The New Conservatives

The New Conservatives

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Melvin Lehman conducted by Reagan Schrock. Melvin lives with his family in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he also served as a teacher at Faith Builders Educational Program for many years. Melvin is passionate about teaching the Bible to the next generation, and enjoys tending his small family farm.

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Ten years ago, after some of my interactions with the young folks who were coming to Faith Builders, I wrote an article entitled The New Conservative. I began to realize that they had a different perspective than I. But why was their perspective different? What had changed?

I grew up in public high school in the 1960’s and had taken in the rebellious mindset of the times. During that era, there was a fragmentation of the solidarity of the old Mennonite conference. Many divisions happened, but the biggest were between liberal and conservative.

What do we mean by “conservative” and “liberal”? Back at that time, the two were clearly defined. But as I taught students between 1980-2000, I could tell that they were not thinking in the same terms I did. These are the people I’m calling the “new conservative”. They were not coming out of that 60’s and 70’s perspective, but neither were they liberal. In fact, they were quite open to conservative people and thought. What I heard them asking for was a compelling reason to follow the conservative path. As I heard these students discussing issues that were relevant to their lives, I found six points that define the “new conservative”.

1. They appreciate traditional practice. When something is presented as traditional they do not react in opposition, but neither do they blindly accept simply for the sake of tradition. While a “liberal” would automatically react to anything that is traditional, the new conservative does not do that, which is why I refuse to call them liberal.

2. The new conservative rejects authoritarianism without relationship. I grew up in a world where authority might be quite distant, but if they spoke, you obeyed.

3. The new conservative seeks to respect and honor other Bible-believing groups. They seek to discourage divisiveness.

4. They value Christian education. As a teacher at Faith Builders, I care about education and I respect their position. Generally speaking, the deeper one goes into conservative thought, the more anti-education one tends to be. The new conservative, however, sees education as an outline to the kingdom, his church, and his life.

5. The new conservative emphasizes that separation from the world in thought and practice begins in the heart and affects every area of life, not just in arbitrarily selected areas. Being willing to not only accept, but embrace a position that separates me from a pagan world is important, although I prefer the term “countercultural” better than I do “separation”.

6. The new conservative longs for meaningful Christian community as a basis for personal growth and effective outreach. There are some who are wanting a level of community that seems slightly beyond their grasp in today’s Anabaptist circles. I hear the new conservative wanting community in a more complete and real sense.

These six things generally define the new conservative. So where are they headed? I think the new conservatives are tilted toward tolerance and away from raw authority in institutional organization. I think the new conservatives will struggle with administrative structures.However, the new conservatives will have to learn that structures are needed to move things forward. They will need to create these structures, and know the difference between godly tolerance that leads toward holiness, and tolerance that could open the door to crass worldliness.

There are some positives and negatives to new conservative ideology. A positive is its emphasis on missions, particularly children’s ministry. The millennial generation has become very concerned with the children of the world. There is an increased interest in childcare, pregnancy centers, Bible Clubs, and similar ministries. When I was growing up substantial focus was placed on prison ministry, which is still needed. However, children’s ministry is working from a better place as it seeks to lay a foundation early in life.

I already mentioned the community emphasis, but I’m not sure if the new conservatives have identified what they mean by community. Does it mean living together in close proximity? Is it just a feeling of camaraderie? Is it having a common goal? Again it seems that the new conservative’s work is to bring community emphasis into administrative structures that actually bring those ideals into reality.

A negative aspect of this movement is that, if one tries to show tolerance and be all things to all men, one ends up being almost nothing to everyone. I’m not saying that everyone needs to identify with the conservative Anabaptist constituency, but identity may be a little ambiguous for the new conservatives.

The new conservatives need to build a sustainable culture by passing their core values to the next generation. Thinking of the six items I mentioned earlier, I wonder if the next generation will carry them forward. People forget that values are carried forward generationally by traditions. Not artificial traditions, but traditions that are actually integrated into the values they represent. I’m not sure that the new conservatives are building that kind of sustainability.

Is new conservatism just a transition from Amish or Mennonite into mainstream Christianity? I’m optimistic that it is not. New Conservatism is not necessarily following or rejecting any particular ideology. The summary statement from my article reads, “I personally have a deep respect for the contributions of the ‘Old Conservative’ positions during the 20th century and have no desire to devalue that contribution by suggesting there is a ‘new’ way that we must follow. The path that leads to God is an old path that many saints have trod before us. We are brethren with them.” 1

I don’t see new conservatism as being a path to liberalism. On the contrary,I see it as being more aligned with conservative ideals and having a better chance of carrying forward those ideals versus the extreme conservatives or the liberals. Of course it has some serious flaws, but I think that the new conservative path has the best chance of carrying forward the best from the old conservative and actually providing a new perspective, but not one so different that it’s totally unrecognizable. There is the possibility of the new conservative shifting into liberalism. However, if it can stay on course, honestly grappling with the issues, sorting through some of the debris, and pulling in some of the framework we’ve talked about, I’m hopeful that it could be the path forward for next hundred years.

