Months ago, shortly after beginning this study we considered the Biblical title of “disciple.” The word is used two hundred fifty-five times in the New Testament – it is very common. At its root, there is a reference to “a follower,” “a learner” or “a student” – especially – a follower of Christ. But it means far more than simply a “pupil” or a “scholar.” It refers to someone who has begun to look at his teacher as his “Master.” “Master” was on of the titles Jesus’ disciples used when speaking to Him. Our commission is to lead people into discipleship under Christ.
At that time, we examined several scriptures which describe various characteristics of disciples, and I’d encourage you to review them. One scripture which I did not use, because it doesn’t contain the word “disciple” is found in Matthew 19. It may not use the word, but it speaks about discipleship nevertheless. “One came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Notice the man’s flippant use of the title “Master.” I say “flippant” because he wasn’t really sincere, even though he might have meant it to be. “And (Christ) said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” When the man asked which commandments, Jesus gave him some of the decalogue. “The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”
Throughout history, many among God’s people – the Cathari, the Albigenses, the Waldenses, the Anabaptists – have taken these instructions personally and seriously. Also, many of them tried to apply Acts 2:45 – selling “their possessions and goods, parting them to all men, as every man had need.” They tried to practice Romans 12:9 – “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” They understood the generosity of the church in Thessalonica and interpreted I Thessalonians 4:9-10 in that light. “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia, but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more.” Unfortunately, this business of sacrificially selling and sharing out of brotherly love is contrary to basic human nature – fallen human nature. And therefore it is contrary to ordinary humanistic society.
As a result one of the names sometimes applied to God’s people has been “Communist.”
Etymologically, linguistically – not necessarily politically – a communist is someone who believes that property ought to be shared. In the Bible we see that sharing springing voluntarily from the regenerated heart. But it has to be admitted that some radical aspects of Anabaptism believed that this policy of sharing could be and should be enforced by law. I have read that Thomas Munser, believed in a forced “sharing of goods.” And eventually a man named Jacob Huter, took a branch of the Anabaptists into enforced communistic communes calling themselves “Hutterites.” And much later, Friedrich Engels, cofounder of Marxism declared that the Anabaptists were good Marxist communists. But that is slander and a misrepresentation of the truth.
In 1561 a council of Reformed churches in Belgium and Holland, met and put together a confession of faith called the “Belgic Confession.” It is still in use today in various forms both in Europe and on this continent. The 36th Article says, “Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious folk, and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates and would subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency and good order which God has established among men.” The reference to “rejecting the higher powers and magistrates” means that those heretics did not recognize the government’s authority over men’s souls and God’s churches. They rejected the homogenous, thoroughly inter-related society which united religion, government, the economy, recreation, healthcare, families and who lives or dies. On the heels of that charge, the Belgic Confession declares that the Anabaptists were trying to destroy the good order of society by sharing what they possessed with others rather than the ordinary selling of their goods for a profit. Sharing things with people in need was considered to be hurtful to society. (I wonder how much a part of that equation involved governmental taxation??? It is hard to tax, what is freely given away.)
In 1535, the archbishop of Cologne sent a letter to his Emperor, warning him of this danger to society. “The Anabaptists wish to re-divide all properties… just as the nature of the Anabaptists has always been, even as the ancient chronicles and Imperial laws made a thousand years go do testify.” Here was a well-informed enemy, declaring that God’s “heretics” – the Paulicians, Donatists, Waldensians and others, have from the beginning disrupted the economy of general society – by sharing.
History declares that God’s people have minimized the idea of “mine and thine.” And within their churches they have more or less practiced something they called “community of goods.” They believed that the scriptures taught that no man is in absolute possession of anything, because Jehovah is King and has the fully ownership of His creation. Therefore, God’s creatures are not owners but merely stewards of the property of God. No individual should ever hold things as if he were the only man on earth. If another man needs something, then it becomes the Christian’s responsibility to help him in his need. They preached against avarice and possessing more than was personally necessary. They preached against usury – not in the modern sense of charging exorbitant interest – but of expecting to be repaid anything for their sharing.
