Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: communion

An abiding church

As soon as we were married my wife and I set out on a search to find people who still believed and lived the faith once delivered to the saints. I firmly believed we would find that faith among the spiritual descendants of the Anabaptist & Mennonites of long ago. Time and again our search ran aground, and we would sadly move on to search somewhere else.

We met many fine, warm hearted people along the way, but their understanding of the faith always fell short. Some would say that wearing the style of clothes prescribed by their church was evidence of being born again. Others thought that the mere fact of wanting to be a Christian was evidence you were one. Some said that it was better to follow Billy Graham than Menno Simons. I mean no disrespect of Billy Graham, but I fear such a statement indicates a lack of a spiritual foundation and they would just as readily follow the next big name that came along, whatever kind of gospel he would preach.

Then there was this group that claimed to be the true church. I balked at that idea, which I took to be evidence of pride. But after encountering so many “wrong” churches, Mennonites and a variety of others, I began to reconsider. Doesn’t every church claim to be more on the right path than any other? Otherwise there would be no reason for them to continue to exist.

Finally I knelt in prayer and asked for help to understand what the Bible teaches about the church. I found there is nothing in the Bible that gives room to think that competing bodies, differing in doctrine, can all be churches of God. Neither did there seem to be any way to fit the idea of an invisible church into the New Testament teachings about the church.

Then I was led to Menno Simons list of signs by which the true church of God may be known:

Scriptural use of the sacramental signs – by that time I had seen the confusion in so many other churches and knew of only one that carefully proved those who requested baptism to see that they had indeed been born again and the congregation could testify of a Spirit-led life. This same church was the only one I knew of that would not have a communion service unless the congregation was fully united and any sins repented of and quarrels reconciled.

Unfeigned brotherly love – again we had seen many churches that tried to practice brotherly love, but didn’t really trust each other. Only one church seemed to have genuine brotherly love.

Unadulterated, pure doctrine – check

Obedience to the Word – check

Dietrich Philip added another sign – ministers that are faithful in word and deed. I had already noted that in this church there was the power to deal with ministers who crossed a line in doctrine or conduct without disturbing the unity of a congregation.

Thus, on February 11, 1979, Chris and I were baptized and became members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, the same church that we had earlier vowed to avoid.

One last thought: the doctrine of the true church does not mean that we think no one else outside the church can be saved. Here I’ll quote Menno Simons again:

“Reader, understand what I mean ; we do not dispute about whether or not there are some of the chosen ones of God, in the before mentioned churches ; for this we, at all times, humbly leave to the just and gracious judgment of God, hoping there may be many thousands who are unknown to us, as they were to holy Elias ; but our dispute is in regard to what kind of Spirit, doctrine, sacraments, ordinances and life Christ has commanded us to gather unto him an abiding church, and how we should maintain it in his ways.”

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The inward and spiritual grace

The following are statements from the Catechism found in the Book of Common Prayer, which was used for centuries by Anglicans around the world.

Catechist. What do you mean by the word Sacrament?

Answer. I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given to us by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive this grace, and a pledge to assure us thereof.

Catechist. What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?

Answer. A death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness; for being by nature born into man’s sinful state, we are hereby made the children of grace by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Catechist, What is required of persons to be baptized?

Answer. Repentance; whereby they forsake sin, which separates them from God; and faith; whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that Sacrament.

Catechist. Why then are infants baptized?

Answer. Infants are baptized so that, being received into Christ’s Church, they may grow in grace and be trained in the household of faith.

There is much truth in these words written by Thomas Cranmer more than 500 years ago. And I do believe that many Anglicans down through the centuries did repent and were born again.

I also believe that a great many were not – including myself. And I do not believe that those who experienced a new birth did so as a result of the outward sign of baptism. There is much in Anglicanism that is good and beneficial, I remember especially the emphasis on reading the Scriptures in every service. But the teaching that the sacraments are a means of grace has let  many people down.

I agree fully that the sacraments are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. But it is confusion to teach that these inward and spiritual graces are received by means of the sacraments. I was baptized, confirmed, became an altar boy, took communion often, and never experienced the inward and spiritual graces that the catechism promised.

I abandoned the Anglican Church and the whole idea of there being any meaning in church and Christianity. Some years later, not having found satisfactory answers to the questions of life elsewhere, I began again to read the Bible. Finally, the Holy Spirit let me see my sinfulness; I repented and was born again.

A few years later I was baptized and became a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, which teaches that the inward and spiritual grace is the qualification for baptism. Likewise, spiritual unity in a congregation is the qualification for communion. Outward signs can produce neither spiritual life nor spiritual unity.

This is the historic position of the Anabaptists. The inward and spiritual graces are essential to being a Christian and must precede the outward and visible signs.

Don’t be anxious for anything

We were going through self-examination before communion when a frail elderly brother stood and said “I want to say that I have peace with God, but it seems like I should do something to be able to claim that I have peace. I have prayed God to show me if there is anything I need to make right, but nothing comes to me. I don’t know where I’m at.”

One of the ministers called this brother aside and explained to him that if he had honestly prayed God to show him if there was anything in his way, and nothing came to him, that meant that he did have peace. There was nothing he needed to do. Whereupon the dear old brother was able to say “I believe by faith that I have peace with God.”

Jesus taught: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). This is something we consider in self-examination — is there something that hinders me from coming to the communion altar with a clear conscience?

This is well and good, and Scriptural, but it can become a pattern. We expect that we need to find something to confess so that we can claim peace with God. And when we make that confession we feel a release of tension and believe we can now claim that our peace with God is unclouded by any transgression on our part.

Most of the time it is probably genuine, but perhaps there are more serious needs that we don’t want to deal with, yet we feel we have done what was expected of us and claim that all is well. Or, we may be like this old brother and feel we need to confess something, but their is nothing to confess.

What we are missing in both cases is that the peace of God cannot be purchased by our efforts, however sincere and earnest we may be. God does want us to keep our lives pure and uncluttered by things that would be a hindrance to ourselves or others. But all our efforts to maintain a pure and upright life do not earn peace with God. It is a gift. “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?” (Job 34:29).

As I grow older the passage in Philippians 4:6-7 becomes more meaningful to me. (I have changed a few words to follow the French translation of these verses.)

Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all intelligence, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The peace which God gives goes far beyond anything that we can attain to by our intellect. We may feel a certain relief by confessing a wrong, or making restitution for something we have done. We need to do those things, but that relief is not necessarily the peace of God. If we are simply doing things according to our own understanding and feeling satisfied in doing them, there is no keeping power in that. Only the peace of God can bring rest to our hearts and minds and guard them from intrusions of needless anxiety.

Revival and communion

Holy Communion in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite is not a matter of routinely gathering at fixed intervals to partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine in remembrance of our Lord.  We believe that the peace and unity symbolized by this service must be fully authentic.

To this end, we have revival meetings before communion.  A congregation will call two ministers from different congregations to come to preach the gospel, to visit the members and to endeavour to resolve all barriers to true unity and fellowship.  It happens on occasions that problems surface that cannot be resolved in a short time.  In some cases a problem may be serious enough to be brought before the congregation as Jesus instructed in Matthew 18:15-17.  Or, if there is a more widespread problem, communion will be delayed until this is resolved.

We are all too human, often tending to think that we are misunderstood, we have been somehow wronged, or that our children are not treated fairly.  We may also become involved with things in the course of work and business that are not consistent with the Christian faith.  At revival time we are asked to look at our faith and the way we are living it and to bring ” every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Revival meetings this year at Swanson had an inauspicious beginning.  A large part of the congregation came down with gastroenteritis (some people call it stomach flu)  just before meetings were scheduled to begin.  Less than half the congregation were well enough to be in church the first evening.  After a few days, both of our revival ministers came down with the illness, one of them even had to sped most of a day in the hospital due to complications.

Still, after 12 days of church services every evening, we were able to declare our peace and unity and go forward.  There were inspiring testimonies of victories won over anger, doubt and depression, confessions of  being too contentious and of being too passive.   Our visiting ministers are now on their way home (to Québec and Idaho), having left us with an admonition to go forward and not backward in the Christian warfare.

This was the first communion for  six young people who had been baptized over the past year.

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