Category Archives: Features

Dr. Hanspeter Jecker: Transformed by the Word

The Protestant (Radical) Reformation Through 2017

by Dr. Hanspeter Jecker

Renewal 2027 is a 10-year series of events launched by Mennonite World Conference (MWC) to mark the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement.

“Transformed by the Word: Reading Scripture in Anabaptist Perspectives” (the inaugural event in Augsburg, Germany, Feb. 12, 2017) fit well within the mandate of the MWC Faith and Life Commission to help member churches “understand and describe Anabaptist-Mennonite faith and practice.”

In the midst of the many Reformation commemoration celebrations, especially in Europe, it’s important to remember that the Anabaptists also emerged within the context of the Reformation and were decisively shaped by its rediscovery of the Bible as an authority for Christian faith and life.

Shortly before the first adult baptisms in January 1525, a member of the Bible study group that formed the core of the emerging Anabaptist movement illustrated this clearly:

“However, after we too had taken up the Bible and studied all the possible points, we have been better informed.”

The letter went on to describe how they came to a deeper understanding of Scripture. Five central themes—visible in the quote above—distinguished their shift from walking alongside the Reformers to a posture of opposition:

  • Scripture is the key point of departure for the renewal brought about by the Reformation.
  • It is crucial to learn not only second-hand, but to read Scripture for yourself.
  • The Bible study group read with an expectant attitude. They “studied all the possible points,” posed questions about the text, and received answers.
  • They reoriented themselves around these new insights.

In this way, they were “better informed” in regard to the teachings of the Catholic Church, but also in regards to Zwingli and the other Reformers.

To be “better informed.” At first glance, that statement sounds very positive. But it also carries some pain. It suggests that one has indeed been mistaken; it includes a readiness to let go of older, cherished understandings. This is often not easy.

The key question at stake here is: do we allow the biblical word (and the God who desires to speak to us) to scrutinize our convictions so that we allow ourselves “to be better informed”? Or does the admonition to “test all things and hold on to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21) only apply to other people?

Up to this point, all the themes could be regarded as Protestant principles. But the fifth point is the most distinct Anabaptist principle:

  • The “we” in the quote is crucial: not only does Bible study happen in community; but new understandings of Scripture are also reached collectively.

No one is forced to be part of an Anabaptist congregation—faith and membership are always voluntary. No single person has all the understanding or all of the gifts, but everyone has something.

Therefore, it is crucial that we create frameworks for Bible study in which everyone can contribute to a better understanding of the biblical text: old and young, men and women, academics and labourers. Precisely for this reason the “we” in our text is so important!

But several dangers are already evident in this same quote.

To allow ourselves to be “better informed” sounds nice, but who can protect us from endless efforts to prove the superiority of one understanding or from the notorious church divisions that have occurred so frequently in Anabaptist history? How can we ensure that space remains for the recognition that all of our knowledge is partial and in need of additional insights? And how do we ensure that the “struggle for the truth” does not come at the cost of a “struggle for unity”?

Dr.-Hanspeter-Jecker
Dr. Hanspeter Jecker

If “renewal of faith and life” and “transformation through the Word” are going to happen within the context of Mennonite World Conference, then it will be essential for it to happen in the form of members from north and south, east and west, walking together alongside each other as “we.”

Dr. Hanspeter Jecker is a member of the Mennonite World Conference’s Faith & Life Commission and a professor of historical theology and ethics at Theological Seminary Bienenberg in Switzerland. He holds an MA in Theology (AMBS) and a DPhil (Basel).

Dr. Ed Neufeld: Will You Love as Paul Asked of the Philippians?

by Reilly Smith

Are you willing to give up everything for Christ as he gave up everything for you? Are you willing to love like Paul challenges the Church to love in Philippians? Are you praying for your congregation as Paul prays for the Philippians? Has the Church responded in unity to God’s sustaining graces with humble concern for one another?

These questions were some of the personal challenges that arose in the minds of those attending the annual Leadership Conference at Steinbach Bible College on March 17-18, 2017. People in five other locations joined by webinar, including from Alberta and Ontario and the countries of Belize and Mexico.

The speaker, Dr. Ed Neufeld, is a professor at Providence Theological Seminary and the pastor of Kleefeld Christian Community, both in southern Manitoba. Dr. Ed Neufeld spent four sessions dissecting separate portions within Paul’s letter to the Philippians, showing the importance of prayer, love, unity, and sacrifice. There were several primary themes from each session that stood out from this weekend.

Friday Night

In Friday night’s session Dr. Neufeld began with a study of Paul’s prayer in Phil. 1:9-11, seeing it as an apostolic prayer providing vision to the Church. The prominent point of this session was to pray for love to increase. Dr. Ed Neufeld made it quite clear that prayer is vitally important; and that praying for love to increase will cause many other areas of spiritual maturity to increase, including knowledge, discernment, sincerity, and blamelessness.

He made it clear that there is no tension between increasing your mind and increasing in love; rather, to make good kingdom choices, love is vital. Furthermore, the Greek word that is translated as pure (1:10) is a word about sincerity. Pure in this case is not about being sinless; it is about decisions resulting in right actions.

All this information was pulled out of Paul’s prayer, with the clear application being that it is important for leaders in the Church to be praying for their congregation. Dr. Neufeld pointed out that both disciplined and undisciplined people accomplish what needs to be done. It is not a question of more discipline being needed for prayer, but, rather, a realization of the utter helplessness of leadership without prayer.

Saturday Morning

Saturday morning began with a study of Phil. 1:12-27. In this session Dr. Neufeld addressed several different applications. First, in living or dying we are to do what is best for Christ. He plunged into Paul’s main questions in Phil. 1, starting in verse 18. Paul’s thought is shown to centre around three main questions: “What’s best for Christ?” “What’s best for Paul?” and “What’s best for the Church?”

Dr. Neufeld noted that God would be glorified if Paul didn’t despair or let go of his faith through the trials. Furthermore, what Paul needed in order for him to hold onto his faith was the Philippians’ praying and God’s grace. A question leveled at those in attendance was: “Lord, not my will but yours be done”—can you say it and mean it in a dark day?

Then Paul’s two loves were addressed. Dr. Neufeld showed that in Philippians Paul clarifies that the focus of his love is on Christ and on Christ’s people. Paul’s question in this passage focuses around these loves. Does Paul leave this earth to be with Christ or does he stay to aid the Church? The question to us is, who or what are we loving as opposed to whom we should be loving?

After this, Dr. Neufeld examined our call to be worthy citizens. Phil. 1:27 was shown to be a bridge between Paul’s example and what he wants us to do with it, with an encouragement to look at the examples of Paul, Timothy and those around us. Here he also noted that all around us, in our very own churches, there are people who are worthy citizens of the gospel.

One of the questions that arose during the second session’s Question and Answer time, was, in light of the above examples, can we live simple lives? The answer was that the Philippians were just ordinary people. Following Paul does not always mean living an extraordinary life.

In the third session Dr. Neufeld began by addressing how the Church is called to love each other. The New Testament has many commands to love each other as there are 96 imperatives regarding the way the Church treats each other. Love must be recognized as a central aspect of the gospel.

The discussion that arose from this conversation was extensive and the humble exploration of this matter was a great example of how pastors and other leaders in the Church should respond to controversial ideas. The emphasis on love set the stage for the following observations Dr. Neufeld would make.

Dr. Neufeld noted that in Phil. 2:1 God has given us sustaining graces to support us, and in 2:2 our response to these graces should be church unity. He continued to unravel the response, making it clear that humble concern for each other is also part of the response to God’s sustaining graces.

As noted by Dr. Neufeld, humble concern does not mean pastors should minster only to those who think they need help. Rather, he believed that pastors should serve humbly in the same way as Jesus and Paul did. They did not take their instructions from their people, but still showed an immense amount of caring.

Also in the third session Dr. Neufeld discussed how it is essential to be genuine. He showed that Paul regards Timothy as a great example of genuineness. Paul sent Timothy to the Philippians because he is the only one who genuinely cares for them.

In Phil. 2:19-24 it was noted that Christ’s interests and Timothy’s genuine care are interchangeable terms. Such truths cause us to ask ourselves: is our ministry done out of genuine concern and love for others?

Saturday Afternoon

In the fourth session Dr. Neufeld gave a strong comparison and challenge. It was noticeable in chapter two that Christ set aside everything for His people. However, in chapter three it was noted that Paul set aside everything for Christ. How much are we willing to sacrifice back to God for what was sacrificed for us? The correct answer is all.

Dr. Neufeld also clarified that for many people, in many countries, this question is not a hypothetical one. In some places, if a person gives their life to Christ, they really are giving up family, friends and a home merely as a result of that decision.

In a similar way, he noted that Paul lost all the prestige he once had in his circles among the Pharisees when he became a Christian. This loss wasn’t hypothetical for Paul either.

As can be seen, the Leadership Conference proved to be a great time of learning and of personal challenges in our service to Christ. Much fellowship and discussion occurred throughout the weekend with many people wrestling with the text.

Reilly-Smith
Reilly Smith

Most of all Philippians was shown to be a book of love. If there is one challenge to be made for the Church today from Philippians, it is to love each other. This is not a secondary calling of the Church, but one of the primary callings, a command heard throughout the Gospel.

Reilly Smith (Cornerstone, Crystal City, Man.) is a second-year student at SBC in the BA (pastoral minor) program. The article was produced for the Tri-Con Editors’ Group as part of his course work for Dr. Patrick Friesen. 

Dr. Harvey Plett Children and the Church (Part Two): Safe in the Kingdom of God

by Dr. Harvey Plett

We need to accept children as children and that they are safe in the Kingdom of God, and not demand that they make little adult choices when it comes to spiritual decisions.

In no area of life do we accept a child’s decision as binding. There is no good rationale to change that in the spiritual realm. By accepting that they are in the Kingdom gave me as a parent a real sense of peace.

Developing a Child’s Spiritual Life

We need to continue our programs for nurturing our children in the faith. We need to teach our children that Jesus loves them, that they are in the Kingdom, and that they need to affirm their love for Jesus. We need to continue to teach the children about right and wrong as well as stressing the need for confessing their sins to Jesus and asking His forgiveness.

The parent-child love relationship is a good model to illustrate the love that exists between Jesus and the child. This means we need to be careful we don’t teach the frightening realities of being spiritually lost until they are old enough to understand. Any child can be scared into making a decision without knowing what is involved by scaring it with hell. Care and discretion needs to be used.

Similarly we need to use discretion in terms of which Bible stories we use to teach the Bible to children. We need to be aware of what our children are taught in Sunday School, at camps, VBS, and other clubs.

Accept a Child’s Decision as a Child’s Decision

We need to expect that children below the age of accountability will make decisions for Jesus because they live in an adult world and see and hear how adults are asked to make decisions.

In addition children do make decisions as they grow. Children will also confess the wrongs they do and ask Jesus for forgiveness as they have been taught. When this happens we rejoice in the child’s response, affirm and encourage the child but deal with the child on the child level and not a miniature adult level.

We also need to accept the decision as the decision of a child and not that of an adult. We can expect that our children will make many decisions as they grow in their understanding. We need to affirm them each time. Should it not be possible for a child from a Christian home to never know a time that it was lost because it made decisions for the right as the opportunity came along?

Balance Our Conversion Stories

In our churches we need to ask those who have dramatic conversions to share their testimony, but each time we have one of the dramatic conversions we should invite someone who does not have a dramatic conversion experience to share his or her testimony. This will help the child understand that there is no one model of conversion that must be experienced in order for a conversion to be genuine.

The child will share her or his decisions they made as a child and possibly date their conversion from that time. That is good but it will probably be rather non-dramatic. In my class at Steinbach Bible College I asked the question, “Who can give me the date of when they became a Christian?” Surprisingly many times one third to one half of the class didn’t have a date. This was due to their upbringing. I said, “Fine. What is important is that you know you are a Christian today.”

Believer’s Baptism

We need to be clear that baptism is believer’s baptism and not infant or child baptism (Matt. 28:18-20). And so we baptize an individual when he or she is mature enough to own the faith. Baptism is not a sacrament that conveys the grace of God. It is a ceremony that illustrates what the grace of God has done and incorporates the individual into the visible local body of Christ. Therefore infant baptism is not baptism for the church that believes in believer’s baptism.

We do not thereby condemn those who baptize infants, but neither do we accept that baptism. We are dealing with truth here and not feelings about how good that person is. We need to graciously take a stand on the truth.

Using More Accurate Language

We need to clean up our language when it comes to the idea of child dedication. We cannot dedicate another individual. A person is responsible for himself or herself. We can influence them, but we cannot dedicate them to something. In reporting such services, churches should identify them as Parent Dedications.

By calling them Child Dedication services we are communicating something we, first of all, don’t believe in, and sort of assume that people will understand that we are not conveying sacramental grace with the ceremony.

Though many consider something has happened to the child in the Dedication ceremony, in actuality it hasn’t. The dedication is of the parents committing themselves to raise their child in a Christian environment.

I believe the dedication of parents is an important idea and practice, but it does not mean that parents who don’t do this in a public service are any less Christian or less concerned or dedicated to raise their children for the Lord. To assume that children who have gone through the ceremony have something more than those who haven’t is reading more into the ceremony than what it is.

Implications for Communion

This view of the child, church, and baptism, also has implications for participation in the communion service. Like baptism, communion is for those who have made an accountable decision to follow Christ and have been baptized on that faith commitment (Acts 2:38; Matt. 28:18-20). A child does not understand the meaning of the communion service. A child cannot do the self-examination nor discern the body as Paul teaches (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Therefore it is not ready to participate in the ordinance.

I suggest that we let the child be a child and not require of it what we require of a person who is accountable. The communion service is not a sacramental service that conveys grace. It is a commemoration of what Christ has done for those who understand what that is.

Time to Re-Examine!

On this issue of the child and the Kingdom of God, I believe we as a Conference have experienced what Arnold L. Cook would call “historical drift.” Our drift seems to be towards sacramentalism on the one hand; and, on the other, demanding of a child something it is incapable of doing. It is time to re-examine some of our practices to see whether they are in line with Scripture and what our early Anabaptist forebears lived out.

A child is in the Kingdom of God; and as we teach the child, it responds to the truth at its level of understanding and thereby remains in the Kingdom unless, when accountable, it makes contrary decisions.

Dr. Harvey Plett
Dr. Harvey Plett

Dr. Harvey Plett (Prairie Rose) is a long-time EMC minister, educator, and conference worker. He has served as president of SBC and as EMC moderator. He continues to do some teaching, preaching, counselling, and writing. He and his wife Pearl live in Mitchell, Man., and celebrated 58 years of blessed marriage on Aug. 22, 2016.

Dr. Arthur Boers: Why Do We Call This Friday ‘Good’?

by Dr. Arthur Paul Boers

Any way you look at it, there’s so little to admire or even to consider good about Good Friday. Most of the people involved in the Gospel accounts of the events of this day are not admirable. They are despicable.

It is not bad enough that the political and religious leaders crucify Jesus or that the crowd becomes a mob and turns on him. But one of Jesus’ own disciples denies him and another betrays him. Yet in truth most of the disciples effectively deny and betray Jesus in their fearful abandonment.

The Good Friday story is deliberately structured to remind us that we are all sinners. It shows us that on our own, even when we try to do our best, sooner or later we mess up. If left to ourselves, we are lost, and our brokenness swallows all our attempts to be faithful and good.

Judgment Easy to Spot

William Willimon says, “The cross, for us, gathers up compassion and judgment.” Now that judgment characteristic is easy to spot. In the Good Friday story, not one of us can point a finger at anyone; we are all implicated. The only innocent here is Jesus, and the rest of us stand judged.

For just as all conspired toward, collaborated with, or contributed to the crucifixion of Jesus, we know that there are no innocents among us today. We are all guilty of conspiracy, collaboration, and contribution. We are all guilty of aiding and abetting in the crucifixion of the Son of God, whether intentionally or not.

But, you ask, “Not me! I would never do such a thing!” Like Peter, we believe only others could. But the Gospel accounts are harsher and more realistic. If the disciples who listened to Jesus every day for three years, the ones who knew him most intimately would deny, betray, and abandon Jesus, what makes you think we would do otherwise?

Skepticism

William Stringfellow reminds us,

The gospels are redundant in verifying one reality—one might also say, the versatility—of the skepticism of the disciples about Jesus as Lord. The disciples show a similar misunderstanding of Christ’s kingdom when the assorted claims and disputes among them concerning honor and status surface, as when they argue [over] which of them is the greatest . . . or as when the sons of Zebedee, James and John, seek the places beside Jesus in glory…. Their hearing does not seem to be clarified during Holy Week, though Jesus’ utterances are no longer guarded…. Throughout their whole experience with Jesus, in Holy Week as well as earlier, the disciples are found misconstruing his authority, or doubting it, or, sometimes, opposing it.

Without exaggeration, Stringfellow labels the disciples obtuse, apprehensive, hysterical, and skeptical. And we are no different. This is the strange message of Good Friday—the judgment of this day.

We object to this judgment because we did not plant that traitor’s kiss on Jesus’ cheek, hammer nails into his hand, or even fall asleep in the garden. But most of us have betrayed someone who trusted us, hurt or abused someone who was vulnerable, neglected to show mercy, and failed to give love.

More Than Judgment

There is judgment here aplenty in this day that we strangely label “Good” Friday. But mercy and compassion ultimately triumph. And here-in, strangely, we find the reason that his day is called “good.” It’s because we are not left alone. Jesus walks and works with.

Jesus takes on our worst: our sins, brokenness, betrayals, and denials. Jesus bears them to the cross and carries them to death. And somehow Jesus redeems us. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus rewrites history and turns around the course of the world, reconciling us to God and to each other. Even our worst, the slaying of God’s chosen, is turned to God’s best—the saving of humanity.

Thus even on this worst of all days we can trust that God is at work and nothing will separate us from God’s love. Paul proclaims in Romans 8:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…. No, in all these things are we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Gerrit Scott Dawson writes,

God took on the responsibility of caring for the pain of the world by entering it in Jesus. Rather than turn away in exasperation to leave us in the chaos we created, God waded right into [our] mess. Jesus was not insulated from the people around him; he walked among us, he was vulnerable . . . . It is as if [Jesus] said, “I go before you. I will undergo all you suffer and have experienced. None of your life will be foreign to me. You will know always that wherever you have been, I have been also.

The goodness we attribute to Good Friday is not goodness because of events that happened or because of people who behaved so well. It is because the name of Jesus Christ lives on. His name, his word, and his life continue. Here is the reason that we call this day “good.”

