There is a short Old Testament phrase that I have found intriguing during these past weeks of this global pandemic. It is used by people like Joshua, Gideon, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel when they simply reached the place where they perceived things had become hopeless. Tired, frustrated, and out of ideas as to how to resolve their respective crisis situations, they threw up their arms and exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord!”
This word alas is less of a word and more of a sound or cry of exasperation. I would call it the sound of despair. The sound of hopelessness. Continue reading The Path of Hope→
A cartoon of years ago pictured a man seated in a pastor’s office. The pastor looked at him and said, “Give up your life of crime. Quit politics.” The Bible is the inspired Word of God; it is also a library of books written across many years in varied cultures, countries, and political contexts—which affects what political lessons we can take from it today. Continue reading The Spider Web of Scripture and Politics→
After decades of studying wider Church and Anabaptist-Mennonite history, I suggest that a few words on any period of church history are inadequate for later generations to accurately assess the spiritual health of their predecessors. Often there were problems, yet I suspect there was also more spiritual health than is sometimes acknowledged. Continue reading Spiritual Health and Patience with the Church→
Editor’s note: This article is published by the Board of Church Ministries as we explore how to discuss and discern together. It appeared in The Daily Bonnet (Dec. 18, 2017), an online publication of gentle satire. The Anabaptist-Mennonite church is global with many cultures and languages, though in the article some German-speaking members are highlighted. Whatever our background, there is a common challenge: how to talk and decide together.
By Andrew Unger
Mennonites are pacifists, so we can’t use physical violence to achieve our goals. So, how do we get our way? Well, by winning an argument, of course! We use words, not swords.
In order to make a good argument, however, we need to learn to be logical and not resort to reasoning errors. Therefore, to aid Mennonites in this quest, The Daily Bonnet has created this handy guide to common logical fallacies (i.e., bad arguments), each one explained in a way that Mennonites can easily understand.
Ad Hominem – This is a personal attack in place of an argument. When your opponent runs out of good arguments, they usually resort to insults. For example, Mrs. Friesen argues that vereneki (perogies) are better boiled than fried. Since Mrs. Penner can’t think of a comeback, she simply retorts, “Waut es mit die, du ola Schnodda Näs!” (What is it with you, you old snot nose!”)
Ad Populum – This is arguing on the basis of popularity, but it’s not a good argument. Even though all church decisions are made by committee, it doesn’t matter how many people believe in something; that doesn’t make it true. The whole world could believe Menno Simons was a mermaid; that wouldn’t make it true—although that would be pretty awesome!
Appeal to Pity – This fallacy is when you’re using pity and emotion rather than logic to win an argument. So, for example, Mr. Klippenstein wants to get a new hitching post in front of the MCC shop. Instead of using a rational argument to make his case, he appeals to pity and says, “Na, junges (No, boys), you wouldn’t want your old Opa (grandfather) to have to hitch his horses in front of the Co-ops across the street, now would you?”
Appeal to Tradition – This is self-explanatory. Just because something is traditional, doesn’t mean it’s correct. This is basically the Mennonite defence for everything: gender roles, church start times, Mr. Toews’ parking spot. Everything seems to be defended by simply saying, “Ach, that’s the way we’ve always done it yet!” It’s a bad argument.
False Dilemma – A false dilemma is when someone provides an artificially limited number of options in order to make one (previously undesirable) option seem more desirable. “You don’t want to eat chicken livers tonight? Well, it’s either you eat your chicken livers or you’ve got manure-spreading duty for a month. You decide!”
Personal Incredulity – This is when someone argues that something must be wrong just because they, personally, don’t find it believable. Your uncle does this one a lot, I’m sure. “Women wearing pants? Makes no sense to me!” or “Drums in church? It doesn’t give such!”
Red Herring –Mennonites don’t eat a lot of fish, but we do use a lot of red herrings. This is the use of distraction to change the subject from the original argument. So, for example, Andrea Wiebe says that the church should order 12 dozen raisin buns for the next funeral because they ran out the last time. In typical old Mennonite man fashion, Mr. Doerksen retorts, “Yeah, well, who’s going to shovel the sidewalk in front of the building?!” The meeting is then diverted into a lengthy conversation about icy sidewalks and Miss Wiebe’s original perfectly reasonable request is completely forgotten.
Slippery Slope – The slippery slope fallacy occurs when someone argues against one thing on the unfounded basis that it will lead to something worse. “You want people to be able to purchase a glass of wine with their meal? Well, if we allow that, then the next thing you know we’ll be legalizing cocaine, we’ll all become addicts, then there’ll be no one to harvest the grain, our entire society will collapse, and Kleefeld will never be the same again!”
Straw Man – This is when you distort someone’s argument to make it easier to defeat (like a straw man). Say, for example, Mrs. Loewen argues that the church should allow women to enter the building without a head covering. Mr. Plett retorts, “Yeah, well, you’d probably like to come into church completely naked.” I’m afraid, Mr. Plett, you’ll have to do better than that, as this statement is a fallacy.
Tu Quoque – From the Latin for “you also.” This is related to ad hominem, because it’s a personal attack in which you point out someone’s hypocrisy in order to diminish their argument. However, an argument must be judged on its own merit. Being a hypocrite does not negate an argument. Like when Mr. Peters suggested changing the communion wine to non-alcoholic Welch’s grape juice, but Mr. Fehr pointed out that Mr. Peters was the biggest boozer in town so who is he to talk. And then Mr. Peters said that Mr. Fehr’s wife Alice was known to down her fair share of real Mexican vanilla. And then Mrs. Fehr said that Mr. Peter’s wife Susan enjoys those brandy beans at Christmas a little too much, “not to mention the rum balls and boozy fruit cake,” and then Mrs. Peters said that…. You get the idea.
So, there you have it! The next time you see a Mennonite friend making a fallacious argument, just show them this article. Problem solved. Oba yo! (Definitely yes!)
Andrew Unger (Stony Brook) is a teacher in Steinbach, Man.
On Feb. 18, 1688, four leaders in Germantown, Pennsylvania, signed a petition against slavery and sent it to “the Monthly Meeting at Richard Warrels.” Drawing upon the analysis of J. H. Fretz, the petition had at least seven overlapping arguments: 1) slavery violates the Great Commandment; 2) it violates people’s will by forcing them into slavery); 3) it can involve theft; 4) it separates spouses, causing them to commit adultery; 5) it harms the witness of Quakers by offending some people; 6) slaves had the right to freedom (even to fight for it); and 7) Christians do not have the liberty to enslave. Continue reading A 1688 Protest Against Slavery with a ‘Mennonite-like Conscience’→
“I am distressed beyond all misery. I am poverty-stricken and robbed of my ability to work, all of which I cannot overcome in my lifetime. I have been starved so that I cannot now eat or drink, and my body is broken. How would you like to live for five weeks with only boiled water and unflavoured bread soup? I have been lying in the darkness on straw.
“All of this would not be possible if God had not given me an equal measure of his love. I marvel that I have not become confused or even mad. I would have frozen if the Lord had not strengthened me, for you can well imagine how a little bit of hot water will warm one. In addition to this I have suffered great torture twice from the executioner, who has ruined my hands, unless the Lord heals them. I have had enough of it to the end of my days.
“…Therefore, dear Lords, you will find in me nothing but patience in word and deed. I will obey you till I die and I will obey God till I die. But I will not build on this commandment of men, which is against God, as long as there is breath in me. I will not be a hypocrite, either to curry favour or to avoid suffering, but will seek the truth with all my heart.”
It is difficult to focus on the wretched suffering of early Anabaptists and other Christian martyrs. Imprisoned in horrible conditions, Keller endured much in body and soul.
“Keller was an ordinary man,” says Walter Klaassen, “and the fact that he eventually gave up does nothing to discredit the strength and pathos of his testimony.” Yet with all due respect to Klaassen, there is little evidence that Keller gave up.
