Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: kingdom of God

Christ in you, the hope of glory

Jesus spoke the following words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. The words were shocking, no doubt deliberately so.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:53-58)

Many who had been following Jesus turned away. These mysterious words didn’t sound at all like the Messiah they had been taught to expect. When Jesus asked the twelve if they would also turn away, Peter responded “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The apostle Paul explained the mystery like this in Colossians 1:26-27: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The key to understanding Messiah’s kingdom is that the citizens of this kingdom are people who have Jesus Christ inside of them, ruling their lives from the heart. Every time a person is born again, the Lord Jesus Christ is incarnate within them.

This was Jesus’ promise to His disciples in John 14:16-18: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” He repeats the promise in His prayer in the 17th chapter of John: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

Paul explains the promise a little further in Romans chapter eight: “ But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Verses 9-11).

The promise is that the believer will have both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ dwelling in him or her. “He (the Holy Spirit) shall be in you / I (Jesus) will come to you.” “If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you / And if Christ be in you.”

I believe this is what the apostle John is speaking of in the following verses: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2-3). I don’t think he is saying that it is enough to believe that Jesus once walked this earth in human flesh. We must know that He is here right now, in my flesh and your flesh, if we are Christians.

“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Christ is in every Christian, no matter our ethnic background, social or economic status. This is the identifying mark of the true Christian, recognizable only by other Christians.

The kingdom of God

Daniel 2:44: And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

God gave Nebuchadnezzar a vivid dream: a short course in world history in pictorial form. Then God revealed  to Daniel both the dream and the significance of the pictures, culminating in the above statement. The dream was an allegory – the rock that was cut out of the mountain with no visible means and then grew to fill the whole world is a picture that can be visualized. The reality that it represents cannot be so readily visualized, yet the interpretation allows no room to say that it does not exist.

If we believe this to be a divinely inspired message, then the kingdom of God must exist today, and it must be still growing. How do we reconcile that with what meets our eyes in the more “civilized” nations today?

Many people in our day speak of the invisible church, claiming for members all Christian people everywhere. Yet if we examine the Biblical description of the church, it is immediately evident that it cannot be invisible. The instructions for choosing leaders, for admitting members, for dealing with unfaithful members, can only be practiced by a united, clearly discernible body. It is the kingdom that is invisible, not the church

The kingdom of God, or of heaven, does include all people who are children of God and citizens of heaven. It is a kingdom that is in a continual in a state of flux, making it well nigh impossible to discern its shape and composition. God works in mysterious ways, touching people in places and situations where human attempts at evangelism cannot reach, calling people around us that we thought were unreachable.

Our intellect and imagination are both a blessing and a curse in the kingdom. Yes, the imagination plays a vital part in kingdom work. It allows us to visualize how the timeless truths of God’s Word can be applied in cultures and circumstances that are completely foreign to us. There is also the very real danger that we will adapt the truth of the Bible to the culture. I believe that we in North America have gone much further down this path than we want to admit.

I will rejoice in the reality of God’s kingdom, even if so much of it is hidden from my view, because I can see the effects the kingdom in many ways. Yet I am also aware that it is a kingdom under siege by the kingdom of darkness. Citizens of the kingdom are in great danger, and many fall prey to the assaults of the enemy.

I am also thankful for the church of which I am a member. There is a much greater measure of safety here where we know one another and love and support each other. Yet I fear lest we think of the church only as a fortress to protect us from the assaults of the enemy. The enemy is vulnerable, God has given us the weapons to combat the enemy and rescue those who he has captured.

It will not do to be foolhardy and boastful, we have no strength of our own. But if we see only the danger about us and fear to use the armour and weapons our Lord has given, we are in great danger.

The importance of being doers

The men who had been with Jesus were of a dismal mood that first Easter morning. They had believed everything He had told them, except for the really strange parts. Now this. Wasn’t Messiah supposed to cast out their uncircumcised overlords and restore the kingdom? They came together to discuss what to do next, or if there was anything left to do.

