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Discipleship in the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46).

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The merchant sold all he had for the pearl of great value because he was able to recognize its value and beauty. Once he possessed it, however, he was functionally poor (in the sense he couldn’t buy food, clothes, pay rent, etc).

This parable is not about using God to become wealthy, but it’s about the worth of the Kingdom of God – the worth of ‘possessing’ Jesus.

In the parable, the merchant sees its worth. Now, in order for him to become a merchant, and to be able to recognize the worth of the pearl, he had to be taught. He had to apprentice under someone (probably his father, in that culture).

This is where we see the importance of discipleship in the Christian life. Teaching, but also modelling and apprenticing others in the ways and teachings of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything [He] commanded…” (Matt. 28:20).

The challenge for all Christians is to see the beauty and glory of Jesus so much that we devote our lives to Him, “selling all that we have,” and “taking up our cross daily and following Him.” And the job of mature Christians is to help others  in the church to see Jesus properly (that is, to see His beauty, glory, and inestimable worth). This is especially true for church leaders – elders, deacons, teachers, worship and small group leaders, and of course, even the pastors.

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Having said that, we can only train others as far as we ourselves have gone. If I’ve only studied to learn about the size, colour, and shape of pearls, then that will be all I can teach and show. I won’t be able to teach about the lustre, surface quality, or nacre quality of them.

The other aspect of this is that being able to see Jesus’ true worth is a gift and grace from God. So maybe it’s not so much teaching and modelling to others how to see Jesus, but to see Him better, or, to see Him more accurately.

And so the challenge for me then is to know Jesus intimately and recognize His presence, work, glory, and beauty in and around me and in and around the life of those around me, in order to point them to Jesus to be able to recognize Him better themselves.

And as we see the glory of Jesus, we are changed more and more to be like Him (2 Cor. 3:18).

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Expanding Our God-in-the-Box

You put God in a box. And so do I.

We don’t do it on purpose, or even consciously, of course, but because we are finite beings it’s impossible for us not to. And all our boxes look different; they’re constructed by our upbringing and our church backgrounds (or lack thereof); by our relationships and our media consumption; by the way we read Scripture and pray (or don’t do those); and by a host of other things which would be impossible to name them all.

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These boxes say “God is like this, but not like that” or “God does this, but doesn’t do that” and such things. And invariably they contain both a lot of truth about God and a lot of untruth, even lies.

But because our boxes are all made up differently and because we all carry one, one of the great things that I’ve noticed about including more people into my life and into the groups I’m part of is that our “God-in-the-boxes” crash against each other. And as they crash together my box actually expands and grows – even splinters, and cracks open. And God becomes bigger in my life. Becomes more of who He is and who He wants to be in my life.

Now, if this is true for me then I can reasonably expect that it is also true for you. While this doesn’t mean we will always agree with everyone, which is a good thing, it does mean that we don’t need to be hesitant to include others. Rather, we should be eager to do so, knowing that we will see more of God because of them.

It also means that we need to learn to listen well. Not to discount or shrug people off when they don’t agree with us. Part of what breaks our boxes as they collide is our differing opinions. So, what does the Indigenous Christian, or the Latino Christian, or the Indian or African or other non-Western Christian say about God? What does the Calvinist or the Arminian say about Him? What do poor or wealthy Christians say? What do LGBQT Christians say about God, even?

One of the beautiful things about the Kingdom of God is its diversity – which we’ll finally experience to its full extent at the End of Time, when we’ll be able to say with St. John:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!””

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Of Hutterites and Their Ways: A Brief Review of “Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith”

AMC_X-31-1_17_30When I first became a Christian while in elementary school (though not yet a follower of Christ), I began attending a Pentecostal church. Why? Because it was the closest church within walking distance of my home, and it was the one that my dad (not yet a believer himself), chose for us to go to. So, growing up seeing people speaking in tongues, or falling on the floor “slain in the Spirit“, or just sitting and crying because of conviction (though I never experienced these latter two myself) were all a normal part of Christianity to me. In my area in Southern Ontario there were also a lot of Old Order Mennonites, similar to (but even stricter than) the Hutterites here in Manitoba.

Anyway, fast forward a few decades, and you find me attending a Christian and Missionary Alliance church (Winnipeg Chinese Alliance) for the last eight years, and a Mennonite Bible school (Canadian Mennonite University). Fast forward to today, and I’m working at a Baptist General Conference church. So needless to say, without even considering my reading habits (with a healthy dose of Catholic saints/mystics and Orthodox ancients) I’ve had a fairly diverse Christian life*.

