Asher Witmer

rediscovering Jesus

Theology, Pornography and the Holy Spirit an interview with Frank Reed

Most of the readers on this blog are (or at least come from) “conservative Anabaptist” background. And most of these readers find themselves in dynamic time of life.

Dynamic because there is a lot of motion in the conservative Anabaptist church world today. Deep, unspoken questions people are wanting to find answers to. Few people are as aware and tuned into these questions (even frustrations) as brother Frank Reed.

Recently, I got to ask Frank some questions about the Anabaptist church world, today. Following is the interview.

By Way of Introduction

Frank and his wife Lois (PA) have five married children and sixteen grandchildren. They’re not as young as they once were, but neither are they as disconnected from the millennial generation as age my suggest.

Along with being full-time husband, father and grandpa, Frank is a part-time farmer, co-pastor of a small Anabaptist fellowship and writes daily posts on his personal blog. But much of his life has been spent in the classroom.

He received a BA in Bible from Lancaster Bible College, and studied Anabaptist History at the Young Center in Elizabethtown College. With these degrees, he spent ten years teaching at Terre Hill Mennonite High School and ten years teaching winter terms at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute (SMBI). In fact, it was at SMBI where I first got to know Frank.

I never took any of Frank’s classes, although I’ve regretted that ever since. In the past couple of years, I have had the privilege of corresponded with him different times about church and the issues facing millennials today. You’ll probably see many more posts from Frank this year, but to begin with, I’ll share our interview.

My questions will be written in the bold and his answers will follow.

The Interview

You’ve worked a lot with young people/young adults. What is the thing that excites you most about the generation coming into church leadership today? What is the thing that concerns you the most?

 

Excites me most:

  • Enthusiasm to do what is right
  • Longing for worship, Holy Spirit, love, peace, joy, relationships, etc.
  • Willing to give service to parts of the world where the gospel is so needed
  • Not so focused on material things as some earlier generations were
  • Mennonite Schools and Bible Schools investment in their lives
  • Availability of literature, books and service opportunities
  • Young couples/families moving into cities and taking the message to the streets
  • Broad based Spiritual community from Bible school contacts
  • Break down of some of the denominational boundaries from the past
  • Some very good CCM
Concerns me most:
  • Lack of foundational knowledge of Bible and Church history
  • Willingness to accept Protestant or Catholic or Evangelical, etc. ideas that are not Biblical
  • Lack of genuine Bible study
  • Lack of ability to exegete and exposit Scripture – produces a shallow leadership and shallow church services
  • Lack of interest in marriage and/or not knowing how to pursue healthy relationships that result in marriage
  • Porn ‘use’ by young men and young women – thinking it is normal and can co-exist with Christian living
  • Not growing up and staying home with parents into late 20s and 30s – with little responsibility
  • Ease of earning money and spending on fun things: hunting, skiing, snowmobiles, trendy clothing etc.
  • Emotional injury from upbringing: homes, churches, schools, etc.
  • Effects of sexual and emotional abuse taken into life and marriage
  • Lack of real community that could hold them accountable
  • Individualization – allowing individuals the freedom to challenge group convictions: alcohol, dancing, etc. rather than giving up their freedom for their sisters and brothers
  • Not so good worldly music
  • Movies that engage them at all levels but have: immorality, nudity, violence, God’s name in vain, etc
  • Willingness to engage life vicariously.
  • General lack of passion for God
In your opinion, what has led to things like “lack of foundational knowledge of Bible and church history,” or “lack of genuine Bible study” and so forth? How have we become so individualized and resistant to accountable community? And what would give you hope for the future in these regards?

 

My generation saw a move from a self-educated ministry to an uneducated ministry. Education entered the Mennonite and Brethren groups. These schools went liberal. This sent the message that education will lead you astray. It then became acceptable to not be educated. We lost our scholarship in the plain groups. Now there is very little scholarship in the Old Order groups. Scholarship is beginning to arise in the less conservative groups. The liberal groups are into liberal theology and are not part of the discussion.

Another reason is the move from integrity to loyalty. We were told to be loyal the the systems that developed. The system/culture can exist without the Bible. Culture is seen as salvation.

Real Bible study is very rare where we have the Scripture taught in ways that change lives.Evangelicalism with its schools, colleges, radio stations, printing etc have dominated the landscape and we have chosen to use their materials instead of producing our own.

The Holy Spirit is an almost taboo subject. We are afraid of the Holy Spirit and how He may disturb our culture.

We have adopted the American Redemption Ethic. For us it is the Mennonite Redemption Ethic. Be busy, industrious, make money, even if the ethics are not healthy. Social Darwinism is alive and well. Big fish eat little fish. The wealthy employ the wage earners for a wage that does, in some cases, not even allow them to send their children to a Mennonite school because of the tuition cost. Teachers are underpaid (that situation is improving) and working for a wage that the board members wouldn’t work for.

Hope –  there are some wealthy/capable persons who are seeing the need to be more active in education and producing  Anabaptist materials so we do not have to use Protestant school books. Many good books are being written and made available. All these things have a cost and some of the Ana Business monies are being channeled that way. Choruses and Bible Schools, Shenandoah music camp, etc are great lights on the horizon.

J.C. Wenger was the last real scholar but now with Faith Builders and Sattler College the tide may be turning in a direction that can blend academics with practical skills. The interest in basics and maintaining an Anabaptist theology is on the rise. First we must realize that Anabaptist theology is quite different from Protestant theology and we need persons who can illustrate and teach that.

Can you expound on the difference between Protestant Theology and Anabaptist Theology, and why you feel it’s important to have resources from Anabaptist Theology if there are already good resources available (even though they are resources by Protestant Theology)? In my experience (and I believe this is true of many of my readers), I see an increasing blend of theology. Not only do I see Protestant Theology coming into Anabaptist churches, but I see Anabaptist Theology in many Protestant churches and teachers as well. Is this good? Won’t there be more of a blend the closer to Scripture we get? What are your thoughts on this?

 

There is more openness today. Many older Protestant and Anabaptist leaders who were dedicated to a particular approach are being replaced by younger men who are more eclectic in their thinking.

The Augustinian/Lutheran/Fundamentalist/Evangelicalism of the past is still very much alive in some sectors but is being replaced by a more open Evangelical approach and is accepting of some of the Anabaptist concepts.

As long as there is not compromise with the Scripture, I have no problem with blending ideas. However, Augustine’s and Calvin’s ideas that were passed on are in error and the powerful Protestant system is not willing to deal with that. We must have the discernment to know from Church history and Bible study what is right and what is not. It is almost impossible to buy part of a package. Protestant schools teach a package and we buy into all of it. They do, however, have some faculty who are more accepting of ideas outside of their ideologies. The Anabaptist schools have not had instructors who know and accept enough of Anabaptist theology to be able to teach and defend its Biblical principles.

I realize that Anabaptist youth are following Protestant approach because it is so well packaged and taught. The Anabaptist system lost our schools to liberalism in earlier days and we have not produced conservative schools to take their places. The Protestant/Fundamental system did not lose their schools. They have kept their system mostly intact and now have powerful systems of education and publishing. We are trying to catch up with Faith Builders and SMBI and so on. We are in a struggle for the life of the Anabaptist/Biblical understandings. Meanwhile, we continue to produce church systems that are primarily culture and not Bible.

This discussion is the battle for which I have given most of my life.  No one has written it out in ways understandable to most people.

Anselm’s theory of Atonement/Justification is being challenged on one side and defended on another but men like David Bercot are making Early Church info quite available in his Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. And Finny Kuruvilla highlights the unique Anabaptist approaches that match the early Church in his book King Jesus Claims His Church.

Anabaptist Theology:

  1. There are two Irreconcilable Kingdoms: God’s and this world’s – you cannot have both. You must decide in which Kingdom you will live. (M. Luther and others found ways to allow living in both kingdoms at the same time and ways of being a saint and a sinner at the same time.)
  2. The Sermon on the Mount is how God’s people are to live in this world here and now
  3. Non-resistance is the ideal of the Kingdom of God and we live that as a prophetic statement of the Kingdom of God.
  4. Community of Faith is the way of the Church and we live in accountability and responsibility to an for each other.

(Read The Anabaptist Vision to get the view of Anabaptist leaders over the years. I subscribe to the Bender School of Anabaptist thought as most Biblical and simple. Watch Dean Taylor’s recordings of Anabaptist beliefs and practices to get a balanced view of Ana beliefs. Talk to Dean Taylor, David Bercot, John D. Martin, Val Yoder, etc for more info.)

Thanks for expounding on that! And for the resources. Just to go in a little further, what are (at least some examples) of Augustine and Calvin ideas that are in error?

 

The tendency for Anabaptist groups is to replace the Bible with their culture. The tendency of Protestant groups is to replace the Bible with their theological system(s).

In both cases the replacement can easily replace the gospel.

The catholic (small ‘c’) Church quickly became highly organized in early Church history. The ideas of Constantine and Augustine eventually became the Catholic (capital ‘C’) church.

A series of movements left the organizational church and kept the faith independently of the system. The Paulicans, Donatists, Albigenses, Waldensians and others forged a Biblical path.

They were persecuted by the Catholic system. Eventually this faithful movement was able to come ‘above-ground’ so-to-speak in the Anabaptist movement which rejected both Catholic and Protestant groups in favor of a return to the Scripture and the early Church practices.

Augustine attempted to shut down the Donatist movement and force people into the Roman church. The Donatists wanted a pure Church with holy men as leaders. Augustine believed that the actions of the church were not dependent on the integrity of the leaders. This is why the Ana groups want Godly men as leaders, not just men who are trained in the right schools. Augustine wrote two books still used in training Protestant leaders.

Calvin published a large book of theology which was/is quite thorough. He attempted to create a kingdom of God in Geneva Switzerland. He made rules to control belief and behavior. A man who did not follow Calvin’s ideas on the trinity was burned for his beliefs. Calvin consented to the death of that person.

Luther continued the Augustinian concepts. He spoke very harshly against Jews, peasants and Anabaptist. Of course, if you consult Protestant teachers, they will explain things their way. My BA is from a Fundamentalist college. I had the opportunity to expose and defend Ana beliefs in a semi-hostile environment. I came away more convinced the Ana way is most Biblical.

Protestant systems see Jesus through the eyes of Paul.

Anabaptist systems see Paul through the eyes of Jesus.

This is a huge subject which is why we need to know Church History. I taught those classes at SMBI for about 10 years and a Terre Hill Mennonite before that and am still teaching but need some young men to come along and understand and teach the material.

Thanks again! You mentioned earlier that Anabaptists are afraid of the Holy Spirit. Why do you think that is, and how can we get people to be open to the Holy Spirit?

 

No question that the early Anabaptists accepted the importance of the Holy Spirit. Problem: some of them claimed to follow the Spirit but did not follow the Scripture.

Our people saw that the Spirit was not controllable or predictable but the Scripture text was a constant. So, we moved to a Scripture based belief system instead of an understanding that the Scripture and the Holy Spirit are really one and the same – See John 6:63. From there it was an easy step to make rules and disciplines that could be enforced and followed without the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Michael Sattler wrote a message about Two Kinds of Obedience. Either law or love will control you. You will obey either for law or for love. He was not against law but saw love as a higher, more mature obedience. That was in 1527 – today we still seem to feel more comfortable with the written word than with the Holy Spirit because that created situations that we could not control in our history.

Our cultures have a Bible base but are taught as the essence of our faith – this does not require the Holy Spirit. This is one reason that my generation fears the Spirit and your generation is hungry for the Spirit. We must find a way for the generations to come to agreement or will lose many more youth.

Switching gears–you mentioned pornography use as one of your concerns. You once wrote this to me: “The world has become so sexualized. Girls always wore knee length dresses. They were modest. They felt modest. I thought they were modest. Now, dresses have to be floor length to be modest. Why? What happened?”
I’m curious why you think this is? What happened?

 

The purity culture and books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the Every Man series, etc. attempted to create a perfect environment for purity in youth, dating, etc. Sadly, it made girls feel self-conscious for being female and made them think they had to protect men form thinking impure thoughts if the girls did not completely cover up and made the girls responsible for the integrity of the men. Bill Gothard was a primary supplier of these thoughts. If men sinned, the women were guilty.

The modesty of the past became immodesty because some men taught that a girl’s legs were not to be seen or men would sin. The girls complied and covered up. Growing up in the 50s and 60s we never thought of knee length dresses as immodest. Only with the influence of some teachers did we begin to think thoughts like that.

Along with this came the “hands off” dating. I have no problem with that but, It did not make crazy to hold a girl’s hand. Some of us behaved and some did not. It is still like that today.

Two ways of destroying a principle: 1. ignore it. 2. talk about it all the time. It was talked about way too much.

My opinion is that we did not gain anything from the purity culture and all of its rules. Dating was fun for me. Now it scares so many young people. Everything must be done just right according to the book and if not, it is sin. I do not believe that. Where is self-control. Where is respect and protect as a way of caring for girls and women. We lost that in the move that was supposed to take us toward modesty.

Thanks again, Frank, for this interview. As a closing question, if you could give a room full of millennial adults a word of exhortation, what would you say?

 

Word of exhortation to Millennials:

  • Invest your life in studying the Scripture and in giving your life over the the control of the Holy Spirit.
  • Focus on the fruit of the Spirit of Truth and all the fruit He brings into our lives
  • Read: Chambers, Tozer, Watchman Nee, Murray, Writings of Michael Sattler, etc.
  • Get a grasp of Church History

Truth and love together bring healing to life. That combination is a theme through the Scripture: Pro. 3:3, John 1:14. Truth, righteousness, and judgment on one hand and love, grace, and mercy on the other hand brings God’s Spirit into daily life.

Thanks for your thoughts on my question – Blessings on your ministry.

Your Feedback

I’d love to hear your thoughts as you “listen in” to this interview. Do you have any comments, questions or concerns for either me or Frank? Share them in the comments below.

*Featured image credit: Hans Mast on Facebook
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About Asher Witmer

I am a son of God, husband, father, and difference maker. I love helping people sort through hard questions they face and rediscover Jesus. I have written three eBooks dealing with church frustrations, and send out daily posts addressing faith, church and relationships.