The women had something to do. They had gathered all the supplies needed for their task and they left for the tomb early in the morning to prepare their Master’s body for a proper burial. They were just as disheartened as the men, but this one thing they had to do.

Thus it was the women, the doers, who came to the tomb, found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, saw the angels, heard their message. One of them, Mary Magdalene, heard Jesus speak her name.

The women raced back to where the men were to tell them the wonderful news that the Master was alive. The men didn’t believe them. Nevertheless, Peter and John went to the tomb to find out for themselves just what had happened.

It all rings true, doesn’t it? If the men had wanted to invent a story about a man who had died on a cross, then came back to life, wouldn’t they have written in a more heroic role for themselves? All the details of the story bear the unmistakable stamp of truth. Their highest hopes crushed by the death on the cross, their bewilderment and feelings of hopelessness.

The only thing that could have turned their despair into joy and invincible courage must have actually happened. They met the Master whom they had seen perish on the cross, had seen the blood and water pour from his side, and He was alive again. They could touch Him, feel His wounds. He walked with them, talked with them, cooked them a meal.

Now all the really strange parts of His teachings made sense. His kingdom was something much greater than they had been able to imagine, and He commissioned them to carry the good news of the kingdom into all the world. They became doers, many of them died because people didn’t want to hear their message. Other people took their place and the message is still being told and still changing lives.

The Politically Incorrect Messiah

The sceptre had truly departed from Judah. There was once more a king in Jerusalem who ruled over Judah, but he was not of the lineage of David, nor of Judah, not even of Jacob. Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. Surely the time was ripe for the coming of Messiah.

When Messiah came he would throw off the ignominy of this foreign king and all he stood for. For Herod had been appointed by Caesar and was really just a puppet of Rome. The shame of it all was fertile breeding ground for the Zealots, whose support seemed to increase daily. The Zealots considered it a sin to in any way acknowledge the rule of the uncircumcised, heathen Romans. Messiah would soon come and sweep away all the shame of Israel. He would establish his throne in Jerusalem and his reign would spread far and wide, as far as Rome. The Zealots were preparing to be Messiah’s conquering army.

Then Jesus was born, of the lineage of David, in the city of David, yet in the most obscure and humble circumstances possible. The Bible says “there was no room for them in the inn.” “Inn” in this verse simply means a guest chamber. Joseph and Mary will have travelled slowly, because of Mary’s condition. It is quite likely that when they arrived at their relatives the house was already full with other family who had come to Bethlehem to be properly counted on the tax rolls. There was no privacy to be found in such a crowded home for the birth of a baby. So Joseph and Mary were led to the stable, either adjoined to the house or in a cave adjacent to the house. Most likely the midwife was called and other women of the house would have helped. Nevertheless, baby Jesus’ first bed was a manger.

The visit of the shepherds, recounting their angelic visitation, should have erased any shame attached to the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. The visit of the magi will have further established his credentials as the promised Messiah. Yet all of this happened in an out of the way place, far from Jerusalem which was supposed to be the real seat of power.

When Jesus embarked on His ministry some thirty years later, disgust with Roman rule had increased, and with it the influence of the Zealots. Many people were ready to consider Jesus’ claim to be Messiah, if only He would come out and proclaim that He had come to set things right in Israel. That is just what He did, but in a way that was completely contrary to the peoples expectations.

When Jesus first taught about the nature of the kingdom of God, He spoke of the blessedness of being meek and merciful, of being peacemakers and of suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake. He told them they should rejoice if they were mocked and reviled because they believed in Him. He told them that the kingdom of God was for the pure in heart and for those who loved their enemies. In short, He told them that the Zealots completely misunderstood the nature of the kingdom of God.

Nearly two thousand years have passed and Jesus’ kingdom still stands. It is not a political kingdom where submission to Christ is enforced by a sword of steel, but a spiritual kingdom where the love of God rules in the hearts of born again people who submit to Christ of their own free will. How could a literal earthly reign of Christ, enforced by might and brawn, be any better than this? The true nature of the kingdom is fully described in the Sermon on the Mount.

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

There are two ways of reading the Bible. One way is to see it as a repository of morally edifying stories. One can label that the pietistic approach or the moralistic, therapeutic deism approach.