Near the end of my time at CMU they had a great sale in their bookstore, and one of the books I picked up on the cheap was Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith, from the “Classics of the Radical Reformation” series (and incidentally translated & edited by one of my profs,  John J. Friesen). It’s not a book I would’ve searched for, and not normally the type of book I read, but I thought it would be interesting – and I was right!

Since this morninHCFg I finished the book, I thought I’d give a brief review here.

But first, some basics: Peter Riedemann was a disciple of Jakob Hutter and an early missionary for and leader in the communalist Anabaptist Hutterites. He wrote Confession of Faith while in prison between 1540-1542, and it has survived to this day as a key document for practicing Hutterites the world over.

While this edition of the book is abundantly blessed with notes, histories,  indexes, maps, and the like, the document itself  is divided into two main sections: Part 1 is the confession of their faith, and Part 2 is on why they separate themselves from the rest of society.

Part 1, titled “Now Follows the Confession of Our Faith, Teaching, and Way of Life,” is a series of short treatises on various Hutterite beliefs and practices ranging from the Apostle’s Creed to Baptism, sin, the community of goods , and even shaking hands and embracing. For me this was the more interesting of the two parts, and I found myself overall surprised at how ‘evangelical’ the teaching is. They affirm the Apostle’s Creed, have orthodox views on the Trinity, Jesus as both fully God and fully human, and the like. I continually found myself being encouraged and energized as I read this section. I was also surprised to learn that they baptized through sprinkling (as opposed to full submersion), and that Riedemann often referenced the Apocrypha (though I think it safe to assume that most if not all of the Reformers, Anabaptists and Radical Anabaptists did at the time). While I enjoyed it overall immensely, two of the standout chapters from this section for me (though for different reasons) were the chapters The Community of Goods, and Marriage.

The Community of Goods deals with not owning anything individually (or at least, not considering anything actually individually owned as “owned” by the individual), but like the Early Church, holding all things in common.  Riedemann writes

“All believers have fellowship in holy things, that is, in God**. He has given them all things in his Son, Christ Jesus. Just as Christ has nothing for himself, since all he has is for us, so too, no members of Christ’s body should possess any gift for themselves or for their own sake. Instead, all should be consecrate for the whole body, for all the members. This is so because Christ did not bring his gifts for one individual or the other, but for everyone, for the whole body.”

He goes on to talk about how these gifts are not just spiritual, but include temporal and material gifts too. While I’ve always been attracted to communal living (or something like it in a modern context), or even just opening my home to strangers in need (and not just merely giving them money on the street),  I find myself too attached to my belongings, something Riedemann warns against when he says “The more a person is attached to property and claims ownership of things, the further away he is from fellowship of Christ and from being in the image of God.” -Ah! Cuts to my heart, because I believe he’s right.

Marriage, according to Riedemann, is an extremely spiritual thing, and so he spiritualizes it in a way that is very foreign to me. He describes three stages of marriage (God to soul, spirit to body, and one person to another), and counts marriage between a man and woman to be the lowest of the three stages.  This is because everyone can see it, and it’s meant to point us to God. He goes on to propound a thoroughly ‘hard’  complementarian view of marriage, saying things like when a women fails to look up to her husband and seek his counsel in all things, “she rejects her God-given place in the order of Creation and encroaches upon the lordship of her husband” and that the husband “as one in whom something of God’s glory is seen, should have compassion on the woman as the weaker instrument.” Interestingly, failure in either of these is considered adultery. As someone wavering between soft complementarianism and soft egalitarianism, I found this chapter rubbing me a bit the wrong way, and generally confusing.

Part 2, titled “The God of Grace and His Separated People” deals with why Hutterites live in colonies separate from the rest of society.

hutteritediffusion3These chapters were quite a bit longer than the previous ones, and quite a bit more tedious to read. I think I can fairly sum up this section by saying ‘God separated the Israelites from other nations in the Old Testament, so we’re doing it too.’ At least, that’s all Riedemann seemed to be saying, multiple times and in various ways.  He writes

When God the Almighty in his grace wished to show that he had pleasure in the faithful but not in the unfaithful, he separated for himself one people from all other peoples, one people in whom he was pleased… Here it is clear that God does not want his people to associate with the heathen in their disorderly conduct, nor to take part in their ceremonies, nor to go to the places where they practice idolatry. What the heathen seek is different from what the faithful seek.

Makes me wonder how they interpret Jesus in the New Testament, what with him being charged with associating with drunkards and having prostitutes touch him! But of course Riedemann is right, Christians need to be separate from the world; I just prefer Jesus’ take on it – “in, but not of” (see John 17: 14-19).

But Riedemann goes on to discuss non-Hutterite churches as being both in and of the world. He uses much stricter language than this even, using terms such as “so-called Christians,” “deluded people,” and “deceived and corrupted” (along with the usual “heathen”). While most of it is directed towards the Catholic church, as one would expect for that time and place, he gives a specific shout-out to the Lutherans. He says of them

“They continually profess to love and serve God and yet will not give up evil, sinful practices and the whole service of the devil. They continue that way from generation to generation; as their fathers did, so do they, and even worse. John clearly states in what way they walk in the truth! (1 John 2:4; 4:20)”

This isn’t modern Lutheranism, mind you, but Riedemann is writing this a mere 20 years after Martin Luther’s excommunication in 1521.

This exclusivity to truth really frustrated me, and whenever I hear it coming from people in the modern Church I get upset (for example the whole Strange Fire debacle got me pretty worked up). Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about “universal truth”, but when one Christian sect, denomination, or stream (to use Foster’s term) claims that they have the “right” truth and all other Christians are wrong (Protestants vs. Catholics are a typical example of this), that sends up red flags right away. But maybe this is my post-modern side coming out.

Conclusion

I enjoyed reading this book overall, and it made me want to be more disciplined with the time, resources, and gifts that God has blessed me with, and to keep digging in to the scriptures regarding how followers of Christ should live while in this world. I learned a good deal about Hutterite beliefs and practices, and would love to visit a colony to see how they practice these today. According to the above map, living in Manitoba this shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s easy to see why this is an important document in the history of the Western Church, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself referring back to it from time to time.

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*I highly recommend Richard Foster’s “Streams Of Living Water: Essential Practices from the Six Great Traditions of Christian Faith

**I’ve omitted the copious Biblical references in quotes, since Riedemann has them almost every sentence, sometimes multiple times.

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Patience in Prayer

I think nowadays we’re not that patient in prayer anymore.

It’s a common complaint that our “instant” society wants everything now. That email or text or Facebook post or tweet demands an immediate response (regardless of how trivial it is), and we expect an immediate response to our messages, offended when it doesn’t come. We can’t be bothered or don’t have the time in our busy lives to cook our own meals, so we go to restaurants instead. Those are just a few examples and I’m sure you can think of many more.

This mindset has of course affected those within the church as well, and we’ve applied it to our relationship with God. We want instant sanctification (hold the discipline, please!), and for God to immediately provide all our needs or bless us despite our actions or circumstances.

This attitude has also affected how we pray. We spend maybe 5 minutes asking God for His intervention in a certain area or for a touch of His presence, and then expect to have an answer or to feel it right away. And when we don’t, as I’d wager is often the case, we feel like God is rejecting us, or maybe there’s something wrong with us.

This problem is compounded by popular depictions of prayer from the pulpit or from Christian media, with the idea that if you’re holy enough then you will have instant results. You see faith-healers proclaiming people healed after a brief touch and a few words spoken.

Or maybe more likely we know that we need to be persistent in our prayers, and that God’s timing is not our timing. We nod our heads wisely with mental assent when the pastor tells us this, but our prayer life still looks the same, and we go away with the same doubts as to it’s worth or benefit.

But if we look to Jesus as our model for life and spirituality (as we should), we see that he often spent much time in prayer (Luke 6:12, for example) often before the major decisions in his life.  “But he’s Jesus,” we say, “come on.”  But he addressed this very issue, in Luke 11 and 18, teaching us to persist in prayer. To be tenacious.

In Jeremiah there’s a story about some soldiers who come to Jeremiah and ask him to pray for them, seeking God’s will on their behalf. They come both humble and expectant, and Jeremiah says he’ll do it. The text then says “Ten days later, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah” (42:7). Ten days. That doesn’t sound like a long time, honestly, but when I think back to the last time I continuously prayed about something for 10 days… I come up with nothing. But maybe that’s just me.

In any case, if we want to be a people of ‘mini-Christs’ then we need to be a people of prayer. Patient, persistent, prayer.

And we have God’s character to rely on:

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

 

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