Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Menno Simons

Some thoughts on evangelism

Each time the Apostle Paul stopped in a new location during his missionary journeys, he first went into the synagogue to teach. This always ended with the Jews rising up in opposition, sometimes with great violence. Roland Allen, in Missionary Methods, St. Paul’s or Ours, expresses the view that it was Paul’s intention to make it plain to the Gentile population that he was not teaching the faith of the Jews. He often put his life in danger by doing so, but it aroused the interest of the Gentiles so that they wanted to hear the message Paul was bringing.

Nine hundred years ago, someone among the Christians we know as Waldensians wrote a treatise called Antichrist. The writer may have been Pierre de Bruys, an active evangelist of that era. The treatise made it very clear that the Waldensians had no relationship to the Roman Catholic church or any of its teachings. A dangerous move in that era, but it must have seemed important to those Christians to say what they did not believe in order that people might listen with interest to find out what they did believe.

Five hundred years later, Menno Simons did much the same thing. He also referred to the roman Catholic church as Antichrist, but he also had the new protestant denominations to contend with. He offered to debate publicly, and wrote many books to counter false teachings of other churches. He wrote in one place that he believed there were some true believers in each of the churches, but they were not building on the right foundation to form a church that would maintain the pure faith and pass it on from generation to generation.

Menno was considered a dangerous man, because he aimed his writings at the general public. What if we could do that in our day? Point out all the non-Christian teachings that have attached themselves to the various denominations of our day? If we proclaimed that we were not encumbered with any of that debris, but preached solely the gospel of Jesus Christ, as taught in the Bible. I realize that many other denominations claim to be doing just that; that is why it becomes important to point out all false claims.

The mark of the apostolic church and the Anabaptist churches that followed was purity. The purity of the church which accepted as members only those who were genuinely born again and walking in obedience to the Holy Spirit. The purity of the lives of those members. Purity in family life, in business and in relationships with others. Purity of doctrine, of brotherly love and of ministers who do not preach for popularity or financial gain.

Are there people who would willingly hear such a message today? Let’s not shrink back from trying to find out.

  • Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen. © 1962 World Dominion Press

Three Impossible Things That I Believe

I believe that God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons, yet only one God. All three are shown in the scene of the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16-17: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

I have no logical explanation of how it is possible that three can be one, yet I believe it is true. As Billy Sunday once said: “God is not an explanation; He is a revelation.”

I believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human, but not two persons in one body. I believe that Jesus’ body was identical to our bodies in every way, except for the inheritance of the sin nature and the effects of sin. In other words, though His body was formed in Mary’s womb, He had no genetic inheritance from her.

One of the best expositions of why it was necessary for the body of Jesus to be a special new creation was done by Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research. You can read his article here.

Again, I have no logical explanation of how this was possible. But to believe otherwise leads to the sort of illogical conclusions that Menno Simons encountered: “The English, or Zwinglians believe and confess that there are two sons in Christ Jesus, the one is God’s son, without mother and impassive; and the other is the son of Mary, or the son of man, without father, and passive. And in this passive son of Mary, the impassive Son of God dwelt; so that the son of Mary, who was crucified, and died for us, was not the son of God.”

I believe that Jesus, after the resurrection had a physical body that could be seen and touched. That he could break bread, cook fish and eat them. Yet He could enter a room without going through the door, the wall or the ceiling and leave as He came. This was not a magical conjuring trick, nor some mythical Star Trek technology. It appears that He could pass at will from the visible physical realm to the invisible spiritual realm. This was not done through technology yet to be discovered by mankind, nor was it an illusion. I believe He is still alive today with a physical resurrection body, in a realm that cannot be discerned by our physical senses.

These three things are all clearly impossible in any way that my human mind can comprehend. Yet to say that God cannot do anything that my human mind cannot understand is to reduce God to my level, or to exalt myself to His level. If God were to be limited by the capacity of my human mind, He could not be God.

© Bob Goodnough, November 18, 2019

What does “Mennonite” mean to you?

Some people consider themselves to be birthright Mennonites because their ethnic origin is Plautdietsch or Pennsylfannisch Dietsch and their parents held to certain traditional values that they called Mennonite. Those values may have been cultural; language, clothing, lifestyle; or they may hae been intellectual: a somewhat counter cultural emphasis on peacefulness and helping one’s neighbour. Beyond these two groups there are those who cling to the Mennonite name but have become thoroughly Protestant in religion, abandoned religion altogether, or are experimenting with Buddhist meditation.

But what does it really mean to be Mennonite? Can any of the above persuasions and practices really be called Mennonite? Where does the name Mennonite come from?

The last question is the easiest to answer and may shed some light on the others. Five hundred years ago in Holland a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Menno Simons became troubled about the life he was leading. He began to read the Bible, repented and experienced a new birth. He remained in the priesthood for a time and gained some renown as an evangelical preacher. Eventually he found his situation untenable, left the Roman Catholic church and joined with those he considered to be true Christians, who had been scattered and demoralized by persecution.

MennoSimons

In the course of time he was ordained a minister in this group and set about to gather together and encourage the scattered believers. There were other noted leaders in the church during this era, especially Dietrich Philips and Leenart Bouwens. Menno does not appear to have been above the others, but became well known in the public eye due to his prolific writings. Dietrich Philips was also a prolific writer, but his writings were addressed to members of the church, while Menno often addressed his writings to the general public and to the authorities of the land.

For this reason the name of Menno Simons became very well known. The authorities put a price on his head and did their best to apprehend him, but he always managed to escape their attempts. In time, the authorities and the general public began to label as Menno’s people those who were of the same faith as Menno Simons. This was later shortened to Mennists and then Mennonites. Menno denied being the founder of the church he belonged to, and it would be wrong today to attribute such a thing to him. But it is still true that someone who is of the same faith as Menno could rightly be labelled a Mennonite.

So what did Menno believe? He once summarized the characteristics by which the true church of God would be known like this:

1. The salutary and unadulterated doctrine of His holy and divine Word. Where the church of Christ is, there His Word is preached purely and rightly.
2. The right and Scriptural use of the sacraments of Christ, namely, the baptism of those who, by faith, are born of God, sincerely repent, and have a clear conscience. And the dispensing of the Lord’s Holy Supper to the penitent, who seek grace, reconciliation and the remission of their sins in the merits of the death and blood of the Lord, who walk with their brethren in love, peace and unity, who are led by the Spirit of the Lord, into all truth and righteousness, and who prove, by their fruits, that they are the church and people of Christ.
3. Obedience to the holy Word, or the pious, Christian life which is of God.
4. The sincere and unfeigned love of one’s neighbour.
5. The name, will, word and ordinance of Christ, are unreservedly confessed, in spite of all the cruelty, tyranny, uproar, fire, sword and violence of the world, and that they are upheld unto the end.
6. The pressing cross of Christ, which is taken up for the sake of his testimony and word. That this very cross is a sure sign of its being the church of Christ, has been testified not only in olden times by the Scriptures, but also by the example of Jesus Christ, of the holy apostles and prophets, by the primitive and unadulterated church; and also, by the present pious, faithful children, especially in these our Netherlands.

This was the faith of Menno Simons. Who then can honestly say today that he has the same faith as Menno? Such an identification cannot come from natural inheritance, culture, tradition or philosophy. It can only belong to those who are truly born again and faithfully following the leading of the Holy Spirit, despite all the roadblocks and menaces which the world may place in their way?

Is that what Mennonite means to you?

The Mennonite view of the Sabbath

They keep and sanctify the Sabbath which is not the literal, but the spiritual Sabbath, which never ends with true Christians, not by wearing fine clothes, not by carousing, vanity and idleness, as the reckless world do, but by the true fear of God, by a clear conscience and unblamable life, in love to God and their neighbours ; for that is the true religion, Heb. 12:1.
Menno Simons, 1554 – Complete Works, page 680

For, understand, the prophecy is fulfilled which said with reference to this time, that such people have beaten their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles, rest from their works, and truly observe the spiritual Sabbath. Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3; Ex. 20:10, 11.
Headrick Alewins, 1659 – Martyrs Mirror, page 755

Because man so soon transgressed God’s word, he at the same time was overtaken with unrest in body and soul. Hence God commanded him to rest on the seventh day. . . yet this rest day was to man a figure that a rest of both body and soul was awaiting mankind (Heb 4:4; 11). . .
In this Jesus there is rest for the soul, the spiritual, eternal sabbath that has not end; in Jesus this sabbath must be obtained. . .
By faith we receive Jesus, and by faith in Jesus we must make an end of the service of sin, our own sinful works, and turn away from them, and by faith in Jesus do the works meet for repentance; then the believer enters into the rest of soul, then the believer enters upon the spiritual sabbath of the soul in Jesus, which Jesus has wrought in his own body on the tree; then the believer is in the day of salvation and in the day of light (2 Cor. 6:2; John 7:12; 11:9). This is then the spiritual sabbath day for the soul of the believers, in which they shall rest and hallow in both body and soul from the works of sin.
Henry Funk, 1763 – Restitution, pages 99-100

Old Testament ceremonies did not represent literal ceremonies under the gospel, but every one met a spiritual fulfilment. The literal sabbath was bodily rest; the spiritual sabbath is soul rest. He, Christ, said, “Come unto me all yea that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. And ye shall find rest unto your souls.” We must, to be able to obtain or enter into this spiritual sabbath, cease from all our work; that is works according to our sinful will, as God did from His work of creating.
The true sabbath of the gospel dispensation is not the observance of any literal day. We have a perpetual sabbath, rest to our souls.
Wendell K. Petoskey, Messenger of Truth, 1944, Issue 19

God had set the Sabbath as a day of rest, which pointing to Christ and the rest to be enjoyed in Him. In Him is brought back the day of rest as it was enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. When man accepts Christ as personal Saviour, and lives the life of Jesus he comes into this Sabbath rest, as long as he is faithful. . . The Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ and man need not be in unrest.
D. J. H. Schmidt, Messenger of Truth, 1955, Issue 8

[The Messenger of Truth is a bi-weekly periodical of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.]

A church of nobodies

Historians appear to believe that wherever there was something important going on there must have been some big shots behind it. When they look at the history of Christianity, the Catholics and Protestants had all the big shots. Since they find no big shots on the side of those we call Anabaptists, they assume that nothing was happening.

But the very essence of Christianity is that there can be only one big shot, and that is God Himself. Even Jesus did not conduct Himself as a big shot. That was the problem the Scribes and Pharisees had with Him; they wanted a Messiah who would sweep away the Roman oppressors and rule the world from Jerusalem. Dispensationalists are in full agreement with that, and say that since His plan was foiled the first time the earthly kingdom will be established at His Second Coming. The problem with that line of thought is that it would make Jesus a fomenter of sedition and provide just cause for the Romans to execute Him. But Jesus said plainly “My kingdom is not of this world”, and the Roman governor found no fault in Him, going so far as to wash his hands of the whole affair.

So Jesus is not our big shot. He is the most important man in the history of the world, but a nobody in the eyes of the world. His followers, from the apostles to the present day, have also been nobodies.

We should not, however, read too much into the opinion of the Sanhedrin that the apostles were unlearned and ignorant men. The apostles were fluent in Aramaic and Greek, knew the Scriptures better than most of us do today, and were well acquainted with the Greek culture around them. But they were not learned in all the petty intricacies of rabbinic interpretations and regulations.

Once we stop looking for the big shots in the movement variously known as Donatist, Cathar, Anabaptist, Waldensian, etc, it becomes obvious that there was a whole lot going on. Thieleman van Braght scoured the ancient records and published his findings in the Martyrs Mirror.

A more recent book is The Anatomy of a Hybrid by Leonard Verduin. The hybrid in the title of the book refers to state churches which united secular authority with spiritual authority, beginning when the Roman Emperor Constantine professed Christianity and then assumed authority over the Roman Catholic Church. Verduin is a thorough scholar who shows clearly the evidences of a continuing alternate church movement from the time the hybrid first departed from the faith once delivered to the saints. He points out that the Mennonite movement began in locations where the Waldensians had recently flourished.

Another facet of looking for the big shots is evident in the attention church historians pay to councils of Roman Catholic bishops, called by a Roman Emperor, to decide matters of essential Christian doctrines. I believe those matters were decided long before the councils by the Holy Spirit working through a bunch of nobodies.

Let the world have its dynamic and charismatic preachers. We pray that they will do some good in making known the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. But we fear, as Menno Simons once wrote: “so long as the world donates such splendid houses and large incomes to their preachers, the false prophets and deceivers will be numerous.”

Time to make a decision

At least I thought we had exhausted all the possibilities in trying to find a church that still believed and lived the old Anabaptist faith. Could I have missed something? Or had I misunderstood something?

If I was honest with myself, I had felt more at home in congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite than anywhere else. But the fear of being deceived was holding me back from considering whether this church might be what I was looking for.

Just what does “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) mean? I went alone to pray and ask God to help me see what the Bible really taught about the church. As I rose from the prayer, I felt a need to read again what Menno Simons wrote about the signs by which the true church of God could be identified. He listed six:

1. By an unadulterated, pure doctrine.
2. By a scriptural use of the sacramental signs.
3. By obedience to the Word.
4. By unfeigned brotherly love.
5. By an unreserved confession of God and Christ.
6. By oppression and tribulation for the sake of the Lord’s Word.

As I read them this time, and considered all the churches we had known, it was suddenly crystal clear that there was no other church to which even one of these signs could be applied. We had met many friendly and helpful people, they seemed from the outside to get along well together. But could it be called unfeigned brotherly love when they didn’t really trust each other? Many churches talked about the new birth, and about spiritual unity. Yet they baptized anyone who said they had been born again and had communion at appointed times, even though they were not fully at peace with one another.

These thoughts were pointing me strongly toward the Holdeman Mennonites. But what about the claim of exclusivity? Once again, I looked to see what Menno said. It wasn’t hard to find and again I understood something I had missed before. Here is what Menno wrote:

Reader, understand what I mean ; we do not dispute about whether or not there are some of the chosen one’s 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.

Menno obviously believed there were many Christians in other churches; he was not saying that there was only one church in which one could be saved. But he was concerned that other churches were offering comfort to the unsaved and not guiding and supporting those who were saved.

My heart was settled. I knew where God wanted us to be and where I wanted to be. I made several two hour trips to visit a minister in the Linden Congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and knew that was where I wanted to be.

This was too abrupt a change in direction for Chris. She was frightened and not at all willing to make another move. She felt at home where we were and was sure that I was deceived. We hashed this over many times without getting any closer to seeing things the same way. The possibility that we might have to part ways loomed before us.

Finally we knelt together and prayed about the direction we should take. When the prayer was finished, Chris said she still felt the same apprehension about the direction I was taking, but she would go with me.

The night before we left, the bishop and his wife invited us for supper. Before we parted, he had one last warning for me. “You have expressed some misgivings in the past about the Holdeman church. I share those misgivings. We have never seen it happen that a church could drift from full obedience to the truth and recover itself. When a church has drifted, it is time to come out and start over again on the gospel ground.”

As I listened to those words, I realized the bishop understood a church to be merely a man-made entity. What he meant as a warning I took as a confirmation that God was leading me to a church where He was doing the building and the refining.

Disappointments

Pastor Harvey* was immediately hired by another congregation of the same denomination. The young people followed and so did we. This church was the same distance from our home, but out in the country on gravel roads. Before long there was a baptism service for several of the youth and for Chris and me.

Now we were officially Mennonites.  It wasn’t long before I began to wonder how Mennonite these people really were. There were copies of the Martyrs Mirror and The Complete Writings of Menno Simons in the church library. It wasn’t clear to me why, as no one seemed familiar with them, or even mildly interested in becoming familiar. No one seemed concerned whether this church still held to the faith described in those books.

Business at the grain elevator had increased substantially over the past couple years, more and mre farmers were switching their grain deliveries to my elevator. My decision to just stick it out had been vindicated. But now I was spending more and more time in the grain dust while unloading trucks and loading grain cars. And my respiratory allergies were becoming more and more of a problem.

Finally, I decided I couldn’t keep on and began casting about for another way to make a living. There was an opportunity to become a life insurance agent, so I resigned my job with United Grain Growers and signed on with Mutual Life of Canada.

This involved a move from the company owned house to an apartment in Carman. Then I went through the training sessions, wrote the exam and passed it.

About this time we took a trip back to Moose Jaw for a few days. Michelle was an active and happy little girl, walking and beginning to say a few words. Grandma was happy to have her spend a littlke time with them.

One evening Chris and I went bowling  with my cousins Dennis and Ted and their wives. My cousins freely shared their convictions that term life insurance was the only type worth having. Whole life insurance plans, the type that includes a savings portion and pays the largest commission to the one selling them, were just a scam according to them.

Well, that really gave me something to think about. I had done a good job as a salesman at the grain elevator, selling farm input products. But I knew that I would never be able to sell something if I was not fully convinced that it was a good deal for the buyer. Maybe I wasn’t the type of person who could succeed at selling life insurance. What should I do?

I didn’t have long to wonder. A fefw days after we got home there was a meeting at the Mutual Life of Canada office in Winnipeg. The meeting was brief and to the point: the district manager who had hired me was being fired. Along with him went the last two people he had hired. That included me. What now?

Chris got a job as a waitress at the restaurant a block from our apartment, but that wasn’t going to keep us going. We spent an evening talking over our situation and considering if there were any options to find our way out of this bind.

I knew that Dennis was farming around 2,000 acres and it would soon be seeding time. As far as I knew he didn’t have any help lined up. I also knew that the house on one farm that he had bought was now empty. That seemed like a possibility worth pursuing. By that time it was late and we went to bed planning to call him the next morning.

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.”

Looking for real Mennonites

All I learned about Mennonites while I was growing up was that my mother had been one and had left because the German language was more important than the faith and that my grandma, a dear sweet old lady, was one and wanted me to learn German so I could be a Christian.

Perhaps there was one more thing. My mother, though no longer member of a Mennonite church, seemed to have carried some of the faith in her baggage when she left. There was something about her that was more peaceful and attractive than the argumentative faith of my father.

In my mid twenties I decided I wanted to know more about Mennonites. This was half a century ago, long before you could go to your computer and ask google to find the information you wanted. Encyclopedias offered a little information, but I wasn’t sure they were getting it right. So I bought a book, probably more than one, I forget.

As I read Mennonite history I discovered a group of people who truly believed in God, who loved God, knew they were loved by God, and believed God wanted them to love everyone else. For some reason the state churches believed such a faith was subversive and persecuted the Mennonites. The Mennonites treasured their faith more than their homes, material possessions, even their lives. They were burnt at the stake and kept telling the bystanders about the love of God as long as they had breath.

I read about a time when soldiers seized a stock of books written by Menno Simons and were about to burn them in the town square. Several daring men began grabbing books from the pile and passing them to the bystanders, who immediately fled. It all happened so quickly that the few soldiers present were unable to prevent it and were left with almost nothing to burn.

There had been a power in that faith that I longed for. I knew there were many kinds of Mennonites in our province and hoped that somewhere I could find that old faith sill living.

I got up early one Sunday morning, dressed in my best clothes and drove into a nearby city to attend a Mennonite service. I was impressed by the simplicity of the non-liturgical service, don’t remember anything about the sermon, but hoped to learn more about this church. However, it appeared that I was an invisible person. One or two people nodded to me as we left that service, but none appeared interested in the stranger in their midst. I tried again several weeks later, with the same result.

I still thought that the faith I had read about must surely exist somewhere, but I gave up looking until after I was married. We experienced more disappointments and came to realize that most churches that called themselves Mennonite had no idea what the name meant. But we still kept looking.

A living faith

I CAN NEITHER TEACH NOR LIVE BY THE FAITH OF OTHERS. I MUST LIVE BY MY OWN FAITH AS THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD HAS TAUGHT ME THROUGH HIS WORD.
-MENNO SIMONS

THE TITLE ITSELF (MENNONITES) HAS NO SAVING POWER, IT’S VALUE LIES ONLY IN THE FACT THAT MENNO’S TEACHING IS ENTIRELY IN ACCORD WITH THE TEACHING OF JESUS AND THE APOSTLES.
-REUBEN KOEHN

*These were among a series of quotations posted yesterday on Operation Noh’s Ark. To see all the quotations click on the link at right under Blogroll. I first translated these two into French and posted them on my French blog – Témoin anabaptiste

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