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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 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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The Old Testament promises a REIGN OF GOD that will ESTABLISH SHALŌM. Shalōm is wholeness or complete-positive-peace, particularly personal and relational harmony. This harmony is based on reconciliation, the integration of forgiveness and friendship. Forgiveness removes debts caused by offenses, resulting in the elimination of enmity and strife. Friendship imputes right standing, resulting in restoration that includes progressive healing, holiness and communion. God intends Shalōm to characterize one’s relationship with God, the state of one’s being, and the states of relationships among individuals and among groups of people.

God made Jesus of Nazareth Lord and Christ, whose reign would achieve Shalōm. Jesus inaugurated his reign by initiating the New Covenant, ushering in a perpetual Jubilee marked by reconciliation. The forgiveness or liberation upon which this reconciliation is based, includes liberty from sin as well as liberty from oppression, including its economic and social forms.

Believers look forward to the day when Jesus returns to earth to consummate his reign.

God freely grants kingdom citizenship—and the reconciliation it entails—through FAITH APART FROM HUMAN MERIT. The object of this faith is God, based on the promises of forgiveness and restoration contained in the Gospel. One must exercise faith consciously and freely. One may not exercise faith for someone else, nor may one passively receive faith through participation in a religious rite.

Faith is trust or dependence that necessarily INCLUDES REPENTANCE AND DISCIPLESHIP. In repentance one departs from sin. In discipleship one follows Christ’s example and teaching as well as the teaching of His apostles. In this realm of faith, there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular. Christ’s Lordship impinges on every area of life.

This integration of faith and ethics is abundantly affirmed in Scripture, but with particular clarity in James, 1 John, and Hebrews. Synonyms for faith which convey its inseparability from good deeds include surrender, yieldedness, devotion, commitment, allegiance, and loyalty.

Ever increasing faithful discipleship is made possible by the new birth granted by the Holy Spirit. Consequently, as one continues to place faith in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit progressively deepens the believer’s relationship with God and progressively increases the believer’s resemblance to God or holiness.

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ONE: Peace is the will of God.
From the first chapter of Scripture, where God pronounced creation “good” (Gen 1:31), to the very last, in John’s vision of a tree “for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2), God pursues peace. Trust in God is contrasted with trust in the instruments of war (Isa 31:1; Psa 20:7; 33:16-17; Hos 1:7).

TWO: Peace was the mission of Jesus.
His role as “the Prince of Peace” was foretold by Isaiah (9:6). Angels announcing his birth declared “Glory to God” and “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). Weeping over Jerusalem, Jesus prayed, “would that you knew the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:41-42).

THREE: The fruit of the Spirit is peace (Gal 5:22).
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6). Prior to his death, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you,” in reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-27).

FOUR: Peace was the witness of the early church.
The new community created in Christ bore witness by its reconciled fellowship: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-37). Paul urged that the church’s “feet” be “shod with the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15).

FIVE: Peace is more than the absence of war.
Peace – shalōm – occurs when captives are released (Luke 4:18), when outcasts are gathered (Zeph 3:19), and when the hungry have plenty to eat (Joel 2:19-26; Luke 1:53; 1 Sam 2:1-8).

SIX: The foundation of peace is justice.
“The effect of righteousness (justice) will be peace,” predicted Isaiah (32:17). “Righteousness and peace will kiss,” wrote the psalmist (Ps. 85:10). “Sowing justice” will result in peace, said Hosea (10:12-14).

SEVEN: Peace, like war, is waged.
Peacemakers are not passive, but active. Peter, echoing the psalmist, urges us to “seek peace, and to pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11; Psa 34:14). Jesus urged worshippers to take the initiative to settle disputes (Matt 5:23-24). Peace includes loving and feeding enemies (Luke 6:27; Rom 12:20).

EIGHT: Peacemakers sometimes cause trouble.
Jesus turned over the tables of oppressive money-changers (John 2:13-16). When he says, “I come not to bring peace, but division” (Luke 12:51), the “peace” of which he speaks merely disguises an order of injustice (see Jer 6:14-15). It was Jesus’ peacemaking mission which landed him on the cross (Col 1:20).

NINE: Peacemaking is rooted in grace.
In Jesus’ prayer, our “debts” are forgiven in the measure to which we forgive others (Matt 6:12). “Whoever is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). It is grace which frees us from fear (1 John 4:18) and empowers us to risk our lives for the sake of justice and peace.

TEN: Peace in Christ and peace in creation are linked.
Not only are divisions in the human community overcome “in Christ” (Galatians 3:28), but also in the whole created order. The knowledge of God and the healing of creation are parallel realities (Isa 11:3-9). The land itself mourns (Isa 33:9). “But ask the beasts . . . and the birds . . . or the plants, and they will teach you” of the ways of the Lord (Job 12:7-10).

ELEVEN: Peacemaking is not optional.
The separation between “preaching the Gospel” and “working for peace and justice” is a perversion of biblical truth. Jesus prayed, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). We lie if we say we love God yet fail to assist neighbors in need (1 John 4:20). Loving enemies—whether close at hand or far away—is the way to become children of God (Matt 5:44-45).

TWELVE: God’s promised future is peace.
Though now living as “aliens” in a strange land, peacemakers have caught a glimpse of how the future will finally unfold. Both Isaiah and John’s Revelation speak of the coming “new heaven and new earth” (Isa 65:17-22; Rev 21:1). The day is coming, says Micah, when nations “shall beat their swords into ploughshares . . . and neither shall they learn war any more” (4:3-4). On that day, “creation itself—which ‘has been groaning in travail’—will be set free from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:19-24).

Source: Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America

See “Nonresistance and Peacemaking: A Brief Provisional Outline of Biblical Teaching.”

 

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