Gelassenheit, Part One


A Sermon,

Preached on the Second Day



June 16, 2008

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Php 2:5-8)

Our lesson tonight, and probably over several more sermons as well, is on the philosophy or doctrine of Gelassenheit. Gelassenheit is a term that is probably very strange to the ears of most people, although it has a long history of usage in the Church, and is foundational to the Anabaptist understanding of what Christianity is. We here have used this term for some time, but I often get questions about the right definition of the word, and I have to say that it is one of the hardest words to define and to find a right definition of in all of theology.

I looked at a modern English/German dictionary and it defined Gelassenheit as composure.

In most older English German dictionaries, the term Gelassenheit is defined as Submission or Yielding.

Martin Heidegger, the 20th Century German Philosopher, defined Gelassenheit as “the willingness or ability to let things be as they are, in their uncertainty and mystery”.

The Global Mennonite Encyclopedia comes the closest to having an adequate definition of the term:

Gelassenheit, self-surrender, resignation in God’s will (Gottergebenheit), yieldedness to God’s will, self-abandonment, the (passive) opening to God’s willing, including the readiness to suffer for the sake of God, also peace and calmness of mind, in Dutch devotional literature leijdzaamheid (Mennonite Quarterly Review, 1950, 22, note 17, suggests about 15 possible translations, none perfectly fitting). Only if man relinquishes his self-will may he become an instrument of God. The main Biblical locus seems to be Revelation 13:10, “Here is the patience [RSV has `endurance’] and faith of the saints,” even though Gelassenheit goes further than patience and endurance.”

The term crosses over into so many different areas of life and experience that it is almost impossible to properly define it outside of some type of context. For this reason, this series will attempt to look at Gelassenheit as a practice and not merely as a philosophy or doctrine. Hans Denck, the German Anabaptist, said, “There is no other way to blessedness than to lose one’s selfwill”. I have added this to the long definition: as opposed to the passive act of mere humility, Gelassenheit is the active practice of living out the divine command of love”.

Before we can go any further in examining Gelassenheit, we need to get a really good idea of the world we are dealing with – that world in which Gelassenheit must function.

In any system, quite often the vocabulary or the lexicon of that system can become so common and can be used so regularly (or irregularly) that the words themselves will cease to have meaning, or will evolve new and different meanings than those intended when the words were first used in that system. In Christianity, the lexicon of the Christian life are often so misused that the very words themselves really cease to have any meaning. We hear sayings like “take up your cross”, “the daily cross”, “die daily”, etc. and it seems that the words are now become mist without any corporeal practical reality or meaning. By way of example, nowhere is this more evident than in the modern apostate “christian” music business. Once Christian sayings or Biblical quotes are now written into stupid, shallow, and vapid songs, where they are repeated like mantras, over and over, until any true meaning or actuality is stripped from them. Modern “christians” can sing these songs, and repeat the phrases (like “I take up my cross”) while they live lives indistinguishable from the world around them. This myth has permeated the world that Jesus Christ, our perfect obedient and suffering Savior, was just some good ol’ boy who worked as a carpenter by day and hung around with the sinners and tax collectors at night. And since the modernist “christian” has accepted this false view of Christ, and since they have embraced a false view of who Christ is and what He was sent to do, then they can easily eviscerate these powerful words and sayings and make them mean anything – or nothing at all. They do not know what to say about a Jesus who said this:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19).

