Children of Who?
By Duane Troyer
May 1, 2013
The apostle Peter wrote his second epistle to stir up the people's pure minds by way of remembrance (2 Peter 3:1). My heart's intent, as I begin to write this letter, is to stir up the minds of God's people, especially the brethren among the Amish and other Anabaptist descendants who attempt to preserve the faith of our forefathers.
Man can nearly always recognize the people of God who lived in the past, but somehow to recognize the people of God living today is not so easy. It has always been that way. Nathaniel Howe phrased it well, "The way of the world is to praise dead saints, and persecute living ones."
Jesus found this problem among the religious leaders during His days on earth. In Matthew 23:29-31 He says, Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say If we had been in the days of our fathers we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. When the scribes and Pharisees read the books of the Old Testament, it was easy for them to distinguish the righteous people and the true prophets from the children of the devil who rejected them. They were positive that they themselves would have been in one accord with the righteous ones. The scribes and Pharisees were sure that if the prophets of old could somehow step into their own present era, they would surely give each other a right hand of fellowship. But they could not identify the righteous people and the true prophets that were among them in person, and thus they rejected them.
Likewise when the leaders of the state church during the Dark Ages and Reformation era read the gospels and the book of Acts, it was easy for them to see that Jesus was the Christ, that John the Baptist was a true prophet, and that their disciples were righteous. They had no problem seeing that the scribes and Pharisees who rejected them were children of the devil. These state church leaders were positive that if they had lived in the days of the apostles, they would have lived in perfect unity with each other. They were sure that if the apostles could somehow step into their own era, Peter, John, Paul, and the others would have given them a right hand of fellowship. But they could not identify the righteous people and true prophets among them, and thus rejected them.
When we, today's descendants of the Anabaptists, read about the revivals of the Reformation, it is easy for us to see that the Anabaptists were the true church and righteous followers of the Lamb. We easily recognize that the Catholics and Protestants who rejected and persecuted them were children of the devil. We are positive that if we had lived at that time we would have been in one accord with them. We are sure that if the early Anabaptists could somehow step into present-day America, Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock, Hans Hut, and the others would surely give us the right hand of fellowship. But can we identify the righteous people and true prophets that are among us today? Or do we reject them?
Having 20/20 vision when we look into the past, but being totally blind to the present day situations is not a problem of certain people in certain areas at certain times. It is a universal and perpetual problem. In fact as I compare what has happened with what is happening, I believe the adage that the more things change the more they stay the same!
Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were mighty prophets of God. But they did some very peculiar things. Imagine yourself living in their days, if you can. You would have seen one of these men walking about barefoot and naked for three years (Isaiah 20). Or you might have seen one of them build an illustration of Jerusalem with a tile, an iron pan, and some other objects. He then reclined beside this odd array of objects. Every day as you passed by this scene, there this man lay. He never turned from one side to the other. For 390 days he remained there on his left side. After that he rolled over onto his right side and lay there for another 40 days. During this whole year and two months he remained there in all kinds of weather eating a multigrain bread he had baked with manure (Ezekiel 4).
Or perhaps you would have seen a young man standing at the busy, public gate weeping, lamenting, and lifting up his voice, declaring the doom that was to come. His message was so dark and dreary that the hands of the men of war were weakened. Even the most positive thinker could turn negative by listening to him (Jeremiah and Lamentations).
What kind of men were these? They were radical, odd, eccentric, and disrupters of peace and order. Where did they get their authority?
Also bear in mind that among those who rejected these prophets were many nice people, men who were level-headed and friendly. Men who helped those in need. Men who were older than the prophets. Men who preferred righteousness over iniquity.
How easy would it have been to discern who the true and righteous ones were? Which side would you have identified with?
