Category Archives: Features

Proposed Statement of Faith receives high support

by Terry M. Smith

ROSENORT, Man.—The EMC’s ministerial voted on Nov. 26, 2016, in strong support of the revised draft Statement of Faith; heard reflections in suffering by David Funk; and ended with a time of prayer.

Opening

Ministerial members were welcomed by host pastor Brian McGuffin (RFC), who led in a devotional based on Psalm 27:1-4. Our response to fear is to place our hope in someone who is not fleeting, Jesus Christ, he said. We need to keep our core identity in Christ and serve him whatever happens.

Outline of History

Alvin Plett, vice chair of the Board of Leadership and Outreach (BLO), outlined the lengthy process of consulting churches that led to this moment: churches studied the 1996 Statement of Faith and responded with revisions; in early 2016 a first draft of a revised edition was sent to churches and they studied it; in July 2016 comments were recorded and a second draft was later sent to churches.

Churches were invited to read their responses to the second draft, and the committee was to respond to clarify matters. On who could vote, the constitution’s wording was somewhat ambiguous, Plett said, but to restrict it to processed leaders would not allow some churches to vote. The BLO decided that churches should decide who could vote on their behalf.

If an article in the proposed statement received support of 80 percent or more, it is finished, he said; if less than that, further revision was needed. The desire is that the statement will be written in such a way to work together. 

Churches Respond

Fourteen churches provided written responses. Depending on their length, responses by up to three churches were read at one time.

The themes that emerged were an appreciation for the committee’s work, support for the revised statement, and suggestions on changes. Dr. Darryl Klassen (Kleefeld), chair of the Statement of Faith Review Committee, and committee members Ward Parkinson (Rosenort EMC) and Henry Friesen (ConneXion) listened to responses and provided clarifications.

When one church, Steinbach EFC, responded with lengthy suggestions, these were considered useful, but better to have been received earlier and difficult to incorporate at this stage.

One minister asked, is this the final vote? If an article receives 80 percent support, it is, the vice chair responded; beyond that, options exist. Tim Dyck, General Secretary, clarified that because the Statement of Faith is part of the EMC’s constitution, the conference council oversees any change to the constitution. The Constitution requires a gap of time between churches being notified of a proposed constitutional change and the vote for change. The revised Statement of Faith likely will not be approved till Nov. 2017, he said.

There was a time of prayer before voting. The ministerial was then asked to vote on each individual article and, additionally, on whether footwashing should be moved to the Church Practices section.

Ralph Unger

While the votes were being counted, Alvin Plett introduced Ralph Unger as the EMC’s interim part-time conference pastor. With 40 years of experience in pastoral ministry in and beyond the EMC, and service as EMC moderator, Unger brings a rich background. The search continues for a conference pastor, Plett said.

Ken Zacharias

Ken Zacharias, EMC Foreign Secretary, reported that he and Fred Buhler spent two and a half weeks visiting churches and leaders in Paraguay. Zacharias oversees EMC Missions’ work in Bolivia, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Mexico. Buhler is the EMC Board of Missions chair, and has served as a missionary in Paraguay.

Prayer was requested for Judy and Dave Schmidt; Judy has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Ken said that ministries in Paraguay carry on, though they look a bit different after responsibilities were transferred to national workers.

Zacharias said that evangelicals form a small part of Paraguay’s population (five to seven percent), but he anticipates much growth in the next decade. One church has six outreach points, he said. Pray for the missions staff in Paraguay, who are doing well and are encouraged.

Charles Koop

Charles Koop, church planting coordinator, said that God is working overseas and in Canada. Why are we a conference? he asked. It is so more people become part of the Kingdom of God. The EMC is interested in urban church planting and has become a partner with the urban church-planting resource C2C.

He outlined some recent activities: a Chinese church is connected with Fort Garry EMC; an outreach is happening in Ste. Agathe, Man.; Living Faith Fellowship in Two Hills, Alta., has a pastoral couple; and the presence of immigrants is an opportunity for believers.

The Church Planting Task Force has two problems: the need for money and people to start a ministry. Kingdom building is what it’s all about. We hope to get in on what God is doing, Koop said.

Voting Results

The results of voting showed strong support for the proposed Statement of Faith. Only one article, on God the Spirit, received less than 80 percent; and 75 percent voted to move Footwashing to the Church Practices section. These two matters will be addressed. On the God the Spirit section, concerns had been expressed that it moved away from “He” language and did not explicitly mention gifts and fruits.

Belief Amid Suffering

David Funk (Fort Garry) was asked to present “A Theology of Suffering,” but he said that implies he has it figured out, which he doesn’t; but he could talk of Christian belief in the midst of suffering.

He and his wife Kendra have four children—Ethan, Abigail, Rachel, and Elijah—but only two are alive.

Rachel Amariah, when about 14 months old, died from congenital problems in 2011. What is it like to carry a baby that you know will die? Only a mother who has done so knows, he said. They decided to have another child. A few days after his birth in 2014, Elijah Cohen suffered mini-strokes; life supports were removed shortly afterward.

David has a deep respect for his wife Kendra. They have struggled with grief, trauma, guilt, and spiritual crisis. David said that the prayers of lament in Scripture allow his faith to survive.

Only through the Cross do we come to know God. The lament psalms are intended for public use, and teach us that the path to doxology is through the truth of what life is like. To exile lament is to exile those who suffer, he said.

In walking with those who suffer, be a humble learner. Their church’s absorbing some of the cost of their grief has allowed them to survive spiritually, emotionally, in marriage, and as a family. “Compassionate presence” allows a hurting person to be honest about their pain and to hurt our hearts too—beyond detached caring, he said.

The ministerial then gathered in the basement, discussing in small groups how to walk in suffering and with those who suffer.

Prayer Time

A time of prayer followed. Among the items shared were for the interim conference

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

pastor, the church in Brandon, a former conference pastor now older and in ill health, for the congregation at Two Hills, and for the ministries of Fort Garry and Rosenort EMC.About 4 p.m. Barry Plett (Blumenort) led in a prayer of blessing as the meeting ended.

Statement of Faith voting results

Articles

Yes

No

Percentage of 68 votes

The Bible

63

4

93%

God

62

5

91%

God the Father

64

3

94%

God the Son

61

6

90%

God the Spirit

52

14

76%

The Creation

58

9

85%

The Dignity of Human Beings

63

4

93%

The Fall of the Human Race

65

2

96%

Satan

67

0

99%

Salvation

55

12

81%

Discipleship

66

1

97%

The Life of Peace

61

6

90%

The Church

63

4

93%

The Ordinances

66

0

97%

Believer’s Water Baptism

65

2

96%

The Lord’s Supper

67

0

99%

Footwashing

59(87%)

3

51(75%)

The Resurrection

62

5

91%

The Return and Final Triumph of Christ

61

6

90%

Using the Apostles’ Creed in Worship

by Kimberly Muehling and Paul Walker

For the past year the EMC community has gathered through The Messenger to think about the Apostles’ Creed—a great time of grounding ourselves in the core beliefs of the Christian faith. Now, how can we use the Apostles’ Creed as a resource for our churches and apply it in our individual lives?

We need to do the hard work of applying what we learn to our lives. As James reminds us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says(James 1:22).

In this article you will hopefully find both inspiring and useful ideas, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Let us all know what you are doing in your churches!

Ideas for the Worship Service

Spoken Confession

Consider adding a congregational confession of the Apostles’ Creed to your worship service. Historically, many Christian churches have recited the Apostles’ Creed as a regular part of the weekly worship service. Other churches confess the Apostles’ Creed monthly, quarterly, or during a special service. We recommend finding a practice that works best for your local context.

Recitation during a service can be an effective way to notice the many different voices in your congregation. Instead of always reciting the Apostles’ Creed together, ask an individual, family, or group to recite it for the rest of the congregation. If you have multiple languages in your church, this would be a great time to hear them. Ask a child or a senior to share.

In Song

Another way of incorporating the Creed into a worship service is to sing it. There are a few versions of the Creed put to music such as This I believe (The Creed) by Hillsong and We Believe by the Newsboys.  There are a plethora of songs that encompass the various aspects of the Creed.  A service could be divided into sections, each with part of the creed recited and then sung. Alternatively, an entire series of services could be devoted to the Creed, each Sunday focusing on a section.

In Prayer

The Apostles’ Creed lends itself naturally to corporate prayer. As confessional prayer: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty. Father, we confess that we are disobedient children. Help us to trust You and lean on Your everlasting arms.” Or pastoral prayer: “Come again to judge the living and the dead. God, we pray that people would come to know You. We believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints. Father, we pray for the global church….” Silence and reflection between the Creed and corresponding prayer would be particularly useful.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Ideas for Church Life

Sermon Series/ Curriculum

The earliest Anabaptists would frequently structure their teachings and discipleship efforts around the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed expressed and represented the essence of Christian faith and doctrine. It was not uncommon for many early Anabaptists to memorize the Apostles’ Creed by heart.

What if we returned to our historic roots and began to use the Apostles’ Creed as a resource once again for our churches? Pastors, are you looking for sermon material? Consider using the Apostles’ Creed for your next sermon series! It is a great resource for laying out the story, unity, coherence, and major themes of the Christian faith.

Sunday School teachers, why not spend twelve weeks unpacking each section of the Creed? A great resource for commentary would be our recent Messenger series. The magazine’s articles could be read out loud and then discussed in small groups in an older classroom setting.

Is your church planning a retreat weekend? The Apostles’ Creed could be a great resource for a weekend of study and reflection.

Art/ Prayer Room

Do you have a talented artist in your midst? Ask them to create a series of works (be it paintings, dance, song) around the Creed to share with the congregation in a service, around the church building, or on a special evening or weekend.

Art inspired by one or various sections of the Creed could be used in a prayer room to create stations for specific contemplation and worship. This is a great way to again encourage your less vocal congregants to get involved and share their gifts with the wider church body.

Teach the Children

Few things are as silly and delightful in church as children’s worship time. Teaching the Creed to our children is important in so many ways. Sunday School fills their heads with stories, but rarely are they taught the foundational truths of our faith in clear language. Speak it together, but also explain what it is we are saying. 

Teach your older elementary and teens the theological terms (i.e., theories of atonement) so that they can enjoy sounding impressive! We do not have a catechism, but the Creed can function in a similar way and help children to understand what we agree about amidst all that we so enjoy debating.

Make it fun! Who knew the Creed could be a rap? Or recited in a variety of silly voices? Have the children create art or skits to share with the congregation. It is so important that our children contribute to our regular church life.

Individual Walk

Bible Study

Putting the articles from the last year away; write your own. This could be done individually or in a small Bible study setting. Grab your Bible, a handy concordance (there are lots online), and get to work! What passages of Scripture back up the various parts of the Creed? What does God show us about Himself in these passages? “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).

Memorization

God commanded the ancient Israelites to plant the Torah in both their hearts and their minds. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut.11:18-20).

Even now, Christians in many parts of the world where the Bible is restricted still rely on memorizing great swaths of Scripture. Here in the West, we can pull up BibleGateway or grab Strong’s Concordance anytime we are looking for a verse, but that does not help God’s words to grow and bloom in our hearts.

While the Creed is not Scripture, it is useful to memorize as a guide to the Scriptures.  Go further and memorize verses to correspond to each section of the Creed.  If we are to be deeply rooted, we must put the words of God and the tenets of our faith not only on our laptops, but also in our hearts.

Closing Thoughts

The Apostles’ Creed is perfectly designed for use in a congregational worship setting. The early church would often confess the Apostles’ Creed together before receiving communion, administering baptism, or as a public act of worship. This helped the church articulate and confess the faith once delivered.

To confess the Creed together with fellow believers is more than just mindlessly reciting a list of dusty facts. It becomes an act of worship when it is connected to loving God with our heart, soul, mind, strength, and loving our neighbours as ourselves. A worshipful use of the Creed should connect to the deepest part of our being and the heart of the Almighty God.

kim-muehling
Kimberly Muehling

We, as the Worship Committee of the EMC, pray that the Apostles’ Creed will become a

great resource to help enrich your local church in the years to come!

Kimberly Muehling (Fort Garry) and Pastor Paul Walker (Roseisle) serve on the EMC Worship Committee under the authority of the Board of Church Ministries. Jessica Wichers (EFC Steinbach) is the committee’s third member.

Paul Walker
Paul Walker

Dr. Ed Neufeld: Jesus, Tempted Like Us

by Dr. Ed Neufeld

Temptation. Eve wanted the fruit; it was a delight to the eyes and desirable, and so she ate it. Raging Cain wanted to kill his brother and, in spite of God’s warning, he did so. The infuriating herders twice took wells that Isaac dug, but instead of quarrelling he moved again and dug a third well.

Young Joseph must have wanted Potiphar’s wife, but ran away. Eve and Cain failed; Isaac and Joseph did well. Either way, these Genesis stories make sense to us. Did Jesus get it in the same way we do? Yes, according to Hebrews.

A Claim That Looks Back

We know that the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, at the beginning of his ministry, and we know that in Gethsemane it was a fight for Jesus to obey the Father and go to the cross. The stories assume that he was tempted as we are, that he could have sinned but he didn’t. He was sinless, but that claim always looks back on his life.

If Gospel writers understood Jesus to be tempted differently than the rest of us, would they not have said so? These stories describe normal human temptation, only Jesus kept choosing like Isaac and Joseph, not like Eve and Cain.

Perhaps we don’t want Jesus to experience temptation as we do, because in our minds this threatens his deity and perfect glory. By “in our minds” I mean “devout Christian logic.” But what happens when our devout Christian logic opposes clear biblical teaching? Hebrews 1:1-4 announces the glorious deity of the Son, yet Hebrews also claims that concerning temptation, Jesus was made just like us, tempted like us, and felt weak like us. The Scriptures praise Jesus because he was weak but did not sin, not because he was strong and could not sin.

Near the end of Hebrews 2 we read that in every way Jesus had to be made like his brothers and sisters, so he could be a merciful priest and make atonement for us. He suffered when he was tempted, so he could help others when they are tempted. This is about motivation, about sympathy.

Jesus had to be made like us in all ways, specifically in the matter of temptation, so he would be motivated to be the best possible high priest. This requires Jesus saying to himself something like this: “Temptation is fierce, worse than I thought. I had no idea. No wonder they sin. I’ve got to help them.” Later we’ll read that Jesus’ temptations made him sympathetic to us, which means Jesus had to be feeling and thinking something like this.

A High Priest With Sympathy

Near the end of Hebrews 4 the writer comes back to Jesus’ sympathy. Our high priest can sympathize with our weakness because he has been tempted in every way, just like us, yet did not sin. Three things are crucial. One, he’s been tempted in all ways, as we are tempted. Not only was he made like us in every way, he’s been tempted like us in every way.

Two, he was weak. Mark 1 says Jesus was tempted for 40 days, then angels came to help him. Imagine weak Jesus saying to them, “That was too close. I would not have lasted two more days without sinning.” Three, sympathy for us because he knows about our weakness in temptation.

In Hebrews 5:2 the writer says that every high priest can deal gently with the ignorant and wandering, since the priest himself has weaknesses. A few verses later he deliberately includes Jesus in this. Since Jesus did not sin, we assume strength in the face of temptation, but Hebrews will have none of that. When Joseph fled Potiphar’s wife, did he feel strong? Probably not. Neither did Jesus.

A Brief Theological Detour

What about our sinful nature, our fallen nature? Did Jesus have that? Theologians debate about what fallen nature means exactly, and we will ignore that debate. Humans, left to their own nature, all join in the rebellion against God, and invariably need redemption. Let us leave it at that. I was taught that Jesus was born of a virgin to escape our fallen nature, but the virgin birth stories make no such claim, nor does any other New Testament text.

Following some of the early church fathers, T. F. Torrance holds that Jesus had the same fallen nature we all havehe had to assume it in order to redeem it. This violates my particular church tradition, but lines up nicely with how the NT describes Jesus’ temptations.

If Jesus had a different human nature than we do, then either (1) the writer of Hebrews had no knowledge of this, or (2) he deliberately misled us. Neither explanation is acceptable. Hebrews says Jesus was made like us and tempted like us, period. Yet I affirm, as did the church fathers, that Jesus was sinless.

Knows Weakness?

Could Jesus know weakness if he never sinned? James 3 says we all sin in many ways, and I am decidedly in that camp. But sometimes I do not sin. I have had strong temptations where I was close to sinning, closer to “yes” than “no,” but before I could say “yes” the temptation went away. Afterward I felt not proud or strong, but weak and frightened. “How did I get so close?” If Hebrews is true (and it is), this must also have happened to Jesus.

I have decided to do something that would almost certainly have produced sin, and begun to act, and then circumstances blocked me, my car wouldn’t start or the phone rang. Later I wondered, “What was I thinking? How could I have been so foolish?” Jesus, too?

I have at different times lived with the same temptation almost daily for many weeks and months on end. I was determined not to sin, and did not. But it was tiring and discouraging because this vile thing pulled at me and distracted me every day. What was wrong with me, that I could not just walk away? I wished it would leave, but it didn’t. Jesus, too?   

I sin in many ways; I’m just telling you stories where I did not. You each have a collection of such stories. Jesus was made like us in all ways, tempted like us in all ways, yet never sinned. He was weak in these episodes, stretched and desperate, and feels sorry for us. Jesus has many stories like ours.

Approach God

In Hebrews this results in one clear call: Approach God. Don’t avoid God because of sin. Come boldly to the throne of grace. Draw near, enter, come close, because of Jesus the Priest.

The worst thing we can do is stay away from God. When we stand before him, ignorant and misguided, weak and sinful, the Great Priest stands beside us and says: “Father, I was too close to this myself. Many times. It is a horrible fight. No wonder they sin. Remember my sacrifice. I ask mercy and helping grace for this child.”

The Father, with love for the Son and for us, says to us: “I’m pleased you came. I will help.

ed_neufeld1
Dr. Ed Neufeld

Stay awhile, or go in peace with my mercy and grace.”

Dr. Ed Neufeld is a professor of biblical studies at Providence Theological Seminary and pastor of Kleefeld Christian Community, a part of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada. He is also the speaker at SBC’s Leadership Conference on March 17-18, 2017.

Terry Smith: Our Reformation Heritage, Protestant and Radical

by Terry M. Smith

The Protestant Reformers and the Radical Reformation sought to reform the sixteenth-century Christian Church in Europe and then, when it could not be changed to their satisfaction, to re-establish the Church by a return to first century truths.

Dr. Harold S. Bender defined The Anabaptist Vision as discipleship, community, and the way of peace, but he knew more than this was believed. He said that Mennonites “stood on a platform of conservative evangelicalism in theology, being thoroughly orthodox in the great fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith….”

Protestant Reformation

Before we discuss Anabaptist distinctives,  let’s consider our common Protestant Reformation heritage. Here are some key figures and their teachings.

Peter Waldo (ca. 1140-1205) in France spoke against transubstantiation and purgatory. He promoted simplicity, poverty, universal priesthood, lay preaching, and preaching in the common tongue. He oversaw the translation of the New Testament into Arpitan.

John Wycliffe (ca. 1328-1384) in England spoke against wealth of the church and papal interference in political life. The Scriptures are the only law of the Church. The Church is centred in people, not in the Pope and cardinals. Scripture is to be in people’s common language. He translated the New Testament into English.

John Huss (ca. 1373-1415) of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) said the true head of Church is Christ, not the Pope. Our law is the New Testament. Life is to be Christ-like poverty. The Pope has no right to use physical force. Money payments gain no true forgiveness. The cup is to be administered to the laity.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) of Germany said salvation is a free gift based on the God’s grace received by faith and from this obedience flows. Our final appeal is the Scriptures. All believers are priests. Marriage of clergy is permitted. The Lord’s Supper is no sacrifice to God. Pilgrimages are worthless as human efforts of merit.  He translated the Bible into German.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) in Switzerland said that the Scriptures are the sole authority of faith and practice. The death of Christ is the only price of forgiveness. Only the Bible is binding on Christians. Salvation is by faith. The mass is not a sacrifice. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial, not a sacrament. Christ is the sole head of Church.

John Calvin (1509-1564) of France and Switzerland said the mass empties the death of Christ of its virtue. The traffic in masses must stop. There should be no worship of images. Indulgences are disloyal to the cross of Christ. All obedience is to be tested against the Word. The Protestant Church is a renewal of the ancient Church.

The Five Onlys

Summarized, we have the Five Onlys (Solas):

Scripture Only! (Sola Scriptura!)

Faith Only! (Sola Fide!)

Grace Only! (Sola Gratia!)

Christ Only! (Sola Christus!)

God’s Glory Only! (Sola Deo Gloria!)

The Radical Reformation

On Jan. 17, 1525, the Protestant reform in Zurich was slowed by Zwingli’s bowing to the pace of the city-state’s council. The council ordered that children were to be brought forward to be baptized or their parents would be banished from the city-state. In rejection of this decree, on Jan. 21, 1525, the first believer baptisms took place at the home of Felix Manz.

Anabaptist Distinctives

In addition to many of the above views, the early Anabaptists held key beliefs. While they might not appear unique today, some were at the time.

Believer Baptism – Baptism is upon a person’s confession of faith. It’s an act of visible commitment, of community, of open identification with Christ and his Church.

Believers Church Membership – The Church is composed of converts. The Church is a voluntary, visible community. Some Reformers, being uncertain of who were true believers, spoke of the invisible Church. Anabaptists emphasized the visible Church, the need to live our faith together with other believers.

Discipleship – Genuine faith in Christ follows. Discipleship is a sign of being a Christian, of salvation. Faith in Christ is to be an active faith. Discipleship is faith in action.

Covenant Community — The Church is to display koinonia,”that which is held in common.” It is a shared life. Discipleship is to be lived together. This is Christ’s intention in recreating humanity together.

Christ, the Centre of Scripture – The Bible is to be interpreted and applied through the coming and teaching of Christ, its centre.  For instance, the wars in the Old Testament are to be interpreted through Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

Priesthood of all Believers – There is one mediator between God and man, Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). Gone are the intercessions of Mary and of saints, the mediating powers of the priest and Pope. Access to Christ is direct, without human intercession (Heb. 4:14-16). There’s a rediscovery of the laity, the people of God, who have a common task and dignity.

Separation of Church and State – The Church is not to use the state to enforce beliefs and to limit reform. The state is not to dictate to the Church what it can believe and practice.

Religious Toleration – People with wrong beliefs are not to be killed, but allowed to live. Anabaptists were not the only early voice for religious freedom (toleration), but they were a major one.

Non-violence – The Church is to challenge an uncritical view of the state and its use of force. Most early Anabaptists objected to a Christian being a soldier, a police officer, to personal defense, to war, to being a judge or an executioner.  They held that Christians are to flee, persuade, or die, but not to fight.

Non-swearing of Oaths – Loyalty is to be given ultimately to Christ. They rejected swearing an oath of obedience to the state, which upset the authorities. In a narrower sense, Christ forbids the swearing of oaths (Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12), while calling Christians to truth telling in court and elsewhere. This is called integrity of speech.

Separation from the World – In the 16th century, non-conformity was based on an understanding of Christ and what it meant to follow him. It wasn’t decided by ethnic culture, language, dress (other than modesty), or food. It was reflected in beliefs, values, and actions.

Church Discipline – Discipline is a part of discipleship and of the shared life. Opposed to deadly forms of discipline, Anabaptists were devoted to discipline within regular congregational life. They influenced magisterial Protestant Reformers (the ones supported by the state) in this.

Great Commission – Evangelism and missions remain a task for the current generation. They emphasized this more than most Protestant Reformers. When Anabaptist leaders gathered in Augsburg in 1527, they divided Europe into fields for evangelism. Hutterian missioners went out in pairs; many were killed for their efforts.

Anything in Common?

Dr. Alfred Neufeld, a leader within the Mennonite World Conference, asks, “After 500 years it is time for us to ask the challenging question: Do we still have anything in common with the founding mothers and fathers of the Anabaptist church? Should we? Can we?”

For what is the Anabaptist-Mennonite Church known in Canada? Being a Christian is to be

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

shown in action, not a claim apart from how we live. If a Scripture-centred focus in life is learned from 16th-century Anabaptists-Mennonites, our response is revealed by what we do.

Terry M. Smith is executive secretary to the Board of Church Ministries. The Messenger will explore, as a BCM project, the Protestant (Radical) Reformation through 2017.  The project coincides with the start of Review 2027, Mennonite World Conference’s decade-long study of the Radical Reformation, which is indebted to the wider Reformation.

Resources

Bainton, R. H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Mentor, 1950.

Dyck, C. J., ed. An Introduction to Mennonite History. Herald Press, third ed., 1993.

Fosdick, H. E. Great Voices of the Reformation: an Anthology. Random House, 1952.

Hillerbrand, H. J., ed. The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants. Baker, reprinted 1987.

Loewen, H. and S. M. Nolt. Through Fire and Water: An Overview of Mennonite History. Herald Press, rev. 2010.

Mennonite World Conference. Shared Convictions (MWC, 2006). Note: This statement was later adopted by MCC.

[Sattler, Michael.] The Schleitheim Confession. Herald Press, 1977.

Verduin, L. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Eerdmans, 1964.

Dylan Barkman: As We Gather For Life-Changing Experiences

by Pastor Dylan Barkman

Convention 2016

Please open your Bible and refer to Rev. 3:14-22 to the Church in Laodicea. Notice that in verse 14, this “evaluation” or “report card” is not written to unbelievers; it is written to the Church, arguably a group of people that already ought to be “advancing Christ’s kingdom culture”!

In verses 15-16 Jesus judges their deeds as “lukewarm” and as a result is about to spit them out of His mouth!

Lukewarm

Consider what “lukewarm” refers to in terms of a hot tub. We naturally consider the water to be hot. However, hot water is 100oC and cold water is 1C.  We enjoy sitting in water around 38ƒ, which is “lukewarm” in comparison to hot or cold water. The effect of this “lukewarm” water puts us in a place where we are content, relaxed, exert little effort, want for nothing, and desire to stay that way forever, nearly asleep.

This attitude in the Church infuriates Jesus (the Ultimate Judge, 1 Tim. 4:1), who is about to “spit them out” as a result.

Jesus quotes them as saying, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” They were wealthy and tempted to look to their wealth as their source of strength.  Like them, we are likely the richest generation of Christians to date, proved by our abundance of “toys” and “wants.” And whether we admit it or not, we take pride in our wealth even as a conference.   

In verses 17-18 Jesus says, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

We will understand what “the gold refined in the fire” is once we see the five steps Jesus lays out for us.

Repent!

The first step is “be earnest and repent.” Because this letter is written to the gathered church it begs the question, “Does your church, or the conference, have something in place where people can intentionally repent and deal with sin?” 

Truthfully, many churches assume people deal with all their sin on their own, when what typically happens is that we get really good at sweeping certain sins under the rug and still present ourselves as “good Christians” on Sunday morning. The weight of unconfessed sin just feels normal. Yikes!

Then in verse 20 Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Remember Jesus is speaking to a movement of people that ought to be advancing His kingdom culture! However, the obvious question is, “What is Jesus doing outside of the door of the Church?”

To answer that question, consider the following diagram. The circle represents your life. In your life is a throne on which whatever is “Lord” or “King” of your life sits. Before receiving Christ, your life is ruled by “self” and Jesus is not part of your life. At the time when you accept Jesus as Lord of your life through faith, He becomes ruler of your life. He is truly Lord and King and you no longer are number one in your life. This is as it should be.

Frightfully, for the rest of our lives, unless we are intentional about keeping Jesus as Lord, our selfish tendencies kick in and we drift back onto the throne. Although Jesus is still in our lives, He no longer has true function as the actual Lord of our life. As Jesus’ own analogy goes, He is still nearby; however, He is on the wrong side of the door.

What is it that competes with Jesus as being the true Lord or King of our churches and our conference? It does not have to be obvious sins like pornography or alcoholism that replace Him as Lord. It can be subtle things like a focus on money, intellect, education or tradition. Ultimately anything at all, even good things, that replaces Him as the true King and Lord is rebellion against God and sinful.

Hear His Voice!

Jesus is the one who knows the correct answer to this question, which is why we need to listen to Him in prayer. In other words, we need to “hear His voice,” which according to verse 20 is step two.

If we do not follow through with step one “earnest repentance,” we will not make it to step two “hear His voice” (see Ezekiel 12:1-2). Rebellion against God (unconfessed sin) is the reason for not being able to hear even though we have ears to hear!

It should also be noted that just because Jesus is omnipresent, it doesn’t mean that hearing His voice is inescapable. Consider Elijah’s experience in 1 Kings 19:11-12. The Lord was not in inescapable things like the wind, earthquake or fire. Rather, the Lord came as a gentle whisper, which is easy to escape. In fact, one has to be intentional in order to hear it.

Open the Door

This leads us to the third step: “Open the door.” Like the Laodiceans, it is alarming that a barrier (the closed door) has come between us and Jesus. Something we have control over, like resistance to His Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10, Acts 7:51, Eph. 4:30, 1 Thess. 5:19) prevents us from experiencing the presence of Jesus.

We Open the Door

The Holy Spirit is God and convicts us of sin. He is gentle, good, gives good gifts, and is a deposit guaranteeing what is yet to come (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5; Eph. 1:14). If we justify resisting the Holy Spirit, who lives inside us, we believe a lie. The truth is that everything that the Holy Spirit has for us is for our benefit, and, therefore, we should welcome Him with open arms.

Or as in the analogy of Jesus outside the door, in order for the fourth step (Jesus’ “coming in”) to occur, the responsibility lies with us to “open the door”! Jesus doesn’t force his way in.

Experience Intimacy

The fifth step is to experience a personal, intimate, two way communicative relationship with Jesus, as though you were sitting down to a meal of your choice with Him in person.  This is what it means to truly know Jesus, which is very different than just knowing about Jesus (Matt. 7:21-23)!

The presence of Jesus is the “gold refined in the fire” (v. 18) because it is the presence of Jesus that:

• We can only get from Jesus.

• Cannot be purchased with money, but will make us truly rich.

• When we experience it, it will take away our shame unlike clothes that only mask our shame.

• Will be far more satisfying than anything our fat bank accounts can ever buy because it will open our eyes to His truth.

• Is something that we can expect to be in Heaven! (And is actually what makes Heaven great anyway!)

The communication (prayer) that our churches and conference have with Jesus should reflect this kind of personal and real relationship with Him.

When we take these five steps, our conference will be victorious (vv. 21-22).

Dylan Barkman
Dylan Barkman

Dylan Barkman is the teaching pastor of Pansy Chapel in S.E. Manitoba. This article is adapted from his Convention 2016 message shared on Sunday morning, July 3.

David Thiessen: The Apostles’ Creed, Life Everlasting

by David Thiessen

The Apostles’ Creed Through 2016

I believe . . . in life everlasting.” The present Christian Church is waiting for the realization of our future hope, or are we?

The book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament Scriptures encourages us to be a people who wait. In Hab. 2:3 it says, “For the revelation waits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”

I believe the Lord is speaking to Habakkuk about “life everlasting.” It is arriving, but it has not arrived yet! So we wait.

How do we speak of something that is not here yet? Perhaps little, and certainly not in terms of rigid dogma. We should think and speak with some caution, seeking to keep an open mind. We need to continue a careful reading of Scripture and not jump to quick conclusions—especially since the conclusion is not here yet!

But “life everlasting” has begun. We speak of it in the words of George Eldon Ladd as “inaugurated eschatology.” However, what we have so far is only the beginning, as important as that is (Luke 4:16-21).

I want to write about this eternal life in terms of New Testament teaching on a new heaven and a new earth. I will make reference to a number of texts and make comments on each one.

I also want to acknowledge the writings of N. T. Wright and J. Richard Middleton. They have been instrumental in awaking in me the anticipation of “life everlasting.”

Revelation 21:1-5

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

This passage speaks about what is known as the final state. The disappearance of the sea suggests the removal of evil and its influence. The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is the post-resurrection Church, the bride of Christ, coming down out of heaven to the earth.

God himself will be with the people. Death, mourning, tears, and pain have passed away, along with the old order of things. Everything is being made new.

Acts 3:19-21

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

Here is Peter, shortly after Pentecost, preaching the good news of Jesus. The recently ascended Christ must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything. Here, “life everlasting” is about the restoration of “everything.”

Ephesians 1:9-10

And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

Here in this amazing salvation text, beginning in verse three, Paul says some of the most startling words in the New Testament. God will bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! Salvation involves the task of unifying everything that has been fragmented or alienated, thereby bringing oneness and wholeness and healing! How comprehensive is that?!

This is the nature of “life everlasting.”

Colossians 1:19-20

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Paul does not limit the efficacy of Christ’s atonement to humanity. It speaks of peacemaking and reconciliation as all inclusive as possible in heaven and on earth!

2 Peter 3:10-13

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

The text has the language of judgment and fire. But notice “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” It seems the fire will have a cleansing or purifying purpose. This suggests that the new heaven and new earth refer to renewal and restoration, rather than replacement and starting again from scratch. I think the language of destruction does not apply to the creation, but to the judgment of sin.

Romans 8:19-23

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Here we have the imagery of labour pains in childbirth and the imagery of the Israelites groaning in the slavery under Pharaoh. These images are applied to the human condition, but moving well beyond that to the entire created order.

This is creation itself experiencing the liberation and freedom from the bondage brought on by the sin and rebellion of sinful humanity. It’s another salvation story of God, repairing what was broken in all creation, along with the redemption of the children of God.

Since the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2, followed by the heartbreaking results of human sin and autonomy in chapters 3 and following, it has always been God’s intention, motivated by His matchless love and mercy, to see heaven and earth come together, so that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven!  This is the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced at His first coming and it will be fulfilled and completed when He returns!

Then we can joyfully and gratefully repeat the words spoken at creation: “It is good; it is very good!”

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

David Thiessen
David Thiessen

David Thiessen (BA, BTh, MCS) has done a lifetime of pastoral ministry together with his wife Merna. He served as the EMC Conference Pastor from 2000 to 2011. While he is toying with retirement, he is currently the part-time interim pastor at Mennville EMC in Manitoba’s Interlake.

Paul Walker: Resurrecting Our Belief in the Resurrection of the Body

By Pastor Paul Walker

The Apostles’ Creed Through 2016

What happens after you die? We might say, “You go to heaven when you die.” But that leads to other questions.

What is heaven like? There is no shortage of speculations. Some people imagine the Pearly Gates of heaven suspended high in the clouds. Those who are welcomed past the Pearly Gates are treated to bright lights, smooth Jazz, halos, and harps.

Others think of the lyrics of vacating this earth: “To that home on God’s celestial shore. I’ll fly away.” And still others struggle with any sort of vision of life after death.

How will we ever find clarity and understanding? As a starting point, we should resist the urge to say too little and too much about life after death. If we say too little, we risk missing out on the truth; if we say too much, we risk distorting the message of hope.

This is why we need to recapture a fresh vision of what both the Creeds and Scriptures teach us on life after death, and life after life after death. Faithfulness to Scripture and Creed can help us navigate the rough waters of confusion and caricature.

What Do Scripture and Creed Teach Us?

For starters, they teach the resurrection of the dead as the ultimate hope of the Redeemed. Our bodies will be glorified and recreated in the same manner that Jesus’ crucified body rose from the grave on Easter morning. This is not a disembodied soul going to heaven when you die. The resurrection of the body is properly not about life after death, but life after life after death. It is the promise of New Creation.

Now you might think, “How does that fit in with going to heaven when you die?” Well, while heaven may be a temporary place for the soul, heaven is not the ultimate destiny of the redeemed. As N. T. Wright notes, “Heaven is important, but it is not the end of the world.” Let’s explore this further.

The Nature of Heaven

Heaven was created alongside earth in the beginning (Gen. 1:1) and will be “recreated” alongside the earth for union at the end of the age (Rev. 21-22). An ancient Jewish thinking saw Heaven as a physical place above the earth, and the abode of God. It’s perhaps best to view Heaven as not so much a physical location, but a realm and a dimension that exists both alongside and separate from ours in a mysterious interlocking relationship.

Heaven is a place where believers go in death. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this when he writes “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8), or speaks of his desire to “be with Christ” upon death (Phil. 1:23).

While heaven is the dwelling place for the soul, the weight of Scripture points to an eventual future embodied resurrection of the dead, and not a disembodied existence apart from the earth. Heaven is a temporary resting place for the souls of the saints. Heaven and Earth will one day be joined as one in the culmination of the New Creation. John, the writer of Revelation, describes such a union with his description of the new Jerusalem descending from heaven to launch the new age (Rev. 21-22).

The Biblical Hope of Resurrection

The resurrection of body does not imply a disembodied soul escaping to heaven for eternity. As N.T. Wright puts it, “Resurrection isn’t a fancy way of saying, ‘going to heaven when you die’. It is not about the ‘life after death’ as such. Rather, it’s way of talking about being bodily alive again after a period of being bodily dead. Resurrection is a second-stage postmortem life: ‘life after life after death’.”

The Creed says that our bodies will become like Christ’s resurrected body. It is a bold reminder that the New Creation that was launched on Easter morning, as Jesus burst forth from the tomb, will no longer be the “not yet” for those who wait upon the Lord. As the Apostle Paul makes clear, Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21).

The resurrection of the body is God creating for us physical, glorified, and immortal bodies that can participate in the New Creation in which there is no longer any death or decay. This is why the Apostle Paul writes, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). This will take place when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead at the end of this age (Is. 65-66, 1 Thess. 4:16-17, Rev. 20-22).

Does the Resurrection of the Body Matter?

Firstly, it teaches us that God has not given up on the mission of rescue and renewal. The biblical hope boldly proclaims God has been in the process of putting the world to rights, bringing order to chaos, and establishing shalom to our violent disordered world. The resurrection of the body is God’s supreme act of rescue from the curse of death.

Christmas reminds us of this! We are reminded that, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) to rescue and renew us. God assumed the likeness of sinful human nature (Rom. 8:3) in the person of Jesus Christ to heal us of the curse.

As the Christmas carol Joy to the World declares, “He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found!” Christmas reminds us that Christ came to overthrow the curse of death by entering our cursedness

and overcoming it in the power of resurrection. We who are united with Christ, our rescuer, now await our final rescue through the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

Secondly, it reminds that this world matters. Unlike the Gnostic inclination to devalue the material world around us, Christians confess that this is our Father’s world. A belief in the resurrection of the body is also a belief in our restored relationship to rightly rule and reign with Christ over God’s good creation.

This is why the Apostle Paul so closely connects the liberation of creation to the redemption of the children of God in Romans 8. When humans are put right, all of creation will be put right. God’s rescue project is more than just for individuals, but for all of creation.

This has huge implications for how we treat our Father’s world today. God’s work of New Creation has already been inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ, and in us through our baptisms. We as Christians ought to begin to live now in this age, the “not yet” promise of the age to come. This should challenge us to adjust our actions and attitudes towards the material world.

Lastly, it is a blessed hope for those whose are grieving the loss of their health. Our current bodies are wasting away, corruptible, and susceptible to disease and destruction. As a pastor I’ve sat with many people whose bodies were in various stages of giving out on them. The resurrection of the body reminds us that though we may grieve our current bodily failings, our future resurrected bodies will not fail us nor hinder us. Instead, let us look forward to the day where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4).

Thanks be to God! Maranatha!

Paul Walker
Paul Walker
Resources Consulted
Justin S. Holcomb, Know the Creeds and Councils, 2014
Michael F. Bird, What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine through the Apostles’ Creed, 2016
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, 2008; Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 2006; Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues, 2014

Layton Friesen: You Are a Pacifist and You Called the Police?

by Layton Friesen

If someone broke into your house, wouldn’t you call the police?” This question is often used as a handy trump card to dispense with pacifism, but it actually presents little problem to Mennonite pacifism.

Our broad Anabaptist tradition—with the notable exception of Balthasar Hubmaierhas had the moxie to claim that while the good of society may sometimes need the use of force, and while we may even depend on military or police defense for our own well-being as pacifists, we ourselves will not swing the sword. Others will.

The Anabaptist pacifist tradition, until recently, has not been absolutely anti-war or anti-police. Read the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. It says the sword is “ordained of God” and “punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good.” So far, that’s basic just war thinking.

We cannot appeal to the tradition here to denounce every military or police action. Mennonites have generally assumed that a certain amount of killing is necessary to keep evildoers from ruining the world.

An Elite Special-Task Force

But while Mennonites have not called for the abolishing of armies, they have also seen that you cannot announce God’s good news while killing people. Mennonites have thus seen the Church as an elite, heroic, special task-force unit within God’s wider providence sent on a limited mission. We do not claim to be the totality of everything God is doing in the world, and we do not claim to know exactly how God is using our special mission within his Kingdom, but Christ has told us to exempt ourselves from killing in order to evangelize the world.

Our pacifism does not claim to be the solution to all the world’s immediate problems. It is a gesture towards the Kingdom of God that is in lock step with Jesus now redeeming the world—that’s all. In order to carry out this special task within the larger providential care of God for the world, we give up the right to kill people even for reasons of social order.

Try this analogy. Many countries recognize that doctors, politicians, clergy or others need to be exempt from combat in order to maintain the long-term viability of society. If all doctors are sent to combat, the nation will be crippled by disease; thus they can be exempt from fighting. A similar claim is made by Mennonites. God has a destiny of reconciliation in store for the world that someone needs to proclaim and live towards. Those on this mission have no weapons but love and forgiveness. It does not even occur to us that you could do what Christ leads us to do by killing people.

Short- And Long-Term Solutions for Evil

God has both short-term and long-term solutions for evil. War is apparently a necessary short-term solution to keep a lid on chaos. To simply abolish killing is naïve, for now. But killing will never redeem the world—it’s a bloody mess that only breeds more hatred. It’s only a stop-gap measure given by God to create a measure of time and space for the Church to proclaim the Gospel.

But the Church has a specific vocation within God’s long-term plan of ridding the world of evil for good. In order to be faithful to this long-term project, we have to free ourselves from some parts of the short-term plan. By preaching the gospel, by creating church communities of vulnerability and forgiveness, by working to restore justice in a zillion ways, and by refusing to kill, we put on a drama, quite the theatre, of the Kingdom of God, overcoming the world and its war—eventually.

We are the shape, the figure of Christ in the world, Gethsemane-bent in suffering love. That is our elite mission, our heroic task in the providence of God: watching, waiting, worshipping, praying, loving, evangelizing and suffering in union with the Saviour.

Our Mission is Not God’s Sum Total

And our mission is not the sum total of what God is doing in the world. God’s hands move within the world in hidden, dark places, outside the Church. In his mysterious wisdom states, kings, and armies end up doing God’s will. Their own hell-bent idolatry and savagery and God’s calm use of them seem to coexist in God’s providence. Wars can be a servant of God’s will, though again, it is foolish to draw too clear a line from the war to the will of God.

The NT Basis for Missional Pacifism

The New Testament basis for this missional pacifism is simple. First, the sum total of our existence as humans is now to preach the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:31-33). Second, Christ bids us to follow him in the total abandonment of killing even for the benefit of society—that’s what the Kingdom looks like right now in its hidden fruitfulness within the world (Luke 6:27-31; John 16:20-22). Third, the New Testament never condemns the state’s use of the sword. In fact, the sword in the hands of the state is praised and appealed to by Christians themselves as an instrument of God to bring justice to the world (Acts 23:16-24; Rom. 13:1-4).

Implications

This does not mean that Christians cannot be involved in government, though some Mennonites have drawn this conclusion. The New Testament forbids Christians to kill; it does not forbid them to take leadership in their communities where this can serve the Church’s mission. Our modern welfare state provides many good ways to serve the world without being directly involved in killing.

This does not mean we cannot actively oppose unjust wars, military actions, or police brutality. God has not given governments a blank cheque to kill whomever they will. It may be that as the human community develops better methods of justice and conflict resolution, war will become like slavery, useless and stupid.

We should use whatever wits we have to find more peaceful, humane and effective ways of resolving conflict. For example, “restorative justice” is in many cases a vastly better form of justice than brute punishment. Capital punishment is an antiquated, ineffective, brutal way of solving crime. Romans 13 does not require us to keep it on the books. There’s no reason we can’t point that out in public.

When we do oppose a military action though, we should not simply say, “Christians do not kill; therefore neither should the military.” We should know the situation in, say, Syria, and point out exactly how a military action there will be useless or unjust. We have to provide factual knowledge of a specific action, not just general condemnations about armies and swords.

There will always be grey areas, murky places where discernment is hard and we are not sure how the Church’s vocation and the world’s sword relate. That in itself is not a weakness—any true Kingdom ethic will sync with society in fits and starts. I would rather be inconsistent than wrong.

This pacifism makes no sense if the Church is not proclaiming Christ to the world. It is not merely an “ethic” or a “moral,” though it is that. Pacifism is one of the necessary conditions of the Church carrying out the Great Commission.

There are other pacifisms, but this older Anabaptist version seems to me to deal with both the place of the sword in the state and the rejection of killing that Christ bids his followers to do. I invite all to join me in discerning this vocation of the Church. Can this be sharpened, pointed and fueled more fruitfully?

Layton Friesen
Layton Friesen

Layton Friesen, ThD (candidate), is an EMC minister who has served as co-pastor of Crestview Fellowship and as senior pastor at Fort Garry EMC. He is a columnist within this magazine and is our conference’s representative to the Mennonite World Conference. He lives in Winnipeg.

Dr. Darryl Klassen: Teaching the Christ-Centred Gospel

by Dr. Darryl G. Klassen

EMC Convention 2016

For the past half-century or more the North American Church has promoted a gospel that emphasizes getting saved.

While salvation is certainly important, the focus on getting a ticket to heaven has left many wondering what value the gospel has for this present life. Do we give the impression that believing in Jesus is only about eternal life?

Somewhere in the history of our church-culture a shift has taken place that convinced us that we need to get people to make decisions for Jesus. But did Jesus say we should go and make converts—or make disciples?

The new Vision Statement for the EMC says in part, “We envision teaching the gospel with a Christ-centred approach to Scripture, affirming Anabaptist convictions.” If we are to take this vision to heart, we need to consider how we truly define “gospel.”

An Apostolic Pattern

To teach the Christ-centred Gospel we must follow the Apostolic Pattern handed down to us. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy we read about Paul’s intense concern that Timothy hold on to the gospel.

Paul knew that Timothy was struggling to preach the gospel of Christ according to the apostles’ teaching. Certain parties wanted to add to the gospel and to make it more relevant. Timothy felt this pressure and grew ashamed of the gospel.

It is no wonder then that Paul was quite blunt with Timothy and his timidity about the gospel. If the gospel appeared weak because Paul was in prison, Paul responded, “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

So Paul writes to encourage Timothy, to bolster what is in danger of growing weak. He reminds him of the source of the gospel: “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).

What the Gospel is Not

We struggle with similar temptations, and you would think that we would all agree on how we define the gospel. But I have come to discover that there is quite a broad spectrum when people speak of the gospel. We do not all agree.

What are some wrong conceptions of the gospel?

First, most of us have grown up with the conception that the gospel is about personal salvation. Second, our predominant understanding of the gospel comes from Paul’s letters where he presented the essence of the gospel as “justification by faith.”Third, if the gospel means justification by faith, why didn’t Jesus preach in those terms?

The end result is that the word “gospel” has been hijacked to mean “personal salvation.” This is why we focus on making a decision, why conversion experiences trump the process of discipleship, and why gospel as we know it is different than what it meant to Jesus and the apostles.

jes-con-2
Credit: Jessica Wichers

What is the Gospel?

If you want a nutshell of the gospel, Paul told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8). The gospel Paul refers to can be found more fully represented in 1 Cor. 15:1-5. These are perhaps the oldest known lines of the gospel. Before there was a New Testament, this was the gospel. For Paul, the gospel did not begin at Matthew 1:1, but in Genesis.

It was in this manner that Paul preached the gospel of Jesus. Every sermon in Acts and every New Testament writer saw this gospel as part of a larger narrative. What was that gospel?

The Story of Israel

The Story of Israel, or the Story of the Bible, begins this odyssey that is the Gospel. We know the essential parts of this story: Adam and Eve sinning, the calling of Abraham and the choosing of a people, Israel’s failure to be a missional people and testify to God’s purposes. The important thing is to note how this not only sets up the gospel, but is, in reality, “the good news of God” in that He kept speaking into our world despite the failure of humankind to obey His commandments.

The Story of Jesus

The story of Jesus is the story of God sending His Son to establish His Messiah or Christ, and to finally establish His kingdom. Now, we cannot understand this part of the story without understanding the Story of Israel. The Story of Jesus is first and foremost a resolution of Israel’s story, and because the Story of Jesus completes the Story of Israel, it saves.

jes-con-3
Credit: Jessica Wichers

The Plan of Salvation

Then we can talk about the Plan of Salvation for it flows out of the Story of Israel as completed in the Story of Jesus. The Plan of Salvation is not the gospel. The Gospel cannot be reduced to four spiritual laws or five points. If we do, we will find that men and women will get “saved,” but they won’t have a clue about discipleship, or justice, or obedience.

Anabaptists believe that Christ is the centre of Scripture. If you believe that, then you will read Scripture with Christ as your lens. You will see that all Scripture speaks to the centrality of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

Guard the Content

To teach the Christ-centred Gospel we must guard the content of this teaching. “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14).

How do we guard the gospel?

Entrust The Gospel

Entrust the gospel to faithful people who will carefully handle its truths. Paul tells Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). You are Christ’s representatives when you live your life with Jesus as Lord. In short, the Story of the Gospel continues with you.

Endure the Suffering

Endure the suffering that will surely come from holding to this gospel. The time that Paul predicted when people will not put up with sound doctrine seems constant in every generation. Sound doctrine, the true Gospel, does not resonate with those who have a different agenda. To suit their own desires they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and hold on to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). This is happening even within the Church.

The Gospel Story, that Jesus Christ is Lord, the fulfillment of all that God purposed for our lives, will be rejected by those who think it is too judgmental, too exclusive, too simplistic or too theological. Are you ready to suffer as Paul did for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

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Credit: Jessica Wichers

Proclaim the Gospel

Faithfully proclaim the gospel story. Guarding the gospel is not achieved by burying it or keeping quiet about it. Proclaiming the Gospel preserves it as well as declares it. This is critical; in the face of a hostile world that cannot grasp its own lostness and a God who has entrusted us with this incredible message, we cannot be quiet.

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Dr. Darryl Klassen

Into every facet of life, the messy and rough situations of marital breakdown, and personally self-destructive tendencies, speak Jesus as Lord into those places. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word!” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).

Dr. Darryl G. Klassen is the senior pastor of Kleefeld EMC. This article is based on his message of Saturday, July 2, at the EMC’s 2016 national convention.

Dr. Harvey Plett: “I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins.”

by Dr. Harvey Plett

The Apostolic or Apostles’ Creed is a profound summary of the essence of the Christian faith. It is brief, concise but does not elaborate the meaning of the various statements.

This statement, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” is, in the estimate of the writer, the essential essence of the Christian faith. Without forgiveness, there is no gospel, no redemption, but only condemnation. Without forgiveness we would not be able to have a relationship with God.

The only way to bring humankind back into relationship with God is forgiveness. Similarly, in order for me to have a relationship with a fellow human who has hurt me I need to forgive that hurt whether that person repents or not though our relationship will not be restored unless the wrongdoer acknowledges his wrong and seeks forgiveness (Mk. 11:25).

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is taking the wrongs done to you, absorbing the consequences, letting them go and not holding them against the perpetrator whether the person repents or not and thus removing my side of the barrier that hinders our relationship.

Jesus came to redeem us. The only way He could do that was by forgiving us. And to forgive us He had to take the consequences of our sins against Him, absorb them, and then let us go free. His death on the cross was His way of forgiving us. He had to experience the separation from God. On the cross He cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Those were the consequences of our sin against God and the cost of forgiveness.

In Ephesians 1:7 we read, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.” And in Colossians 1:13-14 we read, “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Much more could be said but here we have a concise definition of redemption: “the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus’ death on the cross was a voluntary death. He did it because that is the only way forgiveness was possible. All of us were dead in our trespasses and sins. So by His death Jesus wiped out death and brought forgiveness.

Let’s apply it to our life. If you forgive someone who has ruined your reputation, what happens? You accept the ruined reputation and let the one who has done it go free; you do not hold it against him nor do you seek justice. That briefly is what forgiveness is. It is substitutional; the one sinned against absorbs the hurt and pain of the evil done and does not hold it against the guilty party. This is what Jesus did.

The Bible says the soul that sins will die. He has brought forgiveness, but it doesn’t become yours until you accept it. To accept it means you acknowledge you have done wrong, are sorry for it and ask for forgiveness. And then Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. We are then free and in relationship with our Saviour.

What About Repentance?

That is very essential, but not for the forgiver. If the guilty one wishes to experience forgiveness than she or he will have to confess and repent of the wrong done and seek forgiveness. The hurt party forgives whether the guilty party repents or not.

But if the one who is guilty wants to experience forgiveness in his or her life, that person must repent. So the person repents, apologizes and asks forgiveness. The forgiver does what a friend of mine did to a repentant person. He said, “I have forgiven you a long time ago.” But you go on to say, “Yes I forgive you gladly. I forgave you already but I am happy you are seeking the forgiveness for yourself.”

At that point the final step in forgiveness can happen—reconciliation. The forgiver has already forgiven, but full reconciliation can only happen if the guilty party repents and seeks forgiveness.

What about Restoration?

For example, what happens to what was stolen? The forgiver forgives and does not demand repayment. If the guilty party offers restitution, the forgiver receives it not so much for himself but to help the guilty party find peace and freedom.

Forgiveness and Spiritual Healing

The hurt party forgives, for this is necessary to be healed. If one does not forgive, one will struggle with bitterness, anger, and avoid the wrongdoer. So forgiveness in this sense is therapeutic. It brings healing to your soul and will help one to love the wrongdoer.

The wrongdoer must repent and seek forgiveness to become free and move toward healed relationships. We will not forget some of the serious hurts we forgive, but when the memory comes we decide to not indulge in those memories but set them aside because we have forgiven them.

In forgiveness the wrongdoer and the forgiver each has or her his part. Each can only do his or her part. The forgiver forgives whether that is accepted or not. The sinner repents to experience that forgiveness. Forgiveness is complete when this happens. This is what is modeled by Christ forgiving the repentant sinner. Christ has died for all. Forgiveness is available for all but only those who respond to the offer of forgiveness experience that forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a Decision

You have to decide to forgive just as Jesus decided to forgive our sins and then took the consequences—death. But forgiveness becomes ours only as we acknowledge the wrong we have done, repent, and ask for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is my decision to absorb evil done to me and not hold it against the doer. This gives me peace in my soul. For the wrongdoer to experience that forgiveness, the wrongdoer must repent, confess and acknowledge the wrong and ask for forgiveness.

This forgiveness now makes it possible for reconciliation between the two. It may take time to move forward for the forgiver as well as it may take time for reconciliation to come to completion. But forgiveness makes that possible as one commits oneself to walk in forgiveness.

This is the will of God. Rejoice in the forgiveness of Jesus and, with the resurrection power that is yours because you have Jesus (Rom. 6; 2 Pet. 1:3), walk in continual forgiveness towards those who do you wrong.

Here are some key biblical references that speak to forgiveness: Matt. 5:23-24; 6:12, 14-15; Mk. 11:25; Eph. 4:31-32; Col. 3:12-13. Why not study them personally or in a group.

We are to follow Jesus’ example. He forgave our sins through His death before we repented and we experience that forgiveness only if we repent and accept it. You and I are too always forgive the person who does wrong to us whether the other person repents or not. That is loving the other. The one who did the wrong needs to repent if he or she wants to experience forgiveness. When that happens, reconciliation and a renewed relationship become possible and should emerge.

Dr. Harvey Plett
Dr. Harvey Plett

Dr. Harvey Plett has served as president of Steinbach Bible College and as EMC moderator; he is a long-serving minister at Prairie Rose EMC. He continues to do some teaching, preaching,

counseling and writing. He and his wife Pearl live in Mitchell, Man., and celebrated 58 years of blessed marriage on August 22, 2016.