ArthurPaulBoers
Arthur Paul Boers

Arthur Paul Boers, DMin, has been a pastor since 1985. He is the author of several books, including The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (InterVarsity) and Servants and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Abingdon). He taught pastoral theology at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and leadership at Tyndale Seminary. He and his wife have been married for 37 years and are the parents of two adults. He lives in southern Ontario. This article was previously published in the Gospel Herald.

Angelyn Kuiper: 10 Things Not to Say to a Grieving Parent

by Angelyn Kuiper

When my one-month-old daughter Eloise passed away unexpectedly last September, the comments and questions started rolling in. Everyone means well, hoping to say something that will bring some level of comfort and peace. But not all comments bring the comfort intended.

I’ve heard all of these statements at some point in the past six months. Some might make you cringe, and some of these statements you may have said before (and that’s okay). The point is not to make you feel bad or shame you for things you’ve said in the past, but perhaps help you better navigate interacting with a grieving parent in the future.

I’m not a grief expert by any means, but here are some phrases/questions said to me and my husband that have stung:

“At least she’s in heaven.”

There is no at least in losing your child. There is no bright side. I’ve heard variations of this comment several times:

“It must feel bittersweet…”

“At least she’s with Jesus…”

“At least she’s in a better place…”

Am I grateful that Eloise lives in heaven and is rejoicing in her Saviour? Definitely. Am I grateful that someday I will be reunited with my daughter in heaven and spend eternity together? Absolutely. But this hope I have doesn’t lessen the sting of losing her much too soon. I’m always going to wish she could be in my arms.

“At least you still have each other.”

I agree. I am blessed to have my husband in my life during this time, and I think he’d say the same about me. Having someone to grieve with who completely understands and identifies with what I’m feeling is a comfort. I know this journey of grief would feel unwalkable without him. But we still lost the biggest love of our lives. We loved being a family of three, and we both hate that we’re back to a family of just two. We’re incomplete, broken.

“God has a plan.”

We will always wish Eloise’s journey included living a long and happy life on earth with us. I don’t like this turn of events, and I’d like to request a different plan (pretty please?). I know God doesn’t necessarily cause evil to happen, and that he is always working for our good and his glory through our tragic experiences. I pray that someday we’ll be able to see the hand of God working in our lives during this time. But I’ll be wrestling with God on this giant “why” question for a long time.

“You’re still young. You can have more kids.”

We do plan on having more kids, and that’s something to look forward to. I know that future children will bring us joy, but I will always look at my family knowing it’s not complete on this earth. The hole she left can never be filled. Future babies we have aren’t replacement babies. Keep in mind, also, that the statement “you can have more children” is not true for everyone.

“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

Does this statement really bring comfort? When it was said to me, it made me question how well I was coping with losing my child. Should I be handling this better? Why do I break down so often? Losing my daughter is way more than I can handle, but I know God doesn’t deserve my blame for her death. God stands beside us, even through our darkest moments. And thankfully, he is a God of grace, and his new mercies every day ensure that I can continue walking through life.

“I know how you feel.”

I hear this comment often, usually followed by a lengthy story of their loss: “I had a miscarriage…” or “My friend died last year….” Instead of sharing stories of your losses, make the moment about the grieving parent in front of you, not yourself. It can be hurtful when someone tries to compare their loss to yours. It can feel like they’re trying to change the conversation or take the focus off your loss.

It’s also important to note that losing a child is a unique experience. It’s different than losing a friend, a grandparent, a parent, etc. Not that those losses are any less significant—they’re just different. Unless you’ve also lost a child, it’s impossible to fully identify with a parent who has lost a child.

“You’ll be a much stronger, more compassionate person because of your loss.”

I certainly have more compassion for others, especially those who are grieving. I’ve also developed a great deal of strength out of necessity. But I also lost a big part of myself. I’m more anxious, less carefree, less optimistic, and more emotional. I don’t always love the person I’ve become since losing my daughter.

“At least it happened early on.”

Losing your child is devastating no matter how old they are.

“What can I do for you?”

Too general. Try instead: “Can I bring you dinner Tuesday night?” or “I’m planning to mow your lawn this weekend.” The more specific, the better. Especially in the first couple months after my daughter’s death, I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t even know what kind of help to ask for. It’s best to make a specific offer, and keep making those offers well into the future too. The meals and favours tend to stop after the first couple months, but grieving parents could use favours long after that.

Nothing at all

Don’t avoid a grieving parent just because you don’t know what to say. I’ve had people physically change directions just to avoid me. I would much rather you risk saying the wrong thing than completely avoid me. Even a simple “I’m sorry” goes a long way and lets me know that you care and are acknowledging my daughter’s death.

Take heart! There are some things you can say to a grieving parent. Here are a few suggestions:

I’m so sorry.

I’m praying for you.

No parent should have to go through this.

My favourite memory of your son/daughter is when…

I’d love to hear about your son/daughter.

I think about you and your son/daughter often.

Your son/daughter will be missed.

I’m sure you miss him/her so much.

When in doubt, just listen, be present, express your sympathy, and know you’re not going to have the magic words to make a grieving parent feel better. Your efforts to interact with us and walk beside us are appreciated and noticed. We’ll do our best to give you plenty of grace, and we hope you give us grace, too, as we plod through the rocky

Angelyn-Kuiper
Angelyn Kuiper

and unpredictable lifelong road of grief.

Angelyn Kuiper is a writer and marketing specialist who works for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. She’s passionate about finding ways to love our neighbours in tangible ways and empowering the church to respond to God’s call to let justice flow like a river. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a mom to daughter Eloise in heaven and wife to husband Michael. She attends Faith Community CRC in Wyoming, Michigan. Her article first appeared in the CRC News (March 29, 2017).

 

Heidi Dirks: Rethinking Mother’s Day

by Heidi Dirks

Holidays can be a time of togetherness and celebration with traditions that bring joy and warm memories. However, they can also highlight painful parts of life and ostracize those who feel they do not fit in with the celebrations that surround them.

Mother’s Day is no exception, and many people in our churches are acutely aware of the pain this day can bring. In order for churches to welcome all people, and be  places of emotional safety, we must be intentional about how, and if, we acknowledge and celebrate this day.

Origins of Mother’s Day

The celebration of mothers goes back to ancient Greece and Rome, where festivals were held to celebrate mother goddesses. Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is celebrated in some parts of Europe. While it began as a celebration of one’s “mother church,” bringing families together as they all returned to their home church, it has become increasingly secularized.

Our modern Mother’s Day celebration can be traced back to the late 1800’s where Ann Jarvis held work clubs to teach domestic skills to women in West Virginia, as well as care for soldiers wounded in the American Civil War. After the end of the war, these groups organized “Mother’s Friendship Day” events to encourage peace and reconciliation.

When Jarvis died, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, organized the first “Mother’s Day” to honour all that mothers do for their children. As the day became increasingly commercialized, with the giving of flowers and cards to mothers, she fought to keep the day as a celebration of one’s own mother rather than all mothers. Also during this time suffragette and abolitionist Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” appealing for peace.

 Mother’s Day in Church Services

Although the origins of Mother’s Day are connected to church attendance and pacifist values, Mother’s Day is not a church holiday and churches are under no obligation to celebrate or recognize this day. It is good to celebrate mothers, and women who mother people in their lives, and this should happen throughout the year. But it is also important to acknowledge that this day is hard for many people.

Given the complicated emotions and memories that are often associated with this day, the dangers of including Mother’s Day in a service often outweigh the benefits. On a personal note, I know many women who have spent years avoiding church on Mother’s Day because attending a service on this day was too painful for them.

Churches that choose to include a celebration of Mother’s Day as part of a church service are wise to do so in a thoughtful and critical way, recognizing that people in the congregation have a variety of backgrounds and experiences that affect how they experience a day that celebrates motherhood.

Some women have lost children, have strained relationships with their children, or have not been able to conceive the children they have so desired. Other people may have difficult relationships with their mothers, are painfully reminded of the loss of their own mother, or feel abandoned by their mother. Churches should be a welcoming place no matter what story we bring.

As churches desire to celebrate mothers, they may unintentionally make this day difficult for some women. In an effort to recognize mothers by giving them flowers or asking them to stand during a service, they have asked the sometimes complicated question of who is a mother. Is a woman who has lost a child to miscarriage or stillbirth considered a mother? What if a woman gave birth in the midst of difficult circumstances and it is not public knowledge that they have a child? If a woman identifies as a mother, but does not have children as a part of their lives, will others make assumptions or ask prying questions? What about foster mothers?

As churches try to include personal stories from congregants and provide space to honour mothers, they may pressure individuals to share when they are not comfortable doing so. No one should ever be put on the spot or pressured to share in a church service, but ensuring emotional safety is especially important on holidays. If people are offered the opportunity to share, churches should give space for a variety of stories about experiences with mothers and motherhood.

Mother’s Day may serve as a yearly opportunity to preach about how women are supposed to live. While this connects to the mother’s work clubs founded by Jarvis, it strays from the focus of celebrating the work of mothers. Mother’s Day should be a celebration of all that women do to love God and serve others. Women need encouragement and affirming words about their worth in God’s eyes, not guilt or pressure to conform to a narrow idea of what women are expected to be.

Womanhood and Motherhood

We must resist the assumption that womanhood and motherhood are synonymous. Scripture describes the pain of women who were unable to have children, a circumstance that came with serious consequences in ancient times (Gen. 29-30).

There are many reasons that women do not have biological children, such as infertility, singleness, and a decision to not pursue parenthood. Motherhood is a good thing, but it does not define one’s value as a person or as a follower of Christ. All people have inherent worth because they are created in the image of God.

We also need to distinguish between a woman who has given birth to a child and women who mother others. One does not need to be a biological mother in order to mother others, loving them and teaching them to love God (Deut. 6:7-9; Luke 18:15-17). Celebrating women who have mothered us does not take away from the celebration of our biological mother. Mother’s Day can be a celebration of women who live in obedience to God’s call on their lives, which may or may not include having biological children.

Taking a Thoughtful Stance

Heidi-Dirks
Heidi Dirks

Scripture speaks of God’s comfort and healing for those who are grieving and struggling (Psalm 23; Psalm 34:18; Matt. 5:4). Churches cannot be blind to the pain felt by many people during holidays, including Mother’s Day. Followers of Christ have the privilege of extending the good news of God’s comfort to those who struggle, and in order to do this effectively churches need to be thoughtful and careful of any inclusion of Mother’s Day celebrations in their services.

Heidi Dirks (Braeside), BA, BEd, MA (Counselling), is a member of the Board of Church Ministries.

 

 

Michael Zwaagstra: Christians Need to be More Shrewd

by Michael Zwaagstra

News reports across Canada and the U.S. too frequently tell of Christians being involved in or exploited by illegal pyramid schemes that bilk investors out of thousands of dollars. Apparently, strongly Christian communities can often be prime recruiting areas.

The Problem With Pyramid Schemes

Pyramid schemes are relatively easy to identify. Simply put, a business is a pyramid scheme when it focuses more on recruiting new members than on selling an actual product. For instance, a company might sell travel packages that have almost no actual value. Investors make money by convincing friends and family members to buy packages of their own. The higher up you were on this chain, the money you made.

The problem with pyramid schemes is that people at the bottom are guaranteed to lose money. This is because it doesn’t take long to run out of new recruits. If each investor is responsible for recruiting at least two additional investors down the chain, it takes only 22 levels before you reach 33 million people—close to the entire population of Canada. Obviously, the scheme collapses long before then, but not before the people at the top make a fortune off the backs of those at the bottom.

Pyramid scheme organizers love to target communities where significant numbers of people are likely to fall for their scam. Unfortunately, fertile ground can often be found in areas with a relatively high percentage of Christians. Some of the perpetrators are Christians, as are many of the victims. Sadly, their Christian faith did not prevent victims from being swindled out of thousands of dollars by a pyramid scheme.

Gullible Christians

One could hope that pyramid schemes are an isolated example of Christian gullibility. They are not. In far too many cases, Christians fall for everything from faulty apologetics to Internet hoaxes.

One example is the decades-old urban legend that prominent atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair is launching a campaign to ban all religious programming from the airwaves. Recipients of this doomsday message are encouraged to sign a petition in order to preserve religious freedom.

The problem is that this story is completely false. Madalyn Murray O’Hair does not have any such campaign going on and has actually been dead since 1995. A quick Google search is all it takes to discover that there is nothing constructive to be gained from spreading this false rumour. As Christians, we look rather foolish when we allow ourselves to get suckered in so easily.

It is equally silly when we use bogus arguments to defend our faith. For example, it is not true that Noah’s Ark has been discovered on Mount Ararat or that human and dinosaur footprints have been found together at the Paluxy River in Texas. Nor is there such a thing as a “day missing in time” discovered by NASA scientists that proves that the sun stood still in Joshua 10:12-14.

By the way, there is also no evidence that Charles Darwin recanted the theory of evolution on his deathbed. And yet, these and many other bogus arguments are still used by well-meaning Christians when defending the faith.

The Value of Shrewdness

In Luke 16:1-9, Jesus tells his disciples a parable about a dishonest manager who cleverly ingratiates himself with his master’s debtors by quickly reducing their debts before being fired from his job. Without defending this manager’s dishonesty, Jesus notes that the master commended his manager for acting shrewdly (Luke 16:8). The Greek word translated as “shrewdly” is phronimos, which means prudent, practically wise, or sensible.

According to Jesus, his disciples can learn something from this dishonest manager. “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8b ESV).

In other words, Jesus is telling his disciples that non-Christians often act more prudently and sensibly than Christians do in many circumstances. Suffice it to say that there is nothing particularly shrewd about falling for a pyramid scheme, spreading false Internet rumours, or using bogus arguments to defend our faith.

In a different context, Jesus gives his disciples some advice as to how they should handle themselves before he sends them out. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt.10:16). Jesus knew that his followers would face serious challenges in the world so he reminded them that they needed to behave shrewdly without falling into the trap of emulating the world’s sinful ways.

How to Become More Shrewd

In Preaching the Parables (2004), New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg says that in far too many cases, Christians do the exact opposite and are “as wicked as servants and as dumb as doves.” Blomberg points out that Christians are often too complacent when it comes to planning Sunday School lessons, sharing our faith strategically, or running church committee meetings. Churches should be known as some of the best-run organizations in the country and yet we know that far too many congregations accept poor governance as a fact of church life.

Running a church effectively requires a lot of work and more than a little shrewdness. There is a reason why the Apostle Paul wrote letters in which he provided a detailed description of the qualifications for the roles of elders and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).

Paul even took the time to explain how churches should determine which widows to enroll in their support systems (1 Tim. 5:3-16). Details matter and Christians should not fall into trap of assuming that we need to do nothing more than trust in God. God gave us brains for a reason and he expects us to use them.

When it comes to evangelism, Paul acted shrewdly on more than few occasions. He made good use of his Roman citizenship to stand up for his legal rights (Acts 22:25-29) and chose just the right moment to identify himself as a Pharisee when standing before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6-10).

When speaking to the people of Athens, Paul quoted from one of their own poets and made sure to tailor his message in such a way that it was intelligible to his audience (Acts 17:22-34). In each of these circumstances, Paul exemplified what it means to act shrewdly.

Fortunately, we can enhance our shrewdness. Reading God’s Word regularly is one of the best ways to protect ourselves from foolishness. “Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:98-99).

We should also put in the necessary intellectual work before making a decision. Do some research before you forward a petition. There is nothing virtuous about ignorance, especially when many of the answers are easily found.

zwaagstra
Michael Zwaagstra

Finally, we need to make better use of our God-given intelligence. If non-Christians can tell the difference between a legitimate business and a pyramid scheme, the same should hold true for Christians. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In all our dealings, let’s seek to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.

Michael Zwaagstra, BEd, PBCE, MEd, MA (Theological Studies), is a public high school teacher, a city councillor, and an adult Sunday School teacher (EFC Steinbach).

Dr. Harvey Plett: Children and the Church (Part One): A Search for Comfort

by Dr. Harvey Plett

Many parents have some misgivings about how their children relate to the Church and the Kingdom of God. A question that haunts many is, “If my child dies, will it go to heaven?” This discomfort has been produced, in part, by a lack of teaching in our churches, or by improper teaching about what the Bible says regarding children.

A further influence that has affected this discomfort is the influence of various groups that stress child evangelism. They stress that as soon as a child knows it is doing wrong it is old enough to make a salvation decision. In addition, most groups stressing chid evangelism also teach eternal security. This gives impetus to the idea of getting children to make decisions, for then they are eternally secure no matter what may happen in the future.

Another influence that has raised questions about the child’s eternal welfare has been getting to know people who have been baptized as infants. Later they have accepted Christ and are dynamic Christians. Many of these have continued to hold a strong view that their infant baptism, whether it is sacramental or covenantal, is a valid baptism. This creates a problem for us when such people ask for membership.

We understand, with our Anabaptist forebears, that the Scriptures teach a believer’s baptism. We tend to be afraid that by requiring a believer’s baptism of such individuals we will offend them and turn them away. We do not want to offend or hurt them and so seek for a rationale that will permit us to accept their infant baptism as a valid baptism.

Consequently many people are not sure about the spiritual status of children. For many it has also been an impetus to find an answer that is biblical and will give us peace should our child die.

 Psychological Comfort

In the search for some assurance, some parents find comfort in Child Dedication. Psychologically going through a ceremony gives a sense of comfort even though we all know that no human can dedicate another human, for each is ultimately responsible for himself or herself.

Somehow we hope the ceremony will do something to the child until it is old enough to make its own decision and also condition the child to make the decision when old enough. Those believe the biblical teaching of believer’s baptism know the ceremony really doesn’t do anything for the child, but it makes us parents feel better.

Children Are In the Kingdom

Jesus teaches children are in the Kingdom of God. Mark 10:13-16 gives us the context in which Jesus teaches this. In verse 14 Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Rather clearly and simply Jesus rebukes his disciples for hindering children coming to Him and then adds that they are in the Kingdom. You find the incident also described in Luke 18:15-17 and Matt. 19:13-15.

Children are in the Kingdom because the salvation of Christ. Romans 5:18 says, “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” Titus 2:11 also suggests that the salvation in Christ covers those who are still in what could be called their innocent state. No ceremony or baptism is needed to secure a child’s salvation. The child is covered by the blood of Christ.

Age of Accountability

This raises a few critical questions. Does this mean a child does not need to make a decision for Christ? When is a person old enough to be held accountable so that when he sins he will experience the consequences, separation from Christ?

We do have two illustrations in the Bible when children are held accountable. The first is that those who were 19 and younger would be able to enter the Promised Land (Num. 14:29-31). Evidently they were not held responsible for the murmuring and rebellion against God, which resulted in the condemnation to all who were 20 and over. The second illustration is Jesus being brought to the temple at the age of 12 (Luke 2:41ff). This could have been preparation for his Bar Mitzvah the following year. A Jewish boy became responsible and accountable for himself in his obedience to the Law when he turned 13.

Child Development

Both examples are illustrative and not necessarily normative. However, when we add to this our knowledge of child development, we know that a person grows in knowledge, understanding, and accountability.

Somewhere around puberty a person begins to become accountable. To make a decision for Christ, a person has to have some understanding of what sin is, what faith is, and what salvation is. The understanding of sin, as merely individual acts, is not an adequate understanding of sin.

A child taught about right and wrong by her or his parents will be bothered when it does things it has been told not to do because its trained conscience registers it negatively. Human development teaches us that a person becomes responsible and accountable as they grow older and develop understanding and, as I have suggested, it probably comes around the onset of puberty.

Discernment

Two more truths in connection with this must be kept in mind. Each person develops and matures at his or her own pace. We all know individuals who were very mature by 14 and others who were only that mature when they were 16 or 17. Thus we as a community of faith will have to do some discerning when a person is accountable enough to receive baptism.

The second truth is that the transition from childhood to adulthood, through what we call adolescence, takes time. And so, we have a somewhat overlapping of the childhood state and young adult state. Again this demands discernment by the community of faith. This discernment must be made humbly, lovingly but not motivated by fear.

Dr. Harvey Plett
Dr. Harvey Plett

So what does this mean for our life together as churches? Stay tuned for Part Two.

Dr. Harvey Plett (Prairie Rose) is a long-time EMC minister, educator, and conference worker. He has served as president of SBC and as EMC moderator. He continues to do some teaching, preaching, counselling, and writing. He and his wife Pearl live in Mitchell, Man., and celebrated 58 years of blessed marriage on Aug. 22, 2016. They have a daughter, three sons, 13 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Dr. John J. Friesen: Martin Luther and the Anabaptists

by Dr. John. J Friesen

This year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting 95 theses on the doors of the churches in the city of Wittenberg, including the All Saints Church. What Luther intended as a debate over how to reform abuses in the Roman Catholic Church resulted in the break-up of the Catholic Church and the start of the Protestant Reformation.

Why should Anabaptists-Mennonites care about Martin Luther, a young university professor, and his reforms? Why should this anniversary be noted in Mennonite-Anabaptist denominational papers?

No Luther, No Anabaptists

The principal reason why Mennonites-Anabaptists should care about Luther’s reform is that Luther is the reason why there was an Anabaptist-Mennonite reform movement at all. Luther’s reforms, and the conflicts they spawned between Catholics and Protestants, created space for the Anabaptist movement to take root.

They sprang up in German states, northern Switzerland, Moravia, and the Netherlands. Without Luther, and the other reformers who followed his lead, there would have been no Anabaptist movements.

Inspired by Key Ideas

Mennonites should also care about Luther’s reform because the early Anabaptist leaders were inspired by Luther’s key ideas. Luther’s reform began as a critique of the Catholic Church selling indulgences. In response Luther formulated his central view that salvation is by grace, that is, a gift from God, and not by works.

When challenged about how he could make such a claim since it deviated from the beliefs of most of the great teachers of the medieval church, Luther said his authority was the Bible, not tradition. Specifically, he based his view of grace on the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians. It was the Bible alone, Luther said, on which he based his view that salvation is by faith through grace.   

Following this claim, Luther decided to make the Bible available to the masses by translating it into the German language. Widespread distribution was made possible by the newly invented moveable type printing presses. Access to the Bible allowed people to read scripture for themselves, and to implement reforms that they believed were consistent with scripture.

Luther also rejected the control that the Catholic priesthood had over access to forgiveness. Luther believed that all believers had direct access to God—no priestly mediation was necessary. Luther called this the priesthood of all believers. All these emphases Anabaptists applauded.

A Parting 

Even though at first Luther seemed to empower common people, he also spoke highly of the role German princes should play in any reform. When the peasants revolted in the years 1524-25, Luther condemned them harshly.

He cast his lot with the princes and adopted the state-church model for his reform. Luther looked to the German princes both for protection and direction. This decision set Luther and the Anabaptists against each other.

A ‘Should Have’

Anabaptists believed that Luther’s reform ideas should have resulted in a believers’ church. Such a church would have consisted of those who truly had faith in God and had committed themselves to a life of Christian discipleship. This option would have resulted in a church that was a minority in the population.

Accepting a believers’ church would have resulted in a pluralist society in which minority church groups were tolerated. When Luther opted for the state-church model, placed the Lutheran church under the authority of the state, and persecuted minority churches, Anabaptists believed that Luther had betrayed the teachings of the Bible.

This commitment to a believers’ church allowed Anabaptists to reshape basic Christian beliefs and practices. Anabaptists emphasized baptism on the basis of adult confessions of faith, instead of infant baptism. Church leaders were chosen from within the community of believers instead of being appointed by church hierarchies, or by state officials.

Reforms were based on the church community’s reading of scripture, rather than on the basis of what was politically expedient and approved by princes. Church discipline and social shunning replaced trials and executions of those with whom they disagreed.   

For worship, Anabaptists gathered in houses, barns, and caves to read scripture together. They discussed biblical texts and discerned together, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, how to apply them to daily living. They sang songs composed by their own members based on experiences of persecution and martyrdom. No more majestic cathedrals, chants, organs, monastic choirs, and elaborate liturgies where members were largely spectators.

They rejected feudal oaths since their primary loyalty was to God and not to princes and emperors. They advocated a life of peace, rejected violence, refused to carry swords, forgave those who wronged them, and reconciled conflicts between members of the church.

One cannot imagine the Anabaptist movement without Luther’s reforms. And yet, the direction that Luther’s reforms took resulted in Luther becoming one the Anabaptists’ bitterest enemies.

Even the Augsburg Confession of 1530, the basic Lutheran confession, included the following among a number of condemnations: “We condemn Anabaptists who forbid Christians to hold office,” and “We condemn Anabaptists who reject the baptizing of children, and say that children are saved without baptism.” Most Lutheran states crushed Anabaptist groups within their borders.

Pietism

This sharp break between Luther and the Anabaptists, however, is not the end of the story of Luther’s influence on Anabaptist Mennonites. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Lutheran Church spawned a Pietist movement, which has in many ways positively influenced Mennonites.

Pietism emphasized Bible reading by laity, a warm devotional life, an experience of conversion and personal commitment to God, a life of discipleship, and an extensive hymnody. Pietists drew upon the early emphases of Luther and thus, in many respects, were close to the emphases of the sixteenth century Anabaptist movement.

John-Friesen
Dr. John J. Friesen

Martin Luther and his followers have had a powerful shaping influence on Anabaptists-Mennonites, then and now. It is appropriate to remember Luther and the significant contributions he made to all denominations of the Christian Church, including the Anabaptists-Mennonites. Luther was a giant in his age and will always be honoured for the major impact he made.   

Dr. John J. Friesen is Professor Emeritus for History and Theology, Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Man. This article was produced for Meetinghouse, an association of Anabaptist periodicals and editors in Canada and the U.S.

Gary Martens: Care for the Land, Finding Our Way Back to the Garden

by Gary Martens

Many years ago, when the earth was younger than it is today, there was a beautiful garden full of trees producing edible fruits and nuts in what is now the man-made desert of Iraq. Near the junction of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, near the present day city of Bagdad, there was a life sustaining landscape.

The Garden of Eden is the picture of an idyllic situation. The images evoke peace, contentment, fulfillment, shade on a hot day, clear water, good food and a close relationship with the Divine. I think this is something all of us would want. Certainly I do. We have, however, strayed far from that idyllic situation. Is it possible to find our way back?

Care for the land has meant different things to people over time. I believe most farmers actually want to care for the land and believe they are caring for the land by good crop husbandry today. Care for the land in Old Testament times was linked to obeying God: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear from heaven forgive their sins and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

More recently, care for the land in the 1950s meant black summer fallow. You were a good farmer if you kept a field bare and “at rest” for a whole year. Today we know that keeping green plants out of a field is not caring for the land; it is destroying the land.

Farmers either did not know or did not acknowledge that they were actually destroying the land by these practises. My question is, does God accept claimed ignorance as an excuse? I know the state does not.

In Isaiah 1 God says He doesn’t need or want our meaningless offerings. He needs us to learn to do right, to seek justice, to encourage the oppressed, to defend the cause of the fatherless, to plead the case of the widow. If we are obedient, we will eat the best from the land (Isaiah 1:1-18).

Doing right is for our own good. There is a common thread that links all of these behaviours. It is our attitude and how we view our relationships. If we don’t respect God we will probably not respect other people especially the weak and we will not respect the land. If, however, we do honour God we will have compassion for people, and we will care for the land.

From this reading of the prophet Isaiah we find that care for the land is a many-sided thing. It involves social issues, spiritual issues, as well as physical issues. I ask myself if God’s thistles-and-thorns curse, condemning peoples to eat of the harvest of the ground through painful toil (Gen. 3:17-19), is an inescapable fate. Or is it the condition that we find ourselves in because we disobey God? Surely God desires us to thrive. Abel in Gen. 4:1-4 is a hint to me that this may be the case.

I want to explore this topic through three questions.

Question 1: Are we caring for the land today?

Most farmers believe they are, but our almost exclusive use of annual crops in modern agriculture has led and is continuing to lead to a decline in the health of our soils. Unbroken prairie soil less than 200 years ago had an incredible 15 to 23% organic matter. Today that organic matter, which is the source of life and health, is down to 1 to 6%. We have destroyed 40 to 60% of the organic matter in our land in less than 200 years.

Question 2: Why are we destroying our land?

An annual plant needs to be planted each year, grows for a short 100 days, produces seed, and then dies. A perennial plant, on the other hand, can be planted once and will survive our winters. It will grow again from earliest spring to freeze up, usually more than 180 days, and thrive for many years without replanting.

About 10,000 years ago we choose to grow primarily annual crops for our food. The reasons are many. I will mention three. First, annual crops give higher grain yields than perennials. Two, we have had the luxury of cheap fossil fuel energy to power our annual cropping system, which requires 10 calories of energy to produce one calorie of food. And three, we misunderstand where God is and have gradually slipped into a new Gnosticism.

On point three, that is, there is a higher valuation of the spiritual, a separation of the spiritual and the physical. There is the related belief that when everything goes “to hell in a hand-basket,” God will rescue us to heaven. We mistakenly say God is over there, we are over here, and the earth is inert material at our disposal. This view came about in the 1600’s when science forced God out of His creation.

Isaiah warned that if Israel did not follow the precepts of God the land would be laid waste and be desolate; but if Israel obeyed His commandments the land would be rich, flowing with milk and honey sustaining them indefinitely. Modern day prophets are saying the same thing.

Jared Diamond in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (revised 2011) documents why civilizations fail. Even though the causes are numerous and complex, the common theme in all collapsed civilizations, starting with the first Sumerian civilization, is the unsustainable exploitation of our natural resources. David R. Montgomery, in his book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations (2012), pinpoints that the degradation of land is the underlying cause of all collapsed societies.

Our continued dependence on annual cropping systems will lead to the eventual collapse of the North American civilization and many other annual crop based civilizations as well.

Question 3: What can we do about it?

How are we going to do this, find our way back to the garden? Mark Shepard in his book Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers (2013) describes how to find our way back to the garden for his area in Wisconsin. Mark has actually converted his farm into a thriving Garden of Eden. Both Mark in Wisconsin and myself in Manitoba are in what is known as the oak savannah. But the lessons go across Canada.

Jonah warned the Ninevites about impending doom; they listened and the doom did not come (Jonah 3:1-10). In the same way modern prophets warned us of the Y2K threat. The threat did not materialize. We ridiculed the prophets for exaggerating the problem, when it was, in fact, because we changed our systems that doom did not come. We owe these prophets respect because they saved us from disaster. So, too, today we have prophets of doom that say if we do not change how we treat the land we are in peril.

gary-head-shot3
Gary Martens

Gary Martens, BSc., P.Ag (professional agrologist), was for many years an instructor in Plant Science at the University of Manitoba, retiring in 2014. He is now practicing what he preached on his tiny farm, with a tiny house, near Kleefeld, Man. Though retired from that role, he previously served for many years as a minister within Kleefeld EMC.