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.


  1. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Marpeck,_Pilgram_(d._1556)
  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.
  7. http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/150
  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)https://www.goshen.edu/mhl/Refocusing/d-av.htm
  20. Murray, Naked Anabaptist, pg. 66

 

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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.


1. http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/biomoody6.html

2. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2006/03/lloyd-jones-on-baptism-with-holy/

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

http://www.inthebeginning.com/articles/moody2.htm

4. Ibid

5. Works of Jonathon Edwards, Volume One, Sect. II http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works1.ix.ii.ii.html

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 history.bible-glasses 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

The Imperfect Process

The current method of Anabaptists in ordaining ministers by the use of the lot is not without flaws. Is there a flawless method that we could use instead that would fix all the problems that come with the use of the lot? I doubt it.

Anytime you work with non-perfect humans in a non-perfect world, you will have problems. So if I criticize things and share about painful things that people have experienced during the use of the lot, it’s not that I think some other method will erase all problems in ordaining men to leadership. But I do think we need to be made aware of issues that men and their families face because of the lot. That said, I do believe there are other biblical methods and that we should recognize that we don’t hold the on candle on the only or the best way of doing things.

It does seem that we use a method that many don’t really believe in– though we claim to.

The Calling

When a church announces that they will soon be ordaining a new minister, people begin to discuss who they think will make a good leader. Rarely are men asked if they feel called to the ministry. But in our culture, even if a man feels called, to tell someone would be equated with being proud. So even when a man feels a calling, he will try to “humbly” deny that he does because to admit that you have a desire and feel called is viewed as being proud. So it is hard to know who actually feels any kind of calling.

Herein lies the first problem. Sometimes men’s names are put into the lot who feel no calling and are perfectly content being a lay person. Other men who do feel a calling, but are not the charismatic, outgoing, popular type are often overlooked. I have heard from both types. For those who do not feel called, it is hard to refuse the lot because people say things like, “How do know for sure this is not God’s will for you?” Or, “Maybe you are supposed to be in this lot to affirm God’s will in affirming the other brother”.

It seems to me that a man should be able to tell whether he has a calling to preach or not. There should also be some way of acknowledging that calling, or lack of calling, honestly. And for those men that do feel a calling, why could we not encourage them to begin to take some steps in training and developing that calling? We have no problem when those of other callings take steps to prepare themselves for the job God gives them.

The Timing

After the names are given for the lot, within a short amount of time the church makes a new minister. Often the time is from Friday night to Sunday night. In two days time, the life of several men can take a complete turnaround. For someone who does not feel a calling, it can feel like the longest weekend ever experienced– filled with dread.

For another who feels called, it can also be dread. How do you completely prepare your heart to possibly step into a leadership role that is only a few days away, but at the same time also completely prepare your heart that the lot may not fall on you?

One brother described his time in the lot like this, “We don’t believe in crucifixion, but we come pretty close when we take a contented lay brother and within a couple days make a preacher out of him. It is extremely hard on the mental and emotional well-being of the individual.”

Some churches have attempted to put a longer time frame on the process of the lot. They have a time of waiting for a week or more after the names are announced. But this only brings more problems.

During the waiting period, if anyone has concerns or questions for those whose names are in the lot, they can bring them to the individual. This can also be an emotionally trying time.

You will never find a perfect preacher with a perfect family, but there is a tendency to put more expectation on a preachers than on others. Then for those in the lot, we take those same expectations and inspect every element of their life– maybe even more than we do for those already in the ministry. Every past sin (whether five or twenty years prior) is brought up to make sure it’s been completely taken care of. Their children are brought up and any wrong deeds or mischief done– past or present– is mentioned and discussed. Things that didn’t matter as a member suddenly become a huge deal. Splinters now seem like planks as their lives are looked at with magnifying glasses. One wife described it like this, “It seemed like our family was knifed open, inspected, then left bleeding and then we were still expected to carry on as though nothing had happened.”

The Night of and Months After..

