Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Amish at Christmas

There is an age old debate that occurs for some Christians at this time of year – whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas and if they do, how? The date of Christ’s birth is not known; the Bible does not tell us. Some have made educated guesses and come up with possible dates in either spring or autumn. It is unlikely however that it happened ‘in the deep midwinter’ or that there was any snow on the ground!
The date 25th December was chosen because it was ‘convenient’. There was already a pagan festival on that day, in honour of the sun god; when the population converted to Christianity, the church leaders simply ‘re-assigned’ the feast to the Christian calendar, making the celebration ‘new’ in the same way that conversion to Christianity made the person ‘new’.
Those who oppose Christians celebrating Christmas include:
  1. For some, the fact that the date itself was associated with paganism is enough to warrant not celebrating the birth of Christ on the same day;
  2. For others, they see many over-extending themselves, getting into debt buying presents they cannot afford, drinking and eating to excess and it makes little sense to them to contribute to that kind of celebration in commemoration of the One who left the splendour of heaven to come to earth and live in poverty and simplicity on our behalf;
  3. Then there are those who follow what is known as the Regulative Principle, which simply means, when it comes to worship, if it isn’t in the Bible, then we don’t do it: “The regulative principle of worship is a teaching shared by some Caslvinists and Anabaptists on how the Bible orders public worship. The substance of the doctrine regarding worship is that only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command or example or which can be deduced by good and necessary consequence from Scripture are permissible in worship, and that whatever is not commanded or cannot be deduced by  good and necessary consequence from Scripture is prohibited,” [Wikipedia]. The only celebration of Christ’s birth that we read of anywhere in the New Testament is where the angels appeared to the shepherds on the hillside to announce that the King had been born. Nowhere do we read that Jesus celebrated His own birthday, or that the disciples celebrated it, or that the early church celebrated it, therefore, those who adhere to the Regulative Principle would say Christmas is a celebration that should be avoided by Christians.
In spite of all those objections, there are those Christians who do celebrate Christmas. Some like to follow all the traditions, such as decorating a tree, lighting candles, having a special celebratory meal and carol singing. Most churches have special services at Christmas, particularly involving the children in a nativity tableau or play, and singing carols. Some churches will even have a decorated tree inside the church, while others will accept people having one at home, but will not have one in the church. There is nearly as much variety as there are Christians.
For those who do celebrate Christmas, why do they do it? And why on 25th December?
Many people, who would not attend church ordinarily, will often want to attend at Christmas. The day is mostly associated still with the birth of Christ (though that is fast becoming a thing of the past here in England). Many enjoy the singing of carols, the reading of the lessons and celebrating with others who may or may not be family. The more evangelical churches have used the opportunity to preach the message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God – after all, without the birth of Christ, there could have been no death and resurrection. While the death and resurrection are seen as the most important aspects of the Christian calendar (the time when Christ died for our sins), His birth was a necessary pre-requisite.
With all those differences of opinion, do the Amish celebrate Christmas?
One might be forgiven for thinking that, with all the commercialism associated with Christmas, the simple, plain-living people that the Amish are would keep as far away from the season as possible. But you would be wrong. Not only do they celebrate Christmas (on 25th December like everyone else), but they also have ‘second Christmas’ and some have ‘old Christmas’ (January 6th, in line with the Gregorian calendar, whereas we now use the Julian calendar). But true to their image and traditions, they do not celebrate it like the rest of America or the United Kingdom. Their celebrations are quiet and simple.
For many, Christmas revolves around Santa, reindeer and expensive presents. By contrast, the Amish do not have Santa, flying reindeer, decorated trees, decorated homes, twinkling lights adorning the outside of their homes (they don’t have electricity either, so lights might prove a bit of a challenge); they also don’t have excessive buying/spending, expensive presents by the armload, or gluttony, evident in so many homes at this time of year. They do have a nativity play, fasting, Bible readings, visiting family and friends, simple gift giving, a special meal (on ‘second Christmas’) and the exchange of cards (in some communities). They will not only exchange cards with each other, but also with their ‘English’ (non-Amish) neighbours and friends.
A few days before Christmas, the parents will be invited to their children’s school for the Christmas Programme. This is the one time in the year when the children are allowed to dress up and ‘perform’ to an audience. There will be recitations of prose, Scripture and poetry and the children will take positions at the front of the school as the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and other characters in the Biblical narrative. For an example of a Christmas programme in an Amish school, see here
‘First Christmas’ occurs on December 25th. The day is given over to quiet Scripture reading, telling the story of the birth of Christ, fasting and prayer. If the day falls on a church Sunday, then it is church as usual – and that happens in the home of one of the members of the congregation. The focus is on the written record of the birth of Christ, with parents explaining to their children that Christ came, in what manner, and why.
‘Second Christmas’ falls on December 26th and that day is given over to exchanging simple gifts (frequently homemade) visiting with friends and family, playing games, eating a celebration meal (they have turkey with plenty of vegetables, much like any other Christmas meal), and singing Christmas carols.

Gifts are often homemade and are certainly not the expensive, lavish presents expected amongst so many, particularly children. The children do not write lists of what they want and expect to get almost everything on the list. Instead, they might get one or two small gifts, often things that they need or something to help with a hobby, such as a rubber stamp and inkpad for scrapbooking. In the schools  they will do a version of ‘secret Santa’ but without Santa. All the names of the children are put into a hat and each child draws a name out. They must keep the name to themselves and prepare a gift appropriate to the person whose name they have drawn. That way, everyone gets one gift and no favouritism is shown. Sometimes families will do this too – everyone gets a name of another family member to make or buy a gift for.
The two days are holiday. There is no school and businesses are closed. The children spend their time playing games in the snow (if there is any), sledging, skating and snowballing. If there is no snow, often the young people will get together to play volleyball or to sing together. Once the two days are over, schools resume and the adults and older children return to work.
Is our family Amish in its Christmas celebration?

Here at home our church does not have a Christmas morning celebration or service. We hold a carol service on the Sunday before Christmas and invite our friends and neighbours, including those who are neighbours to the church building. We have carols, lessons (about Christmas) and a short presentation of the Gospel, followed by a light supper, when we can get to know those we haven’t met before and chat with those we already know.

