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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

If the Spirit is leading Christians, why are Paul’s commands needed?

John Piper, in his thesis on “Enemy Love” covers an interesting question: “If the Spirit is leading Christians and yielding fruit, why does Paul and the early Christian tradition with him think it necessary to command them specifically and repeatedly to love their enemy?” Piper’s answer is below:

“If the almighty Spirit of Christ is leading the Christians and yielding fruit, why does Paul and the early Christian tradition with him think it necessary to command them specifically and repeatedly to love their enemy? The presupposition underlying this question is that the leading of the Holy Spirit takes place through a private communion with the divine in which the Christian is informed of the right and motivated to do it apart from human influences. This, however, was not Paul’s understanding of the way the Spirit worked. This may be illustrated first from II Cor 5:20. Here we find the well-known imperative, ‘Be reconciled to God!’ Nevertheless, it is a clear element of Paul’s theology that a man’s reconciling himself to God is the work of the Spirit (I Thess 1:5); it happens only when the creator ‘shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (II Cor 4:6; cf II Cor 4:16,17; Rom 9:16; Eph 2:8). From a false preconception of how the Spirit of God works one could theoretically deny the need for the imperative ‘Be reconciled to God!’ on the ground, namely, that God is great enough to accomplish our salvation without humans stepping in to inform us of our need and God’s offer. This objection fails to see that man does not merely step in; he is called in, indeed he is drawn in even before his birth (Gal 1:15). He is made an ambassador of the risen Christ (ὑπὲρ ριστοῦ οῦν πρεσβεύομεν, II Cor 5:20), and thus speaks on Christ’s behalf (δεόμεθα ὑπὲρ χριστοῦ). “Indeed, it is not merely man but God who says, ‘Be reconciled.’ In other words God has chosen not to do his saving work privately with an individual; rather he makes his appeal through men (ὼς τοῦ θεοῦ παρακαλοῦντος δἰ ἡμῶν). Here we do not see a conflict between a human imperative and God’s work in the heart. Rather we see a single working of God, from one side, making his appeal through men and, from the other side, enlightening the heart (II Cor 4:6). The fact that God’s speaking is here called παρακαλοῦντος (II Cor 5:20) suggests that this same pattern may characterize the παράκλησις in general.

The point at which this divine word meets the believer effectively is in the ‘body of Christ.’ The paradoxes of Christian ethics find their practical solution in the local community of believers. This is suggested by the following observations. For the Christian ‘all things are permitted.’28 This does not mean for Paul that the question of sin no longer exists for the Christian. The question of good and evil still exists but is answered not by referring the Christian to legal codes or to his own private experience of the Holy Spirit, but rather by placing him in the body of Christ. ‘All things are permitted but not all things συμφἐρεῖ (I Cor 6:12). But in the body of Christ ‘each is given the manifestation of the Spirit πρὸς τὸ συμφἐρον’ (12:7). ‘All things are permitted but not all οἰκοδομεῖ. But in the body of Christ ‘the one who prophesies speaks to men οἰκοδομήν’ (14:3), indeed ‘all things are to be done for the οἰκοδομήν’ (14:26). In other words, the ethical question for the completely free man is answered not with a legal code which specifies what is permitted, nor by mere private communion with the Spirit, but rather with his incorporation into the body of Christ in which the Spirit of Christ ‘leads’ his people through the apostolic paraenesis, the prophetic utterance and the enlightenment of the heart.”

Its interesting to hear Piper put it that way. The Christian alternative to “legal code” is not mere private communion with the Spirit, but being incorporated into the body of Christ in which the Spirit of Christ ‘leads’ his people through:

  • Apostolic paraenesis
  • Prophetic utterance
  • Enlightenment of the heart

I think not to different from historic Anabaptist pulling together of community & Spirit.

https://kindle.amazon.com/post/91ueptL2SFuHrfL-LDHTHw
https://kindle.amazon.com/post/gXawnvDRRKOO8EMPizuFtA
https://kindle.amazon.com/post/TipY3JlVS86Wn4tnPx1NtA

What Evangelicals Won’t Tell You About Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Sermon on the Mount

According to Bonhoeffer “Everything changed” when  he discovered the Sermon on the Mount:

I was lacking in humility…terribly ambitious…alone…then something happened…for the first time I discovered the Bible…Then the Bible freed me from that, in particular the Sermon on the Mount. Since then everything has changed. I have felt this plainly, and so have other people around me. –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance pg.95

Bonhoeffer scholar Ferdinand Schlingensiepen says the influence of Jean Lasserre was influential in Bonhoeffer’s transition from theologian to Christian:

Bonhoeffer’s ‘transition from theologian to Christian’ …was induced by Bonhoeffer’s experience in the USA, particularly his conversations with Jean Lasserre (A Christian pacifist who believed Christians should live the Sermon on the Mount today) –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance pg.94

In 1935 Bonhoeffer still believed the Sermon on the Mount was the hope of the church:

The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, follow Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time as come to gather people together and do this” (Bonhoeffer in letter to his brother in 1935) –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance pg.175

How should the Church celebrate Memorial Day? Some thoughts from Bonhoeffer’s 1932 Memorial Day sermon:

The demons rise up. It is a rebellion against Christ. And one great power of this uprising is called war! …

“What does faithfulness of the church-community of Christ mean here other than calling out into this furious raging [of war] again and again – unto exhaustion, unto humiliation, unto martyrdom – the words of Christ that there should be peace, that there should be love, that there should be blessing, and that he is our peace, and that God is a God of peace?

“And the more they rage, the more we should call out. And the more we call out, the more wildly they will rage. For wherever the word of Christ is truly spoken, the world senses that it is either ruinous madness or ruinous truth, which endangers its very life. Where peace is really spoken, war must rage twice as hard, for it senses that it is about to be driven out. Christ intends to be its death.” —The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (editor: Isabel Best) via TGC

What did Bonhoeffer think was necessary to destroy Nazism? Assassination? Living the Sermon on the Mount?

I would only achieve true inner clarity & honesty by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Here alone lies the force that can blow all this hocu pocus [of Nazism] sky high – like fireworks, leaving only a few burnt-out shells behind…  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a letter to his brother Karl) –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance

Bonhoeffer has well documented his confidence in living the Sermon on the Mount in “The Cost of Discipleship” (in which Bonhoeffer is more radical about cheap grace & the living the Sermon on the Mount than many Mennonites I have met!) . I have scoured his later “Ethics” to find any trace of a reversing of his earlier strongly held beliefs and I can find none.

Mennonite World Conference Speaker Says: “Stop dreaming of a perfect & ideal church”

This morning at Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg Pennsylvania Remilyn Mondez of the Philippines spoke on the subject of conflict in the church and featured a Nationwide Fellowship church from the Philippines quite prominently (although unnamed in the presentation, the above picture was used as backdrop during the story) in a story about a girl named “Lenlen”. In the story Lenlen’s parents joined a conservative Mennonite church who practiced “the holy kiss” and simple, modest clothes and which had a long history of objecting to higher education.  As time went on Lenlen’s family came in conflict with the local church because they wanted their daughter to attendant college. This conflict culminated with Lenlen’s extended family leaving the church and some of them going to a more assimilated Mennonite church while others ended up at no church at all. Remilyn Mondez sprung a bit of a surprise at the end of her talk and noted she was “Lenlen” and that her family’s move to another church was a very painful experience for her as a 15 year old who was separated from her social circle and took years to heal. She drew attention to the  fact that similar church conflicts hurt many youth caught in the middle by no fault of their own.

Could this story be read as a precautionary tale of divisively leaving even a conservative church one disagrees with?

Could this story be read as a precautionary tale of divisively leaving even a conservative church one disagrees with? Or is it rather a call for taking fewer or no stands on which congregants might disagree? This was not clarified.

Stop dreaming of a perfect & ideal church

Mondez’s advice to the MWC audience was “Stop dreaming of a perfect & ideal church” which was most certainly intended as a needed call to humility & forbearance. If it was a call to unqualified unity it is formulated very similar calls to unity & conformity by the magisterial reformers in the 1500’s which was often used against Anabaptists. Martin Luther summarized this critique in a short punchy line in a sermon given at St. Andrews church in Eisleben “There is no such thing as a pure church such as the Anabaptists want…”. While no church leaders in any period are likely in any delusions about a “perfect” church, the Anabaptists did have a dream empowered by faith that envisioned Christ could raise up a people capable of living a powerful witness to peace and agape. Thanks to early Anabaptist rejection of unqualified unity on this point with magisterial reformers, Mennonites around the world are heir to a very distinctly Christ like witness today.

Mennonite World Review also covered Mundoz’s talk:
http://mennoworld.org/2015/07/23/news/testimony-of-a-church-conflict-casualty/