Archive for the ‘Mennonites’ Tag

Divine and Human Authority   Leave a comment

Above:  Conscientious Objectors at Camp Lewis, Washington, United States of America, November 18, 1918

Image in the Public Domain


For the Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity, Year 2


Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)


Absolve, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy people from their offenses;

that from the bonds of our sins which, by reason of our frailty,

we have brought upon us, we may be delivered by thy bountiful goodness;

through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever One God, world without end  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 228


Isaiah 32:1-8

Psalm 146

Romans 13:1-7

Luke 13:23-30


Don’t get me started about submission to government authority (Romans 13:1-7).  Okay, now that I have started, I am off to the proverbial races.

The Bible is inconsistent regarding submission to and resistance to civil authority.  Romans 13:1-7 represents one strain.  One may think of Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:15-22), who let newborn Hebrew boys live, in violation of a royal order.  One may also recall the Book of Daniel, with more than one instance of remaining faithful to God by violating a royal decree.  Perhaps one recalls 1, 2, and 4 Maccabees, in which fidelity to the Law of Moses required disobedience to Seleucid kings, such as Antiochus IV Epiphanes and other  (1 Maccabees 1:15-9:73; 2 Maccabees 6:1-15:37; 4 Maccabees 4:15-18:24) .  I would be remiss to forget about Tobit, who violated a royal order yet obeyed the Law of Moses by burying corpses (Tobit 1:16-20).  Finally, the Revelation of John portrays the government of the Roman Empire as being in service to Satan.  In this strain, Christians should resist agents of Satan.

When one turns to Christian history, one finds a long tradition of civil disobedience within Christianity.  Accounts of Quakers, Anabaptists, and other pacifists suffering at the hands of governments for refusing to fight in wars properly arouse moral outrage against those governments.  The Third Reich presents a stark example that evokes apocalyptic depictions of Satanic government.  Anti-Nazi heroes included Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and a plethora of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant martyrs, among others.

Furthermore, the Third Reich has continued to inform a strain of German Christian theology since the 1930s.  When to obey and when to resist authority has remained especially prominent in German circles, for obvious reasons.

Governments come and go.  God remains forever.  Wrong is wrong, regardless of whether one commits it independently or as part of one’s official duties.

Isaiah 32:1-8 depicts an ideal government at the end of days.  In Christian terms, this text describes the fully realized Kingdom of God.  That is not our reality.

Psalm 146 reminds us:

Put no trust in princes

or in any mortal, for they have no power to save.

When they breathe their last breath,

they return to the dust;

and on that day their plans come to nothing.

–Verses 3-4, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The bottom line, O reader, is this:  Love God fully.  Keep divine commandments.  Live according to the Golden Rule.  If doing so is legal, you are fortunate.  If doing so is illegal, love God fully, keep divine commandments, and live according to the Golden Rule anyway.  God remains forever.





God is the Ruler Yet II   1 comment

Above:   Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Daniel 1:1-17

Psalm 9:1-8

Revelation 1:9-18

Luke 17:20-21


This is my father’s world!

O let me ne’er forget

that though the wrong

seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

–Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901)


In the reading from the Book of Revelation the imagery used to describe Jesus is similar to that usually reserved for the Roman Emperor.  Thus the Apocalypse of John fits the bill of subversive literature from the beginning.  Revelation 1:9-18 is therefore an appropriate lesson to read on Christ the King Sunday.

British Congregationalist minister Charles Harold (C. H.) Dodd proposed Realized Eschatology. The Kingdom of God, he wrote, has always been present.  It has, however, been more evident at some times than on others.  Dodd must have been thinking about the assigned Gospel reading as he formulated that idea.  Psalm 9 might also have been on his mind.

If Dodd was correct, what about exploitative powers, such as the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (in Daniel) and the Roman Empire (in Revelation), among other oppressive regimes?  The question of, if God exists, why evil does also, has vexed many people over the ages.  But why would the existence of God nullify human free will and prevent abuses of it?

As the Mennonites tell us, we are living in the age of God’s patience.  This indicates a future age of divine impatience, with good news for many and catastrophic news for many others.  Judgment is in the purview of God, not mere mortals.  May we mere mortals understand that reality and embrace it.  May we also trust in God, who, despite appearances, is the ruler yet.







Adapted from this post:


This is post #1700 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.


The Age of Divine Patience   1 comment

St. Paul Preaching in Athens

Above:   St. Paul Preaching in Athens, by Raphael

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

O Lord God, tireless guardian of your people,

you are always ready to hear our cries.

Teach us to rely day and night on your care.

Inspire us to seek your enduring justice for all the suffering world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 54:11-17

Psalm 121

Acts 17:22-34


I lift up my eyes to the hills;

from where is my help to come?

My help comes from the LORD,

the maker of heaven and earth.

–Psalm 121:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The reading from Isaiah 54, echoing Jeremiah 31:33-35 in verse 13, offers high hopes for the future of post-exilic Jerusalem.  Divine anger has come and gone, it says, and the day of extravagant mercy is at hand.  The reality of Jerusalem and Judea after the Babylonian Exile did not match high expectations, as history tells us, but one might hope for that bright future in days to come.

That theme of the balance of divine judgment and mercy continues in Acts 17:29-31.  Mennonite theology has done much with the concept that this is the time of divine patience, with the understanding that such patience, with the understanding that such patience will come to an end.  St. Paul the Apostle, we read, understood the time of divine patience to have ended already and the end times to have begun.  You, O reader, and I know, however, that from the perspective of 2016, nearly 2000 years have transpired since the events of the Acts of the Apostles.  We have nearly 2000 reasons for disagreeing with St. Paul’s assumptions regarding the timing of the parousia.

We live in the age of God’s patience.  May we, by grace, not try or exploit it much more often than we have already.  May our relationship to God be like the one described in Psalm 121 instead.





Adapted from this post:


Of Their Time   4 comments

Hymnal 1911-1917

Above:  The Title Page of the Presbyterian Hymnal (1911) with the Supplement of 1917

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


World War I (1914-1918) was a devastating conflict which changed the map of the world.  Many of the problems of today have much to do with that war and the events of the years immediately following it.  Europeans promised the same territory to both Jews and Palestinians, created Iraq (where the British military became bogged down in an insurgency for years), broke up empires, and created new countries, some of which (Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) which have ceased to exist.  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (in office 1913-1921) oversold the conflict as a war to make the world safe for democracy.  Meanwhile, back home in the United States, which entered the war in 1917, early in Wilson’s second term, which he won on the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” xenophobia, nativism, and irrationality reigned.  The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, banned performances of the music of Ludwig von Beethoven, an anti-imperialist who died in 1827.  Had the great composer been alive in 1917 and 1918, he would have opposed the policies of Kaiser Wilhelm II.  But why let reason stand between one and an irrational fear?  Mobs burned books in the German language or about Germany, vandalized buildings belonging to congregations where worship was not in English, dachshunds became liberty hounds, the state of Iowa outlawed public gatherings where the spoken language was not English (although many sheriffs in the state permitted Danish Lutheran congregations to worship in Danish), et cetera.  Opposing state-sponsored violence became a crime, one for which many pacifists went to prison and conscientious objectors suffered.  Really, were the Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers threats to national security?  Were the Dutch Reformed (of the Christian Reformed Church in North America in particular) and the Lutherans (especially those in the denominations we call The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod these days) worshiping in other tongues that threatening?  In November 1918, at the organizing convention of the newly merged United Lutheran Church in America (1918-1962), derived from German immigrant stock in North America since the 1700s, delegates felt the need to demonstrate their patriotism by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America,” due to lingering suspicions related to Germany, German-Americans, and the war.

The study of the past tells me that the war did not live up to its billing, that wartime hysteria and intolerance turned into widespread disillusionment, and that the psychological scars of the “Great War” or the “World War,” as people called it before World War II, influenced national decision-making (often for the worse) leading up to World War II.  Accounts of the “Lost Generation” and the false sense of security the Maginot Line engendered testify to the aftershocks of World War I.

These and other facts influence how I read certain texts from World War I and the time immediately following it.  How can they not, given my temporal relationship to that conflict?

During that war and immediately afterward some denominations amended their recent official hymnals.  The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. added the “Supplement of 1917” to its Hymnal of 1911.  This supplement consisted of three patriotic hymns:  “God of Our Fathers, Known of Old,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  The National Council of Congregational Churches of the United States added three hymns to The Pilgrim Hymnal (1912) after the war.  Hymns #542a-c were, respectively, “O Land of Lands, My Fatherland,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “America, America, The Shouts of War Shall Cease.”  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was already present.

