Articles 2

Full-Color Compassion

James D. Hershberger
Stuarts Draft, VA

Amazing grace was extended to a white killer on July 17, 2015, in South Carolina. After about an hour of sitting in a Wednesday evening prayer meeting and Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., Dylann Roof, the alleged killer—a white racist, 21-year-old—suddenly started spewing racially hateful speech and opened fire, killing nine African Americans (including a state senator) with whom he had supposedly been worshiping.  

Relatives and friends of the slain responded with magnanimous Christian character. Instead of asking for the death penalty these African Americans asked to meet with the killer face to face to tell him they forgive him. They also invited him to turn his life over to Jesus and receive salvation. This is pacifism at its best.
It seems that Roof sought not only to vent his monstrous, evil racial hatred but to incite venomous hatred between the races. Instead, because of this tragedy, there was a march through Charleston in support of the benevolence shown by the victims’ relatives. There were more whites than blacks among the marchers, which is quite a testimony for the Deep South.  

In the wake of the killing, the governor of South Carolina asked that the Confederate flag be removed from flying on the State House grounds. It was seen as important enough that both The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal carried the story. After considerable debate the South Carolina assembly rose to the occasion and removed not only the flag but also the flag pole. The governor of Virginia asked that the Confederate emblem be removed from Virginia license plates. To help appreciate the significance of these actions it is very noteworthy that a history professor, Barton Meyers, Washington and Lee University assistant professor of Civil War history said, “The Confederate flag was quickly appropriated after the Civil War by the first order of the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist organizations, which included many former veterans of the army of Northern Virginia and the army of Tennessee. Separating any of these Confederate symbols from the issue of race and racism is impossible.”

It is helpful to consider that during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, to integrate schools blacks would sometimes need to walk the gauntlet of shouting Confederate flag-waving white men, women, and even children hate mongers. Often even though they would face this intimidation, the black students would walk sedately and directly to the front door of the previously all-white school. Today this freedom is too often taken for granted.  

We might compare flying the Confederate flag (a symbol of holding fellow humans in slavery) to flying or displaying the German swastika. Both causes and symbols are deemed to be hurtful to other groups. That is why the Confederate flag was removed from the Capitol grounds and placed in a museum.     
While we are on this subject, let us consider arguments for the causes of the Civil War. The late professor John Heatwole said, “Pose the question, ‘If there had been no slavery in America, would there have been a U.S. Civil War?’” For careful students of history the answer seems obvious. Historian Gary Gallagher says that the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe may rightly be considered America’s most important novel. Read it for an unforgettable educational enrichment experience, for it depicts conditions between the races prior to the Civil War.  

These African Americans and the families of the victims in the Nickel Mines shootings in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in recent times are examples of the biblical injunction, “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you and pray for those who mistreat you.” We owe much to these people. What noble examples!

We would do well as Mennonites to remember that God is a colorful God who has created all races of His children to be appreciated, loved, respected, and treated equally. It is interesting to note that about 8% of all Beachy Amish Mennonites are African. May we be gracious and encouraging to all our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Tipping the Scales

Aaron Lapp
Kinzers, PA

A representative view of justice is represented by the Statue of Liberty, with the lady holding an old-fashioned balance scales. She is blindfolded to represent an unbiased opinion on her part as to which way it goes. True justice has no favorites.

The handwriting on the wall interpreted by Daniel was “Tekel: thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting (lacking)” (Daniel 5:27). Wanting—coming up short. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Muslims understand that every good deed counts for anywhere from 70 to 700 good points to one’s account. On the other side of the scales, they say, every bad deed takes away one point, or maybe even two good points. Talk about stacking things in one’s favor!

Rabbi Beryl Epstein says everyone will go to heaven. For the Jew, he is to keep 613 laws. For all others, they are to follow the seven laws of Noah and thus all go to heaven. Epstein said God keeps a score card—both for evil and good. He also said that people can do more good than they think they can, which qualifies them for entrance to heaven.

A bus load from our Lancaster County churches went to New York City in early December. Others went deer hunting. We don’t know how the hunters made out, but we came back loaded! We sat under the teaching of a Jewish rabbi for a day. My mind was full!

Epstein said that man is 98% soul and 2% physical. He said, “We marry to get closer to God. We spiritualize everything.” Some say, “Don’t marry to be holy.” We say, “Do marry to be holy.” Amazing! Also encouraging, right? These are Hasidic Jews—orthodox. There is more than one orthodox group, so variables in teaching can occur. We visited those in Crown Heights and they are a very large group.

What do Anabaptists say about God’s justice? Anabaptists also range from ultra-conservative to ultra-liberal, even as do the Jews. One cannot evaluate any group as representative of them all, either theirs or ours. We say again, that God is fair and He has no people as favorites.    

Unfortunately, some Anabaptists also view God as having a score card. Or maybe a balancing scales, that is easily tipped in one’s favor. At any rate, the idea prevails among some that we must strive to do good so it will somehow outweigh the bad.

Being accepted by God on the basis of one’s good works is a hallmark of false religions. There is  a certain line of reasoning in all of us that God should favor me for being a Christian for 70 years, or being preacher for 40 years, or for serving Him since I was 12 years old, or because I gave multiplied thousands to missions. Then some think denying themselves of life’s pleasures will surely cause God to notice and that it will evoke His mercy. This is the balance thing—the score card.

No! To every such thought, God says, “No.” From the “mostest” to the “bestest” among us, the answer is “No!” Maybe the disadvantaged and poorest can make it because of their condition. The answer is “No.” How about just me as an exception? “No.”: Kindly and lovingly, “No.” Maybe because of His kindness and love there is a crack here where I can somehow get into God’s favor by my you-know-what. Emphatically and consistently and  eternally, “NO.”

None can make it on his own; all are excluded by even their best merits. Peter was an eager learner and quite impetuous when it came to doing good in the short term. He said, “We have forsaken all and followed thee, what shall we have therefore?” This was right after Jesus told His disciples how hard it would be for the rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus told Peter that his—and the rest of the disciples—reward comes later, after this life. They will sit on thrones to judge Israel, and “everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (See Matthew 19:23-29). The word “inherit” stands out here. Not a paycheck every two weeks. Not a yearly salary from God. The inheriting comes later, after this life. In our case, it is after our death. In earth life, an inheritance is received when the testator dies.

Eternal life is not based on works—more good than bad—as in a favorable score. It is not based on how long one has served, not on how well one lived in comparison to others, as in having enough to tip the scales in one’s favor. It is not on how much one suffered, incurring much discomfort and pain and expense. It is not tipped in favor of those who have much more wealth than average. God’s scale of acceptance is never by any person’s experience or service or giving, regardless of how outstanding it may be.    
One layman in our church of 60 years ago, said we should do all the good works we possibly can and then God takes it from there and makes it reach for our entrance into heaven.  “No,” God says, by answering, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not [for salvation], but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4,5).

The emphasis here is on believing on Jesus Christ for right standing with God based on what He has done for us in Christ as opposed to attempting any of our supposedly good works that we might do for God. God has no need, being all-sufficient in Himself. We are the ones who have every kind of need, and lack any sufficiency in ourselves.

Another layman from my adolescent years spoke to our congregation about God almost needing an in-between category of those not good enough for heaven but too good for hell. God is also clear here, using the previously quoted verses from Romans 3:10-12. The Bible teaches it elsewhere just as sure and emphatic. Good works do not, cannot, will not, tip the scales of God’s justice in anyone’s favor. The line is clear by God for every person—those saved by Christ and those not saved.

God doesn’t withhold His favor and His grace in refusing our good works to tip the scales. By consistently and totally denying everyone’s good works for salvation. He then can magnanimously pour out the full measure of His grace to both save all from sin and to keep everyone saved for a lifetime. Everyone is equally so; none is excluded by God in this provision.

At precisely this point in my writing, I provided taxi service for a neighbor. He is about my age. They are building a retirement house. He spoke of how much money it takes for just small amounts of material. He looked at me and in all seriousness, said he is a poor man, but he believes that increases his chances for heaven. Uncharacteristic for me, I emphatically and immediately refuted his statement. I shared a few Bible verses and he also shared some in defense—from the Bible, mind you!

The rich might assume they are favored already and they then tip the scales additionally by their giving  to the poor and needy. But the poor also feel the scales of God’s justice is tipped in their favor since they are not consumptive like the rich and really do suffer lack. Besides, God speaks favorably of the poor, and chides the rich.  

The Bible is clear about the need and adequacy of Christ for salvation. I think Romans 8 is one of the most exciting chapters in the Bible. Although there are many other such passages, you will profit the most from the following comments if you take your Bible and open it to Romans 8:29-39.   

In verse 29, God has undertaken a program of predestination of the believer in Christ Jesus. The goal is to conform believers to the image of Christ. Christ Himself is the first born among brethren. “Firstborn” in the Bible always means there will be many more.

In verse 30, those predestinated are called and justified and glorified. Justified means to be made righteous, accepted by God in Christ (by His atonement, or payment). Satisfactory payment with God is always and only by the blood of Christ.

Verse 31 has that conclusive logic, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” It is a statement that goes beyond logic based on how God is, being without limitation. Being saved from sin by Christ is a standing no one can take from us, thus being against anyone who tries to do so.
Verse 32 shows how lavish God is with His love. God gave up His Son which shows what God would, by comparison, do for our sakes.
Verse 33 uses an earthly counterpart to say that since the debt is already paid for our redemption, who can charge us again, making us debtors again? A debt can be paid only once.

Verse 34 has another question, as in a persistent inquiry—like a judge might do in a trial by cross-examination. “Who is he that condemneth?” This is it: Christ died (payment). He rose again (validation); He sits at God’s right hand and makes intercession for us (as the supreme lawyer in heaven and earth).  

Verse 35: Our subject is the adequacy of salvation in Christ. The argument against the believer is forever taken away from the devil, for the enemies of the cross of Christ, from any and all objections anyone could raise—there is no separation from God.

Verses 37, 38, and 39 boldly and judicially declare that justice has been served, the Judge of heaven and earth pronounces no separation by any from above or beneath, or on the earth. Nothing in death or life can separate us from God’s love. Neither can angels do so—nor can the evil angels (usually included in the phrase “principalities and powers.”) Nothing from above us or beneath us, nothing behind us nor before us can “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Wow! I could just shout aloud, “God be praised! Hallelujah!”
Grandpas have license to bragging rights, so here goes. Actually for the sake of illustration on point of exuberance. Three-year-old grandson, Andrei was nearing his fourth birthday. He said to me, “Grandpa, I will soon be four years old and Johann is almost seven. We are getting old fast. I could just whistle!” Then he whistled!

We also are the children of God (little in understanding), so like Andrei, we could  whoop it up a bit sometimes for our status in Christ. My brethren and I in Christ have come a long way already. But as for Andrei, he has no clue about another 80 or 90 years ahead of him in this life. Likewise, or shall we say, even much more so, do we not know what God has reserved for us in eternity for those who love Him. I can’t whistle anymore, but I can shout: Hallelujah! Amen! Hosanna in the highest! Amen!

The Bottom Line is that the scales of justice are not needed anymore. It also has no need as far as God is concerned, for those who have been justified by Christ. “We are more than conquerors though him that loved us” (Romans 8:37). “For so an entrance shall be administered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” 2 Peter 1:11).
Amen, Brother?
Yea, and Amen!

The Vision for Christian Education is Worth Passing On

Nathan Yoder
Free Union, VA

We should all ask ourselves, “How clear is the vision of Christian education to me today?” Perhaps teachers feel it is the parents and the church that need to ask themselves about the future of Christian education. But it is also easy for parents to relegate the burden of this vision to teachers. After all, they are responsible for the education of the rising generation. While this may be partly true, the vision will only live on if it burns in all of our hearts and is lived out in our lives.
Mankind seems always to have encountered difficulty in successfully passing on a vision to the next generation. One generation has a conviction, a burden, a strong and passionate belief and they are concerned that it is passed on to the next generation. While often the next generation does have something of that same vision and goals, it seems that with time the inspiration wanes. Over time, people tend to develop a lackadaisical attitude about the very things the previous generation thought were extremely important issues.

How can we best transmit the vision of Christian education to the next generation? Probably many younger parents and teachers haven’t given this a lot of thought yet, but eventually the time will come to “pass the baton” on to someone else. In a relay race, one runner can run only so long with enthusiasm and speed before he tires and needs to pass the baton to someone else who carries it on with diligence and commitment. I hope you see yourself in this picture—baton in hand, running with passion and motivation, and then passing it on to younger hands who will do likewise.

Sometimes we ask ourselves, Will they run faithfully? Will they run with enthusiasm? Will they have the vision? Part of this answer depends on the effectiveness of our “vision transmission.”

The Scriptural premise for this concept of passing things between generations may be noted in the Psalms. Several times David talks of passing on the story of God’s goodness. “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). This verse carries such a precious concept! David goes on to speak of the goodness of the Lord, and the next generation picks that up and the process repeats itself. What a beautiful picture!
Sometimes we talk about generation gaps, and we don’t have to look very far until we see them. We see them in homes, in churches, and in schools. Can we get our vision of Christian education across generation gaps?

Momentum is a concept that dramatically increases efficiency and effectiveness both in the physical world and in passing a vision on to future generations. Think of the engine in your car. What if the car engine would make one revolution and then stop? And then another crank, and another stop? Even in walking there is a certain amount of momentum involved. Can you imagine taking one step, stopping, another step, and a stop, and so on? What if your heart stopped between every beat? You get the picture—momentum is very valuable.

In our efforts to transmit truth, vision, and values from one generation to the next, we are often hindered because we lack momentum. The vision doesn’t maintain its strength. It continues to weaken until someone in the next generation realizes, “This was not only important yesterday, it is important! We need this!” Then the values are refreshed and the vision burns brightly for a time before dying out again. While this model may be the historical norm, I don’t think this is God’s intent for our homes, churches, and schools.   

The psalmist gives us a window into the heart of God and how He desires for this to work:
“We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: that they might set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:4-7). How many generations are mentioned here? I see at least four!

This is similar to Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). These verses show the momentum of vision where the burdens and passions of one generation are effectively transmitted to the next generation that in turn passes on to yet another succeeding generation.

Worth Passing On
As we ponder our Christian schools, what are the values and blessings we have that are worth passing on? The following ideas are things that are worthy of passion—yes, worthy of lost sleep, emptier wallets, and pay cuts.  

Service mentality. Service is not a very popular concept today, but hopefully it is part of our school culture, and it is worth passing on. Our schools, reinforcing parental teaching, can help our children learn in a practical way that, like Christ, they are not here to be served, but to serve others. By nature we tend to act like the universe revolves around us, but that is not so. In a public school, our children would not be taught the value of humble service and commitment. In a Christian school, they can be!

Godly mentors. What is the value of having men and women of God being our children’s mentors? That is something worth being excited about. For most of my school days I attended a public school, so I didn’t have godly mentors as heroes and examples to impact my life. Where Has Integrity Gone? is both a title of an excellent book on the subject and a question we need to address with our children.

