Letter to Our Mennonite Brethren

 

Letter to our Mennonite Brethren

 

(Typical Mennonite Meeting House)

A Sincere and Passionate Appeal of a Mennonite Pastor to His Brethren


A Case of Love for God or Love for our Mennonite People and Tradition

 

The following letter is one of the most unique we have ever read. It was composed by a Mennonite pastor and his wife as they discovered truth from Scripture and compared it with what they had always been told, what they had studied, what they had always believed, and what they had inherited from their parents and forbears.

 

If you had been in the place of this honest and valiant couple, what would you have done? Would you have allowed religious tradition to dictate your position and form your practice? Would you have assumed that better scholars and historians than you already made decisions in the past that you should abide by? Would you have presented the matter to your Mennonite brothers and allowed them to make the decision for you?

 

On the other hand, would you have realized that you are bound to believe and obey God yourself, without religious tradition binding you? Would you have been willing to lose the traditional cords and religious ties that were yours for many years, and step out in faith and courage to do the will of God? Would you have carefully examined the historical, linguistic, and doctrinal evidence, and then made decisions that would sever your ties to dear friends and family—all for the sake of God and His Word? Would you have been like Peter and the other apostles who declared, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

 

The following letter will describe what this courageous pair felt compelled to do, for the sake of Christ. Please read it with thoughtfulness and a willingness to obey what they were willing to obey, with the help of God.

 

–Richard Hollerman

 

To the Brotherhood at Boyertown:

 

          Greetings to you in the Name of Jesus whose Name is above every Name. (Phil. 2.9)

 

          We are coming to you tonight to discuss with you a concern as to our past teachings on what one must do to be saved. Since we are aware of the many voices today teaching an easy road religion, we want to recognize the voice of Jesus Christ on the gift of salvation which is through Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” (John 14.6) “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3.9)

 

          The Gospel “… is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth…” (Rom. 1.16) Paul explains what the gospel is in 1 Cor. 15.3, 4 “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”         

          The following verses are only a few of the many that show that salvation is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. In Heb. 9.12 we find that “…by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” In Matt. 26.28 Jesus said, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” The apostle John tells us in 1` John 1.7, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanseth us from all sin.”

 

          Our responsibility in life is to (1) “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2.12) (2) “I have chosen you and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit.” (John 15.16) Now then we are ambassadors for Christ.” (2 Cor. 5.20)

 

          So great was Christ’s concern for the gospel to be obeyed that before his death he prayed for the unity of his disciples. “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one in us: that the world may believe that thous hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17.17-23). Notice in Christ’s prayer that:

 

(1) We are sanctified through the Truth. V. 17.

(2) God’s word is truth. V. 17.

(3) That all his disciples might be “one.” V. 20, 21.

(4) Being “one” will make the world “believe” that God sent Jesus. V. 21.

 

          Needless to tell you the professing Christians of our day are not “one.” The vast multitude of professed Christians are divided by wearing different names, and by teaching different doctrines. While “truth” does not contradict “truth,” yet the 350 different denominations of our day stand in contradiction of each other. One of the most often repeated questions asked by people who are not “in Christ” is “Who is right anyway?” A question we need to ask ourselves is “Are we in anyway contributing to this division amongst professing Christians?” The only way for believers to avoid division is by following carefully the pattern of the gospel as taught in the new Testament. Unless, and until we do this, we are contributing to division along with the majority of professing Christians of our day.

 

          David says n Psalm 119.104 “Through thy precepts I get understanding: Therefore I hate every false way.” A denomination does not need to teach “another” gospel to be a “false way.” Paul states in Galatians 1.6-7: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another, but there be some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” He then emphasized the following warning by stating it twice. “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so I say now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

 

What a judgment!! Now he did not mean whichever gospel they had received first would be the correct one for them to hold to, but that there is really only one gospel to be received. All others are perverted. Any preacher, teacher, or denomination that perverts the gospel stands in contradiction to Jesus Christ and his earnest plea to “be one.”

