PERSECUTION . . . Withstood through the Spirit

“He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. God, who is enthroned from of old, who does not change— he will hear them and humble them, because they have no fear of God. ” (Reference: Psalm 55:18 )

Oh! We are starting a new theme, and it caught me off guard! I was expecting more “Spirit”. But actually this new theme does relate back to the Spirit, because it was only through the strength of the Spirit that the historic Anabaptist were able to withstand the persecution that they were subjected to. And the Psalms, especially the Psalms of lament, are well matched to the historic Anabaptists. And you must understand beloved, if a historic Anabaptist was able to withstand torture and persecution without recanting faith, they considered themselves to be “unharmed.” Remember their perspective that the body/flesh may be sinful and weak, but the spirit/heart can remain intact and pure. Jesus said, and they read it, fear not the one who can hurt the body; but fear the one that can harm the soul/spirit. It is fearing God, reverencing God, and following God that was important to them.

I do not know what you face each day, beloved. But I pray that you will remain strong in your faith, and that the Spirit will be with you and minister to you. Selah!

SPIRIT . . . Wisdom and Direction on a Different Level

The man [or woman] without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (Reference: 1 Corinthians 2:14 [Addition mine])

In 1569 three historic Anabaptists were brought before a group of governmental officials to be judged and condemned. One of historic Anabaptists, Hendrick Alewijns, made the following statement: “Most worthy officers, justiciaries, and all my lords, who in the name and by the authority of the king are to be my judges and examiners, and are present here, give audience to me, the condemned, Hendrick Alewijns, now ready here for the torture, through your sentence. Behold, I find myself inwardly constrained, and incessantly urged, not to neglect to point out and make known to you all the outrages committed by you on me and those like me, who are innocent of wicked crimes and have not merited legal punishment.

In the first place, let it be clearly, sacredly and scripturally shown, announced and declared to you, that our, or my matters, are not misdeeds or crimes, but a law of God, matters of faith, and of the spirit; hence they ought to and must be judged spiritually and with the spirit, for a natural man cannot comprehend them; they are foolishness to him. 1 Cor. 2:14. Consider this freely and thoroughly.” He and his fellow believers were burned anyway.

Honest and basic men and women living as they felt God called them. This has been the legacy of the Anabaptists/Mennonites from their first beginnings until day. Every day, every single day, living as God has called them to live. I was thinking about this the morning that I wrote this, that writing these commentaries daily is part of my living my Anabaptist/Mennonite faith daily. Every day. Yes, sometimes it is tiring. And sometimes I wish . . . well, I don’t know exactly what I wish, but it is sometimes so tempting to see what it would be like NOT to be a daily fervent believer. To say “today I do what I WANT TO DO!” But then I think about what I REALLY WANT TO DO and I realize the Spirit is so deep and wide in my that what I want to do and what I am called to do by the Spirit are really the same. I am not saying I am perfect – but there comes a point when being “spiritual” is so much of who you are that to be anything else would be impossible. However, I did not mean to make myself the focus here.

Beloved, it is my hope and prayer that you understand what I mean and do not find it foolishness. Not because I fear being called a “fool” but I fear that when the end of this world comes you will find yourself being judged by God according to spiritual standards, and be found wanting. Do not let it be so! Selah!

SPIRIT . . . The who’s who of Spiritual containment

Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Reference: Romans 8:8-10 )

We have established that the Holy Spirit comes when a person accepts God and Christ, and has made signs both outwardly and inwardly that their lives are God controlled. The thing that may be hardest to understand is the time table for these changes. Actually, beloved, the outward sign often lags behind the inner changes. That is, baptism can come some time after a person had accepted God and Christ, at least in the Mennonite faith. But we have moved past baptism and are considering now just the Spirit.

Dirk Philips, a historic Anabaptist who gave much thought and wrote down his thoughts wrote the following; “. . . no one can understand Christ’s doctrine, much less abide in it, except through the

Holy Spirit. And no one has the Holy Spirit except one who is no longer carnally but spiritually minded, as Paul says, “But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness,” Rom. 8:9-10. . .”

Let’s take this in small thought bits. Christ and God, two parts of the triune Divine, have certain expectations and standards. To one who does not believe these expectations and standards can sound pretty unusual. To understand them and live them out, one must already have asked Christ and God to control their life. You see belief and faith really precede understanding. It is the desire to know God and Christ that leads to enough information that the beginning believer decides to take a “leap of faith” and commit themselves deeper.

And when this “leap of faith” is leaped – so to speak – that the Holy Spirit settles into the beginning believer’s heart and soul. Once there, the Spirit teaches the believer more. Paul, and Philips, say that the beginning believer is focused on the agenda and priorities of the Holy Spirit, and not worldly/sinful/flesh desires and agenda. Without the Spirit there is not even a beginning of belief, so the non-believer is considered to still be of the sinful world.

Remember that the historic Anabaptists believed the body was sinful because was of earth and flesh, but the mind/soul could be spiritual and pure. There was a sharp division between body and spirit/mind, and it took modern Anabaptists/Mennonites centuries to overcome that split to see that the body and mind are inexorably linked. And that the body is no impure than the mind, and that the mind is no purer than the body.

Worry not, beloved. If you have asked God and Christ (I use both these terms back and forth because one is no different than the other) to take control of your life, for your body and your spirit/heart/mind belong to the Lord. And you are of the Spirit. Selah!

SPIRIT . . . It comes for all

Peter replied, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Reference: Acts 2:38-39 )

And you thought we were done with baptism . . . I did too! But as had been said over and over, first is confession and forgiveness, then the external sign of baptism, and then the coming of the Spirit. It has been this way since Peter first preached after the coming of the Spirit to him. This is something Anabaptists/Mennonites from times know. When the Spirit comes, the mouth gives testament to it. And even when the mouth does not preach, the actions of one’s body and heart communicate the nature of the soul and human spirit.

Did you know, beloved, there are Mennonites on every continent of the world? As you have probably guessed already, not all Christians are Anabaptists/Mennonites. But all Anabaptist/Mennonites are Christians. And the gift of the Holy Spirit is for all Christians, what ever their denomination/religious affiliation might be. And if I may be so bold, the Holy Spirit is not just for Christians. Yes, we may claim, or try to claim, monopoly of the Spirit; but as we move through the days I am hoping their will be more verses that show the diversity of the Holy Spirit. But for now, embrace the Spirit, and invite God’s Presence into your life. Selah!

SPIRIT . . . One Spirit . . . . But not one cohesive people

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Reference: John 20:22-23 )

The writer of the gospel of John places this scene after Jesus has risen from the dead and has shown himself to the disciples. Other gospels place the giving of the Holy Spirit after Jesus has returned to heaven, keeping to the strict structure of Jesus gone and the Spirit comes. If the original disciples walked amongst us, we could ask them.

The point is not so much when the Spirit came, but that it did come. The historic Anabaptists tied together the coming of the Spirit and the forgiving or not forgiving of sins. Pilgram Marpeck wrote “For the Holy Spirit of God is the key of heaven, through which sin is retained or forgiven in the community of the saints! . . . . No one is commanded to judge without the Holy Spirit, without whom no certain judgment is possible.” This may seem to indicate that historic Anabaptists left all judgments to the Spirit.

Very early on, when the beliefs of t he historic Anabaptists were solidifying some interpretations of the Spirit would clashes with another, and each group would “withhold” forgiveness from the other, and refuse to have brotherhood, one with the other. This aspect of historic Anabaptist that comes down to us and still lingers in our practices is the act of excommunication. I was reminded of this just the day before I wrote this commentary, and so my ponderings from that are fresh in my mind.

Between the early days of Anabaptism and emigrating and immigrating of Anabaptists/Mennonites to other countries, there is a rich history of how the faith evolved and adapted to the times. Our brethren that retain a less technological type of lifestyle have held on to judging by the Spirit but mediating it through the judge-er’s own agenda. Less delicately put, conflicts of faith issues and life practices meant that believers who were thought to have “gone astray” were excommunicated and could only be admitted back into fellowship after that had confessed their “sins.”

This excommunication practice dates back to Menno Simons who in the middle to late 1400’s thought much and wrote much on evolving Anabaptist theology. His careful thought and wisdom lessened the tensions between the groups, and a harmony of beliefs took hold, at least in the area where he had influence. He had much to say on excommunication, but reserved it for sins against God as acted against a brother or sister. Criminal matters, he said, need to be referred to the civil authorities; but matters of faith should be held between the sinner and who was sinned against, be it a person or the faith community.

Modern Anabaptists/Mennonites do not retain for themselves with the same sense of holding onto forgiveness versus granting forgiveness. We try to forgive everyone because God forgives us. We moderns are much more likely to allow forgiveness to be between the person and the Spirit. Very rarely is personal spiritual/faith wrongdoing referred to church leaders. Criminal/civil wrongdoing is “sniffed out” most effectively by the law.

However, just as in our early history, a clash of faith or belief practices can result in much turmoil between faith communities. Not person to person but group to group. Anabaptists/Mennonites, as we have grown in number, have evolved a diversity of beliefs. And society, culture, and the media have splintered the cohesiveness that Anabaptists/Mennonites once had. We see it, acknowledge it, and struggle with what to do about it. We do not call it excommunication or “shunning” any more. It is now disciplining, as if the errant group have been naughty or mischievous.

I guess when I look at this issue in its entirety, we have done just what this verse from the gospel of John says; withheld our forgiveness from each other. But what Jesus gave as a way for the disciples to teach and guide new believers, we have made a club to hit and correct each other. And it is not a good thing beloved. Not a good thing at all. Would that we would have the wisdom of the original disciples. Would that you would too. Selah!

 

SPIRIT . . . Preacher and Seeker speak of the Spirit in the mode of the Historic Anabaptists

Preacher: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.”

Seeker: When Lord, when will you speak to us? I can bear much, Lord. I can learn quickly! I desire to learn and grow Lord! Speak Lord, for your servant listens!

Preacher: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

Seeker: I will wait then on the Lord. I will be patient until the Spirit of truth comes. I will listen to all that the Spirit will say, writing it on my heart and living by it daily.

Preacher: “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears . . “

Seeker: The Lord will instruct the Spirit what much told to creation. Only the word of the Lord will be spoken by the Spirit. Listen you who have ears, listen to what the Lord will say.

Preacher: “ . . . and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (Reference: John 16:12-13 )

Seeker: The Lord will reveal everything in the proper time. Nothing will be reveal until God Almighty commands so. You who desire knowledge, wait on the Lord. You who wish to know the truth of all things, wait on the Lord. Nothing will be known before its time, so live humbly. Walk with care. Live life according the laws and precepts that have been set down before us. The Lord will teach you and will guide you. Amen.

BAPTISM . . . The Spirit on YOUR Shoulder

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” (Reference: John 1:29-33 )

There is a reason, beloved, that Anabaptists/Mennonites baptize with water as opposed to any other liquid that is in existence. Jesus was baptized with water and the Lord in heaven sent down a sign and symbol to show that the outer baptism of water is accompanied by the inner baptism by the Spirit. There are some who have felt that Spirit alight on them at their baptism and others for whom the baptism of the Spirit came later.

But I want to emphasis that this baptism of the Spirit is available to anyone who has undertaken to follow God with all sincerity. The water pouring over your head (or being sprinkled on your head or being dipped bodily into water) is not necessary for the baptism of the Spirit. Those who believe in baptism take upon themselves the meaning and significance. Through the action of the Spirit the water baptism opens the gate to new life in God, and this life unfolds as the Spirit directs it.

You wonder why? And wonder why some quickly have the baptism of the Spirit and for others it is a slower process? It is because the Spirit of God already knows us through and through – knows what we are capable of and what we need more time and teaching to learn. The Spirit knows all of these things, even when and if we will accept baptism of water and of the Spirit, and whether we will also have the baptism of blood as the historic Anabaptists understood it.

You wonder why, if the Spirit knows all these things, we have to go through the outer sign of baptism? With all the knowledge that God’s Spirit has, the Spirit will never force on us any spiritual decision. Know too, beloved, that the Spirit weeps if we do not accept what God has to offer us. And there is great rejoicing when we do.

May the grace of God cover you and the baptism of the Spirit enfold you from the day you first confessed your faith and believed until the day that God brings you home to eternity. Selah!

BAPTISM . . . Entry way to the new and holy

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (Reference: John 1: 23-28 )

Perhaps beloved you like me are asking “Are we through baptism yet?” And the answer is not quite yet. But let us step back from the centered theme of baptism and look instead at the verse itself.

The writer of the gospel of John says that John the Baptist saw Jesus amongst the crowd and knew him for who he was. Now, if you think this is miraculous, remember they are actually related through their mothers. It was foretold that John would announce the way of Jesus,setting the groundwork for a new way of living. In Jesus John saw something that was very familiar. But he also saw something that was new and holy – so holy that though Jesus was a part of his family John was not worthy to offer even one minor service or submissive action.

When something new is happening, sometimes people do not realize it because they are stuck in their own way of living and being. But others see the new way and announce it clearly and boldly, as John the Baptist did. And as the historic Anabaptists did. Just as John the Baptist was made to suffer and was put to death, so were the historic Anabaptists, made to suffer because the new way of living they were proclaiming was not what the power majority wanted to hear.

How do we recognize the new and different? How do we make ourselves worthy of what is new and holy? And how do we bring into ourselves this thing that is so vital to our lives? It is through, beloved, baptism. Think of baptism as a way of showing that was at one time not visible and apparent to us is now clear, recognizable and familiar. We have proven ourselves worthy, both outwardly and inwardly. The old ways are washed away and the new ways take hold of us.

It may seem that this section on baptism is spanning many days, especially for something that in and of itself is just at the beginning our Christian lives. And if there seems to be many days devoted to baptism, it may be because the historic Anabaptists found it to referred to so often in scripture.

May you beloved see what others may not see, Christ and God working out a Divine mission in the world. And may you feel deep in your spirit the presence of God that refreshes you each day. Selah!

BAPTISM . . . Three-In-One

This is the one who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  (Reference: 1 John 5: 6-12)

[Not that matters much, but this is not the scripture passage that Reading the Anabaptist Bible has for this day – it is a passage on baptism, but not this one]

There are three components of baptism and all three are contained in Jesus Christ. There is the baptism of water which is an external sign of our being cleansed of sin and all of the world that “sticks” to us. (Anabaptists/Mennonites believe a Christian life is lived publicly and so we are accountable for the way we live.) There is the baptism of spirit (or Spirit) that is a presence in our lives and connects us to the Divine. And there is the baptism of blood which is for suffering and sacrifice, ours and Christ’s.

What would we do without each baptism? Without the cleansing and inner change there can be no Spirit in our lives. Without the sacrifice and the giving up of our own agenda there can be no cleansing. And without the Spirit we would still be lost and adrift in a sinful world that keeps us from God and Christ. Thanks be to God (at least according Anabaptist/Mennonite theology) we do not have to be without any of them. All of them are a part of baptism – all we need to do is accept it all.

Just as Anabaptists/Mennonites believe in a triune God, we also believe in a triune baptism. But as I have said in the past few days, this triune baptism is not a static baptism but a living thing. As we grow and mature in our faith, our baptism experience becomes deeper and wider.

You may not believe as the historic Anabaptists and the modern Anabaptists/Mennonites beloved. But I would hope and pray that your faith grows daily, that your outer life matches the convictions that you have in your inner spirit, and that your devotion to God and Christ grows more ever firm. Selah!

BAPTISM . . . Many drops of water, many steps along the way

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him..”
(Reference: 1 Peter 3:21-22 )

As a young child, before the 3rd grade, I confessed my sins and was “saved” at bible camp – but I was not baptized. At around 5th grade I went forward at an alter call, confessed my sins and was “saved” – but I was not baptized. Around 8th grade, my friend and I asked for baptism in the church but we were considered too young, so instead of being baptized were had a “blessing service.” In 9th grade I went through catechism class in preparation for baptism. But I did not feel ready at that time. I was only at the very end of the classes when I heard in a sermon that baptism is the only beginning of a Christian’s journey that I felt ready (and the church agreed with me that time) for baptism. And even then there have been significant points in my life when I have felt the Holy Spirit baptize me all over again. Even now so far (comparatively) into adulthood I am sure there are at least one if not two more “baptisms” in my future.

What is my point? If you think there will only be one baptism in your life that will cover everything from your first public acknowledgment of accountability and faith to your last prayer in this life, you are sadly mistaken. Sadly because God and the Spirit may have a whole wealth of experiences and revelations that will build on and perhaps take the place of your first baptism. This historic Anabaptists realized that infant baptism is much too soon to take that important step into faith. But waiting until old age is no good either. All the religious experiences in my childhood were leading up to baptism as I moved from childhood to maturity. But from the baptism when still moving into adulthood set the stage for further experiences that moved me even beyond the inner cleansing of my soul and spirit to a deeper and wider experience of spirituality. But each experience along the way from young childhood til now has prepared me for each further step and has confirmed what went on before.

And what delights my soul and spirit is that each step was “prefigured” by God! The Lord knew each step I would take and planned each spiritual revelation. That is how I can be sure that there are more spiritual baptisms ahead of me, because God is not done we me yet!

May you beloved be watched over by our God and the Holy Spirit, planning for you and nurturing you along the way. Selah!