Curriculum. What about the Christian curriculum we have? Is that worth getting excited about? I think it is a tremendous blessing that we have access to curriculum today that just a generation ago was not available. To our children, it’s normal to have Christian books and curriculum. They may assume, for example, that Christian Light and Rod and Staff books and curriculum have been in our schools ever since George Washington was president. Of course, we know that’s not the case.  

Truth. Are we excited that teachers can pick up the Bible and expound it to our children morning after morning? That is a tremendous blessing. I don’t recall any of my teachers ever holding a Bible in their hands at school. I do remember teachers who taught evolution, but none that held up a Bible and told us, “Students, this is truth. This divides the right from the wrong. What this says is absolute. It will endure into eternity.” We should be excited that our children are exposed to this teaching time and again in school—not only in Bible class but as the basis for every subject that is taught!

We should be excited that our children are being taught the truth about creation in a day when they are bombarded with the theory of evolution. I have heard some people scoff at evolution and say, “We know man didn’t come from monkeys; that’s absurd! Evolution is a joke.” But I’ve heard polished evolutionists make their case in a very convincing way. I read part of an article on evolution in the encyclopedia recently, and they can make the theory of evolution sound very credible. I’m thankful that we have the Word of God, and that we can take it to our children and say, “This is the way it all started, and here is proof, and we know that it’s true.”

Worldview. It is important that the concept of the two kingdoms is the basis of our children’s worldview. The issue of nonresistance doesn’t really make sense any other way. Many people will agree that turning the other cheek is a good thing, but when it comes to an issue like fighting terrorism, these same people will label it a just cause and rally around it. In our schools, we need to teach our children how nonresistance works itself out in our lives.

How do you feel about your school? How committed are you to helping provide the children in your community the opportunity of a Christian education?  The generation before us saw the need for Christian schools and worked hard to make them happen. Is our zeal as intense as theirs?

Conservative Anabaptists on Trial

David L. Miller
Partridge, KS

The title of this article includes two words that are not found in Scripture (KJV), They are “conservative” and “Anabaptist.” But for readers of this publication to be interested in such a subject does not need explanation.

The word “conservative” is widely used outside of religious circles. “Anabaptist” has been a significant religious identity for nearly 500 years. At present, there is a wide diversity of practice by groups who consider themselves Anabaptist. This is true of lifestyle, as well as understanding of and response to Bible teaching. In wider religious circles the terms “conservative” and “liberal” are commonly used to describe differing responses to Bible teaching. Conservatives generally try to honor the authority of the Word and liberals tend to consider authority as more or less subject to expediency and interpretation.

Conservative Anabaptists generally have their roots either in Mennonite or Amish background. Some are more conservative than their roots and others are more progressive, or a blend of the two. Their common interest is to live lives committed to faithful obedience to the Lord and His church. It is important to remember that high ideals are essential to faithful obedience. But it is only realistic to realize that an ideal, however noble, is not its achievement. The awareness that we are human is an important part of the equation. Let us idealize a faithful response to God’s faithfulness. We owe it to ourselves and our posterity. 

The facts of history are troublesome reminders that inter-generational faithfulness is not a foregone conclusion. For that reason “on trial” is included in our title. Let us consider a two-fold proposition. Failure in faithfulness is always a possibility. Failure is never God’s will nor His fault. Yet, it is an ever-present possibility. How does it happen? Following are several perspectives that I believe contribute to instability and failure:

•Make an effort to spiritualize and merely internalize practical applications of Bible principle.
•Apologize for our Anabaptist heritage. After all, how could history centuries ago possibly be helpful now? These are modern times.
•Minimize the importance of visual religious identity. Is not salvation an inner experience? Intentional non-emphasis can reduce the importance of outward appearance to a non-issue.
•Notice that many “Christian” women have cut hair and do not wear a head covering. Do not be concerned if coverings are worn so as to be hardly noticeable because they blend into a prominent display of hair. Think of the covering as symbolic rather than as a literal covering.  
•Teach the importance of modest dress but carefully avoid church guidance in the matter. Why make sisters uncomfortable with appearing different from other “Christians”?
•Be self-conscious and guarded about teaching on non-conformity and separation.
•Avoid mentioning the heavily traveled broad road and the narrow road and strait gate, for that will surely make some active Christians uncomfortable. People like leaving a worship service feeling good.
To follow the above guidelines will certainly lead to the demise of conservative Anabaptism. In its place will be something far more conventional and not readily distinguishable from the larger cultural scene.

I realize that the above guidelines are essentially negative. We know that the speaker or writer that is only negative can be a real endurance test. Not only that, the sum total of many negatives is still zero.

The Apostle Paul was eager to affirm and encourage the churches to which he wrote. But his pastoral integrity sometimes called for strong corrective language. In his farewell meeting with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he had this testimony (paraphrase): “My hands are clean. I did not side step sensitive issues of God’s counsel.” 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that God’s Word of divine inspiration has four ingredients: “Doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.” As pastors under the guidance of the Holy Spirit bring sound teaching, corrective measures will be helpful for conservative Anabaptists to be preserved blameless in these perilous times.

Our knowledge of the Swiss Brethren, now remembered as the founders of the Anabaptist movement, is really very limited. We can be sure that they were fallible humans. Their commitment to follow God’s Word of authority, whatever the cost, was not easy—but it was right. Now we do not have the threat of martyrdom to follow their example, but failure to acknowledge God’s rightful authority in our lives does have very serious consequences. May we embrace God’s enabling grace for victory and blessing.

It occurs to me that some further comment to the above lines would be appropriate. In our branch of the Anabaptist family, there is a very significant presence of profound concern that we do not unwittingly (or intentionally) allow the prevailing culture to define our lifestyle. The ultimate outcome of such a route is spiritually disastrous. Historically, groups with Amish background have often become acculturated, apparently considering Christian identity unimportant. Certain dynamics among us now draw us in that direction.

But that is not the whole picture. The devotional booklet, Beside the Still Waters. has a very orthodox statement of Christian faith. They solicit contributions from brethren who are members of congregations who do not permit radio or television in their homes. There is no shortage of contributors coming from the larger body of conservative Anabaptists. They print and distribute well over 200,000 booklets six times a year. Our brethren in Costa Rica print and distribute a periodical, Torch of Truth, in several languages. Six times a years they too print over 200,000 copies for distribution. Both of these publications reflect conservative doctrine, theology, and lifestyle. This obviously runs counter to the idea that we must “become like them to win them.” 

It is also noteworthy that sometimes Christians not associated with conservative Anabaptists discover and apply Scripture with a strong resemblance to practices of conservative Anabaptists. Such persons generally express their appreciation for our rich heritage, but are concerned that we may be losing touch with our heritage. They also have concerns how wrong use of electronic technology can erode basic Christian values.

Trying now to take a thoughtful look at our constituency is certainly not all encouraging. It is a fresh reminder that we are not immune to the perils of the times. But there are some reasons to be encouraged. The prayerful concern of many people coupled with God’s faithfulness are good reasons to be encouraged. There are many youth with honest desires to have peace with God and to do what is right. In spite of our loose structure favoring local autonomy, there are a number of boards elected by the constituency. I believe such boards are in a good position to give stability to our evangelistic outreach, our service units, and conservative Anabaptist Bible schools.

A large number of service opportunities sponsored by other groups in the conservative Anabaptist family exist. This awareness should help to keep us from becoming ingrown and self-centered.

An integral part of Christian doctrine is separation and non-conformity. But that need not bring about an isolationist mentality. A willingness to learn from others allows us to “prove all things and hold fast that which is good.” Stagnation is not productive.

Finally, let us not yield to a fatalistic spirit of helplessness. God is still “able to do exceeding, abundantly above all that we ask or think.” He that is for us is much greater than he that is against us.

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