Imagine you awoke to find yourself sitting in a meadow. You have no recollection of how you got there. You have no memory of life before this awakening. You get up and walk about, stretching these odd limbs you discover can support you.
Curious, you try to understand something of this place you have been plunked down in and how you got here. You meet other creatures like yourself, and discover that they too awakened with no memory of how they got there.
There is really no need to imagine this. This is how each of us enters the world. Sometime around the age of two or three we begin to awaken to the world we are in. Coming to life, to be me, is not something any of us remember; it is shrouded in mist. We are told about conception and birth, but that only pushes back the mystery. It does not explain it.
We all wake up in life and find ourselves already living, already loving, already going somewhere. Someday our lives will recede back into the mists from which we came. But in this brief moment of our days we sit blinking in the meadow.
What this fact does is stir in us the gasp of simply being that is basic to being a human. We can offer no account or explanation of how we emerged from nothingness to be these people.Down deep at the bottom of our existence we discover that we receive ourselves rather than make ourselves.
My life is a gift to me I did not even pray for. No one asked me whether I preferred to be or not to be. I was simply plunked into a meadow, and there I woke, staring about in astonishment.
This is the basic question humans can ask: why is there something rather than nothing? The Christian tradition has always seen a great coherence between this un-explainableness of life and the fact that God is the creator who has no need for this creation. God is infinitely transcendent to creation. Creation is not bound to God by some logic other than love. Thus creation on its own terms cannot be explained.
God created the world not because some logic or law forced him, or because creation would fill up something missing in his being. There is no earthly explanation for why God created the world other than to say for the love of it. We exist because God enjoys the fact that people such as us should exist.
Cameron McKenzie has a signature to his emails that says, “When God is forgotten, the creature itself grows unintelligible” (John Paul II). When we no longer believe in a transcendent, personal God who loves the world and creates for the sheer love of it, the wonder of being human is deflated and our fellow humans no longer seem marvellous and fascinating. These objects, once called persons, now become just more matter to be manipulated and dominated at our own will.
Let God be exalted, magnificent, and infinitely perfect in our imaginations and confession.
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour” (Psalm 8:4-5).
What a joyful message filled with excitement and hope. Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!
I can still remember, as if it were yesterday, singing that song as a little boy during one of our Sunday School Christmas programs in church. Mrs. Dyck made sure that when we got to that “Go Tell It” we were all nearly shouting at the top of our lungs. We had no fear. We sang with all our hearts and voices and didn’t care if we were out of tune. Our excitement was all that mattered.
What Happened To The Excitement?
Somehow we got to a place in our lives where we don’t get as excited about Christmas as we once did. We don’t get as excited about Jesus’ birth as we once did, and Christmas has become a time when we focus on our families and church families. It has become a rather private time of celebration.
Perhaps this is at least in part because of the move in society away from the religious aspects of Christmas and even the avoidance in society to speak the phrase “Merry Christmas” replacing it, instead, with “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” or the infamous “Merry X-mas.”
Why is it Offensive?
The attack on Christ is not an attack on Christmas. Society doesn’t care whether we celebrate Christmas or not. Society doesn’t care whether we believe in Jesus or not. People say that using the word “Christ” is somehow offensive, and I have never understood why. What is so offensive? Is it offensive to believe that Jesus was a real person who lived roughly 2,000 years ago? To believe that Jesus taught that we should love one another?
Is it offensive to believe that Jesus lived a life without sin? To believe that Jesus modeled a way of life that is worthy to be imitated? To believe that Jesus was crucified and that God raised Him from the dead? To identify one’s self as a person who believes these things? To offer expressions of good will to others in the name of Jesus? There is nothing offensive in the words “Merry Christmas.”
They Don’t Know What It Means!
I think I have figured it out. We refer to “Jesus Christ” as if those were His first and last names, but Christ is not an actual name. No wonder society finds the phrase “Merry Christmas” offensive. People don’t understand what it means.
