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Utilitarianism and Mennonites

Utilitarianism is a system of ethics in which the thing that is the most useful is the most moral or ethical. Generally, utilitarianism holds the belief that “pleasure is good, and pain is bad,” (Jaquet, 2018). Ergo, the thing that is the most useful is the thing that causes the most pleasure. A refined utilitarian will clarify that it is not always the most immediate good that is the “best” good. When applying this general principle to actual life scenarios, the belief system has its problems. Usually, therefore,  it is combined with other belief systems to create a more plausible morality narrative.

Utilitarianism has practical applications for some of the heathen philosophies. For example, I suggest that there is general consensus among humans that it is wrong to kill people. However, this is a problem for atheists who reject a supreme being and with it that particular basis  for morality. Utilitarianism has sometimes been used by them (atheists, etc.) as a base for the moral instincts against murder, lieing, stealing, etc.. in other words, Christians suggest that moral instincts come from a creator God who has implanted us with a natural, though often corrupted, moral leanings. Atheists will  argue that morality simply exists as a system of social or even personal beliefs that “helped our ancestors to survive” (Jaquet, 2018). It is that last bit that is basic utilitarianism.

A utilitarian would probably argue that if all society stole with impunity then the society would fall apart. Security and the ability to store up goods, they would argue, greatly benefits society (I agree).  The argument is made that eventually humans or pre-humans figured out that if everyone agreed not to steal, and stealing was deterred by shame or punishment, then society would be better off and experience more long term pleasure. It is no surprise then that utilitarianism and Christianity generally share moral maxims. For, if Christianity is true, then the morality espoused by it would in fact be that morality which, when society follows it, promotes the best “survival” of that society. But these are general statements filled with exceptions.

Enter now the “what if” brigade. Would it still be wrong under utilitarianism to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family?  The utilitarian says at least that morality requires one to give the starving family bread. One of the difficulties of utilitarianism is how to arrive at the concept of universal benevolence in which everyone’s well-being is given equal consideration (Jaquet, 2018). For, this idea of caring for other people contrasts with the evolutionary argument since evolution would suggest a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. This concept is explored by the aforementioned source and Jaquet points out that there are instances of strangers sacrificing their lives for strangers, which seems to run afoul of the basic evolutionary concept of survival of the fittest.

We mentioned earlier that utilitarianism saves its bacon by avoiding the immediate game.  Utilitarians have learned that it is easier to make their case if the morality of “what is useful” should be looked at as a long-term game. Instead of “what does the most good now,” the question is asked, “what does the most overall good, overtime.”  As suggested above, one shouldn’t steal because a world where everyone steals would be harmful to me. They argue that in order to not create a harmful environment for myself or the propagators of my DNA, I do not steal, and neither should you.

Utilitarianism should not be confused with utility in general. Those that have lived within or close to the Mennonite and Amish communities will note that in an attempt to be separate, things have been banned that are only now allowed because they have reached a certain level of utility.  It is difficult for me to speak for the Amish community, but the use of cell phones for work or the building of phone shacks out by the road comes to mind. Mennonites have the awkward instances of allowing the internet while banning the TV. Why? Probably because the internet is necessary to function in the modern age - utility. Importantly, this must not be seen as a pure adoption of the utilitarian ethic. Rather, it is an example of utility changing the ethical calculation of a thing. Watches are generally permitted because they serve a function. That functionality takes them out of the realm of “purely decorative” and thus they don’t fall under the category of “adornment.”

Utilitarianism derives its ethic from a thing’s utility. In an upcoming post we will cautiously explore Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos and it’s utilitarian vibes. To be fair, I haven’t heard him claim utilitarianism as an ethics system. However, “because it’s practical” is a large  part of his reasoning for recommended conduct. One of his rules is “Always Tell the Truth or at Least Don’t Lie.” In that chapter he gives several practical reasons not to and I generally agree with them. However, for the Christian, that is not why we don’t lie. We don’t lie, simply put, because we are commanded not to. The backstory story as to why we don’t lie has more to do with why we believe and follow the dictates of the Bible than it does the practical implication of a truthful society even though a truthful society is the most useful.  It is a happy coincidence that the Christian ethic often turns out to be the most useful and produces the most long-term good. Or is it?

Jaquet, F. (2018). Evolution and Utilitarianism. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 1151-1161.

