Letter by Joseph Stoll addressed to John Mark Fisher and distributed to the communities in Aylmer and Lindsay, Ontario (His reply)

June 22, 2017
Dear John Mark, etc.,

Christian greetings this fine summer morning.

Some time ago I was given a copy of an 8- page typed writing that was reportedly compiled by you. If this is not correct, I would like to be informed. The writing did contain some points that I feel led to comment on, if I may do so. I trust it can be in the Spirit in which the apostle Paul instructed Timothy, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

I feel you have been, or are being, influenced by some unscriptural emphasis, yet I sense from your writing that you are sincerely seeking the truth, hence I would like to point out the errors gently but firmly. Please forgive me if I fail to accomplish this. I may try to break down the issues point by point to make it easier to follow.

It seems to me your evaluation of today’s church situation is based on too narrow a foundation. Your conclusion is far too leak, in my opinion. I am reminded of the man who claimed, “All Indians walk single file. I am convinced of it because the one I saw did so.”

I have been around for a good many years, and from what I have observed, the Amish system (which is the Anabaptist model, which is the scriptural pattern) is working, though not without human shortcomings. The examples that are not working are the churches that have rejected the biblical structure, and have chosen individualism instead.

All churches face challenges. We need look no further than the Corinthian church of Paul’s time to see that there were major issues to deal with. There may be more unrest and trouble today than formerly, but there are also many positive and encouraging examples of discipleship in today’s Anabaptist- type churches. What are we going to focus on? The churches that are dysfunctional, or the ones that are not?

If we may compare marriages with churches, there are probably more failed marriages in the world today than ever before. One source claims 60% of the couples he counsels are divorced and remarried. This is not to mention the common-law unions, and the live-in arrangements that come and go. Does the fault lie with God’s divine institution of marriage? Or does the fault lie with humans not excepting God’s requirements? Is it not much the same if a church is dysfunctional?

The solution is not to reject God’s blueprint, weather for a marriage or for his church, the bride of Christ. The solution is to get in line with his instructions and follow them in faith for submission. Ecclesiastes 12:13, Micah 6:8,John 14:15, Matthew 7:21 etc.

There is nothing wrong with God’s blueprint. Let us not be found guilty of undermining it, or rejecting it for the council of man. It is easy to tear down a building, but before we do so, let us be sure we have something to replace it that is better, and is truly in God’s will.

2. The issue of fear and of being fear driven needs to be examined in the light of the whole Bible, and not distorted so that it becomes lopsided. True, in 2 Timothy 17, Paul writes, “for God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” And yet the Bible is full of admonition to fear the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. Christ said we are not to fear what man can do to us, but to fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28). Paul wrote to Timothy, “them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” So fear has its rightful place, and it is a normal human emotion. Let us not over react to being fear driven, nor too readily be influenced by modern teachers who make this a major issue beyond it’s biblical level. In fact, it may well be that the fear of fear and of being fear-driven is one of the wrong kinds of fear that we need to avoid.

3 Again, where are these confused and insecure young people that are supposedly out numbering the stable and serious minded Christian youth who are devoted to serving God? We have a labored all our adult life to preach and teach biblical truth, though we know our efforts leave a great deal to be desired. We have sought to teach that Bible principles must be applied in our daily lives, and that the church is central in a believer’s life. Have we totally failed? Also, that Christian homes are the backbone of the church. Our such homes nonexistent? Surely not.

4 I am really disturbed by the theory of punishment being a worldly idea, and that it reaches into the row moved out training. It is true, Christ said we must become child like if we are to be a part of his kingdom. But this does not remove the scriptural teaching, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21.) “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

Proverbs is full of instructions to curve the evil in the heart of a child. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Is this just an Old Testament teaching? Not at all. See Hebrews 12 where corporal discipline is taught, but motivated by love. The two go hand-in-hand. The same is true in the church, not just in the home. Call it what you will, but punishment, as such, is doing New Testament concept, not a worldly one.

You write that Jesus did not condemn sinners. Please read Matthew 23 again and then look up the word “woe” in the concordance. Also look up the German word ” Strafe” and see how it was applied by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 and then read Hebrews 10:29, after which you may wish to retract your statement that punishment is not a New Testament teaching. It certainly is, but needs to be understood within the context of the entire Bible.

5 This brings us to another major subject–that of the role of the church and of the ministry in the life of the believer. You appear to have been influenced by some very liberal teaching that would strip the church of any authority and would instead exalt personal guidance by the Holy Spirit.

This, of course, is not a new teaching. I was confronted by it more than 50 years ago. Such people said, the church has no right to set up guidelines in dress and conduct. What has been the outcome? The record has been very consistent. This lack of structure and regulations simply does not work. Please, John Mark, this is a dangerous road to travel. If you go the way that others have gone, you’ll end up just where they did, either as completely out in the world, or as “wandering saints” or “loaners” who esteem their own interpretation above that of the church, whose authority they resent and reject.

Look up the word “CHURCH” in Nave’s Topical Bible and see how many pages are filled with quotes from the Bible on this subject. Study the old Anabaptist hymns and our heritage and history, to see how important our forefathers in the faith considered the church to be.

As for the ministerial structure of leadership in the church, it is clearly taught in the New Testament. The ministers have a great responsibility and accountability, and the members are admonished to respect and follow their leadership. To quarrel with this is to quarrel with the New Testament. See first Peter 5:2, Acts 20, Hebrews 13:7 and 17, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, etc.

6 You suggest the church be limited in its oversight to “scriptures that are clearly written.” Could anything be clearer than 1 John 2:15 and 16? “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”

There would be more to write, but this is enough for now. We must be careful not to amplify some isolated verse to the point where we do violence to other scriptures. We must take them as a whole, and with God’s help, blend them into a true understanding of God’s will.

I have written the above with a sincere desire to help. If anything is not scriptural, I would want to know. May God be gracious to us all.

Joseph Stoll

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