REBIRTH and Righteousness – One reflects the other

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.” (Reference: 1 John 2:29 )

 The first thing I noticed is that this scripture excerpt is much shorter than yesterdays. Means I may not have to write as much. The second thing I noticed is that the verse seems kind of obscure. That means I might have write a lot in order to explain it to my satisfaction. Just saying . . .

 Ah! It helps to understand who “he” and “him” is. The editors of the book say “Righteousness before God depends on rebirth by God’s power; but rebirth will be made visible in righteousness” It would be nice just to end it there, with one reflecting back on the other; being righteous according to God means you have to be reborn through God, and this rebirth will be evident because you are righteous according to God’s standards.

 So, maybe we can stop there. But let’s just see what sort of commentary the historic Anabaptists had on this theme. Dirk Philips is cited again, from his work “The New Birth and the New Creation.” The following is excerpted from that work:

 “New creatures in Christ Jesus are those who are born again out of God the heavenly Father through Christ Jesus and are renewed and sanctified through the Holy Spirit, who have become participants of the divine nature, of the being of Jesus Christ, and of the character of the Holy Spirit . . . In summary, these are righteous and do righteousness just as God out of whom they are born is righteous; these are minded like Christ Jesus and are motivated by the Holy Spirit, 1 John 2:29; Phil. 2:5; Rom. 8:14. Where this takes place, there one sees the kingdom of God, John 3:3; there one comes into the kingdom of heaven; there is a new creature in Christ Jesus, Gal. 6:15.”

 This actually the last scripture passage under the theme of “Rebirth” and this does a good job of summing up the idea of rebirth through God and what it should mean in a person’s life. Note that I did not say historic Anabaptist, or modern Anabaptist/Mennonite. Any Christian who calls themselves a Christian would have undergone rebirth and would show the inward and outward signs of rebirth. Historic Anabaptists may have made a big deal about it, but it should be a life-changing event in every Christian’s life. May it be, beloved, that it was part of yours. Selah!

REBIRTH . . . Changing over to a completely “new leaf”

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Reference: Ephesians 4:17-24 )

Without reading the quotes or editorials, I know this is a scripture passage that the historic Anabaptists used as primary to their faith. Let me go check that I am right.

Well, the commentary on this passage did come out as strongly as I thought it would. With this verse the editors have paired what Jörg Haugk von Jüchsen wrote in “A Christian Order of a True Christian” in 1524. Their excerpt contained this statement: Consequently, a person who does not heed God’s voice in this life will have to hear it in the fire of the second death in order to do the right thing. All evil desires must be destroyed; our hearts must be emptied in order to become new vessels into which God’s grace can be poured . . . One must put on a new nature.

But I tell you beloved, exchange “Gentiles” for those of the state faith, and this passage would sum up with the same vehemence the historic Anabaptist perspective that many of their leaders had. When this radical reformation movement gained momentum, many of their leaders preached and wrote with scathing words indicting non-believers with all manner of sins and misbehaviors. We may hear this sort of vehemence in the months ahead.

You need to understand, beloved, that the Gentiles identified in verse 17 does not refer so much to the believers who were no-Jews and had come to faith as it means a group of people who are similar to one another and are of a cohesive group. In short, the writer of Ephesians those people are identified as having the characteristics that the writer of Ephesians lists. So too the historic Anabaptists considered as a group those people who persecuted them and tortured them as being, . . . well, as the author of Ephesians described them.

This verse was placed under the category of “Rebirth” because it talks about setting aside one way of living and picking up another which is completely different from the former life. As von Jüchsen and the writer of Ephesians said, putting on a new nature.

May you beloved flee (or have already fled) from your old way of living and put on a new life that conforms to Christ and pledges itself to our Lord. Selah!

REBIRTH . . . The inside and the outside in new ways

For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”  (Reference: Galatians 6:15 )

If you would follow the back and forth on circumcision vs uncircumcision, you would get dizzy. I know I did going back and forth on the New Testament citations on the matter. It is a relief than that the author of Galatians (who is also the author of some of the other scriptural citation on circumcision) says one or the other does not matter, but the new creation does.

Now beloved, the historic Anabaptists did not take up the issue of being circumcised or uncircumcised; indeed, they made no mention of this physical action, and up unto today it is not an issue in any modern Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. What the historic Anabaptists did do with this passage is liken outward appearances to outward manifestations of religious belief.

The editors of the book we are using explain this very well when they say, “There were persons in the sixteenth century who believed that a spiritual rebirth and a hidden life of the spirit were all that was necessary for a Christian life.” Dirk Philips replied to these people in his “The New Birth and the New Creature”: “ . . . I answer first that the apostle did not write these words with the intention therewith to nullify or undo any words or ordinances of the Lord. . . . Paul explained his words thus . . . himself when he said, ‘And those who walk according to this rule’ (that is according to the rule, measure, and ordinance of Christ), ‘peace be upon them and upon the Israel of God,’ Gal. 6:16. And in the preceding chapter he says, ‘In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love,’ Gal. 5:6.

This “hidden life of the spirit” meant that what was felt and believed inwardly had no affect on the outward live. In fact, the inner life and the outer life had no relationship to one another what so ever. It may be hard for those who live out their faith everyday to understand this. It is, under a different guise, the same issue of work versus faith. Faith without works – meaning as long as I believe I do not have to modify my behavior. But works without faith is just as bad – I do good for morality (or other rationale’s) sake, but I do not believe in anything beyond myself and my own experience.

But of course, to the historic Anabaptist hiding one’s spiritual life makes no sense. Much of their faith rested on water baptism as an outward sign of matured inner believe, Communion as a reminder of Christ’s death and resurrection, and scripture interpreted by God’s Spirit. All outer things with inward meaning. Why would one tuck away inside these things?

May you beloved tend to your inner spiritual life and allow it to come through to your outer life guiding you in the ways of God. Selah!

REBIRTH . . . Regaining and retaining the best of childhood

Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.” (Reference: 1 Corinthians 14:20 )

There is much talk and conversation about the innocence of childhood, and I agree with that – up to a point. Little children can be the picture of innocence right up to the point where they do something they have been told not to! Having been a child myself, and raising three children, I KNOW that children are not as innocent as popular opinion would have us believe. But the “naughty” things that children do (for the most part) are not the type of horrifying sin that adults do. To really be truly sinful inside and out, it takes an adult. That is why the writer of I Corinthians can say “be infants in evil”.

The silly willful mischievous that children do such as taking cookies when they should not, touching things they’ve been told to stay away from, making a scene in a store, and other things that with time and perspective fade to memories. And if one follows all of the advice in this verse, the thinking adult will veto the small “evils” that children will do, and will use wisdom and insight to correct the missteps of the human spirit.

Menno Simons (one of the prominent leaders in the historic Anabaptist faith) said the test of rebirth is whether the innocence of children is found in our hearts. He said further, “And, verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Test yourself with these. If you are born of the pure seed of the holy Word, the nature of the seed must be in you. And if you have become like little children . . . then pride, unchastity, avarice, hatred, and envy no longer reside in you, for the innocent children know nothing of such sins.”

It is true – children are taught these things, by “unthinking” adults. Consider that; it is the teachings of adults that lead children into sin and to a knowledge of what sin is. It would be unconscionable NOT to teach children the difference between sin and goodness. But to teach a child TO sin – well, the depths of hell are prepared for such people.

This concept of being as innocent as a child is one reason that rebirth happens in adulthood. The small things I mentioned up above, and other little naughty things have either been outgrown by adulthood; or have manifested themselves into arrogance and insensitivity in adulthood. Either way, the sins of adulthood are of deeper and wider consequence. Going back to the innocence of a child is a way of placing ourselves under the direction and guidance of our parental God. We learn the lessons of life and come to know their consequences. It is then that we turn away from all wrongdoing and fully embrace the purity and innocence of childhood even as we retain the understanding of the mature mind.

May you gentle reader be as innocent as a child under the loving hand of our Lord, and may your small missteps bring you closer to God. Selah!

REBIRTH . . . Born Again by Wind, Spirit & Water

Jesus answered [Nicodemus], “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Reference: John 3:3-8 )

Here, for many Christians, is the heart of the matter concerning re-birth. It comes from God, and while water baptism is the outward sign, the true commitment and change comes from within and is internal. You can see it, if you know what to look for. But if you do not know what to look for (and the best way to know is if you yourself have been reborn), then it will remain a mystery to you.

How can you example the movement of the Spirit? How can you help someone understand what it means to see life so radically differently that it is like you have become a different person – no longer the person you were before, but a new being living a new way of life. One historic Anabaptist preacher, thought to be Eitelhans Langenmantel, of Augsburg, said it in this excerpt that follows: “There is no other birth [meaning re-birth – I am guessing] than hearing God’s Word and receiving it into one’s heart. Such persons are willing to do everything that the Word teaches them in their hearts, according to the will of God (1 Pet. 4). If they do this, no longer doing the will of the world but the will of God, they are true children of God; they are also truly born again. But those who hear the Word and refuse to do what the Word teaches (which proceeds from God and was opened up by Christ), these can never be born again until they hear the Word in their hearts and obey it, as Christ taught us.

Modern Anabaptists/Mennonites speak not so much of being born again but being changed by the Spirit into a new being, shedding themselves of old ways and following the ways of God. And more importantly (which explains why being “born again” is an incomplete concept for them) continuing to seek out and do God’s will. It is not just a one time moment, but a change in thinking that lasts one’s entire live.

May you, beloved, set away your old life never to pick it up again and instead follow God listening for the Lord’s divine work and making that your life’s work and priority. Selah!

REBIRTH: Born of the true God

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (Reference: John 1:11-13 )

If you think about it, the historic Anabaptists were not much different than the early Jewish and Gentile Christians. They felt that they and they alone had seen/been told the truth. And only they, who believed it, had the correct type of faith and worshiped God correctly. The writer of John told the historic Anabaptists that Jesus’ people, his friends and family, did not believe him to be the Messiah. The Jewish officials and leaders did not see Jesus for what he was. Only those who had faith and through that faith were born again saw Jesus correctly and worshiped him as a consequence. This is as true of the early Christians as it was of the historic Anabaptists.

But most people, who creating a new faith system, believe they have the right handle on faith and everyone else is wrong. It is the nature of strong faith. Jesus said that faith built on shaky ground will fail; but faith built on strong ground will survive every storm. Do not judge a faith by the vehemence of the believers, the lengths they will go to, or how loudly or long they proclaim that faith. Judge by whether it is based on the true and authentic God. How do you know that? Well . . . it is a matter of faith.

May you beloved look to and know the true God, and may you be reborn through faith in that God. Selah!

REBIRTH . . . Not always the quiet pastoral

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.” (Reference: Luke 5:37-38 )

A life of discipleship requires strength that exceeds natural human capacity” , so says the editors of the book where these scripture passages are gathered. The historic Anabaptists knew this was true. They wrote to each other, encouraged each other, and prayer for each other. Newness of spirit would burst the old containers, the old body. While the historic Anabaptists did not believe they really had new bodies or above human standards bodies; but they were able to endure physical tortures and yet hold fast to their faith and beliefs.

Joost Verkindert wrote to his two brothers, “ . . for the flesh always shrinks from suffering. Nevertheless, my dear brothers, there must be suffering, either here or hereafter, for Christ says that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence . . “ This he wrote on the 100th day of his imprisonment. I am not sure what he meant by “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence”. He cites Matthew 11:12 where Jesus said that people have used violence in trying to control the coming of the kingdom and have done violence because of it. So that there should be no surprise that violence is being used again.

Rebirth or transformation does not always happen easily or slowly. Sometimes the Spirit bursts into a persons life and the transformation comes amidst “violent” changes and revelations. The reason, beloved, that new wine must be put into new wine skins is that the fermenting process is one of expansion and undulations. The old wine skins (or old ways) could not withstand the changes within. It requires strength and newness.

May you, beloved, be renewed so that the changes that God is making within you can be completed and come to full strength and potency. Selah!

REBIRTH . . . Finding a way to start anew; A Preacher and Seeker Reflection

Preacher: Lord, we have wandered into places and situation that are wrong for us. We have not followed and honored your holy name, but have brought shame upon it. Help us Lord to start anew!
Seeker: “I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries . . .”
Preacher: We remember Lord what it was like to dwell in your Presence and follow your Laws. We long for those days. Help us Lord to start anew!
Seeker: “. . and bring you into your own land.”
Preacher: Thank you Lord for gathering us to you. But we see ourselves, Lord, dirty and defiled. Our sins stick to us like mud and dung. Help us Lord to start anew!
Seeker: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses “
Preacher: We are shamed by our actions and what we have done worshiping false gods, preferring them against your Rule of Righteousness and Compassion. Help us Lord to start anew!
Seeker: “ . . . and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
Preacher: We are fearful Lord that when tempted we will go back to our evil practices. We want to stay faithful, but fear our weaknesses will betray us. Help us Lord to start anew!
Seeker: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you;”
Preacher: Search our hearts of Lord, that we might free to worship as you command. We desire Lord to be a people of kindness and compassion, as your are. Help us Lord to start anew!
Seeker: “ . . . and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Preacher: Your words, O Lord are a balm to our spirit, and your promises, that are never broken, reassure that we can once more be in communion with you! Thank you Lord for helping us start anew!
Seeker: “I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” (Reference: Ezekiel 36:24-27 )

The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible said in regards to this passage, “Being reborn by the power of God provided the foundation for Anabaptist spirituality and discipleship.” And Dirk Philips also wrote of this rebirth and transformation in his “The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (circa. 1557) “For what is the new birth other than the transforming and renewing of the person which God works in him through faith in Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit? Thus the person is created anew out of God, born of his seed, 1 Pet. 1:23, made in his image, Col. 3:10, renewed in his knowledge, becomes partaker of his divine nature, Eph. 4:24; new being of the Spirit, John 14:17; 16:13, in holiness and righteousness all the days of his life, John 20:22; Luke 1:75. Where this takes place and is in process as a pregnancy, there is the genuine new birth; there is the new creature in Christ Jesus, John 3:3; Gal. 6:15.”

May you, beloved, be reborn and transformed constantly, so that you might ever be within our Lord’s presence. Selah!

REBIRTH . . . Born and Reborn There

The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. (Selah) Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia—“This one was born there,” they say. And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in it”; for the Most High himself will establish it. The Lord records, as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.” (Selah)” (Reference: Psalms 87:2-6 )

The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible say, “Many Anabaptists interpreted selected scriptural images as “figures” for other realities.” This very true, and it happens in the Psalms, in Revelation, and in other biblical books that use images and metaphors. In this way the historic Anabaptists and their more contemporary spiritual descents are a very creative and imaginative lot. It is one of the things I like about being an Anabaptist/Mennonite – creative scriptural interpretation, but always in line with the inspiration of the Spirit. I remember one time when a pastor and myself were inspired to interpret and present scripture in the same way. It made for a double-whammy worship service! To the dismay of the worship planner I might add! So when we apply this understanding to the passage from Psalms chapter 87 what we get is an image of people born in one place but being of the sort of spiritual people who would have been born/reborn in the spiritual places of God – ie, it is like that person was born in this holy place or is off that holy place. We all are/were/will be born on earth to human earthly parents, but by following God and Christ it will seem like we were born/come from/are reborn from God’s holy places on high. What a compliment and attribute to have!

May you beloved live such a Christ-centered life that it might be said you are born in a place of the Most High!

DISCIPLESHIP . . . . For Life and Death

“If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (Reference: 1 Peter 2:20-24 )

The historic Anabaptists were not the only group who are models for discipleship. The Quakers, the Hutterites, the Methodists, the Baptists, the Lutherans – any denomination that has stepped out from under the shadow of an established religion has had to find their own way to discipleship. If they had not, their denomination and faith practices would not have been established. At one the Roman Catholics were but a pale image of what they are now. Each denomination and faith practice can be traced back to the early Christian church. And each continent where they are Christian churches now were once “early Christian” churches.

And each church has to “endure” through the opposition, mistrust, oppression/suppression, and at times outright persecution. The historic Anabaptists do not have a monopoly on that. And each denomination felt that they (and sometimes felt that they alone) were following God correctly. Unfortunately when they became established, they took upon themselves the dominant and official way of belief, forgetting that they were once marginalized.

The historic Anabaptists modeled their response to opposition and oppression on how Christ responded, not chastising or condemning his accusers, but stating simply and openly what he believed and why. And as Christ entrusted himself to God, so did the historic Anabaptists.

Each of Christ’s disciples were willing to suffer in order to follow Christ, and found it a privilege to be cast in the same mode of “guilt” that Christ was. And Paul, who turned his life around, counted it a privilege and blessing to suffer for his mission in spreading the word of God. The historic Anabaptists, and their spiritual descendents counted their lives a success if they lived as Christ commanded all of his followers to live. That is the heart of discipleship; discerning Christ/God’s will and following that faithfully each day of your life even if it leads to your death.

May you beloved live such a life of discipleship. Selah!