Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Sharing the Gold of Another

I had a brother in Christ pass on to me a newsletter from a Mennonite bible school in Pennsylvania that contained an article that I found addresses a current need in my denomination quite well. I wrote the author and received his permission to publish the article in its entirety. Although written to Mennonites in particular and except for their specific history being cited, I think that you could just leave off the Mennonite name and the spirit of this article could apply to most, if not all, Christian denominations; therefore, while being addressed especially to Mennonites, I offer it to all Christians; its message is for any Christian trapped in a huddle of inactivity in following our Lord's command to "Go ye therefore" and spread His gospel to the World.

The school is Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute located in Harrisonville, PA.

Mennonite Vision for the Twenty-first Century
By Val Yoder

Historically, Anabaptists have been given two labels. During the Reformation, our spiritual ancestors were called “the radicals.” They were a pro-active group on the cutting edge of a determined effort to bring the church back to her biblical foundation in Acts. They initiated discussion, evangelism, and took Christ’s command to “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” literally. The ambition and intensity of this time not only earned them the title “radical” but also ignited the fires of persecution and wrathful animosity against their simple faith.

Years later, some of the heat of religious hatred toward them dissipated. As the next generation reflected on the cruelty and brutality upon their forefathers and found places of political refuge, they developed a maintenance mode of church life. There was a concerted effort to preserve that which forefathers had died for. “Hold fast to the faith” become the theme. In their places of refuge from the intolerant magistrates of Europe they became known as the “quiet in the land.”

Both titles (the “radicals” and the “quiet of the land”) are essential, and represent two callings of church life. The church is called to be pro-active while maintaining the faith. As a contemporary Anabaptist, I am grateful for a heritage that has done well in maintaining biblical application while most other denominations have compromised to the point of invisibility. I recall going to Sunday School as a child in a mission church where Lutheran ladies would not attend church unless they were veiled, usually with a stylish hat. Walter Beachy reports that in his grandmother’s day the Amish and Methodist ladies looked nearly the same from across the street. It was only with a closer look that you would see the frills and extra lace not worn by the Amish. “Holding fast” in our churches has visibly preserved a biblical obedience that has been lost in most denominations.

As important as maintenance is, it must actively cooperate with passionate action. If our “holding fast” is not coupled with “Go ye therefore,” Anabaptism will become extinct except as a quaint reminder of western culture’s past.

Honest questioning forces us to ask, “Where are we in these “holding” and “going” endeavors? A couple of years ago a teacher at SMBI’s Ministers Week asked a group of forty to fifty pastors, “How many of your churches have five or more members from non-Mennonite backgrounds?” Only one pastor raised his hand. Would this indicate which side of the continuum we are on? When churches grow only due to church hopping and child birth, we are in a maintenance mode. When churches divide because of dissension rather than evangelism, we are in a maintenance mode. If marriage and material things primarily characterize the future vision of our people, we are in a maintenance mode.

These factors do not suggest pro-activity! Marriage and material things are the tools to something far bigger! We are in warfare. No truce has been called between the kingdoms of man and the Kingdom of God. One pastor questioned Luke Kuepfer, “Is it safe to send young people to China?” He assured the pastor that, “No, it is not safe!” But, we are not here to be safe. We are here to be dangerous!!! Even the gates of hell should not be able to withstand us! If we are concerned primarily about safety we are stuck in the maintenance mode. Was it safe for Felix Mantz to face the city council? Is it safe for the underground Chinese church to take the gospel back to Jerusalem? Was it safe for the Ten Boom family to hide Jews? Was it safe for Stephen to preach to the high priest? Was it safe for Pablo Yoder to stay in Waslala?

As important as the maintenance mode is, it will never be compelling by itself! Where there is no “Go ye therefore,” there will be no significant or biblical “Holding fast.” Oh, that once again we would be worthy of the title “Radical!” God calls us to maintenance, but He also calls us to trail blazing, to adventure, to battle, to escapades, and to risk for the sake of building the Kingdom of God! The greatest challenge facing the contemporary conservative Mennonite church is the provision of “Go ye therefore” examples for young Anabaptists today to model their lives after and to guide them in the conquests of the Kingdom.

The conservative Mennonite church must continue to raise up men and women like Irvin and Susan Schantz who left home and family to travel to the frigid northern regions to plant churches where no Anabaptist had ever traveled. Their bread was spread with lard in their primitive home while they labored to plant churches in northern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario.

We need men like John and Joseph Overholt whose busy mission schedule found them boarding commercial airlines in their barn attire in order to catch a flight to ministry locations and then changing to street clothes in the confinement of the airplane restroom. Their ministry in New York City still inspires fervent memories in many who accompanied them.

We need homes like that of Count Zinzendorf whose house became a training facility for missionaries. The prayer closet of their home was filled twenty-four hours a day with prayer warriors for two hundred years! That community of people sent out more missionaries in twenty tears than all of the rest of European Christianity did in 200 years.

The conservative Mennonite Church has the resources and willingness in its young people. In the early eighties, young people left SMBI on weekends and term breaks for the cellars of New York City to encourage and assist the church planters that labored there. They slept on tables and the floor while rats walked on the pipes above them. In the early part of this decade young men crept past enemy soldiers in Myanmar, stepping gingerly around land mines to take food to people groups marked for genocide. There is a whole arm of Kingdom soldiers in our churches who are willing to go into battle with weapons not made with hands. They need to be called forth by the church and sent into action.

What is the challenge facing Anabaptism in 2005?
1. We must get our eyesight off retirement!
If middle-aged Anabaptists primarily dream of retiring in some vacationland city of the south, they will live out a life style that will not reflect a compelling vision to the next generation! We will lose that generation to the worldly value system that has already captured us.

2. We must embrace the commitment of the persecuted church. Martyr’s Mirror should be a regular part of our educational history requirements. The underground church in China should become our mentor. Our love for Jesus must mean that what we live for is also worth dying for. The Chinese church is committed to sending their best workers, the most experienced, the best equipped. Ten years of experience in leadership is desired for those that are sent out. What does that imply about the way that we tend to pull experienced missionaries back from the mission field to pastor our home churches?

While we question if it is safe to go into closed access countries, our Chinese brothers and sisters expect persecution. Of the first thirty-nine missionaries sent out in the “Back to Jerusalem” mission effort, thirty-six were arrested and sent back home. The Chinese church rejoiced that three made it through, undeterred, the others tried again as soon as they were released from jail. They train their workers to cross cultural barriers, to target specific groups. And to witness in all situations; on trains, buses, police cars, even on their way to execution. These workers are spiritual suicide bombers. They know they need to go, but they don’t know if they will come back. They are trained how to get out of their handcuffs in thirty seconds and how to jump from second story windows without getting hurt.

3. We must rekindle the fire of conquest in young men. The God-given drive for conquest in young men has been sedated into sports endeavors; shooting the biggest buck or hitting the most home runs. When our teaching of non-resistance is not coupled with conquest for the Kingdom, we will raise a generation of wimps; yellow soldiers who prefer coffee time to war time. Assuredly, our weapons are not carnal, but neither are they non-existent. They are MIGHTY, to the pulling down of strong holds!!!

Middle-aged American Anabaptists must capture a vision for Kingdom building that calls forth the wisdom of the aged and the daring of the young. This vision must include both the maintenance of faith, and the pro-active aggression of works. Our challenge involves “Holding Fast” while we “Go therefore.”

Published in the Quarterly Newsletter of Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute, “the MONITOR,” Vol. 27, No. 3 August 2005.
E-mail smbi1@juno.com
Telephone for office: 717-485-4341, fax 717-485-0641
Address: SMBI, 7304 Lincoln Hwy., Harrisonville, PA 17228

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Christian Service and Identity

I have been reading in John’s gospel chapter 13 on the lesson Jesus gives, by personal example, of service and humility to His disciples and, by extension, to us. Let us read some of the passage as John relates the incident:

John 13
1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;
3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;
4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.
11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.
12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. (KJV)

Travel was a rather dirty experience in Jesus’ day, for travel was mostly by foot on dusty or muddy pathways. It was the custom of those days to wash one’s feet as they entered a home, and for those that entertained travelers and guests in their homes to provide someone, usually a family servant or household member, to wash the feet of those entering their home. Apparently a servant was not provided in the use of this upper room that the disciples procured at Jesus’ instructions. The disciples came to the supper without washing their feet or assisting one another in doing so. Apparently they took their places at the meal in this condition. This task was one they should have taken care of themselves, a task they uncharacteristically overlooked.

At some point during or after the meal or its preparation, Jesus rises and while the disciples are in conversation, and He removes His outer garments, takes a towel that was obviously provided for this purpose and girds it around His body to keep it handy. Taking a basin filled with water the Lord begins to go to each disciple and to wash their feet and dry them with the towel around His waist. This is a beautiful picture of how humility and service to one another operates. Jesus gave no overtures or said a word to anyone, He just rose to meet a need of those that He loved and served them in a quiet humble manner.

There is so much in this passage that one could discuss and maybe I will later, but for now I want us to concentrate on the example our Lord gave to these men, and to us, in His humble service. They had overlooked a common need in their haste to eat the Passover meal, either out of forgetfulness or out of some kind of pride, it is not really important to know the reason in order to see the lesson of our Lord Jesus to the disciples and us. Jesus used the opportunity to teach His chosen disciples a lesson in how they were to see themselves and each other as members of Christ’s body, the Church. Jesus said, “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” Our Lord performs a simple action, which gives to us a great a lesson. We are to operate on a much different level compared to our natural human inclinations in our relationships with one another; we are to serve one another just as Christ has shown us in His example, no matter how common the need. If we can stoop and wash our brother’s or sister’s feet, or perform some other personal service, then we are showing the love of Christ to one another.

Now it may not be that we need to actually wash one another’s feet, but are we ready to offer a service just as humble; to make an offering to Christ in quietly serving one another, doing as He did, and doing it without overture or comment, and to do it as if we were doing it to Jesus personally. Remember, Jesus also said in Matthew 25:40, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” And in Matthew 10:42, “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” Jesus reinforces this in John 13:33-35, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” No matter the need, a cup of cold water, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, or sheltering the homeless, no matter who or where they are they are, but especially loving service to our brethren in Christ, is doing Christ’s work now. It should also be the mark of our identity to the rest of the world. We are to love one another as we love our God and Lord.

For the record I realize that many commentators on this Scripture passage point out in their opinions that Jesus was in no way setting up a religious practice to be followed in the same manner as communion or baptism. I happen to belong to a Christian faith that does see a literal purpose in practicing the ordinance of feetwashing as a part of the communion service due to the inclusion of both teachings following together in this chapter. However, my intention here is not to just encourage the concept as a religious practice, but that you should practice the concept in reality in daily living; for this kind of active love is a command of Christ to His followers. Christ did say that as He washed the disciple’s feet so they should wash one another’s feet, so a literal translation indicates a practice among believers should be instituted. The important aspect is that we practice the command in daily life as believers.

There is much more in this passage and in the rest of the chapter, but I thought that it would be a good point to meditate on for now, and it poses a great challenge to each of us in our living for and serving God’s Kingdom here and now. May we so glorify our God and Lord in our service with the example of our love toward one another.