Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Church of God in Christ Mennonite

Self-chosen humility

Peter Toews was the Elder, or bishop, of the portion of the Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites who emigrated from Ukraine to Manitoba in the 1870’s. (Kleine Gemeinde means little church, a means of distinguishing themselves from the large Mennonite church among whom they lived.) Another portion of the Kleine Gemeinde, led by Elder Abram Friesen, settled around Janzen, Nebraska. Yet a third group, led by Elder Jacob Wiebe, whose wife was Peter Toews’ sister, settled around Hillsboro, Kansas.

Evidently there were some differences in how these groups viewed Christian faith. Peter Toews experienced the new birth while still living in Ukraine and before his ordination. By all accounts he endeavoured to teach and lead his congregation according to his spiritual convictions. But the Kleine Gemeinde had never seen the new birth as being a necessary qualification for baptism and membership in the church. They believed that the important thing was to live a devout and holy life according to the rules that they believed were taught in the Bible.

By 1880 Peter Toews was ready to admit that many, perhaps the majority, of the members of his congregation were not Christians. Some of the other ministers and members felt as he did and they began to search for a solution. That search led Peter Toews to take a trip to Kansas in the summer of 1881 to visit John Holdeman and the congregations of his church in central Kansas. While there, he also visited his brother-in-law Jacob Wiebe. It appears the two were united in believing the lack of a requirement of the new birth for church membership was a fatal flaw in the Kleine Gemeinde, but did not agree on a solution.

Upon returning home, Peter Toews resigned as elder of the Kleine Gemeinde and wrote a letter outlining his reasons. He wrote “We are not baptized into one body, but are torn and divided, some walking in self-chosen humility, and worshipping of angels (of whom we should not be beguiled, lest we lose our reward).” “I fear to build with members of torn and divided groups which are not baptized into one body, the Church of Christ–to build a kingdom to which only a few of us belong. We all profess that we are baptized into the body of Christ, even though many are merely walking in voluntary humility.”

The upshot was that John Holdeman and Mark Seiler came to Manitoba the following winter, upon the invitation of Peter Toews and some of the other Kleine Gemeinde ministers. Over the course of several months of preaching in various communities of Southeastern Manitoba, about one third of the members of the Kleine Gemeinde were baptized and became members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, becoming the first members of that church in Western Canada. Many had not been born again prior to the evangelistic services of that winter. The remaining members of the Kleine Gemeinde asked elder Abram Friesen to help them ordain a new elder to replace Peter Toews, who was one of those baptized by John Holdeman.

It seems that Peter Toews felt that “self-chosen humility” was a major weakness of the Kleine Gemeinde. What is wrong with trying to be humble? There are numerous warnings against pride and a haughty spirit in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Doesn’t the Bible tell us to humble ourselves? James says: Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up, (James 4:10). Peter writes: Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, (1 Peter 5:6).

Let’s consider those verses. James is not telling us to become humble in our own eyes, but in the eyes of God. That isn’t necessarily the same thing. Peter does not say that we should take ourselves in hand to make ourselves humble, but allow God to take us in hand, which is quite different.

A few verses earlier in the fourth chapter of James, he writes “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God,” (Verses 6 and 7). I believe this is the key to genuine humility. It is not something that we can do ourselves, but is the fruit of submission to God.

Why can’t we make ourselves humble? Maybe you are not like me, but I’m afraid that if I would believe that the Bible is telling me to make myself humble, I would very soon believe that I was doing a much better job of it that you were. That is the snare of voluntary or self-chosen humility. I believe Peter Toews hit the nail on the head.

There is an oft misunderstood verse in the Old Testament. Isaiah 64:6 says: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” I’m not sure why the translators chose the word rags, it really should be filthy garments. What the prophet is saying is that when we try to establish our own righteousness, even our own humility, we are sewing a garment that in our own eyes is spotlessly, dazzlingly white. But when God looks at it he sees that it is saturated with our sweat, the evidence of our own work. It is filthy and it stinks to high heaven.

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.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Most congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite are set up to audio stream their services for the benefit of those who are unable to be physically present. This is a wonderful thing for the sick and frail, for anyone who is prevented from attending, for whatever reason.

Yet that is second best. Listening is but one part of worship, There are valid reasons why someone may need to stay at home, but fear is not one of them.  Let us, if at all possible, be physically present in today’s worship services and be active participants, exhorting and encouraging one another. 

Christ is in all

The following question came in my email this morning and I decided to post it and give my thoughts.  Feel free to join the conversation.

I enjoy many of your inspiring blogs and this morning read “A matter of the heart, not the head.” You wrote: “ …and there did not seem to be a closeness, a genuine trust and fellowship among the members.”

I understand the line and have noticed or experienced this too; but my question is: what specifically brings us to “closeness, genuine trust and fellowship” ? Not to downplay faith in Christ, I am thinking that a common practiced tradition and custom also play a part of the closeness you refer to. Can such closeness and fellowship exist without a common tradition ? What do you think ? H. W.

I believe that “a common practiced tradition and custom” can lead to a form of closeness.  Just not the kind we were looking for. Some of the churches we visited did have the form of unity produced by a common ethnic and religious heritage, but as I wrote “it was never clear to us how many of them might actually have a relationship with the Shepherd.”

The apostle Paul described the church this way in Colossians 3:11: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all.” Let me unpack that statement. Jews were those people who believed themselves to be God’s people by virtue of their family heritage. Greeks were everybody else in the parts of Asia and Europe mentioned in the New Testament. The circumcised were the adherents to the Jewish traditions, the uncircumcised were those for whom those traditions had no meaning. Barbarians were people who spoke an unfamiliar language. Scythians were people whose culture and customs seemed bizarre to the Jews and Greeks. Bond and free refers to social status. Paul is saying that none of those things mattered; the one thing that matters is whether one has a relationship with Jesus Christ.  “Christ in you, the hope of glory” Colossians 1:27.

That must still be the grounds of Christian fellowship. My wife and I have belonged to the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for 41 years. A majority of the members are of one ethnic heritage. We are not. It doesn’t matter. Mennonite in our day has been relegated in many people’s minds to an ethnic culture. I am not part of that culture, much of it is incomprehensible to me, but I am a Mennonite by faith.

By culture and tradition I still feel like a boy out of a W. O. Mitchell story. I listened to Jake and the Kid on radio when I was young, a few years later I read Who Has Seen the Wind. I felt like I was the kid in  those stories, I identified fully with this boy  experiencing the wind in the grass, watching people around him cope with life, feeling part of the prairie.

God has called me, I have embraced the faith once delivered to the saints, I enjoy fellowship with brothers and sisters of this faith, whatever their background. But I am not a Mennonite by birth, language, culture or tradition. In those things I am a kid from the prairie, this is my land, these are my people.

A matter of the heart, not the head

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By Swampyank at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18002690

As I walked the dusty streets of Plimoth, Massachusetts, Samuel Fuller fell into step beside me. “The church hierarchy in England says that we are not a legitimate church, because we have no ministers. A church is made up of Christian people; they don’t even have a church. Who made them ministers and bishops?”

On my father’s side I am descended from English Puritans who arrived in Massachusetts in 1638, just 18 years after the Mayflower. We have attended two family reunions in Massachusetts and each time we have gone to Plymouth to visit the historical reconstructions. Plimoth Plantation is a reconstruction of the village established by those who came on the Mayflower, as it would have been seven years after they arrived. The people who populate the village speak in the accents of the areas in England where the character they are playing originated from. They are very thoroughly trained and absolutely unaware of anything that has happened since 1627.

Samuel Fuller was the colony’s doctor and deacon, the only spiritual leader the church at Plimoth had in its early days. I wondered if the convictions he expressed with seeming sincerity came off along with the costume at the end of the day, or if they went deeper At a family supper that evening I had an opportunity to ask a cousin  who also played a character at Plimoth Plantation. She hesitated just a bit, then said “I think he has it in his head, but not in his heart.”

The two statements I have quoted hit the nail on the head. A Christian church must be made up of Christian people. That means people who have the truth in their heart, not only in their head.

That explains why my wife and I went from church to church during the first few years of our marriage. We met many fine people, we would be happy to call them friends today. But something didn’t seem right; it was never clear to us how many of them might actually have a relationship with the Shepherd. They all claimed to be following the Shepherd, but it often seemed like they wee receiving direction for their lives from other sources and there did not seem to be a closeness, a genuine trust and fellowship among the members.

We have been members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for 41 years. We are not better people than the people in all those other churches we used to visit. We don’t all see things exactly the same way, we don’t always do things just right. But I believe that we all know the Shepherd and that allows us to trust one another. When problems and misunderstandings arise, and they do, we trust the Shepherd to help us sort things out, and He does.

That is what we were missing in all those other churches, that is what kept us searching, even though we might not have been able to put into words just what we were looking for. I believe the Shepherd was leading us, telling us that He had something better planned for us.

Jesus, speaking of Himself as the Good Shepherd, said: “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” John 10:4-5.

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.

Mennonites don’t have a social conscience!

During the first few years that we were members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, my wife was often puzzled about why other church members were seemingly unmoved by problems and injustices in the world that moved her deeply. One day a light came on, and she said to me, “Mennonites don’t have a social conscience!” She was right.

It was said of the apostles, “These are the men who have turned the world upside down!” The gospel changes the world one person at a time. The social gospel sees people as inherently good — it is the world that needs changing. Proponents of the social gospel have succeeded in implanting in the hearts and minds of a large portion of the population a deep-seated belief that we are personally accountable for all the evils in the world and that we must do something to right those wrongs. This is a social conscience.

Many of the larger Canadian churches, the Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and the Baptist Convention, adopted the social gospel program almost a century ago. One of their first targets was the sale of alcoholic beverages, believing that if such beverages were no longer available one of the greatest curses of society would be removed. Prohibition was established in Canada from 1913 to 1927 and in the USA from 1920 to 1933. Unfortunately, the real problem was that a large part of the population actually wanted alcoholic beverages. The net result of the experiment was a considerable expansion of criminal organizations.

Alongside the temperance movement was the women’s suffrage movement. In Canada it was Nellie McClung, a devoted wife and mother, an active church member and a writer of books for children who became the prime mover in pushing for women’s right to vote, temperance, and many other reforms. She was elected to the Alberta Legislature in 1921. In later years she was dismayed at the results of the movement she had helped create. She had believed that women, with their gentle and maternal instincts, would have a purifying effect on society. She had never dreamed that women would one day demand the right to enter public drinking establishments.

Economic injustices also were a major concern. The churches were enthusiastic supporters of the co-operative movement. Large grain-handling and retail co-ops were established in the Prairie Provinces of Canada and also co-operative banks (credit unions), with the profound faith that these would eliminate the injustices inherent in the private ownership of business.

In 1932 a new Canadian political party was established on social gospel principles and named the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. The aim was to provide justice for all through the promotion of co-operative and government-owned businesses as alternatives to private businesses run for the profit of the owners. This party was elected as the government of Saskatchewan in 1944, with a former Baptist pastor as their leader. Despite honest attempts to implement their program, the promised benefits never seemed to materialize.

In the 1920’s the Methodist Church, the Congregational Church and half of the Presbyterian Church merged to form the United Church of Canada, making it by far the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. By the 1950’s it was noted that a decline had set in. A well-known Canadian writer, Pierre Berton, was invited to write a lenten study book for the church. The result was The Comfortable Pew. This book describes a condition where people looked on the church as a comfortable social institution where their hearts and consciences were never challenged. His proposed solution was a revival of the social conscience and the social gospel, to become more committed and active in dealing with the evils in society. The decline has continued. People appear to have decided that if this is all church is about, they can more effectively pursue those goals through other avenues.

The women’s movement took on a life of its own, demanding equal rights with men in all areas. For some years feminists loudly proclaimed that differences between boys and girls were merely the result of parental training. Recent research indicates that, given a choice between a doll and a toy truck, even very small girl babies naturally reach for the doll and boys for the truck. It is sad that we need the social sciences to tell us what our parents always knew.

A Canadian psychologist has recently written a book explaining why women are still very much under represented in upper management. It is not discrimination, it is because they are intrinsically different from men and have different priorities. The writer, Susan Pinker, describes herself as a feminist, and is also a wife and mother.
In their continued quest to eliminate all injustice, the social gospel movement moved on to discrimination against gays. The social gospel churches now appear to be quite comfortable with gay marriages and gay preachers. The social conscience is now trained to see any hint of lack of acceptance of such things as outrageous prejudice.
Animals have their rights, too. The difference between humans and other life forms is becoming blurred. Sometimes it appears that the needs of animals take precedence over the needs of humans.

The intolerant, totalitarian attitude that has developed in these movements may puzzle us. But if we consider that these are all manifestations of the social gospel, it becomes somewhat easier to understand. These are people who sincerely believe that society is in need of salvation and that they have the gospel message that is able to work out that salvation. Never mind that society actually seems to be growing worse as a result of the social gospel. It is only that unenlightened people stand in the way of the full realization of the redemption of society. The social gospel seems to create a zeal for the welfare of people in the abstract, and at the same time to anaesthetize feelings of compassion for real people, especially those who lack a social conscience.

The social gospel transformed the purpose of the gospel message from the salvation of souls to a kind of moral salvation. More recently, it seems to be focussing its attention on the salvation of the planet.

© Bob Goodnough, first published in The Business Bulletin, May, 2008

The power of little things

My mother was 10 when her family moved from south-east Manitoba to south-west Saskatchewan. Whenever she talked about that move she would say “The thing I missed was seeing the tees and the Indians.”

It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I asked the obvious question: “Mon, I get the part about the trees, but what’s this about the Indians?”

“Well, whenever Indians travelled through our area, they would stop at our place for a rest and a drink of water.”

My grandfather was a Plautdietsch speaking Sommerfelder Mennonite, not very prosperous, blind, and the father of 14 children, of which my mother was number 6. Apparently he was blind in more ways than one.

Before he married, he had worked at Letellier, Manitoba. One of his coworkers was a black man who had made his way to Canada from the US South. My grandfather learned some old negro spirituals from him and then taught them to his children. My mother used to sing some of them.

My grandfather learned English while working there, and later said he wished he had learned French, too, as there were French-speaking people living there. Whenever my mother told about her father’s wish that he had learned French, she would add, “And if he had, I would have, too!”

I heard those little things when my mother talked about her earlier years. They made a lasting impression, and I believe enabled me to look at other people as being not a lot different from me.

In her late teens, my mother memorized the German catechism, and the bishop baptized her. I think the teachings in that catechism found a place deeper than just in her mind. The family spoke mostly Plautdietsch at home, and some English. The church was entirely German — Bible reading, hymns, sermons, prayers. My mother was the last of the children to learn German. As she grew older, she realized that in her church the language was more important than the teachings in the catechism; it had nothing to offer her 8 younger siblings who did not know German.

She left that church and expressed no nostalgia for it. Her mother, my grandmother, appeared to believe that I needed to learn German to be a Christian. She sent me a copy of the catechism and a German primer. I was curious and made a beginning in the primer. Mom would help me whenever I asked, but never prompted me to keep on trying to learn German. She had a large English dictionary that she had studied for years, learned to speak English with no trace of an accent, had a larger vocabulary than many whose mother tongue was English.

When Chris and I started to attend the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, some members got all excited when they found that Mom’s mother tongue had been Plautdietsch. She was polite and friendly, but did not share their enthusiasm. I have wondered if she didn’t have a little fear that I was getting into the sort of thing she had left behind.

I am my mother’s son. She said nothing negative about anyone, but the impression she left was that Plautdietsch and German had nothing to do with being a Christian and were not anything I needed to pursue.

My father was from the USA, his mother was Franco-American and it embarrassed him when she spoke French to their neighbours here in Saskatchewan. I got a lot more encouragement from my mother to learn French than from my father.

That’s my personal history. I could say more about my father, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ll just say that my mother’s positive remarks about others had more influence on me than my father’s negative remarks.

Are there negative things that Christians say today that can have a harmful effect on their children’s attitude toward others?

How do we look at ourselves? 

We can’t change our ethnic identity, or the family into which we were born. But if we think that our family, or our ethnic group, has some innate quality that makes us more apt to be Christian, or a better Christian, than others, we are contradicting the whole message of the New Testament. Any hint of pride or exclusivity undermines our gospel witness..

How do we look at others?

Sometimes I hear Christians say that the people around us aren’t interested in the gospel. That implants the thought in the younger generation that there is no point in trying to share the gospel in our home communities.

How do we talk about people of a different skin colour, or who speak with an accent? Nigger, negro, darkie and coloured are not polite or respectful terms to use for black people. Sometimes we complain about the immigrants in our communities. It enthuses us to send missionaries to the countries they came from, but when they arrive here, we have a different attitude.

There is no 8 step program to break the problem I am describing. It’s a matter of the heart. Little changes in our attitudes toward the surrounding people, little changes in our speech, could add up to a big change in the way others see us.

Why I am a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite

I was looking for a home—a family. An inner longing was pushing me to search for a church where there would be truth and warmth. Sometimes in my mind I thought I had found it, but that inner longing told me—No, this isn’t what you need.

I met many good people along the way, picked up little pieces of truth that I hadn’t known before, but always the emptiness within remained unsatisfied. Sometimes I visited a church once, sometimes I stayed for a year or two, but each experience ended in disappointment.

I reached the end of my search, was almost ready to give up. I had never thought the picture in my mind of what the ideal church should be was a problem. Then God told me I needed to give up that picture and allow Him to show me what I needed and where I should look.

From there on it was easy. Well, at least it was easy to find the church that was exactly what I was looking for. I had known of this church for years, but never gave it serious consideration because it did not fit the picture in my mind. Once I had checked out all the alternatives, God led me to take another look at this church. This time I knew it was where I wanted to be, where God wanted me to be.

My mind was at rest, my heart was at peace. This was the home for which I had searched. The doctrines of the church were Biblical, solid and complete. Brotherly love was genuine, not an act. Ministers were untrained and unsalaried, yet better able to discern between the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the world than any others I had met. All the members were born again. I did not meet any who thought they had just grown into salvation, or who thought showing the requisite level of enthusiasm, or wearing a certain unique cut of clothing, was evidence of the new birth.

God led me to my earthly spiritual home. But a spiritual family is much like a natural family. We are different people, with different tastes, different ways of doing things, different stresses in our life. Sometimes someone else steps on my toes, my feelings get hurt. I need to forgive; it wasn’t deliberate—I don’t know how many times I have stepped on someone else’s toes; I didn’t intend to, it just happens. I don’t know because they have forgiven me and got on with living.

Some are weak among us, they need help. Sometimes help comes in the way of correction, sometimes in practical help. We always offer help in kindness. Some are new in the faith, they need encouragement. Some make mistakes, they need forbearance. We are family, when one member is hurting, we all feel the pain.

Some members have come from different cultural backgrounds, some have not come from happy homes. Sometimes the help we offer is. Sometimes we don’t quite understand what is going on. But we are still family and we do our best to love and support one another as the Holy Spirit leads.

There is no valid baptism without the new birth

The beginning of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Western Canada owes much to the spiritual vision of one man. Peter Toews was the Elder of the largest part of the Kleine Gemeinde (Little Church) which had separated from the main body of the Mennonite church on the Molotschna Colony in Ukraine in the early 1800’s. Their aim was to return to the original pure faith and practice of the Mennonites. Unfortunately they had no understanding of the new birth so merely concentrated on the outward evidence of their desired purity.

Quarrels and divisions shook the Kleine Gemeinde and by the 1860’s there were four different groups. Elders Peter Toews and his brother-in-law Jacob Wiebe laboured to unite these groups, but only partially succeeded. Jacob Wiebe united with the group led by Elder Abram Friesen, but the largest number of members united with the group led by Peter Toews. A few years later Jacob Wiebe and his group, who lived in Crimea, separated from Abram Friesen’s group. They believed they had not been born again when first baptized and were all rebaptized by immersion. In the process they took a different name, calling themselves the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren.

All three groups emigrated to North America in the 1870’s; the Peter Toews group went to south-eastern Manitoba, the Abram Friesen group to the area of Janzen, Nebraska and the Jacob Wiebe group to Hillsboro, Kansas. Peter Toews had experienced the new birth many years earlier and became acutely aware that many, probably most, of the members of his group did not have peace with God. In his search for answers he came into contact with the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, led by Elder John Holdeman. In the summer of 1881 he was authorized by his church to travel to Kansas to investigate that church. Following are a few excerpts of the letter he wrote to his church at the conclusion of that trip.

The foremost question on my mind was concerning baptism, whether they would baptize a person the second time if it were found that he had been unconverted at the time of the first baptism. They answered to the affirmative; and they had had a case like that: whereupon a minister called a man, A. Wenger by name, to tell of his experience.

(This was Absalom Wenger, son of Peter and Susanna Wenger and the forefather of a large number of Wengers who are members of the church of God in Christ, Mennonite today. He had repented up to a point and seeing the peace and freedom of others who were baptized, he had hoped to gain this peace through baptism. He gave a false testimony of having a good conscience towards God and was baptized. Instead of the peace he had hoped for, Mr. Wenger had felt condemnation. He was afraid to reveal this for some months, but finally did confess to a group of ministers. After this he was able to repent fully and received peace with God. He felt very strongly that his first baptism had been invalid and thus was baptized the second time.)

I then told them that if Holdeman would come to us there possibly would be no end to the rebaptizing of members that had not experienced the new birth and the faith that bringeth about true repentance.

During this discussion my mind was somewhat relieved of my prejudice to rebaptism.

Again I thought if God, in that church, revealed such displeasure when only one person not having experienced conversion was baptized, what would become of our baptism? How many of us have also received baptism on false testimony?

So I must unite with the Church of God and labour toward the union of all God’s children. I can therefore no longer justify our baptism received outside God’s church, nor can I any longer administer oour baptism or the Lord’s Supper. I shall . . . trust in the Lord to lead us to be united with that church. How this will come about is as yet unknown to me, I shall leave it to the leading of God, if it be His will, till Holdeman and one of his helpers come to visit us.

I fear to continue building a structure that is not built according to the rules of the gospel and the God-given pattern, but, as it appears to me, is beside the pattern and teaching of God.

I fear to build members of torn and divided groups, which are not baptized into one body, the church of Christ – to build a kingdom to which only a few of us belong. We are not baptized into one body, but are torn and divided, some walking in self-chosen humility and worshipping of angels (of which we should not be beguiled, lest we lose our reward).

We all profess that we are all baptized into the body of Christ, even though many are walking in voluntary humility. Therefore it appears to me that we are beguiled and in danger of losing our reward, missing the mark and not reaching our goal.

I again certify, as you already know, that I can no longer continue in my office as Elder, and this for no other reason than the fear of God: lest I deal differently than His Word teaches us.

In the winter of 1881-1882 John Holdeman and Marc Seiler came to Manitoba and held evangelistic services in the various locations where these Kleine Gemeinde people had settled. These people had been earnestly trying to live a Christian life, but most were unconverted. Under the preaching of Holdeman and Seiler many were born again and 160 persons were baptized. Congregations were established in seven small villages.

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