Anabaptists consider role in post-Christian culture

Oct 6, 2014 by and

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

CARLISLE, Pa. — A few hundred Anabaptists were told to raise their hands as they sang from Psalms, “lift up your hands and praise the Lord.” Most did not.

From left, Nelson Okanya, president of Eastern Mennonite Missions; David Fitch, founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community in the suburbs of Chicago; and Anton Flores-Maisonet, co-founder of the intentional community Alterna in LaGrange, Ga.; answer questions from the audience at “Church and Post-Christian Culture: Christian Witness in the Way of Jesus.” — Kelli Yoder/MWR

From left, Nelson Okanya, president of Eastern Mennonite Missions; David Fitch, founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community in the suburbs of Chicago; and Anton Flores-Maisonet, co-founder of the intentional community Alterna in LaGrange, Ga.; answer questions from the audience at “Church and Post-Christian Culture: Christian Witness in the Way of Jesus.” — Kelli Yoder/MWR

To one of the worshipers, the disconnect between words and actions symbolized a problem.

“We say things that we don’t do,” said Cherith Fee-Nordling, a professor of theology at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Ill. Our focus is too much on how we appear and not enough on how the Spirit is actually calling.

Fee-Nordling, who was raised Pentecostal and now calls herself a Christian “mutt,” spoke at a conference on “Church and Post-Christian Culture: Christian Witness in the Way of Jesus” Sept. 19-20 at Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church.

“You cannot obey the Lord through a good list of Anabaptist principles,” she said. The script that may have worked for Anabaptists and other Christians in the past is changing.

“Your heritage, by its beauty and its locatedness, is going to have to fight to hear the spirit of the living God tell you how to do a new thing,” she said.

At the conference — organized by Missio Alliance, an evangelical network with Anabaptist origins — speakers called Anabaptists to use their distinctness to advance God’s mission in a post-Christian society.

Almost 400 attended, many from the three sponsoring denominations: Church of the Brethren, Brethren in Christ Canada, and 10 groups from Mennonite Church USA.

The event featured 10 speakers who covered the future of the church, mission, racism, diversity, politics, justice and more — through a lens of challenges Anabaptists face as well as what they bring to the table.

Meghan Good, pastor of Albany (Ore.) Mennonite Church, offered a framework for Christianity, putting it in terms of rising and falling, dying and living.

Jesus shows the ultimate rising and falling, by dying into life.

“The conquering power and the heart of the universe is the power of a willingly laid down life,” she said. “It’s the world itself that is upside down. Our falling is actually upward. We fall upward into eternal life.”

A fall from fame

Many speakers described their journey to Anabaptism, highlighting the pieces they saw as valuable.

Greg Boyd fell from evangelical fame as he left theologically justified violence, patriotism and consumerist idolatry behind. He is the pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn. He found a new tribe in Anabaptism as he began to speak out.

“I feel like we are on the cusp of a Reformation,” he said. As Christendom is crumbling and Christians look to create a new way forward under a new understanding of Jesus, he listed three potential challenges: holding fast to a high regard for Scripture’s authority, networking and remaining authentic in a society where Christian language and actions are often watered down.

The new order of Jesus brought Brian Zahnd, author and founding pastor of Word of Life Church in Saint Joseph, Mo., to Anabaptism, while so much of the church has ignored it.

“We have divided Jesus from his ideas,” he said. The church has made Jesus into the “secretary of afterlife affairs” and not someone to shape one’s life after.

As Christendom falls, he said, the church has the chance to follow a “Christ that takes seriously the politics of Jesus.”

Anabaptists have already studied this approach and are a preview of the age to come, he said.

Kurt Willems, founding pastor of Pangea Communities, a church in Seattle, said he grew up Mennonite Brethren but came from a gun-loving, nationalistic family.

“I was a Mennonite but not an Anabaptist,” he said. He came to Anabaptism through an increasing sense that he was missing a counter story to the American narrative.

“The proclamation that Jesus is Lord and Caesar isn’t, that’s the counter story,” he said.

Okanya

Nelson Okanya, president of Eastern Mennonite Missions, speaks at the Church and Post-Christian Culture conference. — Kelli Yoder/MWR

Nelson Okanya, president of Eastern Mennonite Missions, told the story of his parents’ conversion by EMM workers in Kenya.

“How can an African be an Anabaptist Christian?” he asked. “If you’re thinking of Anabaptism as a way of taking Scripture seriously and obeying Christ in life, then I am an Anabaptist Christian.”

The people who recognize Jesus often are not the people we expect, he said. God doesn’t preach from society’s center.

Jesus who thirsts

Many speakers addressed the growing diversity of Anabaptism.

Anton Flores-Maisonet, co-founder of the intentional community Alterna in LaGrange, Ga., discussed his work with the “undocumentable” living near the largest detainee center in the nation. Alterna initiated El Refugio, a hospitality house open to families of detainees. He said 93 percent of those in the center will be deported.

In North America, he said, mission is talked about in terms of Christians filling some sort of deficit in unbelievers. This is dangerous, he said.

“Jesus starts with: What is his deficit?” he said. “If you want to be Jesus in these missional encounters, be the Jesus who thirsts.”

Samuel Kefas Sarpiya and Dennis Webb both told stories of transformation in their multicultural congregations.

Sarpiya, a church planter and pastor of Community Church in Rockford, Ill., talked about the impact of his church on its diverse community through non­violent demonstrations and education.

Webb, pastor of Naperville (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, used the game of cricket to unify his multicultural church.

Anabaptists hold beliefs that should make them extra welcoming, he said. Yet the tradition has difficulty engaging other cultures because of its deeply rooted Germanic heritage. Sometimes becoming more childlike, like through a game of cricket, can help work such problems out.

David Fitch, founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community in the suburbs of Chicago, talked about the necessity of engaging in reconciliation, especially racially.

“White men’s ways of thinking and organizing cultures are built into my structure, and I am blind to the ways,” he said. “[In reconciliation], there’s an act of mutual submission where I have opened up a space where people can speak into my life.”

Between speakers, sessions were offered on topics such as church planting, spiritual warfare, vibrant congregations, the failures of Anabaptism and multi­site churches.

The conference was a part of Missio Alliance’s Once and Future Mission series, which aims to recognize “the gifts of our various traditions up to today and reimagining those gifts for the future of mission” with gatherings, blogs and interviews.


Comments Policy

Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

About Me

advertisement advertisement