And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts,
and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying,
Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might,
be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
Separated unto God – the counsel not taken
By 1951 the old order groups had already forged their identity and their ways of being separate from the world. They established cultures that kept their identity intact.
The mainline conferences were moving in the direction of not being separate from the world.
The newly developing groups (1950s-1990s) were trying to decide how much to be separate from the world.
Where was the counsel of Wenger? Where was the Biblical direction? Where was the Two Kinds of Obedience understanding that was the foundation of being Separated Unto God?
All three groups could have benefited from this counsel. My time as a student in a Mennonite Bible school in 1967-68 was characterized by teaching on separation from the world. I do not recall the concept of being Separated Unto God as prominent. Why not?
Granted, creating a separated culture is not bad. It is, in fact, very good. Culture is the way we impact the surrounding society. Culture is the way we pass on our understandings of life. Culture is a wonderful way to live. But, culture is an inadequate foundation for personal salvation or group integrity.
Today there are separated Anabaptist groups and there are acculturated Anabaptist groups. They are all forging their identity by their own ways of being separate from the world. Their identities separate them from each other more than from the world.
The early Anabaptist concept of choosing to live a childlike approach of obedience to the Scripture has gotten lost in our attempts to appear as separate from the world.
Today, a new generation is seeking for identity. Many options lure them. The principles of Wenger’s writing, while incomplete, set a workable paradigm for understanding and living life. Why? Why, is because it the Scriptural approach. God wants our heart devotion. God wants our undivided affection. God has placed within us a hunger and longing for Him and the principles by which He calls us to live. We need to adopt those principles that define and, at the same time, transcend culture.
One can only wonder why Wenger does not develop the role of the Holy Spirit more fully in his treatment of the subject. He does quote Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 and so does include the necessity of the Holy Spirit to be the agent of change in the life of the believer.
It will remain for the next author to develop more completely the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in the individual and in the Church. Until then, Separate yourselves and your congregations unto God. Live by His unchanging principles in these changing times and so illustrate the love and the call of God in and on our lives.
The Bride of Jesus Christ
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy.
For I have betrothed you to one husband,
That I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness,
So your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
II Cor. 11:2-3
The LORD and the King
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD,
Like the rivers of water;
He turns it wherever He wishes.
Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?
Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives,
Or a grapevine bear figs?
Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
Who is wise and understanding among you?
Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts,
Do not boast and lie against the truth.
This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
But the wisdom that is from above is:
Willing to yield,
Full of mercy and good fruits,
Without partiality and without hypocrisy.
Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Earth Has No Sorrow
Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.
Joy of the desolate, light of the straying,
Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure!
Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying,
“Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot cure.”
Here see the bread of life, see waters flowing
Forth from the throne of God, pure from above.
Come to the feast of love; come, ever knowing
Earth has no sorrow but heav’n can remove.
Thomas Moore 1816
Separated Unto God – John C. Wenger
In 1951 J.C. Wenger wrote a book titled, Separated Unto God. The book has gone through several printings. It was a much needed breath of celestial air at the time. It is still a breath of that kind of air. It is not necessarily a simple book to but it is not really difficult either. Its basic premise is that the life of a believer in Jesus Christ is a life that is Separated Unto God.
The emphasis in the 1950s was to move in the direction of separation from the world. The world was deceptive. Education was potentially dangerous. The war was over. Life was good but, how to live a separated Christian life in such a world? We must be separate; but how? The Anabaptist community had been concerned about that question.
The Mennonite General Conference in 1944 and years following saw the need to put in writing some teaching on the subject of separation from the world. John C. Wenger was the man chosen to do the writing. His writing on the subject became the book: Separated Unto God.
In Wenger’s words,
“Two major convictions underlie the preparation and writing of his book. The first is that Christendom as a whole has not been sufficiently cognizant of the sharp separation between the church of Christ and Satan’s world. Even the small Christian denominations which emphasize nonconformity to the world have not always had a truly Biblical point of view. This book is therefore an effort to bring before the Christian of our day a witness to an area of truth in the Word of God which is commonly called nonconformity to the world, but which I have preferred to entitle separation unto God. The second conviction is that it is imperative to deepen the conviction with which the truth of separation unto God is held by members of (Anabapatist groups) and Society of Friends. The conception of the people of God as being separate from the world and as belonging exclusively to the Almighty is found through out the Bible.”
He follows this with examples from the Scripture and goes on to say,
“Being nonconformed to the world is not a matter of rejecting science and inventions, nor is it the maintenance of a cultural status quo, nor is it difference for its own sake. One cannot be nonconformed to the world by adopting a few symbols of nonconformity while remaining carnal and unspiritual in heart. Nonconformity to the world is the natural outcome of having been born again and of being alert to the spiritual issues which confront Christians living in a given culture”
“I have attempted to put down in writing the essentials of the position adopted originally by the Anabaptists over four centuries ago and as developed and augmented by the Mennonite Church and its sister bodies both in their oral and written teaching program since that time.”
He goes on to explain commonalities with Christendom but notes the emphasis of the Anabaptists on nonconformity to the world.
Dress issues had taken up much time in the Anabaptist groups in the late 1800s and early 1900s. How can we be separate? What approach can we take to fulfill the concept of being God’s people in this world? Wenger’s approach was based on the early Anabaptist idea of Two Kinds of Obedience. One kind is from obligation. The other is from principles and a child-like heart of love. Hence, Separated Unto God is not a book of rules but a book addressing many areas and applying principles for separation based on a focus on being like God and answering His call on life. He does not shy away from specific topics but tends to provide historical understanding of how transitions occurred.
Is this book useful today? Could the basic convictions underlying this writing help current Anabaptists find their way in today’s world? I think, yes. Rules, while useful, eventually run against changing times. Principles do not. The application of Scriptural principles will never go out of date.
It is time for a new book; a shorter one focused on applications of Scriptural principles for this age. The proliferation of innovation and invention in all areas calls for new thinking of application of Scriptural principles. Wenger did a great service to the Anabaptist community. A new book is now in order.
The complexities of modernity and post-modernity will require more intensity and concentration of applications of God’s Word to life. May the Good Lord raise up men and women with that level of conviction and dedication in our day.