Two of those texts intrigue me.  The first is “O Land of Lands, My Fatherland.”  The author was the Reverend Washington Gladden (February 11, 1836-July 2, 1918), whose feast day in The Episcopal Church is July 2.  Gladden, a proponent of the Social Gospel, opposed corruption in government, favored civil rights for African Americans, and supported the labor movement.  He wrote many poems (including hymns), the most famous of which might be “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee.”  In 1918 he composed the following text:

O Land of lands, my Fatherland, the beautiful, the free,

All lands and shores to freedom dear and ever dear to thee;

All sons of Freedom hail thy name, and wait thy word of might,

While round the world the lists are joined for liberty and light.


Hail, sons of France, old comrades dear! Hail Britons brave and true!

Hail Belgian martyrs ringed with flame! Slavs fired with visions new!

Italian lovers mailed with light! Dark brothers from Japan!

From East to West all lands are kin who live for God and man.


Here endeth war!  Our bands are sworn! Now dawns the better hour

When lust of blood shall cease to rule, when Peace shall come with power;

We front the fiend that rends our race and fills our hearts with gloom;

We break his scepter, spurn his crown, and nail him in his tomb.


Now, hands all round, our troth we plight to rid the world of lies,

To fill all hearts with truth and trust and willing sacrifice;

To free all lands from hate and spite and fear from strand to strand;

To make all nations neighbors and the world one Fatherland!

The second text was, as the hymnal labeled it, “A National Hymn of Victory Inscribed to the Builders of the ‘League of Nations.'”  The author was the Reverend Allen Eastman Cross (December 30, 1864-April 23, 1942), a Congregationalist minister from Manchester, New Hampshire.

America, America!

The shouts of war shall cease;

The Glory dawns! the Day is come

Of Victory and Peace!

And now upon a larger plan

We’ll build the common good,

The temple of the Love of Man,

The House of Brotherhood!


What though its stones were laid in tears,

Its pillars red with wrong,

Its walls shall rise through patient years

To soaring spires of song!

For on this House shall Faith attend,

With Joy on airy wing,

And flaming loyalty ascend

To God, the only King!


America, America,

Ring out the glad refrain!

Salute the Flag–salute the dead

That have not died in vain!

O Glory! Glory to thy plan

To build the common good,

The temple of the Rights of Man,

The House of Brotherhood!

To mock the optimism and idealism of the texts is easy to do, but I propose that to do so is in error.  No, these hymns did not predict the future accurately.  Yes, the brutality of history since World War I has belied these texts’ highest sentiments, but the dream those hymns represent has never ceased to be a noble one.  The texts are of their time in two senses:  certain references to nations and the level of optimism regarding the future.  Without a goal to which to aspire, however, how are we humans supposed to improve the world?

I value precision in language, so I mark the difference between the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy.  The former is more optimistic regarding human potential for effecting goodness than is the latter.  Neo-Orthodoxy, with its sober understanding of human nature, incorporates the best of the Social Gospel and emphasizes the human obligation to reform society and its structures for the better while stating that only God can usher in the Kingdom of God.  I read these quoted hymns through my lens of Neo-Orthodoxy and recognize a combination of naiveté and realism as I mourn the fact of those dashed hopes.  May nobody permit pessimism to prevent one from doing what one can to leave the world (or one’s corner of it) better than one found it.  God can save the world, but we can improve it.  We can love our neighbors as we love ourselves and seek to reform unjust social systems and institutions.  We have a moral imperative to do so.







I have provided hyperlinks to some sources.  My other sources were:

Bachmann, E. Theodore, with Mercia Brenne Bachmann.  The United Lutheran Church in America, 1918-1962.  Edited by Paul Rorem.  Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 1997.

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints.  New York:  Church Publishing, 2010.

Mortenen, Enok.  The Danish Lutheran Church in America:  The History and Heritage of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Philadelphia, PA:  Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1967.

The Hymnal Published in 1895 and Revised in 1911 by Authority of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; with the Supplement of 1917.  Philadelphia, PA:  The Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work.

The Pilgrim Hymnal with Responsive Readings and Other Aids to Worship.  Boston, MA:  The Pilgrim Press, 1912.  Amended and reprinted, 1919.