Families who have been in the lot tell me that the lot had such an impact that their lives were changed forever. That’s a pretty huge statement. Several have said it was the hardest thing they ever faced. And yet this is not something you hear spoken of much. Too many of us come to watch the proceedings out of curiosity without even considering that these lives have been impacted and will continue to be impacted by things that are often very painful.

When a man feels called and the lot falls on him, the struggle that happens after the lot is not something he will ever face. Because of this, leaders cannot identify with those struggling and rarely address the issues that follow.

When a man does not feel called and the lot does not fall on him, there is a sense of relief. But still in the days and weeks that follow, he may still question some of the same things that men who felt a strong calling do.

When a man feels called and the lot does not fall on him, he questions why God put him in there to begin with. He questions why he was not chosen. He wonders if there is something in his life that is lacking. Was he not fervent enough in serving God? What does God see in him that is deficient? He wonders what God saw in him that disqualified him. He begins to take a second look at his life and even at his wife and children. Is there some area of sin in their lives that he missed? Are they the reason God “rejected” him? What is it that God saw that made Him reject his service? He begins to question his calling and wonders if he misunderstood altogether.

Not Good Enough

Attending church feels different than before. People watch his family through a much more critical eye. All mistakes and negative traits in him, his wife, and his children are magnified and every fault is pointed out. Remarks are made such as, “No wonder the lot didn’t fall on him.”

His family may not look or act any differently from anyone else at church, but people want something to blame for why God rejected this man’s leadership, so every fault is pointed out.

To my shame, I have been guilty of this. Who of us have never taken a second look at the one who didn’t “get the lot”? It’s easy to see other people’s glaring mistakes and when you are looking for something negative to blame the “disfavor of God” on, you will find it. We become like Job’s friends and point accusingly rather than just walking alongside to be a friend in a much needed time.

“I felt completely alone, like all my friends did not want to associate with us anymore.”

Why do we withdraw during the times in people’s lives that they need support the most? I think sometimes it is mostly because we feel awkward and don’t know what to say. This is also how we feel when there is a death in the family of people we care about. But yet we still try because we know that to withdraw from someone in pain could be devastating. Could we not do the same when someone we care about experiences the death of a vision they had?

I have a strong sense of justice. Admittedly, it may be too strong at times. When someone shares an injustice with me, something in me wants to come to their defense and make it right. I mentioned in a previous post that I have seen men and their families hurt by the lot. This is not usually shared publically by these families or talked about much because to do so could cause them to be viewed as sulking about the outcome of the lot.

Most men in the ministry have not faced what these families face simply because most have not ever been on that side of the lot. Most of the time these issues are overlooked and not addressed at all. So I write because I have never heard anyone address this problem.

I have also been told of several men who ended up leaving congregations they stood ready to lead just a few years prior. While the lot may not have been the only factor in it, it was a large part of the reason.

I realize that no method of ordaining leaders is entirely free from causing rejection and pain. I have also heard a similar story from a man regarding election. I write about the lot because that is the method I am familiar with. My reason for writing is simply to point out to something that is not often addressed and ask that we as Anabaptist people consider those brothers and their families and begin to care about them.

And in all fairness, not every single person that is put into the lot will identify with this. In one of my previous posts regarding the lot, a man commented that he had been in the lot four times and it was not a negative experience. He did not elaborate, but apparently he has not faced what a majority of others have.

Changes

Personally, I would rather see our method of ordaining change than just bringing reformation to our current method. I think our reasons for thinking we must use the lot are not a good argument. However, Anabaptists are not known for accepting change well. We like our methods that we have been doing for a long time and we tend to view change as being a threat to our existence.

So for those churches who will not even consider changing the method of ordaining, it is time we repent of those areas that are not right. It is not right to treat our method like a ouija board and ask, “Who will God favor, and who will God reject?” and then wait for the ax to fall. Let’s not forget there are real people involved.

Make sure the men that are put in the lot actually feel a calling to the ministry. Find a way to prepare those who do feel called. Some churches do classes on spiritual gifts. That can help determine which men feel called without making them feel they must deny a calling out of false humility.