 


Ryan YoderUtilitarianism, Ethics
Anabaptists and the Apocrypha

During a recent Bible study, a friend asked if anyone knew anything about the books of the Bible that were in between the Old and New Testaments of his new Bible. I tried to explain the concept of Apocrypha, realizing in the process that I did not know as much about the topic as I would like. I since have remedied that lack of knowledge, and feel the need to share the fruits of my research with all of you. There is a long and interesting relationship that exists between the Anabaptists and these hidden books of the Bible, a relationship that has in recent generations been lost or forgotten.

We have to begin our investigation all the way back at the time of the early Christian church. In those days there were a significant number of books that were floating around, from Hebrew sources as well as translations in Greek and Aramaic. There were disagreements over which books were inspired by God and were therefore authoritative, and some of that disagreement still lingers to this day. Some church fathers gathered a collection of the books we now commonly find in the Old Testament, while others added a small collection of additional books or parts of books. Those additional collected works are sometimes collectively referred to as the Apocrypha, although some others use the word “deuterocanonical” to describe them (as opposed to protocanonical, the name used to refer to the rest of the Old Testament). The Apocrypha includes the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, The Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Judith, an extra chapter for Esther, and some other interesting reads. While the version of the Old Testament that included the Apocrypha became standard among Christians for the next millennium, the doubts about their authenticity still lingered.

Those doubts found voice in Martin Luther and other theologians during the Protestant Reformation. While quoting early church critics, the reformers moved the Apocryphal works out of the rest of the Old Testament and placed them in a section by themselves. Martin Luther himself explained that the Apocryphal books "are not to be esteemed like the Holy Scriptures, ... yet [they] are useful and good to read" (Johns 2012). In response to the Reformation, the Catholic Church called the Council of Trent (which lasted 18 years and saw the leadership of three different popes). The first decree that came out of the Council affirmed the Apocryphal books as being on the same level of authority as the rest of the Old Testament. The Catholic Church and several other Orthodox churches have maintained that position to this day. The Anabaptist movement was birthed into the middle of the controversy about the Apocrypha, with the Reformers on one side and the Catholics on the other.

Scholars have disagreed over the exact nature of the relationship between the earliest Anabaptists and the Apocrypha. The writings of early Anabaptists such as Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, and Jacob Hutter contain references to Apocryphal books, but none made it clear whether they viewed those references as carrying the full weight of Scripture or as simple nods to valuable Christian literature (Hamilton 1988). One analysis found that a group of early Anabaptist writers referenced the Apocrypha about two thirds as much as the rest of the Old Testament, which is a substantial amount considering how much larger the rest of the Old Testament is (Johns) (the same analysis found that the New Testament was referenced about 11 times as much as the Old Testament, which is a far more informative statistic). The lack of a clear definitive answer has not stopped some people from speculating though.

Some writers are quick to paint the Anabaptists as holding the Apocrypha as inspired Scriptures, in line with the Catholic church. One such author is John Hooper, who uses that conjecture as part of a broader, logically fallacious, and hyperbolic attack on Anabaptism. (Hooper n.d.) Other more level-headed scholars have reached the same conclusion, and have suggested a few possible explanations for this divergence from other reformers. One possible reason for the Anabaptist acceptance of the Apocrypha was its inclusion in almost every Bible available. That fact, combined with the way that some Apocryphal passages supported the doctrines of free will, could have led to a general acceptance of the Apocrypha. (Johns) Of course, there have been writers willing to dispute that conclusion. For example, the Mennonite Encyclopedia argues that most Anabaptists only considered the Apocrypha to be worthy of study and not on par with the inspired Scriptures (Bender 1953). Regardless of the position of the Anabaptist forefathers, it has become something of a moot point.

In modern times, the average layperson has very little knowledge or experience with the Apocrypha. Pressure from other Protestant groups and the elimination of the disputed works from most Protestant Bibles has led to their disappearance from the collective consciousness. On one hand, perhaps we are saved from being led astray by false writings and imitations of Scripture. But on the other hand, maybe we have lost a valuable collection of Christian literature which forms a small piece of our heritage. This article is too narrow to speculate on these possibilities, but we can at least acknowledge that we can never know too much about our faith and its story.


Bender, Harold S. and Nanne van der Zijpp. "Apocrypha." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 7 Jan 2019. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Apocrypha&oldid=162820.

