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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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7th Day of Christmastide – Feast Day of Sylvester

Sylvester_I_and_Constantine7th Day of Christmastide – and the feast day of St. Sylvester.

Sylvester, born in Rome, was ordained to the ministry during the peaceeful days before the persecutions of Diocletian. He passed through those days of terror, and eventually saw the triumph of Constantine in the year 312, and the Edict of Milan in 313, which made Christianity legal in the Empire for the first time in centuries. Two years later he became Bishop of Rome, a position held for 24 years until his death in 335.

The Council of Nicaea took place during his papal ministry (325), but he didn’t attend because of his advanced age. He sent his legates in his place, but ultimately it was his “sign-off” on the Nicene Creed that was critical for Western acceptance. St. Sylvester was Pope for twenty-four years and eleven months. He died in the year 335. His Feast Day is December 31st.

Sylvester saw so much change: Peaceful days, heavy persecution, Constantine’s triumph, church freedom and prestige, ecumenical councils, and the move of the Empire’s center from his home town to the east. How I wish I could have a cup of coffee with him, and hear all of those stories.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Early Church, Saints

 

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Advent 2014 with Peter and Martin

adventAdvent, 2014

This year for the Advent season, I will once again offer a daily blog. Some have used these blogs as seasonal devotionals that encourage them to remain focused in the appropriate, counter-cultural approach to the embrace of a classical Advent.

(…Which, by the way, is to enter into a season of preparation and hope. not carnal indulgence. Classically, Advent has been a season of elevated discipline and thoughtful preparation – “what would you do if you knew Jesus was returning on the 25th?” Our culture has taken the weeks before Christmas and turned them into a season of undisciplined license, particularly in terms of spending and diet. “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?” Perhaps not, if he comes during the holidays! So, rather than being duped to believe that unbridling our fleshly appetites is the path to happiness…believers in Christ, who know better, instead take the season to re-up their longing for lives well-lived – both in heaven to come, and on earth as it is in heaven.)

Luther TreeThis year, I’m going to spend time in a New Testament book that speaks much of our living hope in Christ, and to preparing one’s mind for action to live out the appropriate daily life as we await His coming. The book is 1 Peter. And, I’ll be walking through it with a commentary on that book from Martin Luther. You see, during the past year, I have sojourned over to the Lutheran tradition. So, to walk hand in hand with a newly-adopted spiritual father will be a real treat. And, knowing Dr. Luther, it will be quite challenging as well.

Welcome. And a blessed Advent season to you all.

Bill

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Eighth Day of Christmastide ’14!

Number 8“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)

If you’re like me, you’ve always hoped to be really prosperous so that you could give more to others. But that’s not the way prosperity plays out. One could make the argument that the U.S. has been the most materially prosperous culture in history. But statistics point out that our having more has not translated into giving more. In fact, statistics show that 30% of Americans don’t give … period. 80% of Americans give less than 2% of their income.

Verses like today’s are not new to us. We’ve been told all our lives that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We should give, it is good for us to give, and we can give. But we don’t give.

scrooge turkeyDickens’ Christmastide story A Christmas Carol speaks directly to this problem of our human condition. Scrooge is a miser – the opposite of generous – who is stirred to change his life. The story ends with Scrooge spending liberally to contribute to the needs of the poor, especially to the family of his employee, Bob Cratchit. Everyone ends up having a most happy Christmas because of his gifts. “God bless us, every one!” says Cratchit’s boy, Tiny Tim. Perhaps the “Scrooge Factor” is why giving does spike during the Christmastide season (or maybe it has more to do with year-end tax benefits to our giving). But, 171 years of Dickens’ tale, along thousands of years of Biblical influence, doesn’t seem to have moved our meter. We seem to be getting worse.

My heritage, then, is scrooge-like. I’m not generous, American culture is not generous, and the American Christian church is not generous. But it hasn’t always been like this. I have ancient relatives who were very generous. The first days of the church were marked by need-meeting and generosity. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) Is there any chance I can become more like those people? Any chance our churches can become more like that early church?

Giving GuyThe Christmastide word today challenges us to be proactive. It doesn’t say be willing to respond if a need comes our way. It calls us to seek to show hospitality. We should be internally motivated to be generous, and do what we need to to find opportunities to express it. After all, getting gifts is wonderful! If it is truly more blessed to give than to receive, it must be really wonderful to be generous!

Have a wonderful, blessed new year!

 

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Fourth Day of Christmastide ’13

Today’s Christmastide verse speaks directly into my orphan-ness: Number 4

“For as in one body we have many members (and the members do not all have the same function), so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

A holiday favorite in our household is Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the classic claymation Christmas story that explains the origins of Santa Claus. Key to the entire story is the Kringle family, who have been toymakers for generations. Their problem? They make great toys, but they can’t get them into the hands of children, so the toys aren’t played with. Thank goodness Kris Kringle, the orphan addition to their family! Once old enough, Kris decides he’ll make the risky trek to Sombertown to get those gifts delivered.

toys piling up

The church is like the Kringles’ workshop. We have received the grace of God, which has not only saved us, but has also gifted us. We are swamped with gifts! But, I fear our churches look much like the Kringles’ back stoop, with disheartened family members tossing unused gifts into an increasingly large pile.

Christmastide – the ultimate season of gift-giving. If only the world could experience the incredible gifts that we have to give in our church communities! First, we should be hives of amazing attitude – zeal, cheerfulness and generosity! Then, our “deliveries” to the world – our acts of service, words of clarity, encouragement, exuberance, kindness – should be turning our somber world into a place of joy.

Christmastide is here! Jesus has come, and “He rules the world with truth and grace.” Through graces given, he extends His Christmas touch to the world through His people, through us. With a proper self-assessment, a renewed mind, and a life of self-sacrifice, the gift of the incarnation can continue to give through the church all year ’round.

 

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First Day of Christmastide ’13

Number 1

Merry Christmas!


“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” 
(Romans 12:1)

Jesus was orphaned. Though still in contact with His Father, He was placed in care of an earthly father, Joseph, who adopted Him as his own (with the urging of a very persuasive angel!). We don’t know what the family life was like in Joseph’s household – but we do know that Jesus always had an internal understanding that His true Father was someone else; a heavenly Father, in Whose house He would always be drawn, and always belong (Luke 2:49).

Cross over creche

On Christmas day, Jesus was born into this adoption. To think of what He gave up … “home” for Jesus included His perfect Father, the glories of untainted creation, a context of perfect sinlessness, and eternal, abundant provision for every desire. Instead, He was placed in a fallen world, riddled with sin, cursed in its yield, and destined to carry out His murder. Truly, on Christmas Day, Jesus presented His body as a living sacrifice. We celebrate the day because this sacrifice was truly holy, and pleasing to God. It was the great self-emptying of God, that would lead to the cross, and the ultimate victory over death and evil.

On the day we indulge the most, and sacrifice the least (ironically. we celebrate the deprivation of Jesus by gorging ourselves on food and presents!), let’s remember the orphanage of Jesus. Let’s remember that, when we are born again, we are orphaned in a similar way. We are enlivened to embrace the cross-drenched reality that in sacrificing ourselves true worship is offered, and abundant life is experienced.

 
 

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