“Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” (Reference: Revelation 17:3-6 )
It is not a surprise that the historic Anabaptists cast the part the whore of Babylon as the persecuting church. In the writer of Revelation’s day Babylon was the enemy and the symbol of tyranny, war and persecution – not to mention all things evil and unholy.
Consider for a moment, however, that state church that persecuted the historic Anabaptists was once itself persecuted by the Jewish religious leader who were persecuted in their time by the Babylonians and all the other nations that surrounded the Israelite nations. And, you may ask, does the now established Anabaptist/Mennonite church persecute anyone?
If you believe that the manner of persecution remains constant from era to era, no they do not. But if you believe that persecution evolves from era to era and changes its form from generation to generation, yes they do.
We, meaning humanity, does not like change. We like things to remain consistent following in a pattern of tradition that we find comfortable. When someone, or someones, or something threatens change we react. And if we still hold the advantage of those who are forcing the change, people (meaning again humanity as a whole) can sink to pretty low and ugly means in order to stop the change and force the changing influence to recant from its new beliefs.
We would like to believe that we allow change – judge it on its own merits and encourage new thinking. And for some people, at some times, in some places – that might be true. But, it might not.
Persecution evolves from violence, physical force, and destroying sanctions to lessor forms and deterrents. But if we are very honest, it goes under the same name. In its gentler form we might call it “discipline.” And if I was to set aside my pessimism and cynicism, I would say that modern Anabaptist/Mennonites now practice discipline when they encounter unhealthy, unwise, and non-scriptural based change. But make no mistake – it is the same resistance to change that prompted persecution earlier in human history.
But we (all of humanity) dislike to see ourselves in the role of persecutor. Not that we want to be persecuted mind you. No one does. But being in the role of the victim allows you to say such things as “From the beginning of the world, there has never been such tyrannical opposition to the truth of Christ among any nation, Jewish or heathen, nor such outrageous and unsated shedding of innocent blood” and “God deems it just to bring suffering on those who make the faithful suffer, for they deserve it.” Oh beloved, how we love to be on the side that claims to cloaks itself in correct doctrine and proper belief! And how blast those who we judge to be in the wrong!
I pray beloved, that you may be humble in your belief. That you not judge others but leave it to our Lord God to decide who is “Babylon.” I pray that God has placed in your heart and in your circle of faith beliefs that are true and grounded in God and Christ. Flee from abominations and all things unholy. But flee also from attitudes and actions that cause others pain and violence. May the blessing of God’s shalom be yours. Selah!