Often, as a result, while still striving to be good farmers or makers of useful goods, God’s people lived simple, frugal lifestyles. What was the nickname applied to those who followed Peter Waldo? “The poor men of Lyons.” Peter Waldo had been a wealthy man before his conversion to Christ. After his salvation, he made sure that his family was fed, and then he gave the rest of his wealth away. So did the people who followed him. One of the common titles applied to Thomas Munser’s rebellion was “the Peasant’s War.” The people of God didn’t choose to become poor necessarily, but they DID choose to distribute. They took the words of Paul to Timothy literally. “I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession… Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” Some branches of today’s Mennonites, especially the Hutterites, believe that a person cannot be a child of God unless he practices their idea of “community of goods.”
So God’s people have sometimes been called “communists,” but that is not true in the modern use of the word. And even in the early days of the Protestants, when they were attacked for their desire to bless and share, they did their best to explain and defend themselves. When Zwingli laid the charge of “community of goods” against an Anabaptist named Hubmaier, in 1526, he answered: “I have always and at all places spoken about community of goods as follows: that a man must at all times be concerned for his fellow man, in order that the hungry may be fed, the thirsty given to drink, the naked clothed. For we are verily not lords over our own possessions, only administrators and dispensers. There is, believe me, no one who advocates taking another man’s goods and making it common – then rather leave to him the coat as well as the mantle.” This man believed that his sharing of good was to be voluntary, not coerced or required. A year later, Brother Hubmaier was again called into question, and again he replied – “I am being suspected of wanting to make all things common. But this I have not done. I have the rather called that a Christian community of goods where one who has the wherewithal and who sees his neighbor suffering want then distributes his alms to him, with which the hungry, the thirsty, and the naked, and those in prison may be helped. The more a person practices such acts of compassion the closer he comes to a Christian mode of existence.” When prisoner, Jorg Dorsch, was ordered to explain the Anabaptist conspiracy, he replied: “I verily know of nothing concerning any rule, order, or conspiracy which I share with other Anabaptists, save only this, that when a poor person who has received the sign comes to another Anabaptist he is to be given that on which he may exist. No one is required to give to another what which he himself needs…. I have not heard that they wish to be against the magistracy or that their intention is that all goods, wives, and children are to held in common or free to all comers.”
Suggested here is another common slander which the Protestants threw against the brethren. They were accused of practicing a community of wives as well as goods. Even Calvin suggested such an absurdity for a while. But over and over again, God’s people disavowed this attack. Julius Leuber declared to the court where he was charged with “heresy” – “As to community of wives I would say that if anyone teaches that, his doctrine is of the devil and not of God. However as to community go goods, I am obliged to help the brother near me, out of brotherly love and without being coerced.” When Menno Simons was accused of heresy and subversion, he told his persecutors – “God forbid that we should be against government or act contrary to it…. we must be obedient to them, whether they be good or bad…. And as to community goods, no one is forced among us to put his property in a common treasury and we have no intention of making it common by force. But he who possess and then sees his brother or sister in need, he is duty bound in love and without constraint to help and to succor.”
Our forefathers may have been charged as “Communists,” but nothing in the Bible, and nothing in church history justifies the charge.
Let’s conclude this series with just one, more appropriate, title – “Stabler.”
In the hours following Christ Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand, He sent everyone away, including His disciples, because there was a movement afoot to make Him king. Some may have been thinking “Messiah,” but many where thinking only of overthrowing the Romans and encouraging more of Jesus’ miracles. But Christ had no intention of becoming a secular king.
Throughout His ministry, He and the disciples were a tiny point of light in a dark and wicked society. With Christ’s ascension into Heaven, His churches continued to be lighthouses, not White Houses or Houses of Parliament. Despite the common assertion, it has never been a part of God’s plan that Christians become the common society of the land. That may have been Constantine’s idea, and the Popes picked up on it and expanded it. That may have been the Protestant’s theme in central Europe, and it may have been carried to North America by the Pilgrims. But that is not Biblical doctrine. God’s people will always be an elect remnant until such time as the True King returns in His glory to personally establish the Millennial Kingdom.
Back as early as the Book of Acts, God’s people have been persecuted by the dominant society. First there were the Jews, with Saul of Tarsus in the lead for a while. The pagans took up the sword, then the Constantinian Catholics, followed by the Protestants. With the 4th century, it became common doctrine that the sword could be used as a religious tool. If it didn’t work as a tool of evangelism, then it could be employed it to punish the “heretics.” Either way it was an implement of coercion.
I mentioned in our last lesson that the Protestant leaders decided that the days of voluntary submission to Christ came to an end long before their time. They felt that the lost should be compelled to “come in” using any means possible. From where did they get this idea? Where they got most of their other doctrines – from Catholicism. When the Donatists began to stand apart from Rome, Augustine defended the established church. It was he, who began to twist scriptures into the defense of coercion, often in the most ridiculous fashion. For example, he wrote to a Donatist named Vincentius – “Have you not read how Paul… was compelled by great violence… to embrace th truth? For the light of men’s eyes, more precious than money or gold, was suddenly taken away from him. He did not get it back until he became a member of the Holy Church. You think no coercion should be used to deliver a man from his error, and yet you see… that God does this very thing.” This kind of thinking produced the church of the Middle Ages – Verduin says, “It was not a company of believing folk joining in voluntary association; it was mass of human beings brought together and held together by the symbol of coercion, the sword of the secular power. The official doctrine was, as Pope Pelaguis was putting it as early as the year 1553, ‘unto the coercing of heretics and schismatics the Church possess the secular arm, to coerce in case men who cannot be brought to sanity by reasonable argument.’”
To this kind of thinking was the reply of Anabaptist Peter Chelcicky – “By the use of force no man is brought to faith in Christ, as little likely as that a man can learn Bohemian by studying German . . . . By means of the secular power Anti-Christ has pulled all power to himself under cover of the Christian faith. Since we believe that it was by meekness and humility unto the Cross that Christ delivered us from the power of Satan we cannot allow that the perfecting of our faith comes by worldly power; as if force is a greater benefit than is faith …. When Emperor Constantine in his heathen mode of existence was taken up into the Church by Pope Sylvester and the latter in turn was fitted out with external power – it was then that the destruction of the Church was inevitable.”
From the Paulicians forward to the Donatists, Waldenses and Anabaptists, God’s people made the sword an issue. Many of them were out and out pacifists, while some advocated only the protection of their families. None of them taught that the sword could be used for conversion.They all condemned the coercion of the established churches and governments, while loudly declaring that someone’s coming to Christ must be completely voluntary. This was a part of their arguments against paedobaptism – infant baptism.
Not only was this a major point of doctrine for these people, it also became a symbol of their religion. Verduin says that during the Protestant Reformation in Germany the Anabaptists carried with them a small walking stick, whenever they traveled abroad. In protest against the sword they carried with them a staff – a “stabler.” It wasn’t the big shepherd’s crook, but a small, harmless cane. This was so common among them that it became identified with the “heresy” of the brethren. For a while in that country, if anyone was found carrying some sort of cane, it was assumed that he was an Anabaptist – he was a “Stabler.”
Not only was this a Christian fashion accessory, it was an act of rebellion. There were districts in Europe, where the carrying of a small sword was as fashionable and as necessary as carrying a Colt revolver in the American West. That sword was a declaration of allegiance to the governor of the region, and a statement to others that this person was willing to defend his country. When the Anabaptist refused to wear the sword it was a statement of social disloyalty. Perhaps for some it was, but for others it was more of a loyalty to Christ who said, “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
Verduin says, “Cane carrying was not invented in the 16th century, however; it seems to have been a distinguishing feature of the ‘heretic’ from the very early times.” He says that the Waldensians told people not to consider any cleric a true man of God unless he carried a cane. “One of the Protestant leaders of Bohemia, Lucas of Prague, angrily declared, “I highly disapprove of these vain Pharisees wandering around with staffs, displaying (or flaunting) their righteousness.” The Christian Celts resisted Constantinianism, carrying a staff, known as a “gambutta,” to differentiate between themselves and the Roman-sent missionaries. Verduin says that the Donatists may have been the first staff-carriers, carrying a relatively harmless cane which they called their “Israel.”
Like some of the other names and titles found in religious history, “stabler” probably wouldn’t be a good one for us to take up today, because it would be unrecognizable by the average man. But the principles which lie behind some of these titles, should still be a part of the children of God. I don’t think that Christians should be known as violent people. We shouldn’t be burning down abortion clinics, or throwing rocks at the police surrounding the Democratic National Convention. I don’t believe that there is a place for revenge among the children of God. Just as our faith is in Christ for salvation, our faith should be in Christ for preservation. Christ is returning soon. Not only will He overthrow our heathen governments, He will also bring to an end the Christianized heathen religions. “Even so come Lord Jesus.”