Come to Jesus

Joining different approaches completes our mission

Sep 29, 2014 by

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Anabaptists hold a wide variety of beliefs on how to share the way of Jesus — evangelism, conversion, mission, service, persuasive words, good deeds. Some churches and agencies are unabashedly evangelism-centered. Their themes, prayers, calling and language are steeped in answering the Great Commission, transforming hearts and spreading the Good News of Jesus.

Other Anabaptists wear the banner of “quiet in the land” proudly (and wordlessly). St. Francis of Asissi’s advice to preach by deeds is seemingly the motto for these groups. Quiet service leads by example.

Those on the ends of the spectrum tend to disagree, believing the opposite side to be less than fully faithful to God’s Word. But both are rooted deeply in Anabaptism.

Words and deeds are not opposites. Both are “mission,” as Jesus’ life showed. Some of us feel called to one or the other, but all can work toward bringing them together in a whole gospel, a complete mission.

Remembering the connection might help each to recognize the strengths in each other. It’s a reconciliation that may be necessary for the next era of Anabaptism.

In Winds of the Spirit, a profile of Anabaptism in the global South, Conrad Kanagy describes a 1527 gathering in Augsburg, Germany, in which the first Anabaptists were commissioned and sent out to spread the gospel to a violent world. Centuries later in North America, Anabaptists were deeply settled into being the “quiet in the land.” But now again, for the fastest-growing Mennonite churches in Africa, spreading the gospel is valued more highly than peacemaking, Kanagy’s study showed.

Evangelism-first Anabaptist churches are responsible for many growing church plants, which minister well to people new to or marginalized in North America. Confident in their call to preach the gospel, they reach people who are homeless, prisoners, mentally ill, poor — people who otherwise might be uncomfortable to approach.

Quiet servants reach a different kind of “unreachable.” The service-first approach has commanded the respect of neighbors and enemies alike throughout Anabaptist history. It has also appealed to a new wave of thinkers, exhausted and turned off by fear-driven evangelism.

Neither approach succeeds all of the time. But much can be gained from recognizing oneself in the other. Both positions, born out of a deep longing for a new, Jesus-centered world, can learn from the other. In fact, they are stronger together.

Many Anabaptists, through groups like MennoNerds and Missio Alliance, are discovering this and leading the way in imagining a newly mission-centered Anabaptism. They do not reject either mindset but encourage the strengths in each.

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