Mennonites & the Apostles’ Creed

Mennonites are not known for using the Apostles’ Creed in liturgy. But Anabaptists have always affirmed the Apostles Creed. The way J. C. Wenger put it in a 1953 article “the Anabaptists assented to the truth of the Apostles’ Creed, although making little or no liturgical use of it.” [1]

In a recent perusal of the Mennonite 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith [2], I noticed that an almost verbatim significant chunk of the Apostles’ Creed [3] can actually be found in article IV:

He was, according to the providence of God, delivered into the hands of the unrighteous; suffered under the judge, Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, was buried, and on the third day, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven; and that He sits on the right hand of God the Majesty on high, whence He will come again to judge the quick and the dead.

This got me wondering if the rest of the Creed is in the Dordrecht, and, indeed it is.

Almost everything. Woven into the articles. The 12 points of the Apostles’ Creed are recreated from the Dordrecht in the below reconstruction. The Apostles’ Creed point numbers are at the beginning of each statement and the Dordrecht articles numbers at the end.

1…We…believe…in one eternal, almighty, and incomprehensible God…and…that He is the Creator of all things visible and invisible… (I)

2 We believe…the Word… who is God’s only, first and own Son… (IV)

3 that He was conceived of the virgin Mary…

4 He…suffered under the judge, Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, was buried,

5 and on the third day, rose from the dead,

6 and ascended to heaven; and that He sits on the right hand of God the Majesty on high,

7 whence He will come again to judge the quick and the dead. (IV)

8 We…believe…in…the Holy Ghost (I),

9 a…church of God…who are one with God…(VIII), the communion of the saints (VII/VIII),

10 forgiveness of sins, (IV/VI)

11 the resurrection of the dead (XVIII),

12 [and] life eternal….Amen (XVIII)

When compared to the 1921 Christian Fundamentals (Mennonite) [4] there are some other ways the Apostles Creed and the Dordrecht are more similar. They both start with an article on God, versus the Fundamentals starting with scripture.  The Fundamentals have no significant chunk of the Creed’s language in its article V on Jesus comparable to the Dordrecht’s article IV. Because of this, the Fundamentals drops the particular enthronement language of “Jesus sitting enthroned at the right hand of God”, for the more vague, and less politically challenging, “ascended to glory”.

It is probably not surprising that the Dordrecht follows the Creed, since in the concluding statement of the Dordrecht the writers note that “These, then, as has been briefly stated before, are the principal articles of our general Christian faith, as we teach and practice the same throughout in our churches and among our people; which, in our judgment, is the only true Christian faith, which the apostles in their time believed and taught…”

[1] http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Apostles%27_Creed
[2] http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Dordrecht_Confession_of_Faith_(Mennonite,_1632)
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles%27_Creed
[4] http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Christian_Fundamentals_(Mennonite_Church,_1921)

On Attitudes About War: Are Christians Following Mohammed or Jesus? The Quran or God’s New Covenant?

I recently read through the Quran to understand my Muslim freinds a bit better and, perhaps, to find a few interesting historical notes about Islam, but instead an unwelcome realization about fellow Christians started to dawn on me.

One doesn’t go long till we realize (unsurprisingly) that Mohammed’s view of war, fighting and killing enemies is the polar opposite of what we see Jesus teaching His followers & practicing.

But what was jarring to observe as I progressed is that many Christians who justify war seem be using the Quran’s justifications for war and violence, almost verbatim. Which leads to a disturbing conclusion: If Christians justify killing using arguments so closely aligned with the Quran, & in contradiction to the teaching of Jesus, are they following Jesus or Mohammed when it comes to attitudes about war?

Let’s take a look.

The Quran’s View of War

Using the Jewish Behavior in the Old Testament as Justification to Require Fighting

2:246. Have you not considered the notables of the Children of Israel after Moses? When they said to a prophet of theirs, “Appoint a king for us, and we will fight in the cause of God.” He said, “Is it possible that, if fighting was ordained for you, you would not fight?” They said, ‘ ‘Why would we not fight in the cause of God, when we were driven out of our homes, along with our children?” But when fighting was ordained for them, they turned away, except for a few of them. But God is aware of the wrongdoers. (Location 587)

Eye for Eye & Life for Life is God’s Rule

5:45 And We wrote for them in it: a life for a life, and eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, and ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and an equal wound for a wound; but whoever forgoes it in charity, it will serve as atonement for him. Those who do not rule according to what God revealed are the evildoers. (Location 1542)

5:33 The punishment for those who fight God and His Messenger, and strive to spread corruption on earth, is that they be killed, or crucified, or have their hand and feet cut off on opposite sides, or be banished from the land. That is to disgrace them in this life;… (Location 1515)

16:126 If you were to retaliate, retaliate to the same degree as the injury done to you. But if you resort to patience-it is better for the patient. 127 So be patient. Your patience is solely from God. (Location 3909)

War is Ordained for God’s People & War is Sometimes Good for You

2:216 Fighting is ordained for you, even though you dislike it. But it may be that you dislike something while it is good for you, and it may be that you like something while it is bad for you. God knows, and you do not know. (Location 517)

2:190 And fight in the cause of God those who fight you… 191 And kill them wherever you overtake them…If they fight you, then kill them. Such is the retribution of the disbelievers. 194 …Whoever commits aggression against you, retaliate against him in the same measure…” (Location 471)

Fighting & Killing to Free the Oppressed is Justified

4:74 Let those who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter fight in the cause of God. Moreover fight in the cause of God, and then is killed, or achieves victory, We will grant him a great compensation. 75. And why would you not fight in the cause of God, and the helpless men, and women, and children, cry out, “Our Lord, deliver us from this town whose people are oppressive, and appoint for us from Your Presence a Protector, and appoint for us from Your Presence a Victor. ” (Location 1224)

It is Imperative to Build Up a Powerful Military

8:60 And prepare against them all the power you can muster, and all the cavalry you can mobilize, to terrify thereby God’s enemies and your enemies, and other besides them whom you do not know, but God knows them. Whatever you spend in God’s way will be repaid you in full, and you will not be wronged. (Location 2502)

It is a Responsibility to Fight & Kill to Avoid Persecution

2:217 They ask you about fighting during the Holy Month. Say, “Fighting during it is deplorable; but to bar others from God’s path, and to disbelieve in Him, and to prevent access to the Holy Mosque, and to expel its people from it, are more deplorable with God. And persecution is more serious than killing. They will not cease to fight you until they turn you back from your religion, if they can. Whoever among you turns back from his religion, and dies a disbeliever-those are they whose works will come to nothing, in this life, and in the Hereafter. Those are the inmates of the Fire, abiding in it forever. (Location 517)

8:39 Fight them until there is no more persecution, and religion becomes exclusively for God. (2464)

Killing in the name of Justice is Justified

17:22 And do not kill the soul which God has made sacred, except in the course of justice. If someone is killed unjustly, We have given his next of kin certain authority. But he should not be excessive in killing, for he will be supported. (Location 3967)

Jesus & New Covenant View of War

What About Using Jewish Behavior in the Old Testament as Justification to Require Fighting?

Mt 5:43 ¶ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

What About an Eye for Eye & Life for Life?

Mt 5:38 ¶ Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Are Christians  Sometimes Commanded to War & Fight in Jesus’ New Covenant?

Never. Jas 4:1 ¶ From whence come wars and fighting’s among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

Should Christians Encourage Government Leaders to Build Up a Powerful Military? Or do so themselves?

No, there is no Biblical suggestion to do this, in either the NT or OT. In fact, even the Old Testament warns God’s people against doing this and instead encourages to trust in God.

Is it a Responsibility to Fight & Kill to Avoid Persecution?

Mt 5:10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

1Pe 2:21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously…

In Conclusion

If Christians justify war and killing using arguments so closely aligned with the Quran, & in contradiction to the teaching of Jesus, are they following Jesus or Mohammed? Are our views about how we should treat our enemies closer to ISIS than Jesus?

All quotes are from “Quran in English: Modern English Translation Clear and Easy to Understand

Why Doesn’t Jesus Just Answer “Plainly”?

There are various times throughout the Gospels when I wonder why Jesus doesn’t just answer plainly. If someone asks a questions, just answer without riddles! Just this morning we had a Sunday school lesson about the story where John asked Jesus if he was the Messiah. Instead of answering Jesus says: take note what I am doing. (Notably missing from the listing of things from Luke 4:18 that Jesus was doing was freeing captives in prison!)

Perhaps Jesus was using the below rabbinical device noted below in the Talmud?

Once the same (Atoninus Caesar of Rome) said to Rabbi: The officers of Rome irritate me. (What shall I do?) Rabbi asked him to walk with him in the garden, and began to tear out the large radishes of the beds, planting smaller ones instead, by which Antoninus understood that he intimates the necessity of removing the old officers little by little and not all at once, so as to prevent a rebellion. But why did not Rabbi answer him in words? He was afraid that the officers of Rome would get wind of it and would harm him. –Talmud, location 66499

But why did not Jesus answer him directly in words? Was He concerned that the officers of Rome would get wind of it and would harm him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Was Jesus Quoting “Ignorant” & “Communistic” Rhetoric When He Says: “Mine is Thine & Thine Are Mine”?

In John 17:10 Jesus seems to be directly quoting the Jewish oral tradition when he says, “And all mine are thine, and thine are mine…”. The direct quotation from the Babylonian Talmud:

“…Mine shall be thine, and thine shall be mine…” –Babylonian Talmud, Location 36396 [1]

What is interesting is that the Talmud gives more context to the meaning of “mine are thine & thine are mine”. It appears to be in the context of describing the different views of property, which today could easily enough be put into economic categories of: Capitalism, Communism, Generous Charity & Thief.

Here is the quote with more context:

“Four kinds of views are held by men concerning property. He who says: “What belongs to me shall continue to be mine, and thou shalt keep thine own,” holds the common view. Some consider this the view of the men of Sodom. 1 “Mine shall be thine, and thine shall be mine,” thus say the ignorant. “Mine shall be thine, and thou shalt also keep thine own,” thus says the magnanimous. “Thine shall be mine, and mine shall continue to be mine,” are the words of the godless.” -Babylonian Talmud, Location 36396 [1]

Summarized:

  • Mine is mine & thine is thine: The Commonly Held Position (Men of Sodom position!)
  • Mine is thine & thine is mine: Ignorant Position
  • Mine is thine & thine is thine: Magnanimous Position
  • Thine is mine & mine is mine: Godless Position

Interestingly, according to the Talmudic view, Jesus held the “ignorant” position! (a judgement I can see many staunch capitalists making without knowing the context!) To be clear, the Talmud makes no mention of Jesus. Likely it was the other way round: Jesus was quoting oral tradition and must have known the context.

One difference between John 17:10 and Talmud is the one is talking about “property” and the other, ostensibly, people.

Was Jesus trying to convey something profoundly counter intuitive? (to the Jews [& Americans], foolishness?) Perhaps that when we are “One” enough, there is not a distinct line between who is who’s? Interestingly the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary takes exactly this economic message from the verse, without mentioning the Talmud context:

Absolute COMMUNITY OF PROPERTY between the Father and the Son is here expressed as nakedly as words can do it.” -JFB commentary [2]

And the result of this is glorification.

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Tract Aboth, Mishnah O: Location 36396 Click Here
[2] Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on John 17 Click Here

A Quick Summary of “The New Perspective on Paul”

I often recommend people to take a look at “The New Perspective on Paul” to get another perspective on how to view Paul’s thought. Here I have summarized in a chart how the “New Perspective” compares to the traditional Lutheran/Reformed perspective.

Note that the New Perspective is a Protestant to reform its own theology, a kind of Reformation reformation, so to speak. (I’ve included it in the “Anabaptist Theology” category, but, while it corresponds to Anabaptist thinking in some ways, it is  Protestant theology.)

Lutheran/Reformed Perspective New Perspective
Works of the Law (What is Paul talking about?) human effort to do good works in order to meet God’s standards; the idea that humans can merit salvation from God by their good works alone “badges of covenant membership” or criticizing Gentile believers who had begun to rely on the Torah to reckon Jewish kinship.
Human Effort & Good Works Paul’s rhetoric as being against human effort to earn righteousness. Paul has nothing negative to say about the idea of human effort or good works, and saying many positive things about both.
Many statements in Paul’s writings that specify the criteria of final judgment as being the works of the individual.
Meaning of “Pistis” (Faithfulness/Faith) A belief in God and Christ, and trust in Christ for salvation with faith that he will save you. Faithfulness, meaning firm commitment in an interpersonal relationship.

 

Synonymous with “obedience” when the people in the relationship held different status levels (e.g. a slave being faithful to his master).

Far from being equivalent to “lack of human effort”, the word seems to imply and require human effort. The interpretation of Paul’s writings that we need “faithfully” to obey God’s commands is quite different from one which sees him saying that we need to have “faith” that he will do everything for us.

Meaning of “Charis” (Favor/Grace)  “Grace” and understood it to refer to the idea that there is a lack of human effort in salvation because God is the controlling factor. “Favor” is a better translation, as the word refers normally to “doing a favor”.

Paul speaks of how God did us a “favor” by sending Jesus, he is saying that God took the initiative, but is not implying a lack of human effort in salvation, and is in fact implying that Christians have an obligation to repay the favor God has done for them.

Do not teach that Christians earn their way to heaven outside of the death of Christ. Forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ is still necessary to salvation. But, that forgiveness demands effort on the part of the individual (cf. Paul in Phil. 3:12–16)

The Atonement Penal substitution atonement theory and the belief in the “finished work” of Christ have been central. Other theories of the atonement are more central to Paul’s thinking

Based on:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Perspective_on_Paul

The State: Ordained In the Zone of Destruction

In the Schleitheim Confession ‘s discussion of the state’s use of the sword there is a creative tension. The sword is “outside Christ” and yet “ordained of God”. Likely because of the grave danger to Anabaptist lives that could result if this were further defined (and then misused), this creative tension was allowed to remain. In our day this undefined space has become a license for some to become what might almost be described as “apologists” for humans acting as the state in the “Red Zone” to the exclusion of calling them to the Kingdom. In an effort to challenge Kingdom Christians to rather be apologists for the Kingdom and all men joining the Kingdom (Green Zone”) I’ve created this PowerPoint slide.

I welcome critique.

tension-of-State-and-Kingdom.png

Romans 13 & Proverbs: Wisdom Says No to Violent Revolution & The KING Says Yes Only to Love

Does Paul derive the critical passage in Romans 13 on how Christian’s should relate to “the king” from the very pragmatic, earthy & Jewish book of Proverbs? Below is a demonstration that Romans 13:1-7 seems to essentially be the Apostle Paul using Proverbs as pragmatic & pithy advice to early Christians to discourage violent revolution, against withholding the hated tribute & against unwisely & unnecessarily invoking the inevitable violence of the king. But more importantly it is a positive call, along with the entire text of Romans 12 and 13, to use Love (not violent revolution!) as the force to overcomes evil in the world.

Here is a comparison that might indicate Paul is stitching together Proverbs to create the text of the first part of Romans 13.

Romans 13:1 – Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Proverbs 24:21 – Fear the king. Proverbs 8:15-16 – By God kings reign. By God all princes & judges on earth rule. Proverbs 21:1a – The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD…
Romans 13:2 – Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. Proverbs 24:21 -…meddle not with them that are given to change [NIV=rebellion]: Proverbs 24:22/NLT – for disaster will hit them suddenly. Who knows what punishment will come from the LORD and the king? Proverbs 20:2b – whoso provoketh him [the king] to anger sinneth against his own soul.
Romans 13:3 – For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: Proverbs 14:35 – The king’s favour is toward a wise servant: but his wrath is against him that causeth shame.
Romans 13:4 – For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Proverbs 8:15 – By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. Proverbs 14:35a – The king’s favour is toward a wise servant: but his wrath is against him that causeth shame. Proverbs 20:2 – The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul. Proverbs 16:14a – The wrath of a king is as messengers of death…
Romans 13:5 – Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. Proverbs 14:35 – The king’s… wrath is against him that causeth shame. Ecclesiastes 8:2/NIV – Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God.
Romans 13:6 – For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Proverbs 3:27a – Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due… Proverbs 21:1a – The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD…
Romans 13:7 –  Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Proverbs 3:27 – Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in your power to do it. (Commentary: and the king is due fear!) Proverbs 24:21 -…fear thou the LORD and the king:

If Proverbs guides us in what Romans 13:1-7 is saying, it certainly communicates a Christian condemnation of the kind of violent revolution that is at the core of the founding of many nations, including the United States. If Romans 13:1-7 says anything, it condemns “Christian’s” founding a nation using violent revolution.

An implicit condemnation in Romans 13 comes from the fact that the characteristics of “the king” are characteristics Christians should expressly not have! “The king” as a “violent lion” is contrasted with the very different standard that Paul is explicitly calling the Romans to, and God is calling all men to, that of Love , which was taught & modeled by the King of Kings (the Lion of Judah! the one “Lion & Lamb” referred to in the Bible). The King of Kings first call to humans is to “Owe no many anything but Love”.

Kingdoms which use violence, even in the name of a more perfect order, are doomed to be kingdoms that pass away. Outside Christ and His Kingdom, outside of the “very good” Creation, God has given power to a “rev limiter”, a stop gap on evil run out of control, and that is the human self destruction of violence against violence. As Jesus says it: “They that take the sword shall perish by it.” and John confirms that the holy are patient because “They that kill with the sword will be killed by it” (Re 13:10) This world is by necessity one which will “perish” and “pass away” because destruction is in it’s DNA.

Daniel says “[God’s kingdom] will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end” (Daniel 2:44/NIV). How? Paul himself notes one way just a few chapters later in Romans “The God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20) What can Love of Jesus in the hearts of humans do other than be the “destruction of destruction”?

This post triggered by another post: Is Romans 12 & 13 a Medley of Proverbs?