A cartoon of years ago pictured a man seated in a pastor’s office. The pastor looked at him and said, “Give up your life of crime. Quit politics.” The Bible is the inspired Word of God; it is also a library of books written across many years in varied cultures, countries, and political contexts—which affects what political lessons we can take from it today. Continue reading The Spider Web of Scripture and Politics→
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Whereas, the Church of _____, is no longer to be used for acts of worship, And whereas the Church building and the land upon which it is erected is about to be/being sold; now, therefore, we, by Divine Permission . . . do declare that the Church of ____ , once duly dedicated and consecrated to the Divine worship of Almighty God, has by virtue of this our sentence, lost said dedication and consecration. (U. S. Anglican rite) Continue reading When can a Rite be Wrong?→
As we plant new churches, naming them, as always, is best done carefully.
For various reasons, the EMC has periodically favoured words such as Gemeinde, EMC, Fellowship, Chapel, and Community. What might we keep in mind as we name congregations today? Continue reading On Naming Churches Today→
On Feb. 18, 1688, four leaders in Germantown, Pennsylvania, signed a petition against slavery and sent it to “the Monthly Meeting at Richard Warrels.” Drawing upon the analysis of J. H. Fretz, the petition had at least seven overlapping arguments: 1) slavery violates the Great Commandment; 2) it violates people’s will by forcing them into slavery); 3) it can involve theft; 4) it separates spouses, causing them to commit adultery; 5) it harms the witness of Quakers by offending some people; 6) slaves had the right to freedom (even to fight for it); and 7) Christians do not have the liberty to enslave. Continue reading A 1688 Protest Against Slavery with a ‘Mennonite-like Conscience’→
In my view, it’s following Christ, discipleship and ethics, practical service, the hands and feet of serving others. As Christians, we care about body and soul, individual and community. As our vision statement says, we seek to advance “Christ’s kingdom culture as we live, reach, gather, and teach.” That’s a challenging statement.
When churches send news it’s our privilege to read of their concerns and actions: for instance, Crestview holds a movie night outreach, Pansy constructs houses in Mexico, Fort Garry helps families who live on a garbage dump near a resort area in Mexico, Portage holds a baptismal service—and these are only four churches from Manitoba. There is much happening with our churches in B.C., Alta., Sask., Ont., and elsewhere in Man.
Walk into any EMC church and we can see, likely on a bulletin board, photos and letters of missionaries being supported. Many of our churches help youth groups and other members to go on short-term work teams and other missions efforts.
This reflects the first stated purpose of the EMC: to “glorify God by building his kingdom.” This is done, according to statements that EMCers adopted, by “proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ at home and abroad,” “ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of people,” and more (The Constitution, 31).
Christ’s call takes our members far beyond the shores and borders of Canada. Consider the many workers that we send as a conference or as individual churches: missionaries, MDS workers, MCC workers, and many more. Think of the funds, prayers, guidance, practical help, and other forms of support provided by members.
Years ago EMCers affirmed challenging statements, including: “We should do whatever we can to lessen human distress and suffering even at the risk of our own lives. In all relationships we should be peace makers and ministers of reconciliation” (11).
EMCers affirmed another statement: “We believe God owns and sustains his creation. He calls us, God’s people, to be trustworthy stewards of creation. Stewardship is demonstrated in our lifestyles, in our relations with the poor and the disadvantaged, in our view of possessions, in our concern for all of God’s creation and in response to global economic injustice” (15).
Surprised by any of this? Remarks by Wally Doerksen (Good News, Steinbach) about some of this a few years ago caused me to take a fresh look at our constitution. In my view, our vision statement (2013) says what we want to do, advance “Christ’s kingdom culture,” and our constitution (1994, 2017) reveals more of what this includes.
The actions of EMCers show what this means on the ground. On this journey, our thanks go to our Triune God as a patient Teacher who gives us strength (Jer. 9:23-24; Zech. 4:6) in our aims and actions.
At least, that’s my take. Brad Brandt, EMC Board of Missions chair, shares his view of the EMC in this issue. What’s your perspective?
Pastors Mike Funk and Garry Koop are thoughtful people with a genuine concern. Put another way: when it comes to Christian Education in our churches, is the EMC at risk of getting lost on Google?
Mike Funk, when a youth pastor at Ridgewood EMC, wanted to see the EMC develop a Sunday School curriculum that would be standard across our churches. Garry Koop, senior pastor at Steinbach EMC, recently sought to develop a Sunday School curriculum based on our EMC Statement of Faith to serve a range of ages. Both have sound desires as pastors: to assist our churches in Sunday School.
The Internet allows EMC pastors to search out all sorts of materials. Our leaders will evaluate and use them as they see fit. The EMC can no more compete with all that’s available there than our few offerings for sale can compete with what’s on Amazon. Yet something is missing if a person listens to an online sermon instead of sitting in a congregation; something else is missed if materials specifically designed for our churches are overlooked.
We can’t produce a lot of materials, but this makes the ones developed more significant. The reality is that from idea to completion, a Sunday School quarterly could take two to three years to complete; and this does not begin to cover a range of ages (nor provide a new quarterly for a few months down the road or next year). The EMC is too small to cover all of its bases—in people power, time, and finances.
Recognising this, we assist churches in three ways: we develop occasional materials, suggest where Anabaptist materials might be found, and recommend that pastors and teachers adjust the materials they use to reflect Evangelical Anabaptist concerns.
As for quarterly materials, working with the CMC and EMMC, the EMC recently produced Holy Wanderings: A Guide to Deeper Discipleship (2019) and a new baptismal/membership guide Living in God’s Kingdom (2016). By the way, The Christian Life: A Practical Study Guide remains available, and has been updated in 2019, for leaders and churches who prefer it. Earlier, in 2006, the EMC produced Follow Me: Exploring More of Our Calling as Christians; the material remains relevant and free copies are available. How much of this material has your church used?
For wider sources of Anabaptist materials, pastors and Sunday School superintendents might check out materials produced by MennoMedia, Christian Light Publications, and The Meeting House (the BICC mega-church in Ontario). Fort Garry EMC has produced materials on our ancient-modern faith.
As for recommending that pastors and teachers adjust the materials they use to reflect Evangelical Anabaptist concerns, in the end the decision is made by the leaders. Individual churches and the conference as a whole place a great deal of trust in our leaders’ abilities to discern and sift. We do this within a framework of a shared Statement of Faith and a commitment to work together as a conference. May the Lord guide us well.
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.
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).
“I am distressed beyond all misery. I am poverty-stricken and robbed of my ability to work, all of which I cannot overcome in my lifetime. I have been starved so that I cannot now eat or drink, and my body is broken. How would you like to live for five weeks with only boiled water and unflavoured bread soup? I have been lying in the darkness on straw.
“All of this would not be possible if God had not given me an equal measure of his love. I marvel that I have not become confused or even mad. I would have frozen if the Lord had not strengthened me, for you can well imagine how a little bit of hot water will warm one. In addition to this I have suffered great torture twice from the executioner, who has ruined my hands, unless the Lord heals them. I have had enough of it to the end of my days.
“…Therefore, dear Lords, you will find in me nothing but patience in word and deed. I will obey you till I die and I will obey God till I die. But I will not build on this commandment of men, which is against God, as long as there is breath in me. I will not be a hypocrite, either to curry favour or to avoid suffering, but will seek the truth with all my heart.”
It is difficult to focus on the wretched suffering of early Anabaptists and other Christian martyrs. Imprisoned in horrible conditions, Keller endured much in body and soul.
“Keller was an ordinary man,” says Walter Klaassen, “and the fact that he eventually gave up does nothing to discredit the strength and pathos of his testimony.” Yet with all due respect to Klaassen, there is little evidence that Keller gave up.
True, Andreas said he would obey the authorities, but he persisted in saying he would obey God and he would not build on the commandment of man. He said he did not seek to curry favour or avoid suffering. He preferred not to suffer; so did our Lord (see Luke 22:42).
As others have done and said, I write these words while seated in a comfortable chair near a window providing light, living in a country that offers much in peace and safety, having returned from a lunch where I ate too much. Who am I to condemn Keller as he faced a time and circumstances not experienced by me? If his faith was weak, I wish mine were as strong as his.
Centuries later my sadness comes partly from knowing that both the tortured and the torturer knew the Apostles’ Creed; to that extent, they shared a common faith in Christ. Yet despite that connection, one suffered and another caused it.
With Reformation Sunday (Oct. 28) and the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (Nov. 4) soon behind us, I am saddened by the broken body of Christ, the broken body of Keller, and the body of the Church too often still broken today. The Church is still persecuted and, sometimes, still persecutes.
Source: Walter Klaassen, Anabaptism in Outline (Herald Press, 1981), 86, 93-94.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference