The Power Question, Gelassenheit, and Koinonia

By Chester Weaver
Published on Saturday, December 4th, 2021

Jesus said, “Watch out for those Pharisees; watch out for their teaching.” Later when asked by the disciples who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus set a little child among them. When the mother of Zebedee’s boys requested a power position, Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking.” Accompanying His object lesson with the little child, He said authoritatively, “Be child-like.” In other words, power questions have no place in His Kingdom. The Rich Young Ruler simply walked away sorrowfully. 

By contrast Jesus made a power statement one day, “When I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto Myself.” Sounds like a power statement! What did He mean? Something is upside down. 

And then He said in Matthew 18:1-9, “Whoever interferes with this admirable child-likeness should be drowned!” He followed that astonishing statement with another, “This kind of interference will surely happen, but woe to the power move which destroys child-like trust.” And then He followed those two astonishing statements by an even more astonishing one, “It is better to be maimed and blind than to ever do such a thing!” 

What is going on here? Jesus simply comments that angels who gaze at the face of the Heavenly Father are involved with child-like people. The child-like people are the found people and Jesus Christ Himself sets out to find even more. It is not God’s plan that any child-like person be lost. As long as the gaze upon the Father’s face continues, no child-like person will be lost. The Heavenly host is composed of beings who experience gelassenheit. 

Why is this happening? Jesus comments that where two or three people are gathered in His name, He is present with them. Now not just any gathering of two or three explains why He is present. Two or three child-like persons, communicating with each other, sharing burdens with each other, fellowshipping at heart levels, together reverently obedient, exhorting and encouraging each other, rebuking sin in each other, praying together, working together, trusting each other, blessing each other, forgiving each other, learning together sorrowing together, and more explain why this is happening. Gelassenheit.

Recovery and Healing Resources for Sexual Abuse - Part 2

By Anonymous
Published on Saturday, November 20th, 2021

Transcribed by Chester Weaver 

How does one recover from abuse? What could be a truly healing process? 

  1. Find hope by facing the truth.
  2. End denial and admit that abuse happened.
  3. Tell one's story without minimizing the damage. The damage is great and severe.
  4. The unlikey route to joy is honesty, repentance of self-protection, and bold love.
  5. Abused victims frequently move into heavy denial, as if a thick wall or heavy bulwark surrounded them. They must embrace no more isolation, no more denial, and find ways to move into honesty and openness.

Psalm 23:4 mentions that we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death by means of suffering, but we have possibilities of meeting God at a new level when we embrace our pain and suffering. The foundation for change includes the journey similar to the Prodigal Son - embracing the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the people of God. 

Daily there are ways we must face the visible and invisible battles. Surrender to God in the circumstances and in the damage of our emotional turmoil and pain is so freeing. Jesus was a victim of much abuse, turmoil, and pain. He suffered unimaginable crimes against Himself; He was shamed, isolated, bleeding, and felt forsaken by God. (Mark 15:34.) 

We can find joy by pursuing love. When victims are changed through the process of honesty, surrender, and forgiveness and a restored trust in God, they will over time experience a desire to love others as God has loved them. Isaiah 53 defines for us two sides of the cross. In verses three and four, our Lord was despised and forsaken, a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, and we hid our faces from Him. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, while we esteemed Him smitten of God and afflicted. So He carried our griefs and the sins which others have committed against us. 

In verse five He mentions our own sins, not just the sins of others against us. He was pierced for our transgressions and was crushed for our iniquities and the chastisement for our well-being fell upon Him. By His scourging, we are healed. The sins which we have committed are on the other side of the cross. The remedy is certainly the cross. 

What is Sexual Abuse? - Part 1

By perspectives
Published on Saturday, November 6th, 2021

What does the Bible say about sexual abuse? What do North American laws say about this subject? Let’s talk about shame, guilt, honesty, repentance, forgiveness, bold love, Isaiah 53, where to get help, and what are the perpetrators of abuse.

What is the definition of sexual abuse? Sexual abuse is touching, rubbing, and patting another person by the offender for his sexual arousal. It also includes visual, verbal, and psychological interaction even when there is no physical contact. Sexual abuse also can include forced sexual intercourse.

Researchers have discovered that by the age of eighteen, one out of every three women will be victims of sexual abuse. Other researchers say the numbers are higher – one out of two. For men, some say one out of seven.

So what are the reasons for the present problems with sexual abuse among our conservative Mennonite circles?

Victims often become abusers. In many cases, the abusers themselves were victimized by siblings, uncles, and other relatives. Family secrets are harder to keep because of the challenges families are facing, such as pornography, general moral decline in society, and the loss of spiritual courage. Churches often treat these problems as issues of morality, not realizing that it is both a spiritual problem and a brain problem. Counselors tell men to try harder, pray harder, and love Jesus more, but what starts off as a moral problem quickly becomes a brain problem. Telling a man to try harder is only tightening the noose of bondage. Today new truth regarding strongholds of the mind and how a person becomes enslaved to sin are emerging. The brain basically gets hijacked. For example, when a woman is nursing her child and she is skin to skin with her baby, her brain releases chemicals which emotionally bond her to her child. The same thing happens during sexual experiences. God designed our brains to be glued to another person through human bonding. In human sexuality, when brain chemicals are released, the persons involved become emotionally bonded with the sexual partner. When porn is viewed, powerful brain chemicals are released which causes a bond with the images. This is why Satan attacks our sexuality so much. By attacking human sexuality, human bonding is also attacked.

Good Deeds and Bad Hearts?

By Marlin Sommers
Published on Saturday, October 9th, 2021

Your heart matters. We are to love and honor God in our hearts. Pseudo-religion from an evil heart offends God. But what is the heart? Or, more to the point for this essay, what should the heart be contrasted with?  

Some people contrast our hearts with our actions; what’s in the heart, versus what we do. Jesus, on the other hand contrasts the heart with the lips. What we really are, versus the front we put on with our words. Instead of talking about people who did the right things but had bad hearts, he talked about people who said (some of) the right things with their lips but had bad hearts.  

We do much better to follow Jesus in contrasting the heart with the lips, rather than adopting the modern habit of contrasting the heart with our actions. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” He describes how they generate a pious appearance with careful rules about washing their hands (for ritual purity), and fine words about their wealth belonging to God while engaging in substantive wrong by withholding support from their own parents (Matthew 15:1-9). 

It is easy to say certain, good sounding things while having an evil heart. We can say we love God. We can say we love our brothers and sisters. We can say we worship and adore God, or that we support godliness. But saying “Lord, Lord” does not mean our heart is with the Lord. We may pick some strategic actions that will make us look good. We can attend church and even participate in the Lord’s supper with wicked hearts. We can do things that our various cultures treat as markers of goodness. That might be wearing the right clothing, or not driving the wrong cars. It might be purchasing products with the right environmental or fair-trade labels. It might be avoiding the conspicuous sins that would get us kicked out of the church or thrown in jail. The outward appearance can be maintained by good sounding words and strategic actions, while our inward selves, that is, our hearts, are evil. 

Transmitting the Old Testament: Adventures of the Hebrew Text - Part 3

By Vince Beiler
Published on Friday, September 17th, 2021

This is Part Three in a series of essays about ancient Hebrew text and manuscripts. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

6. The Masoretic Text 

In prior posts we touched on some developments of the Hebrew Bible over the course of its 3,000 plus year history.  

Now we move to a specific group of Jewish scribes who made a name for themselves due to the way in which they transmitted the Bible. These scribes were active throughout the Middle Ages, but the oldest complete copies of their work date to the early part of the 10th century. These scribes are called Masoretes and the text they produced is called the Masoretic Text. The reason this Hebrew text receives its own name (the Masorah/ the Masoretic Text1) in what was heretofore referred to simply as the Hebrew text is due to several factors, which I will explain in the coming paragraphs.  

To begin, the Masoretic scribes who wrote these texts were exceptional in two ways. First, the Masoretes were the ultimate conservationists, always concerned that the text was copied accurately. With this goal in mind, the Masoretes were careful to ensure that the transmission of the Hebrew text was of the highest quality, an effort so extensive it remains remarkable, even today. Secondly, and somewhat ironically, the Masoretes were innovators, finding new ways of recording the text so that every detail was made plain—and thereby adding still more details in the process. It is chiefly due to the skills of the Masoretes on these two fronts that the tenth century Hebrew text was termed Masoretic, a term which has continued to be used up to the present. 

Transmitting the Old Testament: Adventures of the Hebrew Text - Part 2

By Vince Beiler
Published on Friday, September 10th, 2021

In a prior essay, we discussed how the (Hebrew) Bible gradually went from a scattered compilation of scrolls to being considered a single entity. We also discussed how the careful preservation of specific Hebrew word forms allow us to date parts of the Bible relative to one another. Finally, we discussed the Septuagint and its role as a highly regarded translation from the time of Jesus down to the present day. In the present essay, I would like to consider the Dead Sea Scrolls and how they help to broaden our understanding of the Hebrew text of the Bible. Read Part 1

Some decades before the birth of Jesus, a group of Jews left Jerusalem due to conflicts with the High Priest over aspects of religious observance and leadership. This group was puritanical in nature and apocalyptic in their expectations for the world, believing that they should withdraw from Jerusalem for a time after which God would set the world right. Among other things, this group expected that ‘true’ worship would be restored at the temple and their leader would be instated as the High Priest. The group’s chosen place of exile was Qumran (possibly Secacah, see also Joshua 15:61), a small settlement near the coast of the Dead Sea and about 25 miles southeast from Jerusalem. Both the group and their beliefs would have been lost except for a surprising discovery there in 1947: small caves near the Qumran settlement were found to contain scroll fragments, some of which contained portions of the Bible. The most significant of these caves is pictured below:

Qumran Cave 4

This discovery was termed the ‘greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth century’ by William Albright, the leading scholar who authenticated the scrolls. Albright certainly had a point—for several reasons. I will discuss three of these reasons below.

Transmitting the Old Testament: Adventures of the Hebrew Text - Part 1

By Vince Beiler
Published on Friday, September 3rd, 2021
1. Introduction 

We are all familiar with family heirlooms. An object, usually of significant sentimental value, is handed down from one generation to the next. The Bible is a little like that heirloom. Successive generations of scribes wrote down the words of the Bible, copying what former scribes had written. We have long since lost those first copies but, thanks to all the intermediate copies, we can have and hold a Bible today. 

It is easy to think that transmitting the biblical text is a relatively simple matter. This is probably because (a) we have never tried copying a document long hand and (b) we are accustomed to printed Bible editions with clear, consistent lettering. In truth, copying a Bible is very hard work and it is worth learning something of the transmission process so that we can be grateful to those who have made our (now) easy-to-read editions possible. In what follows I will describe significant parts of the transmission process for the Old Testament—the part of the Bible written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The process for the transmission of the New Testament is somewhat different, and is best treated separately. 

2. The Old Testament: Now One, Formerly Many 

The Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament, known to Hebrew speaking people by the acronym Tanak (T=Pentateuch/Torah; n=Prophets/Nevi’im; k=Writings/Ketuvim), was composed over the space of about 1000 years (somewhere after the time of Moses to somewhere after the time of Ezra). This means that what we now refer to as the Old Testament was for many years not a single entity, but a collection of separate works. Later written Bible books were not added immediately to the previously written books into some sort of giant ring binder, but were kept separate.  

Seeking Better Vision - Anabaptists, History, & the Powers

By Kyle Stoltzfus
Published on Saturday, August 7th, 2021

Many have offered characterizations of Anabaptism. What, at its core, is it? My suggestion is that certain kinds of historians, limiting themselves to the more or less horizontal confines of human history, are not as attuned to the spiritual realities assumed by early Anabaptists. I suggest that, in addition to historical characterization, the New Testament language of principalities and powers provides us with a valuable way to understand both early Anabaptists and what they have to do with us. 

