We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
. . .
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
. . .
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
-Peter Scholtes, © 1966 F.E.L. Publications Ltd.
For the young folk out there who might not recognize these words, they are from the song that best captured the aspirations of the Jesus People movement that began in the late sixties and extended through the seventies. “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” was sung in churches, around campfires, in coffee houses and wherever Christian young people gathered.
The Jesus People movement was in some respects a rejection of both the hippie, or “flower power” movement of the sixties and the Christian church establishment. In many ways the movement was a genuine moving of the Holy Spirit and many young people who met the Lord during this time went on to lead dedicated Christian lives.
However, the enthusiasm and the longing for peace and love allowed many streams of thought to float through the movement. Some young people fell under the sway of charismatic leaders such as David Berg and found themselves in rigidly controlled communal movements. David Berg called his group the Children of God and the weirdness of his interpretation of Christianity became a tool that the media would use to stigmatize the whole Jesus People movement.
On the other side were church leaders to whom this sudden outpouring of enthusiasm among their youth was frightening. This was something they had not planned for and could not control; it challenged their complacent way of doing church and made them very uncomfortable. Therefore, instead of seeking to channel the enthusiasm in a constructive direction, they sought to stifle it. If truth be told, many of them did not possess any spiritual direction that they could have given to this movement.
While contemplating all this, my mind went back to the very beginning of Christianity. The Christian movement of the apostolic era had just such an explosive impact on both the Jewish and the Roman societies of their day. The movement continued its rapid spread and growth for several centuries. Finally the Roman authorities saw that the only way to control this movement was to make it the state religion. This subverted the very nature of Christianity and turned the state church into a persecutor of every Christian movement that did not bow to its authority.
Nevertheless, such movements continued to exist and many common people found their Christianity more attractive than the state-endorsed variety. In the 1500’s, new state-authorized forms of Christianity were imposed on parts of Europe, breaking the monopoly of Rome. Printed Bibles were available by this time and many people hungered for an authentic Christianity, such as described in the pages of the Bible.
The Anabaptist movement had never been totally destroyed or suborned by official Christianity and its remnants seem to have been the starting point for movements springing up here and there in attempts to establish a genuine Christianity. The most cohesive and long-lasting of these groups was labelled Mennonite, after one of its leaders.
Was there a common thread in the original apostolic movement and the Mennonite movement that would explain their cohesiveness and longevity? My conclusion is that the elements that Menno Simons listed as evidences of the true church of God are also the key ingredients in the nature of the true church.
Unadulterated, pure doctrine & obedience to the Word of God: The Bible must be the foundation for the teachings of the church, uncontaminated by personal interpretation of religious experiences or dogmatic pronouncements from authoritarian leaders.
Scriptural use of the sacramental signs: Care must be taken in admitting members, personal testimony of the new birth is essential, but the testimony of fellow believers that a convert’s life has truly been transformed is equally necessary. Communion is symbolic not only of the Saviour’s love, but of the love and unity of His followers. All strife and ill-will must be resolved before Holy Communion is truly possible.
Unfeigned brotherly love: It is not enough say that we love God. That has a false ring if we do not also love our fellow believers, and all mankind, as ourselves.
Bold confession of God and Christ & oppression and tribulation for the sake of the Lord’s Word: These two have normally gone together throughout history. If there is not much of the latter, it may be a sign of a lack in the first – how bold are we in making our faith known to others?
Another common thread is found in the leadership of the church. The apostles were the original leaders, yet they claimed no lordship over the church and ordained elders and deacons in every city. In the early 1500’s, Dietrich Philips, Menno Simons and Leonard Bouwens were considered the leaders of the church that became known as “Mennonite.” They also ordained elders and deacons wherever there was a congregation. These leaders were united in faith, none claiming preeminence over the others. Menno was probably considered more dangerous by the authorities because he directed many of his writings to those outside the faith. Dietrich Philip’s writings were directed to members of the church. Leonard Bouwens left no writings, but baptized more persons than any other minister, more than 10,000 during his ministry.