The Purity of the Church

(Posted by Peter Joseph Garcia)

The Schleitheim Confession of 1527 is a brief explanation of the distinguishing marks of the two year old movement gaining great momentum Switzerland. In the face of violent persecution by and competition against other Protestants, Anabaptists boldly sought to carry out the reforms that they believed the magisterial reformers failed to take far enough.

Article 2 states:

“We have been united as follows concerning the ban. The ban shall be employed with all those who have given themselves over to the Lord, to walk after [God]. in His commandments; those who have been baptized into the one body of Christ, and let themselves be called brothers or sisters, and still somehow slip and fall into error and sin, being inadvertently overtaken. The same [shall] be warned twice privately and the third time be publicly admonished before the entire congregation according to the command of Christ (Matthew 18). But this shall be done according to the ordering of the Spirit of God before the breaking of bread so that we may all in one spirit and in one love break and eat from one bread and drink from one cup.”

For a community that radically practiced adult baptism as testimony of regeneration and entrance into the community of faith that knew who was in and out, the idea of preserving a pure church was a top priority. Luther’s doctrine of simul justus et peccator was firmly rejected. Hence, the ban–a temporary dissolving of friendships, relationships, commerce, and hospitality–for known sinners or “heretics” (a quite misused word). For a community committed to physical non-violence, they do not shy away from emotional violence amongst themselves.

Is this alive in churches today in one form or another? Is reformative shame and separation a form of discipline that truly is to one’s benefit or more of a demand for justice? How important is the purity of the church? As the church wrestles more and more (and more and more publicly) with issues of sexuality and gender, scandal, divorce, abortion, materialism, and sin within the church, it is faced with pitting the purity of the church against a radically inclusive love–to create space for grace, searching, honesty, and healing, against being wrapped up in a white cloth that cannot be stained nor keep hurting people warm. Which is more gospel?


Two-Kingdom Mennonite

In the early 16th century thousands of Anabaptists coverts spread throughout Germany and the Netherlands. Although both Catholic and Reformed denominations together persecuted them, they continued to grow in number from 1525-1550. So much that by 1553 the Doopsqezinde, better known as Mennonites were the largest evangelical group in the Netherlands! With that, they became the largest evangelical group which complied an enormous martyrology. Menno Simons through this time and after continued to increasingly rigid church discipline as he grew older, and by 1561 at Menno’s death, the Netherlands Mennonites were broken into four orders; the Flemings, the Frisians and Germans, and the Waterlands. By 1580’s confession-making was well established through Europe and denominations within protestantism. So John de Rys and Lubbert Gerrits, ministers in the Mennonite denomination wrote The (40 article) Waterland Confession, better known as A Brief Confession of the Principal Articles of the Christian Faith (For Mennonites).

When reading this confession, I understand the German-Anabaptist/Mennonites had differences with the German-Refromers, but one article stands out to me among the other 39 articles. Article 37 of The Waterland Confession, dealing with The Office of the Civil Magistrate states,

“Government or the civil magistrate is a necessary ordinance of God, instituted for the government of common human society and the preservation of natural life and civil good, for the defense of the good and the punishment of the evil. We acknowledge, the Word of God obliging us, that it is out duty to reverence magistracy and to show to it honor and obedience in all things which are not contrary to the Word of God. It is our duty to pray to the omnipotent God for them, and to give thanks to Him for good and just magistrates and without murmuring to pay just tribute and customs. This civil government the Lord Jesus did not institute in his spiritual kingdom, the church in the New Testament, nor did he join it to the offices of his church: nor did he call his disciples or followers to royal, ducal or other power; nor did he teach that they should seize it and rule in a lordly manner; much less did he give to the members of his church the law, agreeable to such office or dominion: but everywhere they are called away from it (which voice heard from heaven ought to be heeded) to the imitation of his harmless life and his footsteps bearing the cross, and in which nothing is less in evidence than an earthly kingdom, power and sword. When all these things are carefully weighed (and moreover not a few things are joined with the office of civil magistracy, as waging war, depraving enemies of good and life, etc., which [do not agree with] the lives of christians who ought to be dead to the world), they agree either badly or plainly not at all, hence we withdraw ourselves from such offices and adminstratrations. And yet we do not wish that just and moderate power should in any manner be despised or condemned, but that it should be truly esteemed, as in words of Paul, the Holy Spirit dictating, it ought to be esteemed.”

I could be crazy, but seems a bit 2-K to me.

Dispensationalist Need to Read Their History

Many Dispensationalist lack the knowledge of historical theology and church history. I myself lack much being that  I am only 26-years old and just started reading it about 3-years ago. Yet the more I read of church history, the less I understand about American Evangelicalism, especially one of American’s largest faulty theologies over the last 100-years, Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism roots its history in the brethren movement – dispensationalism is rooted in the Plymouth Brethren movement in the 1830s of Ireland and England, and in the teachings of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882). Darby traveled extensively to continental Europe, New Zealand, Canada and the United States in an attempt to make converts to the Brethren movement. Over time, Darby’s eschatological views grew in popularity in the United States, especially among Baptists and Old School Presbyterians.

However Dispensationalism contradicts its’ own Brethren movement confessions time and time again.

Issue one: Covenant of Grace

The Waterland Confession: Article 4. Doctrine of Faith states, “Baptism means the entrance into the covenant of grace of God and the incorporation into the Church of Christ…

Leading proponent on Dispensationalism Dr. Charles Ryrie states in Dispensationalism Today, Moody Press, p.186, “there still remains the stark reality that nowhere does Scripture speak of a covenant of works or a covenant of grace as it speaks of a covenant with Abraham or a covenant at Sinai or the new covenant.

According to classical-dispensationalist Dr. Ryrie there is no such thing of a covenant of grace, but yet while his historical brethren roots confessed that the believer was issued into the Covenant of Grace after believers baptism. It would help to make mention that the Watlerland Confession was written 1540, prior to Darby dispensational thinking in 1830.

Issue two: Salvation the Same in both the OT & NT

The Dordrecht Confession: Article 3. states, “Regrading the restoration of our first parents and their descendants, we believe and confession: That god withstanding their (Adam and Eve) fall, transgressions, and sin, and although they had no power to help themselves, he was neverless not willing that they should be cast off entirely, or be eternally lost; but agin called them unto Him, comforted them, and showed them that there were-yet means with Him for their reconciliation; namely, the immaculate Lamb, the Son of God; who was for-ordained to this purpose before the foundation of the world, and was promised to them (Adam and Eve) and all their descendants, while they (our first parents) were yet in paradise, for their comfort, redemption, and salvation; yea, who was given to them thenceforward, through faith, as their own, after which they all the pious patriarchs, to whom this promise was often rewarded, longed and searched, beholding it through faith at a distance, and expecting its fulfillment – expecting that He, the Son of God, would at His coming, again redeem and deliver the fallen race of man from their sins, their guilt, and unrighteousness.

The early 20th century dispensationalist, Certainly Cyrus Ingerson Scofield carried water on both shoulders at this point, saying in some places that all people are saved in the same manner, but indicating in others that salvation was gained in a different manner during each of the seven periods. An example of his dual plans of salvation is found in the Scofield Bible (page 11 15, note 2) where he is contrasting the dispensation of law with that of grace stating,

“The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ… ‘ It is difficult to interpret this statement in any other way than that he was saying folk under the law were saved by one ‘condition’ while we under grace are saved by another ‘condition.’ His words, ‘no longer,’ indicate that there was a time when legal obedience was the means of salvation!”

If one dispensationalist was not enough, Lewis Sperry Chafer, another leader among the dispensationalists, also – in his insistence on a complete isolation of the New Testament dispensation from that of the Old Testament actually teaches two different plans of salvation. Writing in Dispensationalism (p.416), he makes the following statement:

“The essential elements of a grace administration – faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God, unmerited acceptance through a perfect standing in Christ, the present possession of eternal life, an absolute security from all condemnation, and the enabling power of the indwelling Spirit are not found in the kingdom administration. On the other hand, it is declared to be the fulfilling of ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matt 5:17,18; 7:12), and is seen to be an extension of the Mosaic Law into realms of meritorious obligation (italics mine).”

Break this paragraph by Chafer down into its component parts…

1. he gives the characteristics, including ‘faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God,’ of the present ‘dispensation’;

2. he says the alleged coming ‘dispensation’ (millennium) w ill operate under a different plan, since none of the above mentioned characteristics (note that this would include the mode of salvation) ‘are to be found in the kingdom administration’;

3. he says that the alleged coming millennial kingdom will be a continuation of the Old Testament plan, i.e., ‘it is declared to be the fulfilling of the law and the prophets.’

From these three points a syllogism can be formed easily. The syllogism would be as follows: In the present dispensation, we have ‘faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God…’ In the coming kingdom administration, this plan will not be in effect. They ‘are not found in the kingdom administration.’ Since, according to the dispensationalists, people will be saved during the millennium, they must of necessity be saved in some other manner than ‘faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God.’ Therefore, inasmuch as the coming dispensation will be an extension of the Mosaic Law into realms of meritorious obligation,’ the people under the Mosaic Law also were saved in a manner different from the present dispensation.

Chafer’s argument could also be illustrated in a diagram as follows:

1. Old Testament – Salvation by legal obedience – In effect until the Cross

2. ‘Church Age’ – Salvation by grace alone – Legal obedience postponed

3. ‘Kingdom Age’ – Legal obedience resumed – On a more perfect basis

In another book (The Kingdom in History and Prophecy, p. 70) Chafer again distinguishes between two different modes of salvation saying this,

“In the light of these seven ‘present truth’ realities we are enabled to recognize how great is the effect of the change from ‘the law which came by Moses’ and ‘grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.’ And when these changed, age-long conditions have run their course we are assured that there will be a return to the legal kingdom grounds and the exaltation of that nation to whom pertain the covenants and promises.

Yet, this Dispensationalists teach that men in the O.T. were saved by faith in a revelation peculiar to their dispensation, but this did not include faith in the Messiah as their sin-bearer. However the dispensationalist roots in their confessed statement of faith stated that salvation was based on the promise of the Son of God as a sin-barer when they stated as above, “expecting that He, the Son of God, would at His coming, again redeem and deliver the fallen race of man from their sins, their guilt, and unrighteousness.”

It would help to make mention that the Dordrecht Confession was written 1632, prior to Chafer and Scofield dispensational thinking in from the early 20th-century. To bad these men and their theology didn’t stick to their historical roots.

Anabaptists not being very Baptist-Like

1540 Peter Ridemann while in Prison, wrote one of the great doctrinal works, Rechenschaft unserer Religion, Lehre, und Glabe, which became a central document of the Moravian Anabaptists. This was written because of the common concern of the Hutterite leadership in which was separating the Anabaptist in Western Europe.  Although the confession was not a massive theological work, is was a simple confession broken down into two sections describing their doctrine and practice of doctrine. While reading through it, one particular section stood out to me.

Section 7: The Formula of Baptism says,

“The baptizer frist testifies to the baptize and and ask if he believes in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The baptizand confesses. He then is asked if he desires to yield himself to God to live for Him and His church. If so, he is told to kneel before God and the church, and water is poured upon him. If the baptism cannot be performed before the entire church, the baptizer may perform the ordnance alone.”

It stood out to me as some American Baptist (who lack knowledge of church history), Brethren, Dispensationalist, and Mennonites seem to claim their roots being from Anabaptist circles, their practice is not the same. Yet, while Brethren and Mennonites insist upon the formula for baptism to be done by emersion only, one of their historical backgrounds says otherwise.

How Often Do You Meet with those in the Church?

Last evening I was reading through a few of the early Anabaptist Confessions. While not in full agreement with a few of them, one section did stick out to me from all the rest. The church of the Anabaptists was unique in that it was a disciplined and regulated church. The disciplines of the church the individual member did accept voluntarily and the church was concerned how the fellowship of believers should be fleshed out among one another. While it seems almost a bit legalistic for me, one article written in Discipline of the Believers: How a Christian is to Live 1527, did make sense. It reads,

In the second place:  we shall sincerely and in a Christian spirit admonish one another in the Lord to remain constant (Heb.10:1;Acts 14,15,18; Col.2).  To meet often, at least four or five times, and if possible…even at midweek [prayer meetings?] (I Cor.11,14; Acts 1,2,9.11.20; Heb.10; II Cor.6; Matt.18).

I enjoyed reading the importance of constant fellowship with those who believe the same things as your self. From time to time, it can be hard to live in this realm being called out of this world. We do need to constantly be among our fellow brothers and sisters talking about Christ, teaching Christ from the Scriptures, studying Christ and having fellowship  with those who are in Christ.

You can read the full confession, Discipline of the Believers: How a Christian is to Live 1527 here.