Praising God in a language I don’t understand helps me remember that God is infinitely bigger than the breath of my vocabulary and scope of comprehension. There is something mysterious and utterly marvellous in understanding the essence of what is being said—apart from the meaning.
When I stand in worship with the Malagasy believers, singing in their own language, the words and syllables trip up my tongue, so I just close my eyes and listen with my heart. I hear the love they sing to our Father.
I sense the submission and the expectation they have for Him to stir up the Spirit within their midst to change and guide them. I perceive the belief that He will provide for them even as He has done just recently with the new land that has been provided at just the right time for His church in Antananarivo.
I used to join the church in Liepaja, Latvia, on weekends to escape the confines of dormitory life in Lithuania. Sitting in the back of the draughty church building, the soothing sounds of Latvian praise and worship settling over me, I would ask with the utter conviction that it could happen for God to bestow upon me the gift of tongues—specifically those of Latvian, Lithuanian, and Russian.
Now I pray for the gift of French fluency and Malagasy comprehension. Yet even as I struggle to learn and absorb the vocabulary of these languages I marvel at how vast God is that He would create so many divergent people with multitudinous ways of perceiving and articulating the world around them.
I have grown to appreciate, even require, these friends of diverse cultures to show me more of who Jesus is, because I cannot comprehend the immensity of God with my own limited understanding. To quote Timothy Keller:
C.S. Lewis argues that it takes a community of people to get to know an individual person. Reflecting on his own friendships, he observed that some aspects of one of his friend’s personality were brought out only through interaction with a second friend. That meant if he lost the second friend, he lost the part of his first friend that was otherwise invisible. “By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” If it takes a community to know an ordinary human being, how much more necessary would it be to get to know Jesus alongside others? By praying [and worshiping] with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God, Tim Keller, Dutton, 2014, 119).
We are the church within our local communities, joined to the global church. She is a deep pool of wisdom and understanding of our Lord and Saviour revealed by the Lord Himself to his Bride of many cultures. She is so beautiful. He is making her beautiful for Himself, and it is glorious in my eyes.
“If someone broke into your house, wouldn’t you call the police?” This question is often used as a handy trump card to dispense with pacifism, but it actually presents little problem to Mennonite pacifism.
Our broad Anabaptist tradition—with the notable exception of Balthasar Hubmaier—has had the moxie to claim that while the good of society may sometimes need the use of force, and while we may even depend on military or police defense for our own well-being as pacifists, we ourselves will not swing the sword. Others will.
The Anabaptist pacifist tradition, until recently, has not been absolutely anti-war or anti-police. Read the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. It says the sword is “ordained of God” and “punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good.” So far, that’s basic just war thinking.
We cannot appeal to the tradition here to denounce every military or police action. Mennonites have generally assumed that a certain amount of killing is necessary to keep evildoers from ruining the world.
An Elite Special-Task Force
But while Mennonites have not called for the abolishing of armies, they have also seen that you cannot announce God’s good news while killing people. Mennonites have thus seen the Church as an elite, heroic, special task-force unit within God’s wider providence sent on a limited mission. We do not claim to be the totality of everything God is doing in the world, and we do not claim to know exactly how God is using our special mission within his Kingdom, but Christ has told us to exempt ourselves from killing in order to evangelize the world.
Our pacifism does not claim to be the solution to all the world’s immediate problems. It is a gesture towards the Kingdom of God that is in lock step with Jesus now redeeming the world—that’s all. In order to carry out this special task within the larger providential care of God for the world, we give up the right to kill people even for reasons of social order.
Try this analogy. Many countries recognize that doctors, politicians, clergy or others need to be exempt from combat in order to maintain the long-term viability of society. If all doctors are sent to combat, the nation will be crippled by disease; thus they can be exempt from fighting. A similar claim is made by Mennonites. God has a destiny of reconciliation in store for the world that someone needs to proclaim and live towards. Those on this mission have no weapons but love and forgiveness. It does not even occur to us that you could do what Christ leads us to do by killing people.
Short- And Long-Term Solutions for Evil
God has both short-term and long-term solutions for evil. War is apparently a necessary short-term solution to keep a lid on chaos. To simply abolish killing is naïve, for now. But killing will never redeem the world—it’s a bloody mess that only breeds more hatred. It’s only a stop-gap measure given by God to create a measure of time and space for the Church to proclaim the Gospel.
