Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

We may think of the Anabaptist faith as having originated among people who spoke German and Dutch. But before them most Anabaptists spoke French. Does that have any significance for us today?

Most of the original explorers and settlers of New France were Protestants. The Roman Catholic Church in France soon moved to prevent further Protestant emigration to New France and the sending of Protestant pastors. For hundreds of years, most Quebeckers have considered Catholicism as essential to their identity.

The Roman Catholic Church of Québec claimed to be the only defender of the French language, saying that if someone left this faith he would also abandon the French language. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the church controlled schools, hospitals, and warned members not to employ a Protestant or buy from a Protestant-owned business.

Times have changed. Almost all denominations known in the rest of Canada are now established in Quebec, including the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Yet even in the 21st century, most Quebeckers consider other Christian denominations to be foreign intruders, even though only 6% of them regularly attend Roman Catholic services.

This historic dominance of the Roman Catholic church creates a dilemma in sharing the gospel in the French-speaking world. French is spoken and taught on every continent and virtually every country, but the penetration of the gospel remains much lower than in the English-speaking world. Interest in the gospel is growing; evangelical revival is happening in France; evangelical churches are growing rapidly in many French-speaking African countries.

However, evangelical Protestantism is not the faith once delivered to the saints. That statement may shock some readers, but Protestantism was originally a diluted version of the Anabaptist faith, created by people who feared persecution, and therefore made compromises with the civil authorities. The original Protestant settlers in Québec came from those areas of France where Anabaptists once thrived, but had been persecuted into oblivion.

We want to share the unadulterated old faith with the French-speaking world. To do this, we have to overcome their prejudice that it is a recent invention by North American Anglophones. We must not give the impression that people have to learn English to understand our faith and that the only reliable source documents are written in English. For those of us whose mother tongue is English, we can easily give that impression without realizing we are doing it.

Nine hundred years ago Anabaptist congregations, known as Albigenses and Waldenses, existed across the south of France and in the Alpine valleys France, Italy and Switzerland. Some writings from that period have survived and they teach the same faith that we hold today. The old French needs updating to be read today. I have tried to do that on my French blog, as I feel we should familiarize ourselves with this legacy and make it available to others in the French-speaking world.

Some early Mennonite leaders in the Low Countries spoke French as well as Dutch, such as Dietrich Philips, Jacques le Chandelier, Jacques d’Auchy and others. A book of their writings was published in French in 1626. This book could be a valuable resource for showing the antiquity of our faith, if it was updated to language more accessible to today’s readers.

Many languages are tools to maintain ethnic or tribal identity. French has been used in that way in the past, but now serves more as a bridge between ethnic groups. This is why so many people are learning it as a second language. It is reported that 100 million people are currently learning French.

There are French-speaking people all around us, but they slip below the radar of those who do not recognize French when they hear it spoken. There are eleven million people in the United States who speak French, as many as in Canada. There are 750,000 in western Canada.

The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite is present in seven French-speaking African countries. There are also French-speaking members in Haiti and Quebec and interest in France. We are working hard to make more French literature available, for church members and for those who are seeking. We are developing a presence on the internet, the most effective means of evangelism in the 21st Century.

A refuge

A refuge, a place where I could escape the storms that beat around me; that’s what I needed. When one is young, many storms are more imagined than real. But my father’s anger was real. He was not violent, but when he lost his temper angry words rang throughout the house, seemed to be in the air I breathed. I needed a place of refuge where I could breathe and sort it all out.

When I was nine years old, my parents moved to a small farm that bordered the northwest edge of Craik, Saskatchewan. I discovered my place of refuge the day after we moved in. I found in a hollow, halfway up the bank at the far end of the coulee that ran through our pasture. In that hollow sat a rectangular granite boulder, shaped like a giant step or chair, worn smooth by thousands of buffalo trying to relieve their itch, over a thousand years or more.

First, I sat on the rock, then I sat in the hollow beside it and something wonderful happened—all evidence of the modern world disappeared. I was alone on the open prairie, no buildings, fences, roads or telephone lines were visible. Even the sounds did not penetrate this peaceful spot.

How long had the rock been here? Geologists say that when Lake Agassiz drained thousands of years ago, the rushing waters that carved the ravines, coulees and river valleys of Saskatchewan also swept rocks like this to new locations.  It had been here through the time the buffalo roamed the prairies and the hunters followed them. The time since the settlers had come was just a tiny blip in its history.

Through the rest of my growing-up years that rock became my refuge. When life seemed difficult, I would leave the house and find this spot, my place of refuge. In that quiet and secure place I would rest until the anxiety, the fear, and yes, my anger, had dissipated.

Eight years later I left home. Twice I moved back for a time and each time the ancient buffalo rubbing stone was there when I needed it. Later, in my twenties and on my own, I faced new anxieties and fears.  The rock of my childhood was far away, and no longer the hidden spot it once was. A four-lane highway now runs through the old pasture, the rock is visible from the highway.

It took years for me to find the rock of refuge spoken of in Psalm 94:22 “My God is the rock of my refuge.” I found the words of the Bible drawing me towards that rock. The eternal rock. I read in Malachi 3:6: “I am the Lord, I change not,” and in Hebrews 6:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” I heard and responded to The Spirit’s call to build my life upon that rock. I found that rock to be a refuge of peace wherever I was, whatever the circumstances.

Now I wanted to find a church built upon that rock, where I could be in fellowship with people with a living faith and lives solidly anchored to the rock, Jesus Christ. I knew that wouldn’t be the church I had attended in my youth.

I read in history books of a people who had lived such a faith centuries ago. People for whom the kingdom of God was separate from the kingdoms of this world; people for whom their relationship with Jesus Christ was more important than this earthly life. Other people called them Anabaptists, Waldensians and Mennonites. Surely there would be Christians like that today in the Mennonite churches. I visited many churches, met many good people; most were unaware of the old-time faith.

My search finally led me to a church whose members believe and live the faith I had read about; I became a member of that church 40 years ago.

© Bob Goodnough, January 3, 2019

Some thoughts on evangelism

Each time the Apostle Paul stopped in a new location during his missionary journeys, he first went into the synagogue to teach. This always ended with the Jews rising up in opposition, sometimes with great violence. Roland Allen, in Missionary Methods, St. Paul’s or Ours, expresses the view that it was Paul’s intention to make it plain to the Gentile population that he was not teaching the faith of the Jews. He often put his life in danger by doing so, but it aroused the interest of the Gentiles so that they wanted to hear the message Paul was bringing.

Nine hundred years ago, someone among the Christians we know as Waldensians wrote a treatise called Antichrist. The writer may have been Pierre de Bruys, an active evangelist of that era. The treatise made it very clear that the Waldensians had no relationship to the Roman Catholic church or any of its teachings. A dangerous move in that era, but it must have seemed important to those Christians to say what they did not believe in order that people might listen with interest to find out what they did believe.

Five hundred years later, Menno Simons did much the same thing. He also referred to the roman Catholic church as Antichrist, but he also had the new protestant denominations to contend with. He offered to debate publicly, and wrote many books to counter false teachings of other churches. He wrote in one place that he believed there were some true believers in each of the churches, but they were not building on the right foundation to form a church that would maintain the pure faith and pass it on from generation to generation.

Menno was considered a dangerous man, because he aimed his writings at the general public. What if we could do that in our day? Point out all the non-Christian teachings that have attached themselves to the various denominations of our day? If we proclaimed that we were not encumbered with any of that debris, but preached solely the gospel of Jesus Christ, as taught in the Bible. I realize that many other denominations claim to be doing just that; that is why it becomes important to point out all false claims.

The mark of the apostolic church and the Anabaptist churches that followed was purity. The purity of the church which accepted as members only those who were genuinely born again and walking in obedience to the Holy Spirit. The purity of the lives of those members. Purity in family life, in business and in relationships with others. Purity of doctrine, of brotherly love and of ministers who do not preach for popularity or financial gain.

Are there people who would willingly hear such a message today? Let’s not shrink back from trying to find out.

  • Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen. © 1962 World Dominion Press

The Principal Errors of Pietism

Pietism, with a capital P, refers to a movement that began within the Lutheran Church around the year 1600. The Pietists emphasized the new birth, the inward spiritual life of the heart and a pure moral life. There were earlier threads of pietism, but this was the beginning of a distinctive and dynamic movement. The influence of the German Pietists grew and spread and became the principal influence of modern evangelical Christianity.

At first glance Pietism may sound much like the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. Yet there are three ways where Pietism represents a compromise with the world.

Christianity without the Cross
Pietists avoided persecution by remaining members of the state Lutheran church, having their babies baptized, attending worship services and taking communion. They met privately to share experiences and encourage one another and became known as “the quiet in the land.”

Throughout history Anabaptists and Mennonites have taken the way of the cross, avoiding all compromise with corrupt religions. They have lived a quiet and peaceable life, but their refusal to offer any kind of lip service to oppressing majority religions has often brought persecution upon them.

Pierre de Bruys in the 12th century and Menno Simons in the 16th century were first priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Once spiritually enlightened, they abandoned that church, called it Antichrist, and became earnest evangelists of pure Christianity, untainted by the non Scriptural practices of their former religion. In Menno’s day the persecutors also included the Lutherans and the Reformed Churches.

Anabaptists and Mennonites took very seriously the admonition of Paul in Ephesians 5:11 – And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. They believed that Jesus meant exactly what He said in Luke 9:23 – If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Fellowship without Brotherhood
The original Pietists were members of the Lutheran Church, meeting privately without any formal organization. They had an individualistic faith, each one believing he could worship God on his own, appreciating the fellowship of like-minded believers, but having no need of the strictures of an organized body.

Anabaptists and Mennonites did not see their church as restrictive, but as a much needed support network to help them grow in the faith and maintain their spiritual purity. They were a brotherhood; their leaders were brethren, not Lords. They saw the church as it is described in the New Testament: a body of which Christ was the head and each member was needed for the body to function effectively.

1 Peter 5:5 – Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

Conversion without Discipleship
Pietists and Anabaptists have both earnestly striven to proclaim the gospel to those who do not have a personal knowledge of the Saviour. Pietists, however, make the new birth the main point of their evangelism. True, there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. But is this enough? For Pietists it appears to be the end point of evangelism.

For Anabaptists and Mennonites it is the starting point. The Great Commission says: Go ye therefore, and teach (or, make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20. (The Greek word matheteuo can be translated as teach or disciple.)

Sinners not only need to repent and be converted, they need to learn to live as a Christian. Colossians 2:6 – As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him. It is true that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to walk with Christ, but this is best done in the company of other believers who will help, encourage, teach and correct. In other words, they should not be abandoned to stumble along partly in the light and partly in darkness, but offered the support they need to grow into the person that Christ wants them to be.

This does not mean living by the rule book: that does not lead to spiritual growth. But there are spiritual dangers and spiritual resources that mature believers know of and new believers often don’t. Galatians 5:13 – For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Be a Christian, not a chameleon

Some members of the early church wanted Gentile converts to be chameleons. They thought that circumcising Gentile Christians would make them appear to be converts to the Jewish religion. Some Jewish Christians thought this would spare them from persecution by other Jews for associating with Gentiles. Such people among the Jewish believers were the true chameleons, trying to conceal that they believed something else than what other Jews believed.

Acts 15 records how the early church put an end to this by ruling that there was no need to circumcise Gentile believers. Soon Gentiles became a majority in the church. The chameleon temptation now was for believers to maintain enough outward conformity to pagan ceremonies to avoid persecution. In his letters, the apostle Paul gave many warnings and instructions against this.

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Image by Roy Buri from Pixabay

A few hundred years later a Roman emperor made Christianity the official religion of the empire. Persecution ended for a time, but before long the church became a blend of Christian and pagan practices. It wasn’t clear who was truly a Christian and who was just going along with the outward observances.

Many Christians remained outside of this chameleon creature that called itself the church of God and strove to live as Christians no matter what the cost. For some it cost them their lives, as the chameleon could not tolerate these believers who were a living reproach of its compromise. Persecution reared its head against those who maintained the integrity of the faith. Others called them by many names, the one which has stuck the longest is Anabaptist.

The Protestant Reformation began as a protest against the great chameleon, the Roman Catholic Church.  It only created several lesser chameleons, state churches with compulsory membership and salvation promised by ceremonies rather than faith.

Persecution of the Anabaptists appeared to have succeeded, those who remained were scattered and without leaders. God raised up new leaders who gathered the scattered flock. Travelling evangelists brought many new believers into the fold during these tumultuous times. The Anabaptists now became known as Mennonites, after Menno Simons, one of the boldest of their leaders.

Born again people In the state churches did not find spiritual refreshing in the ceremonies and sermons of the chameleon. Some met privately for mutual support and encouragement, yet conformed outwardly to the ceremonies of the chameleon. They considered themselves “the quiet in the land,” living an inward spiritual life and an outward life that would not get them into trouble.

Mennonites also believed in the importance of the inward spiritual life, but found no justification in the Word of God for living a double life. They believed that if the inward piety was genuinely of God, the outward life would show it, including the willingness to suffer for the faith. And suffer many of them did, for all the chameleons hated them.

Active persecution abated over time but much suspicion remained. Many Mennonite groups found tolerance through adopting the pietistic formula of being “the quiet in the land.” They tried to maintain the inward spiritual life, but in time that too faded away. In many denominations that use the Mennonite name today, the memory of what Anabaptist and Mennonite once meant has disappeared.

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). Our Anabaptist-Mennonite forefathers believed that departing from iniquity was not something one did in secret, but that it also meant renouncing any form of duplicity.

Consider the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Philippi:

Only let your conversation [conduct] be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

The apostle Paul believed that a willingness to suffer for the faith was a clear token of the salvation granted by God. God has not changed; neither should His people adjust to the spirit of our day. To have a rightful claim to God’s salvation, we must not attempt to be chameleons.

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