Category Archives: An Education App

Terry Smith: Membership and Wolves

by Terry M. Smith

Count me among EMC ministers who seek to protect sheep from wolves. This affects how some of us link local church membership and denominational distinctives.

Each branch of the Church in Canada has its tradition, history, and distinctives. For instance, Nazarenes have entire sanctification, Pentecostals have the baptism in the Spirit, Baptists have immersion, and Mennonites have pacifism.

Each denomination is protective of its distinctives: “We need to stay with the Word. Our leaders suffered for these truths. We have Scripture and history on our side.”

Ministers make choices within traditions, histories, and distinctives. I do.

Distinctives, as long as they’re biblical, are to be taught. It is wise, though, not to make a hard link between some distinctives and membership for non-leaders. (This isn’t an article about teaching standards for selecting pastors, deacons, teaching elders, and Sunday School teachers.)

The Christian Church is committed to Christ and to each other. We properly require a common, wonderful confession of faith in our Triune God (1 Cor. 15:1-8, 1 Tim. 3:9, Eph. 4:5). We are to be accountable in our faith and lifestyle (1 Tim. 4:19-20).

Still, let’s not multiply difficulties. Pastors know it is insensitive and impractical to limit membership to those who agree with all of our distinctives. Was anyone ever denied local EMC membership because they didn’t affirm footwashing as an ordinance? Probably not.

Local churches need to, and often do, take a broader view of their role. In a particular location, urban or rural, there might be a single evangelical choice—perhaps Nazarene, Mennonite, Pentecostal, or Baptist. Its responsibility to believers and the Lord extends far beyond its distinctive views.

Why? Sheep are vulnerable and wolves are many (Matt. 10:16). Jesus spoke of wolves (Matt. 7:15); the apostle Paul did too (Acts 20:28-29). Paul and other apostles warned of false leaders and false teachings (Gal. 1:6-7, 2 Pet. 2:1, Jude 4).

We are to protect the flock (Acts 20:28). Sheep, by nature, are to be together, and they are more vulnerable when alone. The Shepherd still cares about the single sheep (Luke 15:3-7).

As well, ponder a wonderful reality: Christians are members of Christ’s mystical body that spans continents, centuries, and denominations (1 Cor. 12:13; Heb.11, Eph. 4:4-5). How do we reflect this awareness when deciding requirements for local church membership?

Suppose a Christian, because of a distinctive, doesn’t become a local member. What if, through limited options and understanding, they join a group that has wandered from central truths? It’s precisely because of central truths (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-8) that we are to be sensitive as pastors (Jude 22-23).

Pastors observe the movement of God’s Spirit within a person’s life; we sense their gifts and capacities. Recognizing this, local churches do well to allow “pastoral exceptions”: for a Mennonite church to accept a non-pacifist; a Baptist church, an undipped member; a Pentecostal church, someone who hasn’t spoken in tongues; a Nazarene church, a member only partly sanctified.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Does your local church do this already? Perhaps. Probably. For sheep are vulnerable and wolves are many.

Of course, if a person doesn’t recognize our Statement of Faith as the teaching standard within the local church and becomes divisive (Titus 3:9-11), that’s another matter. The sheep need protection then too.

Terry Smith: Questions That Arise From Franz Jägerstätter

Franz Jägerstätter was a 36-year-old Christian beheaded on Aug. 9, 1943, for refusing to serve in the German army. His objection? Germany’s war was unjust.

Did he oppose all wars? No, but he opposed this one. He reported for duty, said he could not fight, and offered to serve as a medical orderly. He both refused support for the Nazi party and to participate in the war Germany had started; it was not, in his view, a defensive war.

He was concerned about Germany’s invasion of Russia because its fight was about more than being against communism; there was an interest in Russia’s resources—“minerals, oil well, or good farmland.”

The farmer sought spiritual counsel from his priest and bishop, who tried to persuade him to serve. His relatives and wife tried also, but later his wife stopped. “If I had not stood by him,” she said, “he would have had no one.”

“Again and again, people try to trouble my conscience over my wife and children,” Jägerstätter wrote. “Is an action any better because one is married and has children? Is it better or worse because thousands of other Catholics are doing the same?” He “could change nothing in world affairs,” but wished “to be at least a sign that not everyone let themselves be carried away with the tide.”

Would you refuse to serve in a war you consider to be unjust? In all wars?

Jägerstätter asked, “If the Church stays silent in the face of what is happening, what difference does it make if no church ever opened again?”

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Franz Jägerstätter was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 2007. His widow, Franziska Jägerstätter, died on March 16, 2013, two weeks after her 100th birthday. John Dear, a priest who had a chance meeting with her, said, “She stands, to my mind, as much of a saint as her martyred husband.”

Sources: Erna Putz, Against the Stream: Franz Jägerstätter—the man who refused to fight for Hitler. Translation by Michael Duggan. Reprinted from The Messenger (Nov. 5, 2006); Tom Roberts, “Franz Jägerstätter’s widow, ‘a warm, gentle soul,’ dies at 100,” National Catholic Reporter, April 8, 2013, online.

Questions:

1. Why did Jägerstätter object to serving in the German army?

2. In what way does Jägerstätter’s position fit that of a typical Conscientious Objector? In what does it not? (Being a Selective Conscious Objector is a position not currently protected in Canadian law.)

3. Church leaders, relatives, and (at first) his wife tried to convince him to serve. What role, if any, should others play in convincing believers to act a certain way in a time of war? What is appropriate? What isn’t?

4. A key pressure placed on Jägerstätter was the well-being of his family. His widow, Franziska, lived for almost 70 years after he was killed. There is no mention of how she managed to provide for herself and her children. Franz Jägerstätter was concerned about his wife and children and felt the weight of his obligations, yet ultimately stood by his convictions as a Christian. What do you think about his decision?

5. He “could change nothing in world affairs,” but wished “to be at least a sign that not everyone let themselves be carried away with the tide.” Was this naïve or necessary?

Terry Smith: Diverse Worship Styles Within the EMC

by Terry M. Smith

At Christmas, Jesus will be praised within many worship styles. That’s great.

The EMC has increasingly diverse worship styles. As variety develops, are we thinking about why we choose what we do?

Certainly, the exuberance of some churches, expressing cultural or Pentecostal influences, can be contrasted with a quieter style elsewhere; and the formal liturgy of Fort Garry EMC differs from the relaxed style of the Endeavour Fellowship Chapel. We can expect even more of a range in the future.

Many shifts in worship styles have occurred in the EMC. Just ask elderly members. For instance, early Kleine Gemeinde (now EMC) ministers opposed four-part singing because, they said, it moved from unity and simplicity in Christ. Later, four-part singing became a mark of Mennonite spirituality.

Today four-part singing is considered by some people to be “old school.” PowerPoint, choruses, and praise bands are in. (Generations ago some First Nations communities had drums taken by missionaries; today some non-Native churches use a complete set.)

Does diversity in worship styles surprise us? There are variations in worship among Anabaptist churches around the world, charismatic and formally liturgical being only two. A one-style-fits-all form of worship is too limiting within the Anabaptist communion and the EMC.

To reach out, our conference—not every individual—is wise to become comfortable with many worship styles, including charismatic and formally liturgical. St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, as John Longhurst tells us, has been called the fastest growing Mennonite church in Winnipeg. Accurate or not, it challenges us to examine what we do in some locations.

Our larger churches need not keep dual services identical in format; varied styles reach a broader cross-section of society.

The Board of Church Ministries has developed a Worship Committee. This is more than a spot for musicians and singers. The committee will assist churches to look at their worship theology reflected, partly, within their order of service. Worship educates; and, in turn, education helps us in worship.

What are some possible issues and questions? These are my thoughts.

All EMC churches have a liturgy, an order of worship that is effective on some level. What enters, or doesn’t, into your church’s liturgy? How is this decided?

How is Scripture used, how much is used, how well read is it? Contact professors Patrick Friesen (SBC) and Christine Longhurst (CMU) for their analysis of the use of Scripture in evangelical church services.

What’s the difference between entertainment and worship? If worship leaders and a sound system overpower the congregation’s voices, where does leading stop and performing start?

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Canadian middle-class white evangelicals have advantages of race, location, wealth, and power. Why are few current Christian songs about change, social justice, and peace in God’s world?

In reaching inactive mainliners might a pastoral prayer, use of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, a prayer of confession and an assurance of pardon, and a benediction each play a part? Ah, but these are my thoughts.

Terry Smith: The Task Arminius Never Finished

by Terry M. Smith

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).

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

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).