But the Church has a specific vocation within God’s long-term plan of ridding the world of evil for good. In order to be faithful to this long-term project, we have to free ourselves from some parts of the short-term plan. By preaching the gospel, by creating church communities of vulnerability and forgiveness, by working to restore justice in a zillion ways, and by refusing to kill, we put on a drama, quite the theatre, of the Kingdom of God, overcoming the world and its war—eventually.
We are the shape, the figure of Christ in the world, Gethsemane-bent in suffering love. That is our elite mission, our heroic task in the providence of God: watching, waiting, worshipping, praying, loving, evangelizing and suffering in union with the Saviour.
Our Mission is Not God’s Sum Total
And our mission is not the sum total of what God is doing in the world. God’s hands move within the world in hidden, dark places, outside the Church. In his mysterious wisdom states, kings, and armies end up doing God’s will. Their own hell-bent idolatry and savagery and God’s calm use of them seem to coexist in God’s providence. Wars can be a servant of God’s will, though again, it is foolish to draw too clear a line from the war to the will of God.
The NT Basis for Missional Pacifism
The New Testament basis for this missional pacifism is simple. First, the sum total of our existence as humans is now to preach the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:31-33). Second, Christ bids us to follow him in the total abandonment of killing even for the benefit of society—that’s what the Kingdom looks like right now in its hidden fruitfulness within the world (Luke 6:27-31; John 16:20-22). Third, the New Testament never condemns the state’s use of the sword. In fact, the sword in the hands of the state is praised and appealed to by Christians themselves as an instrument of God to bring justice to the world (Acts 23:16-24; Rom. 13:1-4).
This does not mean that Christians cannot be involved in government, though some Mennonites have drawn this conclusion. The New Testament forbids Christians to kill; it does not forbid them to take leadership in their communities where this can serve the Church’s mission. Our modern welfare state provides many good ways to serve the world without being directly involved in killing.
This does not mean we cannot actively oppose unjust wars, military actions, or police brutality. God has not given governments a blank cheque to kill whomever they will. It may be that as the human community develops better methods of justice and conflict resolution, war will become like slavery, useless and stupid.
We should use whatever wits we have to find more peaceful, humane and effective ways of resolving conflict. For example, “restorative justice” is in many cases a vastly better form of justice than brute punishment. Capital punishment is an antiquated, ineffective, brutal way of solving crime. Romans 13 does not require us to keep it on the books. There’s no reason we can’t point that out in public.
When we do oppose a military action though, we should not simply say, “Christians do not kill; therefore neither should the military.” We should know the situation in, say, Syria, and point out exactly how a military action there will be useless or unjust. We have to provide factual knowledge of a specific action, not just general condemnations about armies and swords.
There will always be grey areas, murky places where discernment is hard and we are not sure how the Church’s vocation and the world’s sword relate. That in itself is not a weakness—any true Kingdom ethic will sync with society in fits and starts. I would rather be inconsistent than wrong.
This pacifism makes no sense if the Church is not proclaiming Christ to the world. It is not merely an “ethic” or a “moral,” though it is that. Pacifism is one of the necessary conditions of the Church carrying out the Great Commission.
There are other pacifisms, but this older Anabaptist version seems to me to deal with both the place of the sword in the state and the rejection of killing that Christ bids his followers to do. I invite all to join me in discerning this vocation of the Church. Can this be sharpened, pointed and fueled more fruitfully?
Layton Friesen, ThD (candidate), is an EMC minister who has served as co-pastor of Crestview Fellowship and as senior pastor at Fort Garry EMC. He is a columnist within this magazine and is our conference’s representative to the Mennonite World Conference. He lives in Winnipeg.
For the past half-century or more the North American Church has promoted a gospel that emphasizes getting saved.
While salvation is certainly important, the focus on getting a ticket to heaven has left many wondering what value the gospel has for this present life. Do we give the impression that believing in Jesus is only about eternal life?
Somewhere in the history of our church-culture a shift has taken place that convinced us that we need to get people to make decisions for Jesus. But did Jesus say we should go and make converts—or make disciples?
The new Vision Statement for the EMC says in part, “We envision teaching the gospel with a Christ-centred approach to Scripture, affirming Anabaptist convictions.” If we are to take this vision to heart, we need to consider how we truly define “gospel.”
An Apostolic Pattern
To teach the Christ-centred Gospel we must follow the Apostolic Pattern handed down to us.In Paul’s second letter to Timothy we read about Paul’s intense concern that Timothy hold on to the gospel.
Paul knew that Timothy was struggling to preach the gospel of Christ according to the apostles’ teaching. Certain parties wanted to add to the gospel and to make it more relevant. Timothy felt this pressure and grew ashamed of the gospel.
It is no wonder then that Paul was quite blunt with Timothy and his timidity about the gospel. If the gospel appeared weak because Paul was in prison, Paul responded, “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
So Paul writes to encourage Timothy, to bolster what is in danger of growing weak. He reminds him of the source of the gospel: “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).
What the Gospel is Not
We struggle with similar temptations, and you would think that we would all agree on how we define the gospel. But I have come to discover that there is quite a broad spectrum when people speak of the gospel. We do not all agree.
What are some wrong conceptions of the gospel?
First, most of us have grown up with the conception that the gospel is about personal salvation. Second, our predominant understanding of the gospel comes from Paul’s letters where he presented the essence of the gospel as “justification by faith.”Third, if the gospel means justification by faith, why didn’t Jesus preach in those terms?
The end result is that the word “gospel” has been hijacked to mean “personal salvation.” This is why we focus on making a decision, why conversion experiences trump the process of discipleship, and why gospel as we know it is different than what it meant to Jesus and the apostles.
What is the Gospel?
If you want a nutshell of the gospel, Paul told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8). The gospel Paul refers to can be found more fully represented in 1 Cor. 15:1-5. These are perhaps the oldest known lines of the gospel. Before there was a New Testament, this was the gospel. For Paul, the gospel did not begin at Matthew 1:1, but in Genesis.
It was in this manner that Paul preached the gospel of Jesus. Every sermon in Acts and every New Testament writer saw this gospel as part of a larger narrative. What was that gospel?
The Story of Israel
The Story of Israel, or the Story of the Bible, begins this odyssey that is the Gospel. We know the essential parts of this story: Adam and Eve sinning, the calling of Abraham and the choosing of a people, Israel’s failure to be a missional people and testify to God’s purposes. The important thing is to note how this not only sets up the gospel, but is, in reality, “the good news of God” in that He kept speaking into our world despite the failure of humankind to obey His commandments.
The Story of Jesus
The story of Jesus is the story of God sending His Son to establish His Messiah or Christ, and to finally establish His kingdom. Now, we cannot understand this part of the story without understanding the Story of Israel. The Story of Jesus is first and foremost a resolution of Israel’s story, and because the Story of Jesus completes the Story of Israel, it saves.
The Plan of Salvation
Then we can talk about the Plan of Salvation for it flows out of the Story of Israel as completed in the Story of Jesus. The Plan of Salvation is not the gospel. The Gospel cannot be reduced to four spiritual laws or five points. If we do, we will find that men and women will get “saved,” but they won’t have a clue about discipleship, or justice, or obedience.
Anabaptists believe that Christ is the centre of Scripture. If you believe that, then you will read Scripture with Christ as your lens. You will see that all Scripture speaks to the centrality of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.
Guard the Content
To teach the Christ-centred Gospel we must guard the content of this teaching. “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14).
How do we guard the gospel?
Entrust The Gospel
Entrust the gospel to faithful people who will carefully handle its truths. Paul tells Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). You are Christ’s representatives when you live your life with Jesus as Lord. In short, the Story of the Gospel continues with you.
Endure the Suffering
Endure the suffering that will surely come from holding to this gospel. The time that Paul predicted when people will not put up with sound doctrine seems constant in every generation. Sound doctrine, the true Gospel, does not resonate with those who have a different agenda. To suit their own desires they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and hold on to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). This is happening even within the Church.