 

          In Matthew, the fourth chapter, we have Jesus stating three times: “It is written.” Is it not true that differences of doctrine and practice in the religious world today exist because of the reluctance of the human heart to simply stand upon what “is written”? Moses was warned by God in Deuteronomy 4.2 “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”

 

In Numbers 22.18, “Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, ‘If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God to do less or more.’” In Revelation 22.18-19 we are given a final warning: “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of this book of prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life and out of the holy city and from the things that are written in this book.” May we observe that the above verses condemn:         

(1) Perverting the gospel.

(2) Adding to or taking from the word of God.

(3) Going beyond the word of the Lord to do less or more.

(4) Any man who adds to or takes away from the word of God.

 

          Now we know that most denominations claim “the truth” as their basis and Christ as their Savior and Lord. But each must be tried by God’s test of such a claim. We agree that one is right only when he is scriptural. And one is scriptural when he does not “pervert,” “add to,” or “take from,” or “go beyond” the word of the Lord. I believe practically every religious body is scriptural in some areas, and some are scriptural in many areas. But when any person or group “perverts,” “adds to,” or “takes from,” or “goes beyond” the “word of the Lord” in some areas of teaching, they are not scriptural in those areas and therefore stand in opposition to “sound doctrine.”

 

          Some say however that doctrine is not so important as long as one is sincere and feels accepted of God. But to the contrary, the apostle Paul says: “For I know nothing against myself: yet I am not hereby justified:” (1 Corinthians 4.4). It was the wise man who said: “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” (Proverbs 28.26). The following are some of the scriptural references of warnings concerning doctrine: 1 Timothy 1.3, 10; 4.6, 13; 6.3; 2 Timothy 3.16; 4.2-3; Titus 1.9; 2,1, 7, 10. One of the most forceful statements of scripture we find in 3 John 9. “Whoso transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.” Doctrine indeed is important!!

 

          The question now arises, “Is there any area in which the Mennonite Church has failed to teach sound doctrine?” Our first reaction is a strong “No!” However, we must be ready to do as the Bereans when they “searched the scriptures daily,” to see “whether these things were so.” (Acts 17.11). In doing this we discovered to our great dismay that our teaching on the way of salvation is not the same as the scriptural pattern! In this area it is baptism that we have wrongly taught.

 

          Our Mennonite doctrine teaches that we are baptized because we have already been saved. In our “Doctrines of the Bible” the author states the following: “Water baptism… is ‘for’ (because of) a previous cleansing.” In a letter I received from one of the leading men in our church he wrote, “I believe that when persons receive Christ and say I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, even before they are baptized they are saved.” This, our position, explains why we urge persons to repent today and then hold them off for weeks of instruction before baptism.

 

          In Mark 16.16 in Christ’s commission to his followers we see the scriptural pattern of the plan of salvation.

 

1. He that believeth

2. And is baptized

3. Shall be saved.

 

          I now realize, with regret, that in the past I have perverted this scripture in the following way:

1. He that believeth

3. Shall be saved

2. Shall be baptized later.

 

          There is a great deal of difference between 1-2-3 and 1-3-2. I have been guilty of perverting the pure doctrine of Jesus! In the following scriptures note the design or the important place of baptism in the conversion experience:

 

1. Mark 16.16 He that believeth and is is baptized shall be saved.

2. Acts 2.38 Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.

3. Acts 22.16   And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

4. Galatians 3.27 For as many of you have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

5. 1 Peter 3.21 Baptism which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (RSV)

 

          This would go to say then that a person is not saved until he has been baptized.

 

          Does this not explain why Paul and Silas, after preaching to the Philippian jailor to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” went and baptized him even though it was after midnight! “And he (jailor) took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes and was baptized, he and all his straightaway.” (Acts 16.33).

 

          In the experience of Saul’s conversion we might think that Saul was already saved in Acts 9.6 after he said, “Lord, what wilt though have me to do?” Or it would seem as though he was surely saved already in verse 9 after spending three days without eating or drinking. The Lord told him to “arise and go into the city and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” (Acts 9.6). In Acts 22.16 when Paul told of his conversion he tells what he had to do to find forgiveness. Ananias told him to “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

 

          A careful study of the accounts of conversion throughout the book of Acts reveals the perfect unity of the early churches to practice baptism in accord with the commission of Jesus. In not one account of the conversions do we have record that a person either ate or drank between the time he repented and was baptized!

 

          So when we teach that “Now is the day of salvation,” and that your life “is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away,” and “you know not what shall be on the morrow,” we are recognizing that any one of us may never see tomorrow. How important to repent now! But then we tell those who repent that they are saved and we will plan ahead for their baptism after a period of teaching and instruction. Since baptism is “for the remission (forgiveness) of sins” we must by all means give it this scriptural place in our teaching and practice.

 

          How subtle Satan is in having us “pervert the gospel” in this area of our teaching. Are we justified in telling persons they are saved by faith only, apart from baptism, when scripture does not tell us so? Is such perversion acceptable to God in the name of religion?

 

          The next question that arises in connection with baptism is “What constitutes baptism?” The Greek word for baptize is “baptizo.” Webster’s Dictionary defines the Greek word  “to plunge, immerse.” He then defines the word “baptize “… to dip (a person) into or sprinkle with water.” It is the function of a dictionary to define a word according to its present-day usage. For example, if putting one’s feet in water for baptism would become a general practice the dictionary would then define the word accordingly.

 

          God grants us what he promises after we obey his word. This we see in the account of Naaman in 2 Kings 5. He, a leprous man, was instructed to “go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.” V. 10. Naaman was saved by faith, from leprosy, but first he wanted to pervert God’s plan. “Naaman was wroth and went away and said, Behold, I thought he will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?” V. 11, 12. Then his servants talked with him and convinced him to obey God’s command as he stated it. “Then went he down and dipped himself seven times in Jordan according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child and he was clean.” V. 14.

 

          From this story we want to make another observation. The Greek word in the Septuagint, used to described Naaman’s act here, is the very same word “baptizo” used in the New Testament. This would to to say then that baptism is the very same act done once, that Naaman did seven times.

 

          We first had to wonder why the translators of our present versions did not reveal this. Our “Doctrines of the Bible” explains what most of the translators have done. “The word ‘baptize’ and ‘baptism’ are only transliterations of the Greek terms with endings suited to the English.” p. 383. This means the translators did not translate the word but simply transferred the Greek word and put a different ending on it. Thus baptizo became baptize which left it without meaning. No translation that translates the Greek word gains very good acceptance by the general public.

 

          There are seven English translations that I know of that actually render the word baptism as immersion. The Living Oracles translation is a work done by three scholars, of which not one belonged to a church which practiced immersion. I quote from this translation a few examples:

 

          Matthew 3.13-14 Then came Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan, to be immersed by John. But John excused himself, saying, It is I who need to be immersed by you; and you come to me!

 

          Mark 16.16 He who shall believe, and be immersed, shall be saved…

 

          After realizing this we made a search into history. It is surprising how interesting history becomes to one who dislikes such a study! I quote from a few sources but there is almost no end to the historical evidence on this point.

 

          “Although baptism by trine immersion was certainly the common practice in the early and medieval church, it was discontinued in the course of time except in the Greek Orthodox Church…” Mennonite Encyclopedia Vol 1., p. 226 Note – “triune immersion” was not the very “early” practice. This was already an “adding to” the command. Ephesians 4.5 tells us that there is “one baptism.”

 

          “The Council of Ravenna 1311 A.D., legalized the baptism of sprinkling…” Johnson’s Universal Cyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 488.

 

          “A.D. 250 Sprinkling first practiced” – History of the Church Through the Ages, p. 34.

 

          Realizing that baptism is immersion, does this not explain why the New Testament accounts of baptism were in the water? Does this not explain clearly what Paul meant in Romans 6.4 when he said, “… we are buried with him by baptism into death, “and in Colossians 2.12 when he said we are “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him…”? Does this not explain also why Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch “went down both into the water,” and then he baptized him?

 

          I had always accepted our Mennonite practice of baptism without a great deal of question. However after realizing that the Holy Spirit had used a word in the scripture that means “to dip” or “plunge,” I realized the seriousness of saying something different. And after seeing the many evidences from historians and commentators and the testimonies of leaders such as Luther (Founder of the Lutheran Church), Wesley (founder of Methodism), Calvin (Founder of the Presbyterian Church) and many others, who even though they did not practice scriptural baptism, yet readily testified that scriptural baptism is immersion, I realized that I had to choose between truth and error. Many of these leaders cared so little about following the pattern of the gospel that they continued the Roman invented baptism of infants.

 

          When we first came to grips with this truth we were shocked, amazed and bewildered. This seemed so drastic, so ridiculous, so inconvenient. We realized the pressure of conscience when we realized we had never obeyed this. We argued that the blood of Christ washes away our sins – not water. We argued furthermore that God would be able to save mankind without immersing them. We argued that repentance and holiness of life are after all, the most important.

 

          Finally, the message of Naaman’s servant to Naaman, “If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it?” came to us. We realized that it is not a question of whether the blood of Christ washes away our sins or water, nor was it a question of the power of God, but simply how God chose and designed for man to be saved. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 55.8).

 

          Menno Simmons writes regarding baptism and communion: “If God would have his ceremonies under the law (which were numerous and in one respect attended with trouble and expense and which he commanded not through Christ his son, but through his servant Moses), kept thus strictly and unchanged until the time of Christ; how much more so will he have the few ceremonies of the New Testament kept strictly and unchanged, which are but two in number being baptism and the Supper which he commanded, not through his servant but through his only begotten Son Jesus Christ; and which are neither attended with trouble nor expense.” (Complete Works, Vol. 11, p. 196.)

 

          After realizing that God included into his plan of salvation, immersion, we desired as always before to do his will. On April 4th, Naomi and I were both immersed into the cool waters of the Manatawny Creek. Since then Peggy Lois also has been obedient to the scriptural baptism. It is a real joy to know that we now have “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” (1 Peter 3.21).

 

          Since this time we have weighed seriously what we should do from here. We were informed by our beloved Bishop that we would not be permitted to teach this in our conference. Since we could not teach that baptism is (1) “For the remission of Sins,”  and (2) that it is a burial in water, we realized that we were at one of the most serious crossroads in life that we had ever come to.

 

For many weeks this minor and less important teaching (so we had always considered it) brought us to the most humbling experience we have ever realized. We read debates on the subject, studied every New Testament account of conversion, read books on both sides of the subject, and prayed earnestly for wisdom from God. We realized that such a weighty decision would not dare be made hastily and so we invested hundreds of hours into it. We saw the weakness and the dishonesty of a good many authors who stood in strong defense of an unscriptural position. We always came back to the plain, simple truth of the Word of God which could only be misunderstood if we determine to put our own reasoning ahead of God’s word.

 

          Never before did we realize the strength of the cords of love that exist between you and us. We were faced on the one hand with an earnest love for you, our brethren. We were faced with the ties that exist between your children and ours. We were faced with the desire to put ourselves to the Lord’s work with you in a greater outreach for souls. We were faced with the realization of your possible disappointment in us. And so we could go on. We had already made plans to visit each of your homes with the hope that we could together share concerns in seeking the salvation of others.

 

          Our lives have been enriched by you. We think of the challenges that you as young people have been to us. We think of the stabilizing influence that you as older ones have been. We think of your loving cooperation in sharing responsibilities. We are aware of your willingness to let God use your lives where you were able to. The many hours of discussion around the Word in our Sunday School classes and in our midweek services have left an indelible impression upon us. We have become attached to the place of worship, to the building itself.

 

          We were faced on the other hand however with the realization that we would not dare to teach and practice the gospel by perverting it. How often had we sung together “Teach Me Thy Truth Oh Mighty One” and “Fully Surrendered Lord Divine.” And now when the Lord was teaching us his truth we were put to the test of our surrender to him. In John 12.42-43 we read that “…among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue. For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” How often we read that and thought: “Shame on them for such spineless religion! Today we are called on to decide whether we shall obey God or man.         

          On the basis of our love for Christ and our fear of judgment we have arrived at a conclusion, and a course that we have chosen to pursue. The apostle John says: “For this is the love of God that we keep his commandments and his commandments are not grievous.” (1 John 5.3). Jesus tells us plainly that one who “…receiveth not my words hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” (John 12.48).

 

          Some will say that we are going to an extreme on baptism. Is the Bible position an extreme? Did Jesus think this an extreme? Our only answer is that we are pleading for a scriptural position, not more, not less. If someone claims such a position is an extreme we can only let that between himself and God. Is there anything unreasonable in our plea? Let us never be guilty of “making light” of any command God has given us to obey.

 

          You are not surprised now when I tell you that we are resigning the ministry at the Boyertown Mennonite Church..

 

          Let me hasten to say that what we are doing is not against any person or against you as a brotherhood. We are taking a stand against error; perverted doctrine. This is the most difficult decision we have ever made, not because of our being in doubt as to whether or not we should obey the truth but because of the cost of this decision. We realize full well that we will be the subject of much criticism.

 

          When do we take a stand against wrong? Only when we have a unanimous vote to do so? Only when the doctrinal book of our church tells us to? Only when it is easy? Only when it is in accord with what we have been taught from childhood? Never before have we realized the weight of the words of Jesus when he said, “If any man come to me without hating (loving less) his father and mother and wife and children and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be a disciple of mine.” (Luke 14.26).

 

          Be assured we are not taking this stand for our reputation’s sake, or for the sake of money, or for the sake of any other material benefit. We are taking this stand as a result of our commitment to Jesus Christ and are trusting Him for our future.

 

          Be assured further that we welcome any questions or thoughts you may have. Our minds are not closed and should you have anything you would want to share with us we will be most grateful. You continue to be most welcome in our home. Or we will be glad to answer any letter you may send us.

 

          The Lord willing I plan to present an official resignation after the message this coming Sunday morning. After this date I will be happy to serve with you at any time I will be asked. I realize however, that I will no longer be welcomed by our leaders because our position is to promote only plain New Testament Christianity.

 

          In closing may we consider the following scriptures: “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5.21). “No we shall not make any wild claims but simply judge ourselves by the line of duty which God has marked out for us.” (2 Corinthians 10.13, Phillips). “Examine yourselves: are you living the life of faith? Put yourselves to the test. For we have no power to act against the truth, but only for it.” (2 Corinthians 13.5, 9, N. E.)

 

          “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course.” (2 Thessalonians 3.1).

 

          “My (our) love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” (1 Corinthians 16.24).

 

          In Christ,

 

          Paul and Naomi Yoder and Family

 

Addendum

 

There may be certain words or thoughts with which you may disagree in the former letter, but be willing to consider the message as a whole. Surely you will see truth shining out in this sincere letter, and hopefully you have been convicted yourself, with the awareness that you also should thoughtfully face the same truths that Paul and Naomi had to face as they carefully studied this matter of baptism. Please be willing to examine, taking the Bible as your guide and compass. Jesus said that we will one day be judged by His words (John 12:48) and the words of Scripture are the very words of God (John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12-13). We must submit to it, and not change it or pervert it (John 14:15, 21-24; 2 Peter 3:16-17; Romans 16:17-18). We hope that you will request further literature and consider it carefully and prayerfully.

–Richard Hollerman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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