Category Archives: Editorials

Terry Smith: Now that PURE is over, what’s the verdict?

by Terry M. Smith

The CBC six-part drama series PURE, about a Mennonite pastor dealing with drug-running within his congregation, is over. What’s the verdict?

To my Canadian ears of mostly British ancestry, somewhat trained by decades within Mennonite circles, the often poor quality of the German dialects used became jarring. That Rosie Perez’s character has an Irish surname was an odd choice.

For drug lord Eli Voss to say that he turned from God after a drunk driver killed his wife and children does not explain his murderous shift. Voss would be familiar with the Book of Job, the exploration of suffering through a man who faces a similar tragedy and yet emerges with his complex faith tested but intact.

Further, when preacher Noah’s wife Anna says it’s wrong to ask the police for protection, this conflicts with Romans 13 and the Schleitheim Confession (an Anabaptist document of 1527), which say the state is to protect. (See Layton Friesen’s Oct. 2016 article You’re a Pacifist and You Called the Police?)

An ugly part is when Anna resists fleeing and manipulates enforcer Joey into thinking that if he kills his sub-lord brother Gerry, she’d become his wife. After, she says Joey misunderstood and needs to ask for forgiveness. This is an unworthy depiction of a Mennonite preacher’s wife.

Preacher Noah points a handgun at Voss, then lowers it, prepared to let Voss shoot him rather than kill in self-defense. Only when Voss turns to kill the boy Ezekiel does Noah shoot him. The moral dilemma faced by Noah is addressed by EMC minister Jacob Enns in his book The Gentleman (self-published 2012, available at the national office or from the author). Killing a child and killing to protect a child are not on par.

The final scene shows Noah standing in the rain outside the church’s meeting place while his son Isaac is being baptized. (While Noah at times focuses too much on seeing God within each of us, the baptismal service concentrates more aptly on Jesus Christ.) My wife Mary Ann suggests that the rain symbolizes Noah’s need for cleansing—a counterpart to the baptismal service, I propose.

Noah cries as Anna hugs him, then walks away. What does his walking away mean? That he abandons his faith? This is inconsistent with Noah’s character throughout the series.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

More likely, Noah walks away because he feels unworthy before God. Yet he does not throw away the Bible, leaving it to soak in the rain and mud. He keeps it even as he has much to process.

Perhaps Noah will yet learn to further apply the grace of Christ to his own life, the grace he offered even a dying Voss. A more fitting ending would be for the bishop to go outside, walk Noah inside, and then kneel beside him in prayer—observed by Anna, his children, and the congregation.

Terry Smith: The Layers of the EMC

by Terry M. Smith

What is the EMC? “The EMC is a movement of people advancing Christ’s kingdom culture as we live, reach, gather, and teach” (EMC Vision Statement). This is a fine statement.

The EMC is a corporation. The Senate of Canada in 1959 passed an act that lists our name, “head office,” objects [purposes], powers, committees, power to acquire and dispose of properties, and more (check The Constitution).

The EMC is a community of faith; its goal is to serve Christ, not structures. Further, a denomination is “a recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church” (Oxford Dictionary). This fits the EMC.

Does a denomination require a top-down, episcopal (bishop) structure? Not really. For much of its history, though, the KG had bishops.

For a few people to say that the EMC is not a denomination might come from this desire: “You can’t tell us what to do.” However, mutual accountability and discipline have been important to the Anabaptist faith for 500 years and the wider Christian faith for much longer.

Is the EMC a loose fellowship? What then of The Constitution that details our beliefs, practices, expectations, and structures? It lists how churches are to accept the constitution and give “responsible support of resolutions and programs developed together” (20). The General Board can step in when a leader is unfaithful (19) or a church is in trouble (21). The EMC can dismiss a congregation (20). Does this sound loose?

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

The “you” to whom we are accountable? Our sisters and brothers that form EMC churches across Canada under Christ. The EMC’s national meetings, boards, committees, and staff members serve only with authority delegated by the churches, but this does not make the relationships or authority any less real.

Terry Smith: Are You Watching PURE?

by Terry M. Smith

In case you’ve missed it so far, the six-part CBC drama series PURE set in Canada focuses on a Mennonite minister dealing with drug-running within his community.

Some people are concerned that the practices of some Mennonite groups are being confused or inaccurately depicted. Still, pointing out inaccuracies does little to communicate effectively with some non-Mennonites who think Mennonite groups considered “conservative” and “traditional” are confusing and odd. I am content to let others spend their energy on this.

Another concern: Mennonites who deal in drugs—even if, in reality, a tiny group—should stop. The drug trade from Mexico to Canada harms Mennonites and others who are not involved in it. Violence does happen. We should support efforts to reduce the involvement and the violence.

I will watch the entire short series. The central concern of mine, as a minister, is how the series will ultimately portray the Christian faith. Will the series continue an all-too-common Canadian media portrayal of the Christian Church as outdated, powerless, and with morally ambiguous figures? Such a depiction conveniently reinforces values of secular Canadians, and is used to say that the Christian Church has lost the right to call people to conversion.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Will preacher Noah and his family, in the end, give up their faith or will a chastened leader and congregation continue to serve Jesus Christ?

The script is putty in the director’s and producer’s hands, but given that Jesus, the most important figure in human history, rose from the dead after being rejected, the real value of the Christian Church, with its message and its community, is decided by Him.

Terry Smith: Work Together?

by Terry M. Smith

Based on his study of church trends here, Dr. Reg Bibby suggests that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics should work together more in Canada (A New Day, 2012, free download).

Bibby, a professor of sociology at the University of Lethbridge (and a graduate from a Baptist seminary), says, to his surprise, that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have healthy patterns of church attendance in Canada.

Catholic attendance is strong outside of Quebec, and Evangelical churches have grown overall, he says. In contrast, the United, Anglican, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches are in serious decline.

Bibby says that Catholics and Evangelicals are now the major players among churches in Canada.

Do issues remain between Catholics and Evangelicals (including Anabaptists)? Of course. Despite the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church signing a document saying that they agree on the doctrine of justification (1999), I suspect Martin Luther would not have signed it. If asked, I could not sign it now.

Further, workers in other countries describe many nominal Catholics, Catholicism’s being mixed with folk religions, and an unclear message of grace in Catholic circles. These stories must be listened to carefully with discernment.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

In Canada, need we Evangelicals take an antagonistic stance toward Roman Catholicism and Catholics? I will not do so. We can seek common ground where it exists; and as long as the Apostles’ Creed is held and said in genuine belief, it does exist.

Blind cooperation isn’t warranted, but who says we need to be blind to cooperate?

Terry Smith: A History We Stand Upon

by Terry M. Smith

This year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s presentation of his 95 Theses. It was a protest to uphold Christ’s grace within Roman Catholic teaching and practice.

Luther’s protest led to the Protestant Reformation, and, within that, the Radical Reformation. Anabaptists are linked to both parts. That’s why referring to the Protestant (Radical) Reformation illustrates that one is housed within the other. Our indebtedness is to the whole and to the particular.

This year the Lutheran World Federation is celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Also this year the Mennonite World Conference is also starting a multi-year study of the Reformation. In gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ, in 2017 we will celebrate the Protestant (Radical) Reformation through lead articles and vignettes.

Neither Luther nor Menno wanted part of the Christian Church to be named after them. It is enough to be called Christian, a high and holy calling. Sadly, the churches that developed under their leadership would, over centuries, be critical of each other. One would persecute the other.

Remarkably, the Lutheran World Federation recently apologized for the persecution of

Anabaptists by its forebears and Mennonite World Conference responded with forgiveness. It was a time of reconciliation, tears, and joy.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Reflecting on the Church then and now, on both our indebtedness and modern challenges, is complex. The task, with prayer, is necessary.

“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:14-15).

Terry Smith: The In/Visible God

by Terry M. Smith

No innkeeper refused a room to Joseph and Mary. The Greek word for the “inn” (KJV) used by Joseph and Mary in Luke 2:7 is not the same as the “inn” used by the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34 (Dr. John Stafford). The former word can mean lodging or guest-chamber as well as inn; the latter means inn (Mounce and Mounce).

Stafford points out that if people were travelling to a home area, they would stay with family. If the guest room was already full, latecomers would share the space used by animals (K. E. Bailey and others).

What’s this mean? While the “innkeeper” didn’t exist, Jesus was, indeed, born in a humble setting used by animals.

It’s significant that Jesus was born in this setting. God sometimes seems to be invisible; at times, his works can seem difficult to locate and observe. Yet at Christmas we proclaim that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14)—the invisible God became visible!

Jesus is “the human face of God” (J. A. T. Robinson). To say this fully, we affirm Jesus as true God and true man. Augustine said he had read elsewhere of the Word (Logos), but never that “the Word became flesh” until St. John spoke of Jesus. Augustine (AD 354-430) followed our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

“No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). Does this verse say that the invisible God is also revealed by how we Christians live? If so, may we this Advent season help travellers to see the invisible God who became visible.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

For further study, see John Longhurst, “Exonerating that ‘mean old innkeeper,’” Canadian Mennonite (Dec. 21, 2009) and the article it draws upon: K. E. Bailey, “The Manger and the Inn: A Middle Eastern view of the birth story of Jesus,” Presbyterian Record (Dec. 21, 2006). This editorial is indebted to these writings.

Terry Smith: A Clash With Christmas

by Terry M. Smith

While North Korea’s Sept. 9 test of a nuclear weapon was condemned around the world, the focus should be on opposing nuclear weapons, not on who can have them.

It’s curious logic for those countries possessing nuclear weapons to disallow them elsewhere. How likely is it that sanctions and other punishments will help North Korea to feel less isolated and give up a weapon that some others have?

Make no mistake. North Korea should not have, test, or use nuclear weapons; no country should under any circumstances. The use of such weapons involves indiscriminate, long-term harm. It is an offense against God and people made in his image. Nations need to protect themselves, but not in this way.

The use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrific acts. Yes, they shortened World War Two, freed many people in POW camps (including three of my relatives), and prevented more war crimes by Japanese forces. They also spared many Allied and Japanese soldiers who would have died in further ground fighting.

However, the basic purpose of having soldiers is to protect non-combatants.

Something is amiss when civilians are killed to protect soldiers. In this instance, soldiers killed non-combatants, elderly men, women and children, including some Catholics and Protestants.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

No nuclear weapon is so precise that it will not kill civilians; even much smaller missiles, even used in drone strikes, cannot do so.

Nuclear weapons clash with the good news of Christmas.

Terry Smith: Self-determination, Framework

By Terry M. Smith

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.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

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.”

Terry Smith: Loyalty Today

by Terry M. Smith

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?

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

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.