GOD WILL REPAY ALL . . . . All the choices we have made

If thou wilt, to keep the commandments, and to perform acceptable faithfulness. He hath set fire and water before thee: stretch forth thy hand unto whether thou wilt. Before man is life and death; and whether him liketh shall be given him. For the wisdom of the Lord is great, and he is mighty in power, and beholdeth all things: And his eyes are upon them that fear him, and he knoweth every work of man. He hath commanded no man to do wickedly, neither hath he given any man licence to sin.” (Reference: Sirach 15:15-20)

A paraphrase – according to me:

If you have the will and intent, keep all the laws and precepts that God has established from the time of the first calling of God’s people up until and including what Jesus made known. And try to keep with good intentions and determination as you can. God has placed before humanity two options – fire and water. Reach for whichever seems to suit your intentions. Before all of humanity is the choice of life and death; what people strive for, that is what they receive. Remember, the Lord’s wisdom is great, and the Lord is mighty in power, and sees all things. God’s eyes are on those who fear the Lord (and those who don’t.) He knows what everyone does, and is capable of doing. The Lord God has commanded that no wicked thing should be done, and has not given any permission to sin.”

I have not said much about the fact that we are in the third week of Advent. I have posting along side the daily blog Advent themed postings. There has not been much overlap between the two. That is not surprising because the themes of historic Anabaptists don’t have much overlap between themes of Advent and Christmas. It was the Roman Catholic’s intention to appropriate Christ’s birth and secular winter celebrations. And since the historic Anabaptists did not have much use for the state-run Roman Catholic church, I imagine that during that time there was not much overlap of Advent themes into their Anabaptist households. At least I have not read accounts where their would be.

Over years the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith has picked up Advent and Christmas themes, using them in worship services and other times of fellowship. I remember Advent candles playing a part of worship services, and we had yearly Christmas programs. And of course we sang Advent and Christmas hymns. And Christmas was celebrated in every Anabaptist/Mennonite home.

You may ask why I am writing along this line. Humanity has the choice, and has always had the choice as to how they celebrate Advent and Christmas. Whether they “stretch out their hands” to the commercialism of Christmas or the sacred/religiousness of Christmas. Whether the focus is on the bottom of the Christmas tree or in the stockings hung up in waiting. Or on the nativity scene and the baby Jesus. And those choices, it seems to me, might be reflected at other times of the year. We choose and reach out our hand to what is important in our life. God watches us. And in the fullness of God’s time those choices will be repaid. So, what you choose now will determine what you receive later.

It is my hope and pray in this Advent season, which is the beginning of a new church year, that you will choose will. And will continue choosing well throughout the year. Selah!

POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . Judging It

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” (Reference: 1 Peter 2:13-17 )

The historic Anabaptist who were imprisoned at Trieste wrote in their confession, “We also believe and know that there is a holy Christian church and a godly and Christian communion. This church is the body of Christ, and he, Christ, is the head and governs the whole body. This church is holy and without spot (Eph. 8[5:23, :27]). If an offensive member is found on the body which cannot be corrected in any way, it is expelled from the church and regarded as a heathen (Matt. 18:17). No other penalty is used in the Christian church (Mark 9:43). It was forbidden by Christ and he did not desire to rule in an earthly kingdom (Matt. 20:22-23; Mark 10:39-40). My kingdom, he said, is not of this world (John 6:15, 15[18:36]). But to all authority, emperor, king, or regents we give interest, tithes, rents, discounts, and tax following the teaching of Paul and Peter, as long as it is not used for war (Rom. 13:6-7). Peter, the holy apostle, says that we should be subject to all human authority (1 Pet. 2:13-14). We also know how he himself did it when the government demanded from him what was contrary to God. He refused to obey like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, and many other examples in the Old and New Testament (Dan. 3, 6; 2 Matt. [Macc.] 7).”

I told you, beloved, of modern Anabaptists/Mennonites who do not pay some or all of their taxes in order to not support war. I told you also about growing up with little knowledge or interest in political authority, civic authority or government. And because I had little interest in government and such things, I did not judge government in any way. And then I moved to the United States.

My husband-to-be introduced me to civil disobedience – the mildest of ways let me add. Being a US citizen and of the age where the military would have liked him to investigate the possibilities of joining of their branches of service, he had opinions on that. He declined showing even the mildest of interests and refused to offer up any identifying information about himself. It was a very “gutsy” move for the times. At that point in my life I was highly into judging political authority. And judged all of them to be not worth much! I did come to learn of some who merited good regard.

But over time I came to realize that all “political authority” are actually individual people, and it is only fair to judge them according to their individual actions. I am not sure it tipped the scale to think better of them. But what it did result in is my asking “Are they doing the best job possible under the circumstances?” And, “Are they trying NOT to do harm to the people they have pledged to serve?” And most of the time my answer is, “Yes.” That does not mean I agree with their policies. Nor does it mean I think they are without agenda or personal bias. But that could be said of a lot of people who are NOT political authorities. So it does not good to jump on political authorities for what I see non-political authorities doing.

My opinion has been, and will probably be for a long long time, politics just divides us. And keeping within my pledge to be non-political about being non-political that’s about all I have to say.

Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world.” That is a truth I believe in strongly. If we would live as if our behavior in this world has implications for what happens to us in the world to come, I suspect that a lot of politics would just drop away. I’d like that.

May you beloved judge people using the measuring stick of our Lord God. And I pray you not fall short of that yourself. Selah!

POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . Sometimes Christians need to be contrary

We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, he said. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood. Peter and the other apostles replied: We must obey God rather than men!” (Reference: Acts 5:28-29 )

Peter and the other disciples had been told not to preach about and proclaim Jesus’ name. Jesus was not very popular with the Jewish religious leader – this rising from the dead, in addition to how he disrespected their authority, was just too much! But Peter and the other disciples paid about as much attention to what they Jewish religious leaders wanted as Jesus had done.

Sometimes the call of living a Christian life puts one in direct opposition to political authority. The historic Anabaptists had plenty of experience in that. From day one the historic Anabaptist disputed everything the religious leaders of the established church of their time demanded. Oppression, persecution, and death was pretty inevitable. This was as true for Jesus’ disciples as it was for the historic Anabaptists, and other committed Christian in the history of Christianity.

The adversarial relationship politics and Christianity have seems to prove again and again that the two do not mix well. The only thing worse is when people try to mix the two; what results is just a mess of “biblical proportions”! But of course, beloved, you know my opinion of politics. Even I am trying to wean myself off of being “politically” non-political. And yes, it is very easy for me to be opposed to political authority.

Admittedly I have never had to defined my beliefs against political authority; I suppose I should be grateful that I have not been “tested” in that way. I think that is because I am committed to the way of peace as well. I do not set out to make enemies and try to conduct my life so that I live at peace with everybody. Not that I give in; I can be very adamant about things. But I try to be gentle with all people; and I find ways to relate to others, even in the event of potentially adversarial relationships.

May you, beloved, establish firmly in yourself what you belief taking guidance and direction from our Lord. And when you have to face those who oppose your faith, may God be with you. Selah!

POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . Giving what is due

Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Reference: Matthew 22:21 )

The imposition of taxes on a populace has a long and strong tradition. When Christ spoke these words he was holding a coin of the realm that has Caesar’s face on it. But discerning what is Caesar’s and what is not can be a tricky thing. Peter Riedeman wrote a very good guide and explanation for how the historic Anabaptists felt about it, He wrote, “The governments always do wrong when they set out to exterminate nations. [Isa. 10:1-16] Whoever pays them taxes for that, aids them in their wrongdoing and participates in the guilt of their sin. If they try to force us to it, we say with Peter that we must obey God rather than people. [Acts 5:29] We will not obey them in this matter; we will give them nothing that makes us take part in the sins of others. [1 Tim. 5:22] Many governments use Paul’s statement to defend their right to these taxes, [Rom. 13:7] and support themselves with the words of Christ: “Pay Caesar what is due to Caesar.” [Matt. 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25] Yet we fear they do so only to avoid the suffering which the cross of Christ brings. They want the approval of people, which results in the disapproval of God. [Gal. 1:10; James 4:4] . . . However, neither Christ’s words nor Paul’s words were intended to permit rulers to carry out every whim . . . the words make a distinction between two things: First, Paul says, “Give what you owe,” and “Pay to whom it is due.” [Rom. 13:7-8] Second, he does not say, “Give to anyone who wants it, and pay whatever someone wants.” Christ also commands us to give to

Caesar what is Caesar’s. [Matt. 22:21] He does not speak at all, as many interpret it, of taxes for warfare and slaughter. The Pharisees asked Christ whether it was right to continue paying an annual tax. History tells us that this annual tax began when Christ was born, during the rule of the emperor Augustus, [Luke 2:1-5] and there was peace in all the world. Thus this tax was not imposed for war or bloodshed.” [Emphasis mine]

The sentence I highlighted I feel applies very well to the U.S. Government, although I would not say congress passing resolutions (or whatever) to send soldiers (also known ironically as “peacekeepers”) is a “whim.” But as a deliberate choice, it is even worse. Modern Anabaptists/Mennonites have a long history also of refusing to pay taxes on the theory that they support war. But as Riedeman points out, not all taxes are for war. Some modern Anabaptists/Mennonites take this into consideration and pay a portion of their tax withholding the percentage that it is reported goes to the war fund. Others live below the tax line so as to avoid the issue. There are many responses.

I am aware, as a consequence of my job, how many other programs are supported by taxes, truly worthy ones that help people in need. For that reason I pay my taxes and pray that the “whim’s” of the government are wise and peaceful ones. And accept the fact that I might be for the time being praying for a losing cause.

I have also thought long and hard for myself what is “Caesar’s” and what is God’s. “Caesar” is entitled to much less things of mine than God is, and I save all the “good stuff” for God, and for my fellow believers. May you, beloved, only give to “Caesar” that which will help humanity, and may you give to God all of your heart, soul, strength, and body. Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . The separation of religion and art

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (Reference: 1 John 5:18-21 )

The historic Anabaptists who were captured and taken to the Italian port of Trieste wrote, you shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only (Deut. 6:4; Matt. 4:10). He is the true God and eternal life. Children, beware of the adoration of images (1 John 5:21)! Keep watch over your hearts! You saw signs of God on the day when he spoke to you out of the fire (Deut. 4:12) so that you should not become perverted and make an image like man or woman or an animal on the earth or bird in the air. There is your witness that God, who is the only God, desires that he alone is to be honoured, worshipped, and served. The whole Scripture is full of this testimony. These texts clearly reject, destroy, and condemn all idolatry, specifically all wooden, stone, golden, waxen, bread idols, frescoes, and carvings of images by all of which God is robbed of his honour. All such things are excluded in this commandment of God.”

Artistry and historic Anabaptism have had a long and difficult history and relationship. One would have to be so careful not to let your art work be constrained as worship of God. However, Anabaptists/Mennonites found ways to be artist without taking the chance of making images that would take the place of God’s presence in their lives. If you have ever seen a quilt made by some Anabaptist/Mennonite women or seen tools or furniture designed and made (especially wooden items) by Anabaptist/Mennonite men, you would know the yen to create and make beauty is alive and well. But as I said, care had to be taken. Few if any quilts will have images of any bird or animal. They are designs and shapes that cannot be misconstrued as replicas of things in our world. The same with tools and furniture; all basic utilitarian items that are used in every day life without representing any image found in nature. The craftsmanship and skill is evident in each piece.

Using pieces of art work in worship has made a slow come back, and only in ways that direct one’s attention to God instead of the image in the piece of art work itself. On Oct 14th I wrote very briefly about seeing the inside of an ornate Catholic church for the first time. I was entranced by the statutes and pictures on the walls, the silver and gold items scattered around the church, and the lushness of the seating. I could have wandered around there for ever. Was it perversion I wondered to have all these things in one place? It seemed to me like the type of place God would live in, just as well as our plain church with nothing on the walls and wooden benches with thin carpeting. Nothing adorned the church except maybe at Christmas, and even then in only a limited way.

I wondered if these things “robbed” God of the Lord’s honor. Or was it perhaps we who dishonored God by refusing the magnificence that evidently was available. Images have power. And beloved, the inside of the church I grew up in therefore had very little power but great austerity and strictness.

In contrast to this, in seminary we were specifically taught how to bring art back into worship. As I remember back, there was less instruction about HOW to bring it into worship than there was the emphasis that it was okay to have it in worship. It was like, in a sense, being given a new toy but not told how it works.

And I hold these two things in my mind; the plainness of the church I grew up in and the rush to re-place art back into worship. And the conclusion I come to is this; God is more powerful than any piece of art, be they “wooden, stone, golden, waxen, bread idols, frescoes, and carvings of images.” I do not think God fears art in worship, but neither do I think the Lord demands it. I think if we approach worship with proper parts of love, reverence, and fear – God will welcome us and whatever we bring. Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . When it hurts us and others

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.” (Reference: 1 Corinthians 10:12-14 )

Dirk Philips wrote, “For the friendship of this world is enmity with God, 1 John 2:15, and whoever would be a friend of the world must become God’s enemy, as the apostle James says, James 4:4. Christ also says the same in the Gospel, that is, that which “is exalted among men is an abomination before God,” Luke 16:15.That is the reason we are not inclined to observe all human institutions of the world, all false worship and ceremonies of the Roman Church which are opposed to Christ, Matt. 15:3; 1 Cor. 10:14. Rather, we desire in our simplicity to remain and abide, for good or ill, in the teaching and example of Jesus Christ and to allow ourselves to be guided by the first apostolic congregation insofar as the Lord gives us grace, Eph. 2:19-20; 1 Pet. 2:21.”

