A prayer for my generation
My generation of Anabaptists isn’t just throwing things out. At least I don’t think we are.
Every generation has to find their place in life and the grand mosaic of history. The times are different for each generation. For one, morality may be the trump struggle they face. For another, it may be poverty. Yet, another generation faces the struggles of morality mixed with the opportunities of technology or the rise of humanism amid their poverty.
For us, there’s never been a more Christian time in history. And that’s making us ask questions.
Let me explain what I mean: Christian in the sense that there are all kinds of Christians in our land. All types of “Christian” beliefs, “Christian” schools, “Christian” books, movies and bands.
Perhaps the biggest Christian dilemma we face is that there is more literature available than ever before (and more education), yet with all of that, 10 people can still look at the same passage of Scripture and interpret it 10 different ways.
Our knowledge and Christendom isn’t uniting us; it’s fragmenting us.
But here’s the real catch: while our pastors declare certain Biblical principles to be true, they still can’t pronounce “apostle” with a soft “T.”
“The gospel isn’t preached by eloquence of man,” they say. Yet, to add on to their mispronunciations, they rule their churches with control. The gospel isn’t preached by the eloquence of man (insinuating that to not learn how to speak well means you’re more yielded to the Spirit of God), yet they can’t trust God enough to cultivate personal Bible study and allow people to come to their own understanding and applications. They must control it.
Furthermore, we know other people who don’t control, yet are motivating their “sheep” to seek God with all their hearts. There is life and love and they are yielded to the Spirit of God. (And they know how to pronounce “apostle.”)
How do we know what we’ve been taught all these years is right? How do we know it’s not all wrong? A form of brainwashing and manipulation?
If we are right, why aren’t we more effective at influencing people for Christ? Our churches grow primarily through reorganization and biological reproduction. That’s not how the New Testament church grew. If our practice is more New Testament than anyone else’s, why doesn’t it yield more similar results?
“It’s not about the numbers,” they say, and if Jesus wasn’t about numbers, he wouldn’t have died for all men.
We’re so focused on the physical. We determine depth of spirituality by plain-ness of dress or size of veiling. But Christ seemed much more relational. He never once urged Peter to wear more than his loin cloth if he truly loved God. Instead, Christ told him to feed his sheep — if he loved him.
Paul understood this. His letters are filled with grace for the struggling churches. Love permeates every word he writes, even when it’s blunt and straightforwardly convicting. His goal seemed to be spiritual maturity. I guess he figured the rest would follow if that happened well. Even when he did address some physical aspects, he called people to “not be contentious” (1 Cor. 11:16), to be spiritual people and not people of the flesh with jealousies and strife (1 Cor. 3:3), and to be ruled by love — for if we lack love, we are nothing (Eph. 5:2, 1 Corinthians 13).
Why does Paul rarely create physical rules for the NT churches if having unity in the body of Christ meant everyone looking the same or applying biblical principles in the same way?
Our churches are more set up to control the outcome instead of cultivate hearts of worship in our young people and personal study of God’s word. Yet, this only works if robots are what we’re making. If worship was the focus, then love would be predominant even when the chosen applications differed.
But it’s not. Jesus is not the center. Maintaining our Anabaptist heritage is. And why is that so important? Why can’t we find a verse in scripture urging us to not lose sight of the faith that was laid before us by Menno Simons?
Why can’t we have conferences that teach good exegesis from the Bible on nonresistance, Armenian doctrine of salvation, simplicity, community and brotherhood, and how we can effectively engage culture while also remaining true to biblical values? Instead, we have sessions on how we’re different from evangelicals, why we should be plain, how we are more radical than other denominations, the necessity of the agrarian lifestyle and how evangelicalism is encroaching on us.
We act like insecure, narcissistic people part of an exclusive club. And quite frankly, my generation is tired of it.
Are the ones who go before us scared because they feel like they’re losing control? Are they afraid of the questions we ask and the changes we make because it feels like they will lose everything they’ve worked for? And if they did lose everything they have worked for, would that mean they are failures?
I understand why it looks to the older generation that many of us are “throwing things out.” I’ve used that term, myself, when someone decided something I valued isn’t important to them. It feels that way — like they’re throwing it out. It feels as if they don’t care about what I have thoroughly prayed over and searched the scriptures for, as if I believe it just because I’m a traditionalist or am too scared to step “out of the box,” whatever that means. The reality is that’s not why I believe it, whatever it may be.
But that’s how we feel about things they think we’re “throwing out.”
“You’re just reacting!” and maybe we are. But we’d like the respect of having them at least try to understand what causes us to react, rather than simply lumping us into all the rest that “slid down the slippery slope.”
Furthermore, we would like them to respect the fact that we too are praying and searching the Scriptures as we come to conclusions that may differ from theirs. It’s not that we’re rebellious, but that we want more of God.
But here’s a question I have for my generation: Do we?
With as many faults as our parents may have, we have been given a lot. As I understand it, church 30 years ago wasn’t any better than it is today — maybe worse. Fathers, especially those who were pastors, neglected their families for the sake of their work and ministry. Many of our parents grew up with disengaged dads, whereas ours are at least trying much harder to be involved in our lives and having more God-honoring priorities.
Our parents have laid a foundation for healthy families, as the conviction to resolve root issues continues to grow. They saw what happens when people relate with manipulative and controlling methods, and they’re trying to change that. Along with that control, they saw the error of such a strong works-based faith. The generation before us has given us a much healthier balance of a grace-that-empowers-us-to-work-out-our-salvation faith than the faith that said “holiness is reading your Bible a lot.”
We have been given faith blocks to build on — are we building on them? Do we actually want more of God, or do we just want something different? Are we so consumed with what still needs improvement that we’re willing to discard those blocks and start over? And in our “starting over” are we actually applying our lives to God’s word, or are we trying to find “what’s right for us”?
My prayer for my generation is that we would not neglect the faith of our parents. I pray we could be free from our past. So many of us that do leave our Anabaptist background remain imprisoned to our heritage by always needing to make belittling remarks about “back then,” “when I was at my old church,” and so on. That doesn’t sound free. It actually sounds more imprisoned, only it feels free because we’re not in the environment that caused conflict for us.
I understand that many of us have extremely troubling backgrounds. That’s why I’m not going to pray that we “remain Anabaptist.” Rather, my prayer is that we could truly experience the freedom in Christ to the point that we can build on the faith blocks that have been given to us. I pray that we can give our parents the respect of understanding how they have changed negative aspects of their past. That we can be free to press into the heart of God instead of run from what we don’t want (if that is what we’re doing). That we will discover the freedom to be honest about what we’re actually struggling with and be willing to receive input from those we may disagree with.
I don’t pray that we look the same 20 years from now as we do today. I don’t pray that we would quit “throwing things out.” I pray we make decisions today in light of our grandchildren and their children. I pray that we may realize the intimacy in Christ we can have through a worshipful approach to the word of God. I pray that we would continue to want more of God, because if it is wanting God that is motivating us, he has promised to show himself to us.
I pray we flee darkness and unrighteousness. I pray we run to the cross of Jesus Christ and gaze on his glory because it is in gazing on the glory of God that we are transformed, not on trying to do things differently ourselves (2 Cor. 3:18).
And I pray our parents may continue to be patient with us, and that we would involve them in our journey, for there is so much wisdom they want to give to us, and we will one day be in their shoes with children who want something different.
That’s not a bad thing. It is a sign of a dynamic people when the next generation wants more. I don’t understand why that scares some people, because it is really the highest compliment. Don’t ever settle for the status quo when other questions are nagging at the back of your mind. Just remember to ask them humbly, and acknowledge the good and the effort that is being given.
In our quest for more of God, I pray that we would approach him and his word with hearts of worship as we study, pray and minister. Generations fail to pass on anything eternally meaningful when what they spend their energy pursuing is driven by anything other than intimate worship of Jesus Christ.
There’s a generation that served us with good intention and hearts of love. They have succeeded in giving us building blocks for our faith and taking us deeper in worship. Will we build on them?
Asher Witmer is a husband, father, writer and teacher from Los Angeles currently serving as a principal at a small international school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He blogs at asherwitmer.wordpress.com, where this post first appeared.
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