The Gospel Story, that Jesus Christ is Lord, the fulfillment of all that God purposed for our lives, will be rejected by those who think it is too judgmental, too exclusive, too simplistic or too theological. Are you ready to suffer as Paul did for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Proclaim the Gospel
Faithfully proclaim the gospel story. Guarding the gospel is not achieved by burying it or keeping quiet about it. Proclaiming the Gospel preserves it as well as declares it. This is critical; in the face of a hostile world that cannot grasp its own lostness and a God who has entrusted us with this incredible message, we cannot be quiet.
Into every facet of life, the messy and rough situations of marital breakdown, and personally self-destructive tendencies, speak Jesus as Lord into those places.“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word!” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
Dr. Darryl G. Klassen is the senior pastor of Kleefeld EMC. This article is based on his message of Saturday, July 2, at the EMC’s 2016 national convention.
“Individual congregations retain full privileges of self-determination within the framework of the Conference Constitution. However, membership in the Conference implies the responsible support of resolutions and programs developed together” (The Constitution, 20). “Self-determination within the framework”—here is the dance between local autonomy and national direction.
Listening to some people talk about self-determination (autonomy), I get confused. Who decides on what it means in practice?
Churches choose their pastors. To be nationally recognized and to vote at national ministerial meetings, though, pastors are to go through the BLO’s examination process. Some churches and pastoral search committees seem unconcerned about the examination process—despite its being designed, in part, for their protection.
Other matters are footwashing, war and peace, women in ministry, baptism and membership, and fundraising. Some will be clarified through the Statement of Faith review. The General Board will guide processes where needed.
Local decisions have an impact. During a joint ministerial meeting in 1941, Prairie Rose announced that only its brethren would vote to select its ministers (Harvey Plett, Seeking to be Faithful, 149). Prairie Rose chose self-autonomy.
Dr. Plett speaks of how this “led to greater autonomy in the local church.” What isn’t mentioned is the precedent’s implication: a local church can move in a direction not yet recognized by the wider body. Other EMC congregations have since followed Prairie Rose’s example, deciding internally about various matters.
The General Board plans to look at conference structures. Perhaps this will clarify the meaning of “self-determination within the framework.”
Some church leaders say that denominational loyalties aren’t what they used to be; we can no longer assume support for our programs because a person was raised in a particular church. Does this concern me? No and yes.
In Canada there is a confusing display of evangelical and Mennonite churches. Many of these divisions can’t be defended today even while knowing the historical reasons for them. More mergers are welcomed.
Still, look deeper: theological and church loyalties continue. The research of Dr. Reginald Bibby, from the University of Lethbridge, says that in Canada when evangelicals and mainline Christians change churches, they stay within their broader theologies. In other words, when a Mennonite and a Nazarene swap churches, they continue a larger loyalty—and, I say, they enrich others and are enriched.
Paradoxically, even independent churches show some loyalty; their beliefs and internal workings identify within a stream of thought. Agencies such as the Northern Canada Evangelical Mission and Village Missions Canada often seem to function as denominations.
Should the EMC be concerned about loyalty? Certainly, we are to be loyal to Christ and his Church. That said, loyalty to the EMC is better earned than expected. How can the EMC improve at this?
The EMC certainly has purposes worthy of any part of the wider Church: “The purpose of the Conference is to glorify God by building his Kingdom” through sharing the gospel at home and abroad, planting churches, building community, coordinating resources, and forming wider affiliations (Constitution, 20). We have a rich theology. We can, indeed, accomplish more together than each church can alone.
While church loyalty isn’t as local as it used to be, to worship and work together makes sense and honours Christ.
At its recent Assembly, the Mennonite Church Canada passed a resolution calling for boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) measures against Israelis.
Specifically, the resolution called on Church bodies and members “to avoid investing in or supporting companies that do business with Israeli settlements and the Israel Defense Forces, and companies that are profiting from the occupation of the Palestinian territories,” and called on the Government of Canada “to support measures that put pressure on Israel (including through economic sanctions).”
As a Mennonite, I am extremely discouraged to see any Mennonite conference in Canada take this stance.
Ever since scripture was translated into common language, over 500 years ago, it has been explicitly clear that the nation of Israel was given a land known as Canaan and that the gift came directly from God himself.
As Christians, we know that biblical text is the written word of God. The message of God when it comes to support for Israel and the Jewish people is abundantly clear, and is illustrated in several examples of scripture.
In Genesis 12:3 (NIV), God is speaking to Abraham as he says: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Many Christians believe that history has shown that those nations who have blessed the Jewish people have received the blessing of God; while the nations who have cursed the Jewish people have experienced the curse of God.
Likewise, scripture tell us that Christians are indebted to Jews, as their contributions gave birth to the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul recorded in Romans 15:27 (NIV), “They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.”
And, of course, the Bible confirms that the Lord Jesus Christ was a practicing Orthodox Jew.
However, most Christians’ support for Israel goes well beyond scripture. The historical legitimacy of Israel, in all of its territory, as a nation is indisputable. And, as it stands today, Israel is a nation of democratic choice, individual freedom and modern thought standing alone in the middle of backwards, regressive dictatorships.
It goes without saying that there will be times when we, as Christians and as individuals, will have ideological differences with the political leaders of Israel, as we will with any nation’s government. However, Mennonite Church Canada has taken an extreme position against Israel, which I maintain is in direct contradiction to the written word of God.
We need to remember that, with the exception of Israel, all nations were created by mankind. Israel was created by an act of God. This is something that needs to remain sacred, and on our support for Israel, Christians need to remain consistent.
As a Mennonite and as a Christian, I would like to make it explicitly clear that, despite the name of the conference, Mennonite Church Canada does not speak for all Mennonites in adopting this ill-advised resolution.
Editor’s Note: A reply was issued by Dan Dyck, Director of Church Engagement Communications, Mennonite Church Canada. It can be found here.
Many people in the EMC are worried about “liberalism” in the Church. It’s hard to explain exactly what liberalism is, but we all seem to know what we mean. To go “liberal,” we believe, is to drive the “welcome, include, and affirm everyone” instinct so one-sidedly that we compromise the Gospel revealed in Scripture.
Let me try to explain where this “liberal” instinct comes from and why it arose in the first place. After the Reformation in the 1500’s, a huge problem hung over the freshly wounded bodies (!) of Christ. Have the severed “churches” (Protestant, Anabaptist, Catholic) any Gospel-based way for all these new factions to co-exist peacefully within society?
Prior to the Reformation, the Church provided the glue holding society together, sort of. But with the Church now existing in mutual damnation of itself in mutual excommunications, was there still a Gospel-based way for people to love one another across boundaries? Could Jesus still bring us together in love, overcoming our differences, or would we now need to find secular ways to live out the Bible’s command to love?
Attempts were made. The first swing-and-a-miss was the theological killing of the Reformation age resulting in thousands of martyrs from all churches lined up against each other. Another swing-and-a-miss was the Thirty-Years War, a devastating 17th century war between the new “churches” in which a quarter of Europe’s population died. The last swing-and-you’re-out was World War I, when the churches of the west goaded the world to a bloodshed never before seen.
Much went on in the meantime, but the divided churches found no Gospel-based way to love across their differences. The Church never figured out how to come to theological agreement in love. Was it really impossible, using biblical resources, to overcome deep differences regarding baptism, salvation by grace, ordination, and so on? Apparently.
Finally, western society said, “Fine, you’ve had your chance. If that’s what the Gospel amounts to, we’ll just have to find another way to get along.” And that is where liberalism in the Church and in the world arose.
In all its different forms, liberalism tempers doctrinal truth, looking for better ways to approximate what was supposed to be the love of the body of Christ. It’s what the world came up with in response to un-resolvable disunity in the church. If the Church doesn’t like it, it has no one to blame but itself. We simply have not shown that genuine Christian truth leads people to costlier love across painful boundaries. All we have shown is that a commitment to Scriptural truth leads to division.
And so, if we want to resist liberalism, it does not help to just shout louder about “truth” or “purity” or “sin.” We have to show the world that the gospel enables us to love our enemies, our theological enemies. We have to show that in the Spirit, guided by Scripture we are able to overcome our differences with Catholics, Lutherans, and other Mennonites.
But I see recent signs that things may be changing and that the Church is getting genuinely tired of its division. Churches are partnering in mission like never before. Martyrdom is exposing our common blood as believers across traditions. Reformation divisions over baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and justification are looking less interesting to the Church today.
When Jesus finally reigns in the Church and his love prevails, liberalism will be shown as the pale impotence it is. “On earth as it is in heaven. . . .”
The Apostolic or Apostles’ Creed is a profound summary of the essence of the Christian faith. It is brief, concise but does not elaborate the meaning of the various statements.
This statement, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” is, in the estimate of the writer, the essential essence of the Christian faith. Without forgiveness, there is no gospel, no redemption, but only condemnation. Without forgiveness we would not be able to have a relationship with God.
The only way to bring humankind back into relationship with God is forgiveness. Similarly, in order for me to have a relationship with a fellow human who has hurt me I need to forgive that hurt whether that person repents or not though our relationship will not be restored unless the wrongdoer acknowledges his wrong and seeks forgiveness (Mk. 11:25).
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is taking the wrongs done to you, absorbing the consequences, letting them go and not holding them against the perpetrator whether the person repents or not and thus removing my side of the barrier that hinders our relationship.
Jesus came to redeem us. The only way He could do that was by forgiving us. And to forgive us He had to take the consequences of our sins against Him, absorb them, and then let us go free. His death on the cross was His way of forgiving us. He had to experience the separation from God. On the cross He cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Those were the consequences of our sin against God and the cost of forgiveness.
In Ephesians 1:7 we read, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.” And in Colossians 1:13-14 we read, “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Much more could be said but here we have a concise definition of redemption: “the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus’ death on the cross was a voluntary death. He did it because that is the only way forgiveness was possible. All of us were dead in our trespasses and sins. So by His death Jesus wiped out death and brought forgiveness.
Let’s apply it to our life. If you forgive someone who has ruined your reputation, what happens? You accept the ruined reputation and let the one who has done it go free; you do not hold it against him nor do you seek justice. That briefly is what forgiveness is. It is substitutional; the one sinned against absorbs the hurt and pain of the evil done and does not hold it against the guilty party. This is what Jesus did.
The Bible says the soul that sins will die. He has brought forgiveness, but it doesn’t become yours until you accept it. To accept it means you acknowledge you have done wrong, are sorry for it and ask for forgiveness. And then Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. We are then free and in relationship with our Saviour.
What About Repentance?
That is very essential, but not for the forgiver. If the guilty one wishes to experience forgiveness than she or he will have to confess and repent of the wrong done and seek forgiveness. The hurt party forgives whether the guilty party repents or not.
But if the one who is guilty wants to experience forgiveness in his or her life, that person must repent. So the person repents, apologizes and asks forgiveness. The forgiver does what a friend of mine did to a repentant person. He said, “I have forgiven you a long time ago.” But you go on to say, “Yes I forgive you gladly. I forgave you already but I am happy you are seeking the forgiveness for yourself.”
At that point the final step in forgiveness can happen—reconciliation. The forgiver has already forgiven, but full reconciliation can only happen if the guilty party repents and seeks forgiveness.
What about Restoration?
For example, what happens to what was stolen? The forgiver forgives and does not demand repayment. If the guilty party offers restitution, the forgiver receives it not so much for himself but to help the guilty party find peace and freedom.
Forgiveness and Spiritual Healing
The hurt party forgives, for this is necessary to be healed. If one does not forgive, one will struggle with bitterness, anger, and avoid the wrongdoer. So forgiveness in this sense is therapeutic. It brings healing to your soul and will help one to love the wrongdoer.
The wrongdoer must repent and seek forgiveness to become free and move toward healed relationships. We will not forget some of the serious hurts we forgive, but when the memory comes we decide to not indulge in those memories but set them aside because we have forgiven them.
In forgiveness the wrongdoer and the forgiver each has or her his part. Each can only do his or her part. The forgiver forgives whether that is accepted or not. The sinner repents to experience that forgiveness. Forgiveness is complete when this happens. This is what is modeled by Christ forgiving the repentant sinner. Christ has died for all. Forgiveness is available for all but only those who respond to the offer of forgiveness experience that forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a Decision
You have to decide to forgive just as Jesus decided to forgive our sins and then took the consequences—death. But forgiveness becomes ours only as we acknowledge the wrong we have done, repent, and ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is my decision to absorb evil done to me and not hold it against the doer. This gives me peace in my soul. For the wrongdoer to experience that forgiveness, the wrongdoer must repent, confess and acknowledge the wrong and ask for forgiveness.