The King of Kings
Christmas celebrates the birth of the King of Kings. The Bible says that some day God will establish His Kingdom on earth. His Kingdom will be a perfect Kingdom. Nations will no longer fight against nations. Peace will exist throughout the whole earth. There will be no more disease, violence, corruption, injustice, suffering. The lion will lay down with the lamb and the whole earth will be like paradise. This coming Kingdom will be ruled by “the Christ.”
And as Christians, we believe that Jesus is that “Christ.” He is the coming ruler of the Kingdom of God. And although He was born, lived His life, died and was raised from the dead those so many years ago, we as Christians believe that He will one day return to set up the Kingdom of God as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
If you look at the teachings of Jesus, the one thing He said more than anything else was “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Mark 1.15 calls this “Kingdom of God is at hand” message, “the gospel.” And, in general, society has not heard this “gospel.” Society has not heard that God will someday turn the earth into a paradise.
He is Also Our Saviour
When God created Adam, the first man, God was making a promise. You see, the word “Adam” is spelled in Hebrew with three letters alef, dalet, and mem. The prefix letter alef means “I will” and dalet and mem together mean “bleed.”
Was it by accident that when God created Adam, the first man, the letters used could be interpreted as “I will bleed”? Is there a hint here of a promise that some day Jesus would shed his blood for us in order to pay the penalty for our sins? I think so.
Not only is Jesus the King of Kings, He is also our Saviour. Christmas celebrates the birth of Immanuel, God Incarnate—the God who bled on our behalf in order to save us from our sins.
What an Amazing God!
The only true, all-powerful God, the Ruler of the Universe, the God of all compassion and mercy, left Heaven and was born in humblest of circumstances. He lived with us as one of us and showed us by being the way, the truth and the life. And we have come to know Him, and He has come to live within our hearts. What a reason to celebrate!
Good News of Great Joy for all People!
These are the words the angels spoke to the shepherds in Luke 2.10 and the angel went on to say: “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”
The birth of Jesus: our Saviour, the Christ, the One Lord God Himself in the flesh. The most important birth in eternity—and that’s a very long time. There will never be a more important birth. What a reason to celebrate!
To loosely paraphrase Isaiah 9.2, there are people who are living in darkness and they are desperate for light. The darkness has spread over the whole earth and people everywhere are longing for relief from their suffering, distress, and hopeless despair. And we have the message they are waiting to hear.
We have the message of light and hope for the world. And how will they hear if we don’t tell them? Romans 10:13-14 says, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone telling to them?”
God has placed us where we are right now, at least in part, because there are people around us who are waiting for us to tell them the Gospel. So have no fear. Shout and sing with all our hearts and voices. This joyful message is filled with excitement and hope. Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.
James Regehr has served as a pastor, including at Treesbank Community Church, and as the host of a Christian radio program. He lives in Yorkton, Sask., with his wife BettyAnn, and is shown here with his service dog.
How shall we think of war as we pray for peace this Advent season? However we do, let’s be careful not to glorify war.
Peace negotiators strive in Yemen, parts of Syria are reduced to rubble, and South Sudan suffers a civil war. Meanwhile, Canadians recently recalled the First World War, a conflict of a century ago with lingering effects. In many parts of Europe, Asia, North America, and elsewhere, the legacy of World War Two remains just below the surface. The effects of the Korean War continue.
Canadian veterans of peacekeeping missions and the war in Afghanistan suffer and show it in various ways. For some it means PTSD, broken families, addiction, homelessness, or suicide. “War is hell,” said William T. Sherman, a general in the Union army during the American Civil War. Hell isn’t what we want to see on the earth (Matt. 6:10).
War takes a horrible physical, mental, and spiritual toll on soldiers and civilians; we know this. And yet it can still be more than we realize. William P. Mahedy, a Roman Catholic chaplain who served in Vietnam and then became an Episcopal priest, said, “A great many Vietnam veterans have become religious agnostics or are now hostile to religion because they took seriously what they learned in Bible classes or in the parochial schools about killing.”
Combat shattered their worldview, he said. “For great numbers of veterans, duty in Vietnam was a journey into spiritual darkness—the very darkest night of the soul.” The average age of Vietnam veterans was just over 19, Mahedy says.
Christ came into the world to save the world, not to condemn it (John 3:16-17). He came to restore humanity, reconcile us to himself and each other through the Cross (Eph. 2:11-22), and heal the planet (Rom. 8:18-22).
Because of Christ let’s be careful how we think about war. While our views might vary, let’s not glorify war. People need to hear about and follow Jesus, and for that they need to be alive.
What if Christmas were cancelled? What would you do?
When Jesus was born only a few people knew who he was. The shepherds knew because the angels told them. The wise men knew because they studied the stars and a new star had appeared. This meant a new king had been born. King Herod knew that if Jesus was a king he was in trouble. He felt threatened that Jesus would take his place. King Herod was so afraid he decided to kill all baby boys just to be sure Jesus would not grow up and would not become king.
But Jesus escaped. Mary and Joseph bundled him up and left Bethlehem. They went to live in Nazareth where no one recognized him. Jesus was safe for now.
Jesus was not ordinary. When he grew up he taught the people about God and that he was God’s Son. He healed the sick and raised them up to live again. People followed him because he gave them hope. When the synagogue leaders saw how popular he was they were very angry. They accused him of blasphemy, lying about being the Son of God, and they killed him. It was a dangerous time for his followers and many went into hiding.
For 300 years the Roman government punished the Christians for not worshipping the Roman gods. One was Sol, the sun god.
In AD 0312, after Jesus was born, Constantine 1 became the new emperor. He worshipped Sol, the sun god, too. One day he was on his way to fight a new battle. On the way God showed him a vision. When Constantine looked up at the sun he saw the shape of a cross over the sun, and the words, “with thissign you will conquer.” He won the battle. Constantine immediately turned to the true God and became a follower of Jesus, and he changed the laws. Christians were no longer punished for believing only the one true God. The Christian church grew and for the first time Christmas Day became a holy day, a holiday, and was celebrated with family and friends. Together they shared feasts and gave gifts to each other.
For several hundreds of years the celebration of Christmas spread from country to country. Celebrations lasted for 12 days from December 25 to January 6. It was a time of feasting and happiness. People decorated their homes with evergreen branches and sang carols. Christmas Day became the most important day of the year.
After a time, in the 1600s, the Puritans, a strict group in the church and in the government, believed the people were celebrating too much. And so they cancelled Christmas. Now celebrating was against the law.
Many years passed. In 1843 a man called Charles Dickens wrote the play, A Christmas Carol. The play tells the story of families celebrating Christmas together, taking care of each other and sharing with others. It is a story of joy and happiness. The play was an instant success. Everyone loved it. Once again the people began to celebrate Christmas.
Today we have the whole story. We celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth. We know he is the promised Messiah. We know that he died and rose again. We know that he will return for us. “I will come again,” he promised, “and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” This is why we celebrate Christmas.
Read Luke 2: 1 – 14, and John 14:1 – 6.
Activity: Make a mason jar table centre.
Need: 1 small mason jar, I pint size
3 or 4 pieces evergreen branches, each 8 cm long
½ cupful of fresh, or frozen cranberries
1 piece of raffia ribbon or jute string, 60 cm long
1 floating tea light
enough water to fill the jar
Do: tie the string around the neck of the jar
Place greenery inside the jar
Add the cranberries
Fill the jar with water to about 2 cm from the top
Place the floating tea light on the water
Use the mason jar candle as a center piece or give as a gift
Discussion dominates, $526,242 needed before year’s end
WINNIPEG, Man.—Conference council delegates on Nov. 24, 2018, voted to explore encouraging attendance at MWC’s Assembly in Indonesia by not holding an EMC convention in 2021, approved a blended support model for fully-administered missionaries, supported a $19,000 budget increase for 2019, and heard an update on the Inspiring Partnership in Ministry project.
Welcome and Devotional
Moderator Barry Plett welcomed delegates. Ralph Unger, interim pastor at host Braeside EMC, drew from 1 Kings 7, early Anabaptist history, and early EMC missions history to focus on being risk-takers. Are we passionate about reaching others? Our mandate is not over, he said. The moderator led in prayer.
The moderator said a Sustainable Funding Committee will research EMC giving patterns, ways to generate funds, new budgeting models, and improve communication and connections with EMC donors. It will operate through 2019 and report at council in summer 2020.
The board sought permission to explore not holding convention in 2021 in order to encourage EMCers to attend MWC’s general assembly in Indonesia. Conference council and ministerial meetings could still be held, and one possibility is to shift convention’s time to avoid a conflict with MWC’s event. Exploring means options will be looked at and the board will return to council with a recommendation. The motion carried.
Tim Dyck, executive director, said staff affirmed that the national office exists to “nurture the shared confession, mission, and covenant of the EMC.” A healthy organization requires a cohesive leadership team and organizational clarity. There is a need for trust, for conflict to be healthy, and to be held accountable for results. The staff met for three days to answer six questions, and has spent a few months on improving team dynamics, he said.
Mennonite Central Committee
Mark Epp, program director, said in a video that there is no hope for peace in the Middle East without restorative justice, and efforts toward peace are being made around the globe. There are more physically hungry people in the world today; one factor is conflict, a lack of peace.
Mennonite World Conference
MWC brings together various Anabaptist bodies, said North America representative Gerald Hildebrand. Connections can be strengthened through MWC’s general assembly (Indonesia), its info by e-mail, and its prayer network. Funding is split between donations by churches and individuals. Our well-being is tied to the well-being of others; we need the help of our brothers and sisters to follow Jesus, he said.
Board of Church Ministries
Kim Muehling, chair, said the past year was one of fruitful work. Bill Rambo introduced Holy Wanderings: A Guide to Deeper Discipleship, a recently published three-year project of the EMMC, CMC, and EMC. He listed 13 lessons ranging from how to study Scripture, church life, leadership, conflict, defending the faith, and pilgrimage. May the Lord use it to assist us to become more like Jesus with each other and to share the good news that the world needs, he said.
In a promotion causing much laughter, Russell Doerksen said the Education Committee’s next publishing project will excite people to rush to purchase copies for Christmas stockings in 2019. Conference pastor Layton Friesen’s Master of Theology thesis is “the rare volume on Anabaptist theology and history that is both academic but also very readable” and will help shape sermons, Sunday School lessons, and more.
Layton Friesen replied, “Wow! Now I can only disappoint you,” which caused more laughter. He was raised to think that Anabaptism was the “culmination” of the Reformation, but wondered why, then, Anabaptists were the most hated people in Europe. Suspecting there was more to the story, he said he explored the threat they posed. He asked, why did believer’s baptism threaten the government and a common purse among believers the economy? Why did people who thought they lived near “the end of the world . . .send chills down the spine of a king” or the adoption of pacifism cause others to fear they would live in an Islamic region?
Cyndy Warkentin, BCM member reporting for Heidi Dirks, said that the Mental Health Initiative is completing its year-long task. It has contributed articles to The Messenger, held workshops at MacGregor EMC and at the EMC’s convention, hopes that churches have been helped, and remains open to helping further.
Kim Muehling told the fictional story of two Baptists who agreed on much, but came to a stunning parting after disagreeing. Sparked by the Hearing from God controversy and the discussion that followed in MacGregor, the BCM will focus through 2019 and probably beyond to assist churches in how to think, disagree, and decide in a healthy way. Its efforts do not replace the EMC’s Harmony Document, but will seek to provide practical help through articles in The Messenger and Theodidaktos.
Will there be a further response to MCC’s lifestyle policy? [Nothing planned, but the topic will come up at CCAL, a gathering of Anabaptist conference leaders.]
Which book by Patrick Lencioni helped the national office’s organizational clarity? [The Advantage.]
What cost will there be to investigate the MWC option? [Minimal.]
Be careful not to make a conservative response that would separate from MCC.
What happens if MCC does not follow through on its hiring policy? [Human rights appeals with a more “onorous” solution.]
When is it disagreement and when it is compromise?
Board of Missions
Sandra Plett (Ridgewood) reported on her ministry in Guadalajara, Mexico, with the Matthew Training Centre, which has a vision of well-trained workers serving among the nations. Ken Zacharias, director of Global Outreach, introduced new missionaries: Benny and Ester Fehr (Mount Salem) who will serve in Bolivia in radio ministry, Alex Reimer (Prairie Grove) with Greater Europe Mission, and James and Maria Wahl (St. Vital) who will serve in El Salvador. Joanne Martens, formerly of Germany and Paraguay, has retired in southwestern Manitoba. Ken led in prayer.
Brad Brandt, chair, highlighted the board’s proposed change to the missionary support model: workers in Bolivia, Mexico, and Paraguay will raise, in a phased-in process, 40% of their support by 2022. Giving to EMC missions is down while giving to projects is up; the number of workers on fully-administered fields might not be sustainable yet the number of associate workers is increasing.
Funding affects recruitment. The question is not whether change will happen, but what model is best amid giving realities in the EMC. The positives are the BOM still provides 60%, a more engaged support base for workers, and a higher awareness of missions, he said.
What if the worker can’t raise support? [No clear answer. Some training provided. Some temporary support.]
Not all are gifted at fundraising. What are the ethics of changing the process while people are on the field?
What’s the cost in staff time? [BOM is looking at sustainable funding, trying to strike a balance. Not excited by change, but by some possibilities.]
Fundraising is not easy, but EMCers have enough money to pay for the budget.
Benefits of missions promotion at home reveal model is a great idea.
Don’t need to change model to increase missions awareness. [Advocacy teams are going ahead whether model does or not.]
Churches used to want a weekend of ministry about missions; now they want 10 minutes on Sunday morning. Reluctantly, but with faith, supports model.
Model might dissuade some workers from going. [The number of associate workers, where fundraising is needed, is growing.]
Applicant was angry to be told there was “no room in budget” for new recruits.
Whether or not favouring the 40%, don’t make it hard for workers to get it. They deserve our support.
The BOM requested a vote by ballot with at least two-thirds in favour for the proposal to be approved. The vote was held and the proposal was approved.
Mennonite Foundation of Canada
Harold Penner, stewardship consultant, shared a video with stories of how people were helped in how they give. He then spoke of people, their generosity, plans, and charities.
Inspiring Partners in Ministry
Co-chairs Darren Plett (Pleasant Valley) and Erica Fehr (Kleefeld) outlined the process to date. The formal discussion of women in ministry had been set aside for years, more recently because of the Statement of Faith review. A recent survey determined that telling stories of women in service was a key need.
Flo Friesen then shared the story of Cathy Thiessen, a career missionary in Mexico, whose service included preaching and teaching. For seven years within a much longer career, Cathy travelled from Chihuahua city to serve as pastor in four smaller churches. She was a pioneer, an apostle, Flo said, who trained and mentored young men and served with no opposition from people in the churches, the field team, or the BOM. They were, Flo said, the best years of Cathy’s life where she could do that for which she was divinely gifted: to lead, preach, and teach.
Gerald Reimer, now the EMC’s director of youth and discipleship and earlier a youth worker in Mexico, spoke of having served with and under the direction of Cathy. She was both a mentor and a colleague. He valued her input and that of Alvira Friesen, another worker in Mexico. He did not sense any personal agenda being forced on others; they served out of a call of Christ in their context. They still have his respect and influenced him in ways for which he praises the Lord.
The question was raised: how can we support and encourage women like Cathy in their church leadership at home and abroad?
There are two separate questions here. [Fair comment.]
Has a married woman led a team on the field? [None come to mind.]
The question has an answer in it—whether it is possible to be different in different cultures without being right or wrong. Clapping.
Follow the gifts God has given. Too much focus on gender. Clapping.
When is it a cultural difference or a personal preference? There is a need to be intentional in our churches.
In Bolivia it would be a stumbling block for a woman to take the lead.
Steinbach Bible College
Gord Penner, a professor and an EMC minister, said SBC seeks to have multicultural graduates in meaningful vocations who make disciples. SBC is more multicultural than delegates might think. Its Leadership Conference is on March 14-16 with Dr. Gus Konkel speaking on a biblical view of suffering. (He said, in an aside, that a Young Adult Retreat will be held on March 8-10 at Camp Cedarwood with Layton Friesen speaking on a faith worth dying for.)
Board of Leadership and Outreach
Richard Klassen, chair, said the counseling benefit for clergy has been changed to provide up to $500 per year with greater freedom on counselors used. The minister’s manual is being revised; a committee is being formed.
Charles Koop, director of church planting, says the Church Planting Task Force is active and needs one more member. There are church plants happening, others being considered, and new churches that plant other churches excite him. Much of the outreach is to newcomers to Canada. Richard Klassen said that Charlie Koop has indicated he will retire at the end of 2019. Charlie received a round of applause for his work.
Layton Friesen, conference pastor, said part of his job is to “drink obscene amounts of coffee across Canada.” Churches have suffered the loss of pastors; all have interim pastors. A dozen pastors will be needed in 2019, but God will bring leaders from various places inside and out of the EMC.
He’s engaging with emerging young pastors in an online study group that deals with spiritual formation, self-care, emotional and cultural intelligence, marriage and family, and leadership and management skills. (Later he said pastors can decide if they are young enough.) He encouraged board chairs to provide oversight of pastors, including asking about their prayer life. Pastors need the freedom to spend time in prayer, which is part of their work. The board is involved in a vigorous discussion about strengthening and lengthening the ordination process.
Board of Trustees
Gord Reimer, chair, said the EMC budget needs $526,242 by year’s end, which is $100,000 more than is usually received in December. He wanted delegates and pastors to report the need to their churches. There is a need for a big push in December. The board has been involved with a Sustainable Funding Strategy and an upgrade to the conference benefits plan.
The BOT had proposed a 2019 budget of $1,899,000, the same as in 2018. However, boards sought an increase of $19,000. The BOT decided to present three options to delegates: leave the budget unbalanced, approve an increase in giving, or request boards trim the budget by $19,000, he said.
Delegates discussed the options and voted in favour of increasing the proposed budget. A budget of $1,918,000 was then approved by a separate vote.
Editor’s note: There was more discussion during the day than can be reflected.
LORETTE, Man.—The EMC’s ministerial on Nov. 23, 2018, was led briefly by Brian Reimer, discussed ordination within Scripture, heard stories of “the joy and burden of ordination,” learned of a new process proposed for ordination, and ended with a sharing of ministry joys and concerns. And, in a day devoted to a discussion of ordination, a continuing issue raised was how this related to women.
Richard Klassen, BLO chair, welcomed ministerial members. Pastor Brian Reimer, of the host Prairie Grove congregation, read Scriptures from both Testaments interspersed with congregational singing. He highlighted those serving in music ministry on this morning because they were young people who persevered through a tough period in the congregation’s history. Richard Klassen said that there was no better music than when a group of church leaders join in song.
Ordination in the Bible
Ward Parkinson (Rosenort EMC) said ordination is practiced among denominations of different views. Within the EMC ordination is both an act of the local church and the conference; the conference also practices commissioning for a definite period and task. Affirmation in service is needed by the BLO or the BOM.
In AD 235 Fabian was elected bishop when a dove sat on his head; today, if we were to take off the roofs of churches and let the Lord do his work, Layton Friesen would have the best shot, he said.
There is no prescriptive designation of ordination in Scripture, and so some people set it aside, Ward said, but Scripture has descriptions of it, obedience requires ordination, and Scripture lists requirements. In a survey of Scripture, Ward listed the ordination of Aaron (Ex. 29:9), the Levites (Num. 8), and the 70 elders (Num. 11); the transfer of priestly authority from Aaron to Eleazar (Num. 20:25-27); and the commissioning of Joshua (Num. 27:18-20).
In the New Testament Jesus is the High Priest, our Mediator, who has opened a new and living way. All are priests, yet leadership is needed. The Twelve chose Matthias by lot (Acts 1), had authority, but there’s mention of them appointing successors. The seven are appointed (Acts 6) with no mention of them being deacons; the ministries of Stephen and Philip seem more apostolic. Barnabas and Saul are set apart to serve as missionaries (Acts 13), and they appointed elders in each church (Acts 14).
A companion is chosen to accompany Titus (2 Cor. 8:19). Gifts are given for church’s edification (Eph. 4:11). The Pastoral letters have more on appointing or ordaining leaders: there is the laying of hands and perhaps prophecy. The effect is binding, not casual, with no room for carelessness. The church is not to ordain without testing (1 Tim. 5:22). In Timothy’s ordination, Paul laid hands on him and a divine gift is mentioned that Timothy is to keep burning (2 Tim. 1:6). Paul left Titus to appoint elders in Crete (Titus 1:5); and the lists of qualities in an elder (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Tim. 3:1-7) combine the needs of good character and sound doctrine. There is a need to entrust the teaching of the gospel to reliable men (2 Tim. 2:2).
In NT times there was little distinction between an elder (respected, perhaps older person) and a bishop, but Cyprian in the third century AD saw bishops as the successors of the apostles and the hierarchy became entrenched. The Reformation saw a priestly role rejected in favour of the pastoral, with education and doctrine having priorities.
Ordination is more than a human rite; it is an equipping through the laying of hands and a role that is a gift of God, Ward said. Leaders are selected by congregation or appointment with neither less biblical. There is to be testing of study, doctrine, reputation and character. The setting apart is a life-long process. Eugene Petersen says we are “lashed to the mast”; not that you have it, but that He has you. The laying on of hands is common and confers something, though the meaning is unclear.
Stories of the Joy and Burden of Ordination
Four ministers shared their thoughts on being ordained.
When Frank D. Reimer resigned at Prairie Rose and an expected successor withdrew, he became the next logical candidate who was elected before he, too, resigned. Edwin served for decades. Was he called? Moses resisted until God told him to “Shut up,” pack his bags, and go to Egypt. He was set apart as spiritual leader with a responsibility to preach the Word, which he accepted. He learned that his time had to be flexible, had to adjust from moving from being teacher to a pastor (and living on a pastor’s salary), and accepted counsel not to neglect his family. He will never forgot how he was installed as pastor in the morning and officiated at his first funeral in the afternoon.
He has served 20 years in the EMC (Stony Brook) amid a sense of inadequacy that has kept him reliant on the Lord. His journey has taken him through an EMB church plant, training, and a call to a Baptist church; a mentor helped him prepare for ordination. He didn’t feel worthy, but if God was in this, he was prepared to carry on. There is not a lot of biblical support for ordination, for “pomp and ceremonies” and “diplomas.” He doesn’t know the significance of ordination and doesn’t use “Reverend” except when writing to a court where it makes a difference. Being ordained has helped him in difficult times to be reminded that pastoral ministry is more than a job; it’s a calling in which he was set apart. The authority of a pastor doesn’t come with the position, but is a voluntary submission.
Vern (Riverton) was in grade nine when God laid it on his heart to be a pastor. Influential in his connecting with the EMC were his wife Lana’s Pelly link and conference pastor David Thiessen. Crestview wanted an ordained person, but he asked it to hold off on ordination for a year or so. Ordination later happened. It reminds him that he is part of something bigger, and the sense of calling holds him in tough times so he don’t leave when it gets hot.
He is concerned about training—too little and, on the other hand, burnout from too many demands. Jude 20-23 is a key passage for his ministry, summing up pastoral work as gritty, but with a huge amount of blessing. He loves that the Lord has called him to this and at times he “would give it away for a nickel.”
Now a church planter for the EMC in Ste. Agathe, Man., Dick said he had been commissioned at Rosenort EMC as a youth pastor where it was suggested that he pursue ordination at some time. When he looked at the paperwork involved, he didn’t see it really affecting what he was doing in ministry. It’s been a four-year process of working through the required reading; the point, short answer, and essay questions; and other portions. He has struggled to pursue ordination because he has been waiting for the church to call or select him.
Ordination means to set apart for a particular responsibility for leading and serving Christ’s bride, the Church. It signifies a formal recognition of someone who’s following the Lord in an example that others should imitate. What difference would ordination make for him? It represents the affirmation of the church and helps develop a deepening sense of responsibility for the Church. How can the church take on more responsibility for ordination?
