Not by coercion

Apr 27, 2015 by

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I encourage all delegates to the Mennonite Church USA convention to read “Christ-Centered Unity Is Still Possible” by John M. Miller (March 30). He suggests that our “obedience to Jesus” has been exchanged for church documents “considered foundational and sacred. . . . We have exchanged this fundamental dynamic that unites for a set of opinions that divide.” We are called to be witnesses to Jesus, “not coercers of others.” It is essential to “eliminate the idea that my faithfulness involves coercing others to my point of view.” Five hundred years ago, Hans Denck contributed similar wise words: “But you, when hearing your brother speak something that is strange to you, do not immediately contradict it, but hear if it be true, that you might also accept it. If you cannot understand it, you should not judge him, and, if he considers you to be slightly in error, consider whether your error might be even greater.” Denck considers separating himself from fellowship only with those who refuse to listen to him and wish to coerce him to believe as they do (see my article, “Reclaim the Wisdom of Hans Denck,” The Mennonite, February 2011). We can show respect and love for those with whom we disagree by listening. This dialogue cannot be one-sided; it cannot be orchestrated to smooth over differences: It cannot be coercive. Let’s do more listening and less talking.

Ruth Anne Abraham
Austin, Texas


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  • Aaron Yoder

    Ruth Anne, but even Hans wrote that there comes a time to admonish one another in the church. What is happening in MC USA is strong lack of integrity and accountability to what Delegates and Mennonite churches have already agreed to. Is the Godly response to this movement a need to ‘keep listening?’ Or is it to practice what Hans wrote about in 1527? “For the sake of love, one may not hate another beyond earnestly admonishing him, and if he will not hear, to avoid him with a sorrowing heart. This is also loving in truth. Herein consists the separation of the children of God from the children of the world, and also the ban or exclusion of false brethren. This too must happen only for the sake of true love, unless indeed one wishes to deny the basis of the covenant of the children of God” (Denck, ‘Concerning True Love’). Our Confession of Faith is not sacred or more holy than Scripture, but it is a covenant. For those who step beyond the bounds of covenant, the truest form of love is to graciously rebuke for the sake of true reconciliation. In other words, let’s not just practice Denck’s wise words but actually live out Matthew 18:15-17. If we do not, according to Denck, all the church becomes is another group of ‘children’ who look exactly like the world.

  • Elaine Fehr

    We can choose to read Christ Centered Unity is Still Possible, but in doing so, we can’t afford to lay the Bible aside. Let’s keep in mind 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

    “9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

    It’s a good before and after picture of those who are united in Christ and are washed, sanctified and justified in His name. Do not be deceived!

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