This forgiveness now makes it possible for reconciliation between the two. It may take time to move forward for the forgiver as well as it may take time for reconciliation to come to completion. But forgiveness makes that possible as one commits oneself to walk in forgiveness.
This is the will of God. Rejoice in the forgiveness of Jesus and, with the resurrection power that is yours because you have Jesus (Rom. 6; 2 Pet. 1:3), walk in continual forgiveness towards those who do you wrong.
We are to follow Jesus’ example. He forgave our sins through His death before we repented and we experience that forgiveness only if we repent and accept it. You and I are too always forgive the person who does wrong to us whether the other person repents or not. That is loving the other. The one who did the wrong needs to repent if he or she wants to experience forgiveness. When that happens, reconciliation and a renewed relationship become possible and should emerge.
Dr. Harvey Plett has served as president of Steinbach Bible College and as EMC moderator; he is a long-serving minister at Prairie Rose EMC. He continues to do some teaching, preaching,
counseling and writing. He and his wife Pearl live in Mitchell, Man., and celebrated 58 years of blessed marriage on August 22, 2016.
James Arminius (ca. 1559-1609), a Reformed pastor, was given a task: to refute the teachings of Anabaptists who were then seeking refuge in Holland.
“This was an assignment which he never finished,” says Donald M. Lake, a professor of theology at Wheaton College, most likely “because he may have found some of their views more scriptural than their opponents” (Grace Unlimited, Clark H. Pinnock, ed., Bethany Fellowship, 227).
This did not mean that Arminius, a Reformed pastor and then professor of theology, agreed with all of the views held by Anabaptists: “…while he advocated toleration for the Anabaptists, he had no sympathy for their views of political isolationism” (229).
There was, though, one view which Arminius held that he, Anabaptists, and the wider early Church had in common: a rejection of double predestination.
God does not arbitrarily choose some people to eternal life and some to eternal death quite apart from how they would freely respond to him in the future, he said. He taught that Christ died for all of humankind and actively seeks our salvation.
Arminius wrote, “There is . . . no point of doctrine which the Papists, Anabaptists and Lutherans oppose with greater vehemence than this” (double predestination). He considered it a view that brought the Church into disrepute (Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God, John D. Wagner, ed., Wipf & Stock, 2011, 56).
He held to the total depravity of humankind; we are lost in our sins and dependent upon God’s grace through his Spirit to enable us to respond to Him. He was undecided on whether a true believer could fall from grace to the point of being eternally lost. (His death from tuberculosis at about age 50 prevented further earthly study.)
The Dutch scholar rejected unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace. He taught that despite Christ’s universal call and atonement, we, having a freed will restored by the Holy Spirit, can resist God’s desire to our ultimate harm (Acts 7:51; 2 Cor. 6:1).
He wasn’t alone in seeing this in Scripture. “Anabaptists would argue with good cause that it was a [viewpoint that] Balthasar Hubmaier and other Anabaptist thinkers had begun developing almost a century earlier” (Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, 471-72). Olson calls Hubmaier an “Arminian before Arminius.”
Dr. Harold Bender, an Anabaptist historian and theologian, says, “Mennonites have been historically Arminian in their theology whether they distinctly espoused the Arminian viewpoint or not.” The same, I suggest, describes many evangelicals today.
While too few EMCers and other evangelicals realize how the term Arminian relates to their beliefs, many reject double predestination and hold to an unlimited atonement and resistible grace. This places us within the Arminian stream of theology. There is much common ground between Arminian and Reformed Christians, but not on these particular points.
Does it matter what we call ourselves? Maybe not, but it matters what we believe and teach. “Christ Jesus…gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6). “For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Resources: “Arminians Attempt to Reform Reformed Theology,” in Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology (IVP, 1999, 454-472); Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (IVP, 2006); Roger E. Olson, Against Calvinism (Zondervan, 2011); Robert Shank, Elect in the Son (Bethany, 1970); Robert Shank, Life in the Son (Bethany, 1960); Arminius Speaks (details above). Note: Against Calvinism is poorly titled. Olson is not against Reformed theology generally or Calvinists, but opposes the ULI (in the TULIP).
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference