STEINBACH/WINNPEG, Man.—Looking for a Bible study?
Your church holds classes for young people and adults interested in the Christian faith, baptism, and membership. After attending Christianity 101, Christian Foundations, Baptism and Membership Class, what do they study? Your conference has worked on an answer.
Holy Wanderings: A Guide to Deeper Discipleship is a 13-lesson guide looks at following Jesus together. It was published in November 2018. An effort that began in 2015, it is produced jointly by the CMC, EMMC, and EMC. Most of the writers come from within the three conferences, but outside expertise has also been called upon.
Holy Wanderings has chapters on the Bible and authority, the Bible and interpretation, Christians and worship, the role of the local church, an effective devotional life, stewardship and simple living, the Christian and vocation, everyday evangelism, a look at leadership, faith and culture, Christians and conflict, continuing and commending belief, and pilgrimage—a long, shared journey.
Quotes, discussion questions, and sidebar items will assist discussion and instruction. Ask for copies through your national office. Copies for CMC, EMMC, and EMC churches are subsidized at $5 plus postage.
Kevin Wiebe (EMC) was the pastor who suggested the project. The project’s committee members were Debbie Klassen (CMC), chair Bill Rambo (EMC), Lil Goertzen (EMMC), and Terry Smith (EMC). The book’s designer was Rebecca Roman (EMC).
In the book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church (Baker Academic, 2016) the author, Alan Kreider, asks how the Early Church grew in the face of disgrace and death, without any coordinated program for mission or effort to attract outsiders. In short, the Church Fathers insisted that believers make their faith visible, specifically through patience, which they considered the highest of virtues. I found it intriguing that three early church fathers wrote treatises on this patience. Why was “patience” so extolled in this era?
In his defense of Christianity, Justin (2nd c.) said, “When Christians live with integrity and visibility ‘by our patience … and meekness [Christians will] draw all men from shame and evil desires.’”
Pagan writers considered patience to be a characteristic of lowly people. Tertullian (4th c.), however, said patience is rooted in God Himself. The incarnation is the ultimate act of patience, as Christ bore the reproaches and shame of humankind. Christ rejected the sword. Believers must continue the same path.
This patience, which reflected a totally new way of life, along with the hidden power or yeast (ferment) within the Church, drew people towards the Kingdom who were dissatisfied with their old cultural habits and religious practices. Kreider talks about a push out from people’s social group and a pull towards the Church
While the Early Church world is vastly different from the 21st century, this reading has led me to reflect in the following ways.
Patience and Sacrifice
In Middle Eastern-South Asian cultures, the virtue of jawanmardi (young manliness, hero) is extolled as the greatest virtue of the “good man.” Difficult to translate the full meaning, it embodies all the public qualities of a true hero—courage, hospitality, large-heartedness, generosity, revenge as well as sacrifice). The ultimate hero lives without reference to himself and willingly sacrifices his life for the benefit of others instead of enacting revenge. Persians have told me they see Jesus as the greatest hero of all. He gave His life away, poured it out for others (kenosis—emptying of Philippians 2:6).
Indeed, the Christ-like patience which the church fathers extolled is much deeper than waiting quietly for a bus. Rather, it is a sacrificial and enduring compassion for others, carrying the pain and burdens of our world, which our Lord embodied in His life and ultimately on the cross. As His people, we are to have that same attitude (patience).
Patience and Christian Witness Today
Secondly, we are witnessing unprecedented growth of the Christian faith among Muslims in recent years that in some ways reflects the growth in the Early Church. We observe a push from within the Muslim world, a deep dismay at the present state in the Middle East (complicated as it is, with many dynamics at play) which compels people to search for answers beyond their world. We also see a pull towards the Church, the witness of compassion demonstrated by Jesus followers as they care for refugees and others. I have heard many migrants in Europe testify of the overwhelming love they’ve experienced from Christians. It is not doctrine or theology that draws them to Jesus, but the simple caring life of believers. Tertullian said, “Christians teach by deeds.”
Yes, we must talk the gospel and explain the person of Jesus, but as Origen (d. 256) believed, “Patience—Christians treating their neighbors well and behaving courageously in the [public] arena—is at the core of the church’s witness.”
