Category Archives: Anabaptism

No easy answers on Mennonite police chief

Thursday evening I told Karen, “There was a shooting in Hesston!” She had seen the news too: “And several are dead, and many critically wounded.”

Mass shootings are becoming much too common. But this one felt close to home: Hesston is basically a Mennonite town. The year before we met, Karen lived a few blocks from the factory where the shooting took place. One of the factory owners was our sons’ college dorm residence director; his wife was a friend and co-worker of one of our daughters.

I was also taken aback that there was violence in a Mennonite-owned factory. Wouldn’t a plant with an office full of Mennonites known for working hard at peace-making and whole relationships typically avoid such bloodshed? Even if they would hire ex-cons, like the shooter?

But this part of the story struck me most: the bloodshed was kept from being worse by the Hesston police chief—who has a Mennonite last name and membership in one of the nearby Mennonite churches. He got to the scene fast. And didn’t wait for backup but at great personal risk called the shooter to come out and killed him when he returned fire.

Did that police chief do right? There are no easy answers:

  • The country sheriff and Kansas governor called the chief a hero, stopping many further deaths. Yet he himself, steeped from boyhood with a sense that killing is sin, surely struggles with what he has done. As Kurt Horst, a pastor in Hesston, told a reporter, “We are thankful for the lives he saved, but we grieve for what he had to do to save them and the impact that may have on him.”
  • I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pacifist who joined a plot during WWII to kill Hitler. He believed he was breaking the moral teaching of Jesus. Yet felt he must: to do nothing would let him maintain personal holiness but let great evil fall on many others.
  • It’s clear that God ordains police as “servants” to “bear the sword” against evildoers (Rom. 13:4) to limit violence and greed; without a police presence, society descends into anarchy. Yet Jesus calls his followers to “do good” to evildoers rather than destroy them (Matt. 5:43-45; Luke 6:27-36). Paul and Peter do too (Rom. 12:19-21; 1 Pet. 2:20-23; 3:8-9).
  • Mennonites typically avoid serving as police, knowing they might be called upon to exercise deadly force and unable to see how taking an evildoer’s life would be to “do good” to them, as Jesus instructs. Yet would it be desirable to have a police force or a military with no Christians in the ranks? Yet violence can only stop something; it cannot bring a positive well-being, shalom. Force was not Jesus’ calling—nor is it the calling of us who choose to be marked by the teaching and spirit of Jesus. That calling is to embody God’s gift of grace.

What might be next for our church – a new network

Around 175 leaders from Mennonite Church USA and other Anabaptist groups met January 16-17 in Hartville, Ohio, for conversation, prayer, and discernment about a yet-unnamed “new network for conferences and congregations” to be launched this Fall. [It’s now named Evana Network, a ministry community of Evangelical Anabaptist pastors and churches.] I left the meeting with a sense that this group will generate much mission for the kingdom.

A working document describing the values and core commitments for the new network mentioned three elements that echo H.S. Bender’s Anabaptist Vision:

• being a community of believers;

• following Jesus in daily discipleship;

• pursuing peace and reconciliation.

But it didn’t stop there. It listed two more elements of the Anabaptist tradition which the network wants to embody:

• proclaiming the good news of salvation in Jesus in local and global mission;

• embracing the Holy Spirit’s power and gifts.

The document also spoke of commitments such as these:

• obedience to Scripture as interpreted in the faith community;

• repentance of personal and structural racism;

• giving and receiving counsel in an environment of high accountability with low control;

• partnering with other Anabaptist groups around common goals and projects (both Mennonite Mission Network and Virginia Mennonite Missions were present at the meeting).

ARC Hartville - Friday afternoon discussionAs table groups responded to the working document, many hopes and dreams were voiced. The most frequent theme centered on mission: persons desire to see evangelism and church planting, lives being transformed, our congregations making disciples who in turn make more disciples.

Another strong hope expressed by many persons was that the new group should not be single-issue oriented; they want the group to be known by what it is for rather than against. Homosexuality was seldom mentioned; but when it was, the message was clear. The working document talked of walking in the compassion and truth of Jesus, of believing that the Bible teaches that “sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage” and that marriage is to be “a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman.” One person observed that the angels around God’s throne are not saying “love, love, love” or “unity, unity, unity” but “holy, holy, holy.”

The worship sessions involved messages by pastors of vigorous MC USA congregations. One was the lead pastor of the largest church in our denomination, Wesley Furlong from Cape Coral, Fla., who began by recounting his discovery of the treasure in the Anabaptist movement. He preached on the story of Joshua and Caleb who, when ready to enter Canaan, did not talk about the many reasons to fear but about the potential blessings and that the Lord was leading them. Wes declared that the church needs courageous, Spirit-filled leaders who are fully invested in the unseen reality of what the Father is doing and are dead to the praises and criticisms of people.

Another who spoke was Bishop Leslie Francisco of Hampton, Va., preaching on Jesus’ parable of the talents, saying that God gives each of us an assignment. We do not have to imitate others; there is an anointing on our life to do what only we can do. He warned us to not be distracted from the primary call of God on our lives — to not be like a driver who wrecks his car because he’s swatting at a mosquito!

I sensed a strong spiritual vitality in the group. Here’s a video clip of us singing the last verse of “Lord, I am fondly, earnestly longing.” And I sensed a humble responsiveness to God. ARC Hartville - Friday evening altar callToward the end of the Friday evening worship service, a young man serving as pastoral staff at a church in California asked to speak. He shared his sense that God wants our hearts to be broken over disunity and talking behind others’ backs. He was a bit unclear as he talked, but nonetheless a sizable group streamed to the front, kneeling around the altar in repentance and humility.