True, Andreas said he would obey the authorities, but he persisted in saying he would obey God and he would not build on the commandment of man. He said he did not seek to curry favour or avoid suffering. He preferred not to suffer; so did our Lord (see Luke 22:42).
As others have done and said, I write these words while seated in a comfortable chair near a window providing light, living in a country that offers much in peace and safety, having returned from a lunch where I ate too much. Who am I to condemn Keller as he faced a time and circumstances not experienced by me? If his faith was weak, I wish mine were as strong as his.
Centuries later my sadness comes partly from knowing that both the tortured and the torturer knew the Apostles’ Creed; to that extent, they shared a common faith in Christ. Yet despite that connection, one suffered and another caused it.
With Reformation Sunday (Oct. 28) and the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (Nov. 4) soon behind us, I am saddened by the broken body of Christ, the broken body of Keller, and the body of the Church too often still broken today. The Church is still persecuted and, sometimes, still persecutes.
Source: Walter Klaassen, Anabaptism in Outline (Herald Press, 1981), 86, 93-94.
TWO HILLS, Alta.—As drug violence in Mexico was increasing, many Mennonites were concerned for the safety of their families. There were already quite a few Mennonites living in southern Alberta, and they had heard that land was relatively inexpensive in the Two Hills area.
In the early 2000’s Mennonites started moving to the Two Hills area, most of them being employed in the manufacturing and farming industries. At that time, the only Mennonite church in the area was the Old Colony Church. The local school board was willing to accommodate their desire to have some German programming in the public school, which continues to draw Mennonites from Mexico to the Two Hills area.
As more Mennonites moved into the area, different church groups started forming. Our church group had been meeting for a while and felt the need to join a larger conference, as we were struggling to move forward on our own.
In 2015 we decided on a name for our fellowship, and Living Faith Fellowship was born. Shortly thereafter, we started a conversation with Charlie Koop, and decided to pursue affiliation with the EMC. We have appreciated the support that Charlie and the Church Planting Task Force have provided, and hope to officially join the EMC during summer convention in 2019.
Since the start of our relationship with the EMC, we have desired and prayed for a pastoral couple. We felt that we needed leadership, and Charlie helped us to find a pastoral couple. In the fall of 2016 John and Helen Froese felt the call to come to Two Hills to pastor the church and committed to serving a two-year term with the Living Faith Fellowship.
It is our desire at Living Faith Fellowship to be an evangelical ministry in the community of Two Hills. We desire to keep some of the Mennonite ordinances and desire to be available to serve Low German-speaking Mennonites. We will often have people come through our doors who do not speak a lot of English, so it is important for us to have a Low German-speaking pastor. This will continue to be important as we move forward.
Another key need in our area is the need for a counsellor. Some of the people that come to our church have had bad church experiences in the past; and, although they desire to grow spiritually, they need some guidance in order to move forward.
We appreciate the support that the EMC has provided to Living Faith Fellowship, and look forward to continuing to build God’s kingdom with them. Please stop by for a visit if you are in our area.
As I travel across our conference I often wonder: what is it that holds these churches together? What ties bind us across the 4,555 kms of our conference’s breadth? The word I keep coming back to is covenant. What fastens us is similar to a marriage covenant between congregations with the challenges and fun of any marriage.
In fact, I would say that a congregation’s ability to stand up for the truth of marriage in our culture is greatly strengthened if it lives out its own covenant with other EMC churches. It’s hard to convince the world that a marriage covenant is a human tasting of God’s long-suffering faithfulness when the congregation itself can’t bear the nuisance of being in binding covenant with other churches that it does not find agreeable, attractive, or handy.
Which brings me to the difference between a covenant and a contract. In a contract I give you money or services in exchange for the services I know I will get from you. If a wife said to her husband, “What has this marriage done for me lately, anyways?” you would know that marriage is in a very bad place.
That husband would be a fool who would say, “Sure, no problem. I can easily draw up a list of 10 things I have done for you lately and then you will see that our marriage is great.” That marriage has become a contract, and will soon dissolve completely if a deeper mystery is not found.
Likewise for a congregation to ask, “What has belonging to the EMC done for us lately?” is also a very sad question. It would be a foolish conference that tried to draw up a list of all the benefits of belonging to a conference as though that was addressing the real problem.
Covenants involve work and mutual service but they are not based on works. If this connection we have as churches is something created by God (and if not, then let’s be rid of it), then it is a covenant of grace and not of works. We are bound together because God found us lost and alone and bound us together for His greater purpose and our training in divine union. We have not negotiated a contract to scratch each other’s itch.
But like a marriage, once we are taken up into the mystery of our divine fastening, we find all kinds of ways to serve each other, work together, grieve with each other and to celebrate and relax together. Sometimes the covenant needs to be renewed and freshened in our wills and wallets. But none of that is done to prove that this marriage is worth it. None of that is done as a membership fee.
Some of our congregations have annual covenanting services where they renew the bond between them. It’s a way to resist the drifting autonomy and alienation that constantly plagues modern life. Perhaps we, the Evangelical Mennonite Covenant, need a similar reminder that “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Note: This column reflects some of Layton’s report at the EMC national ministerial meeting on July 6, 2018, in London, Ont.
When we see things happening in the wider Church we strongly disagree with, we are tempted to react rather than suffer. Cutting myself off in disgust from sinful churches gives me a sharp jolt of spiritual Red Bull, but is this how Jesus responds to our sin on the cross?
I hear three major reactions in my church friends right now. First, many are reacting against the evangelical supporters of Donald Trump. “Evangelicals” are those people, the thinking goes, who welcome the most misogynist and xenophobic politicians in order to maybe win a round in the culture wars. And so, in order to prophetically denounce Trumpism, these reactionaries distance themselves from a larger evangelical movement that includes the likes of John Wesley, Billy Graham, and Elizabeth Elliot, not to mention Dr. Archie Penner.
A second reaction going on currently is a reaction against churches (especially Mennonite ones) that have affirmed same-sex marriage. In this reaction these churches are associated with sentimental, liberal drip that exists only to “affirm” the latest contrivance of the sexual revolution.
This is causing serious irritation in relations between Mennonite churches and conferences. People who react in this way suggest we pull out of MCC, MDS, and Mennonite World Conference because this work makes us guilty by association.
A third reaction is coming from people repulsed by the ultra-conservative Mennonites in their communities. These reactionaries want nothing to do with the name “Mennonite” because this associates them with legalism, cultural Mennonitism, and narrow-minded social control.
“We don’t make our men grow beards. We don’t make our women wear bonnets. We don’t harbour drug dealers, nor do our young gather behind Walmart on Sunday evenings to drink and smoke tires. So please don’t call us Mennonite.”
For the record, I disagree with Trumpism, same-sex marriage, and Mennonite drug-runners.
But the old rugged cross looms large over all our reactions. The Sinless One overcomes our sin not by dissociating himself from us, but by embracing us. This dwarfs all our pathetic attempts to maintain purity by distance. It silences all our fearful self-righteousness, all our shrill assumptions that, contrary to the whole Scripture, we were not that hard for Jesus to associate with.
We were a pleasure for him to come and visit. It was not our sins that held him there. God did not need to hold his nose when he came to our house. Not like those other people—God has to be so gracious to them, so long-suffering and merciful. Why does Jesus keep consorting with those people? Has he no standards?
Here is the basic question confronting our reactions: If Jesus still associates with these people, if they are still part of the body of Christ despite their sin, what basis do we have for separating ourselves from them? Unless we know that Jesus has damned them, what theological basis do we have for disassociating ourselves?
The Corinthian Test is relevant here. Paul lays severe accusations (1 Cor. 3:1; 5:1,11; 6:5-6; 6:16). But instead of cleansing himself of association with this poor excuse for a church, Paul writes to them, sends them his best pastors (Timothy and Apollos), and eagerly anticipates spending the winter with them (1 Cor. 16). Paul is willing to endure the suffering this church causes him because everything in life must finally yield only to the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 9:12). Paul suffers the Corinthians. Who will we suffer?
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference