Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: persecution

The 1260 days in prophecy

A number of vivid prophecies were given to Daniel, containing references to the abomination that maketh desolate and a period of three and one half years. The prophecies give details about the beginning and ending of this time period and the symbolic language contains clear information about the persons and nations involved.

The conquests of Alexander are clearly portrayed, his early death, the division of his kingdom into four parts and the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes who would conquer Jerusalem and cause the daily sacrifices to cease.

Daniel records the time period in various ways: a time and times and the dividing of times (three and one half years); 1260 days, 1290 days and 1335 days. It is said the the sanctuary would be trodden under foot for 2300 days until it be cleansed. It appears that this latter refers not to days but to the evening and morning sacrifices, or 1150 days.

Some four centuries after the prophecies were given, Antiochus conquered Jerusalem, caused the sacrifices to cease and desecrated the temple by offering pig’s blood. Maccabees 1 calls this the abomination of desolation. Josephus says it was three years from the time the sacrifices ceased until the temple was cleansed and they began to be offered again.

Some commentators feel that the variation in the numbers given may be a clue that they are not to be taken as precise definitions of the time period. The three years mentioned by Josephs might not be exact either, but both Josephus and the writer of Maccabees clearly understood those events as the fulfilment of the prophecies given to Daniel.

In the New Testament, Jesus mentions the abomination of desolation, a clear hint that Daniel’s prophecies will have a further fulfilment in the NT era. The period of  time of forty and two months or a thousand two hundred and threescore days is also found in Revelation.

There is one striking difference between this time period in Revelation and the similar one in Daniel: in the book of Revelation there are no dates or events to mark the beginning or end of this period. Unnumbered scholars and learned men have devoted whole careers to discerning the exact period of time to which these refer. Anyone who does not value his sanity is welcome to collect and attempt to reconcile the widely differing conclusions they have reached.

May I suggest that no anchoring dates or events are mentioned because they are not at all the point of the prophecies in Revelation. The real message is in the events that occur during this time period.

Those events are:
1) the holy city and the court outside the temple will be trodden underfoot of the Gentiles;
2) the two witnesses shall prophesy, clothed in sackcloth;
3) the woman clothed with the sun will find a refuge where she is fed by God;
4) the dragon will speak great things and blasphemies.

There, in a nutshell, is a description of conditions throughout the New Testament era. The church built by Jesus Christ will always be a minority, often threatened and oppressed, yet sustained and fed by God. The enemy will take many forms, but will never cease to boast, threaten and blaspheme.

The two witnesses, the candlesticks mentioned in Zechariah and Revelation, are giving light from pure olive oil, the Holy Spirit. These are the Word of God and the Church of God. The dragon has always made war against them, working through pagans, papists and protestants. At times he has almost succeeded in destroying them, they have appeared to be dead, causing great rejoicing among their enemies. Yet they have always risen up again and continued to shine the light of the gospel in this sin darkened world.

What are the works of the Antichrist?

The first work of Antichrist is to banish the truth and turn it into a lie, an error, and a heresy.

The second work of the Antichrist is to hide the lie under the guise of  truth, and to prove it and confirm it by the name of faith and by miracles, to mix falsehood with spiritual things in the eyes of the people submitted to him, either with the help of his ministers or ministries, or in relation to the Church.

Now these two works contain a perfect and accomplished wickedness, such as no tyrant or potentate in the world could do until the time of the Antichrist.

Before him, Christ never had such an enemy who could thus pervert the path of truth into falsehood, and falsehood in truth, and pervert the proponents of both truths. and lies.

In such a way that the holy Mother, the Church with her true children is trampled under foots, especially in the truth and in that concerning the true worship in truth, and the ministry and the manner in which they are discharged and the part that they take in them. their children ; she weeps, lamenting, repeating the words and complaints of Jeremiah, saying:

How is the city of the pagan and uncircumcised people seated alone? She became a widow, that is to say, destitute of the truth of her husband. Princess of the peoples, by their submission to errors and sins; princess of the provinces, by partaking with the world and things that are in the world, weep and look, and now you will find all things accomplished at this time.

For the Holy Church must be held for a synagogue of evildoers. And the synagogue of the wicked is esteemed the mother  of them who have good faith in the Word. Falsehood is preached for truth, iniquity instead of equity, injustice is preached and is held for righteousness, error for faith, sin for virtue, falsehood for the truth.

Which works stem from the first?
These: The first work is that it perverts the worship proper to God alone, to Antichrist and to his works, to the poor creature reasonable or unreasonable, sensible and senseless: to holy men who are deceased, and to images, bones and relics.

His works are the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist which he worships as God and as Jesus Christ; he serves things he has blessed and consecrated , and forbids worshiping God alone.

The second work of Antichrist is that he takes away and robs Christ of his merits, with all the sufficiency of grace, justification, regeneration, remission of sins, sanctification, confirmation, and spiritual food; and he imputes and attributes it to his own authority, to a form of works, to saints, and to their intercession, and to the fire of Purgatory; and he turns away the people of Christ and brings them to the things just said, so that they do not seek those of Christ or through Christ, but only in the works of their own hands, and not by living faith in God, neither in Jesus Christ, nor in the Holy Spirit, but according to the will and the works of the Antichrist, as he teaches that all salvation consists in his works.

The third work of Antichrist is that he attributes the regeneration given by the Holy Spirit to the dead and outward work,baptizing children in this faith, teaching that it is through it that baptism and regeneration are obtained; it is in the same faith that he confers and bestows  orders and other sacraments, and grounds them all in his Christianity; which is against the Holy Spirit.

The fourth work of Antichrist is that by which he constitutes in the Mass all the religion and holiness of the people, having patched together a fabric of Jewish, pagan and Christian ceremonies. And leading the congregation and the people to hear it, he deprives them of spiritual and sacramental food, and removes it from the true religion and the commandments of God, and removes them from the works of mercy by his offertories; and by this Mass he lodges the people in vain hope.

The fifth work of Antichrist is that he does all his works, so that he may be seen and satisfy his insatiable greed, as well as so that he may put all things on sale and do nothing without simony.

The sixth work of Antichrist is that he gives rise to manifest sins, without ecclesiastical censure, and that he does not excommunicate the unrepentant.

The seventh work of Antichrist is that he neither directs nor maintains his unity by the Holy Spirit, but with the help of secular power, and that he also calls him to his help for spiritual things.

The eighth work of the Antichrist is that he hates, persecutes, accuses, plunders, and kills the members of Christ.

These are the main works he does against the truth, and no one can count them all or write them. But it is sufficient for the present to have pointed out these things as the most general by which this iniquity is covered and concealed.

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.

Truth or heresy?

The Roman Catholic Church endeavoured to destroy all evidence of the faith of those whom they persecuted. Nevertheless, much can be learned from their accusations against those they called heretics.

For instance, here is the accusation of Peter of Cluny against Peter de Bruys: “They deny that infants who have not yet attained the years of understanding can be saved by the baptism of Christ; and say that the faith of another cannot help those who cannot use their own faith; for, according to their view, not the faith of another, but one’s own faithsaves with baptism, because the Lord says: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

What shall we say of one who considers such a statement to be heresy?

Worship styles – what is essential?

I was reading articles about the history of church pews and it seems most writers feel that pews became important at the time of the Reformation. In Roman Catholic worship the focus was on the communion and provisions for congregational seating were not of major importance. With the Reformation, the focus switched to the sermon where the congregation remained seated for a lengthy period of time and where and how they sat became more important.

That may be true, but I was raised in the Anglican tradition which did not fit neatly into either category. There were two Bible readings in every service, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. In addition there were a few significant passages of Scripture that were spoken aloud, either in unison or as responsive readings. There was a sermon, usually not lengthy, and often there was communion, but the real emphasis seemed to be on the Bible.

Contemporary worship music seems to have come front and centre in most evangelical churches today. Thus the worship leader who leads and directs this aspect of the worship service seems to be as important as the preacher.

Early Christian worship took place in places like private homes, forests, or the catacombs of Rome. This type of worship did not require a special church building, nor did it require pews or musical instruments. This was worship stripped to its bare essentials: Bible reading, prayer, and exhortation to faithfulness. And people risked their lives to be at these worship services.

Anabaptists retained that simple style of worship throughout most of their history. One could question whether the many persecutions they suffered made that the only feasible style of worship, or whether they were persecuted because they chose to avoid the worship style of the official churches. Both were probably factors.

Today, we of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite consider ourselves to be linear descendants of the Anabaptists. Bible reading, prayer, hymns and a sermon all have a place in our worship services. The sermon usually consists of some combination of exposition of a Bible passage, teaching, testimony and exhortation to faithfulness. It is not a prepared, scholarly discourse, but flows from a heart inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We sing both old and new hymns, without musical accompaniment. The message of a song remains with us much longer when we all sing together, rather than just listening. Many have testified of times of difficulty or crisis when part of a song has popped into their mind with words that brought comfort and direction.

Primitive Christianity and the Celts

As far as archeologists can determine, the Celtic peoples originated near the Danube River and spread east, south and west from there. Today, the only identifiable Celtic populations are found in France (Brittany) and the British Isles (Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Two thousand years ago they were all over southern Europe.

They lived along the Po River in northern Italy, in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Spain, all over the British Isles, into Bosnia and as far as Asia Minor (present day Turkey). The Greek form of Celts is Galatai. In France they were known as Gauls, in Asia Minor they were Galatians.

The Apostle Paul brought the gospel to the Galatians. Believers from there took it to the Gauls in southern France and from there it spread into the British Isles. It may have been Celtic missionaries from Scotland that carried the gospel to northern Italy, Bohemia and Switzerland. In time the gospel spread from the Celts to the people around them.

The Celts never organized into nation states, they were more a loose association of clans. As long as they were able to maintain their independent existence, the gospel that took root among them was of a purer form than the syncretistic gospel that was imposed in the Roman Empire after Constantine.

As Germanic peoples moved into the territories occupied by the Celts and the Roman Empire extended its reach, the Celtic peoples were absorbed into the majority culture. Nevertheless, evidence remained of their purer gospel among the faith groups known as Waldenses in the Alps, Albigenses in southern France and Bogomils in Bosnia. There is historical evidence of links between these groups, preachers from Bosnia appearing in the south of France, in Italy, Bohemia and other places.

These old evangelical brethren believed that Christians were citizens of the kingdom of God and were not to take part in governing earthly kingdoms. The Roman Catholic church accused them of being dualists, of believing that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the God revealed in the New Testament. There is historical evidence of that belief in many of the same areas, but the faith groups named above did not hold such a belief. It was merely a handy accusation to justify using political power to persecute rivals to the Roman Catholic church and taint all evidence of the purity of their faith.

Eventually these churches appeared to have been persecuted into oblivion. Yet the faith proved to be more resilient than the persecutors. New churches sprang up in Switzerland, south Germany and the Low Countries, professing the same old faith. They came to be known as Mennonites. There is one intriguing last glimpse of the old churches in eastern Europe. In the 16th century, three men from the region of Thessalonika travelled to Germany because they had heard there were fellow believers there. They met with a Mennonite congregation, found they were united in all points of their faith and held communion together.

My way is the best

I grew up in rural Saskatchewan. My mother had a huge garden, producing enough potatoes, carrots, peas, beans and other veggies to last all year. The potatoes and carrots went into large bins in our cool cellar. Other veggies, fruits and meats were canned in glass jars. She bought flour in 100 lb bags and kept us supplied with bread, buns, cinnamon rolls and pies. The garden also produced strawberries and raspberries that she turned into jam and cucumbers that she turned into pickles. No matter what the time of year, there was food on hand.

At canning time the local grocery store had peaches, pears, cherries and other fruits; at other times there might occasionally be apples or bananas, and at Christmas time there were always mandarin oranges. Usually, there was not much n the way of meat, vegetables and fruit that we didn’t have at home.

Not much has changed. Rural people have freezers now, probably two or three, the ideal is still to be as self-sufficient in food supplies as possible. That’s the right way to do things isn’t it?

Then we moved to Montréal. There we observed that many people bought fresh bread, fruits and veggies every morning for the day’s meals. That seemed wasteful to this prairie boy – until I considered things from their point of view. They were getting fresher, better tasting, more nutritious food in every meal. Very little was wasted.

Yet it cost more – or did it? What about the cost of all the canning supplies? What about the cost of the freezers, the freezer bags, the electricity? How much of what is preserved gets wasted? Sometimes things get lost in the freezer and when they are found nobody wants to eat them anymore.

Which way is really best? Well, people in rural ares still don’t have much choice but to do what they’ve always done. But in Montréal, with fresh food available in the markets year round, the ways of rural Saskatchewan don’t seem like the only right way any more. Still, old habits and attitudes are hard to shake.

I also grew up thinking that when a young woman married it was absolutely necessary that she take her husband’s family name. I was in for another shock when we moved to Montréal. In Québec my wife was once more Christine Vance. How could that be right? That’s an attack on the very fibre of society, isn’t it?

Yet all that really changed was the name on her drivers license and some other official documents. She was as much my wife as before. That got me thinking: family names are a fairly recent invention. Iceland still does not have family names that pass from one generation to the next. When Olaf Nelsen and Brunhild Carlsdottir marry, their names do not change.When they have children, they will be known as something like Sven Olafsen and Helga Olafsdottir.

There are many countries where it never has been the custom for a woman to change her name when she marries. Many Hispanic countries give both last names to children, such as a doctor we once knew in Moose Jaw, Isabelita Joven y Bienvenido. So which way is right? The Bible gives no instruction on this matter. When Rebecca married Isaac, she did not become Rebecca ben Abraham did she? Best to just follow the custom of the country where we live. We will need to make many changes when we move from one culture to another, there is no need to take on the added burden of trying to change the culture.

What constitutes marriage? Thinking of Isaac and Rebecca again, there was no wedding ceremony, no official documents sent to the department of vital statistics. We are simply told that Isaac loved his wife.

Hundreds of years ago, Roman Catholics accused Anabaptists of not being married and went from there to accusing them of all kinds of immoral practices. It was true that in many lands at that time Anabaptists were not legally married. The only legally recognized marriage was that performed by a Roman Catholic priest. Can we imagine a young couple coming to a priest in a time of persecution and saying “We’re not going to attend mass or allow you to baptize our babies, but we want you to marry us”?

Anabaptist couples still considered themselves to be married in the eyes of God and in the eyes of their congregations. According to them, the essence of marriage was their commitment to each other before God. Isn’t that still the essential point?

Exchanging vows before a minister of the gospel, with a multitude of family and friends as witnesses, is a wonderful thing. But it is not a guarantee of a marriage that will endure the stresses that will come. Changing the bride’s last name, putting a ring on her finger, creating a photographic record, none of these are guarantees either.

A deep, settled commitment to God and to one another is the one thing that will create a foundation that will enable them to overcome the challenges and disappointments that will come their way.

Outward forms may differ from culture to culture and from one era to another. The way I do things, the way my parent have taught, is not the only right way to do things. If, beneath the superficial differences of outward customs, there is a submission to the will of God, we will find the way that is safe and sure.

The love of God

[The following words were written 19 centuries ago, not long after the time of the apostles. It is part of what is known as The Letter to Diognetus. Neither the author of the letter, nor Diognetus, have ever been satisfactorily identified, but the letter breathes an authentic and dynamic faith. Shouldn’t those two qualities still go together?  Is it just me, or is it really so that those today who profess a dynamic faith are lacking in authenticity? And those who rigorously seek an authentic faith are lacking in dynamism (or vitality)?)

VII. For this is no earthly discovery, as I said, which was delivered into their charge; it is no mortal idea which they regard themselves bound so diligently to guard; it is no stewardship of merely human mysteries with which they have been entrusted.

2. But God Himself in very truth, the almighty and all-creating and invisible God, Himself from heaven planted among men and established in their hearts the Truth and the Word, the holy, incomprehensible Word, sending to men not a servant, as one might imagine, or an angel or ruler, or one of those who administer earthly things, or of those who have been entrusted with the ordering of things in heaven, but the very Artificer and Creator of the universe Himself, by whom He made the heavens, by whom He enclosed the sea within bounds of its own, whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe, from whom the sun has received the measure of his daily courses to keep, whom the moon obeys as He bids her shine at night, whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by whom all things have been ordered and defined and placed in subjection, the heavens and things in the heavens, the earth and things in the earth, the sea and things in the sea, fire, air, abyss, things in the heights above, things in the depths beneath, things in the space between — He it was whom God sent to men.

3. Did He send Him, as a man might think, on a mission of domination and fear and terror?

4. Indeed He did not, but in gentleness and meekness He sent Him, as a king sending his own son who is himself a king; He sent Him as God, He sent Him as man to men, He sent Him with the idea of saving, of persuading, not of forcing; for force is no part of the nature of God.

5. He sent Him as inviting, not as pursuing man; He sent Him in love, not in judgment.

6. For He will send Him in judgment; and who shall stand before His presence? . . .

7. (Dost thou not see them) flung to the wild beasts, to make them deny their Lord, and yet unconquered?

8. Dost thou not see that the more of them are punished the more their numbers increase?

9. These things look not like the achievements of man; they are the power of God; they are the proofs of His presence.

VIII. Who among men understood at all what God is, before He came?

2. Or dost thou accept the vain and foolish theories of those famous philosophers, of whom some said that God was fire (giving the name of God to the element into which they themselves are destined to go), and others that He was water, and others again some other of the elements created by God?

3. And indeed if any one of these theories deserves acceptance, each of the remaining creatures might just as readily be proved to be God.

4. But these notions are but the trickery and imposture of magicians.

5. No man ever saw God or made Him known; God revealed Himself.
6. And He revealed Himself through faith, to which alone it has been granted to see God.

7. For God, the Lord and Creator of the universe, who made all things, and set them in order, proved to be not only loving unto man but also longsuffering.

8. Such indeed He ever was and is and will be, kind and good and dispassionate and true — in fact He alone is good.

9. But He conceived a great and unspeakable thought, and this He communicated to His Son alone.

10. While therefore He kept and guarded His wise counsel as a mystery, He seemed indeed to be negligent and careless of us.

11. But when He revealed it through His beloved Son, and made manifest what had been prepared from the beginning, then He bestowed upon us all things at once — to partake of His benefits, and to see and understand things which none of us could ever have expected.

IX. Having therefore planned the whole dispensation already in His own mind in union with the Son, He permitted us during the former time to be carried along by disorderly inclinations just as we wished, and led astray by pleasures and desires, not in any way taking delight in our. sins, but bearing with them, nor again assenting to that age of unrighteousness, but creating all the while the present age of righteousness, so that we, having then been by our own works convicted of our unworthiness of life, might now be rendered worthy by the goodness of God, and having plainly proved that we were unable of ourselves to enter into the kingdom of God, might be enabled so to enter by the power of God.

2. But when our unrighteousness had now been fulfilled, when it had been made completely manifest, that its retribution was awaited in chastisement and death, when the time came which God had ordained to manifest His own goodness and power (O the surpassing kindness and love of God for man!), He did not hate us or reject us or take vengeance upon us, but showed His longsuffering and forbearance; in His mercy He Himself took up the burden of our sins, He Himself gave His own Son as a ransom on our behalf, the holy for the lawless, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

3. What else could cover our sins but His righteousness?

4. In whom could we lawless and ungodly men be justified but in the Son of God alone?

5. O sweet exchange! O inscrutable operation! O unexpected blessings, that the lawlessness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, and the righteousness of one should justify the lawless many!

6. Having therefore proved in the former time the powerlessness of our nature to win life, and having now revealed a Saviour powerful to save even the powerless, in both these ways He wished us to believe His goodness, to regard Him as guardian, father, teacher, counsellor, physician, mind, light, honour, glory, strength, life, and not to be anxious about clothing and food.

X. If thou, too, desirest this faith, first obtain the knowledge of the Father.

2. For God loved men, for whose sake He made the world, to whom He subjected all things that are in the earth, to whom He gave reason and intelligence, to whom alone He granted to look upward to Him, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He promised the kingdom that is in heaven, yea, and will give it to them that have loved Him.

3. And when thou hast attained this knowledge, with what joy, thinkest thou, wilt thou be filled? Or how wilt thou love Him who so first loved thee?

4. Loving Him, thou wilt be an imitator of His goodness. Wonder not that man can be an imitator of God; by the will of God he can.

5. For happiness consists not in exercising lordship over a neighbour, nor in wishing to have advantage of weaker men, nor in possessing wealth and using force against inferiors. Not in ways like these can a man imitate God; such ways are far removed from I lis majesty.

6. But whosoever takes up his neighbour’s burden, whosoever is willing to use his superiority as a means of benefiting another man who is in this respect his inferior, whosoever bestows upon the needy what he himself holds as a recipient of God’s bounty and so becomes a god to the recipients of his bounty, he is an imitator of God.

7. Then though thou art yet upon earth thou shalt behold that God ruleth in heaven, then shalt thou begin to speak the mysteries of God, then shalt thou love and admire them that are punished for their refusal to deny God, then shalt thou pass judgment upon the deception and delusion of the world, when thou hast learned to know the true life that is in heaven, to despise the seeming death here, and to fear the real death there, which is reserved for them that shall be condemned to the eternal fire which shall punish them that are delivered over unto it, even unto the end. Then shalt thou admire them that endure for righteousness’ sake the fire that lasteth but for a time, when thou hast learned to know that fire yonder. . . .

Holdeman Mennonites

I have been a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for half my life (in a few weeks it will be 37 years out of 74). The church name is a bit of a mouthful. Ideally we would like to simply call ourselves the Church of God, but at least 50 other denominations have had the same idea.

Some denominations seem to have tried to pack their doctrinal statement into their name, for example The House of God, Which is the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Inc. I’m not trying to make fun, that’s just an illustration of how difficult it is to come up with a name that clearly differentiates one church from another.

There are those among us, at least in Canada, who would like to drop “Mennonite” from the church name. The problem with that is there is already a Church of God in Christ and it happens to be the second largest Pentecostal denomination in the U.S.A., claiming 200 times as many members as the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Besides, they were using the name before we were. So that’s definitely a no go.

Early copies of the church periodical gave the name as the Church of God, a Branch Mennonite. That sounds suspiciously like it may have originally been written in some other language (namely German) and awkwardly translated into English. The current name was adopted about 100 years ago.

Do we object to being called Holdeman Mennonites? Well, we do it ourselves, at least in casual conversation, so we can’t very well object to others doing it. But there is a little problem with both words: neither John Holdeman nor Menno Simons considered themselves to be the founders of a church.

Menno Simons was a 16th century Roman Catholic priest in Holland who experienced the new birth and began preaching evangelical sermons in the Catholic church. After a year he withdrew and began to associate with the remnant of the Anabaptists, who had been scattered and demoralized by persecution. Soon he was asked to become a minister. He wrote extensively to explain and defend the faith to others. Soon his name was indelibly associated with the faith and all who were of the same faith were considered followers of Menno. Which wasn’t exactly true, there were other prominent leaders, but Menno was the name best known to those outside the church.

John Holdeman was a 19th century member of the Mennonite Church who felt it had drifted away from the historic faith . His intention was not to start a new church but to encourage the Mennonites to return to the Old Ground and Foundation (that was the title of his first book). No such return happened so a small group of Mennonites, at three different locations, began holding separate services. John Holdeman was the main leader in the early years, but as the church grew many others worked along side of him.

Thus it is not wholly inaccurate for us to be called Holdeman Mennonites, though I am quite sure that neither John Holdeman not Menno Simons would approve.

[By the way, I have added a Contact Me page with my gmail address and questions are welcome.]

The weakness of God

As I reflected on the latest atrocities, in Jakarta and Ouagadougou, perpetrated by those who claim to be followers of Allah, my mind went to a well known quotation: “A fanatic is a man who does what he believes God would do, if God really understood the facts of the situation.” I don’t know the name of the author, but it seems to me that the person who seeks to kill in the name of his god is implicitly acknowledging that his god is powerless.

This is true for religious fanatics of all kinds. The Crusaders were sent out in the name of God to destroy the infidels, which included Muslims and anyone who called himself Christian but didn’t hold to the Crusaders brand of Christianity. The result has been a millennium of hatred of Christianity by Muslims and the disgrace of Christianity in Europe.

Christianity was never meant to be a state religion, imposed by force on unwilling citizens. Genuine Christians have often faced persecution, from the apostolic era to modern times. Often the persecution has come from those in authority who called themselves Christians. Let me make two things clear:

  1. When someone calls himself a Christian and tries to silence, or even kill, someone else who calls himself a Christian, we can safely assume that the first person does not really know God or Christianity.
  2. When someone is opposed, oppressed or persecuted because he calls himself a Christian, and that person does not respond in anger, hatred or violence, that is good evidence that he truly is a Christian.

“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. ” (The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:25; 27-29).

This is another way of saying that faith, love and compassion have more true power than all the things that the rest of the world takes to be emblems of power. The power of God to change people’s hearts and lives may seem to be weakness, yet it is a power that is still at work after swords and cannons have turned to rust.

Historically, the faith has spread most rapidly in times of persecution. When people see someone mistreated, tortured and killed for no other reason than his faith in God, when that person was seen as someone who loved his neighbour as himself, and when such a person has faced death without fear, that has been a powerful witness to all who look on. “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

Zealous Christians who do no evil to others but rather seek their good and do not try to force their faith on others, are not fanatics.

 

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