Knowing God

Part 5

Do We Know Him?

As a new believer, I became part of the Conservative Mennonite church which had recently been formed. I remember hearing the teaching that the Bible experience of men and women hearing from God was only for the time before the canon of Scripture was complete. Now, we were taught, God exclusively speaks through the Bible.

Interestingly, an exception was made to this. Using Matt. 16:19, which speaks of binding and loosing, we were taught that if the church made a rule, it was as binding as the Bible itself. We were also told that the Holy Spirit only communicated to individuals through the collective voice of the church. The “unity of the Spirit”  was when everybody unquestioningly submitted to these group decisions. A frequent term used was “group conscience”.

The New Testament miracles were portrayed as temporary in the church’s history, given with the purpose of confirming the New Covenant. Such miracles were seldom to be expected to happen today.

   It was an eye-opener for me to hear of miracles taking place among believers in persecuted countries. In addition to this, I read of historic revivals in which God manifested Himself in supernatural ways. 
   However, what God was doing in my life was the greatest motivation for me to question what I had been taught. He began to reveal Himself as a God Who cared personally for me. I discovered that I could expect explicit direction from Him as I sought His will in prayer.  Nothing was too small for Him to give His enabling help to me as I communed with Him.  Soon the division between the secular and the sacred vanished in my mind and I realized that the most mundane things of life were sacred for a child of God.
 

  I also discovered that I had the gift of discerning of spirits. This had nothing to do with natural talent. Rather, I would sense in my spirit when something was “off”. As I prayerfully investigated these cues, God would reveal to me in detail what my spirit was feeling. This gave me a great sense of security in His goodness to protect me from evil.

While some of my fellow believers have heard God speak audibly to them, this has never been my experience. Yet I have received impressions which were almost as distinct as an audible voice. These varied in their purpose. Sometimes they were meant to give me direction, other times to guide me in intercessory prayer, sometimes as correction or rebuke. Twice another brother and I were given a revelation that we were to pray regarding specific situations. All these experiences and many others showed me that God desires to commune with His creatures today just as He did in ancient times. This does not invalidate the importance of following the Bible. It simply shows that being “Biblical” is to both speak to God and to hear from Him as did the Bible saints. It means, too, that instead of leaping into action to “do as the Bible says”, we ought to wait on God to be directed just as to when and how to follow the Biblical direction.  The Spirit and the Word work in harmony.

Along with this aforementioned experience came a consciousness of the enablement of the Holy Spirit to do God’s work.  Most of my life I have written poetry. Yet, I can only write when I feel His touch. Sometimes God reminds me of this.

 

When I started this last series of blog posts, I found my first installment draft to be woefully dry. My dear wife agreed. She laid hands on me and prayed. A window opened in my mind. Out of it flew the whole manuscript I had painstakingly prepared and a new one emerged! We are meant to be co-workers with Christ!

  Prophecy also became something current and real.  Recently our household has gone through some very unexpected and difficult times.  However, over the past five years all of us have had vivid, cryptic dreams with partial interpretations following them.  Now we have realized much of the fulfillment of their prophetic imagery.  This has given us powerful assurance of God’s sovereign Hand in all that is now happening.  We can rest in calm confidence of His continued care and direction through events that were no surprise to Him.

  Some of you who read this may react in alarm and say that I am introducing a new belief.  Read your Bible.  Find out about what God is doing presently in different parts of the world, especially, where there is persecution of believers.  Read in the Martyr’s Mirror about how God communicated to the Anabaptist forefathers.  Communion with God is the ancient way of His children throughout the ages.

  Sadly, the church has become an institution of man from which God has been pushed out.  The Bible is perceived as a manual giving us instructions about how to live and “do church”.  The distinct direction which the Holy Spirit gave collectively and individually to the early Christians is regarded as a thing of the past.  Faith is reduced to an intellectual acceptance of theological facts rather than confidence in the Living God Whose reality has been experienced.  As the church at Laodicea, we are blind to our state of spiritual destitution and believe ourselves to be rich and in need of nothing!  My cries to my people to seek to know the Living God fall on deaf ears!  I am pushed aside as a false prophet.

  No wonder the church is floundering and young people are becoming disillusioned!  We are no longer drawing life from the Vine!  We are trying to operate within the realm of our own understanding.  Instead of seeing redemption as a restoration of  fellowship with God, it is viewed as simply having our sins forgiven and living by the rules of the Bible (or more accurately the rules and expectations of the church).  We are allowing the norms and expectations of “religion” to rob us of the greatest treasure man can possess – to communicate with his Creator!  We have robbed Christ of the reward of His suffering – to place the tabernacle of God within the hearts of men through the indwelling Spirit!  We live in spiritual poverty when unlimited wealth is available! 

  We were not made to be blind adherents to a religious organization.  We are meant to be the dear sons and daughters of God.  When that is the case, we will have true unity among ourselves because the same Spirit indwells us.

  We have replaced Christ with “the church”.  Yet “the church” severed from its Head no longer is the church, but rather a social club, a dead institution of rituals and traditions which have lost their meaning or worse yet, an oppressive cult which prevents people from experiencing a relationship with God.

  Generations have come and gone in the Anabaptist community with only a few small pockets of true spiritual awakening in its history.  Even those awakenings normally experienced strong opposition from the established churches.  What we have come to expect as the “norm” in church life is a far cry from what the kingdom of God was meant to be.  “Norm” for us is a continuation of the tradition with which we have been familiar.  We fail to realize that we have fallen and need to discover what it is to experience the Presence of the Spirit in our lives and churches.

  For many years my prayer and dream was to see a spiritual revival within the Mennonite church.  With great sadness I have come to realize that this will likely not happen.  In lieu of the chaos, confusion, scandals, etc. which are afflicting our churches and our inability to handle them, I suspect that the old structure must crumble in order for God to build something new after His design. This may well mean persecution.  The dead branches must be thrown into the fire and the plant pruned so that the branch may produce fruit.

  May God soon raise up a church that brings Him the glory due to His Name!  May He be sanctified in the hearts and lives of His people!  May the truth of the Gospel be presented in the power of the Spirit!  To God be the honour, the power and the glory forever!

    Feb. 18 2021

Knowing God

Part 4

The Promise and its Fulfillment

Revelation, 3:17  “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”

  This is the purpose of my blog.  In a vision I saw the church as dead people who were walking around – yet in spite of their movement, their faces were absolutely lifeless. God has so much in store for His children – yet we are satisfied with a miserly spiritual existence. Do we only know God with a theological acceptance of the intellect?  Is He a Living Reality within us Who impassions our soul? As you continue to read this blog, may God open your eyes to see His desire for your affection and fellowship!

Joel, 2:28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”

Jeremiah, 31:33 “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

  The Old Testament prophets were given a revelation that in the future God would pour out His Spirit upon man in a way yet unknown.  As John the Baptist began his ministry he carried this word further.  Matthew, 3:11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:”

To the Jews, fire was symbolic of God’s Presence.  Moses heard God speak from the bush that burned but was not consumed.  The pillar of fire went before the Israelites on their journey.  At times the fire of God came down and burned up the sacrifice on the altar.  A baptism of fire would mean the Divine Presence descending upon an individual. 

  Jesus spoke of the Helper being sent from the Father when He would leave them.  The Helper, the Holy Ghost, would teach them all things.  After the resurrection, they were told to wait in Jerusalem until the Promise would come and they would be endued with “power from on high”.

As we know, the fulfillment came on Pentecost. The fire of God came down – but manifested itself as never before. The promised baptism was seen as cloven tongues of fire appearing to rest upon the head of each believer. A transformed group of men and women exited the house. The Presence was shown by boldness and eloquence to proclaim the gospel, the ability to communicate in other languages and the power to perform miracles. The Spirit worked in the hearts of the hearers and the number of believers multiplied. Joy and mutual love marked those who joined them.

The Book of Acts is a fast-moving narrative portraying the events in the years of the early church. Every story is charged with the visible manifestation of God’s Presence both in the church and in the lives of individuals. Just so as the church was begun in prayer, so it continued in prayer. The Holy Spirit directed them in a very distinct way both in taking care of issues that arose and in furthering the gospel. Sin within the group of believers was quickly dealt with under the Spirit’s guidance as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira as well as that of Simon the sorcerer. The resulting fear prevented the insincere from joining them.

The Spirit created unity among them. Both the church collectively, and men and women individually, received distinct direction from God as to how to carry on the work. The epistles speak of supernatural gifts of the Spirit being given to individuals within the church to build up the believers. The requirements given for those chosen as the first deacons were this: to be filled with faith and with the Spirit.

Nobody could have imagined these dramatic fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. The words of those in Thessalonica who persecuted them described well what was happening: “These that have turned the world upside down have come hither also.” When God comes to dwell in the hearts of His people, the world changes.

The ways in which God chose to give His Spirit to believers were varied. The Spirit fell upon some of them when they believed. Several were baptized in the Name of Jesus so that they might receive the Spirit. These had previously only received the baptism of John. Still others were given the Gift when the apostles laid hands on them. A number of those present at Pentecost experienced a second outpouring when they prayed in response to being persecuted. Men endlessly argue about how believers receive the Spirit. We must remember that God is sovereign and He decides as to how He relates to His children. He will not be confined to our “theological boxes”!

There was no question about the Spirit’s reality in the lives of the early believers. Those who received Him frequently spoke in tongues, burst forth in joy and worship or prophesied. To the Gentile believers in Galatia Paul writes in his stern corrective letter: “Gal. 3: 3-5 “This only would I learn of you, received ye the Spirit by works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He that ministers to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Obviously, if the Galatians worked miracles, they displayed similar manifestations as did the first ones who believed. Paul writes: Rom. 8:9 “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Having the Spirit was synonymous to being a believer.

Was this wonderful experience of God indwelling His children and showing His Presence in so powerful a way only for a limited historical time? Next we will take a look at the church as we have known it today.

David Jantzi Feb. 6 2021

Knowing God

Part 3

Relationship Manifested Through Jesus

A good friend once made the comment to me that prophecy is not meant to be a detailed map of the future. Rather, it is a glimpse, into tomorrow, given to remind us that all things are a part of God’s sovereign agenda. The full meaning is realized upon its fulfillment. Often it is recognized only by those who are led by the Spirit of Him Who gave the prophecy.

Thus it was with the New Covenant. The prophets were given glimpses of things to come. 1 Pet. 1:13 mentions that even the angels desired to look into these hidden things but they were not revealed to them. They were given for the benefit of the New Testament saints who alone received a full understanding of their interpretation. The Mosaic Law and the ordinances pertaining to the tabernacle were cryptic foreshadows of the future.

God had something new in store for His people which began when Jesus was born. While many were aware of the prophecies, none could have imagined the form of their fulfillment. God coming down to dwell with His creatures, becoming a man born as a baby, was beyond human imagining. As the happenings of Christ’s life began to unfold, God spoke to both men and women. He enabled them to understand that this was Messianic prophecy becoming reality.

The incarnation is indisputable proof of God’s desire to relate personally with mankind. However, Jesus taking upon Himself the limitations of a man and then giving us an example of a perfect life shows us more of the same truth. His life was one of uninterrupted communion with the Father. His disciples recognized the fact that His times of prayer were a crucial part of His ministry. It is worthy of our notice that they did not ask Him, “teach us to preach” or “teach us to cast out demons and heal diseases”. Rather they asked, “teach us to pray”. They appeared to realize that the time spent with the Father was the source of His wisdom and power. How tragically we fail to learn this crucial lesson from His life!

John 5:19, 20 “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.”

These words suggest that the time spent in the Presence of the Father was when He received instructions for His work. It is no coincidence that He spent a night in prayer before undertaking the task of choosing the twelve. If the Incarnate Son did nothing independently, how can we do God’s work without both seeking and receiving His counsel? There must be active two-way communication with God. It was the way taken by the ancient men of God; it was the way taken by Jesus and it is the only way for the saints of today to effectively serve Him. While most will give assent to this truth, I have only met a handful of believers who actually live this way! May I be one of them!

Another crucial fact of Christ’s ministry was the descent of the Spirit upon Him at His baptism. John the Baptist describes Jesus as “having the Spirit beyond measure”. Because He was sinless, unlike us who need to be “born of the Spirit”, the Spirit would have always indwelt Christ. The visible manifestation of the Holy Ghost descending upon Him as He began His ministry may have been meant to be an example to us. It showed the absolute need for God’s anointing in order to do the work of the Kingdom. Also, even a sinless man without God’s indwelling Presence could not fulfill the Divine calling. This portrays just how closely God desires to fellowship with His creatures, created in His image.

Over and over in Old Testament history we read about the “Spirit of the Lord” coming upon individuals who were called to a special work. Even King Saul was given this anointing when he first became king. He is described as having been “given another heart”. Sadly, this priceless gift was taken from him when he yielded to pride and rebellion.

It appears that such an outpouring was primarily reserved for those with unique responsibilities. Conversely, in the New Covenant, the Spirit is given to every believer. This is what we will address in the next blog.

Knowing God

Part 2

Relationship in the Lives of Old Testament Saints

Mankind’s story of relationship starts in Genesis 1, when God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. Unlike the beasts, whose brains were preprogrammed to independently perform all the tasks necessary for their survival, humans were not given this faculty. Instead, they were given the godlike ability to feel emotion, make choices, reason and express themselves in complex ways. God could communicate with this creature who could, in turn, choose how to respond to Him.

How soon our first parents abused this special privilege! Instantly, upon their disobedience, their relationship with God was breached. Early in history it became apparent that man was unable to properly fulfill his divinely given responsibility to be the custodian of the earth when his heart was out of tune with His Maker. Rom. 8:22 tells us that the whole creation groans and travails in pain. The earth became “corrupt before God and filled with violence”. Gen 6:11

Had it all ended here, there would have been no purpose for the world to continue. However, the Scriptures tell us that redemption was planned in the Mind of God before the foundation of the world. This Plan was the Sin-bearer, Jesus Christ. Through Him the relationship could be restored! Mankind could again fulfill the purpose of his creation and be in fellowship with his Maker!

The heroes of the Bible are the saints who were the “redeemed of the Lord”. The essence of redemption is to be received back into the family of God and fulfil His purposes on earth and in Heaven.

In the antediluvian world, Genesis chapter 4 mentions the men who built cities, raised livestock, became musicians and developed metal-working technology. However, the really “great” men who merited mention in the New Testament Scripture were Abel and Enoch. Abel, the simple herdsman whose acceptable sacrifice was offered with a righteous heart, pleased God. His fame was reached in the brief years of his life preceding his violent death but only recognized posthumously. Enoch lived a much shorter life than most of his contemporaries. But what marked his well-lived days was the fact that he “walked with God”. He was one of the rare people who realized that to live life to the fullest was not to attain the admiration of men for his accomplishments. Rather, his ambition was to intimately know his God and fulfill His purposes. Jude refers to him as a prophet. So dear was this man to the heart of God that he was spared the trauma of death and ushered into His Presence.

So the Bible narrative continues. Abraham was the friend of God. God shared with him His plans and trusted him to play a great role in His agenda for the nations.

Moses spoke to God face to face. His comaraderie with the Lord of the earth was such that he took it upon himself to stand before God to quell His wrath when He was about to destroy His people. God honoured the pleas and arguments of this bold intercessor.

So intense was the longing of the young man, Joshua, to know the One Who delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, that when Moses left the tabernacle Joshua stayed in the tent to be in the Presence of God. Consequently, he stood as a spiritual giant among his fellows when the multitude stumbled in unbelief.

King David was “the man after God’s own heart” who left behind an ageless legacy of songs which expressed his love, confidence and devotion towards his Creator.

Many of the prophets were bereft of the legitimate joys and pleasures of life. Their portion was to hear directly from God and convey His message to the people. They were willing to bear the reproach, rejection and persecution associated with their calling, knowing that He was worthy Who commissioned them to the task.

The conclusion of all this is that there was not a man of the Old Covenant who did exploits for God who did not intimately know Him. Not only did these saints speak to God in prayer – He also chose to communicate with them.

Bible students too often see the Old Testament as a book of history, laws, poetry and prophecy. Yet, in its message they fail to see the vivid portrayal of a God Who longs for the hearts of the beings which He made for Himself. The history is the drama of this Divine love story. The laws are a reflection of One Who desires to see His creatures live in goodness and harmony. The poetic books are the, tender dialogues of people who are revelling in the joys of belonging to Him. They also contain the words of those who are pouring out their anguished hearts to One Who cares. Much of the prophets’ writings portray the intense emotions of a Divine Lover Who has been betrayed and spurned by His betrothed. Sometimes they are words of judgement; sometimes pleading words to woo her back to Himself. While doctrine is an important part of Scripture, the Bible truly is a book of relationship.

Too many who claim to be “biblical” only have a cold, legalistic understanding of the term. I am attempting to open our eyes to the Heart and Soul of God and His Word. My next post will take us forward to the New Covenant.

Knowing God

Part 1

Relationship: The Purpose of Our Being

Obedience without relationship invariably becomes Pharisaical legalism. Faith without relationship is a dangerous illusion. Conservative Anabaptists are inclined to embrace the first. Modern evangelicals, the latter. Both heresies are inspired by the enemy to thwart the very purpose of redemption. Both turn what is meant to be vibrant and alive into dead and powerless religion. I would like to focus the next blogs on the subject of knowing God.

Relationship is the essence of the Bible. Genesis begins with it. Revelations ends with it. Packed between the covers of the Book are the ageless dramas of how relationship works out in real life. Near the middle of the sacred Script are the poetic books recording the beautiful words of relationship finding its expression.

We divide the Book into dispensations. From its teachings we learn doctrines about God and man, about Heaven and Hell, about sin and salvation. In it we find precepts about how to live. We argue amongst one another about how to interpret it. Somehow, in the midst of it all we fail to grasp the purpose of our existence and the goal of redemption. Yet this eternal truth is so vividly portrayed in the same text.

Relationship is the life of the church. When it ceases, the church becomes a dead institution. Outwardly it may appear fine but its existence is only in traditions, rituals and forms. Its doctrine may be correct but it is only experienced in the realm of the intellect. Its worship may be aesthetically pleasing and its buildings ornate and beautiful. It may even be performing good works of charity to the community and the world. Yet its influence on both the society around it and on its own adherents is minimal. Most alarmingly, under its facade of piety is often hidden a legacy of moral corruption. Occasionally this hidden filth spills over to public view and brings foul reproach to the Name of Christ.

“Anabaptist Revival” is the name which I chose for my blog. True revival is the restoration of relationship between God and man. When it happens, broken relationships between people are also restored. When revival breaks out, the church, which has become the “valley of dry bones”, springs back to life.

The greatest opposition occurring when God restores His relationship with His people comes from those who are comfortable in their position and status in the institutions of men. The “norms” which they have known now are challenged and their “secure” world is shaken. The things which they see taking place are beyond their understanding because they are wrought by God. They only know Him in their minds and not in their hearts.

In the next blog(s) we will more closely examine what happens when this relationship is restored. We will observe its beauty in the lives of Biblical saints. We will see the devastation when it is destroyed.

Jan. 8, 2021

The “Ordinary” Prophets of God

I wrote this article a year ago for a reading at a Sunday School Christmas program.  What motivated me to write was the fact that several of my circle of family and friends had for a period of a few years received prophetic messages. These came in the form of dreams with accompanying interpretations or simply impressions which came with such force and clarity that they may as well have been audibly spoken.  In addition to this, we experienced warnings through varied manifestations about specific dangers to God’s  people which drove us to intercessory prayer. As I investigated the warnings, I invariably had their validity confirmed as the Holy Spirit led me to people who had more direct contact with the circumstances involving what the alerts had been about. Interestingly, at the current time many of the prophecies have been fulfilled.

  I will make some comments about the gift of prophesy in the Biblical sense.  Nobody ever decides to be a prophet.  As God chose Jeremiah to be a prophet before his conception, so He still decides today whom He chooses to deliver His message. It is never a role chosen by an individual himself.  In fact, it is unlikely that anybody would choose such a role knowing the probable rejection and persecution by men that it entails.  Nor does a prophet decide when to receive a prophecy.  The Biblical line, ” The Word of the Lord came to me” expresses it well.  A true prophet is an obedient servant to his Lord.  He only communicates the message given. More often than not, he knows that the words will be poorly received.  Sometimes this means severe opposition and even death.  Christ said, “Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchers of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.”

  Jeremiah’s response to the traumas of his calling was thus: Jer. 20 7-10 “O Lord, Thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: Thou art stronger than I and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.  For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me and a derision, daily.  Then I spake, I will not make mention of Him , nor speak any more in His Name.  But His word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.  For I heard the defaming of many, fear on every side.  Report, say they, and we will report it.  All my familiars watched for my halting, saying, peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him.”  14-18 “Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed. Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, a man child is born unto thee; making him very glad. And let that man be as the cities which the Lord overthrew, and repented not: and let him hear the cry in the morning, and the shouting at noontide; because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be always great with me.  Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?”

Too many people see a prophet’s role as only one who foretells future events. A true prophet is a spokesperson for God and most of his ministry involves giving God’s message to the people of his day. Sometimes that involves encouragement. More often it is calling the religious to repentance and back to the God from Whom they have strayed. The message can be one of direction in dealing with present circumstances. It may also involve receiving warning from God regarding a situation which the natural eye cannot see.

In Biblical times there were countless false prophets for every true prophet. The ratio has not changed. Just as a prophet must be attuned to the Holy Spirit to hear from God, likewise only those who know communion with God can differentiate between the true and the false.

Since I wrote the article, I have had my fears confirmed. The Mennonite church is too entrenched in tradition to receive a word of prophesy or experience the direct leading of the Spirit of God. With great sadness I witness the ensuing confusion and lack of progress in God’s kingdom. It is in vain that God communicates through His servants when the church is too much out of sync with Him to recognize His messenger. To Mennonites, prophecy is largely a parroting of those who have speculated regarding end-time events. Our minds are closed to receiving a definite word from the Lord giving direction in the handling of current issues. We will reap the bitter harvest of our unbelief! I write these words for those who have “ears to hear”, as Scripture says.

Written November 22,, 2020

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

Part 2

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

  Another Scripture being used out of  context with devastating results is Matt. 18:15: ” Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”

This counsel is of great value in maintaining healthy relationships within the church.  Gossip is a destructive force and the prescribed route of action of dealing directly with the brother and the offence is crucial in maintaining brotherhood.  Yet this teaching, wrongly applied, can make the church a haven for predators. It has been the case across denominations with many recent examples to prove the point.

  Before I realized how badly we had perverted this teaching I had to be thrown against the wall by those misapplying it.  The awkward place in which I then found myself, made me aware of the misguided interpretation as well as the resulting damage.  Consequently, I was highly motivated to do a prayerful search to understand and articulate the error.  I now shake my head in disbelief at how the Mennonite mind (mis)understands this teaching of our Lord.

For my reader to understand what is taking place I need to describe a typical situation where the problem emerges. Something comes to light causing concern that someone is engaging in secret sin, damaging people’s lives.  The height of folly is to apply Matt. 18:15.  First, the person has not personally offended me. Rather, I am concerned about the safety and well being of another.  Secondly, I am probably not dealing with a brother in Christ – rather with a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What wolf, when confronted about his strange behaviour, will not attempt to pull the wool of his disguise over his inquirer’s eyes?  To expect an honest response from a deceiver is hopelessly naive! Inevitably, the person will tell a lie to extend the deception.

When Peter addressed Ananias and Sapphira he did not speak to them about the issue.  Rather, acting upon previous knowledge (by Divine revelation), he asked them a question which gave them the opportunity to express the intent of their hearts.  Unaware of Peter’s insight, their fateful reply instantly disclosed the secret.

  Likewise, when deception is a possibility, a completely different route from Matt. 18:15 is warranted.  Here the gifts of the Spirit come into play.  The protection of His people is a matter close to the Heart of God. Some experiences of the past have taught me that God will alert someone of the danger. To demonstrate His glory, He may choose the most ordinary brother or sister in the church.  What happens from there is determined by whether the brotherhood is sufficiently in tune with God to receive the message. If this is the case, those involved need to pursue further Divine direction.

A proper investigation needs to be done regarding  the person under question. This will hasten the process of either vindicating him if he is innocent or convicting him if he is guilty. Done improperly, an investigation will only throw the matter into confusion, casting a shadow over an innocent party or failing to find the guilt of one at fault.

The number of people searching out the matter should be kept to the minimum needed to carry out the work. They need to work in harmony with one another, keeping constant communication. None should be closely related to the investigated one – family members, close associates etc., because of the possibility of bias. Their research must be kept in absolute confidentiality including with those who are interviewed. Leaking information will compromise the work and possibly bring harm to individuals. The wellbeing and safety of all those who are involved, including the investigated person must be strictly kept in mind.  As believers, each step needs to be prayerfully taken with confidence in God’s faithfulness to direct the search.

  A proper investigation ought to reveal whether there is substance behind the concern. If the concern was valid, one should begin to see a pattern in behaviour and gain a comprehensive understanding of what is taking place as leads are followed. Depending what is involved, the legal route is to inform the law. If this is not the case, confrontation of the person will need to take place once sufficient evidence is gathered to determine what is happening. Any short circuiting of the process will only confuse and delay things.

  When the time comes for confrontation, the pattern which Peter used is often the wise route. Since the one under scrutiny ought to be unaware of the knowledge of the investigators, he should be questioned in such a way that a lie would be a convenient way of escape. If that is the route which he takes, his heart is revealed.

  No situation is the same and exactly how to approach and handle it needs to be the result of fervent, believing prayer.  Since God’s Name, as well as the welfare of His people, is at stake it is only reasonable to expect distinct answers and direction from Him. If we do not have that kind of faith we are disqualified for the work of His kingdom.

     After repeatedly seeing situations where the church’s abuse of Scripture helps to make it a safe place for predators to operate and an unsafe place for the vulnerable, I was moved to write these blogs. The Spirit Who inspired the writing of the Word needs to be present to interpret the same – otherwise that which is intended to bring life becomes the instrument of death.

The wolves are hiding in the church.  Where are the shepherds who ought to be driving them away?

David Jantzi  Written: Oct. 29, 2020

 

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

Part 1

Forgiveness

  Sometimes, Scripture is used sadly out of context. When God’s  instructions  of how we are to live and conduct our affairs are wrongly applied the result can be disastrous. In recent times problems which are coming to light within the church are amplified by such distortion of truth.  I am motivated to write this blog after seeing the resulting devastation.

   What first comes to my mind is a perception of forgiveness that overlooks the consequences of sin. 

   Forgiveness and reconciliation are the  essence of the Gospel.  Without the same, mankind is hopelessly lost.  Yet salvation is not given to all who have sinned.  It must be received by the conditions which God has determined.  First, its seriousness is portrayed by the price of redemption  – the sacrificial death of God’s Son.  It is received by repentance followed by faith in the validity of the Sacrifice.  The evidence of salvation is a life lived to please the God Who was once offended but now has cancelled the debt of sin.

   Another level of forgiveness involves releasing one who has personally wronged us to God, desiring their wellbeing rather than seeking revenge.  This is where our Mennonite view has been dangerously skewed.  The fact that the offender has been forgiven by the offended does not mean that he is off the hook from taking responsibility for his sin.  Nor is everything just the same as if the offence had never happened.  Our error has been most damaging to victims of sexual, emotional or physical abuse.

Being forgiven does not free us in this life from bearing some of the consequences of our sin.  Someone who has committed a moral crime against another or inflicted pain will invariably  have created wounds that leave lifelong scars.  The offender needs to recognize that the victim may never be able to see him again without having a traumatic involuntary flashback to the abuse.  Depending on what the circumstances are, if the offender is truly sorry he will make sure that he keeps himself away to avoid triggering such painful emotions.  This may mean to attend another church or even moving to another area.  Relocating is never the responsibility of the victim.

  Secondly, some crimes require that the perpetrator be removed from situations which would tempt him to repeat the crimes he has committed.  This could mean finding another career, avoiding certain social gatherings where he would have access to potential victims, being accountable to someone etc.  The community is responsible to carry out these protective measures.

Trust is something else which cannot immediately be restored with forgiveness. To expect the same is dangerous and wrong. Trust can only be earned. Releasing someone to God and seeking their wellbeing is is on a totally different level than trust.

    Finally, nobody exhibits perverse behaviour in a random act.  Such deeds have a history in the person’s life.  It is important to locate other potential victims in order to help them experience healing. The history needs to be investigated independently from the testimony of the perpetrator. This is crucial for his potential restoration.  A church confession or discipline will never suffice to enable him to find deliverance from the sin.  A thorough program of counselling coducted by a qualified and Spirit-filled individual must follow.  Whether he is actually sincere in repentance is shown by the level of his willingness to receive help.

   Some of the events of the the past which have recently been exposed reveal our shameful ignorance in these matters. Victims have been further traumatized and crimes repeated which ought to have been prevented.  This is a direct result of a legalistic understanding of Bible teaching without possessing the Spirit of God to show us how to apply it in real life.

   There is a prime example of peversion of Scripture by the scribes and Pharisees in John 8: 4,5.  “They said unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultry, in the very act.   Now Moses in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?”  It takes two to tango – where was the other partner in the sin?  According to the law of Moses he also ought to have been brought before Jesus in order to properly present the question.  The “leaven of the Pharisees” has contaminated the Mennonite “lump”!

To be continued.  David Jantzi

Elephants in the Room

We read in the Proverbs, “iron sharpens iron”.  This is the way I find it with friends.  After a friend read “Another Gospel?”, he asked me a thought-provoking question, “Do you believe that our Mennonite teaching institutions are off the track?”

   The thought had never occupied my mind and I had to give it some serious consideration before I could reply.  My conclusion was that our basic theological teaching was not as much a problem as our failure to acknowledge and face major issues that leave us in a state of spiritual paralysis. “Elephants in the Room” is an attempt to address these unspoken matters.

Another Gospel?

Part 3

“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

   My own realization of what was transpiring within the church came when the leaders whom we had trusted to be men of integrity tried to place several of us under church discipline.  We discovered that they had been dealing falsely in trying to cover up the deeds of an individual who was harassing some single ladies.  Because of ties they had with the offender, his conduct posed an embarrassment to them.  The response to those of us who confronted them over the issue was to try to force us with church discipline to sign a document stating that they had done no wrong.  We refused to comply and the religious world which I knew crumbled as rubble to the ground.

   While the experience was  devastating, God used it to awaken me from my spiritual complacency.  He rightfully desired my heart to be focused upon Himself, not on a religious institution.  Over the next years of my life He graciously revealed Himself to be a Father to me through my daily walk as I sought His continual counsel.  Gradually I realized by personal experience what the Scripture meant by saying God “adopted us as sons”.  This was a vastly different experience from living a life that was based on “submitting to the rules of a ‘Scriptural’ brotherhood”.  The loving intimacy which God desires to have with His children is still hard for me to fathom today.  Salvation and the new birth bring us back into the family of God – the true church is made up of His redeemed sons and daughters.

   Immediately after my disillusionment  I began doing what I had never done before – take an objective look at the teachings of the Conservative Mennonite church.  By studying the writings of the Anabaptists as presented in the “Martyr’s Mirror” I soon discovered the vast discrepancy between CM beliefs from that of our spiritual forefathers.  The CM church taught that Matt. 16:18, “whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”, gave the church the responsibility to make rules that were as binding as Scripture upon its members.  I remember reading an article in the “Christian Contender” which suggested that the disciplinary action of the church in excommunication was recognized in Heaven.  Subsequently, the individual was cut off from God!  Both Anabaptists and  Protestants vehemently opposed such applications of these passages.  Those who had discovered a living, personal faith in Christ rejected such abuses practiced by the Roman Catholic church.  I suspect that this was an interpretation exclusive to the CM breakaway.

   Such theology has resulted in dire consequences.  I, and many others, can testify to spiritual abuse at the hands of leaders who, behind closed doors, attempted to force individuals into submission whom they saw as a threat to their control over the church.  Any questioning of leaders’ opinions received a harsh rebuff and likely discipline if members failed to meekly agree.

   Another theological problem I encountered after I removed my CM spectacles was the teaching of Rom. 14.  The apostle stresses the importance of respecting differences of opinion in matters not clearly spelled out in Scripture.  I was unable to reconcile the CM teaching of uniformity in practice with these Biblical passages. When the New Testament speaks of unity, it is usually referred to as the unity of the Spirit, a result of being made of one mind by the indwelling Presence of God.  Uniformity is a doctrine coined by  Conservative Mennonites  – it is not found in Scripture.  The unity of the Spirit is not a legislated decree framed and enforced by a group of leaders.

   I began to question a teaching which the church very strongly stressed.  This was the “doctrine” of nonconformity to the world.  Rom. 12:1 makes it clear that we are not to be conformed to the world.  Yet to call this a doctrine is to me a misinterpretation of the verse.  The doctrine which is being taught in Rom. 12:1 is the foundational teaching of  regeneration, “rather be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds”.  Non-conformity to the world is the automatic result of being made a new creation in Christ.  When it is made an independent doctrine it simply becomes a counter-culture.  This does nothing to enhance our standing with God and can only give us an illusion of being part of His kingdom.

    At the same time as I experienced this oppressive rule within the church I was reading and hearing of the persecution of believers in authoritarian states.  The similarity was uncanny.  This is the mark of a cult – not the Church of Jesus Christ! 

   As I previously mentioned, new groups started as people groaned under the stress placed upon them.  This brought some relief with a social and spiritual atmosphere that was more conducive to spiritual growth.  Yet since the root problem was not completely  recognized, the resulting groups primarily differed in their degree of “conservativeness”.  Consequently, the same issues continued with different manifestations.

   In the past decade a new scenario has emerged covering the entire spectrum of Conservative groups.  A generation of young people have become disillusioned with the churches of their upbringing. They are asking hard questions but they are not receiving acceptable answers from their elders. Large numbers are leaving the Mennonite church in bitterness of spirit.  Some are victims of serious moral crimes that have been committed against them by revered people within the institution.  Seldom does the church recognize the graveness of the wrongs and properly investigate or address the issues.  Instead, the victims are ostracized, disbelieved and even persecuted for the disclosing of their experiences.

   Among these disillusioned people are many sincere believers who are looking for a godly environment in which to live and raise their families.  In their quest for truth and spiritual reality there is some migration of individuals and families between various Anabaptist churches.

  Here is where our congregation finds itself.  Over recent years its numbers have multiplied by the coming of these searching people.  This puts us at a crossroad in our history.  Either we recognize the root problem in our denomination and address it or else we will just be a stepping stone for those leaving the Mennonite church.  My purpose in writing this article is to bring clarity where there is confusion and to take us as a congregation to where God can be glorified and His sheep cared for.

   The easy and tragically misguided route for us to take is to come to the conclusion that we only need to be a more moderate version of Conservative Anabaptist.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  The true church is the Kingdom of God, not a religious institution!  Many times in history God has come down and touched His people with revival.  Usually the spiritual awakenings span across denominations.  This is the earmark that such times are from God: men and women become aware of their lost, sinful condition or else the lukewarmness of their hearts and fall before Him in sincere repentance. Lives are transformed.  Spirituality is renewed in churches and evangelism flourishes.

   How do these Divine visitations take place?  Almost invariably, God first moves in the hearts of a few to see the disparaging condition of the church and respond in fervent, intercessory prayer.  In His own time and way, God responds by pouring His blessing upon His people.  Never is revival the result of men “figuring out how to do church” just right!

   This is where we begin.  The church is God’s work and we need to get on board with Him! Our attempts to create the “perfect Scriptural church” by our own devices has fallen flat on its face. It is urgent to recognize the reality of where we are. Instead of holding endless meetings about how “to do church,” let us fall before God in repentance remaining there until His Power and Presence are an undeniable reality. Only then can we properly interpret the Bible, know the Mind of God in regards to the times in which we live and experience true unity. The Holy Spirit’s Presence was an unmistakable reality in the early church. Nothing in the Bible remotely suggests this was to change. Our model of church is based on familiar Mennonite tradition – not on the Book of Acts! This sacred record is the pattern of a “Scriptural” church!

A question asked by today’s younger generation is, “Why do we not see the gifts of the Spirit today?” While we have not made this our official position, I have observed that we are cessationist in our beliefs. In other words, we consider the supernatural manifestations of the Spirit as limited to a specific time in history in the transition from the Old to the New Covenant. For several reasons I cannot accept this interpretation of Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation we read about a God Who not only communicated directly with His people but repeatedly manifested His Power and Being by performing miraculous deeds through His servants. In this way He provided a witness of Himself both to believers and unbelievers. Thus the godly were reminded of God’s love and care while the ungodly were made aware of His Supremacy and Power. Nothing in Scripture faintly suggests that God would no longer reveal Himself in this way today. In my mind, cessationism is but a lame excuse for our lack of connection with God.

The fact that we make such a big issue of 1 Cor:11 regarding uncut hair and the head covering for women and then proceed to rationalize the teaching of the spiritual gifts in the proceeding chapter by saying that they are not for today is confusing to young people. The former can be done by mere human effort; the latter are imparted exclusively by God. This is a grim reflection on our standing with God – if we were wise we would be asking the same questions as our youth!

The only defense against error is to possess the truth. Because of our spiritual deficiencies we have made our youth very vulnerable to counterfeits of the truth. Spiritual counterfeits are around us without number. The only way to recognize them is to have the God-given gift of the discerning of spirits. Human logic and Bible knowledge alone cannot recognize Satan’s clever disguises.

I would not speak so boldly on the subject had not I, as well as others, experienced some of the promised gifts, including the one just mentioned. The gifts were not given at our request – they were imparted unexpectedly as we pursued God. They were not given to draw attention to ourselves – rather for the guidance, safety and protection of ourselves and others.

According to Scripture the gifts are for the building up of the church. How can God’s Kingdom be built if we only depend upon our natural gifts? If the continuation of the church is reliant on our own intellect and abilities is it not merely an institution of man? This has been the bane of the Conservative Mennonite church – God has been left out and we are trying to do the work of the Kingdom using our own faculties.

As a congregation where do we go from here? The first and only place to begin is to recognize our error. This we need to humbly acknowledge before God in repentance. From there we need to learn to be a people of prayer who expectantly wait upon God for direction before we make decisions based upon our own understanding. It is important to examine Scripture to discover the true essence of the Gospel and establish our faith in light of New Testament teaching, separating truth from tradition. Our error has been to replace God with a system of our own making and it is imperative to humble ourselves as little children and learn from Him. The New Testament is the pattern for the Church in every age. Only when we realize the intimacy with God known by the early church can we bring the glory to Him for which we are created.

David Jantzi Written, July 24, 2020