New conservatism isn’t unique to our time. In James Juhnke’s book Vision, Doctrine, War,2 he records some conversations and movements from the 1870’s-1930’s that are similar to new conservative ideals. People back then were asking the same questions that we are asking today. This current generation has a unique chance to carry forward these ideas. We have the opportunity, and we have some perspective and vision for it. Let’s be hopeful that we can actually plow ground, particularly in our generation, that hasn’t been plowed.

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I Started an Anabaptist Women’s Magazine

I Started an Anabaptist Women’s Magazine

Anabaptist Perspectives

 

The following is taken from an interview with Rachel Schrock conducted by Reagan Schrock.
“Rae” is Founder and Chief Editor of Daughters of Promise Magazine. With a strong cup of coffee in hand, she loves exploring new and out of the way places, heartfelt talks with a friend, and doing anything creative and handmade. She lives in Virginia where she enjoys a quiet home in the country surrounded by fields and woods.
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Daughters of Promise began in 2010. That was a really tough year for me personally. I was going through a lot of upheaval and tremendous loss in my life. I went to Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute for a term which helped me find healing for some of the things I was struggling with. It was not only a time of breaking, but also a time of going deeper with God.

During that time I started talking with other women, began to hear their stories, and realized that we shared common struggles—that we had all been touched by pain. Many times our pain was centered around similar things such as relationships and identity. The women I met had questions about who they were and how they fit into the world. I began to really pray about how God wanted to use my story and the things I had learned to encourage other women. That was the heart behind why I began reaching out to women through the magazine.

Names have always been important to me, and the name “Daughters of Promise” just clicked. Initially it started out as an email newsletter to some of my friends from church and Bible school. But surprisingly, over the next year, the list of subscribers grew tremendously. Through a long series of events, my small team and I decided to make to make it a magazine format which was then published online digitally. Over time more women joined our team and in 2014 we began printing hard copies. Currently our staff numbers 26 women, including all of the writers, artists, and editors.

Daughters of Promise (DOP) has gone through a lot of changes. It is now produced quarterly and, at 112 pages, each issue resembles a book more so than a regular magazine. Despite the changes, our vision has remained the same. We want to encourage other women towards finding freedom and wholeness through an understanding of who we are in Christ. Outside of a relationship with Him, we are broken, lost, and destitute.

I think that women from conservative Anabaptist communities in particular have often struggled to know how to find their voice and to share with others. DOP provides a platform for women to share about the things that God has led them through personally, which then encourages other women who have had similar experiences. Readers will often say of an article they read in DOP, “I really connected with that.” We strive to feature content that is relevant to our Anabaptist culture and yet is relatable to a broad range of women. We don’t necessarily want to just offer answers, but to encourage readers to think about what is presented. Freedom in Christ often comes when we wrestle through the things we are experiencing, rather than simply being spoon fed answers.

Since turning DOP into a quarterly magazine, the response has been phenomenal. The magazine features more content such as stories, art, and the inclusion of interactive elements such as tear-out artwork, journaling space, and coloring pages. We have had the privilege of featuring some wonderful writers, including at least one article written by a man in each issue.

Daughters of Promise is available online at Daughters of Promise. We are also on Facebook and Instagram (@daughtersofpromise). DOP is a ministry, and our desire is to share with Anabaptist women that they can live in freedom through Christ.

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Local Church Evangelism

Local Church Evangelism

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Elijah Yoder conducted by Reagan Schrock. Elijah is a pastor and has been a full time teacher at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Harrisonville, Pennsylvania.

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Before we can talk about evangelism, we have to understand the biblical role of the church. The first time I taught the course on local church evangelism, I took the word “church” and traced it through the New Testament, expecting to find “church” used in relation to evangelism. What I actually found was that the word “church” is very seldom, if ever, used in direct reference to evangelism. Scripture doesn’t say that the church went out and evangelized. It was always individuals who were doing evangelism. The role of the church is discipleship and to be a place for the people to gather together and find fellowship. Then, as the church gathers, fellowships, and disciples together, the individual members go out and do evangelism. The key is not the programs that the church is using. The key is the people in the church.

In my Local Church Evangelism class, I’ll often ask my students about people from their local community that their churches have brought in. Almost always the story is that an individual from the church reached out and discipled that person. We’re not bringing people into fellowship through summer bible schools, kids clubs, and passing out tracts. Some of those relationships may come through vacation bible schools and kids clubs, but invariably it’s because someone in the church reached out and developed a relationship with that person.

The key to evangelism in the local church is not what the church as a whole is doing. Evangelism is not a sudden foray out into the world at an appointed time in which you accomplish the task of evangelism and then retreat back into normal life. Evangelism needs to be a lifestyle of caring for others and sharing with your neighbors on a daily basis. It takes commitment. Often we are too busy to engage with others or assume that it is someone else’s responsibility such as the minister or the church, but evangelism is the responsibility of each of us. Passing out tracts in the neighborhood can be effective, but follow-up through building relationships must follow. In kids club ministries, children often move on as they enter the teen years. The biblical foundation laid in clubs may draw them back to Christ, but usually these teens need a dedicated individual to disciple them in a long term relationship.

