BIC Positions

If you’ve ever wondered what a typical anabaptist denomination believes on different issues, head on over to the website for the Brethren in Christ Church (US) where they have published a variety of pdf pamphlets on an array of issues. I have found these very helpful at various times to help others make decisions in light church teaching.

They cover:

Check them all out here

Burnt

Comic 9 27 burnout

I’m burnt out… I think.

After I finished my time as preaching pastor this past Easter Sunday, I took two weeks off from going to any church. A sensible move I thought since it had been along time since a weekend wasn’t marked by anxiety and stress. I went last week but not this morning. I’m just burned out. There is another factor though, which is that my current church is not necessarily the place I want to be right now. I love the people and the community of friends I’ve developed over the years, but they meet in a movie theatre and it just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. Ryan over at the Emerging Anabaptist, who attends the same church (but a different site, we’ve unfortunately yet to meet in person), wrote a bit about the pitfalls of meeting in a movie theatre. One of his points certainly holds true for me:

No Sense of Sacred Space

There is something to be said for liturgy of presence. Where you are definitely changes the vibe of a worship gathering. In some ways it can be good, especially for those who aren’t used to churches, as I mentioned above, to be in a non-traditional building. At the same time, though, I definitely think there is a degree to which people approach going to church in the same way that they approach going to see a movie because that is what the setting is obviously reminding us of.

Let me be clear: like other Anabaptists, I do not believe that any space is actually more sacred than any other. What I do believe is that we inevitably bring all our senses into worship with us and that is a good thing. When our sensory perceptions are saying “this is a setting where you kick back and be entertained,” it is harder on a subconscious level to be focused, to be open to hearing in what ways you need to work hard at in following Jesus, and in general to be in a worshipful state.

This effect really shouldn’t be ignored, even in the unchurched generation. If you’re doing worship gatherings in a theatre or other non-traditional venue, do what you can to still make sure it feels different, as a place of spiritual growth and strong community rather than individual entertainment.

If I were to sum it up in one word, I would say there is simply a lack of reverence in the services. I don’t mean they don’t love God; they absolutely do. But as far as liturgies go, it’s as low as you can get. It feels almost more like a university lecture than a worship service. This works for some people; a lot of people in fact (their current attendance across their sites is about 6-7000 people), but I find liturgical services in a traditional church building more beautiful and worshipful. There is something about a space where everything is designed to point you to God and teach you something about Him before a word is read or a song is sung.

Preaching every week is tough and frankly right now I feel like what I don’t need is too feel like I’m back in the classroom. I need to see God’s love expressed through beauty and silence. I don’t get either of these in a movie theatre setting, at least not how our church structures their services.

So, I’m trying to think of how I can recover and be ministered too in a church I don’t really feel attracted to. We will see.

Should we dedicate our children?

Once upon a time all infants were baptized. Baptism carried with it two meanings: one of state citizenship and one of supernatural citizenship. So, when the anabaptists came along and not only refused to baptize children but re-baptized adults they were not just attacking the ruling church’s authority but that of the state’s as well.

Fast forward to today, we have largely left the state connection to baptism behind, but are still divided on the question of infant’s and what to do with them. Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, Lutherans, Presbyterians and some others still baptize infants, while Baptists, Anabaptists, most independents and others do not. Over the years this has left a bit of emotional hole in the psyche of some Christian parents who don’t hold to infant baptism, but none-the-less feel the need to “do something” with their children. It is important to note that not all paedobaptists (those who baptize infants) believe that anything in particular “happens” when the water hits the skin. Presbyterians don’t believe that baptism represents a washing away of sin as the Catholic Church teaches, but they still see a scriptural and historical warrant for it.(1)

Enter infant dedication. Infant dedication is a ceremony (or “event” if you prefer) where a child and their parents come before God and their congregation, friends and family and promise with the help of God and the community to raise the child according to their faith in Christ. The ultimate hope is that one day that child will choose to enter into a relationship with Christ themselves.

You wouldn’t call dedication a sacrament, nor is it even an ordinance, for it is nowhere commanded by Jesus. That’s because it doesn’t really have any basis in scared scripture as something Christians should do. It is borrowed from our Jewish friends and their tradition of taking a newborn child to the temple for dedication and naming. We see this recorded in the gospels in the case of Jesus (Luke 2:22-24).

I’ve been to a handful of Christian dedications and I’m even been privileged to do one for some dear friends of mine. I am, however, becoming less and less convinced that this is a practice the church should engage in. Now, to be sure, I have never heard anyone say “you must dedicate your child”, indeed, quite the opposite if true. There is nothing salvific or even particularly metaphysical about the event as opposed to some version of infant baptism that see the child being remitted of all original sin.

So, if it doesn’t do anything, then it’s not necessary. And if we mandate it then we’re doing it as tradition and wouldn’t that be terrible?! (slight sarcasm)

There was one dedication ceremony in particular that set me on this path of thinking about the validity and wisdom of infant dedication. It was for the beautiful new son for some friends of ours. It was a great and special time, but I came away thinking “the only difference between this and a baptism, was the water” (some even refer to dedications as “dry baptisms”). For some reason this really bugged me. Is this what we’re arguing about is this substance called water? I mean, if the words the minister/pastor says are virtually identical to a baptism, then are we just kidding ourselves? Are we truly being consistent with our beliefs by instituting something in place of something that we say we shouldn’t do. Are we somehow assenting to the very practice we’re eschewing?

Of the small group of anabaptists and baptists I’ve consulted for this article, they’ve all said it’s not essential, but appreciate the meaning behind the ceremony. One even said, if he had the choice, he wouldn’t do them, but because of the sentimentality attached, he would perform a dedication if pressed. He would be very clear however that this is not baptism and the child still needs to come to faith on its own and choose to be baptized.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s sinful, I’m just not sure it’s consistent. Baptize or don’t, but if you’re not going to baptize maybe we shouldn’t import a ritual from another faith (even if it is our faith of origin as it were) to fill that gap that is purely cultural and sociological.

I’d welcome your thoughts. What do you think? Can we dedicate our children while having complete integrity with our faith and stated position about baptism?

(1) Redeemer Presbyterian in New York (Tim Keller’s church) has a good explanation of it’s position on infant baptism (PDF).

Anabaptist history: Footwashing

163814

The picture above is from my wedding. I washed my wife’s feet as an act of love and service.

3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

– John 13:3-11 (ESV)

Should footwashing be a sacrament/ordinance? Jesus did it, though it is questionable whether he meant it to be something that was to be repeated throughout time like Baptism and the Eucharist.

A little Anabaptist history according to From Anabaptist Seed, by C.A. Snyder:
The ordinance of foot washing was not practiced in all the earthly Anabaptist congregations. The South German Anabaptist leader Pilgram Marpeck (d. 1556) spoke of foot washing as a church ordinance, but the practice became most widespread in The Netherlands, where it entered the confession that were produced in late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The practice of footwashing was considered to be an “ordinance” primarily because Jesus “instituted and commanded” the practice. Its symbolic meaning relating to humility and continued purification was explained best by Dirk Philips, bishop and co-worker in The Netherlands with Menno Simons. Late in the seventeenth century, the adoption of the Dordrecht Confession by Swiss Brethren included also the adoption of footwashing as an ordinance, and the practice became accepted in the South as well.

We also confess a washing of the feet of the saints . . . as a sign of true humiliation; but yet more particularly as a sign to remind us of the true washing – the washing and purification of the soul in the blood of Christ
– Dordrecht Confession, article XI, 1632

Also, consider 1 Timothy 5:10
9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband,a 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

Should footwashing be (re)instituted as a sacrament/ordinance? Does your church practice it?

Admit the treasure is tarnished.

One of the unfortunate and lingering effects of the reformation is that we are too easily prone to major on the minors as well as the majors, treating everything as equally important. This necessarily leads to increased schism within the church. As the old saying goes when everything is important, nothing is important. Whether it’s baptism, eucharist, marriage, divorce, same-sex attraction, abortion, Jesus’ divinity, God’s foreknowledge, peace, Just War, Church vs. State, or any number of other issues, we tend to treat everything as equally vital for salvation. If we can’t acknowledge what is of ultimate importance we will never achieve unity. Now, some don’t have a problem with this, but I do. I especially get upset when I hear a Christian leader, particularly one with a large microphone, make schismatic comments that are unnecessary and ultimately untrue. The idea for writing this article was a statement made by Greg Boyd over the summer.

Before I address the issue in earnest, though, let me first say that I like Greg and his church Woodland Hills. He’s a super smart guy who is always pushing the body of Christ to ask itself tough questions. I disagree with some things he says and agree with others. Rarely though does he say something that really makes me mad. This is about one of those things that makes me mad – really mad. Ultimately though this isn’t about Greg, it’s about a point of view.

Woodland Hills is non-denominational, but they trace their lineage back to several streams of thought: Christ as their foundation, Lutheran, Pietist, Charismatic, and the Anabaptist traditions. In a summer sermon series Greg preached on the influence each of these has had on their church. One of the major pieces that Anabaptists bring to the table is the peace position (in contrast to just-war theology) and Greg is very strong in his alignment with this doctrine. Unfortunately, the depth of his allegiance seems to have led him to make a critical error in his understanding of history, which encourages schism within the church.

It may well be asked what the markers of an Anabaptist are and how do we understand them in a historical context? Specifically, how do we identify which Christians were Anabaptist at the time of the reformation? For many the primary marker was a Christian who was and believed in re-baptism (which is where the title “Anabaptist” comes from). Because baptism was seen as a sign of citizenship, being rebaptized was a sign of rebellion. Anabaptists believed that baptism first required a profession of faith and that infant baptism’s were invalid. In contrast, Greg’s definition of anabaptism limits membership to those who held to the peace position and that anyone who didn’t display this particular mark is not an Anabaptist. I suppose that’s one way to look at things, but I’m not convinced its true or helpful. While it is certainly true that a pacifist theology developed within the Anabaptist communities, it cannot be reasonably asserted that it was universally accepted in the beginning.

During his sermon on the Anabaptists, while speaking on the peace position, he seems to imply that all 16th Century Anabaptists have believed and practiced non-violence: “It’s the only tradition without blood on its hands.” His words are included in the wonderful book Naked Anabaptist and go even further: “This [Anabaptism] is the only tradition that consistently refused political power and violence . . . It is the only tradition that isn’t soaked in blood and the only tradition that looks remotely like Jesus” (168).

 The historical event he has to get around is the event known as the “Massacre at Munster”. Munster was a town in Germany that was taken over by Anabaptist radicals during the reformation. They were apocalyptic, believing that God’s return was imminent, and the saw Munster as a new Jerusalem. They needed to return Munster to a pure state so that Jesus would return. They imposed harsh Old Testament style laws, even executing people for swearing. And they believed in re-baptism. Most historians I have read and most Anabaptists I have asked about this issue agree that the radicals that took over Munster were indeed Anabaptists, albeit misguided ones. In fact, it seems that the events at Munster were responsible for highlighting the importance of taking the Sermon on the Mount literally and promoted a more rapid adoption of the peace position. So, while those early Anabaptists may not have believed or acted in a way consistent with contemporary Anabaptists, we should see it as an early formative period that led directly to the acceptance of the peace position.

Regardless of how you view Munster, the claim that Anabaptists “don’t have blood on their hands” simply demonstrates an incomplete knowledge of history. On this point I don’t fault Greg, since much of what is shameful about Anabaptist history is not well known. But it has been demonstrated that during World War II, Anabaptists who resided near concentration camps were complicit in the use of slave labour, took no action to oppose what was going on and even served in the S.S. After the war Mennonites who were certified as such by the Mennonite Central Committee were allowed to repatriate to Canada without any vetting as to their wartime activity. This allowed war criminals to enter Canada without any questions being asked. Even after they had been allowed into Canada, their churches failed to impose the ban on these men and seem to have swept it under the carpet.

For anyone to claim that simply being a member of the Anabaptist tradition gives them any moral superiority on the issue of ethics in war time or on violence at all is simply wrong. We are warned against this sort of arrogant talk in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14:

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

I certainly don’t deny that God has and is using Anabaptists to spread the message of peace to the world and most importantly into the church. I praise God for their witness of peace and for every good thing they offer the universal church. But when we put our tradition on a moral pedestal, who are we more like, the Pharisee or the Tax Collector? The real danger here is not the pride or the hypocritical nature of the belief, but rather that it can only lead to schism. It’s putting us in one camp and them in another. It is calling others to repent and acting as if we have nothing similar to repent of. All denominations and churches have warts and they are not all pretty to look at or just minor annoyances. If a Church is not preaching the Gospel, yes, point that out. If there have been errors in church history that have injured our witness, we need to repent of that. It is one history, not a million histories. If you call yourself a Christian you are baptized into the full history of the church, not just the history of your particular denomination. To pretend otherwise is to stick your head in the sand. The church is the church warts and all.

We all have violence in our pasts, we all have blood in our hands. In His high priestly prayer, Jesus’ prayed that his church “may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21). We don’t need more schism in the church. The shameful disaster that is the fractured body of Christ is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to others accepting our faith. In an ironic twist, when the radicals took over Munster the Catholics and the Protestants merged their armies to oust the radicals: for a brief moment we united most of the church back together (said very much tongue in cheek). To once gain quote Greg Boyd, he writes “This tradition is a treasure to be cherished” (168). It is indeed, but only if we Anabaptists can rid ourselves of these false notions of history, admit our faults and repent of them, then maybe Anabaptists once again can have a real role in church unity so that we may all be one in Christ. To continue to live in these lies is to damage the very peace witness we claim to uphold as one of our most cherished values.

Resource: Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray (978-0-8361-9517-0)

The need for Christian community

My co-worker Heather Weir, Phd who blogs over at The Backlist, has written a great article that succinctly argues why those who argue against the need for Christians to exist in community are illogical, unbiblical, and unhelpful.

You cannot be a Christian alone. It just doesn’t work. Read lots of books that other Christians write, even if you don’t agree with them. See that they love Jesus and are connected to you as fellow members of the body of Christ. Enjoy the messy diversity which is the Church.

Read the full article here: http://bookbacklist.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/on-not-being-a-christian-alone/

Just War just doesn’t make sense.

One of the primary distinctive’s of the Anabaptist movement, is our adherence to the idea that peace is at the heart of the gospel. We take Jesus at his word in the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 5:33-48 (ESV).

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In opposition to this very literal understanding and working out of this text, is a doctrine known as the “Just War” doctrine. It was developed in a time when the church was becoming more accepted in the Roman empire and was trying to deal with the reality that Christ’s peace teaching don’t mesh well with an empire that needed armies; armies that would crumble if all the Christians refused to fight.

As outlined in section 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the four primary components of this theory are:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

— the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

— all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

— there must be serious prospects of success;

— the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

The thing I find amazing about this doctrine, is that it virtually assures that no war can ever be qualified as “just”.

To their credit, both Pope John Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVI have denounced both Iraq wars as unjust. On January 13, 2003, before the first gulf war began, Pope John Paul II said “War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations” . . . “War cannot be decided upon . . . except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions.” A few months later, two days before the war began, he again said “There is still time to negotiate; there is still room for peace, it is never too late to come to an understanding and to continue discussions.”

The current Pope has also expressed his opposition to the war. When he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he said “reasons sufficient for unleashing a war against Iraq did not exist,” in part because: “proportion between the possible positive consequences and the sure negative effect of the conflict was not guaranteed. On the contrary, it seems clear that the negative consequences will be greater than anything positive that might be obtained.”

In other words, both men decided that these wars did not meet the criteria for a just war and therefore, Catholic servicemen and women, should not take part. Unfortunately, there was not a mass exodus of Catholics from the service. Why? Because a) centuries of just war indoctrination and a history of churches not being particularly rigorous at applying the just war principles, has led us to see the world in black and white, good and evil and if your nation says go to war, you go to war. And b) because nationalism has replaced religion/faith as the top priority in Christians lives. We believe that since our leaders and governments have been put in place by God and that we live in Christian nations, if our leaders say go to war, they must be right and our church leaders, curiously enough, are wrong (or we don’t even listen to them and ask their opinion).

Something I find simply amazing is that reading through those four points in the just war doctrine, I really wonder how any war could be found to be just. I think especially of point four: “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”

Given the existence of thermonuclear devices that can destroy the planet, let alone a country, how could our involvement “not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”. If a soldier from the “good side”, just one solider, rapes and murders someone, is that really less evil? What is less evil? Christ said to “love your enemy” – what about Christians? What about the American/British/Canadian Christians who shot and killed German/Russian Christians in World War II? Members of the same spiritual family are killing each other because they are putting the earthly allegiance ahead of their spiritual one.

How about the fact that if Christians simply embraced Jesus’ peace teaching and not just war/nationalistic thinking, Hitler would not have had many people to put into an Army. Most of them were Christian’s. Church going, bible believing Christians – who were intensely nationalistic and brought up on Just War.

Further, if we had loved our enemy, we would not have imposed such horrible reparations on Germany after World War I. These conditions destroyed Germany’s economy and virtually guaranteed the World War II.

The very existence of Just War theory, despite those church leaders who take it very seriously and apply it with the utmost gravity, ensures that some will just forget to compare a particular situation against the four very strict conditions and thus we end up in wars that are unjust, by the very conditions the doctrine sets out.

We need to reject nationalism and return to being a part of God’s Kingdom before we are American, Canadian, German, or British. There were good things to come out of Christendom, but we need to reject this error of Christendom and re-embrace the peace teachings of Christ. It is not for His church to kill, murder, or otherwise cause suffering or show hate to their enemy (some will say there is a difference between killing and murdering, but I respectfully disagree and see no such distinction in the teachings of Christ – or the Scriptures).

The early church father Origen wrote “For we no longer take up ‘sword against nation’ nor do we ‘learn war anymore,’ having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader, instead of those whom our fathers followed . . . Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited”.

Just War, just doesn’t make sense.

To remember, is to work for peace.

[EDIT – May 22 1730hrs] To make this clear, the peace position asserts that nations have the right to bear the sword and protect their interests if necessary. Anabaptists simply state that the teachings of Jesus preclude Christians from taking part in such actions. They should not be members of any government unit that requires, as a central part of their job, the possible application of violent and deadly force.