Brethren Values

In a few days, Blue River will be hosting the General Meeting of the Brethren Revival Fellowship. It was 1984 when we last were the host venue of this meeting. At each General Meeting (formerly held yearly; more recently it has alternated with the Brethren Alive weekend conference at Elizabethtown College), a focus theme is chosen, with messages that address the theme. For example, some years ago, the theme was “Church Commitment,” while other themes have dealt with various aspects of the New Testament teachings of the Brethren.

This year, the focus is on “Brethren Values: What Are They and Why are They Important?” Two noted Brethren ministers, Nathan West and Nathan Rittenhouse, will speak to those questions. While I have no idea what particulars will be considered by those good Brethren, there are several aspects of our New Testament faith that can be mentioned here.

The first important value seems like a given:  That our faith is centered on our Lord Jesus Christ of the New Testament record, and His Gospel.  The eternal Son of God became a man, lived a life of perfectly fulfilling the Law of Moses, died in a finished and complete atonement for our sins, rose again bodily on the third day, ascended to Heaven, and is coming again for His Church. This is nothing short of incredible, yet it happened, and will happen. Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ there is no Gospel, there is no New Testament, there is no Church, there is no salvation.

The second important value is the Bible as God’s trustworthy Word, with the New Testament as the complete understanding of what we must believe and practice. Through that Word God saves people, establishes the Church, corrects, reproves, exhorts, and instructs in righteousness. We have an objective standard of our faith and practice. It isn’t subject to private interpretation—that is, it does not and cannot have different meanings for different people in different ages and in different places. It is what must be believed always by all, everywhere. This is why careful study of the Bible must engage us all, and not merely the scholars, teachers, and pastors. The early Brethren gathered around the Word of God.

A third important value is that of the importance of the ordinances of the New Testament. An ordinance is a command of the Lord in the New Testament that requires more than one Christian to obey, and is symbolic or a sign of a deep spiritual truth. We Brethren understand that there are eight ordinances:  assembling together (Hebrews 10:25); baptism (Matthew 28:18-20); the Three-fold Love Feast of Feetwashing (John 13:1-17), the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Jude 12), and the Communion (1 Corinthians 11:24-26); the Holy Kiss (Romans 16:16; Acts 20:37); the anointing for healing (James 5:13-18); and the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17; 19:6; 1 Timothy 4:14). Every one of these ordinances is an important representation of spiritual facts which are established in the lives of true believers, and as such is an essential factor in the development of the Christian life.

A fourth important value is that of being fully engaged with the body of believers, that is, the Church. Not only is it an ordinance to assemble, involvement with the Church is necessary to completely grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. We develop in the Christian life by the teaching, model, and work of the local church. We would no more think of a baby being born and left on its own to grow properly and in health, than we would of a Christian (being born again) and left on its own. The Church is a vital—and beyond one’s personal relationship with Christ—the vital aspect of being a complete Christian, according to the New Testament.

A fifth important value is being engaged personally in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This growing relationship develops through regular prayer (talking to God, and not stopping), reading and thorough acquaintance with the Bible, regular involvement with the Church, and telling others about Jesus as we have opportunity. Our inner spiritual life, guided by the Word of God and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, is the basis for our continuing obedience and faithfulness to the Lord.

There are other values, to be sure. Yet these are the ones that are foundational, and continue to build the life of the Church. May we have a revival of these virtues in our day!

Pastor Craig Alan Myers

Quill & Scroll

September 2023

On Christian Burial

At Easter, we Christians mark and celebrate the historical fact of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, Jesus returned from death, resurrected (with the same body) and not reincarnated (given a different body). In other words, Jesus retains the same body He bore on earth, though glorified and made greater. We will, too, according to 1 Corinthians 15. He lived in the flesh, and continues to do so. A key doctrine of the Christian faith is the resurrection of the body. Souls and bodies will be reunited in the Resurrection. We believe in the resurrection of the body…this body.

Yet before that the Resurrection, part of the Gospel message is that “For our sake Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried…” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
The fact is, there is plenty of Biblical evidence – both Old Testament and New Testament — commending burial of the body. The earliest book of the Bible finds Job declaring that he would see God with his own eyes (Job 19:27), indicating the resurrection of the body. And in Genesis, we see Abraham – coming out of pagan Ur – burying his wife Sarah, and making arrangements for his own burial by purchasing the first burial ground among the Hebrews (Genesis 23:19).