Sometimes sharing Christ on an everyday basis is difficult. Most of us have close relationships with non-believers, but too often we don’t share the Gospel with them. Neighbors, co-workers, or relatives are prime relationships for us to pursue and people with whom we can share Christ. The highest percentage of people from non-Mennonite backgrounds who are joining Mennonite churches are coming from these types of relationships.

Discipleship and living for Christ on a daily basis right where you are is the key. Our lives get busy so we ease our conscience by hosting a vacation bible school or tent meetings. Again, those methods aren’t wrong, but it’s not about the methods; it’s about the believer’s heart of love for the community. If a heart of love is missing, you can do all the activities you want and it won’t change anything.

I often have students at SMBI who become excited about evangelism, but upon returning home, realize that many believers are inactive in pursuing evangelism. My question is:

“What about you? What are you doing?”

I encourage those who want to start evangelizing to not do it alone; take someone else with you. There are a lot of people in our churches who want to do better in evangelism and outreach. Involve others; which often leads to more people getting involved.

The responsibility of evangelism is not on the pastor or the Sunday school superintendent, it belongs to each one of us. Bringing people into the fellowship of our churches will depend on you and I and our relationships with those around us. That is how real evangelism will happen.

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Why Are There Mennonite Bible Schools?

Why Are There Mennonite Bible Schools?

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Clifford Schrock conducted by Reagan Schrock. Cliff is administrator and teacher at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute where he has served for over ten years. He is best known for his classes on the topics of nonresistance, apologetics, and separation from the world. Cliff lives with his family in Harrisonville, Pennsylvania.

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Bible schools began around the early‒mid 1900’s in our Mennonite circles because, as Anabaptist people, we place a high value on Scripture and knowing Scripture. Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute (SMBI) was started with the vision to provide a place of study for conservative Anabaptist young people in the eastern United States. There were other schools, but they were not as close to Lancaster, the hub of the Mennonite community in the east. There have been other Mennonite schools such as Hesston College and Goshen College, which also go back to the early 1900’s. However, colleges such as Hesston and Goshen moved away from their formerly held conservatism, becoming more liberal and conforming to mainstream culture. In contrast, SMBI has remained relatively unchanged in doctrine and practice for 40 years.

I think that SMBI’s lack of accreditation has helped it to maintain its conservative position. The qualifications for our instructors are not solely based on educational background or degrees; an area where schools are sometimes forced to compromise on character or theological position to maintain an academic accreditation. Our primary qualifications at SMBI are the spiritual life and character of our faculty.

The reason students attend Bible school is because they seek personal growth and enrichment. More of our young people are pursuing accredited degrees, but people don’t come to SMBI to get a degree for economic or career advancement. They are not looking to invest in a two-year degree or a four-year degree. SMBI doesn’t require a 2 year commitment; a student can come for anywhere from 6 to 24 weeks. We have five, six‒week sessions per year and students can come for any one or a combination of those five sessions.

I first came to SMBI as a student in 1997 for a six‒week session. Then I came again in the fall of 1998 for another six‒week session. I started teaching here in the spring of 2000, taught for three years, and then became assistant administrator for three years. Later I became administrator and have remained so for the past 11 years. I decided to go to Bible school after hearing testimonies from other students who had gone, and I also knew a few of the faculty for whom I had a great deal of respect. What inspired me as a student was the interaction with other young people and the encouragement and spiritual depth of the student body. Students were there to think seriously and to study. Along with that was the variety of students that were represented from many different backgrounds and places. Within that diversity, the common goal and bonding together was what encouraged me the most.

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Why Do Mennonites Have So Many Choirs?

Why Do Mennonites Have So Many Choirs?

Anabaptist Perspectives

 

The following is taken from an interview with Benjamin Good, conducted by Reagan Schrock. Benjamin is a teacher and choir director at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute and has been regularly involved in various Mennonite choirs and conservative singing groups. He lives with his wife and children in Harrisonville, PA.

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I have been teaching full-time at SMBI (Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute) since 2012. I grew up in a family that sang together quite a lot, so I’ve been singing all my life. I had my first experience in conducting here at SMBI, and I took a conducting class here. Besides directing the choir I also teach classes in music theory and music theology, as well as some Bible classes.

One reason that Mennonites have so many choirs is simply because singing is fun! People enjoy singing and listening to choirs. One reason we have so many choirs is because of the demand for them. While at a border crossing during an SMBI choir tour in Canada, one of the officials asked a student, “What are you doing on this tour?”

“It’s a singing tour.” the student replied.

“How much do they pay you to be a part of this tour?”

“Oh no,” the student said “I pay to be a part of the tour.”

“Strange,” the official replied.

Singing has always been important to the Christian church. The first century of Christians sang a great deal. They believed in the power of congregational singing. We see this in the Bible and in extra-biblical sources. Singing is worship, but there’s a lot more entailed in it than that. It teaches the truth and is a way of witnessing and joining people together. There is a great deal of power in music—specifically in singing—that we as a church understand and want to tap into. God asks us to sing. We praise Him through both congregational singing as well as in performance; praise flows out of our hearts. We sing to glorify our God.

Anabaptists in general strongly prefer and uphold a capella (without instruments) singing in our worship. People learn to sing in four-part harmony from childhood, and choirs have become a natural extension of that ability. Youth choirs are a way of involving young people in a healthy activity, giving them opportunity to interact with other young people, and when they go on tour they are able to see what God is doing in other churches.

Choirs have not always been a part of the church. In the first century, singing was a big part of the church. When the church became a state entity, choirs produced all the music in the church. For hundreds of years, congregants would go, sit in the pews, and not make a sound. Then the Reformation came along and many reformers, including some of the leading Anabaptists, said, “We want to get the congregation involved in singing again.” They pushed hard for everyone to be actively involved in worship, and for congregational singing. There’s little record of choirs in Anabaptist circles until soon before the 20th century. Then in late 20th century, choirs in our circles began to flourish. Prior to this, Sunday evening youth singings were common, and choirs formed out of these gatherings.

I believe we may currently have the strongest balance of choirs and congregational music the church has ever had: strong congregational singing, with choirs (sometimes touring) to supplement that.

We are concerned that our choirs do not take the place of congregational singing. Some are concerned that we’re heading that direction. But those of us involved in choirs care very much about our typical, local worship service, with congregational singing playing a major part in corporate worship. We don’t want that to ever go away.

The positive outcome of choirs in our circles is that it fosters congregational participation. In the pre-Reformation eras, the church leaders led worship, the choir sang, and the lay people (the congregation) merely observed worship. Congregational involvement is key to what we do. It’s what we believe. A capella singing depends on everyone knowing how to sing and desiring to sing along. Choirs also train people to sing well in a congregation, and they inspire the congregation to sing.

Another value in a capella singing (which is somewhat undermined when instrumental music is included in worship) is the focus on the truth of the lyrics. The Gospel message needs the clarity of the text. So, while we enjoy the beautiful music that helps draw our hearts and minds towards God, the lyrics are what drives the message home.

I believe choirs strengthen congregational singing by teaching people how to sing. They teach congregations new songs and promote the joy of singing. Having choirs helps to strengthen congregational music, and, through touring, helps to spiritually strengthen the church as well.
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How Should We Live?

How Should We Live?

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Elijah Yoder conducted by Reagan Schrock. Elijah is a pastor and has been a full time teacher at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Harrisonville, Pennsylvania.

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In my growing up years, the importance of the principles of Scriptures in our lives, not just the practice, was stressed. In other words, you don’t just want to teach the next generation to wear a head covering. They need to understand the biblical principle and reasoning behind it. We have the practice (how we live); we have the principle (the scriptural mandate); then we have the Person of Christ.

Some have accused the Mennonites of making the Bible the fourth person of the trinity, which obviously is a very wrong concept. We have the practice, beyond the practice we have the principle, but then we need to go beyond the principle to the Person of Jesus Christ. When you have the focus on the Person and who He is, then the principles and practices will come as a result.

The Protestant Fundamentalist tradition in the United States has put a lot of emphasis on Paul and his epistles, and much less on the Gospels and Life of Christ. Another tradition of Protestant Fundamentalists has been for people to “get saved”. The apostle Paul affirmed that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). I don’t want to minimize that at all, but Jesus said, “follow Me” (Matthew 4:19). Christ’s emphasis while with His disciples was that they should be with Him (Mark 3:14). Jesus taught the twelve by His life, which is what we will have to do as well if we are going make disciples. We must follow Christ in life, not in doing “the right things” in order to look good to people around us. We need to take hold of the person of Christ, what He has done for us, and from there we can go to The Sermon on the Mount. All of the things in Matthew 5 that Jesus wants us to live out today have to come out of a relationship with Christ and wanting to follow Him in life.

Protestant Fundamentalism has made the doctrine of believing in Christ the key thing. If you
believe in Christ and His death and resurrection, then everything is okay and you go to heaven. While believing is important, it is only because of Christ, because of what He has done. The key isn’t “belief”, but Jesus Christ. If you believe in an intellectual fact of what Christ has done for you, then you get saved and it doesn’t really matter how you live; but if you focus on the person of Christ you are going to want to find His principles. Out of those principles the practices will follow.

When applying Scripture, we can’t just take for granted how the previous generation applied it to their life and times. For example, in my growing up years, one of the big issues was that you shouldn’t go to certain places. As a result, my generation established some practices that they decided was best for the group. If my generation simply tries to give the next generation our standards, it’s not going to work. Today’s generation is growing up with very different dynamics. The world is quite different than it was for my generation or the generation before that. We have the person of Christ and the principles of Scripture, but the way we practice those principles may change.

Some groups, like the Amish, have pretty much taken their practices and stopped at about 1920. They’re still trying to live the way they did in 1920. What we don’t want to do as conservative Mennonites is to remain in 2018 and say, “Here is where we stop.” If we don’t adjust our practices to the times we are going to wind up decades down the road and be viewed as the Amish are today. We’ve got to focus on the person of Christ, followed by Scriptural principles, that will tell us how to live in our culture and time. How the principles are practiced might change from one generation to the next, but the underlying principles of Scripture are going to be the same. Each generation must wrestle with issues of practice themselves and evaluate those issues by the light of the principles in the Person of Jesus.

Some people think that if you have the Person of Christ in the principles, then living out the Christian life will come automatically. If that was the case, Paul would never have had to write Ephesians 4, 5, and 6. He spent chapters 1, 2, and 3 on relationship with Christ. Even once the relationship is established, we still need instruction on how to live out the principles. Paul gives very specific instructions and encouragement, but it comes after our relationship with Christ. If our focus is just on the practice, it will become like a dead, dry flower that’s not going to do anything for anybody. But if it’s coming out of well-watered soil, it will be something that’s beautiful and attractive to the world around us. This is the result of a relationship with Christ.

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Advantages of Anabaptist Culture in Missions

Advantages of Anabaptist Culture in Missions

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Elijah Yoder conducted by Reagan Schrock. Elijah is a pastor and has been a full time teacher at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Harrisonville, Pennsylvania.

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Anabaptists have historically tried to live a holy life style and not follow the things of worldly culture. Hence, we dress differently, are nonresistant, don’t go to war, and our ladies wear the veiling. When conservative Mennonites began starting mission outreaches in the 1930’s to 1950’s, missions was a new thing for them. They wondered, “How are we going to teach? What do we do?” Typically they followed the methods of the Protestants, but they expected the results to be different. Missionaries were going out to save and bring salvation, but they didn’t follow up on discipleship.

Almost all of the missions that were started in that era have lost many of their conservative principles. They’ve lost the veiling, nonresistance, and nonconformity to the world. Obviously there are a lot of reasons that could bring this result, but one reason is simply that Mennonite missionaries didn’t evaluate their methods, which we still see happening today.

In Protestant/Calvinist organizations, the goal is primarily to just get people saved, but there is little focus on discipleship and follow-up. In relation to missions, the methods of Protestants and Mennonites haven’t been all that different. What I would like to suggest is that one of the keys to being successful Mennonite missionaries and planting churches that are truly discipling others and following the Lord, not just in belief but also in principal and lifestyle, is to develop one-on-one relationships, discipling, and teaching biblical principles and what the Word of God says. Whether it is on the mission field or at home, we need more one-on-one mentoring and intentional relationships in our circles today.

I recall when I was a student at SMBI, I did my thesis on teaching Anabaptist principles on the mission field. The first missionary that I sat down to do an interview with was Jacob Coblentz, who was a missionary in Mexico and Texas. My goal was to try and figure out what methods a Mennonite missionary needs to use. I came fully prepared with all kinds of questions to ask him, but after I asked him a few he said, “Love the people.”  I asked him some more questions and he said, “Well, just love the people.” That’s all he would say: “Love. Love. Love.”  I got kind of frustrated with him, but really that is the answer. It’s not in methods or what you do. It’s not that methods won’t work, but if you’re going to do kids clubs, for example, the way you’re going to bring those children into the church is through loving them in one-on-one relationships.

As Anabaptists our stance is often counter-cultural, which can be either an advantage or a disadvantage. If you’re not loving the people, and you’re trying to force them to live or act a certain way, such as putting on a plain coat or a cape dress so that you can get some stars in your crown with the people back home, it’s not going to work very well. If you really love people and they can feel the love of Christ coming through you, then those things are not difficulties; they are not barriers. In fact, when people understand, for example, what the veiling means and what it’s for; when they understand why you’re doing the things you are and it has a relationship behind it, it’s going to be powerful. We don’t need to put aside what makes us different to reach more people.

Divorce and remarriage is one counter-cultural issue that we as Anabaptists have taken a clear biblical stand against. This can be difficult because some might say, “We’re shutting people out.” I have seen people throw this doctrine aside, but then what happens in the next generation when you have divorce and remarriage in your church? You wind up with broken homes and young people who are hurting as a result. Is having a strong stance on divorce and remarriage a hindrance? In one sense it’s going to be, but allow that practice to enter the church and you’re going to bring hurt and pain down the road. I don’t believe that biblical principles are going to be a handicap to reaching out to people, but if we’re not loving, then they can be. On the other hand, I do think we have to be careful about differentiating between what is cultural and what is Bible. Yes, a lot of things we believe are cultural in some senses, but they are deeply rooted in biblical principles.

On the mission field, it’s important that missionaries don’t just take along their culture, but they take the love of God with them; then you have something attractive to give to people. The key to teaching Anabaptist principles on the mission field is to have the Fruit of the Spirit in your life. The key is for each of us to have a relationship with God and to do what we do because of our love for God, not just to impress the people around us or to fit in. Our actions and mission have to come out of the heart and a sincere Christ filled love for all people.

 

The Challenge of Simplicity

The Challenge of Simplicity

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Clifford Schrock conducted by Reagan Schrock. Cliff is administrator and teacher at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute where he has served for over ten years. He is best known for his classes on the topics of nonresistance, apologetics, and separation from the world. Cliff lives with his family in Harrisonville, Pennsylvania.

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What is the “simple life”? The simple life is often defined as canning food, making your own clothes, having campfires, and things of that sort. Maybe that’s part of it, but that’s not really what the simple life is all about. Simple life is about having a singleness of focus. In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul uses the word simplicity: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” The word simplicity is drawn from the Greek ἁπλότης (hap-lot’-ace), which means singleness or sincerity, the opposite of hypocrisy. Os Guinness spoke of the concept of “an audience of one,”1 living with a single focus towards God, a single eye like Jesus talks about in Matthew chapter 5.  Mark 12:30-31 speaks of this as well when it says, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

The simple life is not a list of “do this” or “do that.” It is not just an idea or a theological concept. The simple life needs to be woven into the fabric of our lives. Singleness of mind and focus is about discipleship. It’s about following the Master and learning to talk, think and live like Him. The simplicity of discipleship is wanting to be like Christ, to take on the mind of Christ; “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”2 From a theological or philosophical perspective, the simple life is a worldview. It is taking the words of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament seriously, putting them into shoe leather in our lives. Sometimes we reduce the Christian life to checking boxes, thinking that we can check off the right boxes and thereby live a simple life. But the simple life is much bigger than that. It’s a way of thinking about life with a single goal and focus, which is to do the will of the Father.

Jesus had conflicting desires, we can see this very clearly in the Garden of Gethsemane. He would have had conflicting desires throughout His human life, but He had a single goal and that was to do the will of the Father. The simple life can look pretty complex, but really it comes down to just loving people, loving the Lord our God, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is having a singleness of focus and doing whatever God calls you to do. If He calls you to Tibet, then the simple life is to follow His call to Tibet. If He calls you to live in Lancaster County, then the simple life is to follow Him in Lancaster County. It would be much easier to check off five or six boxes and say, “Now I’ve got it.”  It’s much more difficult to follow the heart of God. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”3  As humans we live with conflicting desires. We want our own way, but as followers of Jesus we know we should do it His way.

The simple life, as I understand and see it in Scripture, is to follow Christ. He may call people to different things in that simple life. He may call some to a vow of poverty. He may call people to other things such as business, or farming, and other aspects of “normal life.” Regardless of where we are called and whatever we’re called to do, it has to be undergirded by yieldedness. The early Anabaptists had a German word for it: “gelassenheit” or yieldedness. We may live the “simple life,” but we lack the brokenness and yieldedness to do what God calls us to do and to follow wherever He calls us. To enter into the simple life is to take up our cross, deny ourselves, become broken and yielded,follow Him, and seek to become like Him; living out His vision given to us in Scripture for what Kingdom citizens should look like and how they should live. This should become very practical, including the things we often consider when we think of a simple life: our dress, the way we drive, the cars we drive, the houses we live in, all of that. It should be expressed and affect those practical parts of our lives.

It’s not about a list. It’s about committing to that to which God calls us. The Jews also had their lists. Alms, prayer, and fasting were three key trademarks of Jewish piety to which Jesus spoke directly. They were doing their list; they were putting in their alms, they were praying, they were fasting; but obviously they missed something. It’s not about the list, it’s about the heart, which then becomes part of the fabric of our lives. Living the simple life is connected with our salvation and sanctification journey, it is a lifetime of transformation. We are daily being transformed as we behold His glory and are conformed into the image of His Son. The simple life on the one hand is very simple, but on the other it can be very difficult, and that’s part of the journey of following Christ.

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Get in the Way of Evil

Get in the Way of Evil

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following message comes to us from Val Yoder who serves as pastor at Kitchi Pines Mennonite Church in Bemidji, Minnesota. He is a part-time teacher at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute and helped establish Institute for Global Opportunities (IGO), a missionary training school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. “Get in the Way of Evil” was originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Daughters of Promise magazine (used by permission).

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When the Apostle Andrew was captured and brought before Governor Aegeas, Aegeas told Andrew, “If you don’t stop preaching this message about Jesus and his cross, I’m going to crucify you on one too.”

Andrew replied, “Sir, I would not have preached about the glory of the cross, if I was not willing to die on one.”

He was taken and tied to the splintery wooden beams of a cross, where he hung in excruciating pain. He preached the Gospel for three days until he finally went to be with the treasure of his heart 1.

Much of the Western church has deceived herself into thinking that she lives in a very unique dispensation (or geography) where Jesus’ words don’t apply. Even as contemporary Anabaptists we have passed off His clear, undisputable statements as not applying to us. We agree that what He said was true in the early church, and then to some degree throughout the Middle Ages. We see the truth of His words again in the Reformation and even today in some other remote parts of the world. “But”, we think, “praise God that His words aren’t true for us and haven’t been for our parents, or our grandparents, and beyond them, well … that’s too long ago to worry about.”

Jesus said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you […] If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you […].” (John 15:18-20)

We smugly say, “Thank you, Lord, that we don’t live in such a traumatic era of history.” But Jesus was not saying you might suffer persecution, some will suffer persecution, or if you are carnal Christians you will suffer persecution. If we follow Him, we will be persecuted. What does our lack of persecution say about us?

I have lived too much of my life denying this truth, hoping it was not true. I grieve over what sweet intimacy with Christ that denial has cost me. Until we are ready to die with Christ, literally, we are not prepared to live with Him either.

Jesus was not speaking metaphorically when He tells us, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable, in order to suggest a resemblance. Is Jesus only a metaphoric king? Was His death only metaphoric? No. Some would say, “But we don’t really die, that’s too radical, too hyper-spiritual—a martyr’s complex.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did more than metaphorically refuse to bow to the idol Nebuchadnezzar had erected. They did more than stand in their hearts while they knelt with their bodies. They stood out in that multitude like a sore thumb because they got in the way of evil.

Christ was talking about more than passing out tracts and singing in the park when He said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32). That lifting up was His death. It was the Cross. It was laying down physical life, not metaphoric life. That was how Jesus got in the way of evil. Jesus’ words make it clear we will never win Western culture for the Kingdom of Christ through volleyball tournaments, Amish-made furniture, or even our church services. All of these may have a legitimate place, but they are not our means of getting in the way of evil. We must jump into the fray and tangle with the enemy. Persecution is not a toothache or a disgruntled neighbor. Persecution is getting scratched, clawed, bitten and maybe eaten by the enemy.

In October of 2014 a young boy slipped and fell into a tiger enclosure at the New Delhi Zoo. The surprised tiger watched and “played” with the crouching boy for fifteen minutes. Bystanders watched, yelled, threw stones and videoed, but no one went to his rescue. The boy was carried off and killed by the giant cat. If that was your son, would you have videoed the event? Would you have yelled and screamed for fifteen minutes? Or would you have convinced some friends to join you in saving his life?

Adam also dismissed his responsibility. When he faced a situation that mattered the most to God, to Eve, to his children, to all mankind, he stood and watched as the serpent spoke to his wife. He watched evil progress without intervening.

The foundational difference between the early Christians and their enemies is that they did not believe they needed to survive. They did not expect to survive. We declare at our missions conferences, “Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3) This is not a survival course. No Biblical doctrine guarantees our safety when the wolves of godlessness surround us.

The scandal of Christ’s trial was the ultimate display of this world’s total injustice. The justice system found Him innocent, but still they whipped him, made a crown of thorns and pressed it onto His head, and hit Him with the palms of their hands. These actions rage against justice. Do not depend on a speck of fairness in the system that will persecute you. Do not expect justice when you get in the way of evil.

In 400 A.D., a monk named Telemachus happened to be near a Roman stadium just as a brutal gladiators’ battle began. He was sickened.

“In the name of Jesus, stop!” he shouted, but no one heard. People screamed to see more blood. Telemachus jumped over the wall into the stadium and landed among the gladiators. He yelled again, “In the name of Jesus, stop!”

The surprised gladiators halted their fighting long enough to hear his cry. Furious at his interruption, they chased him down. When the dust settled, Telemachus lay dead on the floor of the stadium. The crowd was finally totally silent. The sight of a dead monk shocked everyone. Slowly the crowd began to leave. The gladiators and finally the emperor left, leaving only Telemachus’ body. Within an hour the emperor issued an edict: “No more war games in the stadium.”2

We must be willing to step between the abused and the abuser and shout, “In the name of Jesus, stop!” Stop divorces, abortions, church splits, pornography. We are not called to passive observance of sin. It is active confrontation with sin. Stepping into its way. Crashing the gates of hell. We do not step between the abused and the abuser with carnal weapons. We step between with spiritual weapons that are mighty through God for the pulling down of strongholds. We step between the seeker and the lie, the brotherhood and the post-modernist, the sodomite and his life-style.

It is a grievous shame that we can argue on Facebook about the morality of relating to the gay community or the ethics of transgender bathrooms, and remain unengaged with the neighbor who aborts her baby and the fellow employee who is cheating on his wife.

Sisters, every time you appear in public with your elegant and modest dress, you are graphically getting in the way of evil. You are called upon to demonstrate the beauty of holiness to this decadent and immoral Western culture that allows Hollywood to determine the undress of this sensual culture.

If American Christians were willing to get in the way of evil, the country’s jails would probably be populated with Christians.

Jesus came to die so that we might live. He sends us to die so that others might live. This was to be a repeated cycle throughout the New Testament dispensation. We blissfully sing, “This is my commandment that ye love one another, that your joy may be full,” but ignore the next verse, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:11-13)

We are told that, “… [T]he time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” (John 16:2) We live in a time when this is, again, literally true. The baptism of blood is not metaphoric, it is the commitment level of anyone entering the “armed forces” of Christ’s Kingdom. It is the resolution of anyone who will get in the way of evil.

Do not be unduly alarmed at the fiery ordeals which come to test your faith, as though this were some abnormal experience. Death has lost its victory. Death is only the passageway from a decadent and broken world to the beauty and health of Heaven.

Rejoice when you are called to share Christ’s sufferings. One day, when He shows Himself in full splendor to men, you will be filled with the most tremendous joy. You will walk through the parks and gardens of Heaven, fellowship with the redeemed, and feast at the tables of the New Jerusalem. You will be with a holy, beautiful Bridegroom of perfect character and love who unveils all the mysteries of our previous, present, and eternal life. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” 3 will gain new meaning. Gratification will never end. Beauty will endlessly increase. Desire will be forever fulfilled.

Most people know that we will worship God in heaven, but they cannot guess how thrilling it will be. If we would get the briefest keyhole peek of the beauty in Jesus in His Home, in His plans for eternal escapades, we would look forward to death. We would be invincible in persecution as we use weapons that are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.

Mark Batterson says, “It’s time to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. It’s time to go all in and all out for the All in All. Pack your coffin!” 4

God is calling the young people of the conservative Anabaptist church in America to enter the stadium. He is calling us to get in the way of evil. We are to storm the gates of hell! He is calling our churches to send out men and women who abandon this life because of their focus on the reality of the next life. |

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Radical Love, War, and Nonresistance

Radical Love, War, and Nonresistance

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Clifford Schrock conducted by Reagan Schrock. Clifford is administrator and teacher at Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute where he has served for over ten years. He is best known for his classes on topics of nonresistance, apologetics, and separation from the world. Clifford lives with his family in Harrisonville, PA.

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The first thing to be said about nonresistance is that it is different from classical pacifism, in the sense that we do not think the government should not go to war, or that there is no place for capital punishment. The term ‘nonresistance’ is drawn primarily out of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says to “resist not evil”1. Whether one is in business, in church, or is involved in some sort of government job or government responsibilities, Jesus’ commands of nonresistance still encompasses all of a Christian’s life. A Christian’s life should be unified, not splitting to say, “Here’s my secular life and here is my following Christ.” We must follow Christ in every area. Do we do that perfectly? Probably not, but that’s the call. The vision is to be like Christ and to respond to that calling in every area of our lives. Nonresistance doesn’t just mean that we don’t go to war; it’s a lifestyle.

Sometimes people understand nonresistance only in terms of the negative, by the things we don’t do, such as not going to war. Even the word itself, nonresistance, is in the negative. During one of my classes on this topic we talked a good bit about terminology and if there could be a better term for this principle. A possible replacement would be ‘radical love’, because that’s really what we are called to do‒to love our neighbor, to love our enemies‒and that becomes proactive, it becomes something we do. It also takes us far beyond passive nonresistance and simply backing out of the situation. Jesus did not call us to back out and walk away. He called us to do more. Sometimes when we use the term nonresistance we think we shouldn’t resist evil, and this has resulted in our having been given the label, “the quiet in the land”. That’s not all bad, but sometimes it’s gone too far and we haven’t gotten in the way of evil, to use Val Yoder’s expression. In a very proactive way, instead of passively doing nothing, we should be getting in the way of evil. The Scriptural principles of nonresistance, however, are what shapes how we get into the way of evil as followers of Christ. We don’t petition, protest, picket, try to force our agenda, or force the government or other people to do what we want them to do. We can appeal, we can pray, but those same aforementioned principles shape how we go about approaching those kinds of interventions.

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus says, “…love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.”2 What does this look like in practical ways in our lives? I think it starts in the home and in our home relationships. We attempt to teach our children to not hit back, to do something nice, and that’s hard because it’s not natural. It goes against our natural grain. But as believers and as Christians we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to respond in those sorts of ways. We all encounter these kinds of situations. Even within the Christian body sometimes people do things that hurt us. How do we respond? Christ would call us to respond with grace, with love, with blessing, and to give the benefit of the doubt instead of responding with evil. It’s not just the classic question of, “What are you going to do when the madman comes into your house with a gun and he’s going to kill your whole family? Are you just going to sit back and let him do it?” That’s a hypothetical question; but what about the real questions and situations that we do face everyday? Paul writes in Romans 12, “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”3 This is very practical. When someone else gets something that we wanted, be it a position or a material thing, how do we respond? Do we respond with envy, jealousy, and harsh words, or do we respond by rejoicing with those that rejoice and weeping with those who weep?

“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”4

The New Testament vision of Christ for His Kingdom followers is not to overcome evil with bullets and bombs; He wants to overcome evil with good, kindness, and with love. Jesus wasn’t only mercy; He’s also truth and justice. Jesus does want us to speak truth and to confront sin when it needs to be confronted. Jesus is justice, but it’s also clear from this passage in Romans chapter 12 that He is the one who wants to retain that authority of justice. Vengeance is His, He will repay.5 In an atheistic worldview there’s really no ultimate justice, because Hitler dies, and he’s dead and gone like a dog—he escaped justice. But in a Christian worldview there is always justice. Either the individual will face justice at the end of life, or Christ paid the penalty and He met the justice. When we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.6 In Christ’s vision in the New Testament, He doesn’t call His followers to be the ministers of justice. He wants us to be ministers of truth and grace, but ultimately He is the Minister of Justice. Interestingly enough in Romans 12, where He says that we are not to be the ministers of justice and vengeance as His children, and that we are not to recompense evil for evil, He immediately goes on to talk about the role of the state in the beginning of chapter 13 and how they are the ministers of justice. Following that He comes back in verse 10 of Romans 13 and says, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”7 He’s talking about love. He’s talking about how we respond to evil in our lives. God is the Minister of Justice, the state is His minister of justice within this world, but it’s not our call to do that. We are called to love and love is the fulfilling of the law.

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