The strengths of others

No church group is the best at everything

Apr 11, 2016 by

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On Easter Sunday, Lutherans said a prayer for unity. The liturgy offered by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America asked the God of life to pour Christ’s “resurrection into the churches. Make visible the unity we have in you. Show to each denomination the strengths of the others.”

Though the ELCA’s experience with disunity is primarily noticeable in conservative groups such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the prayer has value for other denominations.

Far more often than Lutherans, Mennonites and other Anabaptists have divided over matters both trivial and weighty. But, at a deeper level, all are united around Christ’s message for a broken world and ultimate salvation. Thousands from around the world experienced this unity at the Mennonite World Conference assembly last summer in Pennsylvania.

The gathering was an opportunity to drink deeply of what diverse cultures have to offer. But other than a handful of sermons and stories of faraway repressed churches, there was not an overt emphasis to “show each denomination the strengths of the others.”

It is easy to focus on the perceived shortcomings of other Mennonite groups. But what connections and appreciation might develop if each could step back and see the others’ strengths?

Amish and plain groups live out the call to be not of this world, with a visibly distinctive witness for Christian faith that everyone notices and many admire. Mennonite Church USA’s progressive edge offers grace and welcome to marginalized people bruised by more traditional church cultures. Conservatives buffeted by rapid change in society hold to God’s unchanging truth even when it is inconvenient.

Mennonite Brethren, especially in urban settings, work passionately to present Anabaptist distinctives in an attractive way — and have the best potlucks. Evana Network owns an evangelical Anabaptist identity and stands solidly on traditional biblical beliefs.

And, in any Anabaptist church: Four-part harmony singing feels good when you know how to do it. Energetic praise music feels good when you know how to do it.

We capitalize on our diverse strengths through the sacrament of service. Whether swinging hammers on a Mennonite Disaster Service work site or slinging pies at a relief sale for Mennonite Central Committee, we come together around the things we agree on. The outside world takes notice. Can we do this in other arenas?

May the resurrection be poured into us, that we see the strengths of others.

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