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

Another Gospel?

Part 2

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified?

In the middle of the  twentieth century the General Conference Mennonite church experienced a  major upheaval by the  influence of  modernism.  Foundational Christian  doctrines which  had been  accepted by  believers  throughout the centuries were brought  into question.  Along with this came a  widespread rejection of  teachings such as non-resistance, participation in politics, distinctive attire and uncut hair along with the veiling for  women.  These observances had been  practiced more by Anabaptist Christians.  This  trend which involved the more evangelical element of the church resulted in a reactive movement which labeled themselves as Conservative Mennonites.  I became part of the group as a teenager along with the rest of my family a few years after its beginning.  Looking back in retrospect gives me the opportunity to trace the sect’s history and its evolution of thought up to the present day.

Initially it was a feast for our family to receive Bible teaching after the spiritual famine in which we grew up.  To learn the inter-relationship of the Biblical books, chronological time frames, Christian doctrine, histories, etc. was invaluable for a young Christian like me. An excellent foundation was laid to gain a comprehensive understanding of the Bible to build upon for future personal study.

   However, in my immaturity and naivete, I failed to see some serious things taking place within this new sub-denomination of which I was a part.  Later, looking back from the perspective of a more mature believer, I realize that early in the movement there was a departure from the gospel of the Bible.  The  movement began a reaction against certain trends that were threatening the Mennonite church and unfortunately it continued as a reaction.  The focus was primarily on the enemy on the outside  – liberal theology, discarding of former practices of the Mennonite church, etc.  Soon the idea was embraced that if a strict code of practice was enforced the church could be kept from falling into apostasy.   The list of forbidden things became more and more detailed to supposedly keep the “world” out of the church…but the enemy was working from within.  Had there been a prophet to warn about what was happening, he quickly would have found himself under censure for insubordination to the church’s authority.  Leaders were granted power to silence any dissenting voice; pastors were becoming harsh rulers rather than shepherds.

   The Scriptures tell us that the Gospel is the power of God to everyone who  believes.  The book of Romans goes on to explain that the righteousness acceptable to God is only that which He has imparted to those who believe in the work accomplished in Christ’s death and resurrection.  Furthermore it tells us that the law was given to make one conscious of sin and that none can obtain righteousness by attempting to keep its decrees. It is made clear that the power to live a holy life is a result of a work of God, making us new creatures in Christ. His Spirit within us frees us from the bondage of sin which once enslaved us enabling us to live a holy life bringing glory to Him.

When we replace the “power of God unto salvation” with something man-made, we are left with just that – something man-made. The power of God is no longer present. Thus was the course of the movement. A religious system was created, formed within the minds of controlling leaders. People began to resist the jurisdiction over their lives that leadership was exercising. Soon it divided into multiple splits as they attempted to escape the oppressive atmosphere in which they found themselves.

Something else very disturbing was taking place, even at the onset of the movement. Immorality, often at leadership levels, was taking place altogether too frequently. When it was discovered there was a serious lack of transparency in dealing with it. Only recently is some of the truth coming out about the widespread sexual abuse that took place within the church and how those in upper echelons of power helped to keep it hidden. If victims became verbal or if someone took up their case either of them could become the object of church discipline. It is not uncommon for the groups who make the most stringent rules, attempting to “legislate” holiness, to be hiding the vilest practices within their ranks.

What does this confirm? The Gospel is the power of God to all who believe. Salvation is a work of the Spirit that changes the desires of the heart. Holiness is the result of the indwelling Presence of God empowering us to please Him. When man perverts the Gospel and presents “another gospel” there is no other possible course but failure. This was the message of the Apostle to the churches and it applies to us today!

To be continued…

David Jantzi

  

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Another Gospel?

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.”

Part One

 

As Mennonites, most of us have grown up in our particular religious environment accepting the teaching which we received.  Certain Scriptures have been associated with the practices unique to us but we may have never made a personal study of them to assure ourselves of their logic in view of their entire Biblical context.  It is easy to be caught up in being part of a religion without having a true connection with God.

   What do we believe to be the essence of the Gospel?  Does anything set us apart from mainstream evangelical Christianity?  How do our beliefs and practices align with that of our forefathers at the time of the reformation?  Does our experience complement our theological beliefs or is our faith primarily an exercise of the intellect?  These are questions which we ought to be asking ourselves.

   Our denominational heritage began during the reformation when a group of believers were determined to follow the Scripture regardless of the cost.  God’s approval of their commitment was obvious by the vibrant testimonies they gave as they confronted their persecutors.  Their newfound standing with God along with the joy and peace it brought to their hearts was confirmed by the confidence with which they faced their execution.  The Presence of the Holy Spirit within them is shown by the boldness and wisdom of their testimonies as recorded in the “Martyrs’ Mirror”.

   A godly preacher of modern times, Paris Reidhead, in a sermon entitled, “The Great Apostasy “(Falling Away),  addresses a problem experienced in every spiritual awakening in history.  He assumed that the prophesied “falling away” already began in the first century of the Church’s existence. The initial believers experienced a dynamic salvation. Sadly very quickly in succeeding generations their children mentally embraced a creed without having a real regeneration experience. The result was a church that practiced ritual but did not have a knowledge of God. Denominations are often begun when people realize the deadness of the established church and God’s Presence and Power comes upon them as they fully pursue Him. Tragically the pattern of falling away usually repeats itself in following generations.

This appears to be the case with our spiritual forebears. Too soon in Mennonite history a heated argument over some Biblical practices occurred which resulted in the birth of the Amish church. In all probability the original joy of God’s Presence had been forgotten and replaced with a blind zeal to duplicate all the external expressions of the fathers. Was the Spirit of God still present Who would have led His children into paths of peace?

The Amish church continued its obsession with following tradition for the following centuries. At one point in history the Amish were willing to refrain from sharing their faith with others in exchange for the privilege of owning their own farms and being exempted from military service. A far cry from apostolic Christianity!

I came on the scene in the Amish community (albeit not Old Order) in the middle of the twentieth century. The Amish at the time had very little knowledge of Bible teaching. Church consisted of a ritualistic following of their fathers’ customs. Some individuals within the community discovered a genuine faith in spite of the low spiritual temperature of the church but they could find themselves despised because of their sensitivity to spiritual matters. Immorality, alcohol abuse and unbecoming behaviour were rampant.

There seems to have been an identical situation in other Mennonite groups right down to making promises to be silent about their faith in exchange for otherwise religious freedom. Then during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, spiritual revivals spilled over from Protestant denominations, having a positive effect on segments of the Mennonite population. Mennonite men and women experienced conversions and brought their newfound faith back to their communities. When this happened an interest in Bible study took place and churches again realized from Scripture the reasons for practices somewhat unique to the denomination. Of course, among those converted, many evils which had become the “norm” were recognized and forsaken. Bible schools were started, Sunday schools established and some evangelistic and mission work carried on. As this took place in North America, another spiritual renewal was experienced in Russia and the Mennonite Brethren church was born. While many churches rejected this evangelical emphasis, the movements would have influenced some of their people in a positive way towards a real faith within the context of their church.

David Jantzi

To be continued…

Forward to “Another Gospel?”

Before a satellite of our congregation was started  I had an overwhelming sense that there was a lack of clarity in our minds as to what it was that disillusioned us in the Conservative Mennonite churches of which we were once a part.  In addition to this, it seemed to me that we were unsure of our identity as a group of believers and what we perceived the essence of the gospel to be.  When members began to leave our numbers, I realized that my fears were not unfounded.

The spiritual wellbeing of our church family is a matter very close to my heart. The words of the song, “For her my tears shall fall; for her my prayers ascend; for her my cares and toils be given, till toils and cares shall end.”, well addresses my sentiment towards God’s people. As I meditated over what I saw taking place, it became an urgent issue in my mind to address the situation as I see it in an attempt to bring us together into true unity. As a result I wrote the article, “Another Gospel?” to share my personal journey as part of the Mennonite community.

Because I have been immersed into Mennonite culture for a lifetime I can view this ethnically segregated group as an informed insider. However, as one who is desperately pursuing the reality of knowing the God of the Bible, I have experienced great disillusionment with the religious environment of which I am a part. In spite of this, I believe God placed me into this culture with a distinct agenda as to how I am to serve Him where I am. He is a gracious God Who desires to draw all people to Himself. When a people group who once was His delight wanders away from Him, it is His desire to again show them the ancient Way. This Way is to be close to His Heart as beloved sons and daughters. I believe that we, as Mennonites have long been trapped in a tradition of our own making. My passion is for us to find Him as did our fathers who offered up their lives for His sake.

“Another Gospel?” is not an article written as a result of “listening to preachers” or reading books written by religious commentators. Rather, it is a product of a long and often painful journey. In this quest, God reached down to me and revealed Himself as a loving Father Who longs to have sons and daughters who rest in His goodness and walk in His ways. The church primarily taught doctrines and beliefs which were to be intellectually embraced along with strictly enforced rules to follow – in contrast God brought me to realize the Father-child relationship which sin had broken but Jesus came to restore. The Biblical God Who communicated directly with people, led them distinctly in the way He had chosen and gave explicit answers to prayer became my God. The Holy Spirit vacated the theological box into which men had placed Him (actually He was only there in their misguided minds) and took up residence in my heart to manifest Himself in my experience. This quote from Scripture well sums up where I believe we have fallen as a religious institution: “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof”.

David Jantzi July 24 2020