Looking at How We Ordain People
Layton Friesen said that the BLO heard calls from the church to strengthen and enhance ordination within the EMC. A proposal was sent, discussion will occur, changes might happen, and a decision will be made in July 2019. Verbally and in a written document the proposed process was outlined.
Rather than a “pass the exam” process, there will be a seven-month (Oct.-April) ordination course where ordinands become a cohort (a unit) of leaders who will meet together (online or in person) during this period.
A required set of readings and written reflections will relate to skills, theology, history, spirituality and character. A pastor in the region will serve as a mentor and the conference pastor and church planting director will host periodic forums online with the cohort. The candidate and mentor will spend months preparing a theological questionnaire. Only those affirmed by the mentor will proceed to ordination. The cohort will be examined together in a retreat in May where the examination committee can respond to each candidate with an unqualified assent, qualified assent, or dissent.
The BLO feels that it should no longer exam or ordain deacons because their role has changed in most churches. Teaching scripture and doctrine is no longer a central to it, and most churches have moved to terms from life callings.
Instead, EMC orientation evenings for deacons should be held. Deacons would not form part of the EMC ministerial (unless they have already been ordained and then their role would continue). All deacons would be welcome at the ministerial retreat. If a church wants a deacon to teach and discern about doctrine, it can seek their ordination and the new cohort process would apply to such candidates as well.
There are some positions (parachurch, college professors, or chaplains) where ordination can be pursued without the place of service being directly in a local church. If a minister no longer serves an EMC congregation, their ordination would become inactive after one year; they are not “defrocked” and their ordination can be reactivated at the request of an EMC church.
There was considerable discussion throughout the day. On the proposed new process of ordination, here is some of the feedback.
If the mentor doesn’t approve a candidate, what recourse does the candidate have if they disagree? [Unclear.]
The current ordination process seemed strangely isolating and lonely. A cohort is better.
Uncomfortable with the key push being theological. [How do we test for character and integrity? Mentor and congregation will help.]
Is there room for an ordinand to have input on the selection of a mentor? [Yes.]
Include the church in the process more; the pastor should be the mentor. [The pastor will be a mentor, but an outside mentor is also needed.]
Lots of people fall between the cracks because the local church fails to initiate. Nudge the BLO to work with the church. [Needs to be a both/and.]
What is the educational requirement to be ordained? [None yet. What should be the requirement?]
Needs to be more “bite” on the process or transfer of ordination. Those who resist it need it the most.
Some modification is needed for churches who already have a preaching team and minister-in-training process already in place. [Agreed.]
Like the process. Big part of leadership development is relationship. Another mentor pouring in is great.
Sharing of Ministry Joys and Concerns
There was a time for sharing of joys and concerns and prayer together.
During this Advent season filled with wars, famines, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other unnatural and natural disasters, we can be grateful for the presence and efforts of the worldwide Christian Church in word and deed—the light of Christ (Matt. 5:12-17).
We can give thanks for Presbyterians in Syria, Copts in Egypt, Lutherans in Finland, Methodists in England, Anglicans in South Africa, Roman Catholics in the U.S., Eastern Orthodox in Russia, Baptists in the Czech Republic, Anabaptists in the Netherlands, Pentecostals in Canada—and the list goes on. The Christian Church ultimately forms a single presence in many countries of the world. We can thank the Lord that his ministries are multiplied.
Yes, each part of the Church is more conscious of what it is doing and less aware of the work done by other parts of the Church. However, the Church worldwide has evangelism, relief, development, and justice activities in needy places by word and deed. For the wider Church and its work, we can give thanks.
Consider, for instance, Pastor Ibrahim Nseir and the Presbyterian congregation he serves in war-torn Aleppo, Syria; they provide hope amid the rubble, as Emily Loewen of MCC at times reminds us.
The light of Christ shines in many places and the darkness will not overcome it (Matt. 5:14-16; John 1:5; 1 John 1:8).
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference