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)

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 attempt to correct & reform its own theology, a kind of Reformation reformation, so to speak. (I’ve included it in the “Anabaptist Theology” category because it corresponds to historic Anabaptist thinking. If correct, it is just a Christian “perspective”.)

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) Charis means “Grace” and it is understood 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.

Does not teach that Christians earn their way to heaven outside of the death of Christ. Forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ is necessary for 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

Some Things You May Not Have Known about Martin Luther King

I’ve recently been working through Martin Luther King’s “A Testament of Hope”. Here are some quick thoughts from my notes on this holiday honoring Martin Luther King.

My overall thoughts are that MLK challenged practices in “Christian” America that were anything but Christian. I am continually scandalized at what “Christian America” could consider Christian not that long ago! The challenge for me today is humility & repentance for the perpetual challenge, facing even those of us inside the church, of setting ourselves up as superior to others and seeing God’s Kingdom as big as it truly is.

So now, some other random thoughts:

MLK says much about peace that conservative Anabaptist’s agree with & Evangelical Christian’s can learn from

For example he notes on page 10 “Always avoid violence…” and he meant exactly what he said. Also: “violence, even in self-defense, creates more problems than it solves…” [p58] MLK spent much effort convincing others that the proper Christian response was one of love and not violence.

I am impressed by the many meetings (noted in “Stride Toward Freedom”) the black leaders of Montgomery had to train in extremely practical ways (It reminds me of Mennonite bible school sessions on nonresistance!) on how to respond with love and respect in challenging situations. A question I have: If we are going to “learn war no more” (as the ancient Jewish prophet noted) wouldn’t it stand to reason that we will start “learning peace”?

Surprisingly MLK might not have been as gung-ho about Boycotts as you might expect

I always had the impression that MLK was an all out, no questions asked “boycott” supporter. But then I came across this: “I had to recognize that the boycott method could be used to unethical and unchristian ends…From then on I rarely used the word ‘boycott’…” [p428]. This was at the beginning of the events in Montgomery, which was at the beginning of MLK’s career as a civil rights leader.

MLK only had 20 minutes to prepare for “the most decisive speech of my life”

The Dec 5, 1955 speech launching the “noncooperation with the evil” of the Montgomery bus system was prepared in 5 minutes of prayer and 15 minutes of study [p433]. MLK had considerable concern about only having 20 minutes to prepare when he normally spent 15 hours preparing for a sermon. One of his main concerns was ensuring that he communicated & encouraged the Love of Jesus for all in the response. Listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TmoFoG5P-U

MLK had words of truth for his fellow blacks

“Many of us [Negros] live above our means, spend money on nonessentials and frivolities…” [p150] In a magazine interview MLK was asked why donations largely come from non blacks and he noted:”We have to face and live with the fact that the Negro has not developed a sense of stewardship…”

I recommend reading “Stride Toward Freedom”

This is the narrative of what MLK called the non-cooperation with the Montgomery bus discrimination. It is very accessible and a good story to be familiar with.

Point of Disagreement: Nonresistance vs Nonviolence

In “Stride Toward Freedom” [p335] MLK notes “Nonresistance leaves you in a state of stagnant passivity and deadly complacency.” A question for those of us who use the term nonresistance might be: Is our nonresistance actually more passivity than loving the enemy? Is what I call nonresistance  actually a complacent attitude?

As I have thought about the difference between King’s “nonviolence” and conservative Anabaptist “nonresistance” I think the difference is not “action” versus “passivity”. This seems well demonstrated by the stories we tell. The “action” of Dirk Willems actively rescuing his pursuer. Or the “action” of the Mennonite pastor who heard his roof being destroyed in the night by hoodlums and who welcomed the troublemakers in for a good breakfast, thereby “loving them” into appropriate behavior.

Neither is the difference a willingness or unwillingness to be involved in nonviolent civil disobedience. Anabaptists have continually shown themselves willing to “obey God rather than men”. From the subversive act of baptizing only believers in the 1500’s to a willingness to reject portions[1] of the Pennsylvania Child Care Act in the 21st century because it is deemed to inappropriately place the State between brothers & sisters speaking truth to each other and is seen as compromising the structural integrity of an autonomous church, conservative Anabaptist’s are no stranger to “obeying God rather than men”.

The crucial difference between King’s nonviolence and conservative Anabaptist’s nonresistance seems to be who is being demanded to change. The conservative Anabaptist’s “protest for justice” includes demands only of themselves and to others only a offer and call to voluntarily join the Kingdom.

I am challenged to ensure that what I call nonresistance is living the Power of God’s Love, and that this love is something that is seen as “Overcoming Evil”. In another passage MLK makes a comment that might indicate he is not as far away from “nonresistance” as even he thinks: “History has proven…unmerited suffering is redemptive…” [p222]


[1] – I say “reject portions” very advisedly. Conservative Anabaptists agree with the goal of the Pennsylvania Child Care Act: to protect children against abuse. This cannot be over emphasized. It is only the means that causes disagreement.

The Dordrecht Confession & the Ordination of Women

Some time ago I was perusing the Dordrecht Confession of 1632 for no particular reason other than I like its clear wording on “Repentence & Reformation of Life” and came across the startling observation (considering that the Dordrecht Confession is what Amish and other Old Order churches use) that it appears to take as not controversial that women would be ordained as deaconesses. This seems to indicate that early Mennonites were apparently not opposed to the ordination of women per se.

This is found in Article IX which is titled:

IX. Of the Election, and Offices of Teachers, Deacons, and Deaconesses, in the Church

The article then goes on to explicitly discuss the ordination of deaconesses:

And that also honorable aged widows should be chosen and ordained deaconesses, that they with the deacons may visit, comfort, and care for, the poor, feeble, sick, sorrowing and needy, as also the widows and orphans, and assist in attending to other wants and necessities of the church to the best of their ability. 1 Timothy 5:9; Romans 16:1; James 1:27. (translation by Joseph Sohm in 1886 from the Dutch to English: source)

Recently my dad gave me a copy of the Dordrecht Confession from his boyhood. It was published 1939 and S. F. Coffman is listed as the editor. (NOTE: This is apparently a translation by S. F. Coffman around 1930, if I’m reading Gameo correctly)

What is interesting is that the article on deaconesses is a translated differently and the Article IX title goes from “Of the Election, and Offices of … Deaconesses” to “The Office of Teacher and Ministers – Males and Female” and “ordained deaconesses” becomes “chosen as servants”:

Article IX. The Office of Teacher and Ministers – Males and Female – In the Church

Also that honorable old widows should should be chosen as servants, who, besides the almoners, are to visit, comfort, and take care of the poor, the weak, afflicted, and the needy, as also to visit, comfort, and take care of widows and orphans; and further to assist in taking care of any matters in the church that properly come within their sphere, according to their best ability. 1 Timothy 5:9; Romans 16:1,2. (p37,38)

The “almoners” are what the 1886 translation calls “deacons”. Noticeably the “almoners” are “ordained” according to my 1939 (1930 translation) copy:

And as it further regards the almoners, that they (particularly if they are fit persons, and chosen and ordained thereto by the church), may also in aid and relief of the bishops, exhort the church (being, as already remarked, chosen thereto), and thus assist in word and doctrine… (p38)

The 1886 translation reads:

Furthermore, concerning deacons, that they, especially when they are fit, and chosen and ordained thereto by the church, for the assistance and relief of the elders, may exhort the church (since they, as has been said, are chosen thereto), and labor also in the Word and in teaching;

I’m not sure which translation is more accurate, but in any case we seem to have a situation where earlier Mennonites seem to be less opposed to using the English word “ordination” in relation to women or to using a term like “deaconess” that could imply an ordained church position. It would also almost seem that early Mennonites were not opposed to the ordination of women or women being called deaconesses which is associated with an ordained office in the church. From deduction it would appear instead that 17th century Mennonites approved of using women as deaconesses but not in the preaching and teaching offices.

If you have anything more to add to the difference between the 1886 Sohm translation and the circa 1930 Coffman translation, I would be glad to hear from you.

What You Might Not Know About Menno Simons

I recently finished The Complete Works of Menno Simons and thought it might be interesting to list some of the ways Menno Simons might raise some eyebrows..

If you can think of any I missed, I would welcome a comment.

Menno Told State Officials How They Should Live & Govern

As you read the Complete Writings of Menno Simons you will likely be struck at how often he addresses magistrates. Menno sounds like John the Baptist challenging Herod’s moral indiscretions or the Jewish prophets calling Israel’s kings on the carpet as he calls state officials to justice, a life of sobriety, care for the poor and the fear of God. One example:

…fear the Lord, your God, with all your powers; judge in all wisdom with fear and trembling; help the oppressed; grieve not the distressed; promote the just cause of the widows and orphans; protect the good; punish the evil in a christian manner [1]; discharge the duties of your offices properly; seek the kingdom and country that will endure forever; and reflect that you, however highly esteemed, upon earth are only pilgrims and sojourners in a strange land. [Location 2790]

or

…Yes, beloved lords, Can you thus convert yourselves with all your hearts? Can you change your hearts and humble yourselves before God? Deny yourselves, seek and follow Christ and his righteousness? Renounce the world and flesh with all its lusts, as you have heard? [Location 4199]

Menno’s caveat below, “as far as Scripture permits”,  is likely alluding to the fact that the Scripture does not permit the Christian to take part in capital punishment, based on other comments he makes:

Do not excuse yourselves, beloved sirs, and judges, that you are the servants of the emperor; this will not acquit you in the day of vengeance. It availed Pilate nothing that he crucified Christ in the name of the emperor. Serve the emperor in imperial matters, so far as Scripture permits, and serve God in divine matters, then you may claim his grace and call yourselves after his name. [Location 2735]

Menno Was Opposed to Capital Punishment

Answering Micron who painted Menno as a Christian anarchist:

I said nothing more to you than that it would hardly become a true, christian ruler to shed blood, for this reason: If the transgressor should truly repent before his God, … and for such an one to be hanged on the gallows…or in any manner be harmed by another christian, …would look somewhat strange and unbecoming, according to the…example of Christ, the meek Lamb, which example he has commanded all his chosen children to follow.  Again, If he remain impenitent, and his life be taken, one would do nothing else but unmercifully rob him of the time of repentance… [Location 20156]

Next Menno says he approves of the example of the pagan Lacedaemonians, who did not practice capital punishment:

Profane history shows that the Lacedæmonians, who were gentiles, did not practice capital punishment; but they imprisoned them and put them at labor. [Location 20178]

Did Menno Abstain from All Wine? Perhaps No

Menno notes:

“Some…say…that I…drink more wine than they do beer.” [Location 315]

And his response is not that he does not drink, but that

My Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, was also called a winebibber, and a glutton. I trust that through the grace of the Lord, I am innocent in this matter, and stand acquitted before God. [Location 315]

Does this mean he drank? It should be noted that Menno gives many and long exhortations against drunkenness. As GAMEO points out, he gave “many admonitions to a sober life with warnings against drunkenness”.

Menno Was Encouraged by Reading Martin Luther

Not too often that you’ll hear a Mennonite quote Martin Luther as a source of encouragement, but Menno Simon in fact does:

I was encouraged by Luther in the belief, that human authority cannot bind to eternal death… [Location 196]

But, to be sure, Menno also deeply disagreed with Luther on many points.

Menno Was Familiar with Pagan History & the Philosophers

Menno could throw in a quote from Socrates or about Plato without blinking eye.

But all those who are not instructed in this wisdom from God, though they were as glorious as Solomon, as victorious as Alexander, as rich as Croesus, as strong as Hercules, as learned as Plato, as subtle as Aristotle, as eloquent as Demosthenes and Cicero, and as well skilled in languages as Mithridates… [Location 3294]

And a little Socrates:

Yea, dear reader, I freely admit, as did Socrates, that I only know one thing, as regards human skill and wisdom, and that is, that I know nothing. [Location 12778]

And Aristotle & Plato as examples of approving generosity:

But, as to the alms and support of the poor, I would say, that it is a good and praise-worthy work, and cordially approve of it. Also, that many pious, gentile philosophers, as Aristotle, Plato, etc., have considered it as right and just. [Location 9208]

Menno Quotes the Apocrypha & Its Characters Alongside the Bible Without a Pause

Peter and Susanna in one breath…

We think with holy Peter, that we should rather obey God than man; and with virtuous Susanna, it is better to fall into the hands of man, than into the hands of God. [Location 2096]

Daniel and “the fair virtuous Susanna…”

…the three faithful young men in the fiery furnace, the beloved Daniel, and the fair, virtuous Susanna, the honorable pattern of all pious women, Daniel 13. They would rather endure for a season the wrath and fury of tyrants, than sin, and thus bring upon themselves the eternal anger and wrath of God. [Location 3551]

Menno Repeatedly Requested to Have Debates with Magisterial Reformers

Menno apparently did not subscribe to merely being “the quiet in the land” as he repeatedly requested the opportunity to debate. (as did Humaier and other early Anabaptists) One example:

I voluntarily make this offer: If they allow me a discourse with them under safe conduct, either privately before witnesses, or publicly, before a full assembly, and if I cannot prove or maintain, by the power of the truth that the preachers, in general, are deceivers and not pastors, and that their pompous, avaricious, extortionate swearing and cursing disciples… [Location 10578]

Menno Was Familiar With the Theologians & Theologies of His Day

Menno read & was familiar with the theologians of his day. In between duties, writing, running and hiding, apparently he read the theologians of his day: Luther, Bucer, & Bullinger [Location 188] and critiqued their theology: Infant baptism, focus on grace to the exclusion of obedience, their views on the sword and more. Once example:

Martin Luther says, The word is that which God speaks in himself, and which remains in him and is never separated from him. We do not controvert the testimony of Erasmus and of Luther; but we cited them for the reason that it might be observed what diversity of opinion exists. [Location 12825]

Menno Uses Imagery from the Book of Revelation to Describe Events of History

Menno uses Revelation as a description of the past:

…it is annotated in the Lutheran New Testament, that this Origen is the great star which fell from heaven, burning like a lamp, and that his name is Wormwood, Rev. 8:11.

Or the present, his debate partners Micron & Herman:

Justly has the Holy Spirit likened this generation unto the fearful apocalyptic locusts whose shapes were like unto horses prepared unto battle, who have crowns on their heads, like gold; which however are not gold; of which Micron and Herman have placed one on each others head, by their writings; their teeth are as the teeth of lions, and they have tails like unto scorpions, and there are stings in their tails, Rev. 9. [Location 19044]

And, of course, the future.

Menno Was Vitally Interested in the Question: What Is Faith?

In fact he wrote a book on the subject of “The True Christian Faith Which Converts, Changes, Makes Pious…” in  1556. [Location 3258] “True Evangelical Faith” was not just a one time quote, but a subject that Menno was very interested in and a theme he often brought up. This may be one of the missed theological contributions of Menno Simons.

…for a true, sincere, Christian faith cannot be idle; but it changes, renews, purifies, sanctifies and justifies more and more; it makes joyous and glad, for by faith it knows that hell, devil, sin and death, are conquered through Christ [Location 4915]

We do not agree with dead faith or meritorious work:

we testify before you and before all the world that we do not agree with those who teach and institute a dead faith..Secondly, that we can be saved by our own merits and works,… [Location 15975]

And the quintessential Menno Simons (which incidentally is not in his book on “The True Christian Faith” mentioned above, but in “The Reasons Menno Simon Does Not Cease Teaching & Writing”):

For true evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lay dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation.[Location 15503]

Interestingly Menno Simon’s description of true evangelical faith above errs neither on the side of a mere social gospel (which some shortened versions of the above quote seem to imply) nor the “faith as belief” gospel of some others.

Menno Far Too Often Used 100 Words When 5 Would Have Been Just Fine

Menno is quite wordy and often far too wordy. In Menno’s writing on the “Incarnation of Christ” the publishers graciously note:

…the publishers have taken the liberty to condense and abridge some
parts thereof and also, here and there, to leave out such parts as they
considered of no importance in the illustration and explanation of the
subject, and which were not edifying to the reader. [Location 21457]

Menno Sported a Mustache with His Beard

The source for this is every drawing of Menno Simons there is, including the one on the front of your copy of “The Complete Writings of Menno Simons” edited by J. C. Wenger and published by Herald Press. (below) This is a very ill kept secret, but there it is.

menno

In conclusion I would note that you can get The Complete Works of Menno Simons Kindle Edition for only $1.99 on Amazon. (this is Menno’s writings as published by the Funks, not the J C Wenger edition).

Let’s be inspired by those who’s voices faithfully call to the way of Jesus, and humbled by the march of time which continues to change the context into which we are called to do so today.

This article was reprinted on the Mennonite World Review on Oct 19, 2016. If you want to follow the discussion generated there here is the link.

Romans 13 in Context

  • Bless those who persecute you
  • Live in harmony
  • Do not repay ANYONE evil for evil
  • Do NOT take revenge
  • Leave room for Gods wrath, which means NOT avenging! (and letting people do their evil!)
  • If your enemy hungers, Feed him
  • If your enemy is thirsty, Give him a drink
  • OVERCOME evil with Love!
  • Do NOT rebel against the state! (Roman 13:2/NIV)
  • Render to all their dues
  • Submit & Respect & Honor & Value government officials as Jesus called us to love all! (see Ephesians 5:21)
  • Let your only continuing debt be to Love others!
  • Loving others filfills the law
  • There is one commandment: “Love your neighbour as yourself”
  • Love does NO harm to a neighbor.
  • LOVE is the fulfillment of the Law.