Reclaiming Scripture

Hard teachings call for humility and submission

Nov 7, 2016 by

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We Anabaptists often say “Jesus is the center of our faith” when describing our distinctive beliefs. In addition to explaining how Jesus is our example for daily living, we use this statement to describe our Christ-centered interpretation of the Bible — the idea that the point of the Bible is to reveal Jesus, who is the fullest revelation of God to us.

A Christ-centered view of Scripture helps us keep our focus on the heart of the good news: reconciliation with God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet this emphasis on the gospels can make it easier for us to downplay the apostolic instruction in the rest of the New Testament.

In “An Appeal for Healing and Hope for the Future of Mennonite Church USA from Younger Church Leaders,” the writers advocate several areas in which the denomination can seek spiritual transformation. This statement appears on page 3 of the document: “The earliest Anabaptists emphasized the authority of Scripture. The Scriptures were not intended to teach us only how to think about God, but how to live our daily lives.”

Elsewhere in the document, the phrases “Bible teaching” or “biblical teaching” appear a few times, and page 4 contains an acknowledgment that diverse perspectives will at times result in conflicting interpretations.

This raises the question: Do Anabaptists today emphasize the authority of Scripture, particularly the New Testament, enough?

We must approach apostolic teaching with a spirit of humility and submission, rather than with an arrogant denial of a difficult teaching’s relevance or a hasty “Jesus never said anything about this” dismissal of an uncomfortable passage.

Any Christian denomination or congregational network serious about revival must begin with a commitment to the New Testament as authoritative for faith and practice. All its teaching is inspired and preserved by God for us, and God’s Spirit — whom Jesus sent to us — will always direct us toward it.

Our sense of right and wrong must be influenced by Scripture — not the other way around. Do we have the humility to submit our viewpoints and sensibilities to God’s instructions, even if they displease our flesh? If we do, it is the first step toward the spiritual transformation we say we seek.

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  • John Gingrich

    Rachel, if you are one of the “Younger Church Leaders” I will be less anxious about the future of the Mennonite faith, Jesus left so many issues unresolved because the church needed to be adapted and mutated in order to become woven into the fabric of diverse societies from the Q’eq’chi villages to the urban universities. Jesus left the details of applying his embodiment as the “Final Word” to the men and women who followed. Peter and Paul and John who knew the religion and culture into which Jesus spoke most intimately were the first to write these interpretations of what it means to be a disciple and as you have said, these apostolic truths need to be part of our teaching.

    The “Young Leaders Letter” which you reference calls us away from spiritual neglect to renewal, and away from tribalism to building Christian communities across racial, ethnic, and class lines. In light of this kind of calling I find it shocking to read the expressions of fear, traumatization, despair, and hand-wringing that has been expressed by so many Mennonite leaders in our schools and churches in light of this secular US election. Are we so isolated in our tribalism that we lost sight of the fact that we don’t need to worry about the church? Jesus assured us that He will build his church. As you conclude, the way to spiritual transformation is the willingness to submit our arguments to God’s instructions. People like that are the ones the Spirit of Jesus is using to transform the church and the world.

    • Rachel Stella

      Thank you, John. I am praying for the American church’s revitalization and renewal. Much may change, but you’re right that Jesus will preserve and build us together as we continue to follow him.

  • Steven Stubble

    This is an excellent starting point for the Mennonite church as it searches for a way forward, and Rachel Stella shows an understanding of the main issue in a way that the authors of “Appeal for Healing and Hope” do not. The “Appeal” stresses the “essentials”of church life, and encourages us to move away from debating “ethical issues” for the sake of unity etc. Here’s the first elephant in the room: questions concerning same-sex unions were never a debate about an “ethical issue” but rather revolved from day one around the question of scriptural authority! Until the church clarifies this, the authors of “Appeal” have simply swept and set the stage for the next crisis between two camps: those for whom Scripture is the final authority no matter what the secular world says, and those for whom secular opinion is the final authority, no matter what Scripture says.

  • Aaron Yoder

    Well said, Rachel!

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