This new network raises hope within me:
1) The group seems thoroughly Anabaptist with a theology that includes peace and justice but that is centered on Christ and mission. Hallelujah! Many in MC USA will find the new group as a place where they “feel life.”
2) The group is in good communication with MC USA leaders. Leaders of the new network have met with the denominational Executive Board. During the discussion times at Hartville, one of the table groups was comprised of denominational leaders and heads of agencies in the denomination. The others there clearly valued the comments given by that table.
3) If the Kansas City delegate assembly this summer makes peace with what Scripture forbids by freeing conferences to fully affirm persons in same-sex partnerships (including credentialing those with pastoral gifts), conservative congregations won’t need to face that change on our own. (Although, as I wrote earlier, we won’t need to act quickly out of fear and anxiety.) Perhaps this new network — since congregations can belong to both it and MC USA — may help the conservative voice be even more organized and clear.

Reflections on Exponential in Orlando

One of my responsibilities as pastor is to do things that fuel my passion for Jesus—so I’m “not lacking in zeal, but keep my spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).

Two weeks ago I joined 5300 church planters and pastors for the Exponential conference in Orlando. Virginia Mennonite Missions encouraged and facilitated more than 20 of us in going. It was as I hoped: an experience that helped re-fire a passion for the Lord as well as fill me with a sense of what God can do in and through our congregation.

Some overall impressions:
• A large stream of the American church is becoming more Anabaptist! The conference theme was “DiscipleShift”—churches transitioning their ministry to focus on making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), apprenticing people in the ways of Jesus. In generations past mainly only the Mennonites would talk about “the essence of Christianity as discipleship” (Harold S. Bender in The Anabaptist Vision).
• There are a lot of 20- and 30-somethings who are passionate about the Lord and advancing his Kingdom. The convention was full of them!
• A good swathe of American churches (our speakers included well-known names in the evangelical church) are trying to move away from having Sunday morning attendance and offerings as the primary scorecard. Instead these churches want to measure and celebrate how many disciples are making disciples and how many small groups have a missional cause. The new scorecard is not how many a church attracts but how many it deploys.

Conversations with fellow attendees and passing comments made by speakers/workshop leaders may have been what personally impacted me the most. Am I willing to take risks, to follow the Spirit and do things that will appear foolish if God doesn’t show up? Do I follow Jesus in offering both “invitation” and “challenge” to the broken and lost, or am I an “accidental Pharisee” who has more in common with the moralizing religious teachers of Jesus’ day? And then there were the host of exhibitors giving things away (I got a very valuable coupon for Trissels!) and bookstores with discounts!

We show more-than-Americanism

Here are a few thoughts as we celebrate our nation’s birthday.

We as Mennonites view ourselves, first and foremost, as disciples of Christ and citizens of God’s reign. Only secondarily do we see ourselves as citizens of our nation.

The early Christians made the Roman government nervous. Everyone else in the Empire was willing to declare that Caesar is Lord, but these Christians would only say that Jesus is Lord.

Today in this country, also, sometimes our neighbors are unsure about us, worrying that we are “anti-American.” Mennonite ethicist John Richard Burkholder says that our attitude could better be described as “more-than-Americanism.” He points out that we “consciously adopt a more global worldview than most Americans.”

Yes, we love our country and are grateful for the opportunities it has given us and for the values that our flag stands for, including freedom of conscience, separation of church and state, the rule of law and representational government. We want our nation to flourish. But we also know that every human being and human community is equally precious in God’s sight. Yes, we pray for our country’s decision-makers and want God to bless America; but we also want God to bless the other nations. After 9/11 when bumper stickers saying “God bless America” proliferated on cars, one of my friends put on her car a sticker saying “God bless the entire world–no exceptions.”

We believe that God has called us:
To proclaim Jesus the Ruler of all,
To make known forgiveness of sins and hope,
To invite others to follow Christ,
To bear witness to the power of love over hate,
To work for justice where there is oppression,
To suffer joyfully for the cause of right,
To the ends of the earth,
To the end of the age
To the praise of God’s glory.
Amen (adapted from Hymnal: A Worship Book #713)

Rick Warren: “Study the Anabaptists”

Most of you have heard of Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Did you also know that Saddleback Church which he pastors has baptized over 24,000 new believers in the last ten years? In 2010 the church met their goal of sending members to every country in the world to work at planning churches, equipping leaders, building schools, and caring for the sick and poor. In doing this, 15,867 members went to 197 nations!

Did you also know that Rick Warren stood up the other month at a seminary in Texas and said that his church was built on lessons he learned from the Anabaptists. “Almost everything we do at Saddleback we stole from the Anabaptists.” According to him the Anabaptists (the movement in the 1500’s which birthed the Mennonites) have much to teach other Christians about discipleship, global missions and the purpose of community.

Warren exhorted the crowd, “Study the Anabaptists. They have more than you could possibly imagine. We have in these great saints and martyrs an understanding of what it means to be Christ-like that nobody else has understood so clearly.”

The seminary Warren spoke at, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the largest in the world, is also choosing to identify with Anabaptism. Its leaders note that the magisterial reformers like Luther, though giants in upholding the Bible and rediscovering its doctrines of grace, stopped short and did not complete the Reformation — they chose to stay with the idea of a state church in which everyone in a state is a member. Only the Anabaptists pressed on to practice what all Christians have come to embrace: that the church is comprised of those voluntarily choosing to believe in Christ. And only the Anabaptists were fervently evangelistic, quoting the Great Commission more than any other passage. One of them, Leonard Bouwens, kept track of all the baptisms he performed — 10,000 of them! — giving the exact date and place of each.

We Mennonites have long described Anabaptism as the culmination of the Reformation, the fulfillment of the original vision of Luther and Zwingli. More and more agree!