Patience, Presence and Church Planting
Thirdly, our EM Conference is excited about church-planting and spreading the gospel beyond our own culture. As we seek to implement this vision, let us put on the garment of patience. We must become visible among the people we serve. It is this that encourages me about the new Ste. Agathe initiative as well as the efforts in southern Mexico—even though we don’t witness numerical success.
One of my team members, working among refugees in the Middle East, wrote recently,
One man wanted to come to the fellowship, but he had heard Christians get drunk, turn off lights in the service and grab someone’s wife. We assured him that this was all lies. He dared to come a few times, but became too busy with work. We trust he will bring his wife soon.
Another man who claimed faith was jailed for stealing. He was finally released. He acknowledged his sin and is experiencing real change. Our team member spends regular time with him and his wife.
Would these people be experiencing the new way of life if we were not patiently present among them? The believing community itself must be visible—tangible, accessible for true witness to take place. Christina Cook, in her article “Holy Inefficiency in a Digital Age,” bemoans our modern obsession with efficiency and productivity over presence and carrying burdens of people around us, “The living, breathing body of Christ … is uniquely poised to offer what the world is desperately searching for: embodied presence, true vulnerability […] the world is looking for the inefficient way to love.”
Cyprian, a church leader, wrote in AD 256, “We are philosophers not in words but in deeds; we exhibit our wisdom not by our dress, but by truth; we know virtues by their practice rather than through boasting of them; we do not speak great things but we live them.”
I see in myself the tendency to boast about impact and numbers. Can we relax from pushing or tracking statistics and overly coordinating efforts that easily run afoul? I want to believe in the divine ferment of God’s Spirit who draws people to the Kingdom and transforms them into a new way of living.
The writer has lived and worked among Persian peoples for more than 35 years. For security reasons, the writer is not identified here.
 Quoted in The Patient Ferment, 16.  Ibid., 56.  Ibid., 20.  Christina Cook, “Holy Inefficiency in a Digital Age” in Christianity Today, July/August 2018, 46.  Kreider, 13.
In this year when the Protestant (Radical) Reformation is remembered, Menno Simons is a 16th century leader to whom we are indebted and yet often forget. Some EMCers know Menno’s story; others know little. Pastors play a role in this.
Many of us were raised within the EMC. We’re shaped by this Dutch former priest, indebted to the Radical Reformation, influenced by the Small Church’s leaving the Big Church in 1812, and have family who were born on “this side” or “that side” of a river.
For others, few reasons why we attend an EMC church clearly relate to Menno Simons: it meets nearby, is evangelical, friendships, family, Kids’ Club, VBS, camp work, Sunday School, coming to faith in Christ, limited options, church conflict elsewhere.
Some people attend because a local EMC church has Mennonite in its name; others,because it doesn’t. Some attend because of a church’s non-resistant position; others despite it or because it might mean little locally. Yet each church is linked to Menno Simons.
Credit WGM and Others
Credit leader Ben D. Reimer and the Western Gospel Mission’s workers for opening the EMC door 70 years ago to non-Dutch/German people. The WGM in 1946-1961 planted churches in non-Mennonite communities in three provinces, downplayed the term Mennonite because it was a barrier to outreach, and adapted somewhat to local cultures.
As people have noted, it is ironic that aggressive church planting happened by pacifist German-speaking people just after World War Two. Credit also goes to non-Dutch/German people who decades ago became members (or a pastor, such as Edwin Wright) when it might have been easier to go elsewhere. As a result, changes have happened and are happening.
For some of us, our “Anabaptist convictions” were partly honed in Baptist, Pentecostal, and other Evangelical circles before joining the EMC. I was attracted to the Mennonite church because the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, a fine denomination, would likely not have ordained me because of my stance on the Holy Spirit. I sought an evangelical option (despite my United Church roots) and was influenced by MCC on peace and social issues. Joining the EMC in particular was more luck than good management—credit Jim and Virginia Dyck (then in Wabowden), the EMC contingent among SBC’s faculty, and Russ Loewen who snagged me to teach a S.S. class in Steinbach EMC.
Thought and Menno Simons
Whether we’ve joined the EMC from the inside or outside, we’re to consider Menno Simons’ teachings. It dishonours him and seems un-Anabaptist to do otherwise. Not that we must agree with him on all matters. Menno Simons insisted that people test what he said by the Word and Spirit and, if there’s a difference, stay with the Word and Christ (Complete Writings, 311). Menno never said to study Scripture because all roads lead to him. His focus was different: it was on Christ.
Exploring Menno Simons and the history he symbolizes is enriching, confusing, and disturbing—as can be any part of Church history. We might become aware of the many Anabaptist divisions, how some Anabaptists disassociate from Evangelicals, and how some people merge faith and culture under the term Mennonite. For some people the migrations to Prussia, Russia, Canada, and elsewhere fall within family history that is both significant and enriching; to others, the connection that matters starts and remains in Canada.
Comfort in Menno
When disturbed, though, we can find some comfort in Menno Simons: he disliked divisions among Anabaptists, wouldn’t want the church to be named after him, and thought the term Anabaptistdidn’t fit him (334, 630). What might he think, then, when people claim to be born Mennonite, talk of Mennonite food and language, or describe themselves as Mennonite while not following Christ? How is Menno Simons honoured if not allowed to critique the church named after him?
What’s attractive for some of us is that Menno was evangelical in his understanding of Christ and his work. “For Christ’s sake we are in grace; for His sake we are heard; and for His sake our faults and failings . . . are remitted,” he wrote in 1550. “For it is He who stands between His Father and His imperfect children, with His perfect righteousness, and with His innocent blood and death, and intercedes for all those who believe on Him and who strive by faith in the divine Word to turn from evil . . .” (506).
Assurance of Salvation
Further, Menno Simons taught that a weak follower of Christ could have an assurance of salvation. In 1557 he pointed a sick woman to Christ: “I pray and desire that you will betake yourself wholly both as to what is inward and what is outward unto Christ Jesus and His merits, believing and confessing that His precious blood alone is your cleansing; His righteousness your piety; His death your life; and His resurrection your justification; for He is the forgiveness of all your sins; His bloody wounds are your reconciliation; and His victorious strength is the staff and consolation of your weakness….” What wonderful words!
He told her, “ . . . rest assured that you are a child of God, and that you will inherit the kingdom of grace in eternal joy with all the saints” (1051-1052). I once showed this passage to Rev. Dave K. Schellenberg, the WGM’s former field man, EMC church planter at Portage la Prairie, and the first editor of this magazine. It puzzled him. If earlier Kleine Gemeinde leaders read Menno’s writings and he taught on the assurance of salvation, why did they seem so uncertain of assurance?
No Boast of Perfection
Comfort in Menno Simons can also be found in his being an imperfect saint. “Think not, beloved reader, that we boast of being perfect and without sins,” he wrote in 1552. “Not at all. As for me I confess that often my prayer is mixed with sin and my righteousness with unrighteousness” (506). J. C. Wenger, a modern Anabaptist scholar, highlighted such references (footnotes on 233, 311, 447).
Menno was properly concerned about Protestants who sang of freedom in Christ “while beer and wine verily run from their drunken mouths and noses.” He objected in 1541 that “anyone who can but recite” that salvation is by grace through faith alone, “no matter now carnally he lives, is a good evangelical man and a precious brother.” Simons was concerned about a living faith, about faith and practice. Memorization and slogans weren’t enough then. They still aren’t.
Such correction wasn’t always well received: “If someone steps up in true and sincere love to admonish or reprove them…and points them to Christ Jesus rightly,” Menno said, “…then he must hear…that he is one who believes in salvation by good works, is a heaven stormer, a sectarian agitator, a rabble rouser, a make-believe Christian, a disdainer of the sacraments, or an Anabaptist” (334). How might Menno Simons be received today as a preacher within our EMC churches and on Mennonite colonies?
An Unnatural Death
J. C. Wenger says Menno wrote far too much defending what now is mostly discarded: that Jesus was born in Mary, but not of her (836-837). I agree. Nor do we need to hold to his strict view of church discipline: a spouse is to separate from a mate under discipline (478-479). He fluctuated on this depending, we can suspect, on who was pressuring him at the moment (1048-1049, 1058-1061).
His six“true signs” of the “Church of Christ” are useful for assessing a church’s maturity and doctrinal integrity (734-743), though I hold that denominations can be in Christ while partly in error. As well, given our strong concern in the EMC for evangelism and church planting, it’s important for us (including missionaries and evangelists) to learn from Menno’s concern for peace and social justice (100, 117-119, 194-198, 367-368, 602-604).
Menno said more. Agree or disagree with him on a particular matter, we best not dismiss him. He held his views in a difficult time at a high personal cost. If he physically died a natural death denied many others in his time, his memory dies unnaturally in our time if we forget him—whether our local EM church name says Mennonite or not.
Terry M. Smith (Rev.) joined the EMC in 1979, served as a pastor from 1985-1996, and became executive secretary to the BCM in 1997. He was raised in the United Church and baptized in a Baptist church. During journalism studies he was called to ministry and began pastoral training at Central Pentecostal College. He is a graduate of SAIT, SBC, MBBC, and PTS.
Major source: The Complete Writings of Menno Simons (Herald Press, rev. 1984) edited by J. C. Wenger. A biography of Menno Simons is on 1 to 29; an autobiography is on 668-674. Leonard Verduin, a Christian Reformed minister who died in 1999, graciously served as translator.
WINNIPEG–Can a person be both fully Indigenous and fully Christian? What does that look like? Are there legitimate boundaries to contextualization? If so, who sets those boundaries? How can Christian ministries present Jesus in a good or better way?
The Ma’wa’chi’hi’to’tan: Journeying in a Good Way conference in Winnipeg this February was an opportunity to journey together with Indigenous leaders who have faced these and other questions. The event was geared for First Nations Christians and for non-Indigenous ministry practitioners among First Nations people.
Ma’wa’chi’hi’to’tan is Plains Cree for “let us gather together.” About 230 people, representing over 60 different organizations and including Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, spent two days together learning, sharing, crying and laughing. Several EMCers attended the conference and others volunteered in the kitchen.
Leaders from Indigenous Pathways were invited to present at this conference. It is an Indigenous-led community of ministries (NAIITS, iEmergence, My People, and Wiconi) supporting Indigenous people and raising awareness among non-Indigenous people (indigenouspathways.com). The presenters were Terry Leblanc (Mi’kmaq/Acadian), Ray Aldred (Cree), Cheryl Bear (Nadleh Whut’en), Wendy Beauchemin Peterson (Red River Métis), and Howard Jolly (James Bay Cree).
Plenary and workshop topics included Indigenous Values and Teachings, Contextualization: How Christianity Translates into Cultures, and Mentoring and Role Modelling Leadership while Respecting Indigenous Peoples. The weekend included a Blanket Exercise (an experiential learning activity about the history of colonization in Canada), times of storytelling, music, culturally contextual worship, and a feast.
The event was sponsored by Inner City Youth Alive and hosted at Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church in Winnipeg’s North End. I had the honour of leading the planning and organizing of this gathering together with our executive director Kent Dueck, another teammate, and a partnership of leaders from First Nations Commnity Church, North End Family Centre, Winnipeg Centre Vineyard, and Indigenous Pathways.
As a planning committee we saw the need for Christian ministries to become more intentional about how we minister among Indigenous people and as we walk with friends who are wrestling with what it means to follow Jesus as an Indigenous person. Given Christian mission’s harmful legacy with Indigenous people, how can we engage in evangelism, pastoral care, worship, faith community, discipleship and nurturing leadership among Indigenous people in ways that are reconciling and liberating? How can Indigenous people find healing freedom to follow Jesus in culturally meaningful ways?
In the months leading up to the event the response was overwhelming. Clearly, these questions and issues have struck a chord among evangelical Christians serving among First Nations people as well as First Nations Christians themselves.
The presenters tackled difficult issues with both heart and skill, drawing from their extensive ministry and theological experience. They incorporated their personal stories as well as key missiological principles and deep theological engagement. The teaching was stretching for many attendees and uncomfortable for some. Attendees came away from the conference encouraged and equipped with new insights as well as with some unanswered questions that require further reflection and dialogue.
Many attendees felt that this was a conversation long overdue. There was a strong desire to continue the conversation and spread these insights to others in the Church. An Indigenous woman who attended the conference said, “For the first time, I see a stream in the church where First Nations people can walk.”
Andrew Reimer (Steinbach EMC) is a community minister with Inner City Youth Alive.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference