Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Menno Simons

The quiet in the land

According to the Scriptures, Christians should lead quiet and peaceable lives. Is that the same as being “the quiet in the land?” That slogan has taken deep root among many who call themselves Mennonite.

The words come from Psalm 35:20: “For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land.” This psalm is a prayer of David when he was being hunted by Saul and his army. Both Saul and David knew that it was God’s plan to make David king in the place of Saul. Yet David attempted to live peaceably until that day should arise, twice refusing to take Saul’s life when the opportunity was given him. Saul, on the other hand, was determined to slay David and retain the kingship for himself and his family.

I believe we can take from David’s example that it is not God’s plan for us to become politically active, nor to agitate to replace a government that we feel to be misguided and oppressive. But I do not believe it is God’s will to take this further to the point of being quiet about our faith in order to avoid persecution. This is what the German Pietists did by remaining in the Lutheran Church and partaking of its sacraments. This is what the Mennonites in Russia did when they banned the reading of the writings of Menno Simons.

I do not believe that being “the quiet in the land” to such an extent is compatible with true Christian faith. Peter admonished us to “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear,” (1 Peter 3:15). There is a real danger that we can become so quiet about our faith that no one would ever have cause to ask us about it. And if they did, we might not have a clue what to say.

In our search years ago for a church that still held to the old Anabaptist faith, we found many Mennonite churches that were like that. They called themselves Mennonite, but had no idea what that signified.

Even for those of us who retain the faith that was held by Menno Simons, it is time to strengthen those things that remain. Let’s not be shy about talking about that faith with each other, endeavouring to discern how the Spirit is leading in our personal lives and in our collective life. I believe there are people around us who will find the old faith attractive, offering something solid to hold on to in a world that appears to be crumbling. Let’s not be so quiet that they cannot hear.

The fear of some people who called themselves Mennonites

Beginning in the 16th century many Mennonites fled persecution in Friesland and Flanders and settled in the Vistula delta region of Poland. Here they gradually lost their evangelistic fervour and their faith dwindled to a mere outward conformity to some principles that they felt to be the essence of the faith. It seems they ceased to read the writings of Menno Simons and lost any concept of what it meant to be of the same faith that he upheld.

When Prussia annexed the Vistula delta region in the late 18th century, many of these people moved into southern Russia (today Ukraine). Here they could live in peace and began to feel that their peace depended upon keeping quiet about the real foundations of the Mennonite faith. When two men had Menno Simon’s writings printed for the benefit of those who called themselves Mennonites in the Russian colonies, the Mennonite church reacted strongly.

In August of 1835, all 29 elders and ministers of the Moltotschna colony signed a letter demanding that all copies of Menno’s book should be confiscated and destroyed. The pretext was that some people of other faiths, or some government officials, might read those writings and cause trouble for the so-called Mennonites.

Abram Friesen, one of those who had arranged for the printing, had a different impression of the true motive for banning the book:

“One would like to ask these men: How come do you want to put the lighted lamp under a bushel? Oh, that they might take the words of Christ in Matthew 5:13, 14, 15 to heart! They would have to call out woe upon woe for having done so foolishly. For what do these good men think of this? Menno feared neither tyranny nor persecution, neither pressure nor disfavour, hatred nor poverty, but in this book has freely professed before all men his ground and faith, and confessed the Lord Jesus Christ before men according to Matthew 10:31-39. But without imminent threat of danger these good elders and teachers are afraid without reason, for the hearts of the higher authorities are favourably inclined concerning freedom of conscience and worship and rule over the pious with great gentleness. Not only do they refrain from interfering in their faith and principles but often refer us back to them.

“On the contrary, the elders and teachers, who should be more in favour of the work consider it a great risk, and fear hatred from people of other religious persuasions. I only fear that a different matter in their own conscience aroused hatred in themselves because Menno Simon’s teaching severely reproves the Mennonites of the present and especially the ministry. Consequently they feel ashamed and reproved and therefore prefer not to have these books in their congregations.

The last two paragraphs are taken from By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them, by Peter Toews, emphasis added.

The faith of Menno Simons

Thus we do not contend with carnal, but with spiritual weapons, patience and with the word of the Lord, against all flesh, world and devil, trusting in Christ. Nor shall there ever be found other weapons with us. Therefore, be not afraid of us (behold, in Christ Jesus I lie not); for we do not desire your destruction, but your regeneration; not your condemnation, but your everlasting salvation; not your flesh and blood, but your spirit and soul; on account of which I have these seven years suffered and yet suffer slander and scorn; anxiety, suspension, persecution, and great peril of being imprisoned.

The more the word of the Lord is extended, by the grace of God, to the reformation of some persons, who, however, are few, the more hatred and bitterness increases against me; so that up to this hour I could not find, in all the country, where, alas, the mere boasting of the divine word is a great deal more plenty than the fear of God, a cabin, or hut (blessed be the Lord) in which my wife and little children can safely sojourn for a year or two. O, cruel, unmerciful Christians ! O, that all magistrates and princes, as also all the wise and learned knew the seeking, intention and desire of my heart, as also of my beloved brethren who, by the grace. Spirit and word of God, are converted into a new spirit or new birth !

If they rightly understood our teaching how soon their hearts and minds would be changed into a different sense ! But as all of them, with but few exceptions, are nothing but earth and flesh and not gifted with the Spirit of Christ; therefore, alas, we hear nothing from them but upbraiding and slander, can expect nothing from them (I mean the evil-disposed) but the stake, water, tire, wheel and sword, as a reward of gratitude, that we have sought and yet seek our conversion, salvation and eternal life, and that of the whole world, with such diligence, solicitude, pains and labour from our inmost heart. For I strive after nothing, of which God is my witness, but that the God of heaven and of earth, through his blessed Son, Jesus Christ may have the glory and praise of his blessed word; that all men may be saved; and that they may awaken in this convenient time of grace, from their profound sleep of sinfulness; that they may lay by all adhering sin and the damnable works of darkness; that they may put on the armour of light, that they may thus become, with us by true penance, faith, baptism, Supper, ban or separation, love, obedience and true life, one holy, Christian church and body in Christ Jesus. Something which the whole world today yet opposes with all its strength with both shoulders and horns; not being willing that Christ Jesus, forever blessed, shall reign over them. Yea, they persecute, banish, burn, murder, and destroy all those who willingly teach and uphold the glory, praise, honour, will and commandments of the Lord.

Jesuitical craftiness

It was clear to true Christians (often called Anabaptists) until the late Middle Ages, that the Church of Rome was the Antichrist foretold by the apostles. In the sixteenth century Menno Simons made it very explicit. The following are only a few of the references to Antichrist in his writings.

Since Christ has commanded that believers should be baptized, and not infants, and the holy apostles taught and practised thus, in accordance with the instructions and commands of Christ, as may be seen in many places of the New Testament, all reasonable-minded men must admit, that infant baptism, although alas, practised by nearly the whole world, and maintained by tyranny, is nothing less than a ceremony of Antichrist, open blasphemy, an enchanting sin, a molten calf; yea, abomination and idolatry.

Beside this, the use of the cup is withheld from the people in the Roman church. If it were the Lord’s Supper, as they pretend, they would, in every respect, use it according to the ordinance of the Lord. But this custom shows that it is not the Supper of Christ, but a deluding seduction of Antichrist.

In short, they preach and lay before the poor people, lies for truth ; darkness for light; death for life, and Antichrist for Christ.

Behold, beloved sirs, friends and brethren, we openly declare that the sending and calling of your preachers are neither of God nor his word, but are from Antichrist, the dragon and the beast ; that they are not called to preach the word of the Lord, by the Spirit of God, and the church, but they are called and lured by their lusts with the priests of Jeroboam, to worship the golden calf, 2 Chron. 13: 8, 9.

Antichrist rules through hypocrisy and lies, with power and sword; but Christ reigns patiently with his word and spirit.

After the Reformation, the Protestant churches took up the refrain, even though they continued to practice many of the characteristics of Antichrist. They baptized babies, claimed that salvation was ministered by means of the sacraments and enlisted the sword of secular authorities to attack all who did not conform to their teachings.

Finally, the Roman Catholic church felt it had to do something. With the advent of the printing press it could no longer conceal the Scriptures from the people. The Jesuits, masters of sophistry and disinformation, came to the rescue.

The first was Francisco Ribera, a Spanish Jesuit, who published a commentary on the book of Revelation in 1590. He proposed a new interpretation of Revelation, saying that the first part applied to ancient pagan Rome, and the rest referred to a future period of 3½ years, immediately prior to the second coming. During this 3½ years the Antichrist, a single individual, would appear He would persecute the saints of God, rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, deny Jesus Christ, pretend to be God and conquer the world. Immediately afterthis Christ would return to judge the world.

Other Jesuits added to this line of thought, the most influential being Manuel de Lacunza, His book, The Coming of the Messiah in Majesty and Glory was published in Spanish in 1810, under the pen nmae of Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra. He differed from Ribera’s interpretation in that after the 3½ years of tribulation Christ would return and rule from Jerusalem for 1,000 years and then the Judgment would come.

Edward Irvine, a Presbyterian minister, discovered Lacunza’s book and translated it into English. The book appeared in 1827 and Irvine’s preaching began to be mostly focused on this millennial teaching. He was excommunicated in 1830 and a new denomin ation formed, the Catholic Apostolic Church. In 1830 Margaret MacDonald, a 15 year old Scottish girl in Irvine’s congregation, had visions that a secret rapture of the church would occur before Antchrist would appear. Irvine accepted this as a divine revelation and added this new wrinkle to his millennial teaching.

John Nelson Darby was first a lawyer, then a Church of England clergyman and later the most prominent figure in the Plymouth Brethren movement. He was a regular attender of the prphecy conferences that began in Powerscourt, Ireland in 1830. Here he was exposed to Irvine’s teachings, heard of Miss MacDonald’s supposed visions and went to hear them from her at her home in Port Glasgow, Scotland.

Darby added the dispensational teaching to the mix, saying that God has offered salvation to mankind in six different ways in six dispensations, all of which have failed. The seventh and final will ne Christ’s millennial kingdom. Darby popularized this dispensational pre-tribulation premillennial doctrine through extensive writing and preaching. C.I. Scofield learned the doctrine from Darby and gave it a major boost in North America with his Scofield Reference Bible. Lewis Sperry Chafer learned the doctrine from Scofield and went on to found Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924, from which many well known prophecy teachers have graduated.

Chafer taught for many years that Benito Mussolini was the Antichrist and would establish a new Roman Empire that would lead to the Great Tribulation. There have been numerous other failed attempts to identify some well known figure as the Antischrist. Despite this, the doctrine has now so pervaded Evangelical Christianity that to question it seems almost heresy.

The Bible is enough

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A reader of my French blog recently mentioned the book Le roi des derniers jours, l’exemplaire et très cruelle histoire des rebaptisés de Münster (1534-1535), written by Barret and Gurgand, first published by Hachette in 1981.

I obtained a copy of the book and found it a meticulous, almost day by day account of how currents of lutheran and anabaptist thought entered a Roman Catholic city until its citizens opted for a form of anabaptism that at first conformed quite closely to Biblical anabaptism.

The first divergence of the Munsterites from mainstream anabaptism was to take political control of the city. This led to further steps, as seeing themselves as the New Jerusalem prepared for Christ’s return to reign, arming themselves to resist the army assembled by the Roman Catholic bishop, naming John of Leiden as king, community of goods and polygamy. Dreams and visions provided the basis for all of these steps. The supposed latter day kingdom of Christ came to a horrible end in June 1535.

A treatise by Menno Simons on the Blasphemy of John of Leiden appeared earlier that year, possible occasioned by the death of his brother who had gotten caught up in that movement. Menno was still a Roman Catholic priest at the time he wrote this but renounced that faith at the beginning of 1536 and united with the peaceful anabaptists.

In his writing against John of Leiden he states that Christians have only one king, Jesus Christ and his kingdom is a spiritual kingdom of love and peace. Christians cannot bear arms or fight, cannot mete out punishment to evildoers. The ultimate judge of all will be Jesus Christ when he comes again and that day has not come yet.

Some years later he included the following thoughts in another writing:

Brethren, I tell you the truth and lie not. I am no Enoch, I am no Elijah. I am not one of those who sees visions, I am no prophet who can teach and prophesy otherwise than what is written in the Word of God and understood in the Spirit. (Whosoever tries to teach something else will soon leave the track and be deceived.) I do not doubt that the merciful Father will keep me in his Word so that I shall write or speak nothing but that which I can prove by Moses, the prophets, the evangelists and other apostolic Scriptures and doctrines, explained in the true sense, Spirit, and intent of Christ. Judge ye that are spiritually minded.

Once more, I have no visions nor angelic visitations. Neither do I desire such lest I be deceived. The Word of Christ alone is sufficient for me. If I do not follow his testimony, then verily all that I do is useless, and even if I had such visions and inspirations, which is not the case, even then it would have to be conformable to the Word and Spirit of Christ, or else it would be mere imagination, deceit, and satanic temptation. For Paul says, Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith. Romans 12:6.

Evangelism in a time of persecution

Two brief excerpts from the writings of Menno Simons (1496-1561)

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 into the right path, and win many souls for the Lord Through His Spirit, power and grace.

To this end we preach as much as opportunity and possibility affords, both in daytime and night, in houses and in fields, in forests and wildernesses, in this land and abroad, in prison and in 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 thes many years without ceasing.

The Quiet in the Land

MennoSimons

Throughout Christian history, there has always been a united, visible body of believers who professed much the same faith regarding conversion and a personal relationship with God but who refused to conform to the state enforced form of worship of their day. The Martyrs’ Mirror catalogues the faith, and the persecution of these people because of their faith, from the time of the apostles up to the time the book was published in 1660.

Other people decided to live their faith in a way that would not bring persecution. They conformed to the outward practices of the state church, Reformed, Lutheran or Roman Catholic, but professed an inward piety and heartfelt devotion to God

The label of pietism first appeared in the seventeenth century. Some members of the Lutheran Church professed to have received forgiveness of sins through a conversion experience that warmed their hearts and led them to a deeper communion with God. They remained in outward fellowship with the Lutheran Church, attending worship services regularly, receiving communion, and baptizing their babies, but sought fellowship in private gatherings with like-minded people to testify of what God had done for them.

Sometimes the pietists called themselves “the quiet in the land”, from Psalm 35:20. That term, and pietism itself, appealed to large groups of Mennonites who had grown weary of persecution, and may even have forgotten why they had been persecuted. When Mennonites from Prussia settled on colonies in Ukraine 200 years ago they agreed not to proselytize the Russian people. Around them were other German colonies, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. The Mennonites absorbed pietist teachings from Lutheran pietists and called themselves “The Quiet in the Land.”

That term is not part of our Mennonite heritage. Indeed, I feel it marks the abandonment of that heritage. Menno Simons wrote a lengthy article in 1539 entitled Why I do not Cease Teaching and Writing. In other articles he wrote:

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 so win many souls for the Lord, through His Spirit, power and grace,” and

We preach, therefore, as much as is in our power, both day and night, in houses and in the open air, in forests and in wildernesses, hither and thither, in this and in foreign lands, in prisons and in dungeons, in water and in fire, on the scaffold and on the wheel, before lords and princes, orally and by writings at the risk of possessions and blood, life and death; as we have done these many years.”

The reluctance of the pietists to unite with the persecuted church may have saved them much physical suffering. The result of this individualistic approach is the tendency to interpret the Bible in the light of one’s own experience, rather than subjecting one’s experiences to the light of Scripture. They are convinced that they have attained to a level of spiritually and communion with God that is not shared by the common run of professing Christians. Such a person may conform to the outward practices of a church for the sake of avoiding censure or persecution, but does not feel bound to give account of his faith and life to other Christians.

Instructions for parents from Menno Simons

The world desire for their children that which is earthly and perishable, such as money, honour, fame and wealth. From infancy they train them up to vice, pride, haughtiness and idolatry. But with you, who are born of God, this is not the case; for it behooves you to seek something else for your children ; namely, that which is heavenly and eternal, and hence it is your duty to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, as Paul teaches.

Moses commanded Israel to teach their children the law and commandments of the Lord, to talk of them when they sat down in their houses, and when they walked by the way, and when they lay down, and when they rose up. Now, since we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that we should show forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light; therefore it behooves us to show ourselves patterns and examples in all righteousness and blamelessness. And to appear unto the whole world as we are thereunto called; for if we do not keep a strict eye upon our own children, but permit them to follow their evil inclination, corrupt nature and disposition, not correcting and chastising them according to the word of the Lord, we may with the greatest propriety lay our hands upon our mouths, and remain silent. For why should we teach those not of our household, when we take no pains to preserve our own families in the love and fear of God? Paul says, “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel”.

My beloved brethren and sisters in Christ, who sincerely love the word of the Lord, thus instruct your children from youth up, and daily admonish them with the word of the Lord, setting a good example. Teach and admonish them, I say, in proportion to the development of their understanding; constrain and correct them with discretion and moderation, without anger or bitterness lest they be discouraged; spare not the rod, if reason and necessity require it.

Beloved brethren in Christ, if you rightly know God and his word, and believe that the end of the righteous is everlasting life, and the end of the wicked eternal death, endeavour to the utmost of your power, to conduct your children in the way of life, and divert them from the way of death, as far as in you lies. Pray to Almighty God for the gift of his grace, that in his great mercy, he may guide and preserve them in the right path, through the directing influence of his Holy Spirit. Watch over their salvation as for your own souls. Teach, instruct, admonish, threaten, correct and chastise them, as circumstances require. Keep them away from naughty, wicked children, among whom they hear and learn nothing but lying, cursing, swearing, fighting and knavery. Have them instructed in reading and writing, bring them up to habits of industry, and let them learn such trades as are suitable, expedient and adapted to their age and constitution. If you do this, you shall live to see much honour and joy of your children. But if you do it not, heaviness of heart shall consume you at last. For a child left to himself, without reproof, is not only the shame of his father, but he bringeth his mother to shame.

-Menno Simons, 1557

Qualifications of a minister of the gospel

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Many words are used in the New Testament to describe spiritual leaders in the church. Bishop, or overseer (episkipos); elder (presbuteros); pastor; minister (diakonos); evangelist; prophet; teacher; apostle (one sent out). All of these, except perhaps the last, are used interchangeably and appear to be but different functions or gifts of the same office.

An overseer watches for the spiritual well-being of the members of the church. Pastor, or shepherd, is identical in meaning. Elder means much the same, but also implies experienced, but not necessarily aged. A prophet is someone who speaks for God, a preacher. An evangelist is one who brings good news. A teacher gives instruction in the ways of God and the duties of His people. None of these titles should be interpreted to establish a person as a lord over the church.

Apostle is used sparingly in the New Testament, first of all to describe the twelve who were the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. It is also used of Jesus Himself, and of Paul, Barnabas, Timothy and Silas, but does not seem appropriate for any modern day servant of Jesus Christ.

No academic or seminary training is needed to become a minister of the gospel. Indeed, such training is more apt to be a hindrance, introducing psychological and doctrinal concepts that are not in accord with the Bible.

Neither should a minister expect to earn his living by preaching the gospel. A congregation has a duty to support a minister where needed, when he incurs expenses related to the work of the ministry. The congregation also has a duty to the minister’s family when he is absent in the work of the ministry. But he should have an income that does leave him dependent on cultivating the approval of others for his livelihood.

Hundreds of years ago Menno Simons wrote: O my faithful reader, ponder this. As long as the world distributes splendid houses and such large incomes to their preachers, the false prophets and deceivers will be there by droves; and: Therefore this is my brief conclusion and Christian admonition to all preachers and teachers. Brethren, humble yourselves and become unblamable disciples, that you may hereafter become called ministers. Try your spirit, love, and life before you commence to shepherd and to teach. Do not so on your own account, but wait until you are called of the Lord’s church; I say, of the Lord’s church, of the Spirit of God, and are constrained by urging love. If this takes place, brethren, then pastor diligently, preach and teach valiantly, cast from you all filthy lucre and booty; rent a farm, milk cows, learn a trade if possible, do manual labour as did Paul, and all that which you then fall short of will doubtlessly be given and provided you by pious brethren, by the grace of God, not in superfluity, but as necessity requires.

Here then are the qualifications for a minister given by the Apostle Paul in chapter 3 of 1 Timothy.
1. Blameless (above reproach, not derelict in any Christian duty)
2 The husband of one wife (He should be married, but to only one wife at a time. It is certainly permitted for a minister to marry again if his first wife dies, but he must not have any marital entanglement that will be a reproach to his message.)
3. Vigilant (watchful)
4. Sober (prudent)
5. Of good behaviour (orderly and decent)
6. Given to hospitality(literally, a lover of strangers, that is, ready to welcome visitors into his home)
7. Apt to teach (not only wise, but able to make wisdom appealing to others)
8. Not given to wine (does not drink wine to excess, is not domineering or abusive)
9. No striker (not quarrelsome, not a persecutor of those who disagree with him)
10. Not greedy of filthy lucre (not using dishonourable means to increase his income)
11. Patient (gentle)
12. Not a brawler (not contentious)
13. Not covetous (does not seek to be a minister in the hope of material gain)
14. One that ruleth well his own house (has an orderly and respectful family, but not by severity or tyranny)
15. Not a novice (not newly converted but has been a Christian long enough for others to discern the qualities listed here)
16. Have a good report of them which are without (has given no cause for offense or scandal to those outside the church).

One who meets all these qualifications and is called to the ministry by God and the church, is worthy of the respect and support of his fellow believers as he endeavours to serve God in the ministry.

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
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