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This editorial is concerned with an issue that lacks clarity within present-day Anabaptism. It lies at the very core of our belief system and yet there is an almost intentional obscuring of the issues. The question before us is “How does one obtain salvation from sin?”
The first response of most conservative Anabaptists is “Of course we agree on the Biblical teaching of salvation.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Our Protestant friends have tended to totally divorce faith from works. Their implication (perhaps unintentional in some cases) is that it does not matter how one lives as long as he believes in Christ as his Saviour from sin. The Anabaptist position has always called for holy living as a necessary result of saving faith. Pollutions of doctrine have taken place so that faith and works have been mixed together, on the one hand resulting in a works salvation. On the other hand a moral yardstick has been established resulting in the loss of one’s salvation if anything on the “list” is disobeyed. This all has become very confusing and has caused some people to throw up their hands and avoid the subject altogether.
Confusion abounds within Anabaptist circles as to what salvation really is. As this writer understands the writings of the early Anabaptists, the following seems to be the case. First, in response to the Catholic works salvation of the day, Anabaptists wanted to be clear that salvation was not by works. In this way they appeared to share the Protestant position that salvation was by grace through faith plus nothing else.
Yet, in response to the Protestants’ individualistic libertarianism, the early Anabaptists wanted it clearly understood that a salvation that did not produce a radically changed and holy life was no salvation at all. Thus the Protestants accused the Anabaptists of mixing justification and sanctification together into some kind of unbiblical porridge. The Anabaptist position was no different than the emphasis of New Testament James in the requirement that genuine saving faith will be demonstrated by righteous works.
Anabaptist people tend to be confused by the two extremes. Legalism, which is nothing more than the old Galatianism, teaches that one is saved by faith plus works. Antinomianism, which represents the large body of Protestantism today, teaches that a holy life is not necessary for Christians today. Biblical Anabaptism rightly labels both of these as heresy.
In our next installment we will attempt to present a Biblically balanced view of salvation for today, consistent with the passion of the early Anabaptists.
Written by: Paul Emerson
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Many relatively conservative Anabaptist churches today have come to depend on Matthew 18:15-20 as the main, if not only, method of discipline within their midst. While it is true that this passage of Scripture provides a very effective means of Biblical accountability, this writer has come to question whether our Lord meant it as the only means of correction.
Experience has shown that Matthew 18 works well in the early history of a local church, but as a congregation grows in size it tends to become less effective. People who want their own way and share less of the original vision of the congregation tend to respond negatively to the loving counsel of their fellow believers. When correction is attempted using the three steps of Matthew 18, the transgressor often responds with comments like “that is just your interpretation” or “it’s not a salvation issue.” In these circumstances it becomes difficult to enlist the one or two witnesses of Step 2 of the passage. This, in turn, results in the stalling of good and proper Biblical order in the congregation. Thus the church moves on down the road of apostasy.
In view of the above state of of affairs, in many Anabaptist congregations today, the question of standing on isolated Scriptures must be addressed. While we certainly believe Matthew 18 is absolutely essential, we strongly question whether it should be pulled out of the Scripture and assigned the sole duty of maintaining good order in the church. As an illustration of such a wrong practice, it can be noted that there are those who have done the same sort of thing with the Sermon on the Mount. They have pulled it out of Scripture and made it stand alone as the believers’ only instruction code. If this procedure were correct we would not need the epistles. Neither would we need the church except as a court of final appeal.
There are several instances in the New Testament where discipline apparently took place without following Matthew 18. Illustrations of this include the immorality case of 1 Corinthians 5 and the withdrawal orders of 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and 1 Timothy 6:5. Some would want to superimpose Matthew 18 over the instructions of the epistles but such is not warranted.
We conclude that Matthew 18 must not be isolated from the other commands concerning good order and behavior. It is a part of a whole but only a part—namely, that of brotherly address. There are indeed occasions that require formative discipline, wherein the congregation is publicly taught what is acceptable and unacceptable Biblical behavior. There are times for public rebuke of public sin with or without the prelude of Matthew 18. Congregations must stop allowing Matthew 18 to be a scapegoat for transgression. With the pressures of individualism pressing in on the church from every side, let us insist on having a lovingly disciplined covenant community of faith by using Matthew 18 as one part but not the whole of congregational order.
Written by: Paul Emerson
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From the beginning of the Anabaptist movement, there has been a strong emphasis on simplicity of lifestyle. Some of this was initially required because of intense persecution wherein there was no possible security in material things. Early Anabaptists were on the run and were not able to accumulate goods.
This eventually changed and our forefathers became owners of property. Hard work and good management resulted in economic prosperity that resulted, in turn, in more complex lifestyles. It would seem that this wealth and complexity of lifestyle led to an assimilation into the world around. When assimilation did not happen, wealthy Anabaptists tended to set up colonies of isolation and lost their evangelistic fervor. Seldom did those who accumulated wealth and possessions maintain Biblical simplicity.
Biblical Anabaptism was founded on the principles stated in 1 Timothy 6:6-10. Therefore, personal wealth is either to be distributed to the cause of the Gospel or used to influence the cause of Christ. Wealth should not be used to “tear down old barns and build bigger ones.” Rather one should ask what is needful to glorify God. Are the fancy things in this life going to matter a million years from now? Can we even agree on what is needful? Are we willing to allow our brotherhoods to speak into our lives on these matters or does the spirit of American independence reign? (The contents of my pocketbook are no one else’s business.) Do we live to impress the Lord or our neighbor?
Living simply is most difficult in the land of the American dream. Most of us consistently have more than we need and the more we have the more we want while the world goes to Hell.
What would the early Anabaptists (the radicals of the reformation era) say to us if they were to see us now?
Written by: Paul Emerson
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One of the most obvious distinctives of Anabaptism has historically been adherence to the doctrine of nonconformity. From the very beginning of the movement in 1525, Anabaptists have dared to “march to the beat of a different drummer” in most, if not all, areas of life. Some may have taken this too far in being different for the sake of being different. Others have failed to take it far enough and have been absorbed into the general culture, thus losing their testimony altogether. The tension between these two extremes is very much with us today.
In order to properly practice Biblical nonconformity, it is probably best to imagine the putting on of a pair of eye glasses that filter everything through the Biblical Anabaptist perspective. This thought may aggravate some who are attempting to free themselves from what they call Anabaptist slavery. These are they who desire credibility within the larger evangelical community. The true disciple of Christ is exclusively desiring credibility with the Lord. Nothing else really matters. If, as we believe, Anabaptism is the correct perspective from which to see the world, said eye glasses are in order.
Nonconformity should be apparent in belief and practice. The teaching of our Lord, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, projects the marching orders for the true disciple. Such includes: nonresistance as a lifestyle, noninvolvement in the world of politics, modesty (including plainness) of dress, lowliness in deportment, meekness of spirit, contentment with necessities without luxury, and such other denials of the “American dream.” Nonconformity also teaches that the local church or community of faith has the responsibility to provide guidelines for the applications of Bible truth. The world system is seen as the kingdom of Satan and Christian disciples are to live distinct from it.
Anabaptists have insisted that lifestyle is a required proclamation of discipleship. Not that a silent witness is enough, but rather how one lives and appears speaks so loudly that the spoken witness can be lost without the appropriately consistent lifestyle.
In direct proportion to the loss of practical nonconformity, the whole testimony of Anabaptism will be lost.
Written by: Paul Emerson
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Anabaptists, from the very beginning, have uniformly taken an exclusive position on civil government.
On the one hand Anabaptists have advocated disobedience to civil authority when the authority requires disobedience to God. The apostolic cry “We ought to obey God rather than men” has been the watchword that brought many Anabaptists to their deaths. The nickname Anabaptist came about because of such an issue. The origin of Anabaptism surrounded the Biblical doctrine of believers’ baptism; hence the term Anabaptist, meaning “re-baptizers.” Another example of this position is reflected in the teaching of nonresistance, which resulted in refusal to engage in warfare.
On the other hand Anabaptists have been advocates of obedience to government in all matters not clearly forbidden by God. This means that Anabaptists pay their taxes, give proper honor to civil leaders, and obey the laws of the land.
As an application of the above, registration for the draft provides a good illustration. In compliance with the draft registration law, all men are required to register for the draft at the age of 18. The statute reads:
Almost all male U.S. citizens, and male aliens living in the U.S., who are 18 through 25, are required to register for the military draft. However, men who currently register are not automatically inducted into military service. In the event of a crisis that necessitates a draft to be invoked, men would be called in sequence determined by random lottery number and year of birth. They would then be examined for mental, physical, and moral fitness by the military before being deferred or exempted from military service or inducted into the Armed Forces. You may register as soon as you reach the age of 17 years and 3 months but must register within 30 days of turning 18. Failure to register is a violation of Federal Law. Conviction for such a violation may result in imprisonment for up to five years and/or a fine of not more than $250,000. You can expect to be denied a driver’s license in the following states/ territories: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. You may become ineligible for federal benefits for life. Only men born after December 31, 1959, are required to show proof of registration.
We expect our men to obey the law and register for the draft, but if they should later face induction we expect them to refuse to serve on the basis of conscientious objection to the use of force. Therefore, we comply with the law even when doing so is unpleasant and we are prepared to disobey the law if it violates clear teaching of the Word of God.
Anabaptists have stood nearly alone in these matters. Obedience to the civil authorities is required according to Romans 13, but one never disobeys the higher power. When God and the civil government are in conflict “we must obey God rather than men.”
Written by: Paul Emerson
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Anabaptists have historically been separatists. The position was nearly required by the circumstances of their 16th century origins. The ecclesiastical cousins of the Anabaptists (Baptists) across the Channel were called English Separatists because of like circumstances. In order to practice a believers’ church, adult baptism, and separation of church and state, both streams were disenfranchised from the state church. The separatism tended to morph into isolationism as the early Anabaptists fled for their lives and often were required to worship in secret.
The isolationism necessitated by the early Anabaptists’ context has not served the movement well in modern times. While Biblical separation is a basic doctrine of the Christian faith, isolation from others is a violation of the Lord’s prayerful intent that disciples be in the world but not of it. It would appear that to isolate one’s self from one’s neighbor and practice the faith in secret, is a sin unless such is motivated by persecution. Both the early church and the early Anabaptists met in secret when such was required in order to obediently worship the Lord. In a society where there is freedom of worship, it is imperative that disciples openly practice their faith in the world. To build imaginary walls of isolation around the church and the community is not the purpose of Biblical separation.
Biblical separation has to do with fellowship, which is defined simply as joint participation. This means that we withdraw ourselves from those who walk in disobedience to the Scriptures as far as church is concerned (1 Timothy 6:5). It further means that we do not engage in the Lord’s work with a mixed company of unbelievers or disobedient believers (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1). This understanding of separation has been a clear distinctive of true Christianity from the beginning, particularly Biblical Anabaptists. Believers are expected to go out into the world for work and for witness. In many cases there has been disobedience to this concept, wherein it has become possible in some Anabaptist communities to live one’s whole life with barely any contact with the outside world. While this may be comfortable, it is reprehensible in view of Christ’s commands and His life model.
Individual separation from worldly practices must be maintained. Distinctive lifestyles are a part of the Biblical commands. When it becomes impossible to distinguish disciples from the world via manner of life the witness has been lost. The world dances to the beat of the god of this world and his crowd. When disciples follow suit, Biblical distinctives are lost. This may be one of the more difficult aspects of Christ’s call to be a living sacrifice.
It is important that Anabaptists retain their historic distinctive of separatism, both individually and ecclesiastically on the one hand and avoid isolationism on the other hand.
Written by: Paul Emerson