Tag Archives: Church

Letters October 2016

Seeking Peace in Israel-Palestine

Thank you to Senator Don Plett for raising his concerns about justice in Israel and Palestine [An Ill-Advised Resolution Against Israel]. It is important to discuss these matters if—and perhaps especially when—our views do not agree.

It is important for readers to know some background to the resolution that was affirmed by delegates. Mennonite Church Canada has been engaged in understanding the Middle East conflict for decades. We were asked by Christian Palestinians to advocate on their behalf in their plight. In this regard, it is important to know that we are not conflating all Palestinians into one category.

Certainly there is Palestinian violence against Israel that we do not support, but these acts do not represent the Palestinian Christians we know. We would challenge leaders of other Mennonite conferences and churches to also consider how they would respond to such a request from fellow Christians in light of the Bible’s over-arching call to the faithful for justice and mercy.

We are not seeking to deny Israel or its people the right to exist. Rather, we seek to make Israel the best country it can possibly be. Our own Canadian government and the United Nations have called for human rights for Palestinians. Canada’s own policy statement in regards to Israel states, “Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967” (http://tinyurl.com/ygtd6p2).

It is important to not conflate all Israelis, their government, and the Jewish people into one homogenous group acting in unity. There are numerous groups of Israelis and Jewish people who support justice for Palestinians, including Rabbis for Human Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, and others.

These are undoubtedly complex issues. Readers wishing to learn more about the issue in general and the Mennonite Church Canada resolution specifically (http://tinyurl.com/zrotfxq) have vast resources available to them, such as the Kairos document by Palestinian Christians at http://tinyurl.com/jxz9d7h. Mennonite Church Canada encourages Mennonites belonging to any conference to become deeply acquainted with the subject matter, and to listen with openness.

– Dan Dyck, Director,  Church Engagement-Communications Mennonite Church Canada


Do We Love the Whole Church?

Layton Friesen’s article “Is Your Congregation the Real Church?”(July-Aug.) encouraged us to accept para-church partners under the umbrella of “The Church,” thus broadening our idea and practice of Church. I would like to extend his idea a little.

Christ left no blueprint for the Church save His “walk” and command to “love one another.” Differences in visions of the Body of Christ has splintered the Church into Syriac, African, Roman, Eastern Orthodox, and a myriad of Protestant denominations—all who consider themselves the “true” Church.

Even the earliest Church was split into two camps. The early Jewish believers waited in Jerusalem for the imminent return of the Lord. Ready acceptance of the gospel caused the Hellenistic Jews to be received as equals. Philip who loved the Samaritans also reached out to an Ethiopian eunuch. Jewish purity was being eroded!

Saul, the Great Persecutor, was commissioned to preach to the Gentiles of all things—fodder for early schism. Indeed, Paul had to visit Jerusalem 12 years later to counter the Judaisers and address the growing rift. He later returned to fulfill an oath to the Temple knowing that it would lead to his death.

He literally willingly sacrificed his life for the love and unity of the Church. Not just the Gentile Church that he loved, but the whole Church, the True Church.

Do we love the whole Church? How would that affect our prayers, words, and actions? What are we willing to sacrifice for its unity?

– Ray Hill, MacGregor, Man.

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.

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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.

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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.

Terry Smith: Self-determination, Framework

By Terry M. Smith

Individual congregations retain full privileges of self-determination within the framework of the Conference Constitution. However, membership in the Conference implies the responsible support of resolutions and programs developed together” (The Constitution, 20). “Self-determination within the framework”—here is the dance between local autonomy and national direction.

Listening to some people talk about self-determination (autonomy), I get confused. Who decides on what it means in practice?

Churches choose their pastors. To be nationally recognized and to vote at national ministerial meetings, though, pastors are to go through the BLO’s examination process. Some churches and pastoral search committees seem unconcerned about the examination process—despite its being designed, in part, for their protection.

Other matters are footwashing, war and peace, women in ministry, baptism and membership, and fundraising. Some will be clarified through the Statement of Faith review. The General Board will guide processes where needed.

Local decisions have an impact. During a joint ministerial meeting in 1941, Prairie Rose announced that only its brethren would vote to select its ministers (Harvey Plett, Seeking to be Faithful, 149). Prairie Rose chose self-autonomy.

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Terry M. Smith

Dr. Plett speaks of how this “led to greater autonomy in the local church.” What isn’t mentioned is the precedent’s implication: a local church can move in a direction not yet recognized by the wider body. Other EMC congregations have since followed Prairie Rose’s example, deciding internally about various matters.

The General Board plans to look at conference structures. Perhaps this will clarify the meaning of “self-determination within the framework.”

Terry Smith: Loyalty Today

by Terry M. Smith

Some church leaders say that denominational loyalties aren’t what they used to be; we can no longer assume support for our programs because a person was raised in a particular church. Does this concern me? No and yes.

In Canada there is a confusing display of evangelical and Mennonite churches. Many of these divisions can’t be defended today even while knowing the historical reasons for them. More mergers are welcomed.

Still, look deeper: theological and church loyalties continue. The research of Dr. Reginald Bibby, from the University of Lethbridge, says that in Canada when evangelicals and mainline Christians change churches, they stay within their broader theologies. In other words, when a Mennonite and a Nazarene swap churches, they continue a larger loyalty—and, I say, they enrich others and are enriched.

Paradoxically, even independent churches show some loyalty; their beliefs and internal workings identify within a stream of thought. Agencies such as the Northern Canada Evangelical Mission and Village Missions Canada often seem to function as denominations.

Should the EMC be concerned about loyalty? Certainly, we are to be loyal to Christ and his Church. That said, loyalty to the EMC is better earned than expected. How can the EMC improve at this?

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

The EMC certainly has purposes worthy of any part of the wider Church: “The purpose of the Conference is to glorify God by building his Kingdom” through sharing the gospel at home and abroad, planting churches, building community, coordinating resources, and forming wider affiliations (Constitution, 20). We have a rich theology. We can, indeed, accomplish more together than each church can alone.

While church loyalty isn’t as local as it used to be, to worship and work together makes sense and honours Christ.

Layton Friesen: Who’s Afraid of Liberals?

by Layton Friesen

Many people in the EMC are worried about “liberalism” in the Church. It’s hard to explain exactly what liberalism is, but we all seem to know what we mean. To go “liberal,” we believe, is to drive the “welcome, include, and affirm everyone” instinct so one-sidedly that we compromise the Gospel revealed in Scripture.

Let me try to explain where this “liberal” instinct comes from and why it arose in the first place. After the Reformation in the 1500’s, a huge problem hung over the freshly wounded bodies (!) of Christ. Have the severed “churches” (Protestant, Anabaptist, Catholic) any Gospel-based way for all these new factions to co-exist peacefully within society?

Prior to the Reformation, the Church provided the glue holding society together, sort of. But with the Church now existing in mutual damnation of itself in mutual excommunications, was there still a Gospel-based way for people to love one another across boundaries? Could Jesus still bring us together in love, overcoming our differences, or would we now need to find secular ways to live out the Bible’s command to love?

Attempts were made. The first swing-and-a-miss was the theological killing of the Reformation age resulting in thousands of martyrs from all churches lined up against each other. Another swing-and-a-miss was the Thirty-Years War, a devastating 17th century war between the new “churches” in which a quarter of Europe’s population died. The last swing-and-you’re-out was World War I, when the churches of the west goaded the world to a bloodshed never before seen. 

Much went on in the meantime, but the divided churches found no Gospel-based way to love across their differences. The Church never figured out how to come to theological agreement in love. Was it really impossible, using biblical resources, to overcome deep differences regarding baptism, salvation by grace, ordination, and so on? Apparently.

Finally, western society said, “Fine, you’ve had your chance. If that’s what the Gospel amounts to, we’ll just have to find another way to get along.” And that is where liberalism in the Church and in the world arose.

In all its different forms, liberalism tempers doctrinal truth, looking for better ways to approximate what was supposed to be the love of the body of Christ. It’s what the world came up with in response to un-resolvable disunity in the church. If the Church doesn’t like it, it has no one to blame but itself. We simply have not shown that genuine Christian truth leads people to costlier love across painful boundaries. All we have shown is that a commitment to Scriptural truth leads to division.

And so, if we want to resist liberalism, it does not help to just shout louder about “truth” or “purity” or “sin.” We have to show the world that the gospel enables us to love our enemies, our theological enemies. We have to show that in the Spirit, guided by Scripture we are able to overcome our differences with Catholics, Lutherans, and other Mennonites.

But I see recent signs that things may be changing and that the Church is getting genuinely tired of its division. Churches are partnering in mission like never before. Martyrdom is exposing our common blood as believers across traditions. Reformation divisions over baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and justification are looking less interesting to the Church today.

Layton Friesen
Layton Friesen

When Jesus finally reigns in the Church and his love prevails, liberalism will be shown as the pale impotence it is. “On earth as it is in heaven. . . .”