When Culture Takes Precedence Over Evangelism

The early church was described in Acts as adding to their numbers daily. While I realize that some of the dynamics were different then, we should still have the same heart of spreading the Gospel and wanting to reach those that are lost. Anabaptists have been accused of not being evangelistic enough. Our numbers seemingly increase more by reproduction than by adding converts from the outside world to our numbers.

I’ve heard of many churches across the world growing to have thousands of members. But I have never heard of any mega-churches in conservative Anabaptist circles. (That said, I can’t say that I’ve ever hoped for mega-churches to start showing up among our people.) What is it about our churches, though, that tends to keep others out rather than “bringing them in”? What needs to change for us to make an impact on the harvest waiting to be gathered?

Anabaptists tend to have smaller groups that know each other well and have a close “brotherhood”. This closeness is often noted by outsiders and looked on with envious admiration. But often it is our close brotherhood, much like an exclusive social club, that keeps out the very ones that we should be bringing in. Is it possible to evangelize without losing that closeness and even our culture (the customs of a particular nation, people, or group) that we guard so zealously? And if it is not possible, which is of greater importance –culture and close brotherhood, or reaching the lost?

Mat. 10:34-38 ESV   34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

What are the most important things to us about our culture? Is it our dress rules? Our work ethic? Our disciplined lifestyle? The way we help each other? Our a cappella singing? Our good cooking? Our non-emotional approach to worship? Our facial hair (or lack thereof)? Our large families?

These are all things that we value and guard within our culture. Many of these can be of good value. And while each of these are loosely based on a scriptural principles, most of them are not commanded by Jesus or any of the apostles. So why do we hold our cultural standards higher than specific Biblical commands?

For example, we have the Great Commission as the “last will and testament” (so to speak) of Jesus Christ. We are preach the Gospel, baptize those who believe, and teach what Jesus taught. Yet, we are more likely to stay separate from all nonbelievers; our baptisms generally consist of young teenagers that have grown up in the Mennonite church; and we are more likely to teach our culture than the words of Jesus.

We are to love others as much as we love ourselves. We are also told to share Communion with other believers that are part of Jesus’s ONE body in “remembrance” of Jesus. But we are more likely to confront, refuse Communion, and even excommunicate people among us for dress standards not being up to our man-made codes than for disobeying direct commands given by Jesus and the apostles. Why is that?

Could it be that we hold our culture to be more important than Biblical commands? What is our opinion of other cultures or denominations that have things that contradict the Word of God (regardless of right intentions)? Think of denominations that accept homosexuality because their application of the Biblical principle of showing love to others.

Even those churches that ordain women bishops believe it’s about culture and that culture is more important than direct commands in the Bible.

We are quick to point fingers at other churches, but excuse our own tendency to do this in other areas. We believe our culture is the best culture without noticing that this is also what many others believe about their own. When we refuse to baptize those who “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and refuse to take communion with other believers (who don’t dress exactly as we do) we are no different. When our culture does not evangelize much because we cannot assimilate people into our culture, we are holding our culture higher than a direct command of Jesus.

If our cultural hard work ethic (application of 2Thess. 3:10) contradicts the command to love our wives and train our children, we must choose which is more important. If our cultural disciplined lifestyle causes us to turn away those that don’t have the same amount of discipline that we do, we need to decide whether Paul’s command to “esteem others better than” ourselves is more important(Phil. 2:3-4). When our cultural rules of dress, with prescribed colors and numbers and shapes and lengths, are more important to us than comprehending the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ (Eph. 3:18-19), do we need to rethink things?

And most importantly, when our cultural applications of the Biblical principle of “separation from the world” contradict the Great Commission, we must choose which is more important. What good is salt if it never leaves the shaker?

But what about unity? Aren’t we to have unity?

Unity is mentioned twice in Ephesians 4. Verse 3 speaks of the “unity of the Spirit” and verse 13 speaks of “the unity of the faith”. I don’t find either of these speaking of a need to all dress alike. Dressing alike does not create unity, nor does it keep unity. And uniformity does not equal unity.

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Eph. 4:2-6 ESV

We are to be eager to maintain the unity of the spirit. Does that come by our many dress rules or does that have a tendency to cause divisions in the larger body of Christ?

When Jacob Ammon first started making very specific dress rules for his followers, it was to identify with the people of the poor class.1 Today, a lot of those same dress rules are more likely to keep out the very ones for whom those rules were created to identify with. It’s much more expensive today to buy material and make your own clothing than it is to go to Walmart or a second hand store, and just buy simple, modest clothing.

There are also aspects of our culture that accept only certain personality types and reject others. We tend to be, and produce offspring that are, disciplined, self-reliant, hardworking, non-emotional people. Occasionally, though, there are some artistic, flamboyant free-spirits who love odd things and bright colors that seemingly pop up out of nowhere. In our culture of discipline and sameness, this personality type is not considered a good thing. They don’t fit in well and we do our best to either get them under control or get rid of them altogether.

We then lose out on a personality type God created for a reason. What are we missing out on in our churches because we don’t allow the flamboyant, creative types? They are the “free-spirits” that have the potential to inspire us to glorious beauty. They bring vision and inspiration. They see and feel things that we may not. They often have a heart connection to God that we may not. The emotion they show that feels so uncomfortable to us, may be just what we need. Why do we squelch emotion? God created it for a reason!

We feel and show emotions to our spouses (or at least I hope we do) that sometimes may be extravagant and unrestrained. Think of Song of Solomon! Why do we think that God does not want any emotional response from us in our worship of Him? When we get rid of the very ones who could help lead us in that direction of exuberant worship filled with emotion and fervor, we lose out on an important aspect in our relationship with God.

Which personality type is better? Don’t we need both to help each other? Rigid, self-disciplined people bring stability, but they need “free-spirits” to help them not to become so self reliant that they think they don’t need God as much as others. Free spirits feel God move and are often more open to hearing His voice speak to them. They don’t feel so bound by traditions and are more open to change. They need self-disciplined people to keep them from being moved by every wind of change and to stay anchored in the Word.

Churches that allow differences in personality, temperament, social status, and dress style will have a church with a greater potential of growing. Think about it, if a doctor, a farmer, a trucker, and a redneck all attend church together, (no this is not leading into a redneck joke) that is four different types of people that could be reached by evangelism by these individuals. If we all look alike and only allow certain types of people to be accepted, we are very limited in our evangelism.church

When a visitor sees a variety of dress styles, they will be more likely to feel they will fit in somewhere than if there is only one accepted dress style. When only those who feel comfortable in one particular style are accepted, new additions are very limited.

If a the church has both women who wear head coverings and women who don’t, new converts feel welcomed. Don’t chase away the women who God has not yet convicted to wear head coverings. Perhaps He has other things that He deems to be of greater importance that He wishes to work on in their lives first. We cannot put limits on God. Preach the Word faithfully and allow Him to work at His own pace. His timing is always better than ours! Perhaps He waits because there are some others He wishes to bring into the church that would never come if they were the only one who did not wear a head covering. If we truly believe that God can convict someone, than why don’t we act like it? Forcing people to do something by rules enforced by using communion as a hammer never changes anyone’s heart. Only God can change someone’s deepest heart beliefs.

For those who are fearful of “losing our culture” if people aren’t all dressing alike, is that really all that holds our culture together? Must we look alike to care about each other’s needs and help each other out? To study the Bible together and disciple new believers? To worship God together? To host people in our homes? To sing for the elderly? To work hard and teach our children to do the same? To cook good food and share it together? To have the same goals as a church body?

Having “unity of the Spirit” is so much more than dressing a certain way. So why do we think we must look and believe exactly alike on every application if it causes us to not fulfill the last words given to us by the One we claim to follow? Our unity of faith and the Spirit should be evident by our common goal to seek sinners, tell them about Jesus and baptize them– just as the early church did.


 

1. For more reading on this, Dwight Gingrich has an excellent article here:

“The Holy Scriptures Must Be Our Ruling Standard”

In Need of a Shepherd

People are most like sheep in their yearning for a shepherd that will care for them. There is something deep inside that longs for someone we can trust who will walk ahead of us– leading us in safety and caring about what happens to us. We were created for a Shepherd. The shepherd model is found already in the Old Testament where we find God referred to as a Shepherd long before people dared to call Him Father. The fact that Psalm 23 is such a well known and favored passage of Scripture shows us how much people today still crave a shepherd.

Today’s generation may not care for church politics, creeds, traditions, or ceremonies, but they still respond to a shepherd who reaches out to them with a heart of love. Rebellious young people who want nothing to do with rules, will still respond to love and acts of kindness of a gentle shepherd.

Jesus called Himself “the Good Shepherd” and set an example of what shepherding is to look like. He was willing to leave a life of glory to live a humble life of servanthood among His sheep. His shepherding brought forth healthy mature sheep who then became under-shepherds to other sheep. And those shepherds did the same.

God is still the Great Shepherd that walks ahead of His sheep. Under-shepherds are still to lead the sheep as they follow Him. However, throughout the Old Testament, we read of under-shepherds who failed in their role of shepherding. There are numerous references in which the prophets chastise shepherds who are not leading their flocks right or are allowing them to scatter with no attempt to search for them. (Jer. 50: Ezek.34)

I have seen good Anabaptist under-shepherds who loved and led their flocks well. I have also witnessed shepherds who do not seem to understand what being a shepherd means. In moving away from the New Testament model seen first in Jesus, and then in His disciples, they become more like rulers and dictators than shepherds. When shepherds think their job is more about making laws and discipline and forcing obedience, they become tyrants instead, wanting sovereignty over their kingdoms.

The goal of shepherding is to have healthy, full grown sheep to present to the Great Shepherd someday. Many of our leaders look at their sound flocks and confidently look forward to presenting them. And we do have a lot of healthy churches.

But what about all those sheep that we have lost?

lost sheepOne of the greatest failures of Anabaptist shepherd leaders today is in overlooking the aspect of being a shepherd who is not only a leader, but also a rescuer. Sheep wander from the herd and get lost easily. They make many foolish decisions and get separated from the flock. But they cannot survive alone. They need a rescuer.

We like to show off our healthy flocks, our obedient sheep, our many sweet lambs within the fold. People take note of how our sheep are well groomed, well-behaved, and we have very few visible trouble makers. We have a great culture and we like to boast that we have healthier flocks than most other denominations.

But why do we?

Have we culled out the weak and sickly? Do we turn our backs on the ones who wander off? Do we chase off the ones who question rules or rebel? Do we have more of a “survival of the fittest” mind set than we realize in our efforts to gain a utopian society/culture?

We are not following the Great Shepherd’s example of being a Rescuer and Great Physician for the sheep. Jesus said He was sent to the “lost sheep“,(Matt. 15:24) and when He sent out His disciples, He told them to go to the “lost sheep” (Matt. 10:6). When the Pharisees questioned Him for being with publicans and sinners, He said, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not for the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) He spoke of a shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep in his flock to search for one that wandered off. He spoke of a woman sweeping and searching her entire house in her efforts to find what was lost. There can be no doubt that His purpose, His heart, was to lost, straying, disobedient, sickly sheep.

How can we disregard His example? How can we think it is more important to keep our healthy, well-groomed flocks than it is to go after our straying sheep?

Faithfully preaching and feeding the faithful, obedient sheep in our flock is not enough. We must care about the unhealthy or straying sheep, and go to extreme measures for them. We must learn how to treat a sick conscience, care for hurting bleeding hearts, apply balm to wounds, and speak healing words to grief stricken people.

We cannot take a personal affront at sheep who make rebellious choices, we can’t harbor resentment at their foolish choices, we can’t be nettled at their backsliding and lagging behind the rest. We can’t allow thoughts of relief when they have left the herd and are no longer our problem.

When Jesus looked at the multitudes, He was “moved with compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad , as sheep having no shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36)

Do we even care about the sheep that are scattered and no longer have a shepherd? Where is our compassion for those who once were part of a flock but because of their own wanderings no longer have a shepherd? Do we say within ourselves, “They are the ones who chose to leave. They know the door is open and they can come back anytime they choose to. It’s their own fault for making these choices. Let them find out how hard it is.”

Why have we closed our hearts to those who do not agree with us on every point? Where is our compassion? Why aren’t our hearts wounded at the loss of even one sheep? Why aren’t we weeping over them as Jesus wept? Why are we so complacent when Jesus was willing to lay down His life for that very one that we have decided is not worth our efforts?

Jesus sought out those wasted lives. He sent the “bench-warmers”, (the inactive ones) to work in the vineyards, He befriended the rebellious, disobedient ones (the publicans and sinners) by sitting and building relationships with them. He broke down the walls built around those in His midst with slightly differing viewpoints (the Samaritans) by not keeping the traditions of His people. His kindness to one Samaritan woman captured the heart of an entire nation!

Why are we content to groom our healthy herd when reaching even one lost individual is what Jesus would rather we do? Do we not care that scattered, hungry, needy sheep will follow false shepherds or have their very life snuffed out by wolves?

We don’t need platform speakers who wax eloquent. We don’t need more heavy-handed leaders with bigger rule books and doctrinal statements. We need shepherds who love sheep. We need shepherds who talk with, commune with, sacrifice themselves for, and win the hearts of their sheep. We need shepherds with a gentle approach, a sympathetic touch, full of the Holy Spirit who persuade tenderly with the Word of God. We need shepherds who are willing to carry the young or broken when it is needed, shepherds that are willing to sacrifice themselves for the needs of their flock.

A shepherd who regards himself as being in a separate class than those in his flock has forgotten that he, too, is a sheep. If a shepherd is cynical or dislikes his sheep, he is not spending enough time with them. It is in spending time with his sheep that he will see what they are facing and face it with them. He will understand what their suffering is because he suffers with them. He will care about their plight because close contact stirs the heart.

A shepherd needs to be with his sheep so much that he smells like them. He must know his sheep and what their needs are so his sermons can be timely and relevant. He must have many conversations with them so he can speak their language when he preaches. He must be so attached to them that when danger comes, he won’t even think of himself but only the safety of his sheep.

A shepherd like this holds the hearts of his sheep. Sheep that are motivated by a shepherd they love, will follow willingly. They will be devoted to him because they know they are loved. Even a rebel who tears a rule book to shreds will respond to acts of kindness and love shown by a shepherd who has time for him.

Shepherds will be asked to give account for the sheep God has given them. (Heb. 13:17) He didn’t overlook the shepherds’ lack of care for the lost sheep of Israel and He will not overlook it today. Someday every shepherd will stand before God and hear the words asked to Peter. Did you feed my lambs? Did you tend my sheep? Did you feed my sheep?

 

4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. Ezekiel 34:4-10

Radical Shepherding

The Radical Reformation began with men who boldly stood up for what they knew was Biblical truth. They were willing to speak fearlessly and even to die for what they believed. Somewhere through the generations since then, however, we have changed to become a people imprisoned by fear. We became the “quiet in the land” so that we would no longer need to fear losing our lives or our families. We began standing for values that were also motivated by fear. We fear losing our culture. We fear our children will lose their heritage of plainness. We fear outsiders may have a greater influence on us than we do on them. We fear teaching on the Holy Spirit; we fear hearing the voice of God because of what it could lead to.

Many of our rules are developed out of fear of what things may lead to. We fear that God’s standards as outlined in Scripture are not enough to keep our people, so we add fences around them to make sure we don’t break any commandments. We fear being questioned about some of those rules that we don’t really have a Biblical answer for, so too often our response is anger at those who question the rules.

Fear is rooted in not trusting God. Fear manifests itself in attempting to control whatever situation we feel insecure or powerless in. But the One who is actually in control wants us to stop trying to do what He never meant for us to do. Only He can take away our fear of “what might happen” if we don’t do everything in our power to keep our people where they need to be.

It is time for us to take a radical, fearless stand once again for Truth. We have access to Truth, and that Truth is enough. Nothing more, nothing less.

We will see the beginnings of real change occurring among our Anabaptist people when leaders begin stepping up to fearlessly lead the charge. I have heard leaders say, “I believe we are not aligned with Scripture in the way we refuse communion to other believers who worship with us, but it’s no use trying to change it. Our people are not ready for change like that.”

My response is “Why not?”

Fearful Sheep

When a shepherd leads his sheep to a regular spot to feed, and suddenly realizes that there are plants growing that are toxic to his sheep, he leads them to a different spot to feed– whether or not the sheep want to change their grazing spot. Sheep that trust their shepherd will follow even if it is outside of their normal routine. If a shepherd cannot lead his sheep away from their normal routine, he does not have their hearts or their trust.

This can happen when a shepherd does not spend enough time with his sheep. In Bible times, a shepherd’s duty was to lead his sheep to good places to graze and drink, and to fend off animals that came to attack the sheep. He was with his sheep constantly and was a familiar, trusted person to them. They kept close to him and followed willingly because they knew he loved them and would look out for their bests interests.

In the western world today, sheep are often kept in fenced-in pastures. The sheep are familiar with their shepherd, but the relationship is much different. They may only see their shepherd occasionally. The fences that are erected keep out dangers and keep them sheep fencedwhere they need to be. The shepherd’s main job is to make sure there is water and food available to them. The shepherd can have another job and there is no need to be with the sheep constantly. This arrangement works fine until something changes in the routine. When it comes time for sheering the sheep, or needing to herd them somewhere for any reason; these shepherds have a much more difficult task than shepherds of longer ago did.

It seems the we have traded in the Biblical model for shepherding our Anabaptist churches for a more westernized version. Our shepherds must earn a living since they can not make a living being a shepherd, so they have no other option but to build fences to keep their flocks where they need to be. They check in when they can and make sure food and water is available, but they can’t be available to their flocks all the time because they must be out earning their living. This arrangement works until anything out of the ordinary happens. How far can we really trust our leader when he wants to do something different than what we have been doing most of our lives?

I have recently been hearing about and observing an Anabaptist congregation that has made some incredible changes in the past ten years. This was once a small, struggling congregation from a more liberal conference and there was very little life left in the flock. A new leader took charge who wished to lead them to a more Biblical mind set. Without making a single outward rule about dress or head coverings, this congregation is now a flock that is a thriving, Spirit-filled, Biblical church that has grown and is continually adding to their flock. They are also reaching out and making a huge impact on their community.

The first thing Anabaptists always want to know is whether or not the head covering is practiced, so I will address that first. When the new pastor came in, there were only a few who practiced it, but most did not. Now ten years later, about eighty percent of them do.

However, people don’t all look alike. There are many different colors, shapes, and sizes of head coverings. There are many different people with many different styles of clothing. People from the community have begun attending and have gotten saved and have turned away from lives of sin and bondage. Lives are changing and the Holy Spirit is present and noticeably at work.

So what is the point I am trying to make?

Shepherding Without Fences

Here is a church that is doing what our typical Anabaptists churches say is impossible. We are told it’s impossible to keep a church where they need to be without extra rules. Without fences in place to keep the sheep where they belong, we know that the flock will all be scattered. And when you look at the American model of raising sheep, that is a valid point. Sheep that are used to being fenced in will scatter if they suddenly have their fences removed.

But what if we were to ask shepherds from Bible times if they needed fences to keep their sheep from scattering? They would probably tell you that most of the sheep stay right with sheep-and-shepherd their shepherd and follow him where ever he goes. The ones that wander off are noticed and brought back by a vigilant shepherd that stays tuned in to his sheep and knows them all by name.

So why do we shepherd with a fenced in model when the other is more likely what Jesus had in mind when He told Peter to tend and shepherd His sheep?

15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep”.(John 21:15-17 NASB)

This was also the only model Peter and Paul knew of when they spoke of elders shepherding the church.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28 NASB)

1.Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2. shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;   3. nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.(1Peter 5:1-3NASB).

Could it be that one of the reasons the “fenced in model” is the one we use is because we don’t pay our shepherd/pastors?

17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard [a]at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1Tim. 5:17-18 NASB) 

13 Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share [a]from the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:13-14 NASB)

When our shepherd/pastors are forced to be only part-time shepherds because they must still work another job to earn their a living, they can’t be available to their sheep/congregation all the time. Therefore they must use fences just like real American shepherds do that can’t be with their sheep constantly. And in doing it this way, they can not spend the time needed to build the type of relationship with the individuals in their congregations that they would otherwise.

Fences are fine until change is needed or a shepherd must take his flock through unchartered territory. Will the flock have enough trust in their shepherd to follow?

So back to the previously mentioned church… This church has a full-time, paid pastor who is devoted to his sheep. He pours into them. He is a man filled with the Holy Ghost and power who feeds, prays, weeps, and rejoices with his flock. They know him well and he has their hearts. When he began to preach Scripture that went against what they had been practicing for a long time, they followed because they knew it was Truth (Titus 1:9) and they trusted that he had their best interests in mind.

He didn’t try to control people with Truth by making rules to force them to comply. Rather, he loved them truthfully by speaking and teaching Truth and allowing the Holy Spirit to convict. When people were contentious with him, he showed love, but did not change his stand for Truth. Those that aligned themselves with Scripture did it because it was Truth, and because they found freedom in living that truth. This is different than obeying because of a fence erected to force obedience. Is this not shepherding like Jesus did?

Think of Jesus speaking truth to Peter when Peter was stubborn– He didn’t try to force Peter to change. He spoke truth and allowed Peter to learn, even if that meant the hard way. When His disciples argued over who should be the greatest, Jesus didn’t try to force them to change. He spoke truth, set an example, and gave God room to work in their hearts. Jesus didn’t try to force Judas to change; He didn’t try to control Thomas’s doubt but dealt truthfully and patiently with him. This is the example of shepherding that under-shepherds need to imitate.

This is radical shepherding.

When the Church is More Like an Exclusive Social Club Than an Assembly of Believers

I have watched changes occur in my church over the years–some changes good and some not so good. But one thing that seems to always stay the same is our tendency to have people among us that are “outsiders.” They worship with us, they love our people and we love them, but they will always remain outsiders because of some idiosyncratic distinction that sets them apart from us. It is usually an outward thing, an application of scripture that they interpret differently than the rest of the church. We view it as the one thing that they refuse to “give up.” And because of that “one thing”, they will always remain an outsider. We don’t deny that they are believers, we don’t doubt their salvation, we just can’t include them as being a true part of our particular assembly.

church1We point out our “outsiders” to others and say, “Look how inclusive we are! We have people from the community that worship along with us.”

Never mind that they can never be members. They are and always will be permanent visitors unless they are willing to give up more and look like the rest of us.

Is that being inclusive or exclusive?

Recently I was reading about some exclusive social clubs and I was struck once again by the similarities of many of their requirements and the requirements of our Anabaptist churches.

Social Clubs

What is a social club? The Wikipedia defines it like this: “a social club may be a group of people or the place where they meet, generally formed around a common interest, occupation or activity.”

There are many different kinds of social clubs. Many are centered around golf, others around art, hunting, sailing, yachts, music, writing, etc. Basically, you could probably find a social club for whatever interests you may have. But in order to join a club, you must be able to prove that you are worthy to be a part of the club before you can be a member.

In some clubs, anyone can apply for membership; in others you can only apply if you know someone who is already a member. In one club, the Loblolly Pines Club, a current member must sponsor you and four others must second it before you can even apply. The most exclusive clubs do not allow applications– you can only become a member by invitation. For others, lineage and money are the key to get in.

All clubs have some standard or expectations you must meet in order to join. Some are not open about information regarding their membership requirements, saying, “If you need to ask, don’t bother..” Dress codes and decorum are strictly enforced, and rules regarding language, etiquette, and lifestyle keep members from being an embarrassment to the club. Not keeping up with all expectations could result in getting your membership revoked. Some clubs, such as the Plainfield Country Club, will give the errant member a written reprimand, and if they receive several written reprimands, their membership is suspended.

The purpose of a club is to foster a sense of community, a feeling of belonging. It promotes the idea that people will grow closer in their relationships with each others that have the same social status, interests, and lifestyle. The idea is to be with those that are like-minded and to keep out the undesirables.

Exclusive clubs vary in their levels of exclusiveness. Some will allow visitors to come freely, others will only allow visitors to come with other members, and the most exclusive rarely allow any visitors. For some, visitors are allowed only at special events, and then only to observe. Each club has their own rules about visitors, but the most exclusive clubs tend to look down on those clubs that are not as exclusive as they are. Each club varies in what visitors are allowed to do, but none allow visitors to participate in all that members can do.

So I ask again, are we as Anabaptists inclusive or exclusive?

If we claim to follow Jesus, we should do as He did. Did Jesus ever turn certain types of people away? What about the early church? Was there ever a dress standard or social status or lifestyle that needed to be met in order to be considered a “member in good standing?”

Certainly, if there is sin, it needs to be rebuked; but that is not what I’m addressing. When other believers are at a different place on their road of life than we are, are we willing to be patient and let the Holy Spirit work at His own pace? Or do we insist that all who wish to be a part of our assembly should also be at the same place that we are?

That is where I see the resemblance of an exclusive social club. We wish to keep out those that are not of “like-mind”. We tend to view those who don’t look like us, talk like us, and live the same lifestyle as us to be an undesirable that we really don’t want to share membership with us unless they are willing to change to become exactly like us. It’s a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of mentality. If we can do it, you can do it! We don’t leave much room for the changing power of the Holy Spirit. We want to see change before you join.

An exclusive club generally only attracts those that want to look like, sound like, and be like those in the club. Only a certain type of people are attracted to that specific club. Is this what the body of Christ should be like? Did Christ die for all, or only the ones who manage to clean up and look right on their own first?

Evangelizing

If we really believe that Christ died for all, then we should want to extend His invitation to all, not just the ones that are like-minded with us. If our evangelizing becomes more about telling people what they need to be willing to give up (in order to look right and meet our church dress standards) than it is about what Christ did on the cross, we are not comprehending the Gospel or the Great Commission.

Most of the time we are content not evangelizing. It’s hard inviting someone to a church that will require an entire cultural change in order to be accepted. We figure if someone wants to join an Anabaptist group, they will find one to join. So if I’m only going to tell someone about Jesus, I need to have a church ready to recommend that they could join in case they don’t want to look like us.

When someone from a non-Anabaptist background wants to join an Anabaptist church, there are often so many unspoken rules (along with the written rules), that they end up discouraged and give up– even if they were trying to follow the written rules. And I am suddenly hearing “If you need to ask, don’t bother…”

We view those with some sort of an Anabaptist background as having a better chance at fitting in. There is usually some truth to this because they are already somewhat familiar with the culture. But here I see “lineage” being of importance to us. We think this raises the chances of them fitting in our club better.

Having money helps too. In our culture, we believe this shows that you are a good steward. Those that don’t have much money will be spoken of negatively as others critique any financial decisions and purchases made.

Many of us don’t know what to do with the “outsiders” in our groups. Some members complain. They worry that they might have a bad influence on the rest. But it’s not just the “outsiders” that other members complain about. Anyone who deviates at all from the standard is viewed as a troublemaker. Have you ever heard remarks like, “Why can’t they go find a church where they can be with people more like themselves?” Or if people do leave, comments are made such as, “It’s just as well. They didn’t really fit in and they didn’t meet the dress/social standards anyway.”

I wonder what Jesus says when one of His lambs goes astray? Does He say, “Oh well. He/she never fit in well with the others anyhow. He/she didn’t look the same and didn’t perform as well as some of the others.”

God forbid.

(Luke 15:4,5,7 “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing…likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”)

Maybe the reason we aren’t concerned is because we know they aren’t lost sheep. They just have a different view of scriptural application than we do. So we don’t want them in our club.

 


 

Some of my sources:

http://www.businessinsider.com/most-exclusive-golf-clubs-in-the-us-2015-4

http://www.nytimes.com/1996/08/11/nyregion/golf-heaven-if-you-can-get-in.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_club

When Wedding Bands Are Condemned

This will most likely be my last post on the subject of the wedding band and it is mainly in response to some final arguments that I have not addressed yet that are presented in BMA’s publication, Should Christians Wear the Wedding Band? , by Marlin Miller.

While the Bible is silent on the subject of wedding bands, it is not silent about jewelry given to brides and worn by brides. Rings were also worn to symbolize things such as family line and authority (Joseph wearing the Pharoah’s ring, the prodigal son had a ring put on him by his father). For more on the subject of jewelry in Scripture, I address that here .

One argument used is that jewelry is “costly, making its purchase a poor stewardship”. (pg.8)  This would be a good argument against expensive jewelry, but what about cheap jewelry? Is cheap jewelry acceptable to wear then? There are wedding bands that are cheaper than a pair of Nike shoes or Under Armour apparel, but yet we don’t regulate the wearing of expensive apparel the same way that we do wedding bands (which is also warned against in both 1Peter 3 and 1Timothy 2).

Miller argues that wearing a watch is acceptable because is not for constant display (using the example of a person wearing long sleeves), whereas a ring is alwaysgold watch on display and meant to be seen at all times so therefore it is wrong to wear it. He also argues that there are many watches that are plain and not meant for jewelry. (pg. 12 )

I find this a bit contradictory. A watch and a wedding band both serve a purpose. Just because they do not serve the same purpose is not a good argument for prohibiting one. A watch is worn to state the time and a wedding ring is worn to state marital status. When the ring was worn in Jesus’ time, it was often a family signet ring stating your identity and the authority of that family line. It was worn with a purpose and with the intention of being on display. If Jesus didn’t condemn rings worn for display (since he had opportunity to do so in His parable of the prodigal son), and with a purpose, who are we to?

Also, not all people who wear watches wear long sleeves, so that is not a good argument. We don’t have a problem with our people wearing short sleeves while wearing a watch. (I don’t know of any churches that have a rule that says you must wear long sleeves if you wear a watch.) The same argument could be also be used to say that people sometimes wear gloves, therefore the ring is not always on constant display, so it should be acceptable as well. It just seems to be a rather illogical assertion.

If a watch is acceptable as long as it is plain and inexpensive, why could we not also put the same guidelines for rings? If a ring is plain and worn only for the purpose of stating marital status, why should it not also be permissible?

Miller also makes this statement on page 9, “…the purpose or motive for something does not define what it actually is. To say that a given reason for wearing jewelry makes it something other than jewelry is illogical.” (This was stated in response to the argument that a ring worn as a symbol of one’s marital status thus is not jewelry.) But then in arguing for the wearing of a watch, he seems to forget that according to this statement, a watch should also be prohibited. Instead, he contradicts himself and says that when a watch is plain and worn “solely for the use of the wearer as a timepiece”, it is not jewelry.

According to that same latter argument, we could also state that if a ring is plain and worn solely for the use of stating marital status, it is not jewelry.

Miller also makes this statement, “We have also seen that it has not been effective in bringing about that which it symbolizes, namely unending love. In fact, as the wedding band has grown in popularity (which should, in theory, result in a decrease in divorce rates), the popularity of divorce has grown also.” (pg. 13)

One can not argue that a symbol of something should bring about what it is supposed to be symbolizing. For example, should wearing a head covering be expected to cause a woman to be submissive? With this line of reasoning, if we were to notice Mennonite women were becoming less submissive, should that negate the wearing of all coverings since they are not “effective in bringing about that which it symbolizes”?

Wearing or not wearing a wedding band cannot bring about “unending love”. Miller makes mention of a man who has faithfully worn a wedding band for 30 years and yet flirts with other women (pg. 11). This is not anything unheard of. I also know of a very conservative looking elderly Mennonite man who has never worn a ring in all of his sixty plus years of marriage and even at his age, women avoid him because he still attempts to flirt and acts inappropriately. You can’t blame this man’s flirting on the fact that he doesn’t wear a ring anymore than you blame the other one man’s problem on his wearing the ring. Wearing or not wearing a wedding band does not take care of a heart problem.

I find the idea that some would argue that a ring should preserve, sustain, protect, or strengthen a marriage rather silly. A wedding ring is a symbolic gift of love and is only meant to state “I am married”. I have addressed the purpose of wedding bands here .

Miller also expresses concerns that allowing wedding bands could lead to other forms of jewelry. (pg. 14) He also makes mention that those churches that accepted the wedding band also now accept divorce and remarriage. It seems, just like many of our other rules regarding outward appearance, we tend to prohibit certain things not because it itself is wrong, but rather because of what it might lead to. This is making decisions based on fear. It is not trusting God to truly be able to change a heart and it is trusting in our rules to keep people where they need to be.

Has not allowing wedding bands had the ability to keep all forms of jewelry out of our churches? I’ve seen girls wearing all kinds of fancy things in their hair, such as colorful hair clips, hair pins lined with beads or designs, and decorative head bands. Our young people wear rubber bracelets with Bible verses, thinly braided friendship bracelets, women wear brooches with flowers, hearts, etc. pinned to their dresses at special occasions, such as weddings or sweetheart suppers. Many have fancy buttons on clothes are designed to look like pearls, diamonds, or other gems. All manner of fancy watches are worn by both men and women. Women carry fancy purses with “jewelry” attached in all colors, shapes, and sizes to match their outfits. Cell phone covers dazzle and sparkle, but yet somehow we consider this to be in a different category than jewelry. We may fuss about these things a little, but yet we don’t refuse membership like we do if someone wears even a plain wedding band.

I wonder if this makes any more sense to outsiders looking in than it does to me? Making a rule against wedding bands does not take care of a heart problem. Teach the principles of modesty, moderation, and propriety and focus on that instead of attempting to make a rule against every “pretty thing”that may show up in a “loop hole”. Maybe we should address the heart problems instead of letting “fear of what something might lead to” dictate our lives.

bobby pinheadbandpursecell phonebuttons1

 

Does 1Timothy 2 Forbid Wedding Bands?

Does Scripture ever contradict itself? Sometimes it appears to, but we can usually find God’s opinion of a specific subject by looking through Scripture in its entirety first. When we can see God’s consistent viewpoint on something, it’s not usually too hard to reconcile the “exception” by interpreting it according to the rest of Scripture. One example of this would be the way Anabaptists view the “exception clause” (Mat. 5:32) and the “abandonment clause” (1Cor. 7:15) in accordance with the rest of Jesus’ commands regarding remarriage.

I have attempted to do this in regards to a Biblical view of jewelry. In a previous post,  I tried to find Scriptural evidence of God hating or condemning the wearing of all or any jewelry. I could not find condemnation or any direct commands stating that God hates jewelry or that He hates when people wear it. I have made the observation in the afore mention post that jewelry was often given as a gift of love, and it represented beauty, prosperity, and was an item of timeless value.

When people became prosperous, they tended to forget the One who had given them all they had. They became proud and turned to idolatry. God punished them by taking away all their fine things, which included their jewelry.

I did a brief consideration of 1Peter 3:1-4 here.

Though much of the verses in 1Peter could be interpreted the same as 1Timothy, I’d like to take a closer look at 1Timothy 2:8-10.

8 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 9 in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. (NKJV)

Literal or figurative? Some or all?

Can we take these verses literally, or do we need to read more into what is said? Should some of this directive be interpreted more in a cultural sense than taken literally?

I ask these questions because it seems we have a double standard and hypocrisy regarding these verses. Most of us would say that we believe these verse literally without adding or detracting and that we do not believe that they are cultural commands.

But yet we pick and choose what we think should be literal, figurative, or cultural.

wedding bands handsI don’t know about you, but I have never heard of any conservative Anabaptist men who were refused membership or communion because they didn’t “lift up holy hands” while praying. Nor have I heard of women refused because of braiding hair or wearing clothes that were expensive. I have, however, heard of people being turned away for wearing a wedding band because it is made of gold.

If these verses are to be taken only a literal sense, then only gold and pearls are forbidden, (and only to women) but one could still argue for silver, rubies, diamonds, etc., because these are not listed. Women should then be forbidden to braid their hair, but all other hairstyles are all right. Perm it, poof it, part it, make it as elaborate as you wish– just don’t braid it!

We could even ignore all the other things that women do today for “beauty”– such as hours spent tanning, make up, hair coloring, plastic surgery, etc. The list go could go forever because styles change and what is considered beautiful today will be different in ten years.

If, however, I interpret verse 9 in principle, rather than only in a literal sense, without mentioning any specific cultural trends, it might look like this:

“Women, you need to dress modestly, with a proper outward look, and use moderation, rather than extravagance, in all you do. Don’t do your hair in elaborate hairstyles–trying to draw attention to yourself; don’t deck yourself with the latest, popular, or expensive jewelry; don’t dress yourself in expensive clothing. But rather, focus on dressing yourself with the good works of a woman who professes to be godly.”

The focus is on moderation and propriety. It’s about humility and not trying to draw attention to your outward appearance. Paul mentions the three things–hairstyles, jewelry, and clothing– that women tend to go overboard on in the midst of their appreciation and love of beautiful things. He mentions braiding because braiding trinkets into your hair was the elaborate style of that particular culture. He mentions gold and pearls because that was some valuable jewelry of the culture then. The desire for expensive clothing and a tendency toward immodesty is a universal problem that crosses all cultures.

Paul is not writing this to make a statement against gold or pearls. He is making a statement against women’s tendency towards extravagance in appearance.

Double standard

You cannot make a prohibition against all gold and pearls without also making a prohibition against all braiding as well. With that, we should also make application about how much our clothing should cost with rules against expensive name brand shoes or clothing. And maybe men should have rules that state they are only to pray with raised hands.

But I don’t think these verses were intended to be a ban against specific things. Paul could have said, “The wearing of all jewelry is wrong.” But he didn’t. He mentioned a few specific things that the women of that day tended to go overboard in and pointed them to something better. He didn’t say men should never pray with their hands by their sides, but said what he would like to see them doing (and personally, I wish we would do more of this!).

I have a hard time seeing how we can make these verses into making a ban against only certain things, but not others, in regards to women’s outward appearance. Our focus should be on moderation and modesty in outward beauty. And most of all it’s about women focusing on making the inward person beautiful by adorning herself with good works. Do we focus so much on what all women need to “put off” that we forget that what they are to “put on”? Isn’t that what the focal point of that verse is supposed to be?

Specific directives to men and women

Interestingly enough, the two verses that we use as an argument against jewelry and wedding bands are only directed at women. Does that mean that men should be allowed to wear jewelry but not women? What about lifting our hands while praying? Are only men commanded to do this, but women should not?

Could it be that Paul addressed men and women separately just because he is addressing specific things that they need to be reminded of? In Ephesians 5:33, men are reminded to love and women are reminded to reverence. Just as women tend to love naturally, they also are more likely to show emotion while praying. Men need to be reminded to show love their wives and apparently also need to be reminded to raise their hands while praying without doubting or wrath. Women need to be reminded to show reverence to their husbands and also to use moderation in appearance.

Men have worn jewelry throughout history and yet Paul doesn’t address that. This seems to fit with the idea that only women are warned about outward appearance because they have the most natural tendency toward extravagance in outward appearance. This, however, is only a generalization. Some women may need to be reminded to lift their hands and show emotion in prayer without wrath and doubting and some men may also need to be reminded not to focus on their outward appearance too much.

What impression do we leave with others?

For those of us who have been taught most of our lives that jewelry in all forms are sinful, the idea of wearing any jewelry doesn’t even sound appealing. I am not suggesting that we need to endorse or encourage our people to start wearing all manner of jewelry. But at the same time, I can not see how we can Biblically deny a simple wedding band that states the marital status of the wearer.

I have been in conversation with couples who wore a wedding band and the only thing that stood out to me from the conversation was their love for Jesus. I have also been in conversation with women who claim to be followers of Jesus who are so covered in flashy jewelry that it’s hard to see past the outward look to see the inward.

However, I have also observed those same two types in our Anabaptist circles. There are conservative women who display Jesus so clearly by the way they adorn themselves and by the inward spirit that manifests itself outwardly in good works and behavior that it leaves you with no doubt that they are godly women. Then there are also those women, dressed within church standards, that portray a different spirit altogether. Even staying within church standards does not hide the spirit of a woman whose focus is only on her outward appearance and who is trying to only adorn the outward as much as she can get by with. Her shallowness shines through–without having to wear jewelry.

If you feel that by wearing a wedding band, it could cause you to be proud or vain, then don’t wear one. If not wearing one causes you to be proud and view yourself as being more holy than others, you may as well be decked with jewels because you are missing the whole point of adorning yourself with a meek and quiet spirit.

 

 

Missing the Point

A choir met in a conference room of their hotel to practice for their evening program. As they finished the last song for their practice and waited as the choir director gave them some final instructions. “Please remember, choir, as you are getting ready for the program tonight, don’t forget what our purpose is. We are trying to bring a message in song to the homeless men at this shelter that don’t know God. We want them to hear a message from God and for their lives to be impacted. You may be the only “Jesus” they’ll ever see.

“So now as you go to your rooms to get ready, don’t just focus on your outward appearance. Remember it’s not the way you comb your hair, it’s not about how well your shirt is tucked in, it’s not about ironing your pants with a perfect pleat in the front. None of that is what matters to these guys. Getting your heart ready is more important. Spend time in prayer, put on a gentle, meek spirit that displays the love of God to these men. Getting your ‘inward man’ dressed is most important because we want them to see Jesus in us.”

As the choir members moved to their rooms, Tim grumbled to Dave and John, “I don’t know what the big deal is. I always iron pleats in my pants. Now suddenly we aren’t allowed to anymore?”

Dave replied, “I don’t care what he says, I’m ironing my pants. And combing my hair.”

John responded, “I don’t think that’s what he meant. He wasn’t saying we couldn’t do anything about our outward appearance. He just meant that our main focus shouldn’t be on that. I’m going to try to get ready quickly and then go spend some time praying.”

“You mean to tell me you’re going to do like Dave, too, and still iron your pants?” Tim questioned, rather taken aback.

“If I have time I will. I don’t think it’s really that big of a deal.”

Tim answered quickly, “I’m not. I don’t want to get in trouble. I may not like it, but if I’m going to err, I’d rather err on the side of safety. I am going to tuck my shirt in though. It would just seem weird not to.”

Now from this story, answer three questions:

1. Is the choir director’s preference that men everywhere would stop ironing pleats in their pants, or just the members of his choir?

2. Would the choir director also prefer women to refrain from ironing pleats on their clothes?

3. Which of these three boys is understanding and following the choir director’s directions best?

*********

Some of the questions themselves seem pretty ridiculous. But when reading Scripture, this is often exactly what we do. We choose one thing to focus on, misread, misapply, and make decisions accordingly.

Now read this passage:

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward– arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel– 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. (1 Peter 3:1-4 NKJV)

Now imagine that scenario with the choir members –only put it in this passage. Why only focus on one thing said by Peter in this selection? Why do we see this selection mostly as proof not to wear gold? Is that what Peter meant? Should we also no longer arrange our hair, or put on nice clothes?

Suppose we ask those same previous questions again, only worded to fit this passage?

1. Is Peter’s preference that women everywhere would stop wearing gold, or just the women with unsaved husbands?

2. Would Peter also prefer that men cease wearing gold?

3. If three women were to have a conversation (about wearing gold rather than ironing pleats) like those three boys were, which would be most understanding and following Peter’s directions best? The first one who defiantly says she is going to wear gold–and arrange her hair– no matter what this passage says; the one who wants to “err on the side of safety” but is still going to “wear nice clothes”; or the one who says she is going to make sure she is going to put on the “hidden person of the heart” and not put her focus on the outward appearance?

Questions one and two miss the point altogether because that’s not what Peter was attempting to address in this passage. The questions about the choir director were obviously silly in the first story, but yet these are the type of questions people focus on when focusing only on the directives given in 1Peter 3:3.

Let’s not miss the point of the passage in our effort to prove that we shouldn’t wear gold.

1peter34.jpg

 

Does God Hate Jewelry?

Anabaptists have historically preferred to be adorned simply and with humility. Our preferences/beliefs have been to not be prideful in our clothes or outward look, nor to hair clipdraw attention to ourselves. While I believe this to be a Biblical tradition, I think we need to also be careful not to raise our applications of this higher than Biblical commands and end up with pride in our plainness.

Anabaptists have also traditionally rejected jewelry in their quest to be adorned simply–including wedding bands– referring to 1Peter 3 and 1Timothy 2 as the main source of this application. Before I look at those two references, I’m going to take a look farther back to see if there is an opinion of jewelry expressed throughout the rest of Scripture outside of those two verses.

Is God in opposition of jewelry in the Old Testament?

Jewelry and gold is mentioned many times in the Old Testament and there are too many references to do a thorough examination of them all in a blog post. But you can look at a number of them and get a feel from the examples given to get a general picture of what the Old Testament viewpoint seems to be.

The first thing that stood out to me is that there are a number of references that give examples of jewelry being given as a gift that is precious to the receiver. It is often indicated to be a gift that pertained to betrothal and marriage and is not spoken of negatively. Gifts of jewelry symbolized love, beauty, prosperity, and timeless value.

One example is of Abraham’s servant, in Genesis 24, when he was sent to find a wife for Isaac. When he first met Rebekah, he gave her a gold earring and two bracelets. Later, he also gave her jewels of silver and gold and clothing. Rebekah’s mother and brother also received “precious things”.

In Ezekiel 16, God depicts what all He did for Israel in a beautiful simile of an orphaned baby left to die. He describes what He does for her as she gets older and becomes His bride. He decks her with ornaments, He puts bracelets upon her hands, a chain on her neck, a jewel on her forehead, earrings on her ears, a crown on her head, and decked her with gold and silver. At the end of the description, it says, “and thou wast exceeding beautiful”.

This simile does not portray jewelry worn on a woman as being a negative thing. In fact, it sounds like God saw it as a thing of beauty.

Here are a few other examples of passages that reference a groom and bride wearing jewelry as well.

Isaiah 49:18 “…as I live, saith the LORD, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth.” (Emphasis mine)

Isaiah 61:10 “…he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.”

There are many examples of the Israelites wearing different types of jewelry throughout the OT. Jewelry seemed to be representative of more than just beauty. It often seems to be evidence of times of prosperity. In Genesis 41:42, it also seems to represent authority when Pharoah took the ring from his own hand and put it on Joseph. He also gave him clothes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.

Another example of jewelry being portrayed as a positive thing is in Proverbs 25:12. “As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.”

Interestingly enough, it doesn’t say that an earring is like a rebellious son or a foolish advisor. Rather, earrings and ornaments are put in comparison with someone who is a wise reprover offering advice to an obedient person.

We also find no mention of jewelry being forbidden in the Mosaic law anywhere. If God hated the sight of it, surely He would have made some mention of that fact somewhere. It seems like there should be a “Thou shalt not hang any ornaments on thyself” command somewhere.

What about all the times the OT describes God taking away jewelry?

When one of my daughters turned eighteen, we gave her an iPhone for her birthday. It was something she had really wanted and we wanted to give her a good gift. However, if she becomes so enamored with that phone that she no longer does her responsibilities around the house or it leads her into sin, I would have no qualms about taking that phone away from her again.

If such a scenario were to happen, would that mean that all iPhones are universally bad? Would it mean that all iPhones will cause all people to sin? Obviously not. And if this were to happen, it would not even mean that my daughter could never have an iPhone again. I would probably set some limits or turn on more restrictions and give her another chance at some point because I love my daughter and my goal is not just to take away things she enjoys.

When Israel fell into idolatry and sin, we often see God taking their gold and their ornaments. Ezekiel 16:15-19 describes how the very things God had given to Israel were being used to commit idolatry. The “fair jewels of gold and silver”, the garments, and the fine foods that God had lavished them with were all being used commit spiritual fornication. In verse 39, God says that they would be stripped of their clothes and their jewels and would be left “naked and bare”.

In Isaiah 3:16-26, God takes away all kinds of jewelry as a punishment. But He also takes away scarves, veils, headdresses, perfume boxes, purses, mirrors, outer garments, robes, etc. It would be difficult to argue that this is a reason to condemn jewelry because then you would also have to condemn all the other things that were taken away.

In the BMA publication , Should Christians Wear the Wedding Band, this statement is made: “We find, then, that in the Old Testament God soundly condemned jewelry when it caused them to become prideful and led them into idolatry.”

I disagree with this conclusion. God condemned the idolatry, not the jewelry. Jewelry and fine things represented their prosperity. Even when it led to pride and God took away it all away again, He did not condemn jewelry any more than he condemned the scarves, headdresses, and perfume boxes, etc. He condemned the sin and did what He needed to get their attention.

Did New Testament people wear jewelry?

There are not very many references to gold or jewelry in the New Testament. Two references that I don’t usually hear much about in regards to this subject are Luke 15 and James 2.

In Luke 15, we read the story that Jesus told of the prodigal son. When the prodigal son returns home, the father tells his servants to put the best robes on him, shoes on his feet, and a ring on his hand. Interestingly enough, Jesus does not seem to think it was sinful that the father gave his son jewelry. It was an act of love and each gift that the father gave signified something. The ring most likely a signet ring represented family authority.

James 2 warns against having respect of persons and two types of men are compared. One man wears a ring and has fine clothes. The other is a poor man with “shabby clothing” (ESV). If we show partiality to one over the other, we commit sin and are “convicted by the law as transgressors”.

James never condemns the man wearing the ring, only the act of showing partiality to one man over the other. Is looking down on those who wear a ring any better than those who look down on poor people in “shabby clothing”?

wedding bandsWhat is my response to a visiting Anabaptist couple that comes to my church with wedding rings on? Do I regard them scorn or contempt because they don’t come to the same conclusion of Scripture that I do? Do I feel that other visitors without wedding rings on are a little more superior in regards to holiness than those with rings?

Assessment and Conclusion

I don’t find jewelry being condemned by God anywhere in the Old Testament. Did jewelry hold the propensity to lead people into sin?  Yes, it did. But the clothes they wore, the fine foods they ate, the perfumes, the mirrors, etc., can also cause the same inclination. The root and the common denominator of it all was a tendency to think in times of prosperity, “We don’t need God”. When God saw their hearts becoming proud, self-sufficient, and forgetful of Who gave them all they had, He took away the very things He had given.

Jesus had ample opportunity to preach against jewelry if He felt it was a complete sin. Even when he mentioned a ring in a parable, He said nothing negative about it because it was worn for a purpose.

I will be addressing the main selections that Anabaptists use to oppose the wearing of jewelry (found in 1Peter 3 and 1Timothy 2) in later post.

A Marriage Symbol

When I write about how Anabaptists need reformation regarding communion, baptism, and the head covering, I speak with passion because I feel strongly about it. I feel there are some deep issues involved that need repenting of.

My next topic that I will be addressing is not of that nature. It is an issue that I would not consider to be wrong or right but yet needs to be addressed simply because some in the Anabaptist denomination have decided to call something sin that God has not. We do this with a number of our applications of real Biblical commands at times, but this particular one has been debated a lot in the last few years and that is why I am addressing it specifically.

Wedding_dovesThose of you that are familiar with my blog know that I like to take a topic and break it down into several posts addressing that particular topic. So my next several installments will be regarding the wedding band.

Recently I read a BMA publication regarding the wedding band and some of what I will be writing in the next several posts is in response to that. You can find that publication here .

First of all I would like to say what the wedding ring is not. It is not a preserving factor in marriage. Wearing something that symbolizes that you are married does not have the power to keep your marriage intact. It is not for warding off ungodly men or women making improper advances. Whether or not you are married may not matter to someone who does not see God’s plan for marriage as being only between one man and one woman. It is not even necessary to be worn as a reminder to the wearer of the commitment made to their spouse. If that is the only thing that reminds you that you are married, your vows most likely meant little to you and your marriage is probably on shaky ground already.

What is the purpose of the wedding band then? The only legitimate purpose that I can see for the wedding band is simply to make the statement “I am married”.

Is it wrong to want to let people know that I am married?

Most cultures have some outward way of letting people know whether they are single and available; or married and unavailable. Not every culture is the same. For some it is a necklace with a specific symbol. For some it is a toe ring, others wear a ring on their right hand because the left hand is considered unclean. Even some groups within Anabaptist cultures symbolize marital status. For Amish and some stricter groups, men grow a beard after marriage. For Amish women, the color of the covering worn in church changes from black to white after she is married. In many cultures, including American, a ring worn on the third finger of the left hand symbolizes that you are married.

But in many of our conservative Anabaptist circles, we have nothing that gives a statement of marital status.

Is it necessary to have a symbol specifically for the purpose of stating “I am married”? Is it wrong not to? Since the Bible is silent on this, I would be reluctant to say you must have some outward symbol that says you are married.

However, having an outward symbol could have helped dispel some awkward situations where young men have either approached a young lady or asked another person about a young lady they had interest in– only to find out she was married. It can be embarrassing and awkward for a long time for both parties after such an occurrence.

Another reason for having a symbol of marital status is because of the “appearance of evil”. A number of years ago I read a Mennonite publication that warned young married couples not to show affection in public because someone might mistake them for a dating couple and that it could give the “appearance of evil”. But wouldn’t it be more logical and sensible to have some outward symbol that lets people know you are married and let them see that Anabaptists do show love and affection in marriage?  In this day and age, married couples that show affection are rare-why not be the example the world needs to see?

That said, I still think it should be a matter of personal choice about whether one chooses to wear a symbol of their marital status. Those that have had an experience like the former example mentioned above, are often the ones who have said that they wish they had something that stated outwardly that they are married. And young married couples should at least have the option of being able to have an outward symbol instead of feeling guilt for showing affection to their spouse in the presence of others.

Since the American culture recognizes the wedding band as being the symbol of marriage (and we have no symbol in our own sub-culture), it would make sense that we would use what is recognized by society around us. Some argue that we should not follow a “Christianized” pagan custom1 ; but that is a rather weak argument considering we celebrate Christmas which is also a “Christianized” pagan custom. 2

The Bible is silent on the subject of wedding bands, but the reason so many Anabaptists reject them is because they reject the wearing of most jewelry (I say most because many conservative Anabaptist groups are generally accepting of things that serve a purpose, such as watches, decorative hair clips, headbands, brooches for special occasions, etc). The Bible is not silent about jewelry so it would be good to do some studying to see what Scripture has to say about it.

In my next few articles, I will be doing that.

 


 

1. Marlin M. Miller, Should Christians Wear the Wedding Band?  pg.4

2. http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christmas_TheRealStory.htm

Our Head Covering Applications

What does Jesus think of me? How does He view my people, those of my culture, my denomination? Are there things in my culture that are contrary to His teachings and need changing? These are good things to ask ourselves occasionally because it is so easy to move away from His heart, His desire for us, if we are not heedful to stay connected to the Vine. Moving away from Him– regardless of which direction– will be just enough to cause us to miss the mark.

Jesus was born into a Jewish culture. The religious leaders of His culture rejected Him and His teachings because it was so different from their mind set and the way they had been doing things for so long. Are there things in my life or my culture that cause me to reject what Jesus taught because we have “done it this way” for so long that anything different can’t even be considered?

When the religious leaders confronted Jesus about not keeping their oral laws, He pointed out how their traditions/oral laws were keeping them from obeying some of God’s commands and causing them to be blinded to God’s original intention for His commands.

It made me wonder if we have done this with any Biblical commands? Have we become like those religious leaders in any way? Are there ways that we are imitating the Pharisees and turning Jesus away by our commitment to some man made traditions/applications?

 

Did the Pharisees know the difference between a command from God and an application?

The religious leaders took commands (given by God) and seemingly added to them to make sure that the common folk would know how to follow them correctly. We could call this the application part of the command.

For example, the law said that Aaron and his sons were to wash their hands and feet before going into the tabernacle or coming near the alter. By the time Jesus was on earth, there had been much added to this command and the Pharisees taught that one should wash his hands before and after eating. They considered anyone who didn’t do this to be no better than a pagan. They “induced men to” do it by teaching that an evil spirit, called Shiybta’, sits on their hands by night, and has a right to sit on the food of him who does not wash his hands.1

Even though there was no direct command in the law regarding washing hands before eating, only traditions pertaining to that law, the Pharisees had no problem confronting others, specifically Jesus, for this perceived sin. (Mat. 15, Mark 7)

Another example would be the law of keeping the Sabbath. They were not to work, or carry a “burden”, or “kindle a fire”. (Exodus 20, 35; Jeremiah 17 are a few passages that refer to this) The Jews then added “commandments of men” or “traditions” to this commandment as applications of it. They had a total of 39 categories of activities that were prohibited. They also had a much shorter list of activities that were allowed on the Sabbath.2

When Jesus did not keep their oral traditions/applications, it became very obvious that they held their applications as high as– if not higher than–God’s commands.

 

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and their applications

Jesus healed a lame man (John 5) on the Sabbath, then told the man to “take up his bed and walk”. He seemed to see the common sense of not leaving the man’s bed there just because it was the Sabbath day. He knew that it was needful for the man to have his bed. Jesus showed that legalism was not part of His plan for the Sabbath. He also showed that mercy and acts of necessity on the Sabbath were lawful.

The Pharisees, however, completely ignored the lesson that Jesus was trying to show. They didn’t even seem to notice what a great miracle from God had just occurred! All they saw was that their interpretation of a Sabbath law had been broken.

The fact that Jesus healed people on the Sabbath day and did other things that contradicted their beliefs regarding Sabbath keeping seemed to be particularly offensive to them because of their many traditions concerning that law. But in Mark 2:27, Jesus told them, “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.

This admonition came right after they had confronted Jesus and His disciples for picking corn and eating it on a second Sabbath (Luke 6:1 –which is when the first fruits were to be offered). Jesus was not stressed about it, but had a ready answer. In Matthew 12:7, we hear Jesus telling the Pharisees that He would rather have mercy and not sacrifice (regarding a hungry person eating that which was meant for a Sabbath sacrifice) showing even more clearly what was in His heart regarding the Sabbath.

In Matthew 23, we hear Jesus talking to the multitude and his disciples about the scribes and the Pharisees. He warns them not to do like the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus’ words about them were, “…they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders…all their works they do to be seen by men.” (4-5)

In verses 23-28, He describes them further and says how they demand an exact tenth of even the smallest herbs but omit the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith”. Jesus calls them “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” He depicts them as “whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”

 

Are applications wrong to have?

When God gives a command, how we live it out is our application of it. That is not wrong. But if my application of a Biblical command causes me to disobey another direct Biblical command, then my application can become wrong.

What if I hold my application as high as a Biblical command and teach it as such? Is this wrong? Maybe a better question would be, what did Jesus think of the Pharisees who did that? He described the Pharisees like this, “…they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders…”

And what were those burdens? Was it not their applications that they insisted that everyone must follow just as much– if not more than– God’s commands?

Dwight Gingrich says it like this, “The mere act of treating man’s word as weightily as God’s word is blasphemy against God’s word, a de facto demotion of God to the status of man.”3

And I could add here that treating man’s word as weightily as God’s Word could also be viewed as the attempt to promote man to the status of god.

 

Anabaptist applications

We have many applications/traditions within our Anabaptists circles. They don’t seem odd to most of us because we have grown up with them. We know them well, and for the most part, do not question them. When outsiders view our applications though, they often question why we insist on doing things this specifically. When we defend our applications so religiously that we hold them equal with a command of God, it makes me wonder if we know how to tell the difference between our applications and a Biblical command. Dwight Gingrich addresses this more in depth here .

Dwight also has another essay showing how applications/traditions can be a positive thing when they are done correctly. You can find that here .

 

The head covering– Biblical command or application?

The head covering is a good example of a Biblical command that Anabaptists have added applications to. I have my own preferences for my wife and daughters in regards to our application of this command. However, I doubt that everyone else around me has that exact application. And if I insist that everyone must do exactly as I do or I can not consider them to be a true brother/sister in Christ, something is wrong.

The only thing 1Corinthians 11 says is that women are to pray with their heads covered and the men with their heads uncovered. If God did not deem it necessary to say exactly what that head covering should look like, could it beheadcovering4 that He wanted a variety? Maybe He doesn’t prefer robot replicas all doing the same thing– maybe He likes to see colors and diversities of styles. I don’t know what His reason is for not spelling out, but it just seems if He thought what it looked like –color, shape, size, style– was so important, He would have said so.

It seems to me that God probably cares more about what the headcovering2covered head is supposed to be symbolizing than He does about what that symbol is supposed to look like (since He didn’t spell it out). When we take our focus off the act and onto the symbol, we often end up missing the point.

Women are often confronted quicker for head coverings that aren’t up to code, than they are for not living out the headship order it is supposed to represent. But which of these is actually a commandment of God? Do you think He is more grieved about the actions of a woman that is wearing the correct church coveringsstandard covering while being disrespectful or non-submissive to her husband, or with the non-Anabaptist woman who is in right relationship with her husband and wears a scarf or some other covering? Would Jesus words to the Pharisees apply here? “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”

When someone from outside our Anabaptist traditions attempts to join our group, one of the first things we do is to make sure that their head covering is “up to standard”. Is it the right shape, color, size, etc.? If not, we let them know they need to change it before they can join our fellowship. Sometimes the woman in question may be wearing a covering that covers more of the head than most Anabaptist women’s coverings do, and still we insist she must change because we must have “unity”. But is this unity–or is it just uniformity?

Just because an entire congregation agrees to do something a certain way does not make it Truth or make it equal to a command of God. In fact, it sounds a bit like the post-modern belief of saying truth is relative (truth is truth because we all agree on it).

We say that we must add rules to the covering command to ensure that it is followed and that we don’t lose this practice. But what good is the practice if there is no change in the heart? When our long list of head covering rules is the only thing keeping everyone looking right, all we get is a lot of correct looking “Christians” who are like plastic imitations of the real thing.

In Acts 20:38-32, Paul is addressing some church leaders about dangers that the church would face regarding being drawn away from truth. He warns the overseers of these churches that “wolves” that would enter into the church to “draw away the disciples after them”. But he doesn’t tell them to make a long list of rules and guidelines to protect their flock or to keep them from falling away. He doesn’t tell them to start their own sub-culture to make sure their godliness is passed down to the next generation. In fact Paul warns that some of the danger would come from within their own group (vs. 30). Even if they could keep the “wolves” out, what about the “sheep” within their group that would also be doing the same thing?

So what was Paul’s “solution”? He only exhorts them to “take heed”, to “watch and remember” that he had “not ceased to warn them” and then he says, “I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified..”

Have we just decided within ourselves that Paul’s solution is not sufficient? Have we looked at God’s Word and decided that it is not enough–that we must do more than what God says because we have a better way?

 

 


 

1. Adam Clark commentary on Matthew 15:2

2. http://www.thenazareneway.com/sabbath/39_prohib_sabbath.htm

3. http://dwightgingrich.com/tradition-in-nt-1-bad-examples/