Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Quiet in the Land

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.

A faith worth dying for

Many of the Old Testament prophets died for the things they said. They were speaking the truth that God had revealed to them by His Spirit and the leaders of the people could not stand to hear that truth. So they killed the messengers of God thinking that would bring them peace.

The Jewish leaders in Jesus day did the same. Jesus was a threat to their positions and the respect the people had for them, so they killed the messenger. We should not be too harsh in blaming Pilate, he seems to have understood better what Jesus was up to than did the Jewish leaders.

Most of the apostles died as martyrs; people could not accept their message, so they killed the messengers. That has continued through history. The Roman Catholic church probably killed more Christians than pagan empires ever did. After the Reformation the Protestant churches continued the slaughter of Christians who would not accept their compromises.

Worth killing for

The reason for the killing of peaceful Christians has always been that other people saw them as a threat to their authority and position. Not that peace-loving Christians were ever a physical threat. Their offence was that they refused to mix the values of the world with the teachings of Jesus Christ; this was a stinging reproof to those who did. So they have tried to silence and eliminate the messengers.

Worth keeping quiet about

The German pietists thought they had found the solution. They would be outwardly members of the Lutheran church and inwardly born again believers in Jesus Christ. They would attend the Lutheran services, take communion, baptize their babies, get married in the church, then meet privately to share their faith. They called themselves “the quiet in the land.” Some Mennonite groups have also thought this was a good idea. Since they were no longer messengers, they were not in danger of persecution, or even ridicule, for the cause of Christ.

Light and salt

Light is what reveals both truth and error. To be quiet about our faith is to put our candle under a bushel and rob those around us of light.

Salt is what preserves from spoiling. In Old Testament times all sacrifices were salted in order not to offer to God something that was beginning to putrefy. If we feel free to indulge in the unfruitful practices of the world, where is the salt the world needs?

Be always ready

1 Peter 3:15 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.

People wonder about us, form conclusions from our silence that impute the things that we do to factors other than a faith in Jesus Christ. When they ask questions, they often don’t know quite what to ask. Let’s not leave them in confusion. We don’t have to be pushy or difficult, but let’s be willing to talk about our faith, nor our culture or our lifestyle.

Perhaps some day that will put our lives at risk. If so, we are in the company of the prophets, apostles and saints of past generations.

© Bob Goodnough

Uncompromising faith

“Anabaptism was essentially a movement which insisted upon an earnest and uncompromising endeavour to live a life of true discipleship of Christ, that is to give expression in fellowship and love to the deepest Christian faith, with full readiness to suffer in conflict with the evil world order.  So long as this willingness to suffer as an expression of deepest faith, and this willingness to enter into a nonresistant struggle for salvation, was a living reality, just so long was Anabaptism a great and powerful movement.  Fellowship and suffering were the outward marks, but an inmost Christian experience was the foundation which made the outward marks possible.  Wherever and as soon as these inner forces declined and consequently the readiness to suffer . . . ceased to exist . . . the situation changed completely.  There were still numerous groups of Anabaptists in existence, but they held their faith more in quiet or in secret, and were more concerned to have the personal experience than to work it out in a radical following of Christ.”  Thus far from Robert Friedmann, Mennonite Piety through the Centuries, © 1949 by the Mennonite Historical Society, Goshen, Indiana.

Friedmann has concisely captured the reality of the power of the Anabaptist movement, and the decline of most of its descendents into a “Quiet in the Land” pietism.   There are many groups today who claim the Anabaptist heritage, yet most equate it with being the quiet in the land.

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

“We seek and desire only that we might point the whole world (which lieth in wickedness) to the true way, and that many souls may by the Word of the Lord, through His help and power, be won from the dominion of Satan and brought to Christ.”

“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.”

These last three quotes are from Menno Simons.  How many of those who call themselves Mennonites and claim to be of the same faith as Menno could completely identify with these, his life purpose statements?

How much longer will it be acceptable and permissible in our society to be a halfway, “quiet in the land” Anabaptist?   I do not have any faith that the tide of history can be turned by the political actions of well-meaning Christians.  Politics is “the art of the possible” and best left to politicians.  Christians in politics soon find themselves making compromises in order to win what appear to be small advances in their agenda, which are soon swept aside by the march of the principalities and powers.

Anabaptists in ages past did more to change the course of history by their uncompromising Christian faith and life, including their willingness to suffer a martyr’s death.

 

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