We tend to think if we had lived in Palestine two thousand years ago, we would have recognized Jesus as the Son of God, and believed that every word he spoke and every deed he did was right and holy. But can we be sure? Remember that at the time we would not have anticipated His death on the cross or His resurrection. There was nothing about His form that would cause us to desire Him (Isaiah 53:2). There were times when He got visibly angry (Mark 3:5, Mark 8:12, John 11:38). Many times His speech and rebukes to people were anything but tactful (Mark 7:25, Matthew 23, Luke 11:39-52). He called Herod a fox (Luke 13:32). One day He turned around and told His followers that they must hate their fathers, mothers, wives, children, brethren, sisters, and selves to be his disciple (Luke 14:26). He walked into the temple one day, and with a mighty heave He overturned the seats and tables where the people sat. He made a scourge and drove the animals and people out of the temple (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 2). This same man tells us that if we don't eat His flesh and drink His blood there's no life in us (John 6:53-58).
What kind of man was this? He was radical, odd, and He stirred up all the people with His teaching. Where did He get his authority?
Bear in mind that among those who rejected Him were many nice people. Men who were level-headed and friendly. Men who helped those in need. Men who were much older than Jesus. Men who preferred righteousness over iniquity.
Picture a people in this land today, yea right in our midst who are zealous of good works and on fire for the truth. A people whose teachers would go about baptizing anyone who truly repents, sometimes by immersion, sometimes by pouring, day or night, and at any time of the year. These men would be found on the street corners and alleys of our small towns preaching the Word of God to passers-by. They might publicly sing and leap and praise God. Even their women would witness of the truth and, being constrained to do so, would not keep silent.
Picture them meeting and having communion often, on any day of the week, and at any time of the day and night. They sing songs written by one of their own members. If people present only understood the English language, they would refuse to speak German. Any brother inspired by the Holy Spirit was permitted to speak in their meetings. These people would have no problem with working on Sundays, and they would hold very little esteem for any holidays.
Picture a people who send out young men for weeks and months at a time, leaving home, a wife, and children, to preach the gospel to the lost.
These people would have a high regard for inner conviction (Gemuth), and a low regard for the voice of a church. They would reject the idea of "group conviction" and surrender all "personal conviction" and follow the only thing that was left, "inner conviction" (the light and inborn knowledge of truth within us).
Most of these people would be poor. If they had been rich with money and possessions, they would voluntarily become poor. The group would mostly consist of young people ages fifteen to thirty-five.
What would we think of such a people? I don't mean those who live on the other side of the globe. I don't mean those who lived sometime in the past. I mean if they lived right now, right here in this land of ours, right in the midst of our communities. Some of them would be of "unser Leit" [our people]. What would we think of them?
I think I know. These people would be called radical, odd, individualist, Pietists, rebels, heretics, fanatics, stubborn, disrupters of peace and order. Where did they get their authority?
But wait a minute. That is exactly what the Catholics, Lutherans, Zwinglians, and Calvinists called our forefathers in the 1500's! Every one of the characteristics I have listed was found among them. Most of these characteristics brought fear and alarm to the state churches. Most of the disputes between the early Anabaptists and the "children of the Pharisees" revolved around baptism, sacraments, swearing oaths, holy oil, etc. But for the most part the Anabaptists could have escaped persecution, and been granted the privilege to keep their beliefs if only they would have agreed to remain silent and leave the preaching and teaching for the clergy of the state church.
We pray for revival in our land, but what would revival look like? Are we sure we would recognize it? It might not look like we imagine it. It might not begin with the people we think it would. For God is able to raise out of these stones children of the Anabaptists, which are children of the apostles, which are children of the prophets, which are children of Abel, which are children of God. As it has always been, they will look odd, radical, eccentric, disrupting peace and order to the world and religious leaders who are children of the Catholic priests, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. These are children of the scribes and Pharisees, Pilate, and Herod, which are children of Ahab, Joash, Zedekiah, and King Manasseh, which are the children of Cain, which are the children of the devil.
