SWEARING . . . Final Words

Above all, my brothers, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.” (Reference: James 5:12 )

A conversation between Jacob the Chandler and Friar Cornelius. The friar was becoming increasingly peevish with Jacob.

Fr. Corn. O you cursed Anabaptist that you are; I could swear by the saints, that St. Paul writes as I say [1 Cor. 4: “I will that every one so account of us, as of Christ’s priests over the sacraments of God”]: what do you say of this, accursed hellish, devilish heretic?
Jac. The Lord God forgive you this judging and cursing, and do not account it to your own condemnation. Christ also says (Matt. 5), do not swear an oath; but let your communication be, Yea, yea, Nay, nay.
Fr. Corn. Bah, this means that one is not to swear a false oath; but what I would swear is true. But you Anabaptists also have the fancy, that you are not to swear any manner of oaths. Bah, what a lousy fancy this is! I should like to hear why one may not swear a good oath.
Jac. Because Christ, in Matt. 5, says: “Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself . . ., but I say unto you, Swear not at all . . . But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” In like manner, also James says, in the fifth chapter (v. 12): “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay: lest you fall into condemnation.”

The original conversation between the two, before it got sidetracked by the discussion of oaths, was the responsibility and position of priests. Or at least that is what I assume. What I find interesting is that Friar Cornelius quotes the verse (which is 1 Corinthians 4 verse 1) giving more emphasis and importance than Paul gives it. Interesting because Friar Cornelius is shading the truth as well as (according to historic Anabaptists) swearing an oath based on something that is highly esteemed – not quite the level of God but nonetheless impressive.

We have these past days learned and heard much about oaths, swearing, promises and the like. I wish I could sit down with you beloved and talk about these things face to face. May you beloved keep your promises, exchanging simple agreements with those around you. And may you honor the covenant that the God-self has made with you. Selah!


SWEARING . . . Appealing to the Highest Authority

“When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.” (Reference: Hebrews 6:13-16 )

One of the oaths that has the potential to cause problems for Anabaptists/Mennonites is the oath taken in legal court when offering evidence or testimony. Now, I have never heard of any Anabaptist/Mennonite who has been presented with this dilemma, but it makes good fodder for discussion. “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God” sworn on a black covered bible. According to the historic Anabaptists just saying yes or no should be enough. As a youth, I would what I would do if I ever had to give such an oath, being a good Mennonite girl and all. The situation never arose.

Menno Simons gave teaching on this point, saying “We confess and heartily believe that no emperor or king may rule as superior, nor command contrary to [God’s] Word, since He is the Head of all princes, and is the King of all kings, and unto Him every knee shall bow which is in heaven, in earth, or under the earth. He has plainly forbidden us to swear, and pointed us to yea and nay alone. Therefore it is that through fear of God we do not swear, nor dare to swear, though we must hear and suffer much on that account from the world. . . . I will by the grace of God show the sympathetic reader from the Word of God what the holy Scriptures at given times teach and imply concerning the swearing of oaths.”

It’s funny the way some teachings come down from adult to child. I can tell you positively and emphatically that I was taught as a child never to take an oath or make any promise beyond saying “Yes, I will.” But I cannot tell you why it had to be that way. I can also tell you that when I was a child and something was promised to me but for some reason or another it could not be fulfilled I had the rage and anger that only a young thwarted child could have. “You promised!” was my scream. And all the adults around seemed to think it was perfectly all right to break a promise to a child. After all, they had not said “so help me God.”

It is as important, beloved, who we promise things to as much as it is what we promise. And we should not take making or breaking those promises lightly. We only need look to the example of God to know how serious promises and oath taking is. The promises that God made to humanity goes beyond promises and oaths; God establishes a covenant with humanity. God made a covenant with Abraham and in the fullness of time fulfilled that covenant. Any promise that is any less than that should not be based on God, but on our own human ability to follow through.

May you, beloved, honor all the promises that you make. And may our Lord make a covenant with you to keep you in God’s holy will. Selah!

SWEARING . . . It is a serious thing!

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.” You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, “If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.” You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.” (Reference: Matthew 23:16-22 )

This “woe” is one of a list of woes that Jesus speaks against the Pharisees and Sadducees. The fine nuances that Jesus accuses them of is typical of the interpretations of Jewish law. The whole meaning of a passage could turn on a single letter or even a accent mark. But Jesus sees through their trying to get around the basic tenets and calls them on it. In fact Jesus called them on many things during his ministry, and still calls on people when they try to slip in a wrongdoing when what ought to be done is very plain. So do not think, beloved, that you can get around what this passage is pointing out.

But, just what is this passage pointing out? Swearing by the temple or the gold of the temple? Swearing by the altar or the gifts on the altar? Is there a difference? And I thought, Barnes would know. And he did! “Jesus says, here, that all who swear at all do, in fact, swear by God, or the oath is good for nothing. To swear by an altar, a gift, or a temple is of no force unless it be meant to appeal to God himself. The essential thing in an oath is calling God to witness our sincerity. If a real oath is taken, therefore, God is appealed to. If not it is foolish and wicked to swear by anything else.”

The historic Anabaptists also realized that trying to evade the overall edict in favor of the small nuances was wrong. An oath sworn, whatever the reason, rationale, or motivation, is sworn on the basis of our sincerity and honor. And we are accountable to God for keeping our word . . . on anything! Peter Riedeman wrote, “Here it is evident that Christ desires oaths to be sworn even less by the things which are greatest than by those which are smallest. In the same way, he rebukes the [Pharisees] because the find fault with small offenses and ignore the greatest ones. He indicates to them that the temple is more than the gold within it, and the altar more than the gift upon it. Therefore, to swear by the temple and altar is a greater sin than to swear by the gold in the temple and the gift on the altar, since one swears not only by the temple but also by him who dwells with, that is, he swears by God. Likewise, whoever swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by him who sits upon the throne. That is why Christ calls those people blind leaders, who filter out gnats and swallow camels. [Matt. 23:16-24; Luke 11:42] They focus on the smallest details of the law and ignore the greatest.”

You may wonder, beloved, why this is so important – swearing and keeping oaths under the auspice of God. It because God takes promises very seriously. God has promised many things during the time of humanity. Think about God calling out Abraham, continuing that promise through Isaac, walking with Jacob, being with Joseph in Egypt, walking with Moses, blessing David, calling out the prophets, selecting Mary, and delivering the God-self to humanity through Jesus. We have a lot to live up to.

May the God who has promised the Lord’s presence to us help you fulfill all the promises you make. Selah!

SWEARING . . . Just pure “durn” foolishness!

“A man lacking in judgment strikes hands in pledge and puts up security for his neighbor.”
(Reference: Proverbs 17:18)

The next five days might be a little monotonous, beloved. The theme is “Swearing” or more precisely, not swearing – so don’t be fooled by the title of this posting. While most Anabaptists/Mennonites, historical and otherwise, do not use foul language, the swearing referred to is taking an oath or pledge. Most precisely it is promising or swearing by or on something. I will go into specifics in the days to come.

But for now, that’s about all there is to this. At least as far as the quotes or examples from the lives of the historic Anabaptists. The excerpted Anabaptist writing is from Joseph Schlosser who had a discussion with his accuser over the practice of having someone act as a securer of promises and/or statements. Schlosser said that it was a practice of unbelievers and so should not be a part of a believer’s life – that a simple yes or no was a secure promise and binding on those directly involved. This is what verse 18 from Proverbs chapter 17 refers to – an agreement or promise that needs additional security and extends to people that do not act in good faith.

There are several sayings/practices that touch on this. I can think of several such as “A person’s word is as good as the bond”, “on a promise and a handshake”, and “let’s shake on it”. I do not know where these will fall in a historic Anabaptist’s perspective – whether they would be acceptable or not. I do know that Schlosser is said to have not been willing to shake hands with the person who was questioning him, the report of this conversation being that after the person questioning him agreed to not insist on a securer for Schlosser’s statements, “He [the questioner] offered his hand, intending to trick Joseph, but the brother [Schlosser] told him, “It is written: A man who shakes hands in a pledge is a fool.” [Prov. 17:18] The clerk felt insulted because he was put in the wrong.”

This is the second time around that I have commented on Reading the Anabaptist Bible and I honestly think I understand them less than I did the first time. Or maybe it is that the gulf between our modern world and their world is so much bigger. I know that our world today is stressed and strained, and that it is hard to find your way amongst all the angst and turmoil. But I am not convinced that the historic Anabaptist’s world would be any better. So I exist in this world, and glean what I can from the past.

May you beloved live your life so that people can trust in your word, and may you surround yourself with people who are just as trustworthy. Selah!