Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Martin Luther

Mennonites are not Protestants

I applaud the sincerity and courage of Martin Luther when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg 500 years ago. I am appalled by the savagery of his address to the armies fighting the peasants’ revolt, when he called on them to “slash, stab, kill as many as you can,” and promised them a sure entrance to heaven if they died in the battle. He found a way to use Scripture to show that this killing would be an act of mercy, as he did later when he called for the extermination of Anabaptists and Jews.

I’m afraid that Martin Luther took a wrong turn when he decided to rely on the secular power to establish his reformation of the church. He was able to effect a reformation of some of the more egregious practices that were characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church of his day, but even Luther did not believe his reformation had produced people who were more Christian.

Anabaptists and Mennonites have always held to the concept that only Christian people should be members of the Christian church. That is, people who have been born again and whose life bears evidence of an inner transformation. We have never taught that salvation can be earned by works, as the Roman Catholics did in Luther’s day. But neither do we believe that a person whose life is devoid of all evidence of regeneration can be a Christian, as Luther seemed to say with his emphasis on Sola Fides.

When a person is born again a new life begins. Works are the life signs. If there are no works, the faith is dead, or nonexistent. A born again Christian is never fully aware of how much his life has changed. He is simply thankful for the peace God has given and tries to maintain his connection with God. His works are not done to obtain the approval of others, nor is his assurance dependent on what other people think. There are simply the effects of an inner transformation.

The Protestant reformers believed that the survival of their reformed churches was worth killing for; Anabaptists believed that the survival of their peace with God was worth dying for.

Homeopathic dilution of Christianity

To put it very briefly, homeopathy is a branch of alternative medicine that treats diseases with natural substances that are diluted well past the point where any trace of the original substance can be detected.  Some call it quackery, others say that it works where other methods fail.  It does have this much going for it, that it can be said with assurance that it causes no harmful side effects.   I do not believe the same can be said for watered down Christianity.

Very early in the history of Christianity, some folks found undiluted Christianity to be too strong a medicine for their liking and began to water it down, while still claiming that it lost none of its saving power.  Various levels of dilution are available in our day, all claiming to be good for what ails us, yet unable to show much evidence of its potency.

Martin Luther saw clearly the evils of the church to which he originally belonged and wanted to establish a church of earnest believers.  Yet by 1522 he realized that things were not working out as he had expected and expressed the rather forlorn hope that, “We who at present are well nigh heathen under a Christian name, may yet organize a Christian assembly.”  He began to think of forming an inner circle of earnest believers within the Lutheran Church who would confess the gospel with their lives as well as their tongues.  He eventually dropped that plan, realizing he could not find enough people for it.

Yet the Anabaptists had no trouble finding such people.  They preached, and lived, a rigorous, uncompromising and undiluted gospel that actually did transform lives.  The reputation of the Anabaptists was such that during the persecutions of the sixteenth century a person who led an honest and moral life, did not curse and was not quarrelsome might easily find himself accused of being an Anabaptist.

Baptism is the key point where Anabaptists differ from Catholics and Protestants.  We understand the Bible to teach that baptism can only be offered to those of sufficient age and understanding to make a voluntary covenant with God and the church.  It is the means of gathering a congregation of the redeemed.  To that end, the convert must be able to appear before the assembly with a testimony of repentance and new birth and the congregation must be able to testify that they have witnessed the fruit of repentance in a transformed life.  Baptism then is a symbol that the convert is no longer walking in the ways of the world but has united with the people of God.

I attended many churches in my earlier years, met many wonderful people.  I still meet some of them from time to time and count them as friends.  However, all those churches were a mixed assembly of true believers, those who were trying to make themselves believe they were believers and many who truly didn’t know what they believed.  There was little evidence of the power to transform lives.

I listened to a lot of different preachers, even attended some powerful revival campaigns.  Parts of the gospel were preached, some topics were carefully avoided so as not to cause offense.   Such tactics do not have power to gather a church of the redeemed.  The meaning of baptism and the conditions for baptism were watered down, resulting in a watered down gospel that did not offer clear directions for sin sick souls to find the source of healing.

Salvation comes from God, not the church.  Nevertheless, spiritual discernment is needed to gather only believers into the church and to clearly reveal the way of salvation to others.

“By their fruits ye shall know them.”  There is no such thing as an invisible Christian; if no visible fruits are apparent in a person’s life, there is no reason to suspect such a person of being a Christian.  There are weak Christians, but that is not the same thing.  In truth, we are all weak, but those who truly trust in God will be known by their fruits.

 

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