First let me be clear beloved – according to modern Anabaptists/Mennonites, the Roman Catholic church is not the enemy. All religions and denominations have their spectrums of beliefs, based on the foundational tenets of those beliefs. If there is ANY disagreement, it is only at those particular points on that spectrum where our beliefs and other beliefs have conflict. And we do not hold it against the whole religion/denomination for those individual conflict points. And even then, if the conflict points are minor, it does not mean we cannot come together in ecumenical harmony. I have many fond memories in my childhood of the three diverse churches in my hometown coming together for joint worship.

Sadly, historic Anabaptists were “friends” with no one else but their own. And in some cases (mostly in the past) that held true for contemporary Anabaptists/Mennonites. It was realized at some point (praise be to God!) that we Anabaptists/Mennonites were missing out on something beautiful and spiritual by averting our eyes from other faiths true to God. We “repented” of that and tendered apologies to those faiths, as had those faiths tendered apologies to us for the persecution that their forebearers might have committed.

What I suspect our Anabaptist forebearers were fleeing was not so much the symbols, icons etc as it was the control of the established state church at the time. And those sins are not ones that should be held against the descendents. God would not tolerate or condone that. This has been something I have longed to tell and share with you beloved, that in our history we unfairly wronged a Christian denomination based purely on the actions of those in power at a certain point in history.

As to the the rest of this passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, I am not convinced that God does not allow us to be tempted past what we can bear – because we fall into and are succumbed by temptation! How can God be omnipotent if the Lord cannot save us from temptation?! The answer is, God does not stop the temptation but warns us in many ways not to succumb. If we do so, it is on our heads. What God does is, once we have ignored the warnings, provide us a way to receive forgiveness and redemption – blots away the sins we committed. Through God’s mercy we are made whole again, and hopefully next time will not succumb to temptation.

I like the fact that the writer of 1 Corinthians was giving them hope. And giving them good advice, to keep away from falseness and its lure. May you beloved chose the good that God intends, joining in thanksgiving with ALL fellow believers that God’s mercy, forgiveness, and redemption will sustain us when we fall away. Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . Beyond the gilt and awe

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. “
(Reference: Exodus 20:3-6 )

One of the many things the historic Anabaptists had against the established state church was the use of symbols, pictures, and idols that were used during worship services and masses. Historic Anabaptists and contemporary Anabaptists/Mennonites have continued to keep anything that seemed like idol worship out of church services and the sanctuary. Historic Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier summed out what this position was when he said, “Yesterday it became thoroughly clear from Scripture that there should be no images. I myself would that no image had ever come into Christendom. For the text of Exodus 20:4-6 is bright and clear. It stands firm as a wall. By means of two distinct prohibitions it expressly forbids not only worshiping the images but also making them. . . .

However, not having icons and religious symbols, statues etc in a Roman Catholic church would be unimaginable. And what may have been the substitution of icons etc in the time of the historic Anabaptists, I think, has been re-visioned as aids and reminders for worship. At least that is a more modern perception. But it was a wide-eyed Mennonite girl who first saw the inside a Roman Catholic church with awe and wonder. I remember walking around being amazed at the shine and color.

It is, however, a worldly wise woman who realizes that it is not just icons, symbols, statues etc in a church that can be worshiped above, and instead, of God. Idols come in many forms – from “heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” I would rather see the icons, symbols, and statues that are used in churches that profess a strong faith in God, than the idols I see in society. Maybe I am more worldly than the historic Anabaptist fore-bearers. Or may I have seen too much worship of things that take us away from God than lead us to God.

In regards to the rest of the passage, one thing the historic Anabaptists and more modern Anabaptists/Mennonites realize it that God does not punish generations of the future. And that God’s “jealousy” is our Lord’s desire for only wanting the best for us, and desiring us not to be lead to things that harm us. God’s love and compassion is for the thousands of generations. Yes, it is best that we keep God’s commandments. But God’s love can clear our eyes, help us see what is true and what is gilded falseness, and can restore us to full relationship. May it be so for you beloved. Selah!