As has already been mentioned, John Holdeman was very fond of the lineage. There is one thing to keep in mind, however. It is much like the theory of evolution; there are some missing links. In the same way the Holdemans would be scornful of evolution because there are missing links, I am scornful of the lineage because there are missing links. I am not a supporter of the theory of evolution, but the same concerns arise about the lineage as arise about evolution. Unless this lineage can be proved every step of the way, it loses its validity completely. If the lineage is what gave John Holdeman his foundation, then he must prove it beyond a doubt or discard it entirely. When a structure is built on a faulty foundation, every thing that goes upward after that has to be adjusted for and propped up to make the thing stand. Let us examine a few more flaws that show themselves as we examine this awkward foundation.
He quotes Claes Ganlof, an Anabaptist leader who came a short time after Menno. He authored a small book called “The United Undivided Church of God.” As long as writers such as Ganlof are supporting their theories, people like to quote them, but then conveniently overlook passages that might render their position shaky. It is well understood that John Holdeman rose up in protest against the Old Mennonite Church and separated himself from them, starting a new church which he called The Church of God in Christ Mennonite. It has often been stated that Holdeman’s movement was valid because he was not expelled from the Old Mennonite Church. However, consider this quote from Ganlof’s book on page 128. He is explaining the ins and outs of excommunication, who should be expelled, who should expel whom, and why. He is speaking of divisions, where one group separates from another and goes on.
“If we should understand and explain that it is no sin to separate from the brethren, then we should not only justify the separation that such have made, but go with them and confess that they had reasons to separate from the church of God. But since the truth is quite different, that such who cause division contrary to the doctrine of Christ cannot stand before God or His church, and in their blindness and disobedience deal wrongly toward God and His children, those who stand for the fight have to excommunicate and shun those who are in the wrong. There is also an avoidance and shunning commanded and as long as the church has not excommunicated the sinner, the ordinance of shunning cannot be properly held, and even if the aforementioned offender has separated himself without scriptural rights, the Word of the Lord still teaches us that the sinner shall be punished.”
Here we can see that Ganlof advocates the excommunication and shunning of those in a decayed church when an enlightened group separates. We will note that Holdeman was neither excommunicated from them, nor did he excommunicate them. Hence, according to all the legalistic rules and wranglings of those who try to claim exclusivity and perfection, Holdeman was incomplete in his separation. He did not excommunicate the members of what he believed to be the decayed church when he left. Obviously he did not have the power or the nerve to do so. Not only did he not observe shunning towards the members of the old church, but he took them into his church with their old baptism. These rules seem to be made up as people go along. Ganlof had his set of rules, and Holdeman refers to them when it suits him, Holdeman made up a few of his own as he went along, and people today accept them as the truth. Holdeman claimed a divine calling from God and an invisible ordination from God, whereas none of the reformers before him had done so. The point must continue to be made that if the past behaviors of men, in so many other ways, have been held to, then the pattern has been set for any future reformer. There is absolutely nothing to prevent a young man from rising up, rebuking the ministry, separating with a few followers, and re-establishing what he claims is the true church of God.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3:11) This verse is very clear. The foundation is Jesus Christ. It is not Claes Ganlof, John Holdeman, Menno Simons, Peter Waldo, or Dietrich Phillips. The time of the Reformation was a time of much religious turmoil and divisiveness. Each man was trying to prove himself right and others wrong. There is nothing wrong with seeking for spiritual purity, but to seek for right practice is directly contrary to the message of Jesus Christ. This is evidence of someone who has not yet come to understand the true message of salvation. The message of salvation is far more simple than these men make it seem. They put locks and bars on something that only God can own. They try to claim it and dispense it as they see fit. Much of what they claim is purely conjecture. The example above of Ganlof claiming the need to excommunicate and avoid those with whom he disagrees is ludicrous. It didn’t fit into John Holdeman’s tidy picture of separation and division, so he left that part out. All of it is incorrect. The Bible is all that is needed in order to know how to be saved.
The true church MUST be built according to the New Testament pattern. We will continue to investigate the nature of this New Testament pattern, but first, let us continue with our examination:
If you are asking, “well then how do we know who to shun? What about shunning those who disagree with us?” the answer is simple. First of all, Christ is the head of the church. There is only one absolute authority in the universe and that is God. All other authority is delegated authority. God delegated Christ, and Christ alone, to be the head of the church. All authority in the church must derive from the living Christ. To illustrate the principle of headship, Paul uses the metaphor of the body. The church is a body, the body of Christ. A body may have many members but it has only one head. If the church is the body of Christ, then Christ, and Christ alone is the HEAD of the church.
Ephesians 1:22-23 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the HEAD over all things to the church, Which is his body, thefullness of him that filleth all in all.
Colossians 1:18 Andhe is the HEAD of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. KJV
Christ, then as the head of the church delegates authority to men in positions of leadership. But we must distinguish between leadership and headship. Leadership in the church was always plural, but headship is singular. Christ chose twelve apostles. The apostles themselves never assumed headship of the church. Peter never claimed headship! When a leader, whether a preacher, pope or king, claims to be the head of the church, he exalts himself above even the apostles,including the apostle Peter. Christ ALONE is the head of the church.
The Roman Catholic doctrine that Peter was the head of the church and the Pope as his successor is the head of the church contradicts this New Testament principle that Christ is the head of the church and it violates all we know about the workings of the early church. Peter was certainly unique and his impetuous spirit often put him in the forefront. We should never take away any honor from that great man of God but we cannot give him the honor that belongs to Christ alone. Christ is the head of the church.
Now it must be fairly obvious that the Holdeman leadership would never refer to a man, Peter or anyone else as the head of the church. They would disdain the office of the pope. However, it would almost seem sometimes that the entire ministry of the Holdeman church functions as one large pope. They claim that their word is final. It comes from God. He speaks directly to them and the people are to listen without question. When a person falls into sin they are expected to confess it to the ministers, and God, through the ministers, grants penance and absolution. The ministers tell a person when they have peace with God. They tell them what the punishment for their sin will be. The stand as a mediator between God and man. This frustrates people and causes them to doubt their ability to hear and understand God. Everything they think and do, after a while, must be sifted through the screen of the staff. If God gives them a conviction on something and it does not “harmonize” with what the body of ministers has already decreed, it is discounted. In this way the ministry functions as a type of Holy Spirit. They are the final word in a Christian’s life, not God, not the Holy Spirit. I will write more on this topic, as I do not want this post to get too long.