Hamilton, Alastair. “THE APOCRYPHAL APOCALYPSE 2 ESDRAS AND THE ANABAPTIST MOVEMENT.” Nederlands Archief Voor Kerkgeschiedenis / Dutch Review of Church History, vol. 68, no. 1, 1988, pp. 1–16. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24008920.

Hooper, John. “The Anabaptists and Holy Scripture.” Bible League Trust. Web. 7 january 2019. www.bibleleaguetrust.org/the-anabaptists-and-holy-scripture/.

Johns, Loren L. "Reading the Maccabean literature by the light of the stake: Anabaptist appropriations in the reformation Period." The Free Library. 01 April 2012. Web. 07 January 2019 <https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Reading the Maccabean literature by the light of the stake:...-a0286973032>.


Delmar Oberholtzer
What is Old Christmas?

Once a year families across the world gather to celebrate the birth of Christ, remember old stories, and share family lore. At least, that’s how it was when I was a child. Each family, country, and culture has unique ways of celebrating the day. Some differences are small, like the order in which presents are opened. Some differences are drastic, like not celebrating Christmas on the same day.

The Amish, for example, have something called “Old Christmas” celebrated on January 6th.  When I first learned of Old Christmas I thought little of it as this was just one more thing that the Amish did differently.  Later, when life took me to Spain, I learned that the Spanish also have a holiday on January 6th. They call it “Día De Los Reyes” or “Day of the Kings.”  Later, as I continued my studies, January 6th kept appearing like a ghost of Christmas past. Finally, I went to google and accidentally stepped through the wardrobe into a world of Christmas traditions that feels straight out of a fairy tale. Knowing the many ways it is celebrated simply adds to the mystic and wonder of the season. The German “Krampus” is a personal favorite, but in regards to drastic historical shifts in tradition, few outshine January 6th.  

The Amish

In researching the Amish and January 6th, I was first directed to a blog post published in 2009. (In internet years, that is the equivalent of finding a dusty manuscript in grandfather’s attic.) It is titled  “Why do Amish celebrate ‘Old’ Christmas?” (DHGBETH, 2009). This blog hints to the 12 days of Christmas, the wise men, and a link to the Julian calendar as the roots of the Amish Old Christmas. Apparently, the writer reports, the Julian calendar was a lunar calendar and Christmas was celebrated on January 6th. However, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted Catholic Europe started celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December. Since this was a Catholic move, some groups who did not like the Catholics, including early Anabaptists, continued to celebrate on January 6th.  

I can confirm the blog’s statement that the switch from the 25th to the 6th originated with the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Reportedly, it was a known problem that the solstices, (celestial events that mark the seasons) were moving around on the old calendar. Thus, a new calendar was needed (Freiberg, 2000).   Some places switched to Pope Gregory’s new calendar immediately while other groups took longer. For example, there was resistance from the Church of England since the calendar had been instituted by the “Anti-Christ,” (Freiberg, 2000, p. 4) While most groups gradually made the change to the new calendar over the years, the Amish, notorious for not changing, apparently kept the tradition of Christmas on January 6th. The blog does recognize the celebration of both days among the Amish based on the tendency for variance between communities, it is likely different depending on who you ask and in which community you ask it.

People speak of the Amish as being a remembrance of an era long past. While they are usually referring to the simpler lifestyle of the Amish, no electricity, cars, etc., within the Amish liturgy linger shadows of an older world. The modern world has these shadows as well.  Perhaps most obvious of which is the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” There are protestant denominations that are stronger in liturgy, like the Reformed Church, and would evidently still recognize that day as Epiphany (RCA, n.d.).

The Eastern Orthodox

The above referenced peer reviewed article out of Liberty University’s online database declares Old Christmas to be on January 6th. However, the Eastern Orthodox celebrate something called Old Christmas on January 7th. The reason for this is again given as the lunar Julian Calendar (Orthodox Christmas Day, 2018). There is then a discrepancy. My favorite theory is that since the Julian Calendar is Lunar, and since they follow that calendar still, the day to celebrate Christmas actually moved on the Gregorian Calendar. For example. The Orthodox day of January 7 is only accurate from 1901 to 2100, when it will change to January 8th Gregorian (Orthodox Christmas Day, 2018). Ergo it makes sense that it would have been the 6th when the Amish manifested their stoutheartedness and thus it is still the 6th. But that is just a theory.   

The Spanish

To further complicate matters, in Spain, a famously catholic country, January 6th is known as Dia De Los Reyes (Day of the Kings) and celebrates the coming of the three wise men. The Spanish even have, albeit a bit apocryphally, names for each king; Melkon, Gaspar, and Baltasar. They are from Persia, India, and Arabia, respectively (Informacion, 2018). On the other hand, Wiki gives the same names but says they represent the races, European, Asian, and African (Wiki, n.d.). (This being lore, I thought Wikipedia a valid source.)  

However, contrary to the Amish and the Eastern Orthodox, December 25th is still hailed as Christmas day in Spain. As I understand it, the children traditionally receive presents on the Day of the Kings.  But according to locals, giving gifts on Christmas day is a growing practice. It is important to emphasize that Christmas is a distinct day for the Spanish. Whereas the Amish seem to view Old Christmas as a replacement (?), the Spanish celebrate both. Notably, the Spanish do have a Santa Clause tradition - I’ve heard him referred to as Papa Noel. However, the details are sketchy. The man I saw in the department store looked more like a court jester than St. Nicolas, but one does see the American Santa Claus represented commercially and in decorations.

Celebrating the Nativity

The Christmas season is saturated in history, liturgy, and lore. To follow its path through history would be a book in itself. (Authors note: I decided to check amazon and ended up buying an e-book on German Christmas traditions). The study of Christmas history and lore helps us understand how humans develop cultural strongholds. This in turn hints to the way other belief systems and liturgies have developed.  Most things that we do were developed over long periods of time to their detriment (elf on a shelf) or to their great advantage (peppermint hot chocolate). Ergo, things change over time as a normal part of human progression. Thus, thinking something is right because it has always been done that way is ridiculous. However, treasuring something because it’s always been done that way is perfectly valid.

References

DHGBETH. (2009, December 17). Why do Amish celebrate "Old" Christmas? Retrieved from Dutchman News: https://derdutchman.wordpress.com/2009/12/17/why-do-amish-celebrate-old-christmas/

Freiberg, M. (2000). Going Gregorian, 1582-1752: A Summary View. The Catholic Historical Review, 86(1), 1-19.

Informacion, L. (2018). De donde vienen realmente los Reyes Magos? Retrieved from La Informacion: https://www.lainformacion.com/asuntos-sociales/de-donde-vienen-realmente-los-reyes-magos_QSUfL5PARs9VgFQ4OzBZB5/

Orthodox Christmas Day. (2018). Retrieved December 28, 2018, from timeanddate.com: https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/orthodox-christmas-day

RCA. (n.d.). Family Ideas for Epiphany (January 6). Retrieved December 26, 2018, from Reformed Church in America: https://www.rca.org/resources/family-ideas-epiphany-january-6

Wiki. (n.d.). Reyes Magos. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reyes_Magos


Ryan YoderComment
The Christmas Tree Controversy

Several years ago, when I was working for an organization connected to a Mennonite church, a superior cautioned me that Christmas trees were not allowed to be used in any part of our Christmas decorations. This was quickly followed by the assurance that “Winter Trees” were perfectly acceptable. This little episode still makes me smile when I remember it, and I think it illustrates the controversy that surrounds some traditions. But the controversy should not turn us away from discussing and thinking about an idea. Our God loves truth, and when we use our minds to seek it out and make it known, we are serving Him. We are going to take some time to look at the history of the Christmas tree and some of the arguments that surround the practice.

The history of the Christmas tree is not easily traced because the historical record is incomplete on the matter, and myth and legend have creeped up to fill in the gaps. We do know that the modern concept of a Christmas tree, found in homes with decorations, lights, and gifts, is just the latests conception of what a Christmas tree is. When we go back in time, we find descriptions change. For example, Queen Charlotte is credited with bringing the first Christmas tree to England in 1800 (Barnes, 2). Her tree was decorated with treats and gifts for the children, making it both decorative and functional as a centerpiece for a large Christmas celebration. Going back further in time, we find Germany to be the home of the oldest recorded reference to a Christmas tree. In 1561 a law was written at Alsace that limited each home to a single tree no more than 8 feet in height (Parachin, 51). Before that date, there are only a couple of references to trees that were used as decorative elements around the Christmas season. In the late 1400s and early 1500s there are accounts of merchant guilds decorating trees with food and paper decorations before carrying the tree to the town square and burning it in a sort of bonfire party. There are also paintings and descriptions of “Paradise Trees” that were used as props in Christian dramas about Adam and Eve from that same time period (Tait, 11). Because these dramas were often put on by guilds (Bertrin)  around the Christmas season, it is possible that the trees became the inspiration for the decorative tree that later developed. It is here in the uncertainty of origins that several unsubstantiated myths have taken root.