The other approach is to see the Bible as a history of how God revealed, step by step, the redemption story. This was the approach taken by the Anabaptists of years ago. We, who claim to be their spiritual descendants, have been heavily influenced by Bible story books and other influences coming from modern evangelical Christianity and have come close to swallowing the pietistic interpretation. We have lost something important in the process.

Take for example the story of Joseph as it unfolds from Genesis chapter 37 on. Joseph is a perfect fit for the modern idea of a hero — poor mistreated boy makes good beyond his dreams and then is gracious to those who mistreated him. Most people see nothing more than that in these chapters.

There is, however, another story woven into those chapters in such a way that we almost miss it. In fact, most often we do miss it. That is the story of Judah.

Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son, the one who should have been the head of all the tribes of Israel. Well, he tried — sort of. When his brothers wanted to kill Joseph, he suggested they put him in a pit instead. It seems that he intended to rescue him later, but didn’t really have a plan. Later when Joseph demanded that Benjamin be brought to him in Egypt, Reuben offered his two sons to his father as surety for Benjamin. Jacob did not appear to be impressed.

Judah was the fourth son of Jacob, certainly not predestined to have the preeminence, and there is not much in his earlier life to suggest that he might one day become the leader. It was Judah’s suggestion to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites. Perhaps he was trying to save Joseph’s life, but he certainly never expected to see him again.

It isn’t until chapter 43 that we see a different Judah. Obtaining grain from Egypt was now a matter of life and death, and Jacob had rejected Reuben’s offer of his sons as surety for Benjamin. Then Judah steps up before his father and says: “ Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever.”

Evidently Jacob saw in Judah a depth of sincerity and commitment that convinced him that he could trust him to keep his word. In the following chapter, Judah stands before the man who was the lord of Egypt and recounts the commitment he made to his father: “ For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.”

By this willingness of Judah to sacrifice himself for the welfare, not only of Benjamin but of the whole family, the heart of Joseph was broken and he revealed himself to his brothers. And by this act of self-sacrifice Judah became the leader of the children of Israel.

Years later, when Jacob blessed his sons, his blessing of Judah foretold his role in the whole future history of the children of Israel. “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.”

Note that in Egypt the brothers bowed down to Joseph, but Jacob foretold that in the future they would bow down to Judah. The kings of Israel, after Saul, were of the tribe of Judah. Our Saviour came from the lineage of Judah as reckoned according to the flesh.

There are important lessons in the life of Joseph. But the truest image of the story of redemption is not found in the man who lived in palaces, dressed in costly array and whose authority was felt in every corner of Egypt. It is found in the man who, when it became a matter of life and death for his brethren, offered himself as a ransom.

How did I get so old, so fast?

elderly_mancaneMy cousin Ted turned 76 today. No, that’s not Ted in the picture. It looks more like me, except that I can still stand up straight and I’m not nearly that skinny — yet. I’m working on it, but it’s coming pretty slow.

There was a day when I believed that anyone past thirty was over the hill. In the spring of 1971 I was the manager of a country grain elevator in Manitoba. A semi load of bagged fertilizer pulled in just after supper one day; I think the driver was about 20. We got to work and unloaded that trailer, then had a beer before he left. I remember him remarking that he would have to tell his friends that he had met this 29 year old guy and he still seemed young! I remember it like it was yesterday. After all, it was only… let me see now… it was only 43 years ago.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge in those years — I still have more hair than the guy in the picture, but it’s white now. So is my beard. And I don’t drink beer anymore. You can read my last post to find out why.

I’m still 3 1/2 years younger than Ted, but that doesn’t seem like much anymore. We’re both past the best before date of threescore years and ten mentioned by Moses.However, it took Moses until he was eighty to dsicover his calling in life, perhaps there is still work for us old folks to do in God’s kingdom. At any rate there are still things to learn, even at this age.

Wicked women of the Bible

One was a Canaanite woman who disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law. Another Canaanite woman was a prostitute. A Moabite woman crawled under the covers with a man while he was sleeping to hint that she wanted to marry him. The fourth was an Israelite woman who bathed on the roof of her house in full view of her neighbour.

What do these four women have in common? They are all named in the genealogy of Jesus. In fact, they are the only women mentioned in His genealogy.

Tamar, the first, was the widow of both of Judah’s two oldest sons. Judah promised her that she would marry his youngest son when he came of age, but did not keep his promise. Tamar then took matters into her own hands, playing the prostitute to Judah himself. When Judah was informed that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, he decreed that such a sin must be punished by death. However, when she informed him who was the father of the expected child, Judah was humbled and responded “She hath been more righteous than I.”

Rahab was the Canaanite prostitute who hid the Israelite spies who had come to search out the defences of Jericho. Because of this, she and her household were the only survivors of the destruction of Jericho. She married an Israelite – possibly one of the spies?

Ruth the Moabitess may have taken unusual measures to make her wishes known to Boaz, but he appeared to take her intentions kindly. He told her: “Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.”

The Bible tells us nothing of Bathsheba’s thoughts when she bathed on the roof. Some commentators think that she was actually performing the ritual cleansing after the end of her menstrual period. If that be so, it could have appeared as an invitation to King David. He certainly seems to have taken it that way.

None of these women had the Bible we have today. The law had not been given at the time of Tamar, even later no one had access to a personal copy of the Scriptures. There was no weekly worship and instructional service during Old Testament times. None of this excuses their conduct. Yet God had mercy on them and they became known as godly women. When the elders blessed the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, they said “Let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah.”

Three of these women appear in the genealogy of David and the fourth, Bathsheba, was his wife and the mother of Solomon, the son whom God loved best of all the sons of David. Proverbs 31 begins: “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.” No king by this name appears in any ancient record. The name signifies “for God” and the rabbinical commentators considered it another name for Solomon. We cannot be positive, but the only alternative is that Lemuel is a complete mystery. If Lemuel was indeed Solomon, then Proverbs 31 was written by Bathsheba.

Jesus, during His ministry, had a compassion for scorned and mistreated women that was unheard of in that day. The Pharisees were the true believers of Jesus’ day, in that they believed all the Scriptures taught and scrupulously observed all the commandments of the law. They often scorned Jesus for His friendship with sinners. His response? He told the Pharisees “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”

Do we have the same compassion toward the fallen and downtrodden that Jesus and the early church had? One of the primary reasons for the rapid growth of the early church was that the gospel offered hope and dignity to the outcasts of society. Have we forgotten this in our day?

It has been a great temptation for us as North American Christians to sit in our comfortable, middle-class pews and rejoice in God’s goodness, all the while averting our eyes from the misery around us. If we do see it, we console ourselves that all these people are going against better knowledge. Really? I am convinced that most people in North America today have no more understanding of God’s mercy and righteousness than Tamar and Rahab had at the beginning.

The Dogma is the Drama

[Excerpts from Letters to a Diminished Church, Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Dogma, by Dorthy L. Sayers (1893-1957). © 2004 by W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc. My copy is the ebook version, purchased from Kobo and read on my Kobo ereader and the Kobo app on my Android smart phone.]

Christ, in His divine innocence, said to the woman of Samaria, “Ye worship ye know not what” — being apparently under the impression that it might be desirable, on the whole, to know what one was worshipping. He thus showed Himself sadly out of touch with the twentieth century mind . . . . The only drawback to this demand for a generalized and undirected worship is the practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular.

It would not perhaps be altogether surprising if . . . there were a number of people who knew all about Christian doctrine and disliked it. It is more startling to discover how many people there are who heartily dislike and despise Christianity without having the faintest notion what it is. If you tell them, they cannot believe you. I do not mean that they cannot believe the doctrine; that would be understandable enough since it takes some believing. I mean that they simply cannot believe that anything so interesting, so exciting, and so dramatic can be the orthodox creed of the church.

Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it upon an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious — others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended by Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended about something that is not Christ and is nothing like Him? We do Him singularly little honour by watering down His personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.