This body, which will be raised from death, should be honored and treated with reverence, because God made it. God made our bodies for His glory. Human bodies are not inherently sinful — that is a Gnostic teaching. Adam and Eve’s bodies were not sinful, as God said His creation was very good. Jesus was fully human in the flesh, and His body is now immortal, as ours will be. The Lord Jesus was raised in the body He was crucified in. We shall be like Him. We too, will be raised in this body, as resurrection means life again in this body. The material part of us is not eliminated, but added to.

The body is for the Lord. God raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. “Don’t you understand that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, and you are not your own? You were bought at a price; so glorify God in your body.” It is God’s, not yours.

It seems improper to “dispose” as refuse that which God has made, which Christ has died for, and in which the Holy Spirit lives. We care for the body–both living and dead–as God’s wonderful gift. Russell Moore writes, “For Christians, burial is not the disposal of a thing. It is caring for a person. In burial, we’re reminded that the body is not a shell, a husk tossed aside by the “real” person, the soul within. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6–8; Philippians 1:23), but the body that remains still belongs to someone, someone we love, someone who will reclaim it one day.” [Touchstone, “Grave Signs,” January/February 2007, emphasis mine.]

Historical Christian evidence supports an honored burial of the body. Oxford historian Diarmaid MacCulloch writes in his Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, that perhaps the earliest involvement of Christians with the government was as a burial society, and that the early Christians dug the catacombs under Rome for their burial (ultimately amounting to 68 square miles and 875,000 bodies) and that “universally archeologists are able to detect the spread of Christian culture through the ancient and medieval world by the excavation of corpse burials oriented east-west” (p. 1013). When the pagan Romans burned Christians at the stake or fed them to beasts, it purposely was intended to deny Christians the resurrection of their bodies.

Early Christians reverenced the body in their burial customs. They knew that when Christ returns, the body will be raised, and wanted to honor that body as much as possible in anticipation of that Day. “The early Church retained the Jewish practice of bodily burial and rejected the common pagan Roman practice of cremation. The basis for this rule was simply that God has created each person in His image and likeness (Genesis 3:19). Moreover, our Lord Himself was buried in the tomb and then rose again in glory on Easter. Therefore, Christians buried their dead both out of respect for the body and in anticipation of the resurrection at the Last Judgment” (William Saunders, “Does the Church Forbid Cremation?”).

Christopher Wadsworth, Anglican Bishop of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, said in 1874, “[T]he flames of funeral pyres, which once blazed in all parts of the Roman Empire, have been extinguished by Christianity,” (quoted in MacCulloch, p. 1013). Christians instead were buried in cemeteries (“sleeping places” in Latin), looking for the soon return of Christ. That return is now ever closer.
Financial evidence still points to burial. Some may object to what they call the “high cost of dying.” It’s true that the average funeral cost with burial is about $7,000, or $120 per adult year of an average life expectancy (and easily covered by insurance). It’s much less than the cost of one gourmet coffee per week of that same life expectancy. Adjusted for inflation, a burial costs about the same as it did 60 years ago (“Historical Cost of Adult Funeral with Burial – 1960-2019”).

What’s interesting is that those who are de-ritualizing death (that is, setting aside visitation, funeral, and burial) — tend to be those of the higher socio-economic levels, and not the poor. In other words, the cost isn’t the factor. Alan Wolfelt, the grief counselor, points out that it is the people who can afford it who are omitting funerals today. It signifies avoidance and bypass of death. If it doesn’t make us happy, then we don’t want to spend money on it. If it is not convenient, we don’t want to spend our time on it. And thus we short-circuit the grieving process (including caring for the body) and end up worse than ever.
If we are to honor God with our bodies in the glorious vitality and energy of life, then we should honor Him with our bodies in the process of death. The Heidelberg Catechism (so beloved by early Brethren, and valued to this day), answer #1, says, “My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” Our bodies are His in life, and in death. May we treat them with all the respect and honor with which we are able.

Pastor Craig Alan Myers

The Blessings of the Recent Plague

The Pastor’s Column from the May 2020 Quill & Scroll.

A month ago, we could hardly envision that we would have had the unusual April we have had. We’ve had no NCAA Tournament. No opening day of baseball. No hockey. No Spring events. We looked forward to Pre-Easter Services, to Love Feast, to Good Friday, and most of all, to Easter and the celebration of the bodily Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Since then, so many things have changed. It’s funny how the name of a little particle, not even alive in the usual sense of the world, has become a common word. That something we didn’t know about at Christmas, changed our entire world by Easter. It reminds me of that saying attributed to the quotable British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan who, when asked what was most likely to affect the course of his government, said “Events, dear boy, events.” We’ve seen events affect the course of the whole world.

That our government would essentially shut down an economy that was humming along, people going to and fro, and social intercourse, was just something we could not even imagine at the beginning of March 2020.

What are we to make of all this?  Is this fulfillment of prophecy? I’ve seen mentions of the 40 day interval from the Bible applied to all this? It is a fulfillment in that as the time of Jesus’ return draws nearer, then we can expect the signs of the end to increase. Remember, though, that we have been in the “end times” since Jesus ascended to Heaven. The disciples expected Jesus to return at any time, even in their lifetimes. The church has seen great times and difficult times throughout history. There’s nothing new under the sun—not even pestilence such as this COVID-19. There have been plagues of smallpox, black death, influenza, and such like, repeatedly through the ages. The best way to view it is to see it as another situation that proves the faith that we as Christians have. We aren’t to worry, but trust that in all this the Lord is working out all things according to His sovereign will.

What are we to do? Think on the ways this coronavirus circumstance has:

  1. Made us yearn for corporate worship and gathered fellowship. We have found that online or livestream worship does not take the place of actually being together. Seeing faces, hearing voices, and directly interacting with one another cannot be replaced by seeing a service on our computers or devices. It has been rather challenging to speak only to a camera as we have done the livestreams. Even meetings by Zoom (an interactive teleconferencing Internet application) has its limitations. No, we are meant to gather. Human beings are by nature gregarious people, and Christians most of all as “we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.” Can we worship at home by ourselves? Yes, we should, and we also are to worship with God’s people. All of our ordinances require being together. Assembling together, baptism, feetwashing, the Lord’s Supper, the Communion, the anointing for healing, the laying on of hand, and the holy kiss cannot be done apart from the gathering together of Christians, and cannot be done by isolating, either. So we yearn for those things to be available to us again.
  2. Given us opportunity to get into the Word. Remember the little “Round Tuits” that some of us used to pass around? We always said we would do something when we got a “Round Tuit.” We have now had that time to read, to study, and to meditate on the Word of God. I’ve heard many say that they are getting “bored” of all of this. Get your Bible! Get to reading! Get to thinking about what God is saying in His Word. You have the time and the opportunity as never before!
  3. Helped us to pray with greater intensity. Related to reading the Bible, we have also had time to pray more, and to communicate with our Heavenly Father in a greater way. We have slowed down to be able to pause and pray. We are praying for the health and wellbeing of people, for the Lord to end this plague, and to bring about healing for those afflicted with it and other health issues.
  4. Moved us to consider others more. As you’ve had time to catch up on chores and long-put-off projects, this coronavirus situation has enabled us to think of others in greater ways that perhaps we have in the past. We are sending notes, ringing folks up on the phone, making food and doing errands for the shut-ins. We’ve been blessing others in ways we didn’t think about a few months ago. We are considering the health of others in our own actions such as handwashing, isolating, and being aware of our surroundings.
  5. Enabled us to appreciate what we have. If we have a job, groceries, a roof over our heads, a loving family, and our health, we are counting it all a great blessing. We sometimes complain about the relative social barrenness of rural or small-town Indiana, but we’re glad we haven’t been in New York City, Detroit, or other major cities that have borne the brunt of this plague. What’s more, it’s helped us to be more generous with the blessings that the Lord has given us.
  6. Challenged us to think of Eternity more. With the recent strong economy, and the many technological and creature comforts we experience, some think that death and Eternity are far away. This plague has brought the possibility of death closer to our minds. The hysterical fear that many express about death, is because they have a) thought they had many years to live, and b) not really thought about what comes after death. Is there something more, or do we just go to the grave? Christians always know that unless Jesus returns in our time, we will die, and then, eternity. We are to be ready to die, and ready to go to Heaven, by trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

The only way we can do all these things is through the Lord Jesus Christ. Friend, are you afraid of the coronavirus? Are you ready to enter into Eternity? Are you ready to meet God face to face? Will you be in the resurrection of the righteous, or the resurrection of the wicked?

The time to get ready is now. You may have a freezer and pantry full of food, your gas can filled, and your debts paid off. Yet are you ready for that which WILL come—your appointment with God? Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ today!

Pastor Craig Alan Myers