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A Tale of Three Churches – Future – The Holy Spirit

by on October 16, 2014


Key to understanding of the Anabaptist and Pietist beginnings is the Holy Spirit. The early leaders and the people heavily depended on the Holy Spirit. Their understanding of the Scripture included the constant work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals and also in the Church.

Jesus’ promise of sending His Spirit after He left this earth became the link between Jesus and His followers during His absence in bodily form on this earth. This was particularly true of the Anabaptists.

The Anabaptist movement began with the statement: “The Spirit of God Decides!” These words were spoken by Simon Stumpf during a disputation with Zwingli and the Zurich council. Zwingli chose to allow the civil authorities to make decisions about Spiritual matters. Stumpf’s response indicates the level of commitment that existed in the earliest Anabaptists. This commitment was to the leading of the Spirit of God.

Unfortunately, what happened in the early days of the Mennonites and the Brethren was a move away from the close association with the Spirit. There were people who claimed the Spirit and then did not live lives of Biblical obedience. This sent concern into the hearts of the people and they moved away from the control of the Spirit and into more of a dependence on the written word. From there the groups went in somewhat different directions.

The Brethren in Christ up to the mid 1900’s had a more or less holiness/charismatic approach to the Spirit. They anticipated and experienced the second work of grace and believed that the baptism of the Spirit happened sometime after conversion. Some of them claimed perfection and unbroken fellowship with God for extended periods of time. That emphasis on the intimate association of the Holy Spirit has mostly disappeared in their move to evangelicalism.

Mennonite’s journey was somewhat curious. The 1527, Schlietheim confession mentions the Spirit but does not have a separate article on the Spirit of God. The 1632, Dutch Mennonite, Dordrecht Confession also mentions the Spirit but it also did not have a separate article on that subject. When the Dordrecht Confession came to the Swiss Brethren the Swiss inserted article VI on the Holy Spirit. Since then the Dordrecht Confession has always included an article on the Holy Spirit. Dordrecht is the basis of all Mennonite and Amish confessions.

Menno Simons – “We believe and confess the Holy Ghost to be a true, real, or personal Holy Ghost, and that in a divine way—even as the Father is a true father, and the Son a true son; which Holy Ghost is a mystery to all mankind, incomprehensible, inexpressible, and indescribable, . . . divine with His divine attributes, going forth from the Father through the being of the Father and the Son

Mennonites later moved to more confessions and disciplines and books of rules. This had a tendency to make obedience a matter of wooden behavior. Genuine heart obedience struggled to maintain its earlier strength. Consistent, community dress and behavior eventually was maintained by written statements.

Principles were recognized but applications became codified to the extent of local expressions becoming requirements. It is easy for this type of discipline to become out of date just because the applications vary and new situations develop for which no applications have been produced.

The Amish ordnung are an example. The ordnung is 80% about farming while the Amish are now only about 30% farmers. The farmers have to use outdated methods while tradesmen can use air or hydraulic power to operate equipment that is just as fast and powerful as electricity.

The telephone would be another example. The idea of being connected to the world through electric wires or phone wires has been taught as being wrong. Now, the cell phone, not connected to the world system through wires, is OK. The ordnung simply could not anticipate the arrival of the wireless age.

Brethren typically made decisions by consensus. Leaders, led by the Holy Spirit, discussed subjects until they came to a Biblical consensus.

The earliest Brethren believed that the Holy Spirit was the “eternal truth.” He inspired the text of Scripture and His message is identical with Scripture. The Holy Spirit calls, leads, illuminates the mind and heart, controls behaviors, is the “inner voice or Word of God” opens the ‘inner ears’ and gives gifts to the Church

Later the Brethren moved to parliamentary procedure. Large meetings did not lend themselves to consensus. Parliamentary procedure allowed the most skilled orators and most clever politicians to control the decisions of the church. This produced heroes – men who were bigger-than-life leaders. Their persuasive skills controlled the people. They still talked about the Holy Spirit but the real decisions were made by popular vote swayed by powerful leaders.

Current – Young people today are hungry for teaching about, and understanding the leading of, the Holy Spirit. Older people are rightfully concerned about the current emphasis on the Holy Spirit. They have seen and experienced extreme and unbalanced focus on the Spirit. They do not want to see that repeated.

What to do? What we need today is more Biblical teaching and understanding of the Spirit of God. Then we need to heed the Spirit in our decisions by prayer and discernment. Then we need to seek the Spirit to direct our Church services and allow and expect the Spirit to illuminate our hearts and minds to His Word.

We need not fear the Holy Spirit. We need to honor and follow the Spirit like the earliest believers in the Book of Acts and like the earliest Anabaptists. This is one of the most pressing tasks before us. We must not be led astray by false teachers or extremists who claim Spiritual powers but who do not follow the Scripture. We must try the spirits to see if they be of God. The test of truth is the primary way to test the spirits

Our children are hungry for the Holy Spirit and worship. It is critical that we guide them through this hunger with Godly wisdom and Biblical foundations. As we surrender ourselves to the Spirit, we will become changed and grow more and more like Jesus Christ.

It is time to return to the Biblical and early Anabaptist dependence on the Holy Spirit of God. That will occasion a change in our thinking and behavior. It is time. God is waiting to bless us if we are ready to cast our total dependence on Him.

The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to search our hearts and teach us His way.
Ps. 19 – who can know his sin? Only the Holy Spirit can lead us through our lives.
Heb. 4:12 – piercing even to … The Spirit of God discerns what is in our hearts and souls and minds.

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. I Corinthians 3:17-18.

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