Showalter: Visible righteousness

Jun 4, 2018 by

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“Baptists are good at getting people converted, but Mennonites are better at making disciples.” It’s a stereotype and, like most, holds a grain of truth.

Richard Showalter

Showalter

Yet its days are numbered. The whole Western church faces a post-Christian culture. Billy Graham died in his 100th year with no apparent successor. Our much-lauded Mennonite community is increasingly shot through with individualism. The 20th century’s great Pentecostal renewal is no longer a fresh and powerful wind.

Before his death, Mennonite Alan Kreider joined other Western scholars in pointing us back to the early church for a new way forward, notably in his 2016 book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church.

Increasingly, our eyes are turning from the West to the Global South for contemporary answers. Steve Weaver, a Lancaster Mennonite leader and former Eastern Mennonite Missions missionary to Peru, describes vividly how early church discipleship norms are standard practice in many churches of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“When I left a strong, discipleship-oriented church in Philadelphia to serve as a missionary among Mennonite churches in the Peruvian Andes, I thought I knew a lot about making disciples,” he said. “But I was soon being discipled. New believers underwent three whole years of discipleship training right up front. And the training had teeth. When a young man in his second year of training didn’t show the characteristics of a second-year disciple, they asked him to repeat it. He said respectfully, ‘Yes, sir!’ I couldn’t quite imagine that happening in North America.”

What does this visible righteousness look like, and how could we reintroduce it into North American church life? Or for that matter, anywhere in the world? Weaver describes it simply as “loving obedience to and relationship with Jesus.” He’s working on a catechesis, a process of spiritual formation, to help believers in all traditions enter into it.

Kreider describes how it looked in the early church: meeting frequently, powerful corporate prayer, passionate worship, sharing meals on a regular basis, memorization of vast amounts of Scripture, frequent visiting the poor, sick and prisoners, exercising hospitality, giving tithes and offerings, maintaining stores of food, clothing and necessities for those in need, hosting and feeding the poor and alien, careful discernment of the surrounding culture (what to say “yes” to and when to say “no”), being truthful, maintaining sexual purity, observing disciplines that limit “impatient” behavior (no retaliation, abortion or exposure of infants, killing or watching blood sports), willingness to lose (no litigation, coercion or abuse), ongoing spiritual formation, attraction to the church by life rather than attending meetings, facing death without fear.

What would happen if Anabaptists — indeed, all Christians — in North America and other parts of the world were to seriously embrace living together this way, in fellowship with Jesus and each other? It would be nothing short of revolutionary, shaking both the church and the world to our roots.

Of course, we don’t have the power to call it into existence with mere words. But one by one and in little groups, could we begin to walk it out in the power of the Holy Spirit?

It’s not as though the movement hasn’t already begun.

Richard Showalter lives in Irwin, Ohio, and travels in Asia, Africa, the U.S. and beyond as a teacher, preacher, writer and servant.


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