One God, two kingdoms

In 1660 AD, Thieleman J van Bright, a deacon of the Mennonite church in Holland, published the result of his exhaustive historical research of the beliefs and the persecutions of faithful Christians from the time of Christ up to the date of publication. This book, the Martyrs Mirror, runs to more than 1100 pages and consists mostly of quotations from official records and the writings of the martyrs themselves. This is the best record of our Anabaptist heritage.

In the early years, the persecutors were the pagan Roman authorities. When the Roman Catholic Church became the state church of the Roman Empire it spared no effort to root out and destroy the true believers.

I realize that it is a bold statement to say that the true believers were the Anabaptists and not the members of the Roman Catholic Church. Consider then some of the points of difference. The Roman Catholic Church taught that all people in the Empire must be compelled to be members of the state church. The Anabaptists taught that church membership must be preceded by faith and that the New Testament does not permit force or coercion in matters of faith. The Roman Catholic Church taught that those who did not bow to her authority must be turned over to the civil authority to be tortured until they recanted, and put to death if they did not recant. The Anabaptists taught the way of peace and love and turning the other cheek, refusing to take up weapons to defend themselves.

The Roman Catholic church defended its zeal in persecuting the Anabaptists by labelling them as Manicheans, or dualists. There were Manicheans in many places, people who believed that there were two spiritual forces in the world, of equal power. They identified the Creator God of the Old Testament as the evil god and taught that the good god of the New Testament was someone different. It should be obvious that such people did not base these beliefs on an actual reading to the Holy Scriptures. They were mixing the teachings of Zoroaster with a superficial understanding of Christianity.

The Roman Catholic Church endeavoured to destroy all the records of the persecuted churches so that only the Catholic version of their history would ever be known. Yet enough has survived to show that these persecuted believers were faithful students of the Bible and added nothing to the teachings of the Word of God.

I don’t believe that it is in any way a stretch to say that the real point of contention was that Anabaptists taught that the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world are different and separate. Civil government is necessary and ordained of God. Christians should be subject to every ordinance of the civil authority, except when there is a conflict with their faith. But it is not for Christians to participate in the civil government with its necessary use of force and coercion to maintain order in society.

This struck at the very root of the existence of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution working hand in hand with secular authorities, at times exercising authority of emperors and kings and using the sword of the secular authority to eradicate all dissent from the authority of the church.

This union of Emperor and Pope was routinely denounced by the Anabaptists for being contrary to Scripture. Small wonder the popes seized upon dualism as a handy accusation to use against their opponents.

The Reformed and Lutheran churches, being state churches at the beginning, found themselves compelled to use the same tactics against the Anabaptists. All these churches admitted freely that the Anabaptists led much more pious and holy lives than their own members. Luther once admitted that Lutherans were “well nigh heathen under the name of Christian.” The mere existence of the Anabaptists was a constant reproach to them, and a powerful attraction to the sincere seekers after true Christian faith who were dismayed at the spiritual and moral state of members of the state churches.

There are sincere Christians in our day who believe that Christians must engage in politics in order to set things right in our society. Look around, how much have Christians in public office been able to do to stem the flood of anti-Christian propaganda and lawmaking?

Our society will never be turned around by top down political manoeuvring, no matter how well intentioned. The only hope for our society is a genuine work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of individuals. What is needed are individuals who are fully surrendered to the will of God, cost what it may, and who have no earthly ambitions whatsoever.

Obeying the Great Commission in a time of persecution

This is my only joy and the desire of my heart, that I may extend the borders of the kingdom of God, make known the truth, reprove sin, teach righteousness, feed the hungry souls with the word of the Lord, lead the stray sheep to the right path, and win many souls for the Lord through His Spirit, power and grace.

-Menno Simons

To this end we preach as much as opportunity and possibility affords, both in daytime and by night, in houses and in fields, in forests and wildernesses, in this land and abroad, in prison and bonds, in water, fire and the scaffold, on the gallows, and upon the wheel, before lords and princes, orally and by writing at the risk of possessions and life, as we have done these many years without ceasing.

-Menno Simons

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