Nonconformity (part 3) What is Worldliness?

Years ago, a non-Mennonite pastor friend shared some concerns he had about his church’s youth group. He said he rarely let his children go to any of their youth events because the youth group and the youth leaders had such a “worldly mindset”.

His words caught me by surprise. He and his family were not “plain” and I wondered what a non-Mennonite considered worldly. I was even a bit surprised that he was worried about how worldliness might affect his children. By the standards that I had been raised in, his entire family was very “worldly”.

bible worldHowever, I have since learned that no Christian—regardless of denomination—wants to be considered worldly or to have a worldly mindset. So, what is worldliness? What does it look like? What does the Bible say about worldliness?

1 John 2:15-17 “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and pride of life is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”
John 15:19 “if ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
Romans 12:2 “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”
James 4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Worldliness is clearly something God wants to keep us from.

We are all born with a worldly nature. Though I was a born a Mennonite child and looked differently than the rest of the world, I was still worldly. I wanted my own comfort, pleasure, and needs met more than anything or anyone else. I wasn’t willing to wait for God to meet my needs on His timing; I took things into my own hands. I made my decisions according to what made me feel good or look good. How I appeared outwardly to others mattered more to me than who I really was inside.

Galations 4:3 “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.”
Ephesians 2:2 “wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”

After salvation, God put within me a different spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:12 says, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”

Salvation changes desires. I began to want to obey His commandments and to do what I knew to be His will. Jesus says in Matthew 22:37-40 that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The entirety of the rest of the commandments hang on these two commands.

Does that mean we aren’t tempted to be worldly after salvation?

Apparently not. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:10 “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed…” Jesus, in the parable of the sower, spoke of seed that started growing, but the “cares of the world” choked out its life.

We need to avoid worldliness, just like any other sin.

Worldliness is a mindset of living in the flesh rather than being led by the Spirit.

1 John 2:16 defines a worldly mindset as being the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

Paul similarly describes walking according to the “course of the world” in Ephesians 2:2-3. He says before salvation our conduct was that of living according to the lust of the flesh and we fulfilled whatever desires our flesh and mind wanted.

Before I was born again, I didn’t do everything I wanted in the flesh. I knew there were consequences for some things. But I did as much as I thought I could get away with. Things that were forbidden were only out of reach if there was a strong likelihood of getting caught.

After salvation, the Holy Spirit changed those desires. I quit trying to live according to what my flesh wanted even when no one would see. But the temptation remained. Those desires didn’t go completely away. Peter warns us as “strangers and pilgrims” in this world to abstain from fleshly lusts because they “war against our souls”. (1 Peter 2:11)

James 4 gives a description of what the lust of the flesh within us looks like and how it plays out. He describes it as being a friend of the world and says it is “enmity with God”. He also refers to it as spiritual adultery. I like how the ESV puts it in verse 5, “…He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us”.

Just as Jesus said that a lustful look is equal to adultery, the same is true in the spiritual sense. Worldliness is spiritual adultery, but we can commit spiritual adultery by gazing lustfully after worldly things.

Instead of following after the flesh, we need to be led by the Spirit. We can’t be led by the Spirit unless we draw near to God and allow Him to draw near to us.

Worldliness is focusing more on the outward than the inward

This is a point that we as conservative Anabaptists know best. The world is so focused on their outward appearance that they rarely think about what their inward man looks like. But do we really understand what all that entails?

1 Peter 3:3-4, “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel, but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

The world judges by outward appearance. Clothing is meant to make a statement. Sometimes clothing gives a message of how much money people have—or how much they would like people to think they have. The world likes expensive name brands and the latest fashion. The opposite is also true. Panhandlers will deliberately wear clothing that makes them appear poor—whether they are or not.

Clothing can also draw attention to the person. The world likes clothing that is provocative and showy. People want to stand out and get attention.

Do Anabaptist people struggle in this area? Or are we just automatically exempt because we have clothing regulations?

No matter how many rules or regulations churches have about clothing, you can usually still pick out the ones that have a bit more money than others and want to display it. You can still tell which ones are trying to draw attention to themselves or to their body.

Sometimes we think dressing shabbily or attempting to look poor is equal to humility. When people focus on appearing “poor” to show how humble they are, they are still focusing on the outward—not all that differently than what a panhandler’s does.

Worldliness is a heart problem, unfortunately.

When our focus is to dress differently from the world, we are still focusing on the world’s clothing. And in our attempt to dress differently than the world, we are still focusing on our appearance. Even when we look exactly right in our clothing choices, only God truly knows our heart motives.

What if our focus was on the other part of those verses? When we truly care about the “hidden man of the heart”—having meekness, caring about others more than ourselves, etc.—we might find outward clothing choices mattering less and less.

I think we as Anabaptists have failed in our focus of outward appearance more than many other denominations. In our determination not to become obsessed with appearance like the world does, we have become just as fixated as they are.

The world says how you appear to others is of greater importance than who you really are.

So do Anabaptists.

If you think this isn’t true, ask yourself what kind of person is more likely to be confronted? Do we confront the man who follows church regulations for dress but is known to be angry, neglects his family, or hoards his earthly riches? Or are we more concerned about the ones who don’t dress exactly according to church standards? Who is more likely to have communion denied to them?

We are warned repeatedly not to allow worldliness regarding dress creep into our homes and into our churches, but it seems it has crept in like a wolf in sheep’s clothing and we have been deceived. We seem to be unable to recognize the worldly motivation in much of our outward appearance.

There is nothing wrong with dressing differently than the rest of the world. But that can’t be our focus and motivation in the clothes we choose.

There is nothing wrong with dressing differently than the church next door. But if we feel a bit more righteous in our clothing choices and look down on those that we think look too much like the rest of the world, we are the ones imitating the world in judging others by outward appearance. We become the ones that need to repent of worldly attitudes of outward appearance.

Worldliness is seeing this present age more than eternity

Probably one of the most well-known verses in Mennonite circles is Romans 12:2, “And be not conformed to this world…”

Many verses that have “world” in it, are from the Greek word “Kosmos”. In this verse though, it is from the Greek word “aion” which carries a different meaning. It means more like an age, or a course of time.

That means this verse carries a slightly different meaning than what I used to think. Rather than not being conformed to “kosmos” (the world, its inhabitants, and the arrangement of it), it is talking about not being conformed to this present age.

The prodigal son is a good example of what this might look like. His mindset was on the “here and now” rather than the future. He didn’t want to wait for what would eventually be his. He didn’t want it on someone else’s terms. He wanted what he thought should be his right now. His world view was life “in the moment”.

Today we hear the term YOLO (you only live once) as an excuse to do whatever appeals. Having this present age as our focus without keeping eternity in view can cause us to set ourselves as our own idol. If all I care about is what I have right now, what I deserve, and how to be happy, I will do whatever I have to make that happen. My relationships, food, looks, money, everything will matter a lot more about how it makes me feel now.

Think of how many sins come from this mindset. Our strife and fighting with each other comes from this. We’re not thinking of waiting to see what God wants to do in us through a hard situation. Rather, we look at the circumstances and how they are affecting me right now and then react to the person that we think is causing our present distress.

That is being conformed to this present age.

When Satan tempted Jesus, he tempted Him with things that appealed to the “here and now”. But Jesus turned down those temptations because His mindset was not of being conformed to this “present age”. He remembered His greater purpose and kept eternity in mind.

If we would always keep eternity in mind, we would be more willing to be patient with the “sufferings of this present time” because of the future glory that will eventually be revealed (Rom. 8:18).

That is the opposite of being worldly.

Worldliness is caring more about myself than others

Jesus said in Mark 12:30 that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He followed that by saying that the second greatest commandment is to love others as we love ourselves.

When our focus becomes more about myself and looking out for “number one”, we become like the world. The world says, “Look out for yourself because no one else will”. How willing am I to trust God to supply exactly what I need and then also to be willing to give as He directs?

Many plain people are known to have plenty of money. We are taught to work hard and to be good stewards. This is important, but what do we do with that money? If God asked us to sell all we had like He did the rich young ruler, would we do it? Or would we go “away sorrowful”?

Shouldn’t we be concerned about our needs though?

When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 6, He says we should “take no thought” about our needs. He follows that with, “For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mat. 6:12)

The Gentiles were the pagans—they were the “world”. If we want to do the opposite of the world, then our focus needs to be first seeking the kingdom of God and our needs will be met. Worldliness is focusing on seeking my needs and not my neighbors.

We as Anabaptists tend to take care of our own pretty well, but what about those outside our circles? I know a minister whose family has for years taken care of a widow in his neighborhood though she was never part of their church. Do we turn away from people that are not part of our plain circles or do we love them as we love ourselves?

James 1:27 “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

In conclusion

Worldliness might not be what we have always been taught. No matter how plain I may dress, or how different I make myself look outwardly, I might still be a most worldly person. And just because I’m Mennonite doesn’t mean I’m not worldly any more than it means that I’m automatically born again.




Nonconformity- (part 2) When Does Transformation Happen?

“Why do you dress like that?” “Why are your clothes so different than those around you?” “Why do you all dress alike?”

Most of us who were raised in a conservative Anabaptist/Mennonite homes have probably been asked at least one, or maybe all, of these questions at some point in our lives. People don’t always give the same answers, but here are some of the answers that I have heard given through the years:

-This is how my church asks me to dress
-We don’t want to be worldly, so we don’t dress like the world
-We believe in nonconformity to the world
-We want to have unity in our church
-We believe in dressing modestly

These are all short easy answers that most of us have been taught. Yet, in some ways they are such insufficient, unsatisfactory answers. I wonder if we would have better answers if we were pressed? What if we were then asked questions such as:
Would you still dress that way if your church did not have that rule?
Do you believe that anyone who does not dress like you is of the world—even those of other churches?
Does dressing differently keep you from being conformed to the world?
Since you all dress alike, do you now all have unity of the Spirit?
Do you consider all those that are dressed differently than you to be immodest?

Romans 12:2 and nonconformity

When a sermon is preached with Romans 12:2 as the main script in a typical Anabaptist church, we already have a general idea of what we will hear. Nonconformity is very important to our people and has been focused on for many generations for well over a hundred years. We’ve been taught how important it is to look differently than the world.

We tend to look at other denominations with a bit of condescension. We feel we are at a little higher level on the holiness ladder. After all, they seem to just ignore this verse.

What if other denominations aren’t ignoring this verse, but are looking at it from a different angle than we do?

butterfly transform4What is the most important part of this verse? Is it to avoid being conformed to the world or is it to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? We know both are important and both must happen in the life of a born-again Christian.

Maybe another question to ask would be, do either of these directives depend on the other? In other words, must you be “nonconformed to the world” before you can be “transformed by the renewal of your mind”? Or do we need to be “transformed” before we can be “nonconformed to the world”? Which should happen first?

Though we might not hear it emphasized, transformation must happen first; or nonconformity is worthless.

Have you ever tried to make a caterpillar act like a butterfly? No matter what you do, it will by nature crawl on its belly and eat leaves. You can attempt to put it on a flower, but it will not drink nectar. Its nature has not changed. When a caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly, who tells that butterfly to act like a butterfly rather than a caterpillar? Must they told constantly to stop crawling and to do what butterflies are supposed to do?

A caterpillar has within itself everything needed to become a butterfly. And yet, it will not do anything that a butterfly does until it transforms. During the cocoon stage, everything that is caterpillar literally dies and becomes a soupy ooze that is used as fuel for the rapid cell division that takes place to make a butterfly. After that its very nature changes.

There are some ways this analogy does not work, but it makes a point. It is not worth our time to try to force someone who has not been born again to act like a saved person. Their nature has not changed. We can not make them want to do what has not been instilled in them yet.

After salvation—or transformation—our minds are renewed, and we think differently.

Are we Anabaptists focusing too much on not conforming to the world? Instead of conforming to the world, we are to be transformed by the “renewing of our minds”. What if our focus would be on that first? Would we see the other happening more naturally?

In Ephesians 4:22-32, we see the concept of putting off and putting on. Put off lying, put on speaking truth; put off stealing, put on laboring and giving; put off corrupt communication, put on edifying communication.

Instead of trying not to lie, we need to just speak truth. Instead of reminding ourselves not to steal, we need to work to provide for our needs and others. Instead of trying our hardest not to let bitterness, wrath and anger spew out of us onto others, we need to be kind and tenderhearted to others.

Instead of trying not to conform to the world, we need to be transformed by having our minds renewed.

If there is no difference between us and the world, perhaps it’s because no transformation has taken place. We should be different. Our minds, our very motivations for every choice we make should be different than an unsaved person. What we feed our minds on should look different than it used to. There should be a hunger and thirst for righteousness that was not there before.

We should not have to make rules to try to keep our people from being “conformed to the world”. Should born again Christians look differently from the world? Possibly. But if the only reason they do is because the church rules are there, that is not transformation. It is more like strapping wings on a caterpillar and calling it a butterfly.

Did the disciples look differently than those around them? There is nothing in Scripture to prove that they did. But I doubt that the world around them looked like the world does today. Paul warns believers in both 1Tim. 2 and 1 Peter 3 to dress modestly and to focus on adorning the inward man more than the outward. We should want to put on ornaments of a meek and quiet spirit more than outward ornaments. We should want to dress simply and modestly.

But we should want to do this because of a transformation that happened within and we want to do what God wants, not because my church has a list of dress rules I must follow to look differently than the world.

Just looking differently than the world, does not mean that I am not conformed to the world any more than strapping wings on the back of caterpillar means it is no longer a caterpillar. It’s not about looking differently from the world, it’s about not being conformed to—or patterned after—the world. And the way to keep from being conformed is by a transformation—a metamorphosis—in our minds.

If our hearts/minds have not gone through any transformation, looking differently will do us no good.

Jeremiah 17:9 speaks of the heart (mind, will, feelings) being “deceitful” and “desperately wicked”. It’s been said that this is why we need rules. We are fearful that our hearts will betray us if we don’t set extra guidelines. However, is this verse speaking of a heart that has been transformed, or is it speaking of an unregenerate heart?

Can God transform our hearts and give us clean hearts that aren’t “desperately wicked”? If He cannot transform our heart/minds, then what is the point of Rom. 12:2?

When David sinned with Bathsheba, we see him crying out to God in Psalm 51, confessing his sin, and asking God to blot out his iniquities. Then in verse 10, David says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

When God created the world and everything in it, He made something out of nothing and said it was good. When God creates a clean heart, He makes it good. When our heart is transformed, our desires and our thoughts patterns are no longer wicked and deceitful. That doesn’t mean we are perfect, but what we hunger after is changed.

If there is something in me wanting to conform–or pattern after—everything the world does, if my desires are not different than the world, perhaps I need to do like David and ask God to create in me a clean heart. Perhaps my mind/heart has not gone through the transformation of metamorphosis into renewal.

Nonconformity- When Did it Start? (part 1)

If you identify as a conservative Mennonite, what is it exactly that makes you a conservative Mennonite? Maybe you don’t like the term Mennonite and prefer to call yourself Anabaptist, so what is it that makes you Anabaptist? Denominations are usually set apart from each other because of some belief that they hold to strongly or some belief that they refuse to have part of.

Mennonites have had so many different church splits and schisms through the centuries and the number of groups and subgroups that are out there are often hard to keep track of—even when you grow up in it. But what is it that makes them keep identifying as Anabaptists or Mennonite rather than some other denomination?

When someone says they aren’t going to be Mennonite anymore, what does that mean to us?

In asking some of these questions, I have found that most Mennonites generally will either answer something about the way one looks, or about nonresistance, or both.

In reading about our more recent history, nonconformity and nonresistance seem to be the key issues that Mennonites tend to focus on. To most of us, it is a normal part of being Mennonite. Members meetings, business meetings, and conferences often revolve around our dress and outward appearance. Nonresistance is important but isn’t focused on as much as it once was when America was directly involved in specific wars.

Nonresistance seems to have always been a part of the Anabaptist movement, but rules and regulations about dress and clothing were not always what our people focused on.

When did we become so focused on our outward appearance?

If most of our identity as a denomination is in how we look, doesn’t that sound like a rather shallow identity?

Of course, that isn’t our only deeply held belief, but since it is the one that is often focused on more than others, that is what my next series will be on.

A Brief History

Mennonites today get our term “nonconformity” from Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (NKJV)

Another verse that is often used in correlation with this is 2Cor. 6:17, “Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” (NKJV)

If you were raised in a conservative Mennonite home, these verses are most likely very familiar. Most of us, if questioned, would tell you that these verses are the reason we are to dress and live differently than the world.

The earliest Anabaptists also spoke about clothing, but their focus in their teaching was not the same as ours today. “Nonconformity”—in regard to dress—was not something spoken of much. Rather, admonition about clothing was focused more on simplicity, and guarding against pride.

When the Anabaptist movement began, the upper classes liked to display their wealth in the kind of clothing and ornamentation they wore. Menno Simons and some of the other earlier Anabaptist writers wrote against this practice, calling for modest, simple apparel that was not “prideful and pompous”.1

Through the centuries, Anabaptists were not the only Christians speaking out against this. Leaders such as Adoniram Judson, Charles Finney, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others also spoke against costly display in dress and wrote in support of simplicity of dress rather than extravagance and display.2

For four centuries, Mennonites did not teach about nonconformity or separatism from the world in dress. The Amish were the only ones within the Anabaptist movement who had very specific clothing rules. Jacob Ammon made his rules about dress much like the world at that time did and he conformed to the world’s view of how the poor class should be clothed. His rules were not about being “nonconformed”, but rather focused on conforming to the lowest worldly class of people. You can read more about this here.

Clothing styles did not change as rapidly during those four centuries and Mennonites did not look much different than those around them–other than keeping their clothing simpler and not having as many frills, etc. However, they were often somewhat slower in acclimating to the styles of those around them.

In the 1800’s, mass production of clothing during the industrial revolution brought a more simple, cheap, and utilitarian style of clothing. As clothing became cheaper, and much of the extravagant and outlandish styles were dropped, society began to dress more alike with less distinction between the classes. With cheaper dress, however, the styles began to change more rapidly.

This brought concern to Mennonite leaders for several reasons. Since clothing was made more cheaply with less frills, Mennonites didn’t really look different than others around them. Transportation and communication had become easier and Mennonites came into more contact with urban society. Mennonite leaders became concerned that their people would lose their distinctiveness. They had already lost much of their distinctiveness in language and geographic isolation. With the rest of the world no longer dressing with as many frills and ornamentation on their clothing, they worried that would no longer be set apart from others.3

It was at this point in the late 1800’s that Mennonites began to speak of nonconformity, uniformity, and being separated from the world in dress. Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 6:17 became key verses for Mennonite living. Between the years 1865 to 1950, more resolutions were passed regarding nonconformity than any other subject. At least 230 resolutions were passed during that time.

Nonconformity or just wanting to hold on to cultural distinctiveness?

As I read the history of Mennonite nonconformity, I found myself questioning if it really was nonconformity to the world that they were desiring, or if they were just attempting to “be different” in order to preserve their culture.

Each group of Mennonites that came to America brought with them their own language and culture. They tended to live together in their own communities and speak their own language. But as transportation became easier and they had more contact with the outside world, they lost that distinction.

Itmenno dress is not an unusual phenomenon to want your children to keep the culture that you grew up in. It happens in most cultures of people who come to America. Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, etc., want their children to remember who they were and where they come from. Sometimes there are particular traits and traditions that they are able to keep, or a language they still speak at home, but most of the time the children assimilate to the culture around them as they integrate into society.

While it’s not wrong to want to safeguard your culture, should a people group’s main objective be to keep their culture and do this by calling things pertaining to other cultures a sin? Is it right to call things sin that God does not?

Is Nonconformity important?

Does that mean that I think nonconformity does not matter? Should we just give up our culture and join the world around us?

Not at all! What I would like to do is take a deeper look at biblical nonconformity, worldliness, and being in separation from the world. I want to study what it is and what it is not. My next couple posts will be on that subject.



1. Gingerich, Melvin, Mennonite Attire through Four Centuries, pg. 14
2. Ibid, pg.145
3. Ibid, pg.28 and 148


Emotional Worship

There are many warnings and admonitions against emotionalism in worship today. Much is said against people thinking they must experience some emotion during worship to truly have a worship experience. And there is truth in this.

But the opposite extreme are the people who think no emotion should be shown during worship times. Any emotion shown is viewed as fake, or simply an attempt to draw attention to oneself.

I have been part of Anabaptist churches all my life. I have seen Amish, Beachy, Eastern Mennonite, and Conservative Mennonite church services, and the one thing that always stayed consistent was sitting still and somber during church services. I don’t recall ever feeling emotional during our “worship songs”. I don’t remember seeing others in the congregation showing much emotion during worship, neither do I recall any longings on my part to show any. The few times that certain people raised a hand in worship, it drew the attention of everyone around them. I remember thinking I wouldn’t never do that because I wouldn’t want everyone staring at me.


I learned immense amounts of biblical knowledge and applications during church, and I don’t regret any of that. Quiet, non-emotional churches often seem to excel in this area. However, now that I’m older, I have wished that I would have learned that feeling and showing emotion is okay during worship as well.

Is it possible to learn both?

Feeling Emotions—good or bad?

Is it wrong to want an emotional experience during worship? Is it wrong to feel overcome by emotions during worship and to show it? Does God care about what our emotional state is when we worship Him? Would He rather that we would not act emotional?

These are all questions that I have been working through in the past few years.

In Ephesians 5, the relationship between husbands and wives is compared to Christ and His church. That made my mind go to marital emotions. When we are first married and in the honeymoon stage, emotions are crazily wild and passionate. There is no attempt to suppress how we feel for each other, and we both feel and show strong emotions with abandon.

Through the years, those emotions level out a bit and we tend to be less emotional but love more deeply. But still, deep within, there is often a longing to feel those wildly crazy, passionate emotions and get lost with each other. Is it wrong to desire or pursue that?

That desire can lead to pursuing a deeper intimacy with each other, or it can lead to wanting just the experience itself so much that it leads us into temptation and sin. In other words, the desire itself is not wrong, but what you do with that desire can be. If we allow that desire to become an obsession and an idol, it can lead to false intimacy, such as pornography or affairs.

Pursuing that desire in a legitimate way would mean you pursue the person, not the experience. That might be candlelight dinners, soft music, slow dancing, reminiscing together, or whatever is a special time for each couple.  Rarely would someone try to claim that enjoying an emotional intimacy together as a couple is wrong.

Does it always happen the way we think it should? Does it always look the same?

Sometimes we go through the motions and feel nothing. Does that mean we give up on the relationship or the pursuit of that emotional connection with each other? It shouldn’t!

Could we not also apply some of these same principles to our relationship with God? Have you ever been overcome with emotions during worship, whether at home or in public? Is it wrong to want to feel emotions in worship?

Maybe the same rule could apply…If the desire causes us to pursue a deeper intimacy with God, rather than just pursuing the emotional experience, it can be a good thing. If we allow the desire to become an obsession for just an experience we want to have again, rather than pursuing the One we wish to experience it with, it could lead to sin.

Does that mean we will always experience deep emotions during worship?

No, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong to desire it. When I don’t feel emotions during worship, does that mean I’m doing something wrong or that I should just not bother worshipping? Just as there are times in marriage when you just don’t feel the strong emotions, it doesn’t mean you aren’t “in love” or that you should stop showing love.

Showing Emotions

If desiring and experiencing deep emotions during a worship time with God is not wrong, what about showing emotions? There are those within my Anabaptist heritage that would say it is wrong because all emotions should be kept in check and under control.

Again, my mind goes to the marital relationship. If a spouse never lets emotions show and very woodenly keeps herself/himself in check while methodically going through the motions of showing love, it steals the joy right out of the moment.

There is something about knowing that the one you love is crazy about you and loses all inhibitions when you are together. Proverbs 5:18-19 speaks of men “rejoicing with the wife of your youth” and it goes on to say he should be “ravished” or “intoxicated” in her love.

Wild, intense emotions of joy and pleasure are not wrong when they are within God-given relationships. They are a beautiful gift from God.

Does God expect or want us to quench emotions we may feel when we are in His Presence? The psalmist speaks of there being “fullness of joy” in His Presence and “pleasures forevermore” at His right hand. (Ps.16:11)

1 Thess. 2:19 says, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?”

1Peter 1:8, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

If what we feel while in His Presence is Him evoking in us fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore, why should we quench those feelings or refuse to show them? Aren’t we warned in 1Thess. 5:19 that we should not “quench the Spirit”?

Have you ever sat in a somber assembly and sang “It is joy unspeakable and full of glory, full of glory, full of glory…” wondering all the while why everyone is so expressionless and subdued? I have. And I’ve wondered what God’s response is?

Should an emotional response be reserved for only times of private worship?

Some people have never felt an emotional response during church or in their personal quiet time. If your quiet time consists of praying only for needs and wants, and you don’t enter His Presence or understand what “being in the Presence of God” is, you won’t feel “fullness of joy” or understand what it really means.

And if you don’t experience it in your quiet time with God, I doubt you are truly experiencing it while in the assembly of believers either.

If you often are overcome by emotions during your quiet time because you feel the touch of God upon you, it’s no surprise that you feel those same emotions while worshipping with other believers and God’s Presence is strongly felt. Why would you quench those feelings or try to hold back? We were made to worship Him in solitary worship, but also in solidarity with fellow believers while we worship in an assembly. We are one body, why can we not show an emotional response together to our bridegroom?

Psalms 111:1-2 says, “I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, an in the congregation. The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.” (emphasis mine)

In Luke 19:37 it says “…the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen.”

If you keep reading, you find the Pharisees asking Jesus to rebuke His disciples and He says, “If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.”

There are times God expects rejoicing and praising in a loud voice–with your whole heart!

Does God have or show emotions?

We are made to be image bearers of God. Sin has tainted the reflection that we give, but Jesus tells us in Matt. 18:3 that we need to convert and become “as little children” and says “of such is the kingdom of God” in Matt. 19:14. Have you ever noticed that children do not hold back their emotions? They don’t hide what they are feeling.

Could it be that they are more of a true image bearer in this area than we are as adults?

In the Old Testament, God shows emotions to His people. He shows when He is jealous, when He rejoices over His people, when He is overcome by love, etc., through the words He sends by His prophets.

In Zephaniah 3:17, it says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love; He will exalt over you with loud singing.”

That doesn’t sound somber or like a non-emotional relationship to me.

Jesus said that if we see Him, we see the Father. Did Jesus show emotions? I’m remembering Jesus weeping when Lazarus died, and weeping when He prophesied about the fall of Jerusalem. Over and over we read, “And Jesus, moved with compassion…” followed by a miracle. He showed anger in the temple and spent His last night with His disciples telling them of the joy that would follow the sorrow they would soon be feeling.

God is not against emotion. He feels emotions, shows emotions, and speaks of emotions. Why do we feel that we must quell them?

Judgment of others

I have seen a harsh reaction from those of our Anabaptist heritage towards people who show emotions of any kind during worship. There is scorn and even contempt at times written on faces and they are spoken of in disdainful whispers.

This can put a hesitancy in us to worship freely. Perhaps we have once been one of those scornful people.

David was someone that worshipped freely and joyfully. The Psalms show many of the emotions he felt. In 2 Samuel 6, there is an account of him being so excited about the ark of the covenant (the Presence of God!) being brought into the city of David that he danced before the Lord with all his might. And not only David rejoiced—it also says that “David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.”

And Michal, Saul’s daughter saw him “leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.” She spoke scornfully to him when he came home and her consequence for this reviling of his worship was being childless all her life.

God didn’t approve of her scornful judgement.

In Luke 7, there is an account of a woman who weeps as she stands by Jesus, washes His feet with her tears, then wipes them with her hair. She then kisses His feet and anoints them with perfumed oil. Does that sound emotional? There is no doubt what her emotional state is here.

The Pharisee, in whose house they were in, didn’t say what he thought out loud–and yet Jesus answered him in rebuke, defending her actions for all to hear.

Jesus did not approve of even silent scornful judgment.

In Matt. 26 and in Mark 14, there is another account of a woman who poured expensive perfume on His head. When the disciples voiced their disapproval, Jesus rebuked them and said this woman would always be remembered for what she had done.

Scorning the emotionally charged activities of those acting out of love and worship of God garners rebuke from Him. Scorn is never a positive quality in a person—much less when it’s shown to someone who is openly worshipping God in love.

Ask for it

What if you genuinely don’t feel emotional during worship? What do you do if the desire is there for that experience, but you’ve never encountered God in such a way?

Ask Him for it.

James 4:2 says “ye have not, because ye ask not”. If you feel fearful or unsure about it, remember the lesson Jesus taught in Luke 11:13. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (ESV)

When it comes to worship and the deepening the relationship we have with Him, He’s not going to give us an evil gift when we ask for something He already desires in us.

Just ask Him.

Not for Today?

Many conservatives Anabaptist leaders today avoid any teaching about the Holy Spirit. Our parents and grandparents saw a charismatic movement that wasn’t always aligned with Scripture.  They saw and heard of some crazy things being done in the name of “Holy Spirit leading”.  Many in our circles then rejected any teaching pertaining to the Holy Spirit as being false without even checking for biblical evidence.

acts-of-the-apostlesMany of our people also discredit any miracles or gifts of the Spirit because they don’t believe that the Holy Spirit works like that today. The book of Acts is treated gingerly by some and if it is read or studied by groups or individuals much, they are often viewed with suspicion. 1Corinthians 12 and 14 do not get treated with nearly the amount of attention that 1Corinthians 11 does.

I don’t believe that miracles and gifts of the Spirit were only for a certain time in history any more than I think the head covering was only for the church of Corinth. I have been taught so often, while growing up in a conservative Anabaptist setting, that the entire New Testament is for all of us today– that I believe it.

A Backward Look

Interestingly enough, as I was doing what I often do– looking back at the earliest Anabaptist church to see how they did things–I ran across some information that I was never taught in my local Anabaptist history lessons.

We tend to hear names like George Blaurok, Conrad Grebel, Felix Mantz, Dirk Philips, or Menno Simons. But while I was reading about the earliest Anabaptist views on the work of the Holy Spirit, I ran across the name, Pilgram Marpeck.

Marpeck was a writer and leader of the Anabaptists in South Germany during the sixteenth century, but his is not a name heard much in our circles. Some of this is because we are taught mostly Swiss and Dutch Anabaptist history, and some of this is because not much was known about Marpeck until more recently.1

There were three main branches of Anabaptists:

  • Switzerland (Blaurok, Grebel, Mantz)
  • North Germany and Netherlands (Dirk Philips, Simons, Melchior Hoffman)
  • South Germany and Austria (Hans Denck, Hans Hut, Marpeck)

However, because of persecution, many within these groups emigrated and mixed together. Though they were different from each other, they were all recognizably part of the same group.  All of the leaders from these groups interacted through letters, visits, and conversations.  They exchanged ideas through this interaction and often debated or admonished each other.2  It was no secret that early Anabaptists found much to disagree about.

Opponents of Anabaptism accused Anabaptists of being both Literalists and Spiritualists. It seems that within these groups there was a tendency of some towards overt Spiritualism and some towards overt Literalism (legalism).  The early Anabaptist leaders’ writings, to their critics and to each other, addressed these topics at times.  The Swiss groups tended towards literalism and the South German/Austrian groups tended towards spiritualism. The North Germany/Netherland group seemed to have more of a mixed group with some of both extremes. In their interaction with each other and with their critics, they challenged and admonished one another about these tendencies.

In much of the writings of Pilgram Marpeck, we also find this addressed, but his was often the voice of reason.  Much of his writing was an attempt to be a mediator between the two groups and he encouraged them to learn from each other.3

Stuart Murray describes Marpeck as resisting “divergent tendencies towards excessive literalism and legalism on one hand and a spiritualizing approach that risked jettisoning biblical teaching on the other”.4

Much could be said about the differences between these two complex extremes, but for the sake of sticking to my original topic, I will refrain from doing much of that in this post. I will give a brief summarizing description of the two opposing views and for those of my readers who wish to read more on this; check out some of Stuart Murray’s writing (you will find some of his books listed in the footnotes).

Accusations of Literalism-

Some of the Spiritualists that were not part of the Anabaptist movement, such as Caspar Schwenckfeld and Sebastian Franck, accused them of being so interested in keeping the letter of the Word that they quenched the Spirit and missed the Spiritual significance that lay deeper within the Word. The Reformers also at times chastised them for focusing so much on the literal sense of Scripture rather than its spiritual or allegorical senses. Many of the South German Anabaptist leaders also admonished the Swiss Brethren about this with concern that their literalism caused legalism, formalism, and works righteousness. 5

Accusations of Spiritualism-

The Reformers also simultaneously accused Anabaptists of spiritualism because they didn’t approve of Anabaptists’ lack of regard toward scholarship and for some of their use of allegory. There were also fringe groups that the Anabaptists sought to remove all association from, such as those associated with the Peasant War, the Munster Uprising, and those with apocalyptic leanings that the Reformers pointed to. The Swiss Brethren also admonished some of the South German groups and those within the Melchiorite movement of straying from actual texts and “relying on spiritual meaning that was subjective and detached”.  Hans Hut was also criticized for relying too much on dreams and visions. 6

Many of us in conservative Anabaptist circles will find many of our beliefs mirroring more closely those of the Swiss Anabaptists’ tendencies towards literalism, legalism, and a “works righteousness”. We would do well to consider that maybe there are things we could learn from the other side as well.  Because of this, I was more interested in the writings of Marpeck in which he addressed those with leanings towards literalism/legalism.

Pilgram Marpeck

Marpeck-7In Marpeck’s writings, he chastised Spiritualists for prioritizing “inner spirituality” too much and chastised the Literalists for focusing on externals too much. He saw the two groups as both being extreme positions that needed to be bridged and addressed the errors on both ends of the spectrum. He has been referred to as an ecumenical Anabaptist. 7

In A Clear Refutation, Marpeck wrote against those who wanted to exclude miracles and the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church stating, “Nor does Scripture assert this exclusion…God has a free hand even in these last days”.8 He denied that miracles were only for the early church in Acts and spoke of miraculous happenings still occurring. He made some further statements that were astonishing when he spoke of some who were even raised from the dead:

“Many of them have remained constant, enduring tortures inflicted by sword, rope, fire and water and suffering terrible, tyrannical, unheard-of deaths and martyrdoms, all of which they could easily have avoided by recantation. Moreover one also marvels when he sees how the faithful God (Who, after all, overflows with goodness) raises from the dead several such brothers and sisters of Christ after they were hanged, drowned, or killed in other ways. Even today, they are found alive and we can hear their own testimony… Cannot everyone who sees, even the blind, say with a good conscience that such things are a powerful, unusual, and miraculous act of God? Those who would deny it must be hardened men.”9

Charismatic Inclinations

I personally had not ever heard of any charismatic phenomena among Anabaptists, so this evoked some curiosity in me. I have since found quite a number of others who also wrote of things like this among our ancestors.

Stuart Murray makes the claim that even in the Swiss congregations there was evidence of an experience of the Holy Spirit in the earliest groups that was in similarity to that of the South German groups. He writes of the Swiss Brethren stressing that it was only the work of the Holy Spirit that empowered them to live differently. Grebel, Mantz, and Blaurock were all reported to have had dreams and visions. 10

In Thuringia, there was an account of about forty Anabaptists that were in prison and spent their time singing, dancing, and experiencing visions. When they went before the judge, they came with joy and peace.  When they were sent to their execution, they went “as if in a trance”.11

Jacob Hutter wrote in a letter, in 1535, that God had given him a blessing. “He has made His Word alive in me and in many to whom I proclaimed His will, sealing it through the working of His Holy Spirit with mighty miracles and signs.”12

George Williams wrote about a group of Anabaptists that were “excited by mass hysteria, experienced healings, glossolalia [speaking in tongues], contortions, and other manifestations of a camp-meeting revival”. 13

Alan Krieder’s extensive research of the Martyr’s Mirror pointed to a 1531 story about a man named Martin who was led across a bridge to be executed. As he was led across, he prophesied saying, “This once yet the pious are led over this bridge, but no more hereafter.”  A short time later, such a violent storm came that the bridge was consequently destroyed by a flood and carried away.14

Menno Simons and Dirk Philips were wary of visions and prophesies because of claims of such visions in Munster and in the Spiritualist groups. However they accepted them as long as they were validated by and subordinated to Scripture.15  Marpeck also added his admonishment to this, warning his readers not to “force the Holy Spirit” nor to “allow personal desires or opinions to masquerade as the Spirit’s leading”.16

Holy Spirit’s Help in Interpreting Scripture

The early church believed that the Holy Spirit within them would help them to interpret Scripture. They believed this was much more trustworthy than the help of scholars, traditions, or official representatives of state churches.  They trusted that the Holy Spirit would guide them actively in understanding it more than reliance on their own reasoning abilities and hard work.  One of their complaints about the Reformers is that they felt the Reformers equated the Spirit’s work with that of human reasoning.  They criticized the Reformers for quenching the Spirit and said they could not be relied on to interpret Scripture in a trustworthy fashion.  Marpeck complained that “the dull teachers have lost the sharpness of the Word, and the sword of the Spirit has been stolen from them and given over to human power.  Thus the discipline of the Spirit, the sharpness of Word, has been discontinued and blasphemed”.17

Imprisoned Anabaptists claimed that the Holy Spirit gave them such an understanding of Scripture that they were able to “confound” those questioning them, even though their inquisitors were educated men. This seems to be true as their opponents were often astonished and had a grudging admiration for their understanding and ability to explain biblical texts. 18

Anabaptists did not just believe the Holy Spirit would give them understanding, they also believed that the Holy Spirit within them would change their lives so they would then live out what they understood. Even their enemies noted that they lived holy lives.  Franc Agricola, a Roman Catholic opponent seemed confused when he wrote of them:

“As concerns their outward public life they are irreproachable. No lying, deception, swearing, strife, harsh language, no intemperate eating and drinking, no outward personal display, is found among them, but humility, patience, uprightness, neatness, honesty, temperance, straightforwardness in such measure that one would suppose that they had the Holy Spirit of God!”[emphasis mine]19

And interestingly enough, sometimes non-Anabaptists were arrested on suspicion of being Anabaptists because they lived upright lives. They could escape prosecution if they could convince their accusers that they weren’t really Anabaptists.  They did this by cursing freely and convincing their accusers that they weren’t as holy as they appeared.20

Anabaptists Today in Regards to Holy Spirit Leading

My concern with our people today is that we don’t have those in our circles that teach much about the Holy Spirit. Often, when someone teaches anything that puts us out of our comfort zones, we push them out.  We have grown so comfortable in our literalist/legalism views and with no push back from any other views, it seems we are contently staying in our ditch.

Our views regarding the Holy Spirit’s leading are not the same as those of our ancestors. Even the most literalist Swiss groups seemed to have at least some understanding.  We have done well through the generations of teaching truths from Scripture, but without teaching about the Holy Spirit’s role in making that Word come to life in us, it is easy to approach the Word like a rule book of do’s and don’ts.

We want to pass on our culture and belief system to the next generation, so we make rules to insure that, but no amount of rules could ever “pass on” the Holy Spirit in the lives of our descendants. All we can do is faithfully teach what Scripture says about Him and point to His work in our lives.  Could it be that we don’t want to risk trusting Him to do His work in our children/descendants, so we attempt to force them into the mold we choose instead?

I don’t think that we need to idolize or view the earliest Anabaptists through rose colored glasses, but there is much we can learn from our history. We need more “Pilgram Marpeck” leaders who will speak up and give us a balanced viewpoint without just pointing to another ditch.

  2. Murray, Stuart, The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith– Fifth Anniversary Edition, (Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 2010, 2015) pg. 180
  3. Ibid. pg. 174
  4. Murray, Stuart, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, (Herald Press, Scotdale, Pennsylvania/Waterloo, Ontario, 2000), pg. 64
  5. Ibid. pg. 126-127
  6. Ibid.
  8. Klassen, William, Klassen Walter, The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978), pg. 49-51
  9. Ibid
  10. Murray, Biblical Interpretation, pg. 131-133
  11. Hans-Jurgen Goertz, The Anabaptists (London: Routledge, 1996), pg. 21
  12. Murray, Biblical Interpretation, pg. 133
  13. Williams, George H., The Radical Reformation, (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992) pg. 443
  14. Thieleman van Braght, Martyr’s Mirror, (Scottdale, PA:Herald Press, 1950) pg. 440
  15. Murray, Biblical Interpretation, pg. 134, 147
  16. Ibid. pg. 145
  17. Ibid. pg. 137-138
  18. Ibid. pg. 141
  19. In Against the Terrible Errors of the Anabaptists (1582)
  20. Murray, Naked Anabaptist, pg. 66


Being Filled With the Holy Spirit (Holy Spirit-part 3)

In 1855, a young man was born again and gave his life in service to the Lord. He was fervent and zealous in his work, starting children’s ministries and preaching to thousands. He started a church and traveled to other countries sharing the gospel. Many were saved because of his efforts. He poured himself into his ministry so much that he was beginning to feel burned out from all the personal effort and striving he put in.

One evening, at the close of one of his messages, two women approached him and told him that they were praying for him. This occurred several of the evenings that followed, and finally he became a little perturbed about it. “Why do you pray for me? Why don’t you pray for these unsaved?” he asked.

They told him that they were praying for him to receive power. He didn’t know what they meant, but those words kept bothering him, so finally he went back to them and asked what they were talking about. They told him that he needed the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. After they explained what they were talking about, he said he wanted to pray with them rather than they just praying for him. He prayed fervently for this baptism and power. He continued to pray for it on his own.

Not long after that, he was walking the streets of New York and his prayer was answered. In the midst of all the hurried flurry of the city street, he felt the power of God coming upon him. He rushed to a friend’s house nearby and asked to have a room to himself. He stayed in that room for hours and the Holy Spirit came upon him, “filling his soul with such joy that at last he had to ask God to withhold His hand, lest he die on the spot from very joy. He went out from that place with the power of the Holy Ghost upon him”.1

Dwight L. Moody then went on to be a more effective evangelist who no longer struggled on his own strength. He preached to crowds of tens of thousands and led many more to Christ but without the striving of his earlier days. In his own words, “The sermons were no different, and I did not present any new truths and yet hundreds were converted. I would not be placed back where I was before that blessed experience.” 2

dl-moodyMost of us know who Dwight L. Moody is, but this is a story many of us don’t ever hear about. Moody was known to preach about “a baptism of the Holy Spirit” regularly after that experience. He was known for saying, “The Holy Spirit in us is one thing, and the Holy Spirit on us for service is another.”3

He taught that all believers had the Holy Spirit within them, but that it was entirely another thing to have the Holy Spirit fall upon you “with power from on high”. He urged his listeners to seek a filling of the Holy Spirit saying, “We all need it [the filling of the Holy Spirit] together, and let us not rest day nor night until we possess it; if that is the uppermost thought in our hearts, God will give it to us if we just hunger and thirst for it and say, ‘God helping me, I will not rest until endued with power from on high.’”4

Sometimes teachers would come to argue with Moody about it. R.A. Torrey writes about one of those times when he and Moody had one of these encounters in Torrey’s book, Why God Used D.L. Moody.

“…fine men, all of them, but they did not believe in a definite baptism with the Holy Ghost for the individual. They believed that every child of God was baptized with the Holy Ghost, and they did not believe in any special baptism with the Holy Ghost for the individual. Mr. Moody came to me and said: “Torrey, will you come up to my house after the meeting tonight and I will get those men to come, and I want you to talk this thing out with them.”

Of course, I very readily consented, and Mr. Moody and I talked for a long time, but they did not altogether see eye to eye with us. And when they went, Mr. Moody signaled me to remain for a few moments. Mr. Moody sat there with his chin on his breast, as he so often sat when he was in deep thought; then he looked up and said: ‘Oh, why will they split hairs? Why don’t they see that this is just the one thing that they themselves need? They are good teachers, they are wonderful teachers, and I am so glad to have them here; but why will they not see that the baptism with the Holy Ghost is just the one touch that they themselves need?’”

The Still Quiet Influence of the Holy Spirit?

The above story is, admittedly, outside of our Anabaptist comfort zones. It goes against our beliefs. We may not really know much about the Holy Spirit, but we’ve been told that we don’t believe in a separate baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit that might take place after conversion.

So what do we believe? Or more importantly, what does the Bible tell us about the “baptism” or “filling” of the Holy Spirit? Are our beliefs lined up with Scripture?

In Acts 1 and 2, we read of 120 people gathered waiting and praying for the promise of the Holy Spirit baptism.

“..for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit..” Acts 1:5

“..But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you..” Acts 1:8

“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:4

These three verses are all speaking of the same happening, and yet it is described in different ways. “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”.

So we can conclude that when we read these phrases in relation to the Holy Spirit throughout Acts that they are talking about the same thing.

When Peter preached in Acts 2, the multitude was “cut to the heart” and asked what they should do. Peter said to repent, be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In chapter 4, after Peter and John had been arrested, questioned, and released by the religious leaders, they went back to the believers and reported what had happened. They responded by praying and in verse 31 it says, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

Wait. They had already been baptized with the Holy Spirit and yet here they are getting filled again. And this was not just an awareness of a quiet influence. The Holy Spirit came again in such an evident way that the place they were gathered in was shaken.

In Acts 8, Philip is preaching to Samaria. Both men and women believed and were baptized. When the apostles heard of this, they sent Peter and John to pray for them that they would receive the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them. (Verses 14-16)

This story seems a little different. They believed and were baptized, so why did the Holy Spirit not automatically fall on them? Philip had apparently received empowerment of the Holy Spirit because signs and great miracles were performed while he was evangelizing. And yet the Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit when they believed the message he brought.

When an account in the Bible seems a little different than the rest, there is often something that we are supposed to gather from it. What stands out to me is that the Holy Spirit did not just automatically come when they believed and were baptized. And since the apostles did not always lay hands and pray for people to receive the Holy Spirit, we can’t draw the conclusion that they always had to do this. So the conclusion I draw is that the Holy Spirit does not show up in the exact same way every time. Every situation is different.

He is God. He does not do things according to man-made standards and expectations.

Another thing that stands out to me is that there was something very definite and evident about the receiving of the Holy Spirit. They knew whether they had received the Holy Spirit or not. In Acts 19, Paul asks in Ephesus, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” He expects them to be able to tell if they had or not.

Another story of the Holy Spirit coming in an unusual way is found in Acts 10. Peter was preaching to the Gentiles and while he was still preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on the crowd and they began speaking in tongues and extolling God. They hadn’t even been baptized yet, nor did anyone pray over them! Even the believers who were with Peter were amazed.

I don’t know. Being filled with the Holy Spirit throughout Acts just doesn’t seem to synchronize with our “Quiet Influence Only” beliefs within our Anabaptist circles. There is no doubt that sometimes He is a still, quiet influence, but that is not how it was when we read about people receiving a filling of the Holy Spirit.

“But that was only for the early church. It’s not for today.”

Acts 2:38-39, “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. (emphasis mine)

Why should it look any different today than it did then? Is the Holy Spirit any less powerful today than He was when the early church began? Can we really claim that we need Him less today so that is why we don’t see Him move in our lives?

Why did Jesus send the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?

The Holy Spirit falling on the believers was not for regeneration nor to bring them forgiveness of sins. When Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promise, He was speaking to the men that He had previously told were “clean”. “‘…And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For He knew who was to betray Him” (John 13:10-11).

Again in John 15:3, we hear Him repeating those words, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”

The same could be said of the previous example I gave in the account about Samaria in Acts 8. They believed and were baptized, then received the Holy Spirit later. They were regenerate believers though they had not yet received the Holy Spirit.

So we can conclude that the filling of the Holy Spirit is not to regenerate sinners. These baptized believers and regenerate people had not yet had the Holy Spirit fall on them, but yet each believer was given opportunity to then have this filling of the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit is not a one time “once and for all” thing. Galatians 5:16 says “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” In Acts we read of both Peter and Paul being filled with the Holy Spirit more than once (Acts 4:8, 31, 13:9, 13:52). Paul tells the Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), though the Holy Spirit had already fallen on the believers there. (Acts 19). It is apparent that it is not a one time thing.

So why then do we need the filling of the Holy Spirit? In Jesus’ words, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. (Acts 1:8) Over and over, passages that speak of a filling of the Holy Spirit are connected with and for the purpose of empowerment in testimony and service. (Acts 2:4-8, Acts 4:7-8, 31, 33, Eph. 3:16, )

This filling is not for cleansing us from sin, nor is for making us perfect Christians who will never sin again. It is an empowering for doing whatever God is calling us to do. And it does not always look the same in everyone because God does not call us to the same work. 1 Cor. 12:4-7 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

But don’t all believers have the Holy Spirit?

All believers have the Holy Spirit in them when they become believers. But that is still different than the empowerment that happened at Pentecost. Did Jesus’ disciples have the Holy Spirit in them before Pentecost? In John 20:22, Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Did they not receive what He was giving them? And yet they still had to wait in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many people are skeptical of any teaching about being filled with the Holy Spirit because they assume it is just part of the Pentecostal movement. But teaching about this was around long before the Pentecostal movement began, and it continues even with others who are not part of the charismatic movement. It’s not something Satan likes people to find out about. After all, why would he want us to be filled by the very Spirit that empowers us to a greater ministry?

I challenge you to research some history of some of the greatest preachers and evangelists. Read about their experiences of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the accounts of the Spirit falling on crowds while they preached. A.J. Gordon, Reuben A. Torrey, Dwight Moody, Charles Finney, Billy Graham, Lloyd Jones, Jonathon Edwards, etc.

For those who have never experienced any sort of manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and have only known Him as a barely noticed, quiet influence; it is easy to dismiss it all as nonsense. But when you have an experience, there is such a joy (Acts 13:52), refreshing (Acts 3:19), and comfort (Acts 9:31) that you know without a shadow of a doubt that something is different now.

I would not have written any of this ten years ago, and if I would have read anything like this, I would have dismissed it as nonsense because I had never experienced it. I would have ardently claimed that the Holy Spirit is a barely noticeable, quiet influence because I had never experienced anything else. But when you experience a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit, you can’t deny that there is something more that you were missing before– even though you may have been trying to serve Him to the best of your knowledge.

Jonathon Edwards says it like this, “Have they not condemned such vehement affections, such high transports of love and joy, such pity and distress for the souls of others, and exercises of mind that have such great effects, merely, or chiefly, because they knew nothing about them by experience? Persons are very ready to be suspicious of what they have not felt themselves. It is to be feared that many good men have been guilty of this error, which however does not make it the less unreasonable.” 5

From my personal experience and in hearing the testimony of others, having the Holy Spirit come upon you is an experience of indescribable joy. Rather than crossing our arms in suspicion and judgment, perhaps we should instead ask God to show us if we are lacking something.



3. Dwight L. Moody, Secret Power, chapter 2

4. Ibid

5. Works of Jonathon Edwards, Volume One, Sect. II

Quotes regarding the filling of the Holy Spirit:

“While the power that the baptism brings manifests itself in different ways in different believers, there will always be power.” -Charles Finney

“The grace that appeared so calm and sweet appeared also great above the heavens, the person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent and an excellency great enough to swallow up all thoughts and conceptions, which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour, which kept me a greater part of the time in a flood of tears and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated, to lie in the dust and to be full of Christ alone, to love Him with a holy and a pure love, to trust in Him, to live upon Him, to serve Him, and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure with a divine and heavenly purity.” -Jonathon Edwards

“If the apostles were incapable of being true witnesses without unusual power, who are we to claim that we can be witnesses without such power?” Martin Lloyd-Jones

“As I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it … the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy … ” -Charles Finney

For those interested in further reading:

1. Enduement for Service -chapter 8         By D.L. Moody

2.  Personal Memoirs of Revival- chapters 2,3       By Charles Finney

3.  Power From on High- chapters 1-3        By Charles Finney

4.  How to Receive the Holy Spirit        By John Piper

5.  You Will be Baptized With the Holy Spirit       By John Piper

6.  Tongues of Fire and the Fullness of God      By John Piper

7.  Need for Revival and Baptism with the Holy Spirit         By John Piper

Becoming Aware of the Holy Spirit Through the Sharpening of our Senses (Holy Spirit-part 2)

What does it mean to be have the Holy Spirit “fall on” you? What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” or to “feel the Holy Spirit moving”? What is a “manifestation of the Holy Spirit”? Are these just a made up terms for overly emotional people trying to get attention?

Throughout my life, I have heard these terms used by people outside of the my Anabaptist circles. For much of my life, I tried to avoid people who used these types of phrases. I didn’t know what they meant and I didn’t understand what all the hype was about. None of these terms lined up with the ideas I had about the Holy Spirit. I thought of the Holy Spirit as a quiet, barely noticed influence.

In reading Acts, however, when the Holy Spirit is mentioned, the stories that are written about Him are vastly different than the ideas I have had about the Holy Spirit most of my life. When the Holy Spirit came upon people–whether individuals or whole crowds– they knew it and it seemed to be evident to everyone around them.

The first time we see the Holy Spirit make an appearance is in Acts 2.

2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested

on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The first thing that is mentioned is that they heard something with their physical ears. The entire house was filled with the sound of a rushing wind. They also saw what looked like tongues of fire rest on each other’s heads.

Verse four tells us that they were then all filled with the Holy Spirit. They saw, they heard, and they were filled. In order to know that they were being filled, they must have felt something, a Presence, fill their bodies.

People who have experienced demon possession and had demons cast out will tell you that they could physically feel the demon leave. Their body could feel it and they knew when it left.

We are spiritual people who have bodies. When another spiritual being inhabits us, or takes residence within us, we feel something–whether physically or spiritually. The problem is that many of us do not have our spiritual senses sharpened and are often oblivious to things that are going on in the spiritual world. When we aren’t aware of things going on spiritually because of dull senses, we dismiss or ignore things we may feel even in our physical bodies (caused by things happening in the spiritual realm) because we can’t identify it.

Some people are more “aware” of things going on in the spiritual realm than others. We can’t discredit people just because they feel something with their spiritual senses that we don’t. The same thing can happen even in the physical realm.

Suppose two men–we’ll call them John and Bill– stand looking at the same scene. They may see completely different things. John may see the general picture and Bill may see many details that the John is oblivious to. It’s not that John can’t see what Bill sees, he simply is not aware or noticing it. If Bill points something out to him, he suddenly notices. hidden-babyNothing in the scene changed, John just suddenly became aware. It’s not that John can’t see as well as Bill, Bill just has sharper senses visually. The same thing can also happen in hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.

How does one achieve sharper senses physically? Some people are born with certain senses sharper than others, and for some it comes from practicing and sharpening by training by someone who already has their senses sharpened. An example of this would be training a detective might receive to notice every detail in a crime scene. Musicians often can hear the slightest “off” in an instrument because of years of training and practicing. There are experts at tasting wine who can tell you what kind of wine they are drinking and how old it is just by the taste. Perfumers have a sharp sense of smell and can detect scents that the average person cannot. But none of these became an expert overnight. Even those with natural gifting in certain senses had to practice and sharpen their natural gifting or had someone else train them.

In the spiritual realm, we have senses as well. Many of us have dull senses because we have had no teaching or training and we simply are not aware of things going on around us.

The Bible makes references to our spiritual senses. David tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” in Psalm 34:8. Job in chapter 6 speaks of using his taste to “discern perverse things” In Matthew 13, we hear Jesus talking about people hearing, but not understanding; seeing but not perceiving; their hearts being dull, barely hearing with their ears, and having their eyes closed. Hebrews 5:11 speaks of having “much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing”. These aren’t speaking of our physical senses, but rather our spiritual senses.

So if we can train our physical senses to be sharper by use and training, doesn’t it also make sense that we can do the same with our spiritual senses? Hebrews 5:14 makes mention of this: “..those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Most believers agree that things happen in the spiritual world that we are often not aware of. But many disagree about whether or not we can sense those things –whether in the spiritual or physical realm. Should we be able to feel the Holy Spirit? Should we be able hear Him speak or see some evidence that He is there? In a previous post, I shared that I used to wonder how I would know if the Holy Spirit left– if I couldn’t tell when or if He had come.

For years I wondered about that. I tried to serve God in my own strength by going to church, and trying to be disciplined in Bible reading and prayer time. I would do alright for awhile, but then fall away again. I didn’t particularly enjoy praying, but I kept long lists of people and needs to pray for so I could manage to put a little more time into it. I kept up appearances of being very religious and also did my best to keep any secret vices, sins, or struggles hidden from others.

I won’t go into much detail here, but there came a point in my life when I realized that doing all the right things didn’t seem to do me any good. Through a series of hard events, I came to a place of hitting rock bottom and turned to God in a more desperate way than I ever had before. I sat in a room all alone crying out to God to give me relief by either ending my life or changing what I was facing. He did neither of those things, but I suddenly was very aware of a Presence in the room with me and I felt a physical warmth, much like a blanket wrapping around me. The air was thick with a stillness and I knew instantly I was encountering the Holy Spirit. No one had to tell me that because I felt comforted like a child being held in his daddy’s arms. This was the Comforter that Jesus had spoken of.

He didn’t end my life, nor did He change my situation, but something changed in me that day.

I don’t like a lot of emotionalism and I prefer to figure out everything by logic and reasoning, so I was very curious about what I had experienced. That started some serious searching of the New Testament regarding the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes while I was reading my Bible, I would feel that same Presence come and I would pause because it seemed there must be something He was wanting to point out me on the page. Certain verses seemed to jump out at me and come alive. Reading the Word was different now. I was reading with hunger instead of because of duty. Prayer changed too.

I’ll share more of my story in a later post, but for right now I’m switching gears again.

Some of you have felt this Presence and know exactly what I’m talking about, some of you are perplexed but curious, and some of you are wondering if you should maybe find another blog to follow.

What I experienced does not mean that everyone else experiences the Holy Spirit in the same way. I have talked to many men and women of God that have shared their own testimonies with me, and only a few sounded similar to my own experience. And they have experienced things that I have not. If the Holy Spirit were able to be defined, pinned down, and put in a box, He wouldn’t be God. If God created us, He knows better than we do what the best way is to reveal Himself to us.

Throughout Acts, when we read about people experiencing the Holy Spirit falling on them or being filled with the Holy Spirit, we don’t always have very many details of what that entailed. But one thing that was apparent in every situation was that they all knew when He did. Did that mean they experienced something in the physical realm or in the spiritual realm? I don’t know if they always felt something in the physical realm, but there is no doubt that at least some of the times it was absolutely with their physical senses.

Throughout the entire Bible, God has been making Himself known to people. In the Old Testament, He made Himself known in the physical world usually to only a select few people for a specific purpose. When God makes Himself known to many, He is most often misunderstood by the majority because He reveals Himself in an unconventional, unexpected way.

Every time a Person of the Trinity has made an appearance on earth to a large group of people, not only was He misunderstood, but He was rejected by the majority of those people. He is unorthodox, He does not do things like we think it should be done, He takes us by surprise and takes us out of our comfort zones.

Think of God speaking to the children of Israel from Mount Sinai. In Exodus 20, we see them respond with trembling and fear and standing “far off”. They told Moses that they wanted him to speak to them instead of God. God did not seem safe.

When Jesus came to earth, He was rejected by the majority also because they did not understand His intentions. Even though they were expecting His appearance, He wasn’t what they were expecting, so they rejected Him. His teachings did not feel safe.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that now that the Holy Spirit has come, He also is often misunderstood, feared, and rejected. We prefer the safety of the “way we have always done things”. We would rather keep Him at a safe distance and let someone else speak to us for Him.

We read the stories in the Gospels and in Acts and we believe they are true. We don’t doubt that everything that is recorded there is accurate and inerrant. But then we look at ourselves and doubt that anything like that could happen to us. Most of us don’t even want that. It’s outside of our comfort level. Would I really want to speak in tongues and be accused of being drunk (Pentecost)? Would I want to fall on my face in front of others (Saul) or to be told to do something that puts me way out of my comfort zone (Peter being told to eat unclean things)? Would I want to do something like Agabus, who tied his hands and feet with Paul’s belt in order to deliver a message that the Holy Spirit had given (Acts 21)?

He is unconventional. He makes us feel uncomfortable. He is unexpected. He isn’t concerned about us looking good, nor does He mind us losing our pride.

So why bother?

Because He is good. An encounter with Him changes us and empowers us to do what He desires for us. If He wants something for us, we can trust Him. We know how trustworthy Jesus is. If He tells us He is sending us the Holy Spirit to help us, why do we reject Him and try to figure out a different way?

Do we not believe what Jesus taught in Luke 11:10-13? If your son asks you for a fish, will you give him a serpent? If he asks for an egg, will you give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?

Why do you think Jesus taught us this and specifically mentioned the gift of the Holy Spirit? Are we afraid that if we ask for the Holy Spirit and open ourselves up to Him, that He will allow some demon to enter us instead? If we wouldn’t give something horrible that could hurt a child that we love–especially when they are asking for something good– why would our Heavenly Father? He is better than we are.

So ask Him in complete trust to fill you the Holy Spirit and for Him to manifest Himself to you in a way that you know He is there. Ask Him to sharpen your senses and to make you aware.

You have a perfect Father who only gives good gifts. And He is trustworthy.


The Third Person in the Trinity (Holy Spirit-part 1)

Years ago I sat in a Mennonite church service and a visiting preacher preached about the Holy Spirit. I don’t really remember much of what he preached, but it is the only sermon that I distinctly recall hearing teaching about the Holy Spirit. What made an impression on my young mind at that time was that the bishop got up afterward and refuted everything the visiting preacher had preached about. He basically said, “We don’t believe like that in this church.”

I often wondered after that, “What do we believe about the Holy Spirit?”

I noticed that asking about or speaking about the Holy Spirit always seems to make Mennonites very uncomfortable. I don’t particularly relish the thought of writing my own thoughts and discoveries simply for the reason that it upsets many Anabaptists. I also am only learning and feel like I am a novice and am limited in what I can teach or write on this subject. But I will share what I have learned and experienced in the last few years and hope that it will help someone else.

Why we are so against Holy Spirit teaching?

The older generation remembers seeing a movement that wasn’t always very accurate in it’s teaching and brought about some pretty crazy stuff. Because of this, they put their guard up to protect their congregations from the wrong teachings that are out there.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Pastors do need to protect their flocks from teaching that contradicts Scripture. But instead of avoiding the teaching and saying what all is false, they need to replace wrong teaching with right teaching. We can’t throw it all out because of there is bad mixed in with good.

money-bagSuppose someone gave me a large bag of money that was filled with one hundred dollar bills. If I was told that some of the bills were counterfeit, what would I do with that bag of money? Would I throw the entire bag away? What if I would, instead, just simply set the whole bag aside, realizing that while it still had value, I probably should not take the risk of attempting to use it?

This is what many of us have done with teaching on the Holy Spirit. We either throw out teaching about the Holy Spirit altogether or we realize there is value there to some degree and just “set Him aside” because we are afraid we will possibly do the wrong thing or are afraid our discerning skills may not be good enough.

If someone would truly see the value in that bag of money, they could study some real one hundred dollar bills to know what to compare it to. They could get help from others who were more knowledgeable and begin to throw out the bad while keeping the good. People who are in need and desperate enough won’t even think twice about using that money even if it means there is some extra work involved.

How desperate and in need are we for the Holy Spirit in our lives? Most of us Anabaptists are viewed as being self-reliable and self-sufficient. We have orderly lives and we run our communities in a systematic fashion. Our culture appears to be better than other cultures around us as we see lives falling apart in chaos and disorder.

Could this be why we don’t even see a need to teach much about the Holy Spirit? Are we not desperate enough? Do we see ourselves as being so self-sufficient that we do just fine on our own with our tightly knit communities and rule-governed lives?

But what about when it’s not enough?

What about those hundreds and thousands of men and women in our communities that live secretly addicted to porn and other vices? What about those families with molestation hidden from the eyes of others? What about those parents who are only able to “control” their families by anger and physical abuse? What about those husbands and wives who go from counselor to counselor trying to find help for a marriage that just doesn’t seem to get any better? Worse yet, what about those husbands and wives who have given up because there doesn’t seem to be anything more that they can do except to live as two separate lives under the same roof?

Do we just keep on pretending that we don’t have problems because our rules and the way we do things are good enough to at least keep up appearances?

How are we any different than the Jews in Jesus’ day? We have a different set of rules that we abide by than what they did, but many of us don’t seem to have God’s law written in our hearts any more than those of Jesus’ day did. Instead of making sacrifices in the temple for the sins we keep committing, we hide them until we can’t anymore, then we do our penance by making a confession in public and being “put on probation” for awhile.

Why aren’t we able to help those that can’t walk in victory over sin no matter how many guidelines and fences we erect? We simply can’t because that is the work of the Holy Spirit. The whole point of the law was to show us that we cannot do it on our own. Without the Holy Spirit as a living, breathing entity in our lives, we are left to fight the flesh alone with the help of only our rules pointing out all that we are not doing right.

“But we believe in the Holy Spirit! Of course we have the Holy Spirit– all Christians have the Holy Spirit!”

Every Christian has access to the Holy Spirit, but with no teaching about Him, we are like a gardener with a hose in his hand trying to water the garden with the spigot turned off. Why can’t we teach our people about the power that is available? Could it be that our leaders themselves don’t know either? How can they teach what they have not learned?

Jesus spoke of the blind leading the blind and when a leader’s solution for sinful addictions is to proclaim more laws and/or judgement because that is all they can offer, they are only leading them into another ditch.

Is it possible to know whether that “spigot” is turned on?

For most of my life, the little teaching I received about the Holy Spirit was that He was just a quiet influence– much like your conscience. I always wondered how I would know when it was my conscience and when it was the Holy Spirit. And my salvation experience did not bring any change in the voice of my conscience. I felt guilt when I sinned just as I had before salvation, but that “quiet influence” was so quiet, I could not have shared what the Holy Spirit actually did differently in my life.

I remember hearing a missionary ask his audience if they would even notice or be able to tell if the Holy Spirit had left. That question haunted me because I didn’t know how to tell if He was there or not. Maybe sin or lack thereof would be the telling factor? But if I couldn’t tell when He came, how would I be able to tell if He left?

It was years later before I experienced a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Trying to talk about my experiences to other Anabaptist believers brought mixed reactions. I saw doubt, disbelief, and outright scorn; but in the past few years, I have found many others who have also found something–or rather Someone– different than any teaching we received in our Mennonite upbringing. And these with whom I talked to, now lived drastically different lives than they did before this experience. Many found freedom from bondage, but all found life and joy in the Christian walk rather than a life of struggling to obey rules. The Christian walk was no longer a hard thing void of all pleasures. Praying was suddenly different than it had been before. No longer was it a discipline to pray, but rather a time of pleasure and joy– something to look forward to. Feeling His Presence in a real way is “fulness of joy” and “pleasures for evermore”!

How will we know what is real and what is counterfeit?

There are many counterfeit teachings out there. Every time God gives us something good and pure, Satan loves to twist it into something that looks similar and uses it to entrap people into bondage and sin. So how will we be able to tell what is the good and perfect gift from God and what is Satan’s counterfeit? Are we better off just rejecting all things pertaining to the spiritual world altogether?

Satan would like us to think so.

But the fact of the matter is, we were created as spiritual beings who happen to have a physical body. We tend to forget that and think that we are physical beings who just happen to have a spirit. Though we may not understand everything, we can not discard teaching about our spirit or the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said that God is a Spirit and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. How can we do this if we have no idea how to?

The Bible is not silent regarding the Holy Spirit. Read it and check to see if any teaching you hear or read is lined up with Scripture or not. Feel free to give me feedback if you feel something I write is contrary to Scripture. I want to speak Truth and write nothing that contradicts God’s Word.

I realize I have probably raised more questions than I have given answers in this post. But for the sake of easier reading, I am once again planning to divide this study into segments. So be patient, more is coming.

Why I Have Not Left the Anabaptist Faith

On occasion, readers will ask me why I don’t just “leave the Mennonites”. Some of them ask from the viewpoint of, “Why would you stay in a denomination that is doing all these things that are so wrong?” This group of people has already walked away because of some of these very reasons.

Another group says, “If you don’t like the way we do things, why don’t you just find another denomination?” Many in this group are the older generation that believes “the way we do things has worked well for us so far, why change anything?” This group of people do not like when others point out things that are viewed as discrepancies within our culture. They prefer to have those that disagree with any Anabaptist practices to just leave. Who wants to have someone in the midst of our controlled environment that keeps speaking out of turn and pointing to things we don’t like to have pointed out?

Then there are others who, like myself, see a hope for change and stay with an idealistic expectation that if enough of us speak out and pray for change, change will come.

Often when people leave the Anabaptist faith, they leave because of one of the following two reasons. Some leave because they feel there are too many things wrong within our culture and they see no hope for change. Others leave because they spoke up too much and are pushed out.

Years ago, I found myself leaning into the first category. I seriously considered walking away from the Anabaptist heritage altogether because of the very things I write about on this blog. But in attempt to find some answers to why we do some of the things we do, I began to read a lot of our Reading and researching Anabaptist history because I want to know was very different than being in school or in some Anabaptist conference and being forced to listen.

As I read, I found myself agreeing with so many of our core beliefs. For example, I am more of an Arminian than Calvinist.

I also believe in believer’s baptism. In other words, belief in Jesus as the Son of God and repentance should come before baptism.

I believe in loving my enemies, returning good for evil, and also refusing to take up the sword to fight and kill. We call that “non-resistance”.

Conservative Anabaptists believe that everything in the New Testament is for us today. We believe it is the Word of God and we do not believe that parts of it don’t apply to today. That is why we still practice the head covering, we don’t ordain women, and we will not endorse homosexuality. I agree with this.

There are also many things within our culture that I love. We believe in hard work and we keep our family life and marriage as a high priority. We notice needs of others and believe in meeting those needs– whether that means giving our time and physical labor, or whether that means giving to meet a monetary need. We believe in living a simple life so that we have extra to give. We don’t attempt to follow the world in all its sin and wrong desires, but we would rather live a lifestyle that follows Scriptural principles.

We have traditions of loving to sing and teaching our children to sing. We believe in studying the Bible and knowing what it says. We teach it to our children and have Bible memorization as a high priority. We believe in discipleship and helping those who desire to learn.

Do we always do these things perfectly? Obviously we don’t. We are a fallen people. Despite our best efforts, we stray from the original intent of our cultural habits and have a tendency to become a rigid works-oriented people. We have even allowed some of our good traditions to become more important to us than Biblical commands.

Does that mean I should walk away because I see things in our culture that are being done wrongly? Should I leave and try to find another denomination that is a little closer to perfect than ours? That is a question that each person must ask themselves.

For me, I found the answer to that question to be no. Yes, I could probably find groups that have at least some of those core doctrines to be the same. But probably not all of these same core beliefs would be there.

Some of our cultural traditions could probably also be seen in other denominations, but they would likely also have other traditions that I would not agree with. Just as we can never find a perfect church, we will never find a perfect denomination. We must know what our core beliefs are and be a part of the denomination that reflects those. We must also be a part of a church within that denomination that has traditions and a culture that is most like our own.

Does that mean we must accept every tradition and belief? If there are things that are not aligned with the Bible, we cannot turn a blind eye to it. We cannot allow our love for our people and culture to blind us to discrepancies within our groups. No matter how much God loves us, He will not overlook sin in our lives. In fact, God chastens those He loves.

So if we love our people and culture, why would we not also then desire change in those areas that are causing others to stumble instead of pretending we are without fault?

Every Anabaptist writer that dares write anything negative about our traditions finds themselves under fire from our people. We face ridicule, anger, scorn, and people suggest that maybe we should leave. Sometimes we are even blatantly told that leaving should happen soon. We are accused of causing dissension, we are told we are losing our faith or falling into heresy.

Many have left. Many more will leave. How stubborn will we be? Why can we not stop being so defensive and consider that since we are not a perfect people, our churches will not do everything perfectly and our denomination may not have everything perfectly aligned either?

If God had the apostles writing to the early churches to correct them and address things that they were falling away from within the first century, how much more are the churches today susceptible? We can easily see beliefs and practices that have gone amiss in other churches and denominations, but are we unwilling to even consider that we may have areas that need to change as well?

Instead of taking a stubborn stand against any writer or preacher that dares question or point to discrepancies, why can’t we humble ourselves and take a deep inward look? If our beliefs and practices have strayed from Scripture, we need to know it. And we need to change if we do see areas that we have strayed in.

We want to be known as a people that walk in humility and are willing to take correction and reproof. But how willing are we really when it is something that has been ingrained in us for the past century or more? Are we really willing to humble ourselves and pray, asking God to reveal it to us if there is something we need to change in the way we do things? Are we willing to turn from it if He reveals it to be true? Some of the most deplorable sins in our midst are a consequence of these areas that we refuse to even consider that we may be wrong in.

How long will we stiffen our necks and refuse reproof? How long will we judge unjustly those who differ slightly from us in traditions? How long will we accept teachers that teach in opposition to God’s Word by twisting Scripture to make it fit our traditions?

It is time we take a stand for Truth.



“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?– unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.”

2Cor. 13:5-8 NKJV