Being drawn to community…like the first church

Lately (in the last few months) I’ve been drawn back to the book of Acts and to read about the first century church. This has led me to read about the communal church as a whole. There is such a contrast to the modern day Sunday church to those who are being called out by God to a “hidden place” in this world. Not in the sense of hiding but in the sense of not being or having any part of this world. I’m not talking about having some sort of “social media” ministry or having your “Facebook” church. I’m talking about getting back to our Christian 1st Century roots to follow Jesus at all cost. No matter the cause. cost.

There was a recent poll across American churchianity and every 2 out of 10 people said they would die for Jesus if they had too. Remember, this is a poll bring done when there is no gun to your head or no sense of life or death urgency. Someone says that realistically, that poll should actually look like 1 out of a 100. This is where we are at in America. Christians are not willing to die for what they believe in. I am and I can say that like many others. To live is Christ, to die is gain.

So I just wanted to share a few quotes from a little book I came across called The Anabaptist Vision by Harold Bender. Ironically, as I read this little book (September 21st, 2021) that was published in 1944 by Bender, I’m reading it for the first time on the 59th “anniversary” of his death on September 21st, 1962. I thought that was interesting.

Did you know the term “separation between church and state” comes from the Anabaptist ie Mennonites. It was meant originally on a personal level, not government level. I am not saying to become a Anabaptist, Hutterite or a Beachy Amish (Mennonite). What I am saying is that some of these groups live the 1st Century church life and I believe that is the life we are to live. I admire them for that. Their bottom line is to follow Jesus and live according to His will. To love God and your neighbor, to disciple and proclaim the Gospel of Christ and doctrine of them Apostles (go out and teach) and to have fellowship with the ekklesia, the body of Christ. It’s more than just going to church once a week or having a cool Jesus sticker on your car. It’s a WAY of life.

The only way we can get through this is Jesus Christ alone, but we need community to help us through. I will write more on this but here is a little bit from this book.

“The Anabaptist vision included three major points of emphasis; first, a new conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship; second, a new conception of the church as a brotherhood; and third, a new ethic of love and nonresistance.

First and fundamental in the Anabaptist vision was the conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship. It was a concept which meant the transformation of the entire way of life of the individual believer and of society so that it should be fashioned after the teachings and example of Christ.

They demanded an outward expression of the inner experience. Repentance must be “evidenced” by newness of behavior.

The focus of the Christian life was to be not so much the inward experience of the grace of God, as it was for Luther, but the outward application of that grace to all human conduct and the consequent Christianization of all human relationships. The true test of the Christian, they held, is discipleship. The great word of the Anabaptists was not “faith” as it was with the reformers, but “following” (nachfolge Christi). And baptism, the greatest of Christian symbols, was accordingly to be for them the “covenant of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21),28 the pledge of a complete commitment to obey Christ, and not primarily the symbol of a past experience. The Anabaptists had faith, indeed, but they used it to produce a life. Theology was for them a means, not an end.

One of the finest contemporary characterizations of the Anabaptists is that given in 1531 by Sebastian Franck, an objective and sympathetic witness, though an opponent of the Anabaptists, who wrote as follows:

The Anabaptists… soon gained a large following,… drawing many sincere souls who had a zeal for God, for they taught nothing but love, faith, and the cross. They showed themselves humble, patient under much suffering; they brake bread with one another as an evidence of unity and love. They helped each other faithfully, and called each other brothers… They died as martyrs, patiently and humbly enduring all persecution.

There can be no question but that the great principles of freedom of conscience, separation of church and state, and voluntarism in religion, so basic in American Protestantism and so essential to democracy, ultimately are derived from the Anabaptists of the Reformation period, who for the first time clearly enunciated them and challenged the Christian world to follow them in practice.

An inevitable corollary of the concept of the church as a body of committed and practicing Christians pledged to the highest standard of New Testament living was the insistence on the separation of the church from the world, that is nonconformity of the Christian to the worldly way of life. The world would not tolerate the practice of true Christian principles in society, and the church could not tolerate the practice of worldly ways among its membership. Hence, the only way out was separation (“Absonderung”), the gathering of true Christians into their own Christian society where Christ’s way could and would be practiced. On this principle of separation Menno Simons says:

All the evangelical scriptures teach us that the church of Christ was and is, in doctrine, life, and worship, a people separated from the world.43
In the great debate of 1532 at Zofingen, spokesmen of the Swiss Brethren said:
The true church is separated from the world and is conformed to the nature of Christ. If a church is yet at one with the world we cannot recognize it is a true church.

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