(A guest blogger today….)
My Church. Hiram I have been reading your articles in which you demean me and try to destroy my people’s belief in the One True Visible Church. I felt to reply to you and show you why you are in error. I have done much writing which should have convinced you beyond a shadow if doubt of my rightness, but you continue to discredit me and meine gemeinde.
Let me give you a little history of meine gemeinde, and how it came to fall into my hands. As the biographical information in the introduction to my large book, The Mirror of Truth states, I was converted at the age of 12. I felt the light of salvation in my life at that time, but the thing that they so kindly, or perhaps out of a failure to know all of the details of my life, forgot to mention is that I fell away most sharply before my restoration at the age of 21. Details are unnecessary and embarrassing, but I believe that it is known to you that before my reconsecration I fell into moral sin. My wife Elizabeth and I became parents shortly after our marriage and it was during this shameful and degraded time in my life that I came to a full repentance and restoration of God’s grace. This was to be an incident that haunted me my entire life, and apparently still follows me.
During this time the travail of my soul was great and I gave myself very much to prayer and fasting, as the decayed state of the gemeinde was very much on my mind and heavy on my heart. My restoration served very much to remind me of how I had been picked up from the dung and set on higher ground. I wanted to see the church restored in the same way I had been. Once a man has been picked up from the gutter he is suddenly very intolerant of others who are still there.
There were a number of things that concerned me at this time, as you may very well know. I had been thoroughly instructed in the religious ways of the Old Mennonite Church and these principles were very dear to me. When I began to see a falling away I was very much troubled and prayed the more for guidance. God showed me during this time that excommunication and avoidance had fallen by the wayside, and because of this, I was shown in a dream that the candlestick was mine to take if I would but be willing to humble myself and speak out. I began to rebuke the elders but sadly they would not hear me. I spoke to them of their laxness in childrearing and such. I determined within myself that if my brethren would not hear me then I would take the candlestick and go. During this time I was shown the pride and hardness of their hearts, as they refused to hear my reproof. I had already been called by God to preach and I knew that their lack of understanding of this calling was further proof of their decay and falling away.
Even as a young man I was much given to study and prayer and it was through this that God began to show me the extent of the decay of the church and he began to impress upon my mind that unless I was willing to take the candlestick and go it could very well be lost forever. This so much alarmed me that I prayed ever the more, asking God to help me to be willing to suffer whatever I must to keep meine gemeinde safe from decay. In this he was faithful and he led me to speak out more. There were those among the brethren who knew the truth that I was speaking, yet they were weak and fearful. They desired the praise of men rather than the praise of God.
During this time I did much study of the writings of Menno and Dietrich and others. I could see clearly the line of succession from the time of the apostles right down to me and I was very much humbled. I determined the more that I would rescue meine gemeinde from decay and keep the candlestick safe. I began to write, often late at night, much to the sorrow of my dear wife, who was left alone to discipline the children and teach them in the right way. I do regret some of this now as I look back, for not all of them came into meine gemeinde. Surely this was due in some part to the heavy burden that had been placed upon me. There are those who are critical of me, but I always had meine gemeinde on my mind before all else, and I believe God will overlook this failure to bring my children into the one true sheepfold.
As you know, I labored in vain for some years, my group being very small. Nevertheless, I did not lose heart, no matter what discouragements came my way. I felt that I had been called as a prophet, evangelist and great reformer, and therefore I put a great deal of stock in my dreams and visions. I had a dream that assured me that my mother would one day unite with meine gemeinde. I spoke of this to her and others and therefore was greatly troubled when this failed to come to pass. However, I began to see that the test of a true prophet is whether or not he can continue in his calling even when there is discouragement and doubt. I was able to persuade my daughter Anna that she must join the gemeinde or I should lose credibility. This she did, although not without some struggle, However she did remain faithful til her death. One of my sons also joined us but fell away. However I have hope that he reconsecrated himself and was restored to the flock of the faithful before his death. Many of these things have been used to discredit me, but I never allowed myself to be discouraged. So convinced was I of the lineage and my rightness that I never falterd, even when I misjudged the popularity of my writings and paid for a very large print run of one of my books. This caused me some financial distress, and once again my dear wife was patient with me, and I felt that I must submit myself to the brethren so that the hand of discipline might fall upon me if this was what was necessary to save my soul. I felt much cleansed by this, as I from time became unsure of my salvation. The sins of my early youth, though purged through much suffering and shame often rose up to haunt me and I myself learned firsthand the value of excommunication to help one be delivered from sin. There are those who argue that the blood of Christ is sufficient for all, but I can testify of my own experience, and that is that excommunication had a cleansing effect on me that added together with Christ’s death seemed to have a more complete and purging effect. Because of this I taught all the more strongly that we must not abandon the teachings of excommunication and avoidance. I am happy to see that many of the brethren even now understand the importance of this and are teaching that the power of meine gemeinde lies in holding to this very important teaching. After this experience of excommunication I began to see even more clearly why many other groups had fallen away. They began to leave off this important teaching and soon much decay and lightness began to infiltrate the church. But thanks be to God he raised up yet one more prophet to see this gemeinde through to the end. It is my firm belief that meine gemeinde will endure til the end and the gates of hell will never prevail against it. If in fact decay should set in, I would trust someone like you Hiram, to sound the alarm, but I very much doubt that this will ever be the case. The candlestick is hidden in a very safe place and I left no instructions for it to ever be removed. However, if you should ever see a time when decay sets in, I may well reconsider and give out this information. If the day comes when you see large and beautiful buildings, places of worship being constructed, please let me know. If you see a time when children have become unruly and disorderly, likewise, notify me. If you see expensive homes and carriages, if you see a time when congregations cannot go to communion for several years running, and the ministry seems to have fallen into decay, I want to know. If you see a time there is a time of unrest in which a drift into worldliness cannot be halted, contact me. We must not ever allow the church to be too light, or to be seen as agreeing with the world or any other church in any single point. I labored much for meine gemeinde. I will contact you again. In the meantime, please be aware that I am watching you and you will never destroy the lineage. I love it way too much. I wrote too much about it. It will never fall. The gates of hell will never prevail against it. It will take us straight to heaven. I beieve that excommunication is the key to keeping it safe. As long as my ministers can expel all who disagree, how can I fail?