Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: persecution

What does the future hold?

“We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.” – Margaret Mead

In a world that is changing in bewildering ways and at bewildering speed, a statement like the above appears at first glance to make good sense. But if we stop and think about it for more than five seconds, it begins to sound pretty scary. We need to get ready for something we don’t know anything about. How do we do that?

I suggest that those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, need to be firmly rooted and grounded in our faith. That is not the thinking of people like Margaret Mead, they tell us that Jesus Christ and the values we learn from Him cannot help us in the modern world.

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I beg to differ. Eternal values will be valid for all eternity. We need to cling to them in order to keep our head above water in turbulent times.

The last 2,000 years have often been turbulent times. A study of history brings before us the shipwrecks of those who thought the safe way was to adapt their faith to the predominant thinking of their time. There are also the accounts of those who clung to Jesus, no matter what the cost, and testified of the joy of salvation even in persecution.

How do we prepare for the future? Whether we like it or not, the future is in God’s hands. He knows where the world is going, and how long it is going to last. The only safe way to live is in submission to God’s plan for our lives. Some people don’t like the word submission, I don’t want to risk the consequences of the alternative.

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty“ (Revelation 1:8). “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

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?

Persecution of the Lollards

William Swynderby (sometimes spelled Swinderby) and Walter Brute were active exponents of Lollard beliefs in the last 20 years of the 14th Century. Swynderby was burned at the stake for his faith in 1401 at Smithfield, London.

G. M. Trevelyan, while not entirely sympathetic, gives a glimpse of the views of Brute and Swynderby on page 325 of his book England in the Age of Wycliffe, © 1909:

Another Lollard of the neighbourhood was a man named Walter Brute, of Welsh parentage but educated at Oxford, where he had written theological works in support of Wycliffe. He was Swynderby’s friend and companion and adhered to all his teaching. Like Swynderby, he hid from the ecclesiastical officers and sent a manuscript into court as his only answer to the Bishop’s summons.

This strange piece has been fortunately preserved for us at length. It is full of Scripture phrases, applied in the strained and mystical sense which we associate with later Puritanism, though it really derives its origin from the style of theological controversies older far than the Lollards themselves.

Rome is the daughter of Babylon, “the great whore sitting upon many waters with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication.” “With her enchantments, witchcraft and Simon Magus merchandise the whole world is infected and seduced.” Brute prophecies her fall in the language of the Revelation. The pope is the beast ascending out of the earth having two horns like unto a lamb, who compels “small and great, rich and poor, to worship the beast and to take his mark in their forehead and on their hands.”

It is easy to perceive, after reading such phrases, one reason why the Bishop objected to the study of the Bible by the common people.

The Principal Errors of Pietism

Pietism, with a capital P, refers to a movement that began within the Lutheran Church around the year 1600. The Pietists emphasized the new birth, the inward spiritual life of the heart and a pure moral life. There were earlier threads of pietism, but this was the beginning of a distinctive and dynamic movement. The influence of the German Pietists grew and spread and became the principal influence of modern evangelical Christianity.

At first glance Pietism may sound much like the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. Yet there are three ways where Pietism represents a compromise with the world.

Christianity without the Cross
Pietists avoided persecution by remaining members of the state Lutheran church, having their babies baptized, attending worship services and taking communion. They met privately to share experiences and encourage one another and became known as “the quiet in the land.”

Throughout history Anabaptists and Mennonites have taken the way of the cross, avoiding all compromise with corrupt religions. They have lived a quiet and peaceable life, but their refusal to offer any kind of lip service to oppressing majority religions has often brought persecution upon them.

Pierre de Bruys in the 12th century and Menno Simons in the 16th century were first priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Once spiritually enlightened, they abandoned that church, called it Antichrist, and became earnest evangelists of pure Christianity, untainted by the non Scriptural practices of their former religion. In Menno’s day the persecutors also included the Lutherans and the Reformed Churches.

Anabaptists and Mennonites took very seriously the admonition of Paul in Ephesians 5:11 – And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. They believed that Jesus meant exactly what He said in Luke 9:23 – If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Fellowship without Brotherhood
The original Pietists were members of the Lutheran Church, meeting privately without any formal organization. They had an individualistic faith, each one believing he could worship God on his own, appreciating the fellowship of like-minded believers, but having no need of the strictures of an organized body.

Anabaptists and Mennonites did not see their church as restrictive, but as a much needed support network to help them grow in the faith and maintain their spiritual purity. They were a brotherhood; their leaders were brethren, not Lords. They saw the church as it is described in the New Testament: a body of which Christ was the head and each member was needed for the body to function effectively.

1 Peter 5:5 – Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

Conversion without Discipleship
Pietists and Anabaptists have both earnestly striven to proclaim the gospel to those who do not have a personal knowledge of the Saviour. Pietists, however, make the new birth the main point of their evangelism. True, there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. But is this enough? For Pietists it appears to be the end point of evangelism.

For Anabaptists and Mennonites it is the starting point. The Great Commission says: Go ye therefore, and teach (or, make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20. (The Greek word matheteuo can be translated as teach or disciple.)

Sinners not only need to repent and be converted, they need to learn to live as a Christian. Colossians 2:6 – As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him. It is true that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to walk with Christ, but this is best done in the company of other believers who will help, encourage, teach and correct. In other words, they should not be abandoned to stumble along partly in the light and partly in darkness, but offered the support they need to grow into the person that Christ wants them to be.

This does not mean living by the rule book: that does not lead to spiritual growth. But there are spiritual dangers and spiritual resources that mature believers know of and new believers often don’t. Galatians 5:13 – For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Be a Christian, not a chameleon

Some members of the early church wanted Gentile converts to be chameleons. They thought that circumcising Gentile Christians would make them appear to be converts to the Jewish religion. Some Jewish Christians thought this would spare them from persecution by other Jews for associating with Gentiles. Such people among the Jewish believers were the true chameleons, trying to conceal that they believed something else than what other Jews believed.

Acts 15 records how the early church put an end to this by ruling that there was no need to circumcise Gentile believers. Soon Gentiles became a majority in the church. The chameleon temptation now was for believers to maintain enough outward conformity to pagan ceremonies to avoid persecution. In his letters, the apostle Paul gave many warnings and instructions against this.

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A few hundred years later a Roman emperor made Christianity the official religion of the empire. Persecution ended for a time, but before long the church became a blend of Christian and pagan practices. It wasn’t clear who was truly a Christian and who was just going along with the outward observances.

Many Christians remained outside of this chameleon creature that called itself the church of God and strove to live as Christians no matter what the cost. For some it cost them their lives, as the chameleon could not tolerate these believers who were a living reproach of its compromise. Persecution reared its head against those who maintained the integrity of the faith. Others called them by many names, the one which has stuck the longest is Anabaptist.

The Protestant Reformation began as a protest against the great chameleon, the Roman Catholic Church.  It only created several lesser chameleons, state churches with compulsory membership and salvation promised by ceremonies rather than faith.

Persecution of the Anabaptists appeared to have succeeded, those who remained were scattered and without leaders. God raised up new leaders who gathered the scattered flock. Travelling evangelists brought many new believers into the fold during these tumultuous times. The Anabaptists now became known as Mennonites, after Menno Simons, one of the boldest of their leaders.

Born again people In the state churches did not find spiritual refreshing in the ceremonies and sermons of the chameleon. Some met privately for mutual support and encouragement, yet conformed outwardly to the ceremonies of the chameleon. They considered themselves “the quiet in the land,” living an inward spiritual life and an outward life that would not get them into trouble.

Mennonites also believed in the importance of the inward spiritual life, but found no justification in the Word of God for living a double life. They believed that if the inward piety was genuinely of God, the outward life would show it, including the willingness to suffer for the faith. And suffer many of them did, for all the chameleons hated them.

Active persecution abated over time but much suspicion remained. Many Mennonite groups found tolerance through adopting the pietistic formula of being “the quiet in the land.” They tried to maintain the inward spiritual life, but in time that too faded away. In many denominations that use the Mennonite name today, the memory of what Anabaptist and Mennonite once meant has disappeared.

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). Our Anabaptist-Mennonite forefathers believed that departing from iniquity was not something one did in secret, but that it also meant renouncing any form of duplicity.

Consider the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Philippi:

Only let your conversation [conduct] be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

The apostle Paul believed that a willingness to suffer for the faith was a clear token of the salvation granted by God. God has not changed; neither should His people adjust to the spirit of our day. To have a rightful claim to God’s salvation, we must not attempt to be chameleons.

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.

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