Christmas is upon us and with it all the distractions that so quickly encumber and the busyness that so thoroughly wears. That’s a bleak midwinter way of starting off, but here we go a drearily. I have noticed two ways the Devil diverts our attention from the birth of Jesus. The first distraction is familiar to us: all the parties, the decorations, the family kerfluffles, and the ho, ho, ho that gobble our time and drain the bank, leaving little of our lives as gifts for the Saviour.
But the second distraction is trickier simply because it comes more sanctified. It’s the December-long war against distractions, which has now become its own cottage industry. We can spend the entire Christmas season scolding the world about how they are abusing Christmas. We preach sermons against the busyness of Christmas, or against the evils of Santa. We write blogs against the consumerism of Christmas, haranguing shoppers for being in malls. We put on Sunday School musicals in which distracted, annoyed revelers have last-minute conversion experiences and finally realize “the reason for the season.”
We get involved in political campaigns to “save” Christmas, tallying references to Christmas at our public school “holiday concert,” relieved that once again our secularist world has given us something to be angry about. We stage “buy nothing” Christmases and make sure everyone knows.
I don’t think the Devil cares much whether we forget Jesus via the first distraction or the second. He might even prefer the second one since the more holy he can make people feel in their neglect of Jesus the better for him. The devil has always had to rely on the imitation of holiness since naked evil is pretty hard to swallow even for the worst of us.
The point is, whether we forget Jesus because we are so wrapped in tinsel, or because we spend our time condemning people for being wrapped in tinsel, either way we forget Jesus.
Remember the parable about fitting rocks and sand into a jar? He puts the sand in first and now he can’t fit the rocks. Then he starts with the rocks and all the sand fits in fine.
Take some time to read the story of the birth of Jesus. “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Attend church and sing aloud with the carols of the season. Give a gift you can’t afford to a local charity that helps the poor in the name of the homeless Christ. Say a prayer of thanks to God “that those who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isa. 9:2).
Thank God for not forgetting us in this dark, cold world, for loving us so much as to send his only begotten Son. In short, worship Jesus with your heart, voice, mind, and bank account.
And then party like it’s AD 1. Cook good food. Surprise your uncle with a gift too late in the season for him to return the favour. Go to the mall and be amazed that all these thousands of harried, tired people are buying expensive gifts for other people! It’s all a vast expensive, convulsion of love that’s good news for the economy. Go carolling at your neighbours in the hope that they invite you in for drinks.
Get the main thing right, and then relax and enjoy the lights.
The Vision Statement of the EMC specifically states that we want to focus on urban areas for church planting. That’s a bit of a departure from our usual way of doing things. To help us make it happen the Church Planting Task Force has been pursuing a relationship with C2C, and an official agreement has just been made.
C2C is a church planting organization with extensive experience in urban church planting. It has staff in all the major Canadian cities who are available to support EMC church planters. They also work with prospective church planters to help them assess their abilities for church planting and to coach them in growing those abilities.
Another benefit of our association is the annual gatherings organized by C2C. These are a tremendous boost for church planters as they are able to network and learn from each other as well as enjoying the teaching provided. Our agreement with C2C has been in the works for a number of years so we are very excited about arriving at this point.
Along with that development we are also hearing God call us to join his work in a number of communities.
One of these is our growing association with a Chinese group meeting at Fort Garry EMC. Fort Garry is supporting and assisting this young church of approximately 20 believers and another 20 or so seekers. It is really exciting for us to think of having our first Chinese EMC church!
We are also thrilled that God has answered our prayer and brought a church planter couple to Two Hills, Alta. John and Helen Froese, who recently returned from ministry in Bolivia, have committed to a two-year term serving as pastoral couple to this young church group. There are six committed couples at Living Faith Fellowship with a lot of energy to grow this church and be involved in their community.
Another ministry opportunity has developed in Airdrie, Alta., where the Emanuel church family has been leading a Bible study. It has developed to the point that they are prepared to launch this church plant in fall of 2016. There are five committed families in Airdrie, including two leadership couples from Emanuel. This will be a real challenge for Emanuel both financially and in the “loss” of leadership.
There are additional possibilities developing in Winnipeg and communities around Winnipeg so stand by for more to follow.
Seeing new church plants develop like this generates a lot of enthusiasm for us. If it draws you, why not go to c2cnetwork.ca and find out if you’re called to be part of church planting or call me for information specific to the EMC.
We’d also love to have you partner with us financially by contributing to the Church Planting Training and Support Fund through the EMC office; and always, of course, continue to pray that God will grow his church in Canada and the world, and that we can be a part of this.
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?
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.
It’s October and time for Thanksgiving. You regularly give thanks before each meal. It has become a habit. But you have much more to be thankful for.
Like shelter, a house that keeps you dry and warm when it rains or when temperatures drop. It’s a safe place to eat, sleep, hang up your clothes, and store your collections. It’s peaceful. You’re in charge. You can lock the door, or open it.
Millions of people around the world do not have a home, they are homeless because of floods, or war, or because they lost their jobs. Be thankful for your house.
What about clean drinking water? You’re thirsty. You go to the fridge, open a bottle and take a sip. You expect it to be clean and safe. Millions of people do not have clean water to drink. They collect water from puddles or streams. Dirty water makes them sick.
When you’re hungry you get a snack or a sandwich. At supper you have a good dinner. You eat as much as you want. Food is fuel for the energy you need each day. Millions of people all over the world do not have enough food to eat. Constant hunger causes pain. They become weak and fall ill.
Are you healthy? To keep healthy you must eat healthy, get enough sleep and exercise. Being healthy you are able to listen and think better, you enjoy playing and working. Be thankful for your health.
Do you have good friends who share your fun, feel your sadness or excitement, spend time with you, are fair and kind? And don’t forget your family. They love and support you no matter what. You can depend on them. Be thankful for them.
At times you meet someone new who becomes a friend. Now you have another person to share and have fun with. You learn new things. Be thankful for that new person.
Are you thankful for technology? Do you have a PlayStation, Nintendo, Game Boy, or a phone? These are luxuries you may think of as necessities. You learn skills and have fun. Your phone keeps you connected. Remember to be thankful for these.
There are many ordinary things you enjoy. Sunrise and sunset give colour and light to your day. The sun warms you and makes things grow. Trees give you clean air. The ocean cools and provides you with salmon, tuna and lobster. Rivers and streams give you opportunity to go fishing with your Dad or Grandpa. Flowers make parks beautiful. Don’t forget to give thanks for these.
What happens when you face a difficulty? Overcoming a difficulty you may learn something new or grow stronger. Be thankful. Every morning when you wake up, be thankful for another new day to enjoy all that you have.
Mennonite Foundation of Canada is about to make a big change. In October, MFC will become Abundance Canada.
This decision did not come easily. Our process was both cautious and comprehensive. Long before we considered rebranding, the Board and Management began strategizing for the future. Through this process we affirmed a number of core values. Among them is our commitment to serving the Church with biblical stewardship education and the facilitation of charitable giving.
We also challenged ourselves with a bold vision that our stewardship ministry is not only for the churches and adherents of our seven founding conferences but for the wider Christian community in Canada. A broader, more ambitious ministry would allow us to assist more people with charitable giving and also to increase awareness of God’s generosity and the biblical message to share with others.
With a bold vision before us, we began an 18-month process that analyzed the market, evaluated similar service providers, held conversations with clients and potential clients and gathered input from a sample of the Christian population across Canada. With the help of a branding agency with experience in the faith-based, not-for-profit sector, we also learned there is a real desire and a need for our ministry and services which match our vision to work with the wider Christian church.
We also learned, through our research, that serving a wider Christian community would be difficult with a name that reflected a specific denomination. This meant we needed to entertain a rebranding of the organization.
It was imperative that our new name be welcoming and inclusive to the wider Christian community and support our faith-driven approach to our ministry. It also needed to reflect our four principles of biblical stewardship: 1) God is generous, 2) God owns, we manage, 3) God asks for our whole selves, and 4) God invites us to share.
After a rigorous creative process, we chose Abundance Canada, and we are delighted with it. Abundance Canada inspires thoughts of God’s abundance. It reminds us of the importance of gratitude. It is open and invitational. In short, Abundance Canada helps people share God’s abundance with those in need and more accurately reflects our service, our ministry and our spirit of generosity.
Let me assure you that while we are changing our name, the Board and Staff are committed to ensuring our services and level of client service will not change. Our research showed that our satisfaction rating among existing clients is more than 90%. Clients cited our financial stability, our knowledgeable and courteous staff, our honesty and integrity, and our values as important factors in their overall satisfaction.
Over the years, we’ve heard from many clients who have said, “We love working with MFC. You make giving so simple and easy.”The same will be true for Abundance Canada. And just as it was with MFC, Abundance Canada will be a donor-advised charitable foundation.
If you have questions, please give us a call. We would love to tell you more about our expanding ministry, introduce you to our services and help you experience the joy of generosity.
Abundance Canada … because generosity changes everything.
For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact 1-800-772-3257
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.
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. . . .”
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