Good Deeds and Bad Hearts?

By Marlin Sommers
Written on 09-10-2021

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 perspectives
Written on 17-09-2021

September 18, 2021 

Written by: Vince Beiler 

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 perspectives
Written on 10-09-2021

September 11, 2021 

Written by: Vince Beiler 

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.

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:

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

By perspectives
Written on 03-09-2021

September 4, 2021 

Written by: Vince Beiler 

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.  

Excitement and Opportunity: Supporters Update 16

By perspectives
Written on 20-08-2021

Would you rather watch an episode on video or listen to it as a podcast? Why? When are videos better than books? Why? What are the downsides of communicating in writing? 

As our team gathered for the first annual Anabaptist Perspectives Convention, we took time for philosophical reflection before diving into planning and troubleshooting. The church is called to use a broad tool set for media and communication. Anabaptist Perspectives in particular is called to make good use of audio, video, and text through accessible internet platforms. That's why we have a blog, podcast, YouTube Channel, Facebook page, several Telegram groups, and a few other distribution methods. 

Getting our team together in person for two days was wonderful! Video conferencing just doesn’t work for some purposes (even when your focus is digital media). Convention highlighted so much to be excited about and thankful for. It also highlighted the need for work and prayer. 

WHAT MAKES US THANKFUL & EXCITED!

SHARED VISION & TEAMWORK

Lots of energy and enthusiasm was on display. Lots of diverse skills which people are eager to employ. Ideas for making things better. People who had not met before working together in person. 

Seeking Better Vision - Anabaptists, History, & the Powers

By perspectives
Written on 07-08-2021

August 8, 2021

Written by: Kyle Stoltzfus 

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 perspectives
Written on 03-07-2021

Date: 7/4/21

Written by: Marlin Sommers

“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.

A Look at Romans 12 and 13

By perspectives
Written on 05-06-2021

June 5, 2021

Written by: Stephen Russell

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.  

Planting an Anabaptist Church in a City

By perspectives
Written on 02-05-2021

May 2, 2021

Written by: Allen Roth

How does a twenty first century Anabaptist go about planting an Anabaptist church in a city?  Is it even possible?

First of all, let’s remember that Jesus Himself promised:  “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18, emphasis mine).  In the Great Commission, the resurrected Jesus stated clearly, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples…teaching them to observe [obey] all things that I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28:18-20 NKJV).  He promised to be with us as we make obedient disciples everywhere on earth among all the people groups.  He would not command us to do the impossible!

Secondly, the apostles demonstrated that they understood His command to mean planting new churches, beginning in cities across the Roman empire.  The names have become so familiar we don’t even think of them as cities:  Rome, Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, Antioch, Thessalonica, Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, Laodicea, Smyrna, Philadelphia and many more.  If the early Christians, with no previous church history and in an empire hostile to them, could plant new churches with the aid of the Holy Spirit, can we not reasonably expect to do the same?

Thirdly, Paul described how God had given him grace, wisdom, gifts and a special calling to plant churches by laying the foundation upon which others would come to build (I Cor. 3). These churches would be composed of believers who would be obedient to the faith that he had preached to them (Rom. 1:5; Phil. 2:12,13; I Cor. 11:1,2). Jesus builds His church through people who share the Gospel and then teach those who receive the Gospel to obey the commands He gave directly and the commands he gave through His apostles.  This is what we aim for as we plant churches, whether in the countryside, small towns or in cities.

Three Years In: Supporters Update 15

By Marlin Sommers
Written on 12-04-2021

Three Years In: Supporters Update 15

Anabaptist Perspectives is now over three years old. Our founders released the first video on January 4, 2018. Later that year we officially organized as a ministry of Wellspring Mennonite Church.

In this special annual report (and three year report!) edition of Supporters Update, I have several things to share.

To boil it down, we are thankful for fruit we have seen and for what God has provided. At the same time, we keenly sense the need for roots to sustain the work.