One of the myths regarding the origin of the Christmas tree involves no less of a figure than Martin Luther. According to one story, Martin Luther was walking in a pine forest one night when he looked up and saw the stars through the branches of the trees. It reminded him of how Jesus left the beauty of the heavens to join mankind on earth, so he later cut down a tree and decorated it with candles to recreate the effect for his children. It is true that German protestants were much more likely to have a Christmas tree than their Catholic compatriots, but there is no historical backing to the story. There is likewise no evidence for the myth that the Christmas tree was inspired by or mimics pre-Christian pagan traditions. While some have noted parallels with the veneration for evergreen trees that was found in Viking and Teutonic cultures, the traditions of lighting candles and hanging wreaths in Roman cults, the use of holly in Celtic rituals, and the use of evergreen branches in some Egyptian religions, there is no real evidence that the Christmas tree is anything but a tradition maintained by and originating with people who believed themselves to be Christians.

So if the Christmas tree has a clear Christian past, why are some Christians, especially Anabaptists, opposed to the tradition? There are a number of arguments, some good and some that are not so good. One of the poorer arguments is based on the premise that the Christmas tree is a pagan symbol, and should therefore be avoided by any faithful follower of Christ. This argument has two significant flaws. First, as we have already established, there is no historical evidence to support that theory. For it to be true, the practice of decorating Christmas trees would have to have quietly survived for the hundreds of years between when Christianity replaced paganism and when Christmas trees became popular. That is unlikely. The second problem with this argument is that a symbol derives its power from the intentions and understandings of the people involved. Baptism is just playing with water unless the people involved understand the significance and consequences of the act. Without understanding communion is just eating and drinking, prayer is just talking to yourself, and the holy kiss is just weird. Just as the most powerful Christian symbols and practices are pointless without Christian understanding, a pagan symbol is only pagan when the person responsible has pagan understandings. To oppose the tradition of Christmas trees on the grounds that they are in some way pagan is not a good argument.

Those who choose to abstain from the Christmas tree tradition can justify their stance with better arguments that are rooted in Biblical truths. One such argument can be crafted by looking to the first of the ten commandments found in Exodus 20:3. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is a distinct command that still applies to all who worship Him today. Anything that comes before God in our lives can become a god (with a lowercase g). The God who created us and all that we see, who came to earth in human form to save us from ourselves in an unfathomable act of sacrifice, and who is constantly giving us strength and guidance should never take second place to a tree. If the trappings and traditions of the Christmas season are in danger of overpowering the true majesty of God, they need to go.

There are other arguments for and against the Christmas tree tradition that we don’t have time to explore here, but we welcome your involvement! Feel free to leave a comment on your own beliefs or understandings about the Christmas tree tradition, and maybe an explanation of why you hold to that position. And if you know any more Christmas tree history, we would all love to hear it. Thank you for reading and remember to keep serving God with all of your mind!

Barnes, Alison. “The First Christmas Tree.” History Today, vol. 56, no. 12, Dec. 2006, pp. 2–3. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=23306685&site=ehost-live&authtype=sso&custid=s8415227.

Bertrin, Georges, and Arthur F.J. Remy. "Miracle Plays and Mysteries." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 15 Dec. 2018 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10348a.htm>.

Tait, Edwin Woodruff. “O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum!” Christian History & Biography, no. 92, Fall 2006, p. 11. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=23306613&site=ehost-live&authtype=sso&custid=s8415227.

Parachin, Victor M. “The Christmas Tree.” Priest, vol. 68, no. 12, Dec. 2012, pp. 50–43. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=82828626&site=ehost-live&authtype=sso&custid=s8415227.


Martin Luther - A Lesson for Anabaptists

The education of Martin Luther was mammoth. A lay-scholar could very easily be discouraged from attempting a similar level of theological excellence Worse still, one might consider oneself inadequate to evaluate one’s own culture or doctrinal positions critically.   The mantra would be, “I didn’t have the opportunity to study, so I’ll just listen.” To not pursue in-depth theological study because it seems impossible would be a tragedy. There is no doubt that Luther was a great man who did great things. But even as we commend the academic excellence and bravery of Luther, remember that Luther read by candle light.

Luther could be bombastic and rude. While certainly on the receiving end of insults, he had no qualms about dishing out a few. He called the Pope the devil at one point (Hendrix, 2015, p. 15). Though, to be fair a Pope had called him a “wild hog” and a “drunken German,”(Sproul, 2015). Cordial, christian discourse in public seems to be a more modern thing.

Christendom is accustomed to having less than perfect heroes. For all his faults, Luther stands as a hero of the past and rated one of the most influential people in history (Hendrix, 2015). Even modern Anabaptists recognize the value of Luther’s deeds. This man who once said that Anabaptists were, “… corrupters of the sacraments,” and charged them with destroying the treasures of the faith. (Hendrix, 2015, p. 186).

But this article is not to explore the struggles between the first Anabaptists and the reformer Luther. Rather, the intention is to explore the events in Luther’s life that set him up to be so used of God, specifically his academic bent. For, like it or not, the Anabaptists owe their existence as a movement to the likes of Luther.

The Education of Martin Luther:

The specifics of Luther’s education are largely taken from the book by Scott H Hendrix entitled, Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer.

Luther’s accomplishments would not have come about were it not for his education.  Luther himself was aware of the treasure that he had been given, stating, “Without any doubt, I would not have come to this if I had not gone to school and become a writer,” (Hendrix, 2015, p. 21) And go to school he did.

Based on the times, Luther’s schooling may have started around the age of seven. He studied grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Students of the day studied  Latin and moral maxims from works that were around 1,000 years old, namely Donatus and Cato (Hendrix, 2015). After a short time in a place called Mansfeld, he studied in Magdeburg where he probably studied in the actual Cathedral (Hendrix, 2015). He soon moved locations again, however, and studied for several years in Eisenach. Here he studied an advanced version of the subjects already mentioned, grammar, rhetoric, and logic. He also studied musical theory and apparently had a decent tenor voice, taught himself the lute, etc., but I digress. In Eisenach, Luther came into contact with many intellectuals and religious professions. Apparently the town there had fostered an academic culture with an impractical number of religious professionals, one for every ten people (Hendrix, 2015).

Luther enrolled at the university in Erfurt in 1501 where he learned some Greek and Hebrew. Hendrix credits Luther with mentioning a slew of Greek writers in his writings. The likes of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Cicero, Virgil, the younger Seneca, Terence, and Tacitus are mentioned as a start (Hendrix, 2015). Basically, Luther read old books, a ton of them. From a gritty, historical perspective, Luther’s name appears in the ledger of the university three times. According to Hendrix, the first was when he enrolled and paid his tuition, the second was when he got his Bachelor of Arts degree, and again when he passed his Master of Arts exam (2015). In all, Luther spent nine years in Erfurt and his work in academics had just begun.

Martin Luther would not have been able to accomplish what he did were it not for his education. What then is the application for a denomination that does not send its sons, usually, into theological academic pursuits, and who certainly do not glean their ministers from among an educated store of potential masters of Theology?  There are many directions one may take this debate. There is the debate on possibly sending people to study theology and running the risk of their transferring to a different denomination. There is the question of opening four-year theological seminaries of our own. Granted, some now exist with the name “Mennonite” but conservatives have traditionally shied away from these. This debate is a constant among us. For those whom higher education is deemed too late, and perhaps they feel that they have no good options, there is a solution, of sorts.  

Luther read by candle light. I study via the glow on my phone. Luther went to school to study the great Greek and Latin masters of the past. I just purchased the complete works of Plato on my phone for $2 here.  Just as movable type assisted the propagation of Luther’s ideas, technology has given Mennonite laymen the ability to reach a level of academic prowess approaching the Divinity Majors of today. How long did Luther spend reading a document to research a topic? I have no idea, the question is rhetorical. But how long does it take to search a PDF for the section one desires? The greatest problem is not time, but knowing what to study. That advice I do not offer here. My only point is that it is available to anyone.

Luther was given opportunities by his father and utilized them to become a scholastic giant of his time. God used his education and talents to change His church forever. It was not an easy road and Luther will forever have severe marks against him. History is replete with God using educated people to defend his church, when He can find them.

References

Hendrix, S. (2015). Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Sproul, D. R. (2015, March 10). The Insanity of Luther. Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2StKxMKWfbU&index=4&list=WL&t=0s

 


Serving God With the Mind

Welcome to the inaugural blog post of the Anascholastic Institute! In the coming months we hope to bring you content on a variety of topics that might include: Bible studies, publication reviews, commentary on current events, and doctrinal discussions. The purpose of this blog is to encourage our readers to think about things, to excite their curiosity, and to inspire them to seek better understanding. We seek these things for our readers because we at the Anascholastic Institute believe that all Christians should be serving God with their minds, and we want to share and act on that message. We would like to lay the groundwork for this endeavor by taking some time to explore the reason why the service of the mind is so important both spiritually and practically.

To begin, let us consider what the Bible has to say about the use of the mind. There are many verses from many books that deal with the topic of wisdom and thinking, but one which seems particularly instructive can be found in the gospel of Matthew (though the phrase also appears in Luke and Mark). Here we find an account of a Pharisee who asks Jesus which commandment in the law is the most important. Jesus responds by saying: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38, KJV). According to the words of Jesus, the mind plays a crucial role in the life of a believer, one that cannot be separated from the rest of his or her  response. The mind should be involved in all of the aspects of loving God; through service, worship, living, and interacting with those around us. In short, the Bible clearly shows that God wants our minds to play an active role in our Christian lives. So now that we are clear on the importance of serving God with the mind, we can reasonably ask ourselves what that service looks like.

A great place to start is in the recognition that serving God requires a level of knowledge about God and His attributes, and His plan. Acquiring knowledge about God comes through studying the Bible, listening to other believers, and contemplating the truths of God. But it doesn’t end there. A Christian should also be concerned with preparing their mind for the task of gaining knowledge. In order to know what the Bible says about God, one must learn to read. To search out truth one must be able to think critically. To share with other believers one must be able to communicate both in writing and in the spoken word. Gaining and maintaining the tools of the mind is a necessary part of seeking the knowledge of God that is needed to serve and love God.

But serving God with the mind means more than just acquiring knowledge of God, it also requires the use of that knowledge. It has to be applied to the way in which a Christian lives, otherwise that knowledge is nothing more than the result of an  intellectual exercise that is devoid of meaning. One common way that a Christian might use their mind to serve God is through discipling other believers. While it comes in many different forms, the process of encouraging and guiding others to become more like Jesus is one that requires wisdom and judgement, both qualities of the mind. Evangelism is another way in which a Christian can use their mind in the service of God. Bringing people to Christ is not a purely mental process, but there is still a great deal of value in being knowledgeable about the arguments in favor of Christianity. Finally, a Christian can use their mind in support of the local church, assisting with the ministry efforts of the church or by protecting the doctrine of the church from being corrupted or lost.

We at the Anascholastic Institute believe that there is a need for Christians who are willing to commit to serving God with the mind, a need that might be more pressing today than many times in our recorded history. We live in the age of incredible knowledge, with access to an unfathomable amount of information, surrounded by a population that is mostly literate and educated. The setting in which we live provides amazing opportunities, but it also presents challenges. When small handheld device can access hundreds of thousands of opinions and theories and beliefs, the modern Christian is likely to be challenged far more than the Christians of the past two millennia. The local church is more likely to be exposed to outside influences, to be swayed by popular opinions, or to be seduced by false teaching. It is likely that the unbelievers we come into contact with are not ignorant of Christianity, but are simply unconvinced. In any case, we need Christians to know what they believe, who are willing to defend and communicate that belief, and who are willing to let that belief dictate the direction of their life. We are in need of Christians everywhere to place their minds in the service of God.

And so we invite you to join us in spreading the message. Keep an eye out for our regular blog posts, read them, share them, and comment on them. We would also like to hear your feedback. We welcome your agreements and disagreements, your suggestions and your questions. Become a part of the Anascolastic community! Together we can support and encourage each other in the crucial task of serving God with our hearts, souls, and minds.

Delmar Oberholtzer