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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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The overarching theme of God’s story is shalōm. God created a Kingdom characterized by shalōm: complete-positive-peace. But, humans destroyed shalōm. The Old Testament provides an ongoing testimony to that destruction. Nevertheless, God promised a reign through which he would re-establish shalōm. He inaugurated this reign through Jesus of Nazareth, whom He made Lord and Christ. Christ accomplished this work by initiating the New Covenant. The New Covenant ushered in perpetual jubilee marked by reconciliation based on liberty from sin and oppression

God freely grants citizenship in this Kingdom—and the reconciliation it entails—apart from any merit. Instead it comes through the free and conscious exercise of faith in God on the basis of the Gospel: God’s promise of reconciliation through forgiveness and restoration.

Faith is ongoing trust or allegiance that necessarily includes repentance—departure from sin—and discipleship—following in all areas of life Christ’s example and teaching as well as the teaching of His apostles. It is made possible and required by the new birth, resulting in progressively knowing and resembling God.

Disciples have undivided allegiance to one king and to his one Kingdom. They are a holy nation that rejects all thoughts, words, and actions that would compromise this allegiance. For example, they neither seek to interfere with the affairs of earthly kingdoms nor do they seek protection or endorsement from those kingdoms.

However, they do seek to influence society prophetically: They proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom, welcome new citizens, nourish one another’s faith, and prophetically rebuke, by word and non-violent action, society’s values and actions which depart from those of the Kingdom.

These disciples assemble in counter-cultural communities characterized by love: unity, peace, and mutual commitment. They demonstrate this commitment primarily through good works, including instruction, encouragement, correction, discipline, and restoration. In addition, they share with one another their material resources, which is possible, since they live simply.

Assemblies regularly practice baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These signs represent and commemorate the Gospel, and, therefore, nourish the faith of participants and witnesses. In addition, they signify the believer’s identity with and commitment to the unified local body of believers.

Baptism, specifically, is the rite of initiation into discipleship and into covenantal membership with a local assembly of believers. It symbolizes and recalls the baptism of the Spirit believers experience at conversion. It also pictures cleansing, death, birth, and resurrection, resulting from the pledge believers make to Christ at conversion. Therefore, only those who have exercised voluntary faith in Christ are fit subjects for baptism.

The most prominent marks of discipleship include truth-telling, kingdom living, and peacemaking. First of all, one who follows Jesus practices and tells the Jesus, since Jesus is the Truth. Furthermore, Jesus commanded his disciples to speak the truth, a command profoundly emphasized by his forbidding oaths.

Kingdom living for disciples accords with the values of perpetual Jubilee: They make disciples. They also help and comfort the weak, needy, and helpless. Furthermore, they separate from evil, particularly worldliness—the desire, pursuit, acquisition, maintenance, and use of power in order to receive glory and praise.

Finally, peacemaking must characterize the disciple’s life. Peace is both the goal of disciples’ words and actions as well as the means whereby they achieve that goal. Therefore, they pursue peace, unity, justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness. They neither resist violence nor retaliate against its manifestations. Jesus’ actions and teaching, and those of his apostles, provide the basis for this life-style.

Jesus inaugurated God’s reign in order to re-establish shalōm, the complete-positive-peace which characterized his creation. This overarching theme of God’s story—shalōm—characterized the story of Christ, both his teaching and example: He taught and prayed that his disciples would live by love, peace, unity, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, and nonresistance, insisting that peacemaking and forgiveness are necessary components of faith and discipleship. In addition, he consistently practiced love, including loving His enemies and doing good for them. He also modeled nonresistance and non-retaliation. He did not punish His enemies; he loved them and did good for them—He died for them, whereby he obtained reconciliation and peace with God for all people.

Therefore, disciples love: They love one another, and they love their enemies and do good for them. They seek reconciliation, peace, and unity with one another and all people, even at the cost of personal suffering. For example, they do not settle their disputes in earthly courts, but they rely on the wisdom of the assembly. Furthermore, they alleviate human distress and suffering. But, they do not oppose violence with violence, despite whatever form of greater good the violence purports it will achieve. Specifically, disciples will not use lethal force in behalf of any kingdom such as a nation-state.

The preceding text is a summary of “Anabaptist Spiritual Formation Salvation History: Cosmic and Personal, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.”

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The Most Prominent Marks of Discipleship—Progressive Holiness—Include Truth-Telling, Kingdom Living, and Peacemaking. Truth-telling is the correspondence of one’s words and deeds. Jesus, the Truth (John 14:6), perfectly embodies this correspondence. One who follows Jesus, then, practices and tells the truth.

In addition, disciples seek to fulfill their obligations as citizens of Christ’s Kingdom and, therefore, as Christ’s servant and subject. These obligations correspond to the values and principles of Christ’s Kingdom, including perpetual Jubilee. First of all, then, they seek to obey Christ’s command to make disciples. They also strive to help and comfort the weak, needy, and helpless, especially those from these groups who are disciples. Furthermore, they separate from evil, particularly worldliness. Worldliness is especially clear in that set of behaviors which generally governs social relations: desiring, pursuing, acquiring, maintaining, and using power, for the purpose of receiving glory and praise.

Foremost of all, disciples make peace—they neither resist violence nor retaliate against its manifestations.

The Overarching Theme of God’s Story Is Shalōm. The same holds, then, for the story of Christ and the stories of his followers. Shalōm (complete-positive-peace) is the promise and goal of the messianic reign. Accordingly, peace, unity, justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness are central to the teaching and example of Christ.

Christ was foreseen as the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). His advent was announced with an angelic blessing of peace (Luke 2:14). Immediately before His arrest and consequent death, Jesus prayed for peace and unity (John 17). During His earthly ministry, as did His apostles, Jesus taught love, peace, unity, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, and nonresistance, which corresponded to his insistence that peacemaking and forgiveness are necessary components of faith and discipleship (Matt 5:9–10, 44–45; 6:12). In addition, he consistently practiced love, including loving His enemies and doing good for them. He also modeled nonresistance and non-retaliation, which finally led Him to death on a cross, whereby he obtained reconciliation and peace with God for all people (Rom 5:1, 9–10).

Jesus’ actions and teaching, and those of His apostles, provide the basis for disciples to live in love, including loving one’s enemies and doing good for them, as well as living in reconciliation, peace, and unity with one another and all people (1 Cor 7:15; Eph 2:13–16; Heb 12:14), even at the cost of personal suffering. Rather than punish His enemies, He loved them and did good for them—He died for them. Suffering and painful providences, therefore, are the disciple’s normal expectation (1 Peter 2:21–23; 4:12–13; 2 Tim 3:12).

Disciples, those who live out their stories in the story of the Kingdom, seek peace. It is both the goal of disciples’ words and actions as well as the means whereby they meet that goal. For example, disagreeing believers do not appeal to earthly courts to settle their disputes, but they rely on the wisdom of the church (1 Cor 6:1–11). Furthermore, believers seek to ease human distress and suffering, but they do not oppose violence with violence, whatever form the violence takes. Violent opposition to violence, especially lethal force performed in behalf of a king in competition with Christ, such as a secular nation-state, or in the name of a so-called “greater good,” is unjustified.

You may access Part 1 here, and you may access Part 2 here.

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Disciples Have Chosen UNDIVIDED ALLEGIANCE to One King, Jesus, and to His Kingdom. They are aliens in this world, collectively forming a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) as citizens of Christ’s Kingdom (Phil 3:20; Eph 2:19). As a worthy King, Jesus demands exclusive allegiance (Matt 6:24; Matt 12:30; cf. James 4:4). Consequently disciples reject all thoughts, words, and actions that compromise their allegiance to Christ.

As subjects of Christ, then, disciples seek to live in allegiance to Him without interference from earthly lords. For example, they deny that any political authority, including any religious authority, has the right to restrict the liberty of any soul. Every believer and every assembly of believers has authority to interpret the Scriptures and to formulate doctrine on its own. On the other hand, believers and their assemblies do not seek the protection or the endorsement of earthly kings. They neither interfere with the affairs of earthly kingdoms nor inappropriately participate in their affairs.

While disciples separate from earthly kingdoms, they are obligated to influence society as prophets. Each assembly of believers, or church, proclaims the Gospel of the kingdom, welcomes new members, nourishes their faith, and prophetically rebukes, by word and non-violent action, those practices of this world which depart from the values and principles of the kingdom.

Disciples Assemble with One Another in Counter-cultural Communities Analogous to both a Body and a Family. In other words, the community is characterized by unity, complementarity, and mutual commitment as well as functional diversity. The primary commitment of members to one another is to demonstrate faith through the consistent exhibition of good works. In this way individual progress in existential righteousness occurs through living in the company of virtuous people.

They also instruct, encourage, correct, discipline, and restore one another. The obligations one has to fellow members of the local assembly may be summarized as a debt to love one another (John 15:12; Rom 13:8) in the context of unity and peace (Eph 4:1–3). One specific example of this debt of love is the obligation to share resources, both material and spiritual. Effective sharing requires a commitment to hospitality and simple living, practices which also demonstrate and strengthen the disciple’s faith.

Another example of this debt of love is the obligation of mutual spiritual accountability. This accountability includes mutual interpretation of Scripture, discernment, and instruction. It also includes mutual encouragement, correction, and discipline, with the goal of confession, forgiveness, and restoration. When repentance is not forthcoming in these cases, however, the body must suspend fellowship with the erring member for the sake of the assembly’s purity and integrity before God and before the larger community. Nevertheless, even after suspending fellowship, the assembly prays for and holds out hope for the restoration of the erring person.

Baptism  is the rite of initiation into discipleship and into covenantal membership of a local assembly of believers. It symbolizes and recalls the baptism of the Spirit believers experience at conversion. It also pictures cleansing, death, birth, and resurrection, resulting from the pledge believers make to Christ at conversion. Therefore, only those who have exercised voluntary faith in Christ are fit subjects for baptism.

Disciples participate with other members of the assembly in regularly celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes and recalls the initiation of the New Covenant and its promise of the forgiveness of sins achieved through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.

Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are signs that actively represent and commemorate the Gospel, thereby nourishing the faith of both participants and witnesses. In addition, both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper signify the believer’s identity with and commitment to the unified local body of believers (1 Cor 12:13; 1 Cor 10:17; Matt 6:33).

You may access Part 1 here.

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