December 30, 2018: A prominent LMC preacher/leader gave our morning sermon on the eve of New Years, looking ahead and laying out his general vision for 2019. I heard some good exhortations, like expecting God to do great things and to join wholeheartedly with that mission. I heard a Biblical desire to overcome hindrances that might be affecting our churches. I heard a worthy desire to be used by God more in our world today.
But then we veered off into unfortunate territory… First came some misdiagnosis of the state of our churches, then some misinterpretation and whitewashing of history and finally the solution to our problem; a solution that’s not offered in Scripture nor practiced by the apostles or church fathers! No wonder Groffdale district is in the state it’s in…
I – Misdiagnosis of our problems…
From the transcript:
And as we analyzed it more carefully, we outlined it as  an answer to our prayer that there are some strong holds over us as a church over us as a Mennonite people […] that have been affecting us, […]
And one of them was a fear of sharing our faith. We recognized that that was not true at one time of the Anabaptist people. In fact, they were so bold, so courageous and sharing their faith that they were being burned at the stake. But while there are others still sharing their faith in the midst of that happening, it didn’t shut him down and inquired him until a certain day it wore down, and we became known, particularly here in America as the quiet of the land. […]
We recognize another stronghold as being having a fear of being too open to the work of the Holy spirit, of fear of the work of the Holy Spirit. So we pondered that one for a while.
We also recognize the stronghold of having a facade of peace, where we portray that we are people of peace, while we have many unresolved issues and lots of unforgiveness within us in such a way that we’re not able to, to experience that realm, a peace where God inhabits and and his praises come forth from… As we prayed about this; as we studied our Anabaptist history over some time [we] came to this place of realizing that this fear of sharing our faith has some roots back in our old land in Switzerland, in the area of Zurich, where the persecution persisted for two hundred years and a wore down […] this courage and boldness in such a way, and we realized that there was never any forgiveness that was shared between the people group. So the perpetrators of the persecution and […] the victims of it […] they never came together. And as we sought the Lord on this, we recognize this profound understanding that’s not just true over a body of believers, but it’s true in each one of our lives. […] that unforgiveness is a seed bed for the enemy strongholds…
- Are these really our biggest problems? What about our materialism? What about our indivdiualism and loss of Mennonite communal values? (particularly evident in the church district this leader leads!) What about our partisan political affinities and the unBiblical voices many of us listen to in that area? What about our insularity from the hurting/needy “world” outside our church walls? What about our worship of our own comfort and safety? What about our struggles to commit to anything and like our culture run around looking for the latest, greatest religious experiences? (evidenced by so many of our young people running off to all the megachurches in the area…) And that’s just scratching the surface!
- Do we really fear the work of the Holy Spirit…? Or do we have a distorted view of the works of the Holy Spirit, and we want those distortions instead of what Scripture teaches are the fruits of the Holy Spirit… I wonder, especially if trained by modern american charismatic/pentecostal/megachurch ideas, if this speaker and others like him, are wishing for the so-called “charismatic” gifts (healings, signs, attention-getting prophesies, exorcisms, noisy/rock-concert “worship” etc). I.e, the spectacular, ecstatic, often self-aggrandizing, often self-confirming, “signs & wonders” and other such magic tricks… (His stories later in the sermon seem to suggest this…) Signs & wonders in scripture should not be the ends…but a means. (See 1 Cor. 12 -14)
II – Misinterpretation and whitewashing of the the Münsterites…(the heretical-from-inception cult and not-representative-of-other-Anabaptists like Menno Simons)
As a prelude to reading the following transcript excerpts and my commentary, read the real history of Münster here.
And as they were moving, the spirit of the Lord was upon upon them and whole cities were being swept, […] many were coming to a place of new faith in Christ. And they were being re-baptized. And this movement kept moving north until it found a resting place in Münster, Germany, and Münster became the center of the bold preaching of that day. […] Because the early Anabaptist leaders were known as the the prophets of that day. They were […] the bold creatures. But they were also sharing new revelations out of dreams and visions that they were experiencing. And as the word was coming alive in them, they were prophets. […] There was a prophetic anointing on those early leaders…
Here the speaker continues building his case that we have this “fear of the work of the Holy Spirit“. A concerted effort to whitewash what really happened leading up to and in Münster also begins to take place. This is where the guilt-trip is being laid upon us, using the fanatical, unBiblical ideas, teachings and zealousness of the most disgraced, heretical cult of Anabaptists in its history to make us feel like lesser instruments/vessels… Why would we look to these people as examples…?
Well, according to our speaker here, we’re afraid to run through the streets, shouting our faith at people and doing signs and wonders like all the Anabaptists back then did, especially the Münsterites. Except most Anabaptists didn’t do that… and most of them didn’t run around showing off their “signs & wonders”, in the streets. Did miracles happen? Yes, but they weren’t anything like our modern american charismatic “signs & wonders”. It is tenuous to equate modern charismatic practice/obsession with signs & wonders, with the spirituality of early Anabaptists. Most of them DID NOT act or speak like modern day american charismatics. They wanted to follow Jesus and if some miracles happened they praised God and were encouraged by them to endure intense persecution that was not often, if ever, miracously taken away. Unlike modern charismatics (like this leader), who seem to seek signs & wonders as an end in themselves, the more Biblical, discerning Anabaptists did not do that. (BTW, the Bible clearly states that evil doers can do signs & wonders too…Matthew 24 )
It does seem the Münsterites and some other far-out re-baptizers of that era were like some of our modern charismatics… obsessed with authoritarian, arrogant, magic powers and self-aggrandizing signs & wonders and other charismatic gifts to help them dominate others and set up their earthly “Zion” — and look where it lead! That’s why we don’t want to go down the same crazy, demonic-spirit-lead path! They sought power; they sought spectacle; they sought ecstatic religious experience; they sought all these things rather than the real fruits of the Spirit and the ways of Jesus Christ, and it lead them over a cliff. The Amish/Mennonites of today, including myself, are rightly wary of following after these things. (Read this to get some idea of the crazy visions, and misinterpretation of Scripture that the early leaders at Münster got into their swelled heads… long before they committed the worst atrocities in Münster. — And this account: which presents a more positive view of the Münsterites; nonetheless, it does discuss how they and other radical precursors trafficked in apocalyptic “visions” and how often those so-called visions/dreams went wrong!…which probably means they weren’t getting them from the Holy Spirit! – which means we should probably not act the same way!)
More from the transcript:
These […] Anabaptist leaders in that day became so affirmed, and were so warmly supported in that day that they became the leaders. They were given space on city council. And […] just within a year or two that they moved into this city, that the Anabaptist now have have the majority of the seats of City Council in Münster, Germany. It was […] from there that that they I saw this greater opportunity to establish there what they were seeing in in there many dreams and visions that they were having about God, wanting to establish in this city, a city of Zion, a special place even for his return.
I’m not so sure they were “so affirmed” that easily… There was a lot of jockeying, lobbying and other politicking going on in their rise to city council power… (See section, “Anabaptism in Münster” here.) So I must ask; was the political shenanigans employed, really following the Holy Spirit or something else? So the twisted-Scripture, self-aggrandising, apocalyptic/millenarian/end times theology about God choosing Münster as the new Jesusalem … was that sound doctrine from the Holy Spirit? So all the wickedness committed by the bad characters with persuasive charisma leading up to the worst atrocities, is something we should emulate? Apparently we should unhestitatingly follow leaders who exhibit characteristics and public charisma like Jan Matthijs of Haarlem, Jan van Leyden, Willem de Cuyper, Gerrit Boekbinder, and Bernhard Knipperdolling because they were full of a zealous “spirit”? I for one would rather not… (See this and other video classroom sessions of Anabaptist history by Dean Taylor and his discussion of Münster.)
The following excerpt has our speaker rightly recounting the greater evils the Münsterites begin to practise… But nowhere does he question the original motivations, the lying signs, wonders, visions and dreams! I welcome correction on this point, but it seems he’s saying the visions, dreams etc and everything leading up to the really bad stuff, was good and from God. According to him, the only problem was the Münster Anabaptists didn’t “test” these visions enough or they took them too far…
These Anabaptist leaders, many of them found themselves experiencing dreams and visions. And over […] some time, they lacked the credibility of always testing this and checking this with the word of God. And there became [an] infiltration of practices that did not necessarily align with Scripture […] they were so zealous about establishing this new kingdom of God there. And they had their places of power in the city and and they started moving in the direction of forcing baptisms and forcing […] re-baptism. The leaders opened themselves up to polygamy and the main leader, Yuan one Leyton, took on sixteen wives for himself to propagate this new kingdom that […] they had a sense that God wanted to bring to Münster. And this went on over the next year, to the point of them mandating that anyone who wanted to live in the city had to be re-baptized.
I’ll submit a countering take: the content of the visions and dreams, the “prophesies” and other charismatic quakery that these Münsterites were practising, was evil and probably coming from demonic places to begin with! It wasn’t just a bad response to visions; the visions/dreams themselves were misguided, human subjectivity-inspired notions. Their whole we’re-going-to-setup-Zion project was off-track and unBiblical from the start. It’s really unfortunate that the speaker seems to not realize that, and seems unaware of numerous Anabaptists of those times who condemned the Münster movement from the beginning. Then he goes further by proclaiming these misguided ideas and interpretations of our church history to a large group of people in his care…
The following excerpt continues with the whitewashing of the Münsterites and an attempt to make them the most spirit-filled part of Anabaptism of that day. Again, why not mention the Anabaptist leaders in that day who disagreed with the Münsterites? Weren’t they “spirit-filled” enough? Were they too much like today’s thoughtful, more orderly, meeker, Biblically-lead, Christ-like Mennonites/Amish etc? (the ones he condemns earlier for being “afraid of the work of the Holy Spirit) It’s kind of obvious now who was the better, more Christ-like characters…
Many writers of Mennonite history have […] created some portrayal of these individuals and these leaders in Münster as not being necessarily mainstream Mennonites; depends on how you look at it. You might say; I might be able to find some convincing evidence of that, but the reality of it was these were crucial Mennonite leaders. [Even if they were, notoriety doesn’t make someone’s ideas right…] […] Menno, Simon’s brother, was a part of this movement. [Ah, No He Wasn’t and Menno Simons had nothing to do with Münster, and completely condemned them – so this trying to associate Simons positively with Münster is perverse…] We don’t know for sure, but he may have been one of those that was executed in the city. After […] was taken over, Menno Simon was very observant to what was [happening] there. And as a Catholic monk, [he] was so drawn to the way that the spirit of the Lord was moving in Münster, that he was awakened to the reality of a living God through what was happening in the early days of Münster. [No He Wasn’t… Münster gave Simons the motivation to lead Anabaptism in the opposite direction!] What was happening there in its early days was a real outpouring of the spirit of the Lord. The spirit of the Lord was moving there in great ways, but it became perverted and it became […] all came off track and miss, like what God really wanted to do and what he wanted to finish it. […] Martin Luther looked on with what was happening in there and monster with the Anabaptists, he said. My church will be a church of the word only, not a church of the spirit. And this was likely something that was also embraced in the Catholic Church as it became embraced in many ways, even across their Mennonite church. About this question. This reservation about the work of the Holy Spirit. Somehow the enemy found a way putting a lid on what God really wanted to do through this experience. [No, the “enemy didn’t put a lid on it… Thankfully, God did! – through the power of the real Holy Spirit, who through non-Münster-infected Anabaptist leaders, lead their people away from the evil spirits of the Münsterites… Praise God for them!]
This segment again begs me to question: So the fruit was evil but what lead to that fruit wasn’t? And therefore the Anabaptists then and now, who are wary of crazy visions and dreams, unbiblical eschatology and other nutty stuff from self-proclaimed charismatic “prophets”, shouldn’t fear that? Our speaker seems to believe the Münsterite project was good from the start, even to the point of inspiring Menno Simons himself… He’s partly correct that Menno Simons was inspired, but not in the way he thinks he (Simons) was.. See this: When Anabaptists Were Terrorists)
And read this account, with many passages from Menno Simons own writings about his journey to Anabaptism. I wonder how our speaker here would spin this… “Afterwards rose the sect of Munster by whom many pious hearts in our village were deceived. My soul was in great sorrow for I perceived that they were zealous and yet erred in doctrine. I opposed them, as far as I was able, by preaching and exhortation. Twice I debated with their leaders, once in private and again in public.” – Menno Simons
Looks like the truth is vastly different than our speaker was trying to make it out to be… Menno wasn’t looking to Münster as a move of the Holy Spirit; rather he was horrified by it, from its beginning, before it got to its worst state! Now why didn’t our leader tell us this in his talk?
And here’s Menno Simons again with a long treatise against the Münsterites!
Personally, I think the post-Münsterite Anabaptists got the right message from God; be more discerning of the spirits and keep crazy destructive spirits like the ones clearly in control of the Münsterite prophets, out of the church. That’s not fear; that’s Godly, Holy Spirit inspired discernment. It’s really unfortunate that a Mennonite leader today wants to put those lessons aside in the guise of not-being-afraid-of-the-Spirit; and to even disparage those lessons and suggest we be open to today’s most charismatic “prophets” with their emotionally manipulative rhetoric and ideas, not to mention their twisted Bible interpretations, word-of-faith sorcery, crazy apocalyptic end-times ideas, christian nationalism and who knows what else spewing from the american charismatic/pentecostal fringe. Anabaptists of all stripes today are rightly wary of all of this I-come-filled-with-the-Holy Spirit stuff , as it’s gotten even worse in recent years.
III Flawed, unBiblical solution for a non-problem.
- So where in Scripture, particularly in the New Testament does Jesus or the apostles teach that a generational curse/hindrance lingers for centuries because of unforgiveness between persecutors and the persecuted?
In other words, is this idea, that the hostilities and unforgiveness at Münster is still hindering us today, even a legitimate concern? We should certainly know about it and study it to learn what not to repeat or get involved in (like crazy, unbiblical Münster-like charismatic hoopla!). But who living today, either German Reformed or Catholic or Anabaptist/Mennonite, is harboring bitterness or unforgiveness related to Münster? I’d venture a pretty solid answer to that; NONE! So why the need for years of work on producing public shows of forgiveness/reconcilliation? See some biblical discussions of this here:
- I would challenge this speaker to find one exhortation from a church father/bishop in 200/300 AD, to send a delegation to Jesusalem to make some kind of amends/reconcilliation between say, the Jewish or Roman authorities in Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Christian church for what happened in 55AD… so that said church father/bishop’s church in 200/300AD can experience a fresh move of God…
I don’t know about you, but the Münster debacle is a great teaching/discerning tool, from God, to determine what is really Holy Spirit and what isn’t. Thank God the Anabaptists who came later took these lessons to heart and used them to shape a more Christ-like faith in Jesus that has gone on to truly impact the world for God’s Kingdom. Unfortunately our LMC leader suggested this learning was really “fear” and should be discarded asap, in order to get with the spirit’s program. Lord willing cooler heads will prevail and we don’t have to go through another Münster, in order to relearn the same lessons. (One could wonder that the current american charismatic/pentecostal wing and the majority of it falling for cultish Trumpism, could lead to Münster-like disasters… they’re certainly zealous! and they certainly think they’re being led by the Holy Spirit, but boy are they so wrong… their words and deeds easily reveal the influence of demonic spirits)
And finally, stepping back for an even bigger picture view, how does this whole confab with German Reformed and Catholics to reconcile over Münster, benefit the LMC or the Groffdale district in the here and now? How is breaking some abstract, dubious “spirit” connection between our Mennonite congregation in 2019 and the Anabaptists of the 1500’s, really aid God’s work in our midst now? My personal opinion? This all appears to be a very effective scheme of the enemy to side-track our leaders down blind alleys and other crazy modern charismatic/pentecostal hoopla that benefits nobody, especially not the sheep in their care. One could wonder, based on some things happening in our district, if some harm hasn’t come to the church(s) and district because of this folly….