A hurried characterization 

Harold Bender’s classic work, the Anabaptist Vision, highlights discipleship, voluntary church, and an ethic of love and nonresistance as central to the essence of Anabaptism. John Horsch and Franklin Littell suggest that Anabaptism is, at its core, a restitution of New Testament Christianity. Robert Friedman argues that it is existential and without theological form. Abraham Friesen suggests that it is humanistic in the spirit of Erasmus. William McGrath argues that Anabaptism is Protestantism plus nonconformity and nonresistance, Coggins that it is what is true in both Catholicism and Protestantism, and Klaassen and Lederach that it is neither Catholicism nor Protestantism, but a third way. The characterizations go on. 

My goal in identifying these characterizations is not to disparage them. It’s a hard thing to characterize anything historical. This is a hazard which historians assume and one I assume by characterizing their characterizations! My goal, in this hasty sketch, is to highlight a theological dimension of Anabaptism which I feel is frequently underdeveloped. My suggestion is that attentiveness to the continuity spanning these characterizations, namely Jesus Christ’s victory over the principalities and powers, is what closes the gap between the times historians excavate and the times distinctly our own.  

What We Learn from New Testament Advice to Slaves

By Marlin Sommers
Published on Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

“Slaves, submit to your earthly masters.”

The injunction jars us.  We know the evils of slavery. We wonder why the early church did not loudly and roundly condemn slavery. Why do the New Testament letters instead tell Christians how to live within the context of slavery? This raises large questions which I hope sometime to discuss at more length. What I want to do in this essay, though, is explore what we learn about our own work from the various slavery passages in the New Testament.

Slavery is a bad thing. The New Testament gives advice for dealing with slavery, but it does not call the arrangement good. Slavery may be more or less brutal. The material conditions of slaves vary. But there is one constant about slavery: the slave’s labors and living arrangements are under the control of the master.  Another person holds the (legal) right to say where one goes and what one does. This level of control should not be held by another human. 

Even while reassuring slaves that they can serve God as “a freedman of the Lord,” Paul warns not to “become slaves of men,” because Jesus has bought us with a price. And even when he tells slaves not to “be concerned about” their condition, he adds the parenthetical, “But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.” (1 Corinthians 7:21-23). The only fitting master is God. Paul is continuing an Old Testament theme. Israel was not to allow their fellow Israelites to be sold as slaves because they were God’s servants, whom he rescued from slavery in Egypt (Leviticus 25:39-55).

My point is not to make slavery look less bad, but to see what these texts teach us about our own work, whatever our economic situation.

New Testament advice to slaves reminds us that, whatever our economic situation,

A Look at Romans 12 and 13

By perspectives
Published on Saturday, June 5th, 2021

In today’s highly partisan environment it is easy for American believers to be carried away with the passionate belief that politics can be the solution to our nation’s problems.  If only we could elect the right official or enact the right law, all would be well.  If only we could prevent this or that inappropriate behavior by using the coercive power of government, we would be blessed.  Unfortunately this view ignores the Two Kingdoms concept found in Colossians 1:12-14 and elsewhere.  The kingdom of darkness serves Satan’s wishes, while the kingdom of light belongs to God’s dear Son.

There are several places in the New Testament that tell the citizens of the kingdom of God’s dear Son about their responsibilities toward government.  Perhaps the key passage is Romans 13:1-7.  To grasp this passage well, we need to consider it in its context by looking at all of Romans 12 and 13.  As we look at the two chapters, keep in view whom Paul is addressing.  In all of chapter 12 and in chapter 13 after verse 7, Paul is speaking to fellow believers in general.  He makes it clear that God wants to work with his people to develop the character of Christ in them.  They are to offer their bodies to God, cease to conform their thinking to the thinking of the world, and to be transformed by the renewal of their minds.  In this process of transformation they are to use the gifts God has given them to serve Him and the church.  

In the second half of chapter 12 Paul gives specific lifestyle directions, all of them possible only because of God’s grace to His children.  A key aspect of these directions is Paul’s insistence that we live at peace with all men.  This includes persecutors, those who curse us, and those who have done evil toward us (vv. 11-21).  All of this chapter has been addressed to believers.