On Christmas day, in our family we exchange gifts, usually things people need or something necessary for a hobby – for instance, our daughter makes her own jewellery and so we might buy her something appropriate for that. We have a celebration dinner of turkey and all the trimmings, but we don’t overeat. In the afternoon, we might sit and talk with each other (the ‘children’ are adults and do not live at home any more, but they always come home for Christmas) or, if the weather is favourable, we might go for a walk. This year, the walk was on Boxing day, due to it raining all day Christmas day. We try to keep it simple and focus on the ‘reason for the season’. When our children were small, we told them that it is usual on a birthday to give gifts to the birthday boy or girl. Because we cannot give gifts directly to Jesus on His ‘birthday’, we give them to each other instead and remind ourselves with gratitude that at Christmas God gave mankind the greatest gift of all – His Son, to be our Saviour.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

When Tragedy Strikes

In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting last week, I have been pondering what, if anything, to say about it. There has been a lot of talk about US schools excluding God, resulting in a 'what do you expect' attitude. As if God had some kind of vendetta against American schools and decided to take it out on some innocent 5 and 6 year olds and their teachers. Try telling that to the families of the victims of the Nickel Mines Amish school tragedy 6 years ago!

The Amish are probably the best people to offer hope and comfort to the grieving families of Connecticut. After all, they have been there too, lost children in a senseless shooting. Or the families of Dunblane, Scotland, who in 1996 suffered a similar tragedy - 16 children and one teacher shot. Truly only those who have lost a child, in whatever cicumstances, can hope to understand what these families are going through. I cannot even begin to grasp the enormity of losing a child.

Actually, yes I can, but that is another story.

The fact is, tragedy happens; evil goes about in this world, seeking someone or something to destroy. And those who are left ask why? Why should innocent children be murdered in this way? What is the answer? It was interesting to see just how many in the States turned to the church for comfort; it was also interesting to see how many blamed God for the situation - even those who do not believe in God suddenly found Him a convenient target for blame. The fact is, we need someone to blame. Adam Lanza has deprived the families of blaming him - after all, his family life doesnt seem to have been the best example he could have had and the word is he was mentally ill, so we cant blame him. So who is to blame? Well, all of us really. Why is there evil in the world? It is because of sin - an old fashioned term to be sure, but valid. Long ago, when the world first dawned, two people were given everything they could possibly want in a veritable Paradise. But they wanted more and when it was offered, they rejected God and grasped onto the temptation with both hands. Sin entered the world, and with it, the evil we see today and have seen down through all the centuries - man's inhumanity to man, each one of us wanting more to spend it on our selfish desires and using any method we find useful to get it.

Of all the articles and posts I have read about the Connecticut shooting (and there have been many), the one thing that stands out is that everyone has an opinion to offer and they are as varied as the people who worte them. However, the opinion that comes closest to my own was an article that was not written as a response to the tragedy, but written several days before it. I offer the link below for your perusal:. It was posted on December 4th; you will need to scroll down the page to see it, as there is no direct link:

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Who are the Amish? Part 6

Michael Sattler and the Schleitheim Confession

Michael Sattler was probably the leading Anabaptist after the deaths of Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz. However, his leadership was short-lived, as he was martyred a few months after Manz. His influence however continued long after his death, as he was responsible for drawing up the Schleitheim Confession, setting out the basic tenets of Anabaptism.
He was born in Stauffen, in Germany in about 1490; the exact date is unknown. He probably became prior at the Benedictine Monastery of St Peter’s near Freiberg. He became dissatisfied with the way the monks lived their lives and left the monastery in the early 1520s. Already he was having theological differences with the established church. Shortly after he left the monastery, he married a former nun, named Margaretha. In 1525, he arrived in Zurich where he joined the Anabaptists. He was however expelled from the city on 18th November that same year, following the third disputation.

In 1527, he and a group of other Anabaptists met at Schleitheim to discuss the basic beliefs of Anabaptism. The result of that meeting was the first draft of the Schleitheim Articles. It was considered that Michael Sattler was the actual author, though the discussion obviously contributed to the consensus. This was not a complete Confession of faith, but a series of articles, seven in number, setting out the beliefs that the Anabaptist church needed to clarify:
  1. Baptism
  2. The ban
  3. The breaking of bread, or communion
  4. Separation from the world
  5. The role of ministers/pastors
  6. The use of the sword
  7. The swearing of oaths
In the late summer of 1527, Luther published a refutation of these seven articles, in a treatise called “Refutation of Anabaptist Tricks”.

The Articles were completed and published in April 1527. In April 1527, Sattler and his wife were arrested, tried and convicted of heresy. They were sentenced to torture and death:
As a result of his conviction, on May 20, 1527, Sattler was taken to the town marketplace in Rottenburg and tortured. A piece was cut from his tongue, although not enough to keep him from speaking, and glowing tongs ripped pieces from his flesh. At the marketplace he prayed for his persecutors. He was then taken outside the city and tied to a ladder and a sack of gunpowder was tied around his neck. He prayed, "Almighty, eternal God, thou art the way and the truth; because I have not been shown to be in error, I will with thy help on this day testify to the truth and seel it with my blood." He was then pushed into a large fire. As the ropes around his hands were burned away, Sattler gave a signal to his group to show them he was confident about his fate and prayed, "Father, I commend my spirit into thy hands." Two days after his execution, Margaretha Sattler was executed by drowning, often called "the third baptism" by authorities.”  [[]

His trial was recorded for posterity and can be read here
The Schleitheim Confession remained in use until it was absorbed into the Dordrecht Confession in 1632. The full text of the seven articles, also called the ‘Brotherly Agreement’ can be found here

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Who are the Amish? Part 5

Jakob Ammann

It might seem like I have spent a long time getting to the point of the question, Who are the Amish? But it is impossible to explain who the Amish are and where they came from without having at least a cursory look at the history. So for the last several days, I have explained the origins of the reformation, the spread of Anabaptism and the growth of the Mennonites. Today, I am going to get right to the heart of the answer – looking at the life of

Jakob Ammann after whom the Amish are named.
Jakob Amman was born in 1644, in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland. He was the third of six children, born to Michael and Anna Amman. Michael’s father, Michael himself, and later Jakob, were tailors. Michael became Anabaptist, though just when is not known. One of his daughters and two of his sons also became Anabaptist, including Jakob. Jakob is known to have been a sponsor (god-parent) at a state baptism in 1671, but by 1680 he is referred to in correspondence as an Anabaptist. His conversion therefore was between 1671 and 1680. He became a leader/minister in the Anabaptist church sometime between 1693. By 1693, he and his family (including his father) had moved to Alsace, where his father died and is buried. Jakob continued to live there until 1712, when he was forced to leave by an edict of Louis XIV, expelling all Anabaptists from the region.

He was known to be a stern disciplinarian and uncompromising on what he believed to be the truth. He expected those who called themselves Christians and Anabaptists to conform to the teachings of the New Testament, being baptised upon confession of faith, regardless of the cost, just as the originators of Anabaptism had done not so very long before. Separation form ‘the world’ was an important teaching of his, believing that those who followed Christ would live differently from their non-believing neighbours. He rejected any traditions, however longstanding, if they did not conform to the Word of God. He wrote:
If a miser does not turn from his fornication, and a drunkard from his drunkenness, or other immoralities, they are thereby separated from the Kingdom of God, and if he does not improve himself through a pious, penitent life, such a person is no Christian and will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

In practical matters, he stood opposed to long hair on men, shaved beards, and clothing that manifested pride. Liars were to be excommunicated. Ammann, unlike most Amish married men of today, however, had a moustache, which is largely forbidden today in the faith” [ ]
In 1690, a conference was called in Alsace by the Swiss Brethren leaders. At that conference, they formally adopted the Dordrecht Confession of faith, which had been written by the Dutch Anabaptist (Mennonite) leaders. Up until this point, the Swiss Brethren had followed the Schleithaim Confession, written by Michael Sattler. The Schleitheim confession had seven points; the Dordrecht Confession had eighteen. In particular there were two points that had not been part of the previous confession and it is these two points which led to a schism between different sections of the Anabaptist movement. These two points were foot-washing at the communion service and social avoidance (the ban, or shunning). Foot-washing had not been practised as an ordinance previously and shunning had been confined to not allowing a member to take communion. The adopting of the new confession included not eating with a shunned member, rather than just excommunication – ie not being allowed to take communion.

In 1693, Jakob Ammann wrote a letter to the leaders of the Anabaptist church asking for some clarification on three matters:
  1. How the shunning should operate;
  2. Whether liars should be under the ban;
  3. Were ‘good-hearted’ people saved? This last referred to those who were Anabaptist sympathisers and who helped persecuted Anabaptists, but who, for fear of persecution against themselves, would not take the step of re-baptism themselves. Ammann believed they were not following the Scriptures and therefore they could not be classed as true believers.
Other issues also raised their head as the divisions grew greater: frequency of communion, foot-washing, dress and beard styles, how to conduct church discipline, to name a few. The emphasis however was on the nature of the ban (the ‘Meidung’). This led to the Anabaptist movement in Alsace splitting in two – one half under the leadership of Jakob Ammann and the other under Hans Reist.  A meeting was called in Switzerland to discover where the Swiss Brethren stood on these issues. Some of the Swiss leaders agreed with Ammann, others, including Hans Reist, did not. A further meeting was called; Hans Reist did not attend, saying he was ‘busy’. This irritated Jakob Ammann and he excommunicated Reist. When he asked the other leaders at the meeting where they stood, some said they needed more time to consider. Ammann thought they had thereby turned away from what he believed to be the truth and excommunicated six of them also. Ammann then left, without shaking hands with anyone. Eventually, Reist also excommunicated Ammann.

Thus began the Amish movement. Sadly, their beginnings were not something to be applauded. Unable to reconcile their differences and Ammann being uncompromising on his views, led to a split in the church that is still evident today. Mennonites and Amish share a common Anabaptist heritage. Since the division in 1693 however, they have remained distinctive communities. When they arrived in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they remained separate even though they often settled in similar areas.
While there are still Mennonites in Europe, sadly there are no Amish. The last Amish church closed its doors in Europe in 1937. However, there are groups known as ‘Amish-Mennonites’, or @Beachy Amish’ and there is one such group in Eire, established in about 1992.

Further reading:

Post script:

Attempts at reconciliation
Within a few years, several attempts were made at reconciliation. In February of 1700, Jakob Ammann and several of his co-ministers removed the bann from the Swiss ministers and excommunicated themselves in recognition that they had acted too rashly and had “grievously erred.”[5]:p.107 They did not feel that they were in error concerning the issues they had brought up, but rather that they had not given sufficient time for the Reist side to consider the issues before excommunicating them. Also, they felt that they should not have excommunicated the Swiss ministers on the spot, but should have consulted with the whole congregation before proceeding. However, while Hans Reist and some of the Swiss ministers appear to have accepted the repentance of Ammann and his co-workers, they held firm to their position of not accepting social shunning. Some of the other issues had been accepted by the Swiss ministers, but the main body of Amish and the Reist side were never able to reconcile on the issue of social shunning.[2]:p.74-81 [14]

Today in North America, the Amish and Mennonites (the Reist side became known as Mennonites after the schism; in a paradox, it was the Amish side that was pushing for the introduction of Dutch Mennonite ideas, but those opposing the ideas eventually became known as Mennonites) live side by side in many communities and work together peacefully in publishing,[15] businesses, and charitable aid projects. However, official sharing of ministry and communion is rare among the most conservative groups of Old Order Amish and Mennonites. In more moderate groups, there remains little to no effect from the schism, with the exception of names of churches.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Who are the Amish? Part 4

Menno Simons
The Anabaptist movement travelled throughout Europe like wildfire. Despite severe persecutions, from both Catholics and Protestants, their number multiplied rapidly; where one died at the hands of the persecutors, there were many more willing to take his place.
One of the followers of Luther, named Melchior Hoffman had travelled to Strasbourg where he first came across Anabaptists. Convinced of their teaching, he was baptised as a believer in 1530. From Strasbourg, Hoffman travelled to other parts of Europe, including an area of Holland called East Friesland. Hoffman baptised wherever he went and people accepted his teaching, including one Sicke Freerks Snijder. This latter went to Leeuwarden, the capital of the Dutch province of Friesland, where he was burned to death for his believer’s baptism in 1531. The news of his martyrdom came to the ears of a priest in Leeuwarden, named

Menno Simons
[click on the name to see a complete biography]

Menno Simons was born in the year 1496 in the village of Witmarsum. All that is known about his family is that his father was named Simon, hence Menno’s surname – Simons, or ‘Simonszoon’ (son of Simon) and he may have had a brother named Pieter.
At the age of 28, Menno was ordained to the priesthood at Utrecht in 1515 or 1516 and became the chaplain in the village of Pingjum in 1524. He was familiar with the Latin Fathers’ writings and knew Latin and Greek, but he did not read the Bible at all, for fear it would prejudice his learning. In later years he said his former view of the Bible was ‘stupid’. Ten years after his ordination, news had arrived in Holland of the dispute over the status of the bread and wine at communion. It was at this time Menno began to study his Bible. It was not until 1531 however that Menno’s views began to change.

He was aware that Snijder had been executed for having been ‘re-baptised’. This was something Menno found strange; until that time, he had never been aware of baptism on confession of faith, but had followed the church’s teaching on infant baptism. The news aroused in him a desire to look further at the matter and he did an in depth study of what the Bible taught about the baptism of infants. To his surprise, he found that infant baptism is nowhere taught in the New Testament. He also studied the writings of Martin Luther and Heinrich Bullinger. Around this time, he was transferred to Witmarsum as a priest. It was at Witmarsum that he came into direct contact with Anabaptists for the first time. He was attracted by their zeal for God and their understanding of the Bible, but it wasn’t until 1536 that he was truly converted, after the death of his brother Pieter at Bolsward. In January 1536, he left the priesthood and rejected the Catholic church and was probably baptised at this time, though the exact date is unknown, throwing in his lot with the Anabaptists. By October that same year, it is clear his attachment to the Anabaptists was well known to the authorities, for two Anabaptists, Herman and Gerrit Jans, were arrested and charged with having lodged at the home of Menno Simons.
Melchior Hoffman had introduced the first Anabaptist congregation in Holland and Menno became a part of this. His doctrine focused on separation from the world, symbolised by baptism. He believed that the true Christian faith would manifest itself not in fighting and war, but in good works and love:

For true evangelical faith...cannot lie dormant, but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it...clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, consoles the afflicted, shelters the miserable, aids and consoles all the oppressed, returns good for evil, serves those that injure it, prays for those who persecute it,” Menno Simons, 1539 Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing.
Menno rose quickly to prominence in the Anabaptist movement in Holland. Prior to 1540, the most influential leader in the Dutch Anabaptist church was David Joris; by 1544, the Anabaptists were being known as ‘Mennists’ or ‘Mennoists’. That term was later replaced with the word ‘Mennonites’. He was not the founder of the Anabaptist movement in Holland, but he was certainly a crucial leader at a time when Anabaptism was in danger of losing its distinctive identity in the Netherlands. His prolific writing and moderate leadership were essential in unifying the non-violent wing of the Dutch Anabaptists, after the Munster uprisings, which he vigorously denounced.

Of his private life, it is recorded that he married a woman named Gertrude and had three children, two daughters and a son. He died of old age, some twenty five years after he renounced Catholicism, on January 31st 1561, at Wüstenfelde, Holstein. He was buried in the garden of his home.

Distinctive Teachings of Menno Simons and the Anabaptists
  • Salvation is by faith in Christ and not through sacraments or good works
  • The Bible not the church is the final authority for all matters of faith and practice and is interpreted by the Holy Spirit, not priests, bishops or Popes
  • Believers’ baptism, by which is meant the inner work of cleansing of sin at the time of coming to faith together with the outward expression of that inner faith, being baptised in water. The Anabaptists also spoke of a ‘baptism of blood’ whereby they expected to be persecuted even to the death.
  • Discipleship, which was the outward evidence of the inward change of heart and included separation from the world (ie living differently from the rest of the world, such as feeding the hungry and not accumulating personal wealth)
  • Church discipline, as explained in Matthew 18v15-18; including shunning, or ‘the ban’ whereby a person who had fallen into sin would be excommunicated.
  • Communion as a commemoration, not a re-sacrifice, and shared between believers only
  • Separation of church and state
  • Separation from the world

Monday, 3 December 2012

Who are the Amish? Part3

Zurich today

Three Valiant Men

Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock and Felix Manz are three names frequently found together in Anabaptist histories. These three men were part of the group who opposed Zwingli at the second disputation and said he was not moving the reformation forward either fast enough or far enough. They objected to him leaving matters of church practice for the Zurich city council to decide. Of these, Conrad Grebel is the one considered to be the ‘father of the Anabaptists’.
Conrad Grebel
(click on the name for a full biography)
Grebel had joined a group in order to study the Scriptures with Huldrych Zwingli. They studied the Bible in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. It was at this study group that Grebel met Felix Manz and they became firm friends.

Because Zwingli was not willing to make changes that were not agreed by the city council, around fifteen of the men in the study group met together separately from Zwingli, for prayer and Bible study of their own. They wanted the do away with the mass entirely, restore a New Testament church and baptise consenting, believing adults rather than infants. They believed in the separation of church and state, saying that the state should not be dictating to the church how to behave or what to believe.
On January 18th 1525, the city council issued a decree

“...exiling those who refused to baptise their infants. On January 21sr, the council published a mandate restraining Grebel and Manz from holding further Bible study meetings” []
On the same day, the group of fifteen men met at the home of Felix Manz. According to the new decree, this meeting was now illegal. The men met to pray and seek counsel from God’s word. Grebel had a baby daughter, Isabella, who he had no intention of presenting for baptism. Together, the men pledged to uphold the standard of the Scriptures and to live as disciples of Christ, no matter what it cost them.

Felix Manz
(click on the name for a full biography)
Manz was one of those who were minded not only to reform the church, but recreate it in the image of the New Testament church. Wanting to fellowship with other likeminded people, he followed Zwingli, where he met Conrad Grebel. However, Zwingli’s reforms did not go far enough. He and several others grouped together to try to press for more radical reforms. He began to publish some of the writings of another reformer, Karlstadt, in Zurich in 1524.

The issue of infant baptism and a territorial church was a thorny problem. Zwingli had been ordered by the Zurich city council to meet weekly with those who opposed infant baptism ‘until the matter was resolved’. After two meetings, it became clear there was little or no common ground and Zwingli called a halt t the meetings. The council called a meeting for 17th January 1525 where they decided in favour of Zwingli and the retention of infant baptism.
Like Grebel and the other men who had been meeting privately, Manz did not accept the decision. He too met with the others on 21st January for prayer. Determined to follow Christ no matter what it cost him, for the next two years he carried out his decision and finally paid the ultimate price:

At 3pm on January 5th 1527, he was taken bound from his last imprisonment to be drowned in the cold waters of the river Limmat, which flows through the heart of the city of Zurich. He could hear the supportive and encouraging voices of his mother and his brother who stood nearby on the shore. His last words were ‘Into Thy hands, O God, I commend my spirit[]
His hands were tied together; he was forced to sit with his knees bent as his persecutors pressed his arms over his legs and a stick through the knees to prevent him getting free. As they threw him into the cold waters to drown (something they sneeringly called ‘the third baptism’) they shouted ‘If it’s water you want, then you shall have it.’

Felix Manz was the first Anabaptist to die at the hands of the persecutors.
The third man was

George Blaurock
(click on the name for a full biography)
After the fifteen men had spent some time in prayer together at the home of Felix Manz, George Blaurock stood and requested Conrad Grebel to baptise him on confession of faith and in the full knowledge of what this might mean. Grebel asked the others present if anyone objected to him carrying out Blaurock’s wish. No-one did and so Blaurock knelt on the floor as Grebel baptised him, by pouring water over him in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It was this act of baptising Blaurock that earned Grebel the title of ‘father of the Anabaptists’. []. He was also dubbed by Zwingli, the ‘ringleader’ of the revolt against the Zwinglian doctrines.
After Blaurock had been baptised, he then baptised all the others at the meeting. These were the first baptisms were carried out on those who, on professing faith, rejected their infant baptism and sought believers’ baptism.

On 21st January 1525 therefore, Anabaptism was born.

A few days later, January 21, 1525, a dozen or so men slowly trudged through the snow. Quietly but resolutely, singly or in pairs, they came by night to the home of Felix Manz, near the Grossmünster. The chill of the winter wind blowing off the lake did not match the chill of disappointment that gripped the little band that fateful night.

The dramatic events of the unforgettable gathering have been preserved in The Large Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren. The account bears the earmarks of an eyewitness, who was probably George Blaurock, a priest who had recently come to Zurich from Chur.

And it came to pass that they were together until anxiety came upon them, yes, they were so pressed in their hearts. Thereupon they began to bow their knees to the Most High God in heaven and called upon him as the Informer of Hearts, and they prayed that he would give to them his divine will and that he would show his mercy unto them. For flesh and blood and human forwardness did not drive them, since they well knew what they would have to suffer on account of it.

After the prayer, George of the House of Jacob stood up and besought Conrad Grebel for God's sake to baptize him with the true Christian baptism upon his faith and knowledge. And when he knelt down with such a request and desire, Conrad baptized him, since at that time there was no ordained minister to perform such work.

After his baptism at the hands of Grebel, Blaurock proceeded to baptize all the others present. The newly baptized then pledged themselves as true disciples of Christ to live lives separated from the world and to teach the gospel and hold the faith.

Anabaptism was born, With this first baptism, the earliest church of the Swiss Brethren was constituted. This was clearly the most revolutionary act of the Reformation. No other event so completely symbolized the break with Rome. Here, for the first time in the course of the Reformation, a group of Christians dared to form a church after what was conceived to be the New Testament pattern. The Brethren emphasized the absolute necessity of a personal commitment to Christ as essential to salvation and a prerequisite to baptism.”






Sunday, 2 December 2012

Sunday Focus - He was not Willing

'He was not willing that any should perish';
Jesus enthroned in the glory above,
Saw our poor fallen world, pitied our sorrows,
Poured out His life for us, wonderful love!
Perishing, perishing! Thronging our pathway,
Hearts break with burdens too heavy to bear:
Jesus would save, but there's no one to tell them,
No one to lift them from sin and despair.

'He was not willing that any should perish';
Clothed in our flesh with its sorrow and pain,
Came He to seek the lost, comfort the mourner,
Heal the heart broken by sorrow and shame.
Perishing, perishing! Harvest is passing,
Reapers are few and the night draweth near:
Jesus is calling thee, haste to the reaping,
Thou shalt have souls, precious souls for thy hire.

Plenty for pleasure, but little for Jesus;
Time for the world with its troubles and toys,
No time for Jesus' work, feeding the hungry,
Lifting lost souls to eternity's joys.
Perishing, perishing! Hark, how they call us;
Bring us your Savior, oh, tell us of Him!
We are so weary, so heavily laden,
And with long weeping our eyes have grown dim.

'He was not willing that any should perish';
Am I His follower, and can I live
Longer at ease with a soul going downward,
Lost for the lack of the help I might give!
Perishing, perishing! Thou wast not willing;
Master, forgive, and inspire us anew;
Banish our worldliness, help us to ever
Live with eternity's values in view.
- Lucy R. Meyer

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Who are the Amish? part 2

The Reformation in Switzerland
Martin Luther did not intend to spark the revolution that followed the publication of his Ninety-Five Theses. True, he wanted reform, but not in the way it actually occurred. His treatise found its way to the Pope. A heresy case was formulated against Luther and he was summoned to Rome. The Elector Frederick, wishing to guarantee the safety of Luther, persuaded the Pope to hold the examination (trial) at Augsburg instead, before the Imperial Diet (ie the General Assembly of the states of the Roman Empire in Germany). Luther appeared before the Diet in October 1518. The hearings degenerated into a shouting match, during which Luther stated that he did not consider the papacy part of the Biblical church. He claimed that Matthew 16v18, where Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter, did not give the Pope the exclusive right to interpret the Bible and that Popes were not infallible.
Not surprisingly, Luther became ‘public enemy number 1’ and he was excommunicated. He set about redefining church practice in line with what he had read in the Bible. He also translated the bible from Latin into German and taught people to read so they could study the Scriptures for themselves. By 1526, Luther was involved in establishing new churches which became known as Lutheran churches. Although he changed many things, such as the practice of indulgences, he continued the practice of infant baptism and believed that the church should be territorial – ie that any given state should have an official religion and that all members of that state were expected or even compelled to be a part. Entry into this state-church was through baptism.
There were some who did not believe that Luther had gone far enough in his reforms, particularly in the area of communion. The Catholic church taught that the bread and wine became the actual body and blood of Christ and that the communion was a re-sacrifice. Luther considered that Christ was present in the sacrament, though not in the emblems themselves:
Despite Luther’s independent thinking on the Lord’s Supper, in most aspects, he remained very close to Roman Catholic theology and practice. Though he rejected the adoration of the consecrated host, he affirmed the idea of reverence in the forms of bowing or prostrating oneself before the table. He insisted that the object of adoration should be Jesus Christ, as He is present in the sacrament, not the bread and wine.” [ ]
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, a number of the followers of Luther were becoming increasingly unhappy with the trappings of Catholicism which Luther continued to practice. Among them was
Huldrych Zwingli
Grossmünster, Zurich
Zwingli was born in Switzerland in 1484 and so was only a year younger than Luther. During his education into the priesthood, he had been influenced by the writings of Erasmus and Luther. When he became a minister of the Grossmünster (cathedral) at Zurich in 1518, he rapidly began preaching on his ideas for reforming the church. He disapproved of fasting during Lent, promoted marriage for the clergy (hitherto, they had to be celibate), he attacked the use of images and icons in worship and he introduced a new form of eucharist to replace the mass. Like Luther, he believed that the church should be territorial and to that end, he retained infant baptism.
Switzerland was divided into counties called cantons. Several of these cantons took up the reformed theology; the rest remained Catholic. Zwingli formed an alliance between the reformed cantons against the Catholic cantons, which almost led to war between them. While a full scale war was averted, there were some battles and Zwingli was killed during one of these skirmishes, in 1531. He was 47 years old.
During this period, church leaders from both sides of the theological divide would meet together to discuss their differences. These meetings were called ‘disputations’ and were usually held in public, with many churchmen and university professors being invited to listen and take part. One such disputation (the second disputation) took place in September 1523. Around 900 people were present. The subjects under discussion were icons and images, the sacrificial nature of the communion, and the necessity of infant baptism. The matter of icons was not fully resolved. Zwingli, not wishing to cause further falling out, said he believed that as icons were not used much anyway, it would only be a matter of time before the churches realised he had no need of them and dispensed with them.
During the discussion about communion, the question was raised whether the Zurich city council had the right to make any determination on the matters of church practice. This was a new development. Up until this point, the church and state had been inextricably linked, with the formation of the Holy Roman Empire; church and state acted as one. This was now being questioned. The subject of the communion itself however, dragged on until 1525, when, at the Easter celebration, communion was celebrated under Zwingli’s new liturgy – communion was not an essential requirement for salvation, nor was the communion a re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary; instead, communion was celebrated as a commemoration of that sacrifice.
The subject of infant baptism also continued for some years after the disputation. Eventually, in the interests of peace, Zwingli agreed with the Zurich council that any changes would be introduced slowly. He published an article stating the different points of view and held meetings in private with those who opposed infant baptism. The city council called for a public debate, following which, the council made the final determination, in favour of Zwingli and infant baptism. Anyone who refused to have their babies baptised was forced to leave Zurich and branded a heretic.
Amongst those who disagreed with Zwingli’s position and the council’s decision was a small group of men who wanted speedier change and more rapid reform. Especially they wanted infant baptism replaced by baptism for consenting adults. This group was led by a young man named Conrad Grebel.

To be continued...

Friday, 30 November 2012

Who are the Amish? part 1

Reformation in Europe

So far, we have mentioned some of the distinctives of the Amish and that they are descendants of the Anabaptists from the Reformation in Europe. But where did they come from and what are their beliefs? How have those beliefs determined the people they are today? And what is more, should more Christians be like them?

The history of the Amish hinges around several key figures, the first of whom is

Martin Luther
At the start of the sixteeth century, almost everyone in Europe was part of the Roman Catholic church. Christianity was the state religion in almost all European countries and the Roman Catholics were the dominant  church. The Reformation was a reaction to what were seen as excesses and errors in the Roman Catholic teachings and expression of the Christian faith. It is said to have started on October 31st 1517, when a monk, named Martin Luther, nailed a document known as the ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.
Luther was born in 1483 and was destined to be a lawyer, by decree of his father. However, he was more interested in philosophy and theology and so gave up his studies in law in favour of theology, much to his father’s displeasure. His tutors taught him to question and apply reason to everything. He could not however be persuaded to question God; he believed that God could only be known through revelation and began to study books about the Scriptures.
In 1505, Luther was struck by lightning while out riding one day. He prayed to St Anna and vowed that if his life were spared, he would become a monk. Fifteen days later, he entered the friary of the Augustine monks at Erfurt. His father believed this to be a waste of Luther's education and talents. He devoted himself to what he believed to be his calling, yet he was often in despair, having a keen sense of his own sinfulness and unworthiness in the sight of God. He struggled to understand how anyone could be righteous in God’s sight. He was terrified of God’s wrath and justice, but knew nothing of His love and grace.
Sometime between 1512 and 1516, Luther at last come to an understanding of the Scriptures and was converted. He had been given a Bible by the Vicar-General, Staupitz, and was encouraged to study it carefully. But instead of finding peace, it only served to show him how sinful he was. One day, when he was preparing lectures on Romans and the Paslms, he came to the realisation that men are saved through faith and not through any effort of their own.
He was on the faculty of the University of Wittenberg, lecturing and preaching daily. Through the preparation of his messages on Romans and Psalms, the light dawned on Luther that men are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from any human efforts or works. Reflecting on his time reading and praying, he said,
I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “The justice of God”… Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith
"I laboured diligently and anxiously as to how to understand Paul's words in Romans 1:17 where he says, ‘The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel.' I saw the difference, that law is one thing and gospel another. I broke through, and as I had formerly hated the expression ‘the righteousness of God,' I now began to regard it as my dearest and most comforting word, so that this expression of Paul's became to me in very truth a gate to paradise."  []
In 1516, John Tetzel, a papal commissioner for indulgences travelled to Germany to sell indulgences. What are indulgences? The church of the time taught that faith alone was not sufficient for salvation; to be forgiven, one also had to do good works and works of charity. However, the benefits of such good works and charity could be bought by donating money to the church. In return, the church absolved the person of wrong doing. The phrase of the day ran ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs’. Those whose loved ones had died could buy their absolution and gain them entry into heaven, thus shortening the time of punishment in purgatory.
The following year, Luther protested the sale of indulgences. He denied that indulgences were effective or that salvation could be bought. He wrote a treatise called the ‘Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences’. This document became known as the Ninety-Five Theses. In them, Luther called into question several of the corrupt practices of the church and challenged the church leaders and even the Pope himself. He maintained that forgiveness of sins could only be granted by God and that those who claimed that indulgences could absolve a person were in error.
On October 31st 1517, Luther reputedly nailed this document to the door of the church in Wittenberg. In January the following year, Luther translated his Theses from Latin into German. It was printed and distributed far and wide. Within a few weeks, it had spread throughout Germany; within two months, it had spread throughout Europe. Thus began the Reformation in Europe.

To be continued...

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Women in Amish Society

The way of life of the Amish is deeply rooted in the Anabaptist tradition, which, in turn, stands firmly on the Word of God. Yesterday, I posted a guest article that summarises Anabaptist thought on the matter; today, I am going to talk about women in Amish society.

Amish families are generally run on ‘traditional’ lines, the woman stays at home to look after the children and the home, while the man is the ‘bread winner’. Divorce is unheard of; marriage is for life; remarriage only takes place after a husband or wife has died. The husband is the head of the home and he makes the final decisions. The church is likewise led by the men.
If that was all there was to it, then outsiders might be forgiven for thinking the Amish live a strict, regimented life that is little but drudgery for the wife. But that is not all there is to it. Women are not treated a servants or slaves; they are allowed to speak their minds and they do far more than ‘just’ keeping house. She finds fulfilment and security in the way of life handed down through the ages and based in Biblical teaching. While the husband has the final say, he does listen to the views and concerns of his wife and takes these into consideration when he makes his decision. In practice, important decisions about the family are made jointly.
Amish men and women usually assume traditional and well-defined gender roles. Husbands carry the primary responsibility for the financial well-being of the family. Wives typically devote themselves to housekeeping and motherhood. As in most families, gender roles in Amish marriages vary by personality; there are shades of dominance from husband to wife across a wide spectrum with many variations. In non-farm families, typically the husband is the primary breadwinner, but in cases where a wife owns a business, she may provide most of the family income. When husbands work at home, there is often considerable cross-sharing of roles—women assisting in the barn or shop, and men in the garden or around the house.”

“Amish women share in household decision making and child discipline, even as they affirm the man’s role as the religious head of the home. Although the man serves as the spiritual head of the home, mothers are very active in nurturing the spiritual life of children.”

The same is true of decisions in the church. Women are allowed to recommend men to be leaders of the church and take full part in any voting:
“Likewise, within the church, the role of the woman is important and respected but limited. For instance, women participate in nominating the ministers, deacons, and bishops as well as voting on other community affairs. However, they are not given any leadership roles themselves other than as Sunday school teachers, song leaders, worship leaders, and church elders.”

The woman sees her role as homemaker as being of the utmost importance and runs her home efficiently, in line with Proverbs 31. She looks after any children, does the cooking, sews the clothes (all Amish outer clothing is homemade), does the shopping, plants a garden to help feed the (usually large) family, cleans the house, and she might start a business of her own, such as baking, rug making, or quilting.

“Amish women are esteemed in Amish society for the contribution they make to home and community. They are mothers, managers of the household, and play an important role in maintaining communal ties. As the home is considered in some ways the centre of Amish life, her role in maintaining it is highly important.”
She will assist her husband with the farm chores and might have some animals to tend herself, such as chickens. But even though the roles are clearly differentiated, a husband will help with child rearing, cook meals when necessary, and help clean the house. Any money she earns is her own, unless she needs to supplement the family income (something that is becoming increasingly necessary in today’s economic downturn).
Modern women and those who study patriarchal societies consider that Amish women are oppressed and down trodden and therefore need ‘rescuing’. Amish women on the other hand feel mostly fulfilled and do not see them as oppressed at all.
“However, the perception of the Amish woman as necessarily oppressed is one which ignores the reality of her position, as well as Amish values.”
They relish their way of life, even though it is hard work, and believe they are acting in God’s will. In response, the Amish find today’s women foolish, striving to be in the place of men. Amish women do not need ‘liberating’; they find themselves liberated enough within the boundaries of their society. She has a respected role and she as well as the rest of Amish society considers that her work is important. Tasks such as washing, mending and cooking are not seen as menial and drudgery; they are vital for the proper functioning of society. Where would they all be if no-one looked after the home or the children? They see modern society as failing in this regard and speak of the state of today’s youth as evidence that something is wrong. There is very little teenage rebellion in Amish society, while it is much more prevalent in the wider population.

See also:

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Guest post: The Woman's Role in the Plan of God

Taken from:

God has a beautiful plan for womanhood that will bring order and fulfillment if it is followed in obedience. God's plan is that one man and one woman, of equal standing before Him but of different roles, should be bonded together as one. In His wisdom and grace He specifically created each for his or her role.

At creation, God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and from him God took a rib and made a woman (Genesis 2:2 1). She was a direct gift from the hand of God, made from man and for man (1 Corinthians 11:9). "Male and female created he them", (Genesis 1:27) each different but made to complete and complement each other. Although the woman is considered the "weaker vessel" (1 Peter 3:7), this does not make her inferior. She was made with a purpose in life that only she could fill.

To woman has been given one of the greatest privileges in the world, that of molding and nurturing a living soul.

Her influence, especially in the realm of motherhood, affects her children's eternal destination. Even though Eve brought condemnation upon the world with her act of disobedience, God considered women worthy of a part in the plan of redemption (Genesis 3:15). "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman." (Galatians 4:4). He entrusted to her the bearing of and the caring for his own dear Son. The woman's role is not insignificant!

A distinction between the sexes is taught throughout the Bible. Paul teaches if a man has long hair, it is a shame unto him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her (1 Corinthians 11:14,15). "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God" (Deuteronomy 22:5). Their roles are not to be interchangeable.

In the Garden of Eden, God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone," and He made a help meet for him-a companion, someone to satisfy his needs (Genesis 2:18).

Proverbs 31:10-31 tells in detail what kind of helpmeet the woman is to be. The supportive role of the wife to the husband is very evident in this description of the ideal woman. She "will do him good and not evil." Because of her honesty, modesty and chastity, "her husband doth safely trust in her." By her efficiency and diligence she would look well to her household. The basis for her virtue is found in verse 30: "a woman that feareth the Lord." This is a reverential fear that gives meaning and purpose to her life. Only as the Lord lives in her heart can she be the woman she was meant to be.

To become a child of God she needs to repent, confess her sins and accept Christ through faith. With Christ she will be able to live a self-denied life. The Holy Spirit will give strength, courage, and direction to fulfill her duties. He will grace her life with humility, modesty, and with that inner "ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Peter 3:3,4). Proper, modest dress adds to the hidden charm of a woman. She should never draw attention to her body by being overdressed or underdressed.

To avoid confusion and establish order, someone needs to be the head and God has ordained that this should be the man (1 Corinthians 11:3). Marriage is to be a harmonious relationship similar to that of Christ and the Church. Christ is subject to God, man is subject to Christ, and woman is subject to man. Why would any woman rebel at her position in the framework of authority when even Christ, the Son, is subject to the Father? As the wife reverences her husband, she is obedient to the scripture (Ephesians 5:33), and her husband is then able to bear the responsibility that God has laid on his shoulders.

The liberation movement has challenged God's blueprint for womanhood. Women are clamoring for freedom and fulfillment by asking for total equality. This puts them into a power struggle- into a competitive role instead of a complementary partnership. Their quest for freedom only leads them into bondage. Nevertheless, the selfishness and ungodliness of many men is without excuse. In this context some of women's frustrations can be understood. Ironically, the very thing that many women are rejecting is God's way of establishing the woman in a life that fully satisfies.

If a women moves aggressively into the man's world and there seeks independence and equality, she loses her femininity, that reserved, modest sweetness that men respect and God approves.

Fulfillment comes as she cultivates those gifts for which she was created. A woman's submission to her husband liberates her from a multitude of frustrating problems, and her submission to God's order frees her from guilt. Submission is a blessing, not a curse!

The pattern of men taking the leadership and women following will bring a blessing to single women as well as married women, to daughters as well as wives.

As an outward sign of this submission and her submission to Christ, the Christian woman is commanded to have her head covered for praying and prophesying* (1 Corinthians 11:3-5). Man is subject to Christ and should therefore pray with his head uncovered. Woman is subject to man and should pray with her head covered. Wearing a head covering is a recognition of this divine order.

[* The writers of the article recognizes a sister should wear it "in her times of private devotions and prayer, the sister's head should be covered. A Christian sister would naturally want to wear the head covering whenever she is giving Christian service. In truth, all of a believer's daily life should be lived in service unto Christ. It seems appropriate, then, that the Christian women wear the prayer covering whenever she appears in public. She thus leaves a constant testimony of her submission to God and her husband.]

Love in marriage is to be pure and is given for pleasure as well as for propagation. Woman was uniquely created for the special task of bearing children, a creative fulfillment. God said, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28). To purposely choose not to have children is sidestepping God's principle and forfeiting one of the most rewarding experiences in a woman's life.

Woman's first duty is the making and keeping of her home. Many a modern woman chooses a career, hires a baby-sitter, and rushes her children through childhood so that she can be free to pursue her selfish interests. The Bible teaches that women are to be "keepers at home" (Titus 2:5). This means a women is to be there, loving her husband, teaching and enjoying her children, and applying the homemaking arts with joy in her heart. This mother is the heartbeat of the home. She helps lay the foundation of moral standards there. The warmth of her spirit quietly establishes security in the lives of little children-confidence, that in spite of their problems and fears, all will be right. Why would any woman trade this noble place for some dollars earned or for some coveted position? This Bible way is not just being old-fashioned; it is God's order. The women who wholeheartedly accept God's plan will be blessed.

In certain instances, a woman's role extends beyond her home. Examples are given in both the Old and New Testaments of godly women who had responsibilities in God's kingdom. Also today there is a place for the Christian woman to serve within the Church. As she exercises her inborn attributes of love, gentleness, and compassion, she is a living example of that which becomes godliness. Older women are exhorted to teach the young women, "that the word of God be not blasphemed" (Titus 2:4,5). Single Christian women, who do not have the cares of a home and a family, are able to fill a special place (1 Corinthians 7:34).

There are definite guidelines for women's behavior in the Church. They are not to usurp authority over men. Paul instructs, "Let your women keep silence in the churches" (1 Corinthians 14:34,35; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). The order that God has planned for women excludes them from preaching. Faithful women find places for active participation in Christian service where they can humbly and consistently fellowship with other Christians.

May each woman fill her role with the grace of God in her heart, live in submissive obedience to His will, and humbly give of herself in the daily practices of life. As each person fills his respective place in God's plan, there is beautiful harmony that emerges in the heart, the home, and the church.

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