And most of all, don’t expect that those men who didn’t “get the lot”, to be able to just go on as if nothing ever happened. They have just faced one of the hardest things they will ever face. Acknowledge their pain and questions. Minister to their needs. Don’t stand back with judgment and blame– adding to their burden.

And maybe, just maybe, could we consider that the reason we are even having this issue is because this was not how God intended for men to be chosen for the ministry?

 

The Way We’ve Always Done It?

In the New Testament, the method for ordaining of leaders is not always clear cut, nor is any specific way of doing it commanded. Anabaptists through the past centuries have used the process of election, the laying of hands by leaders, and the use of the lot for choosing leaders.1  In most Anabaptist churches in America today, especially the more conservative ones, the lot is the prescribed method, with many believing it is the only way.

Most Anabaptists have been using the lot as the chosen method for ordaining men to leadership positions for centuries. Some groups have been using it longer than others-the Mennonites apparently practicing it much longer the Amish. The Amish in America used election, as those in Europe did, and only began using the lot since the 19th century. Its use in Europe was not common, so some theorize that they began to eventually use the lot because the Mennonites in America did. 2

There is no documented evidence that the earliest Anabaptists used the lot to ordain their leaders. There is also no reference made of it in any of the earliest Mennonite Confessions of Faith. However, there is mention made in some early documents of the Swiss Mennonites that infer that the lot may have been used throughout the 17th through 19th centuries.

Some Anabaptist groups, such as the Dutch, North and East German, and Russian Mennonite groups in Europe, never used the lot at all. Neither did any of their descendant groups elsewhere in the world. 3

Staying in Control

While it is certainly true that we have been using the lot for a long time, I have come to question whether very many of us truly believe that God reveals His will through the lot? It seems to me that many churches either do not really believe in it or else they don’t trust God entirely to be able choose the right man.

We say we believe God works through the lot, but we do whatever we can to keep control over the lot. For example, we like to “stack the odds” by putting a requirement on the amount of votes a man must have to be in the lot. We then argue that God will make sure the right man is put in by putting the name on enough people’s hearts. But couldn’t the same be said about election? Why not just use a popular vote?

If we really believe in the lot, all elements of human interference should be eliminated.

What if the men we have chosen are not who God desires to have in there? Maybe we should be willing to have an extra book that means “none of these at this time”? We don’t like that idea because it might make us start all over with the process. We are usually pretty sure that the names we have in there are the right ones.

Besides, we want to stay in control.

But people don’t always get it right. Even when Samuel went to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king, the one whom he was sure was the right man was not who God had chosen. God’s response to Samuel’s choice was,”…the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1Sam. 16:7b)

Why Only for Ordaining?

Why are we so determined that the use of the lot is the best– if not the only way– to ordain ministers? We are not willing to use it in any other areas of life. In the Old Testament it was used to decide where the tribes’s land boundaries should be. How many of us would we also be alright with using the lot to decide how much land we could own and where at?lots

In Joshua 7, the lot was used to determine that Achan was guilty of stealing. Jonah was also found to be the cause of the storm by lot. Would we also be willing to use the lot to determine guilt or innocence in a man?

Would you be willing to have your marriage partner chosen for you by the lot? There were some adherents of the lot that used it for that purpose. Some used it for this purpose still in the 19th century.4

Using a lot for these purposes today seems a bit over the top. Most of us would not be willing to use it for these.

I once heard a joke told about a man who was in anguish because of things in his life being so hard. So he turned to the Bible for direction. He let the Bible fall open and put his finger down, hoping God would show him some direction. He found his finger on Mat. 27:5 with the story of Judas hanging himself.

He decided to try it again. This time his finger landed on Luke 10:37 and he read, “Go, and do likewise. In trepidation he tried it for the third time and he opened to John 13:27. This time he read, “That thou doest, do quickly.”

We may laugh at this, but most of us would think it’s dangerous to use this “random procedure” as a discernment tool. Yet it carries with it the same idea as the lot. Hebrews 5:14 speaks of those who have “their powers of discernment trained by constant practice”. Using random procedures do not train our “powers of discernment”.

Is the reason we use the lot because we are too lazy, or not willing, to train our powers of discernment? Is the reason that we can’t trust God to direct us by the Holy Ghost because we don’t even know His voice?

The Only Way?

Still many insist the lot must be used as the only way we can truly know who God wants put in as a minister. Some people complain about ministers who have not been ordained by lot. They feel that ministers can’t be considered truly ordained in God’s eyes if their name is unanimously given by the church and the lot is not used. They claim those that are ordained by lot have been “chosen by God”, but others have only been “chosen by men”

How can anyone feel so strongly that this is the only prescribed way when Scripture does not command it? Have we added to Scripture and taught it thus?

The New Testament lists three different ways leaders were chosen.

– The lot (Acts1:20-26)

– men chosen by the congregation (Acts 6:1-6 ) This would sound more like the process of election

– leaders appointing other leaders  (Acts 14:21-23, Titus 1:5-7)

If men are following God’s will, seeking to hear the Holy Ghost, and are truly open to whatever His direction is, God will show His will. However, when self-seeking men take things into their own hands, God may give them what they want, but it may not be what His perfect will is.

An example of this would be when Israel demanded a king. God gave them what they wanted, but it was not what His perfect desire for them was. When their king turned away from God, it did not negate his authority. They were left with the consequences of the insisting on their own way.

All three of these methods have the potential of self-seeking men abusing the method and forcing their own way. The lot is not any more “foolproof” than the other two.

We tend to avoid the other two methods because we don’t trust that the Holy Spirit could lead the church directly or through the leaders to directly appoint another leader. There have been times when congregations have appointed men to leadership without the lot simply because only one name was given. But I personally don’t know of any conservative Anabaptist churches that allow the ministry team or elders to just appoint another leader. Yet, that is a New Testament method that is mentioned twice.

Are we afraid that our leaders are not full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom?

Maybe we are afraid that it would get misused because we have seen abuse in our “strong hierarchical power structure” too often in other ways. But even the lot is not entirely safe from this. All three methods are open to abuse if power-hungry men are left unchecked. But if a church has leaders that are led by the Holy Ghost and meet the criteria of leaders, then why could they not discern God’s will to know which leaders to appoint?

When the Lot is Used

If we don’t believe that God can guide us directly through the Holy Ghost, then that does leave us with only the lot. But even with the lot, we often question and doubt the names that are given and pick apart even those that the lot has fallen on. Do we actually believe in that method? Is our problem just wanting to stay in control as much as possible?

God does not condemn the use of the lot and I won’t either, but if we are going to claim God is directing us through it, then let Him direct.

 

 


1. Margory Warkentin, Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View, pg.64, 65

2.  Paton Yoder,   Tradition and Transition: Amish Mennonites and Old Order Amish, 1800-1900, pg. 64

3. Bender, Harold S. “Lot.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 16 Sep 2016

4. http://bdhp.moravian.edu/community_records/register/marriages/marriageslot.html

 

 

 

I am planning to write one more post on the lot. I will be sharing the experiences of some that have been in the lot. Names will not be used. If you wish to share your experience (positive or negative), please email me at simonfry88@outlook.com

Is the Lot the Only Biblical Way to Ordain?

If you grew up in an Anabaptist setting, ordinations were the height of suspense and anticipation. Every church in the surrounding area for miles knew whose names were in the lot and when the ordination would be. Churches were packed with visitors who came to watch the proceedings whenever there was an ordination.

As a curious child, ordinations were an entertaining event to attend. It was rather like a Mennonite version of the TV show Survivor and we got to see “who will make it” and “who will get picked off”– all in live studio. The air crackled with suspenseful solemnity. Adults cried and children stared.

In adulthood, that entertainment factor ended.song-book Men that I knew well and respected were affected deeply by the outcome of the lot. Sometimes the things that happened during and after the lot were deeply painful for those whose names were in it.

There are aspects of the lot that I really don’t like. Some of it is because of those close friends who have shared some of their painful experiences, and some of it is because I have begun to question if it is really the prescribed New Testament practice.

Using the lot to choose our leaders is one of those things that is not questioned by most because just like many of our other practices, it’s “the way we have always done it”. But what is the most common way leaders were chosen in the New Testament?

Anabaptists base their practice of using the lot from the account found in Acts 1:20-26.

20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.  21 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,  22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto the same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection.  23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.  24 And they prayed, and said, Thou Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen.  25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.  26. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

The only other account we have of the lot being used in the New Testament is found when soldiers cast lots for Jesus’s clothes. In all the other instances when leaders were ordained, there is no mention of a lot being used. I realize that is not necessarily evidence that the lot was not used, but it is also not pointed to as being the method, nor are we commanded at any point to use the lot.

Since the New Testament does not give a clear directive regarding the method for electing leaders, we can only look at the examples given in Scripture and draw our own conclusions for what is the best way from those examples and from experience.

The first thing that stood out to me in looking at the appointment of leaders is that when the lot was used to choose Matthias, it was done to fulfill an Old Testament prophesy and the method used to find God’s will was a method that we find spoken of frequently in the Old Testament. The second thing that stands out is that it occurred before Pentecost and before the Holy Ghost had fallen upon the church. After the Holy Ghost came, there is no specific mention of the lot being used again.

The first instance that we have of men being appointed to leadership positions after Pentecost is found in Acts 6:1-6.

1 And in those days, when the number of disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.  2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.  3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.  4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.  5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:   6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

In this account, the multitude simply chose seven men that they knew to be honest and full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom. The apostles then prayed and laid their hands on them. Nothing is mentioned about lots.

In Acts 14:21-23, we see Paul and Barnabas ordaining elders in every church they planted.

21. And when they (Paul and Barnabas) had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra and to Iconium, and Antioch,  22. Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God  23. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

Again, nothing is really mentioned of the method used here except that it was done with prayer and fasting. It is also evident that the church planters were part of the process. In my Strong’s Concordance, this word “ordained”(5500) is defined this way: 1. To vote by stretching out the hand 2. To create or appoint by vote: one to have charge of some office or duty 3. To elect, create, appoint

This doesn’t seem like the process of a lot.

 

In Titus 1:5, Paul gives Titus instructions to ordain elders in every city.

5. For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:

This word “ordain” is not the same word that is used in Acts 14. This word (2525) means “to set, place, put”. Again, there is no evidence of the lot being used. There is only instruction from Paul to Titus to ordain leaders in the same way that Paul had “appointed” him.

The last verse that I want to point out yet is found in Acts 20:28

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

In this verse we see the Holy Ghost as being involved it the establishing of overseers. Anabaptist tend to view the work of the Holy Spirit as being a subtle, not really noticed, influence in the lives of mankind. Regardless of how you view the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of man today, this is not an accurate description of how the Holy Spirit worked in lives of the apostles, disciples, or the early church.

Throughout the New Testament, when mention is made of the Holy Ghost revealing anything to the apostles or disciples, it’s not ever through a lot. The Holy Ghost revealed things to them in a very direct manner with words, pictures, visions, and dreams. In other words, they did not need a lot to show them what God wanted them to do. The Holy Spirit was a real Person to them and led them clearly.

I don’t believe it is wrong to use the practice of the lot to ordain a minister. That may be the only way for churches who do not hear the voice of God through the Holy Ghost to have the will of God revealed. However, I do not believe it is the method that men that are “filled with Holy Ghost and power” use to appoint leaders.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Has the use of the lot impacted your life? I have heard from four different families who have gone through some pretty negative things as a result of the lot. What has your experience been? Positive or negative, I would like to hear it. I am planning to share some of these things in a later post. If you wish to share confidently, please email me. No names will be used.

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