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Category Archives: Reformation

Ancient Paths: The 10 Commandments

Ancient Paths: The 10 Commandments

Over 3,300 years ago, the Israelite prophet Moses was called to the presence of God on Mount Sinai. It was there that God spoke the words we now refer to as “The Ten Commandments”.

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Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille (1956)

In May of 1964, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, in partnership with Hollywood movie director Cecil B. DeMille, gifted the state of Arizona with a monument depicting the Ten Commandments. It was placed in Wesley Bolin Plaza, just east of the Arizona State Capitol. In 2003, the memorial became the target of an attempt by the American Civil Liberties Union to have it removed. They argued that it violated the concept of separation of church and state. They didn’t succeed, but the controversy surrounding the inclusion of something so religious on government grounds continues.

Why the secular world disapproves of the Ten Commandments.

Duh. Though three out of four North Americans still believe in God, there is significant doubt that the God of the Jews is the one true God. There is also doubt about a) the historicity of the Sinai event, b) the credibility of the Bible that contains the Sinai story, and c) the relevance of the Old Testament of the Bible to the New Testament practice of Christians.

Perhaps more to the point: Americans, in general, don’t like others telling them what to do. Particularly ancient religious guys like Moses. We don’t have the Code of Hammurabi, the Analects of Confucius or the Koran in Wesley Bolin Plaza … so why the Ten Commandments? Though I disagree with the assessment that the Decalogue monument is some sort of violation of anybody’s liberties, it is a bit odd to have them there.

But, in the church? Should they be prominent there?

Why believers promote the Ten Commandments

The Order of Eagles and DeMille felt like the U.S. was slipping away from its Biblical moorings. They were right, and the slippage continues. They wanted to see Biblical content remain central to American life. This reality, too, is fading.

Even in our churches.

9781595478603In our church, the Ten Commandments are an ancient path that is a critical part of our teaching and practice. Well, it’s a big part of what we call our Catechism, which is taught to our young teens in our Confirmation programs. We continue to believe that the Ten Commandments are part of scriptural revelation from God, and we read the Exodus and Deuteronomy passages when they come up in the cycle of public readings.

But many Christians who have practiced their faith for years are unable to list these ten commandments for memory. Many haven’t read them for themselves in years. It’s not enough that the Ten Commandments be conveniently memorialized in our Catechisms. They are an ancient path that needs to be hiked regularly for the good of our souls. How might we do that?

More tomorrow … from the pen of Martin Luther.

– EO

 

 

 

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Ancient Paths: The Creeds

I became a Christian in a church that didn’t make use of ancient creeds, and then I didn’t recite a creed in worship for the first 25 years of my faith. I was led to understand that the Bible, not creeds, is what we should know and recite (though we didn’t really do either). The old creeds, I was told, are like everything else from the historical tradition of Christianity: extra-Biblical formalism that breeds hypocrisy, mindlessness and boring worship programming.

apostles-creed-session-two-i-believe-in-4-728(Meanwhile, I was encouraged to write acrostic missions statements, paste them on banners, etch them into glass windows, and have my congregations commit them to memory. This wasn’t extra-Biblical, hypocritical or mindless … this was cutting edge church leadership! But I digress…)

I have “graduated” to a wholehearted embrace of creedal Christianity. Specifically, my adopted faith tradition embraces three ancient creeds: The Apostles’ Creed (c. 180 AD), the Nicene Creed (325 AD), and the Athanasian Creed (c. 440 AD). Today, a few words about the Apostles’ Creed, which is truly an “ancient path” that has been traveled by millions of believers over two millennia.

I think of the Apostles’ Creed as the swiss-army-knife of the church: A concise creed with multiple uses!

  1. Personal Faith: Like it did from its organic inception during the first two centuries AD, it provides a means by which we determine who is and isn’t a Christian. It’s a great litmus test for every individual to see if her beliefs line up with classical Christianity.
  2. Teaching: It also provides an ideal outline for discipleship. Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, says of the Creed, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” Both at church and in the home, it functions as our syllabus for ongoing instruction.
  3. Evangelism: It is a great tool for proclaiming the gospel. It answers the question, “what must I believe to be saved?” Christians who have the points of the Apostles’ Creed memorized have at their disposal all of the necessary talking points for sharing the central tenets of the our faith.
  4. Worship: The Creed provides for a beautiful act of worship when read corporately. As the Psalmist says, “One generation will declare your works to the next and will proclaim your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4). When we together in an intergenerational gathering of worship proclaim the Apostles’ Creed – creation, incarnation, sacrifice, forgiveness, resurrection, ascension, judgment and heaven – our faith is refined, we transmit our beliefs to everyone in the service (believers or not), and are encouraged by the shared testimony of others.
  5. Contextualization: The Creed is brilliant for use in places where the church isn’t so literate. We can take for granted in our well-educated Western society that truth is “most true” when it’s in writing. But many through history, including many today, must understand their faith in manageable, memorable ways.

Again, I grew up without the Apostles’ Creed. So, my litmus test for belief changed with each new church community I attended (most of which felt compelled to write their own doctrinal statements). My discipleship and evangelism training regularly shifted to whatever the latest popular Christian book had to say. Most of my fellow believers in churches have felt hopelessly ill-equipped to evangelize their family and neighbors, much less their friends, and keep trying to come up with an effective resource and training program for outreach. And, because of a wholesale rejection of classical, formal worship elements (including creeds), my faith was enslaved to the always-shifting spontaneous utterings of my pastors.

Life is better with creeds. A bit on the content of the Apostles’ Creed tomorrow.

– EO

(Some good historical information about the Ecumenical Creeds can be found here.)

 

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“Ask For the Ancient Paths”

“Ask For the Ancient Paths”

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths, “Which is the way to what is good?” Then take it and find rest for yourselves.‘” (Jeremiah 6:16).

My own personal journey has led me down ancient paths. Over 30 years ago, I was gripped by a love and desire for the experience of the ancient, early church. I have always wanted to be a part of a contemporary Christian tradition that has beaten a consistent path from the first century to the present … and would most fully connect me to the early church, both in word and practice. The journey has led me to the classical Christianity ensconced in Lutheranism (particularly in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod). I have chosen to take this path … and have found rest for myself. I recommend it without reservation.

This week our church* is beginning a 9-week preaching series called Ask For the Ancient Paths. It is a study of the six chief parts of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and Confession/Absolution. This series provides an ideal time for me to share some of my journey as it relates to the foundational teachings of classical Christianity as put forth in the Lutheran Catechism.

Feel free to engage with your questions, comments and critiques. “One who listens to life-giving rebukes will be at home among the wise. Anyone who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever listens to correction acquires good sense” (Prov. 15:31-32). Good sense, wise company, life! My journey continues. I hope yours will, too.

So, grab your hat, your sun-screen, your walking stick … let’s explore this ancient path together.

– EO

* Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church (LCMS), Gilbert, AZ

 

 

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Meet Menno Simons

Meet Menno Simons

“True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love; 
it dies to flesh and blood;
 it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires; 
it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul;
 it clothes the naked;
 it feeds the hungry; 
it comforts the sorrowful; 
it shelters the destitute; 
it aids and consoles the sad;
 it does good to those who do it harm; 
it serves those that harm it;
 it prays for those who persecute it;
 it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord;
 it seeks those who are lost; 
it binds up what is wounded; 
it heals the sick;
 it saves what is strong (sound); 
it becomes all things to all people.
The persecution, suffering and anguish that come to it for the sake of the Lord’s truth have become a glorious joy and comfort to it.”  – Menno Simons

menno-simons-1-sizedMenno Simons was born in 1496 in Witmarsum, Friesland, a war-torn country that was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Not much is known about his early life. His parents were poor dairy farmers and he probably was taught at a local monastery where he learned about the Church Brothers*, Latin, and a little Greek. At the age of 28, he became a Dutch Catholic priest which he thoroughly enjoyed. For Simons, the priestly life consisted of “playing cards, drinking, and in diversions as, alas, is the fashion and usage of such useless people”.

But only after a year of being a priest, while going through the ceremonies of mass, a thought occurred to him that the bread and wine he was handling couldn’t be the real flesh and blood of Jesus. At first he dismissed the thought as coming from the evil one and prayed and confessed but the thought wouldn’t leave him. But like many priests of the day, he had little biblical knowledge. In fact, he purposely avoided reading the Bible. Concerning the scriptures, he said, “I had not touched them in my life, for I feared if I should read them, I would be misled.” So because he couldn’t shake the thought he had while serving the Eucharist, he decided to the Bible to look for his answer. Through his study, he came to the conclusion that the Eucharistic elements were not the actual body and blood of Jesus, but that they were symbolic representations.

In 1531, Simons heard about an Anabaptist who had been beheaded because he was rebaptized and later wrote, “It sounded strange to me to hear of a second baptism.” Again, he turned to the scriptures and after comparing the views of the Catholics, Luther, Zwingli and others, he changed his mind on infant baptism. He couldn’t find justification for it in Scripture. Even though he was also being influenced by the writings of Erasmus and Luther, he continued to be a part of the Catholic Church. In April of 1535, a few hundred Anabaptists who had taken refuge near his home were killed in a siege and the survivors were executed, his own brother being among them. This event undoubtedly made an impression upon him but it wasn’t until a year later that he renounced Catholicism at the age of 40 and embraced Anabaptism.

It wasn’t long after Simons embraced Anabaptism and was baptized as an adult by Obbe Philips (one of the leaders of the movement who later abandoned Anabaptism) and was asked to become an elder in the movement. He spent the rest of his life proclaiming the gospel of peace throughout Holland and northwestern Germany, mostly while in hiding. During this time, he was able to write 25 books and tracts along with many letters to strengthen the cause of Anabaptism. His book, A Foundation and Plain Instruction of the Saving Doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is considered to be his most influential book, sometimes compared to Calvin’s first Institutes due to length and style. It was instrumental in helping the Anabaptists gather together into one group of peaceful believers. It provided doctrine and ethics in simple language based on the teachings of the New Testament. His book was met with widespread acceptance among the Anabaptist community and helped gather them together into one group, therefore, preventing their disintegration.

burning_of_anabaptistsIt’s commendable that Simons gave up his easy going, priestly lifestyle for his convictions. Being an Anabaptist, especially one of their main leaders, wasn’t easy. He was always in fear of his life because of the continued persecution by both Catholics and Protestants who considered the Anabaptists to be heretics. In 1544, he wrote that he “could not find in all the countries a cabin or hut in which my poor wife and our little children could be put up in safety for a year or even half a year.” At one point, a reward of 2,000 guilders (gold coins, equivalent to $2,000 today) was to be paid to anyone who turned him over to the Catholic Church. Many of his close friends paid with their lives for giving him food and shelter, speaking with him, and even for reading his books.

Even though he was always under a constant threat, Simons was always able to remain a step ahead of those seeking to end his life. He lived until 1561 at the age of 65, dying a natural death, 25 years after being converted to Anabaptism. He was buried in his home garden.

To this day, Menno Simons is still considered the most influential Anabaptist leader and many of the core doctrines practiced and taught by Simons and the first Anabaptists are still observed today. Adult/believer baptism was what they were most known for during the time of the reformation. That is where they received their name, Anabaptist means “rebaptizers.” Since everyone was baptized as infants and the Anabaptists believed that only people who made a conscious decision to follow after Jesus should be baptized, they would rebaptize their converts.

This was also connected to their view of church and state. During that time period, countries and regions had state religions, meaning it was up to the people in charge to determine what form of Christianity would be practiced. When someone was baptized in an area controlled by Catholics, they would become a part of the Catholic Church and a citizen of that country. The same goes for protestant controlled areas. When an infant was baptized into a Lutheran state, that person became part of the Lutheran denomination and a citizen of that state. So by not performing infant baptism, the Anabaptists were subverting the state system and religion. Instead, they taught that Christian’s first allegiance is to be citizens of God’s kingdom above any man made state.

peacemakers1Since a lot of protestant churches now practice believer’s baptism and think that the separation of church and state is a good thing, those distinctives don’t really stick out as much as they used to. Modern day Anabaptists (Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, etc.) are mostly known for their stance on violence. They believe that when Jesus and Paul said to love our enemies and not to repay evil for evil, that Christians should actually listen to and obey those teachings.** While not and easy doctrine for most Christians, enemy love has been lived out by the Anabaptists for the last 500 years. The example that Menno Simons set along with the faithfulness of his followers throughout the centuries to follow in the footsteps of enemy love is a powerful witness to his legacy.

Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

– Andrew Harshman

* Matthew 12:46-50; 23:8-12

** Matthew 5:43-45; Romans 12:14-21

*** If you found any of the doctrines of the Anabaptists intriguing and would like to learn more about them, please contact me at andrewharshman@outlook.com

(This summer, The Evangelical Orphan will feature several postings from my students at Phoenix Seminary. They have be encouraged to meet long-lost relatives from our ecclesiastical family, and introduce them to us all – in class, and through this blog. We’re hoping these offerings will serve as a whet for your ongoing appetite to learn more about our history. Enjoy! -bh)

 

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