Drippings from the Honeycomb
More to be desired are [the rules of the Lord] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)
Recently I had a unique opportunity to speak with a local old order Mennonite (so not a Dave Martin Mennonite) about his beliefs (and many of our common beliefs). He shared how his church holds to the The Dordrecht Confession (1632), and was delighted to learn I had this in a book in my office. (You can read it here).
Having studied Mennonite history and beliefs at a general level I wrote to him some of my responses and questions in the hopes that he or his church leader might be able to further enlightenment me on Mennonite beliefs and practices.
Here are my comments:
Article 2- I was heartened to see you believe in Original Sin as I know some Mennonites do not. This is such a fundamental teaching of the Bible.
Article 4- There is so much here that is right and true. Twice, however, “salvation of all” and “purchased redemption for the whole human race” is mentioned and so I would gather you believe in a universal atonement. I would hold that Christ died for His own, the elect (Acts 13:48; Eph 1:1–6; 2 Ti 1:9; Rev 17:8); however, that the Gospel should be preach to the whole world. Election is a mystery the Bible speaks of for the believer’s comfort. The Gospel an encouragement to those who have not yet believed.
A line at about 60% says “we content ourselves with the declaration which the worthy evangelists have given…” According to Christology I find this somewhat vague as the visible Church (and I think with Biblical merit) has universally and historically believed the Chalcedon Creed that says “one person in two natures.” Creeds are not Scripture but church history does have a helping or ministerial role as Christians articulate their belief. Perhaps Mennonites are interested in the practical vs. the speculative (though probing who God is, I would argue, has great practical benefits).
I was heartened by the last line of this article.
Article 5- What is the Gospel? How do I become a Christian? This is not clear to me. Traditional Protestantism asks “What must I do to be saved.” It seems many Anabaptists ask, “How ought a Christian to live?”
Article 6- Truly, we must heed John the Baptist’s words quoted herein and also hear James that faith without works is dead. However, what is true saving faith and its connection to ongoing faith? (or saving faith and the fruit of faith). It speaks of “amendment of life” which is surely a proof of true faith (Parable of the Sower) but this does seem to have echoes of being justified (or made right with God) through our works. I would say that those who truly believe in the Gospel and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit will persevere in the faith and bear good fruit. You shall know them by their fruit Jesus said in Mt 7.
Article 7- Do you practice baptism by affusion (pouring) or immersion? I know different Mennonites have different practices. We practice believer’s baptism by immersion in the name of the Trinity.
Article 9- I was confused, do you have a tri-fold ordering of officers? We have Elders (oversight, teaching and discipleship) and Deacons (temporal needs and matters).
Article 10- I love the moral outworking of the theology of the cross (yet would still question “His precious blood—for the whole human race” see what I shared above. I would understand such verses in light of the others to mean, “so that…”).
Article 11- I applaud the spirit of humility in this article and the picture of true washing by Christ’s blood, however, is there really justifiable evidence that foot-washing is an ordinance? Does it merit a whole article? Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are quite emphatically put forward as signs of the New Covenant. Is not the main point of Jesus’ footwashing the principle of humility and service?
Article 14- This is certainly a noble belief and I have the utmost respect for those who carry it out. But is it not to confuse the future peace we will know with the present where sin reigns? Surely in Mt 6 Jesus is speaking of personal insult and not personal harm. I would allow suffering injury for the sake of the Gospel but, the justness or injustice of wars aside, what man would not protect his wife and children from a murderer or thief? Jesus even commanded his disciples to carry swords for legitimate cases of self-defence (Lk 22:36). The 10 Commandments speak of “thou shall not murder” not “kill.” In rare occasions I would see defence as a reasonable use of force.
Article 15- I agree with this interpretation of Mt 5, however, why make it a major statement of faith? May it not be a remnant of an important issue in the 1500s and not so much an issue today?
Article 16 and 17 (which are similar)- Likewise, I am a believer in what we would call church discipline (as a believers’ church), rightly dismissing members who persist in erring in doctrine or practice and do not show repentance after brothers seek to reach him (Matt 18:15–20). Likewise it is for their amendment and not their ruin. However, I wonder about the language of “sin unto death.” If they truly repent and show they were genuine believers do they really lose their salvation only to regain it or grieve the spirit whilst in rebellion and loose visible assurance? Also “have nothing to do with them” must be taken in its various contexts. Certainly we should avoid divisive people (Tit 3) and even apostates, yet wouldn’t to treat the average backslider like “tax collectors and sinners” mean we cannot have fellowship with them but that we treat them with mercy and try to convert them? What in practice would shunning look like?
Article 18- I agree wholeheartedly with what is stated here, the Resurrection, etc, yet even though Scripture speaks of being judged based upon our deeds, does it not go still further and speak of our faith, or what we have done with Jesus (Ro 14:23; Heb 11:6; Jn 12:48)?
Aside from many smaller questions the biggest question that I am not clear on, and what I would deem as the most important, is “What is the Gospel” and “what is true faith?” Likewise, what is the relationship of faith and works? If you could help me understand these I would be grateful.
I was recently asked a question, the answer to which I thought would be helpful to share as we journey through C2C.
The question was this: “Can the principle of Matt 18:20 stand on its own outside of its context…[it seems to hold a more universal principle].” In other words, can we take verses that seem clear and use them out of their context?
The answer is no and kind of…
We need to remember that context is king. Three basic contexts are always helpful to ask when studying a verse, its literary, historical and theological contexts. Literary- how does this verse fit with the surrounding passage and book? Historical- What historical aspects in this verse or passage do I need to understand to see it correctly? Theological- How does this verse or passage fit into other wider passages on the same subject (i.e. what does the Bible say on the subject as a whole). CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT.
That context of Mt 18:20 is about life in the community of Christ, particularly what to do in cases of discipline. Christ has given the local church, in an official sense, the authority (v. 18, “bind”) to recognize who is a believer and who is not. This corporate witness and authority (itself harkening back to v.16) is affirmed by Jesus’ promise to be authoritatively and helpfully present in such circumstances.
Knowing the context is of vital importance to rightfully reading a verse, but also to reading it in all its richness.
There are verses that would be very dangerous to pluck out of their context. The classic is someone who opened their Bible, turned to Mt 27:5b (“Judas hung himself”) and then to Lk 10:37b (“go and do likewise”). We could flick open our Bibles and find a great many verses that we would mutilate the meaning of if we separated them from their context. Jer 29:11, “for I know the plans I have for your,” is a famous instance. It’s not meant to be a cushy verse just for anyone. In its context it is talking about Judah’s exile and is a call for the faithful to look to and hope in God during this difficult period in their history. It’s speaking specifically to believers, not saying there won’t be hardships, but that there is hope because of God’s plan of history. Once we’ve grasped the context, we can then apply the principle to situations the Christian may face today.
That said, I would tend to agree with our initial question that even though there are some verses that must be contextually understood, there are some verses, at least the principle of which, that can clearly and more independently stand on its own, like Ro 12:9, “hate evil and cling to what is good” (though it is of course enriched by its context).
The principle of Mt 18:20 is readily recognizable. It is one realized by say Christians imprisoned together by their faith, that when the proper number of witnesses to Christ come together Christ bears witness to them in a special way by presenting himself spiritually in a way that could not ordinarily be experienced by a lone believer (another good reasons for the corporate nature of the Church/body!).
So context is king, even if there are some verses, that to a degree, might be better suited for their principle to stand alone.
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