Why make all this ado over whether or not we can recognize God's people? Didn't Jesus simply say, By their fruits ye shall know them? Aren't the fruits of the spirit love, joy, peace, etc.? Indeed that is true. But if we lean on our own understanding of what God's love, joy, and peace looks like when it is manifested through earthen vessels, we will most likely have another blind spot. Jesus is our perfect pattern. When He overturned the tables, called people serpents and a generation of vipers, and called Herod a fox, it was the fruits of the spirit in action.
Does it all matter whether or not we can recognize the saints of today? I'll be the first to admit that we live in perilous times, and there are many false prophets and Antichrists. But I submit to you by the authority of scripture that whoever rejects, avoids, forsakes, shuns, or excommunicates the children of God has done the same to the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9:4-5, Matthew 25:40, Proverbs 14:31, Hebrews 6:10). We also have the striking account in 3 John 9-11 of Diotrephes who loved pre-eminence and received not the apostle John or the brethren. John simply calls it evil.
The early Anabaptists saw the Catholics and Reformers as the Babylonian Whore. For us to look back it is easy to see that indeed it was. I do not claim to have perfect knowledge of the book of Revelations, but here is something to think about. The Catholics and Reformers in the 1500's were not the Whore of Babylon because they baptized infants, swore oaths, and worshipped idols. They were the Whore of Babylon because they were drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. The Babylonian Whore, according to Revelation 17 is a mother of harlots. That means she has children.
I believe that from the time of Cain and Abel to the second coming of Christ, every generation has its dragon, beast, and Babylon the Great making war against the Lamb, the woman, and the remnant of her seed which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12).
Note the last part: they have the testimony of Jesus Christ. They walk the way that He walked. They are willing to drink of the cup that He drank and be baptized with the baptism He was baptized with. They are those who, like their Master, love righteousness and hate iniquity. The world is full of nice people, people who are level-headed and friendly. But they are opposed to the cross of Christ.
If you find it hard to discern who the disciples of Jesus Christ are today, then put on the armour of God. Set your eyes on Christ and press forward against unnumbered foes.
Against the lust of the flesh, against the lust of the eye, against the pride of life, against self, against father, against mother, against brothers, against sisters, against the world, against friends, against religious leaders, against theologians, against riches, against fame, against popular opinion, against positive thinking, against anxiety. Press on without fear, without looking back, without glancing left, without glancing right, until your hand cleaves to the sword and every foe is vanquished.
You will quickly discover who the children of the serpent are that lie in wait for your soul. You will also recognize the followers of the Lamb who bring you sweet fellowship.
I repeat the advice that Anna of Rotterdam gave her son in 1539: "Where you find a poor, simple, cast-off little flock, which is despised and rejected by the world, join them; for where you hear of the cross, there is Christ; from there do not depart."
If this way sounds too narrow, too difficult, too rough, or too lonesome, then choose you this day whom you will serve. But think not to say, "We have the Anabaptists as our fathers." For they were willing to take up the cross and walk this way, a way found by so few and walked by still fewer. The way that was walked by our smitten, rejected, falsely-accused, and bleeding Lord, Jesus Christ. And he still beckons, "Follow me."
* * * * * * *
Several years ago Duane Troyer, leader of a small Amish settlement in northern Missouri, began to write what he felt the Lord wanted all modern-day Anabaptists to know. His prophetic words struck a chord with believers far and wide. About half-a-year ago he wrote another article (the one in this letter), and soon afterwards he moved with his family and the entire group to a new settlement in the southwestern corner of the same state. Here they found fellowship with the Church of Monett, a small but very zealous Anabaptist congregation that has taken Jesus' words in Matthew 28:16-20 literally.
What will come of this?
A lot of trouble to start with. But precisely what Duane Troyer is saying now is what started all earnest revivals - like the first Anabaptists - through the centuries. This is where the Light breaks in, the new wine of the Spirit flows out, and the real Church wakes up to take up its cross and follow Jesus again.
We want nothing more than for our children and grand-children (if the Lord tarries) to fight and conquer in this same great war. So let us pray one for another and faint not!
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