Our text for today says that Jesus “made himself of no reputation”. There are two words that are translated to make up this phrase, and those two words are literally translated thusly: He emptied himself”. Jesus poured himself out, and by that I mean that He poured His SELF out. His carnal will, His personal wants and desires, His own way of looking at things, His personal opinion, His ideas, His facts, etc. – all of these – were poured out and considered nothing, and He replaced all these things with the will of His Father. Jesus Christ emptied Himself. There is a theological term for this. The word for “emptied” here is the word kenoō.. The theological term for “emptying oneself” is kenosis. During the most ancient and most effective epochs of the Church, there was much teaching and preaching on this concept of kenosis, but, like in any thing or in any truth, when some groups and teachers became extreme or unbiblical in their teaching on the subject, the backlash against those extreme or unbiblical teachings caused many (in fact most) of the Church to reject any and all teaching on the subject. Kenosis was dismissed as mere “mysticism”. When the Catholic sect began to predominate, the teaching of kenosis was twisted horribly. Catholics were taught that they must empty themselves of their will and replace it with the will of “The Universal Church” or of the Bishops, or of the Pope himself. Since Catholics were not taught, encouraged, or even allowed (in most cases) to read the Bible in their own language and to determine God’s will for themselves, they were instructed that only the Church and its Pope could determine God’s will. Kenosis as a substantive teaching, then, was left to those in monasteries. Again, most of these secluded men or women did not have access to Bibles to read for themselves, so even their admirable attempts at “emptying themselves” in their search for an authentic Christianity or a closer walk with God turned into fanciful mysticism or even a demonic or paganistic search into the self for God.

Many Protestants likewise were taught that the out-working of God’s will was only known through the institution called “the Church”, and kenosis, then, was not an individual act, but was instead an act of the Church imposing its will on is members, and through them the society around about them. Some Protestants were taught that any hint of “emptying” or of humiliation was mere Catholic or New Age mysticism, and so the entire concept was just thrown out – the baby along with the bathwater. Later, when there were good teachings on self-denial, submission, or humiliation, the terminology of the cross (the daily cross, picking up the cross, etc.) was used in order to avoid the charge of mysticism. While the teachings in many case were admirable and biblical, the next step, as I have mentioned, was for these terms to be overused and watered down, emptied of any real meaning, and made so ambiguous and amorphous that, for the average Christian, the words now have no real meaning whatsoever. Today, the terms “the daily cross”, “picking up the cross”, “carrying the cross”, etc. are generally inferred to have something to do with persecution, or of being persecuted for ones beliefs. Even the most apostate, charismatic, abject worldling in the most worldly mega-Church in America has been taught that if everyone they come in contact with doesn’t immediately fall on the ground, chatter in “tongues”, fill out a “decision card”, and make a firm profession of faith in Christ – then the worldling professor, and therefore the Church, is being persecuted. The word Persecution itself is being so watered down that it simply has no real meaning. I have heard conversations where modern “christians” have claimed that, because someone at their work rejected the idea of modern tongues and doesn’t believe in the Charismatic “gifts”, that they now know what persecution is. All of this is to say that the real meaning of self-emptying, and the real meaning of “the daily cross”, and the real meaning of humility and humiliation – has been lost to these generations.

Our task, then, is to return our minds and hearts to the Words of God, and to the Word of God, that we might know how God would have us live and be in this present evil world.

