Category Archives: Editorials

Terry Smith: What Are EMCers Concerned About?

by Terry M. Smith

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.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

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?

Terry Smith: Using Google Without Getting Lost

by Terry M. Smith

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?

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

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.

Terry Smith: War and Advent

Terry M. Smith

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.”

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

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.

Advent and the Light of Christ

by Terry M. Smith

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.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

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).

Terry Smith: The Suffering of Andreas Keller, 1536

by Terry M. Smith

“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.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

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.

Terry Smith: 98 Faces Looking Back At Us

by Terry M. Smith

Charitable giving patterns have changed, we’re sometimes told. People now want to give to specific projects they support or to Christian workers whom they know. To want to be involved is positive.

We have every right to know where our money is going, how it is used, and by whom. To know the people, their work, and the differences made are all important. It makes good sense.

But then, for some people, a strange act occurs: they shy away from giving to EMC Missions. They think that giving to EMC Missions is similar to tossing coins into a deep, dark well; the money goes in, but it seems a bit murky and uncertain.

Is this image fair to EMC Missions, its national staff, missionaries from our churches, and our commitment to work together? EMC Missions regularly informs donors, churches, and individuals of its workers, ministries, and finances. You likely know of its many ways:

  • Missions Alerts placed into church bulletins
  • The EMC Day of Prayer
  • EMC Missionary Prayer Calendars
  • Missionary Prayer Corps letters
  • Missions displays and reports at convention and council meetings
  • Reporting in churches by national staff and missionaries
  • Prayer Teams visit missionaries on the field
  • A missions Prayer Ministry led by Beth Koehler
  • Missions reports and staff columns in The Messenger
  • Financial reports in The Messenger, at conference council, at board meetings, in our convention insert, and sent upon request

The EMC has 98 cross-cultural workers in 24 countries serving 115 people groups, according to info provided to Diana Peters. This workforce, serving on our behalf, takes most of our $1.9 million EMC budget. It’s worth it.

Giving to 98 missionaries in 24 countries isn’t tossing coins into a dark well—not when their faces and ministries are shared in EMC circles. Pastors, delegates, and church secretaries are key local sources of information, and even more information is available.

Also, the idea of a well isn’t fair to donors. Some people might glance into a well and see only their image reflected on the water’s surface. No, we want to look deeper.

We want what’s good for others. That’s why we give. And, yes, at times we need help to decide which is a sound ministry and which people are worth supporting.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Isn’t this why 65 years ago EMC churches together formed a mission board with representatives from various regions? It works to discern and decide about people, places, and ministries. Our fields, workers, and impact have multiplied, and your giving has permitted this. Thank you.

Let’s look again at the EM Conference line in our local church’s budget and at the EMC’s annual budget. Do we see 98 faces of missionaries looking back at us, all of whom serve on our behalf and depend on our support?

Terry Smith: The Frightening Task of Preaching

by Terry M. Smith

Preaching is a privilege, a frightening task. By frightening, trembling before God is meant, not a fear of speaking in public.

Jesus said we are judged by our words (Matt. 12:36-37). James said people should be wary of being a teacher because they will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). The Lord can, if he chooses, instantly cut me off from preaching, just as he silenced Zechariah (Luke 1:20).

What compels some people, then, to preach? A good reason, perhaps the best one, is the sense of being called. Preaching is a basic act of being a pastor.

About 40 years ago I skimmed a library book that said a sermon was 40-45 minutes, nearby someone had pencilled in 30-35, and by the time I saw the book sermons seemed shorter. Recently, though, I listened to a sermon about 43 minutes long. There seems to be a trend toward longer sermons in some EMC churches.

My wife Mary Ann, who has heard many preachers, says, “If you can’t say it in 20 minutes, stop trying.” When I mentioned that to a preacher, he responded by saying people’s attention to a TV program is often longer. Yes, but I gently suggest that the sermon isn’t the whole program. The service is.

Where is a sermon often placed within the order of service used within EMC churches? Near the end. Why is this? Donald P. Hustad, an evangelical worship leader, said it’s an inheritance from a revival format: the Word is preached and people are to respond. Some churches, including an EMC church or two, move the sermon toward the middle to enlarge the ways we can respond to the Word within a service. This makes sense to me.

By the way, how good is the preaching of your pastor or pastors? A survey found most pastors saw themselves as above-average preachers (Chris Puhach).

Another question: how does the context or setting affect how we receive preaching? Consider the sermon of Bishop Michael Curry during the wedding of HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Harry is potentially the future King of England and, thereby, the head of the Church of England.

Bishop Curry is African American, and he, as others have said, preached amid the backdrop of England’s having been a colonial power that endorsed slavery. Harry and Meghan sat in the ornate St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, impressive for both its architecture and wealth at a time when the Church of England faces many challenges: a declining attendance, the stress of owning many underused buildings, and many social needs. Such displays of architecture and wealth within any part of the Christian Church both intrigue and disturb me.

Curry is the first African American to be the bishop of the Episcopal Church, the larger U.S. counterpart to the Anglican Church in Canada. Curry is well-educated, warm, articulate, and lively; it’s a wonder that nearby candles didn’t go out as he preached. He supports same-sex marriage and defends it despite the tensions it creates within the wider Anglican Communion. Must Curry and I agree on all points before we agree on any? No.

His 13-minute sermon saw various responses that partly reflected the backgrounds people brought to it. Likewise, from B.C. to southern Ontario, our backgrounds affect how we respond to sermons.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

When we hear a sermon, what do we consider? Content, style, passion, setting, context, length, culture, lifestyle, our reaction?

Reaction? The frightening task of preaching is to continue even where settings are difficult and reactions are mixed: “Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen” (Ezekiel 3:11 TNIV).

Terry Smith: One Lord, Many Needs, and EMC

by Terry M. Smith

Proclaiming Jesus in word and deed: Opposing human trafficking. Assisting refugees. Counselling couples. Providing food. Aiding families living on a garbage dump. Building houses. Helping abused women. Praying. Digging wells. Supporting pregnant teens. Teaching children. Washing clothes. Flipping pancakes. Helping people with HIV/AIDS. Bible translation. Growing food. Gathering in worship. Evangelism. Flying patients and workers. Promoting mental health. Training leaders. Camping with children. Seeking justice. Planting churches. Educating members. Assisting the elderly. Striving for peace. Encouraging youth. In many countries. On six continents.

What do EMCers do? This is part of it!

The EMC has 98 cross-cultural workers in 24 countries serving 115 people groups, according to info provided to Diana Peters. That’s a wide ministry and a fairly high ratio of workers to members. This workforce, serving on our behalf, takes most of our $1.9 million national and international budget. It’s worth it.

In fact, EMCers value cross-cultural work so much that some of us likely give to the same workers in three ways: through the international and national budget, within a local church budget, and by directly giving to workers. And beyond the EMC Board of Missions, churches and individuals support many other workers.

We have, of course, four other boards. These seek to guide the EMC, be responsible stewards, develop and assist our leaders, educate in the faith, and preserve the testimony of past generations. All churches benefit.

EMCers do much. We have many workers—thousands. Missionaries and pastors form only a fraction of them. For instance, what keeps you busy?

We are busy because of Jesus. We exist because the One who is our peace makes us one (Eph. 2:14). Our unity is in Christ: “just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all in and all” (Eph. 4:4-6). This is basic and wonderful.

From this unity in Christ we work together and respond to many needs. Jesus came among us, healed, taught, was killed, buried, raised, and will return. Why? For our healing, reconciliation, wholeness, and safety both individually and together. And not ours only (1 Tim. 2:1-7, 4:9-10; 2 Pet. 3:9).

Yes, we face challenges. The EMC has grown little in membership in 17 years and our budget faces stress. When our membership does not increase and our budget is reduced, our ministries are affected and some people are not helped. In Canada, some of our churches are hurting and more churches are needed.

What does the Great Commission include? We’re to go, make disciples, baptize (Matt. 28:18-20)—and what else? Teach believers to “obey everything” Jesus has commanded. Our Lord’s words and example reveal that our calling as Christians is many-sided (Luke 4:17-19, Matt. 23:13-25).

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

The good news is many-sided. We are called to faith in Christ shown in discipleship, community, evangelism, charity, justice, peace, stewardship, creation care, and much more. Body and soul, individual and community, “spiritual” and social—we are not, ultimately, called to choose between them for ourselves or others (Micah 6:8; Luke 4:16-21; John 1:14; James 2:5-7, 14-17; James 5:1-6).

As Christians we have a many-sided calling as local as next door and as wide as the world. We serve one Lord, respond to many needs, and Every Ministry Counts (EMC).

Terry Smith: Silence Does Not Fit Francis I

by Terry M. Smith

It is disappointing that Francis I, whom we respect, will not yet apologize to Indigenous peoples in Canada for the residential school legacy. This does not sound like the worldwide pastor that he is. Perhaps legal reasons posed by the Curia, the Vatican’s administration, are behind this unfortunate abundance of caution.

It’s a tremendous expression of grace by many Indigenous people across Canada that they remain Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, United Church, and members of many other parts of Christ’s Church—despite the residential school history of isolation, indoctrination, and abuse. It’s a work of the Spirit that’s seen ultimately not because of the residential school system, but despite its inner decay and collapse.

Francis I could have said that children should not have been taken from their parents and communities or abused physically, mentally, sexually, culturally, and spiritually. That the Church and government erred in their process of assimilation. That the Church erred in its missionary strategy. That God was present and working among Indigenous peoples before missionaries arrived.

He could have said that Jesus gets angry when his disciples interfere with young children coming to him (Mark 10:13-16). That leaders deserve rebuke when they shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces or ignore “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:13, 23).

What Francis I need not apologize for is the Gospel itself. It remains Good News needed by all peoples of the world (John 3:16, 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:3-6). The relationship between Christianity and other religions in the world, though, isn’t a simple one. That’s an error of the past. If we are to give Christ his proper due, the relationship is to be recognized as complex. It’s reflected in natural and special revelation, in common and special grace (see, for instance, Acts 14:11-18, 17:22-31; Rom. 1:20). A few words here are not enough.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Francis I’s silence, and its communication by Catholic bishops, will be hurtful to Indigenous Catholics across Canada, and it will affect how the Christian Church as a whole is perceived in our country. His silence is ironic given that his recent Easter message included concerns for justice and that people live in dignity.

It need not surprise us if we hear from him yet.