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The following text comprises the notes used to deliver an address to the Bethel College community at the opening convocation of the 2017-2018 academic year on August 23, 2017.

 

On the face of a massive building in the center of the University of Minnesota, the purpose of that school, my alma mater, is inscribed with the following words:

Founded in the Faith that Men are Enobled by Understanding
Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth
Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State

In these words we note the primary goal of colleges and universities across our land that may be summarized with these words: Teaching that produces learning for the betterment of society.

The core content of this teaching remains constant from one age to the next, but much of the rest of it changes due to advancements in learning in pursuit of truth.

The University of Minnesota was founded in 1851 in Minneapolis by people descended from immigrants harking mostly from the Scandinavian lands of Norway and Sweden. It started as a preparatory school, but stalled until wheat-milling entrepreneur, John Pillsbury, worked to secure the school’s future. And, Pillsbury’s efforts bore fruit as students finally graduated with baccalaureate degrees in 1873, twenty-two years after the school’s founding.

Fourteen years later, in 1887, another group of immigrants, this time from what is now known as Ukraine, had similar aims in establishing a college, Bethel College, one that would provide teaching that produces learning for the betterment of society.

The place? A piece of prairie North of Newton, Kansas on slight rise of land they named Hebron and bordered by a stream they called Kidron, names, like that of the College, reminiscent of biblical locations. The founders likewise were interested in wheat, Mennonites, with names like Goerz, Warkentin, and Krehbiel.

So, here, on this site, the first Mennonite College in North America was started. The founders saw the importance of providing higher education for its youth, but not only Mennonite youth.

The original intent of the Newton College Association was a “nonsectarian, but religious college.” And, the successor to this association, a corporation named The Bethel College of the Mennonite Church of North America aimed to follow this direction. For, the First Annual Report of the Board of Directors, 1887-1888 invited students who were not only Mennonites, but those coming from other religions or cultures as well. By extending this welcome, the College sought to “pay the debt of gratitude to other denominations by opening wide the doors of the institution, so that all may have an opportunity to partake of whatsoever advantages may be offered by it.”

Not only were youth from all faiths invited, but those from across the country as well. Bethel historian, Peter Wedel, writes that Bethel College “was not to be just a local institution.” “Its courses were to be sufficiently comprehensive to attract students from great distances.” An example of this commitment comes from the observation that, according to Wedel, the first board consisted of “five members from Kansas and four from other states as the new institution should serve the largest constituency possible.” Indeed, the residences of those who served on the board over the first decades included people not only from Kansas, but also from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Idaho, and Washington.

Like the University of Minnesota, Bethel, at first was a preparatory school. It eventually, however, graduated six students with baccalaureate degrees in 1912. A very significant event followed four years later, 1916, when the school became accredited by the Kansas state board of education, an event celebrated with the unveiling of a flag bearing the school colors adopted nine years earlier in 1907, maroon and gray. A liberal arts college was born!

What can we learn from this story? (more…)

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The following text was delivered to a gathering at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando on July 5, 2017. A hard copy of this text may be downloaded at this link.

 

The goal of this presentation is to provide a description and definition of Christian formation that reflects an Anabaptist perspective. Corresponding to common usage, the term “spiritual formation” is used here synonymously with “Christian formation.” In addition, and in accord with common usage, “spiritual formation” is the primary term used, until conclusions are drawn at the end of the presentation.

There is a compelling need for the treatment of this topic. Models deriving from two streams dominate literature on spiritual formation emanating from authors identifying with the Western Church. One stream is medieval pietism, which focuses on the believer’s relationship with God. Examples found in this stream include the works of Roman Catholic moral theologians as well as the writings of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and A.W. Tozer. The other stream is Reformed theology, which focuses on one’s behavior toward God. Flowing within this stream are writings from Calvinist authors like J. I. Packer and John Piper. However, this stream also includes works by authors who retain the “two-step” paradigm introduced by John Wesley. This approach to spiritual formation stems from the teaching of Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, and has been propagated by his students with dogged effort. This presentation proposes that spiritual formation from an Anabaptist perspective is not so much a third stream, but a coherent theological and historical bridge between the two prevalent streams of thought. In other words, it provides a more than satisfactory option for one to consider.

The presentation proceeds along the following path: First, following a brief recitation of Anabaptism’s origin and significance, the author explains what he means by an Anabaptist Perspective. Second, from a position within that perspective, the author gives the features of an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation. In so doing, it will be necessary to consider the topic of discipleship, and the place of disciplines in this scheme. Finally, the author will propose a definition of spiritual formation based on the contributions coming from an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANABAPTISM’S ORIGIN AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Contemporary Anabaptists trace their origin to the 16th century Reformation movement distinguished by its insistence on believer’s baptism, hence the moniker Anabaptists or re-baptizers. In addition, these reformers advocated a radical imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, with special attention given to the Sermon on the Mount. They based this conclusion on the conviction that Jesus had inaugurated the promised messianic kingdom during his earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and session.

The Anabaptist insistence on a “believer’s church,” though, put its adherents in direct conflict, not only with Roman Catholics, but also with Protestants, both Lutheran and Reformed. This conflict, in turn, boiled over into opposition from these three groups’ governmental protectors, with whom, in practice, they were effectively merged.[1] When this opposition came to a head in the form of persecution, Anabaptists’ radical adherence to the teaching and example of Jesus prohibited them from active resistance, resulting in widespread deaths.[2]

This brief account of the origin of the Anabaptist movement reveals in seed-form the two most apparent ways in which the practices of its members differ from that of members of contemporary Protestant faith traditions: Anabaptists maintain that the New Testament requires of disciples a level of commitment to Christ’s Kingdom mandating (1) strict separation of church and state and (2) non-resistance or pacifism.

Contemporary Anabaptists are represented primarily by Mennonites and by most groups with the word Brethren in their name.[3] However, their influence can be seen among Baptists and most free-church groups.[4] Evidence for this influence exists not only in the widespread practice of believer’s baptism and in various expressions of the separation of church and state, but also in the adherence to Anabaptism’s teaching on the symbolic nature of the ordinances and the visible nature and autonomy of the local church.

AN ANABAPTIST PERSPECTIVE

The preceding account identified two Anabaptist distinctives: separation of church and state, and pacifism. These, and other, distinctives arise from a particular theological perspective.

The perspective, or story, an interpreter inhabits and, therefore, from which the interpreter reads a text profoundly influences one’s interpretation.[5] Put another way, (more…)

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The following text was delivered to a gathering at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando on July 5, 2017. A hard copy of this text may be downloaded at this link.

 

This presentation provides an interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 that reflects an Anabaptist perspective toward the text. In achieving this goal, the author also demonstrates that an Anabaptist reading of Romans 13:1-7 is a more than satisfactory exegetical option. Therefore, rather than being problematic for Anabaptists, as some interpreters may suppose, Romans 13:1-7 actually reinforces their convictions.

The presentation proceeds along the following path: First, following a brief recitation of Anabaptism’s origin and significance, the author explains what he means by an Anabaptist Perspective. Second, from a position within that perspective, the author comments on the meaning of the Romans text within its broader historical and literary context.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANABAPTISM’S ORIGIN AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Contemporary Anabaptists trace their origin to the 16th century Reformation movement distinguished by its insistence on believer’s baptism, hence the moniker Anabaptists or re-baptizers. In addition, these reformers advocated a radical imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, with special attention given to the Sermon on the Mount. They based this conclusion on the conviction that Jesus had inaugurated the promised messianic kingdom during his earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and session.

The Anabaptist insistence on a “believer’s church,” though, put its adherents in direct conflict, not only with Roman Catholics, but also with Protestants, both Lutheran and Reformed. This conflict, in turn, boiled over into opposition from these three groups’ governmental protectors, with whom, in practice, they were effectively merged.[1] When this opposition came to a head in the form of persecution, Anabaptists’ radical adherence to the teaching and example of Jesus prohibited them from active resistance, resulting in widespread deaths.[2]

This brief account of the origin of the Anabaptist movement reveals in seed-form the two most apparent ways in which the practices of its members differ from that of members of contemporary Protestant faith traditions: Anabaptists maintain that the New Testament requires of disciples a level of commitment to Christ’s Kingdom mandating (1) strict separation of church and state and (2) non-resistance or pacifism.

These contemporary Anabaptists are represented primarily by Mennonites and by most groups with the word Brethren in their name.[3] However, their influence can be seen among Baptists and most free-church groups.[4] Evidence for this influence exists not only in the widespread practice of believer’s baptism and in various expressions of the separation of church and state, but also in the adherence to Anabaptism’s teaching on the symbolic nature of the ordinances and the visible nature and autonomy of the local church.

AN ANABAPTIST PERSPECTIVE

The preceding account identified two prominent Anabaptist distinctives: separation of church and state, and pacifism. One frequently hears that a plain reading of Romans 13:1-7 contradicts these positions. Anabaptists, however, approach these verses from a perspective that finds them compatible with these convictions.

The perspective, or story, an interpreter inhabits and, therefore, from which the interpreter reads a text profoundly influences one’s interpretation.[5] Put another way, two interpreters who use the same interpretive strategies, and yet come to different conclusions, are not necessarily guilty of sloppy exegesis or some nefarious sleight-of-hand. Rather, their disagreement may be due to the fact that each one possesses different presuppositions and preunderstandings. They possess different interpretive perspectives.

What this author is calling the Anabaptist perspective consists of the preunderstandings just visited, but also significant presuppositions. Taken together, these preunderstandings and presuppositions contribute to the development of a salvation-historical story, a story that, in turn, influences the interpretation of Romans 13:1-7.

A significant presupposition among those to which Anabaptists cling concerns the relationship of the parts of the Canon to one another.[6] First, they see a wide discontinuity between the Testaments. The Old Testament, including the Law, testifies of Christ and is fulfilled by him. Second, the Gospel is the Gospels, both in event and in the proclamation they contain. As such they are discipleship manuals. The epistles, on the other hand, explain, interpret, and apply the Gospel to particular people, places, times, and situations. Therefore, the New Testament, specifically the Gospels, containing accounts of the life, teaching—summarized in the Sermon on the Mount—, and work of Jesus is the starting point for ethical instruction. Implications of these presuppositions are embodied in the following salvation-historical story, an Anabaptist account of the scriptural metanarrative. (more…)

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The following text comprises the notes used to deliver an address to the Bethel College Board of Directors on October 8, 2015.

 

This morning I would like to address two questions:

  1. What have I discovered at Bethel College during my first few months of employment?
  2. What are our strategies in moving forward in Academic Affairs?

The proposed strategic plan provides a number of answers to the latter question. I would like to expand somewhat upon that knowledge in the course of answering the first question, what have I discovered?

What I have discovered began before my arrival on the job. It actually started with an unusual question posed by a teacher of mine many years ago: From where did Baptists originate?

Part of my college experience and grad school education took place in Baptist institutions in Minnesota. At these schools I learned the answer to that question, from where did Baptists originate: from Anabaptists, particularly those in the Netherlands. And, from these Anabaptists, Baptists adopted the distinctive positions which distinguished Anabaptists from other Reformation groups.

I became convinced: I adopted these distinctives. I taught them to my students, and I taught them to my children, using the Schleitheim confession as a catechetical instrument. Over the years, I bemoaned the historical drift of my Baptist kin from their Anabaptist roots, especially from positions of pacifism and the separation of church and state.

But, then, I moved to Ohio.

While in Ohio, I became intrigued with the ways of the Amish and the many Mennonites who populated the state. I learned that the Amish originally broke off from the Mennonites, both of which are descendants of Anabaptists, maintaining those distinctives to this day.

Try to imagine my surprise and delight. Modern-day Anabaptists existed all around me.

Long, story short: I visited, joined, and became active in a Mennonite church, became a conference delegate, and learned about Mennonite agencies, including Mennonite colleges.

This knowledge led to my search for employment at a Mennonite college which eventually landed me here.

So, I was and continue to be attracted to Bethel primarily because of my discovery of its vision, mission, and values, all three rooted in Anabaptist beliefs and practice.

Take, for example, the vision statement:

 

At Bethel College we

welcome with open hearts,

stimulate personal and spiritual discovery,

transform through the power of community and

inspire the leaders of tomorrow. (more…)

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Upon which side of the watershed a raindrop falls determines into which ocean – Atlantic or Pacific – it eventually ends up.

Topic

Roman Catholics

Protestants (particularly Reformed)

Anabaptists

Old and New Testaments: Their relationship to each other Nearly absolute continuity. Illustration: Leviticus serves as the model for the priesthood and worship. Therefore, in conformity with Leviticus, Jesus is perpetually sacrificed in the mass. Strong continuity. The Law remains in effect with some substitutions: The church replaces Israel and, in effect, is equivalent to the Kingdom. For example, children enter the Covenant on the basis of their parents’ faith. Infant baptism, then, replaces circumcision, and confirmation replaces the bar mitzvah. Ideally, as with Israel, church and state are one. So, Christians seeks to reform government and the broader society. Discontinuity: The OT testified of Christ, which he fulfilled, including the Law—Christ is the end of the law to all who believe; the grace of Christ replaced the grace of Moses; the Old Covenant has faded while the New Covenant has become more glorious. Therefore, the starting point for ethical instruction is the New Testament, specifically, the life and teaching of Jesus.
Gospels and Epistles: Their relationship to each other The Gospels are favored and become the basis upon which to interpret the epistles. This has led, in some cases, to the accusation by certain theologians that Roman Catholic theology blurs the distinction between justification and sanctification. The practical result in the eyes of these critics is a form of works salvation. The epistles are favored, especially Paul’s. The epistles may even be viewed as giving unique revelation that supersedes Jesus’ teaching.  Obedience may or may not be a necessary outcome of justification, but it is not a necessary component of faith. The Gospels testify foremost to the active and passive obedience of Christ, primarily the latter, both of which are imputed to the Christian. The mission of Christ, then, primarily was to die for our sins. The apostolic mission was to provide authoritative instruction. The Gospel is the Gospels, both in event and in the proclamation they contain. As such they are discipleship manuals. In other words, the life, teaching, and work of Jesus are all important parts of the Gospel. The epistles explain, interpret, and apply the Gospel to particular people, places, times, and situations. One’s starting point is the Gospels, especially their summary in the Sermon on the Mount. Insofar as epistolary instruction can be applied to the current situation, they are authoritative. Obedience is inseparable from faith.
Example Implications
Story of the Bible The satisfaction of the sovereign God’s honor The promotion of the glory of God through the justification of the elect and the damnation of the lost The creation, loss, and restoration of Shalōm, wherein humans are reconciled to God and one another
Kingdom Two cities—separate but functionally equal—and to which the Christian must submit The believer submits both to the Kingdom of God and human kingdoms (on the basis of Rom 13: 1–7). Since the ideal is one Kingdom, the believer attempts to bring human kingdoms into conformity with God’s. Christ has inaugurated God’s reign which brings peace and reconciliation. The Christian renders exclusive obedience to King Jesus and seeks neither to interfere with the affairs of human kingdoms nor to receive favors from human kingdoms.
Community The body is invisible and universal. No salvation occurs apart from membership in the body. Although the body is invisible and universal, the body has little practical impact on salvation. Since the believer is a priest, individualism, and, therefore, individual rights and autonomy, are emphasized. The body is made up of believers who assemble physically. Salvation accrues to the individual, but faith, through which salvation comes, is nourished by means of community life, which entails mutual obligations stemming from Kingdom values and principles.
Atonement: The metaphor used to explain how God and people are reconciled through the work of Christ Satisfaction (Anselm, 11th century philosopher and Archbishop of Canterbury): Jesus is the perfect sacrifice that satisfies the infinite debt incurred by humanity’s dishonoring the sovereign God. Penal substitution (development of Anselm’s theory by 16th century theologians): Jesus bore the punishment of God’s wrath deserved by humanity for breaking his Law, thus satisfying God’s demands for justice. His resurrection is evidence that God accepted the sufficiency of this punishment. The emphasis of the Gospel, then, is placed on the death of Christ. Christus Victor (classic view up through the 11th century): Through his substitu-tionary sacrifice and resurrection, Jesus redeems or frees people from slavery to the Law, sin, death, and the devil by giving his life as a ransom and by rising from the dead in victory over the enslaving system of the Powers. The emphasis of the Gospel is placed on both the death and resurrection of Christ, but primarily the latter.

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A Christian Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ,
And to God’s kingdom for which he died—
One Spirit-led people the world over, indivisible,
With love and justice for all.

—June Alliman Yoder and J. Nelson Kraybill, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary

Mennonites believe that the church is “God’s holy nation,” called to give full allegiance to Christ, its head, and to witness to all nations about God’s saving love.  We believe that the church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its allegiance to God alone.

We also believe that the governing bodies of the world have been instituted by God for maintaining order in society.  These government bodies are called to act justly and provide order.  Mennonites believe that we are to respect persons in authority.

In giving allegiance to God alone, many Mennonites have a problem pledging allegiance to the US flag.  Mennonites are to respect government authorities, but we do not pledge allegiance to anyone but God.

—Taken from the Third Way Café

Read the article, “The American Flag: Pledge of Allegiance,” here. The author challenges the reader to evaluate the recital of the pledge, particularly in light of the phrase, “under God,” which was added to the pledge in 1954, 62 years after its creation. The author also briefly traces the history of Christian refusal to recite a pledge to any ruler, nation, or to any symbol of the same, including the moving story of a Christian, Marcellus, who was killed on Oct. 30, 298, on account of his refusal to pledge allegiance to the emperor and the empire.

No one can serve two masters;
For a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
Or be devoted to the one and despise the other.

—Jesus of Nazareth, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:24


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The following list condenses “A Brief Description of Anabaptist Spiritual Formation Salvation History, Cosmic and Personal” into a series of doctrinal positions held by Anabaptists that distinguish them from other groups arising out of the Reformation.

Rule of Christ. Jesus, the Christ, has inaugurated God’s promised messianic kingdom or reign, a reign marked by perpetual Jubilee. Through this inauguration, he has initiated the restoration of shalōm that characterized the original creation.

Voluntary faith. Individuals must exercise faith consciously and freely in order to enter the Kingdom of God. This faith is placed in God on the basis of the Gospel.

Faith and works. Works and faith are inseparable. Faith includes both repentance and discipleship. A good synonym for faith, then, is “allegiance.”

Undivided allegiance to the King. Believers reject all thoughts, words, and actions that would compromise their allegiance to Christ. For example, they do not share this allegiance with any worldly entity, such as a political body like a nation-state.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Signs reserved for believers. They represent and commemorate the Gospel as well as the unity of the body. Therefore, baptism, the rite of initiation into discipleship and into the assembly of believers or disciples, as well as the Lord’s Supper, is reserved for believers.

Social responsibility. Disciples help and comfort the weak, needy, and helpless, both spiritually and materially. Therefore, they live simply. They also instruct, encourage, correct, discipline, and restore one another.

Peace, nonresistance, and non-retaliation. Disciples make peace: They neither resist violence nor retaliate against it, even at the cost of personal suffering. Disciples, then, do not participate in the military of any political body such as a nation-state.

Truth-telling. Disciples tell the truth and do not take oaths.

 

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