Clarion Call – A Bible-Formed People

March 2013

by Clarence Rempel, WDC Conference Minister

How were these people formed that they were able to confront the dominating, collusive powers of church and state and dream a new dream of following Jesus in the world? How could they stand firm on chosen faith and believers baptism when for 1,200 years the ruling paradigm had been baptizing infants with everyone included as citizens of state and church? Why were they willing to suffer loss of safety, loss of home, loss of life for this new way of thinking and living? How were they formed?

Readings of Anabaptist trial transcripts from Switzerland to northern Germany to the Netherlands revealed that enthusiastic followers of Jesus were saturated with often-quoted Scriptures to inquisitor questions. Many of these Scriptures were the same and likely had a common source, a little book called the Biblical Concordance of the Swiss Brethren. This was not a word concordance, but a concordance of Scriptural texts arranged under 66 topics. It was a Bible digest without commentary or explanation collected in a little booklet no bigger than a pocket digital camera. This book was easily hidden and carried even into prison cells. The Concordance was published for 150 years beginning perhaps as early as 1530. There are at least 14 surviving German editions and one Dutch edition.

In addition to portability, the Concordance was also popular because of its affordability, costing much less than a complete Bible. It was the source for Bible reading, meditation, memorization, teaching, and sermonization.

The seemingly random topics have a sequence that correlates with a trajectory of Christian formation. The opening chapters focus on the first responses to God’s saving action: Fear of God, Repentance, Discipleship, Rebirth, Service of God, Faith, Baptism and Spirit. Challenges faced by new believers are addressed under headings Persecution, Bearing Witness, Be Not Afraid, and Patience. Positive Christian actions are described under Love, Hope, Keeping Watch, Prayer, Fasting, and Alms. Warnings about behaviors to be left behind include: Sin, Greed, Wrath, Useless Chatter, Excessive Eating/Drinking, Idolatrousness, Swearing, Vengeance. The Concordance concludes with end of life Scriptures with the longest section being Reward of the Pious located in between Day of the Lord and Punishment of the godless.

Noticeably missing from the concordance topics for today’s Mennonites are Peace, Justice, Evangelism, Mission, and Church though these topics are touched on under other headings.

Unlike the Lutheran and Reform movements that quickly developed Confessions and Catechisms that became the focus of study, Anabaptists stayed with a focus on Scripture that had more in common with the Catholic monastic tradition of lectio divina. Scripture was memorized, chewed on, and digested in order that it could be lived out in obedience to the will of God. This was Christian formation by immersion in Holy Scripture.

A good way for congregations to enter into an Anabaptist way of Christian formation would be to identify twelve key Scriptures and then soak in those texts with daily reading, memorization, teaching and preaching. An ambitious congregation might choose 24 texts or one for each week of the year.

The devotional book, Reading the Anabaptist Bible, is one way of entering into this Anabaptist way of discipleship. It takes Scripture readings from the Biblical Concordance for everyday of the year and then includes a testimony from the Martyrs Mirror or quotation from other Anabaptist writers to illustrate the Scripture.

What is the intensity of your engagement with Scripture? Is it enough to shape a counter-cultural, transformed disciple of Jesus?