The Will of the Father

Some people will be shocked to learn that the will of the Man Jesus Christ, the will of His carnal flesh, was not always one with the will of the Father. Jesus Christ took upon Himself the form of a servant, and subjugated and submitted His will to the will of His Father. Jesus said, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done (Luke 22:42). We have to be very careful here in how we describe this, because some evil men would love to infer that I am saying something I am not saying. I am not accusing Jesus of sin, nor am I saying that there was any schism at all between the Father and the Son. Jesus was fully God and He was fully man. Jesus suffered in His flesh just as we do, only Jesus was without sin. Jesus the man had a will, just as you do, and that carnal will is often the result of, or is the product of, the carnal senses. We often will things that are contrary to our well being and to the good of ourselves and others, because we are severely limited in what we know and what we can sense. We often will that which is not beneficial to our spiritual good. The difference is that the will of Jesus the man was completely and wholly subjected to the will of the Father. Jesus said, “I only do what I see the Father doing”. “I only say what I hear the Father saying”. Jesus the man had a will, and he daily emptied out that will in favor of the will of His Father, and in doing this, He was without sin. Jesus knew when he took on the form of man, and the manner of a servant, that he would suffer from the afflictions of the carnal man. But it is not sinful to have a will. It is not sinful to have a carnal will that it as times contrary to the will of the Father. It IS sinful to not empty out and abrogate or subjugate your our own will in favor of the express and known will of God. So in willing contrary or differently than the Father, Jesus did not sin. He actively made himself of no reputation”, which means He actively determined that the will of His Father was supreme, and submitted Himself to it. And listen, the Bible says He thought it not robbery to be equal with God”, so Jesus was not a “lesser God” or a minor God, or a sub-God. Jesus was fully and completely God. But in order to perfectly fulfill the purposes of the Godhead, Jesus humbled Himself and took on the form of a servant, and completely submitted His will to that of His father. Jesus the man was subject to temptation, only He was not tempted. Jesus the man was subject to hunger and thirst, and afflictions of soul, but He sinned not. I have no doubt that the carnal man Jesus Christ desired to help and heal everyone with whom He came in contact, but this was evidently not the will of the Father. I am certain that Jesus willed to gather all of Jerusalem under His wings like a mother hen does her chicks, but it was evidently not the will of the Father that He do that – not to mention that it was certainly not the will of Jerusalem to be gathered unto Him. Jesus daily emptied Himself out, and was filled with the will of His Father. Now, this is God of very God saying to the Father, Not my will, but thine be done”.

In order that God’s creation might learn this lesson, God gave us a type and a “school” where we might learn this great doctrine. In order that God might teach us the lesson, He had us born as ignorant babies. He started us out on this planet with no knowledge, no understanding, no wisdom, and no heart to gain those things. God gave us parents, and He gave us the concept of parenthood, and headship, and especially Fatherhood. He commanded His people to diligently teach the children, and to drill kenosis into them at a very young age. He commanded fathers to model God to their children, and to see that the will of the children is utterly broken and poured out. Children were to be subjected to the parents, and to submit to them without regard to consequence, so that they might more easily learn this life of submission. If a child can be taught to empty himself of his will for his earthly father, and if he is taught the full perfection and glory of his heavenly Father, how much easier would it be for the child, as he grows, to empty himself and submit his will to God? There was a plan here, and God intended that His people would diligently train and parent their children. Children were taught absolute submission, to the point where they (like Christ) absolutely willed the will of their father. God’s command was that we would all be raised up this way Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).

Jesus was not a robot or an automaton. His carnal man had a will, and it was an act of authority and power over that will that then willed to submit that will to the will of the Father. This is the lesson of Christ’s incarnation. This is the truth of what His manhood was to teach us. Likewise we understand that our children are not robots, but they must be taught by whatever means necessary to willfully submit their wills to the will of their Father – that they might learn the divine lesson of Christ’s submission.

As we have mentioned before, this lesson on submission isn’t all there is (or even most of what there is) to the practice of Gelassenheit. Gelassenheit more perfectly is the act or practice of Christianity, as opposed to the philosophy, religion, or community of Christianity. Here is the cutting edge of truth, and here is why modern Christianity has no claim of heritage or historicity in ancient Christianity. Christianity as a practice instead of as a badge of membership or as a birthright is a whole new concept to some people. Our studies on Type and Antitype lead us to believe that “Christianity” in the last days will have fallen to the same errors and apostasies as the religion of the Jews did in the time of Christ. Whereas the Jews believed that they had become children of God by their will, or by their blood, or by their culture or heritage, in like manner modern Christians will say “I was born into a Christian family”, or “I have always been a Christian”. The children among us will believe that they are Christians because they have an affinity for Christian things, and because they live in a Christian family, or because they have always “believed in Christ”. These proofs are contrary to, and are in contradiction with, the proofs that are made available in the Bible. First and foremost true Christians are known by their practice and not by their profession. They are known by their fruit, and not by their leaves. Modern Christianity differs from true Christianity as much as the candle differs from the sun. Gelassenheit gives us a foundation, or a framework, by which we can practice Christianity. Gelassenheit is more than “death to self” or “the daily cross”, or, it is more than the WORDS that are used to make up those sayings. Gelassenheit is the actuality and practice of those words. One professing Christian may say he must die to self, and pick up his cross and follow Christ – but when you watch him, he operates by self and he walks and follows his own will. Another professing Christian may not even recognize that he has died to his self, or that he has picked up his cross. His actions and practice of emptying himself daily and of operating according to the will of God, which is almost always contrary to his own perceived good and his own carnal desires, betray him as a Christian. He truly is a Christian, and can be known as one by his fruit. Kenosis and Gelassenheit are not theological terms to the true Christian, they are the rules and law of life.

I hear many Christians talk of warfare with the “world, the flesh, and the devil”, and yet such warfare is so far from them that they are obviously repeating rote lessons and not discussing the practice of a life lived. Gelassenheit is the tools of the warfare that professors only talk about. The key to victory over the “world, flesh, and the devil” is to know that these things work to elevate self, to engender pride, worldliness, self-appreciation and self-defense, love of carnal things, and service to the lower nature. All of the world conspires to point our minds and hearts to the lower nature, and to elevate the self. Mere mantras do not constitute warfare. Since most professing Christians were not taught to empty themselves as children, and to give up their will to the will of their parents, they now see themselves falsely as engaging in a great warfare against sin and the world, when in fact they are a part of that world and fight in the world’s own army. The true warfare is mostly and primarily an internal one. The practice of Christianity – the lowering and humiliating of the self; warfare against pride; avoiding, escaping, and fleeing from worldliness; abandoning defensiveness; submission to others and elevating them above oneself; a distrust of carnal things – all of these things are the practice of Christianity, and all of these things make up the battle we are to wage. Only when the child is broken and looks to his father as a wise and loving leader and caretaker; only when the will of the child is emptied out, and when his will becomes the will of the father; when the five senses are subjugated to the word and command of the father, when spiritual reality is elevated above, and becomes more real than, the carnal world around us – only then can we say that the battle was fought. The Bible says that if a child is trained up in the way he should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it. Likewise when we learn Christianity as a practice, and not just as a religion, a philosophy, or as a culture – we will not depart from that practice when we are old.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus – which is to say,Exercise that mind and will that was also the mind and will of Jesus Christ. Jesus was God, and in no way found it robbery or fraud to be considered equal to God. And yet this great God emptied Himself, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, and put on the likeness of man. Being found as a man, he humbled and lowered Himself, becoming obedient and agreeing to suffer death, even the death of the cross”.

For those who incessantly ask, “What would Jesus do”, well… that is what Jesus would do. Jesus emptied Himself. Gelassenheit has shoe leather, and I hope to be able to expound on the practice of Gelassenheit more in future parts.

I am your servant in Christ Jesus,

Michael Bunker

About Debylin

The Lord is gracious and is just and I am thankful that He has before the foundations of the World chosen a remnant to call His own.
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6 Responses to Gelassenheit, Part One

  1. watcat says:

    Hi this blog is great I will be recommending it to friends.

  2. Michelle says:

    Hello, debylin. I am Michelle. I am very interested in reading more from your site, and in making your acquaintance as a fellow sister in Christ! I found your site while searching for ‘gelassenheit’…..I am just beginning to study the anabaptist/mennonite fellowship…..and have for some time now wanted to ‘step off’ the main trail and seperate from the ‘way of the world’, perhaps even live communally with other believers. Most in my life have said I was mad! lol….I am happy to know that you and your husband are together on this adventure! It certainly matters, and I hope the best for you and your family!!! I will come back and read more! Nice to find you, and your site! His Peace, a sister in Christ, Michelle

    • debylin says:

      Michelle please check out the other blogs I read as well. They to are some who are on the same journey. Biblical .Thanks for your comment!

  3. Pingback: How the Amish view technology « Steve Blizard's Blog

  4. Ruth Glover says:

    This is an excellent article/sermon. What happened to the following parts? Are they available anywhere?

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