Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: brotherhood

The Church of God is not racist

But members sometimes do and say inappropriate things

Several weeks ago the French news magazine Le Point carried an interview with a man who had come to France in his youth from Togo. The title of the article was France is not racist, a point of view staunchly upheld by the man being interviewed, although he did talk of incidents when the colour of his skin had caused difficulties.

This man had come to France to attend university, then stayed and made himself at home. He applied for citizenship and in due time received a brown envelope in the mail with a paper inside that told him, “You are now a Frenchman.” He wondered about the  impersonal nature of that notice. Many years later he became Minister of Citizenship in the government of François Mitterand and used the opportunity to establish a public ceremony for welcoming new citizens.

Being born in France, or born elsewhere to French parents, is not the only way to become French. France has always welcomed people from all parts of the world, believing that anyone can become French. But that means that you must become French, become at home with the language, the culture and the French values of liberty, equality and brotherhood.

Within this framework there is room for a great deal of diversity. One example is that education has been compulsory in France for 140 years, but the law has never made school attendance compulsory. Home schooling is legal, as long as it includes the essential subjects, which includes achieving fluency in French and one other language.

In the same way, the Church of God is not racist, even if there are sometimes misunderstandings between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Membership is never by birth, but only by choice, in choosing to answer the call of God to salvation and sanctification. Anyone can become a member, on those conditions.

We can be united in faith, yet not think and act in identical ways. That is perfectly all right, we can all learn from the ways that people of a different ethnic background see things.

However, when most members of a congregation are of the same ethnic background it is easy to assume that we do things in a certain way because that is the way that a Christian should do things. Some of those things are deeply rooted ethnic traditions. They are not wrong, but we cannot expect that people of other ethnic backgrounds will conform to those things that are passed on through our culture.

Problems arise when ethnic traditions harden into a belief that there is only one right way to think or act. This is being carnally minded, not spiritually minded. Another way to describe such an attitude is ethnocentrism. Such an attitude hinders us from seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people with different cultural values. It may hinder Christians of other backgrounds from feeling at home among us.

That is not racism. There is nothing deliberate about ethnocentrism, it is learned in childhood and one is unaware of even having such an attitude. I believe the time has come for us to name it as a problem. That does not mean we need to change our culture, such a thing is pretty much impossible. All we need to do is learn to value and love people of other cultures just the way they are.

The Principal Errors of Pietism

Pietism, with a capital P, refers to a movement that began within the Lutheran Church around the year 1600. The Pietists emphasized the new birth, the inward spiritual life of the heart and a pure moral life. There were earlier threads of pietism, but this was the beginning of a distinctive and dynamic movement. The influence of the German Pietists grew and spread and became the principal influence of modern evangelical Christianity.

At first glance Pietism may sound much like the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. Yet there are three ways where Pietism represents a compromise with the world.

Christianity without the Cross
Pietists avoided persecution by remaining members of the state Lutheran church, having their babies baptized, attending worship services and taking communion. They met privately to share experiences and encourage one another and became known as “the quiet in the land.”

Throughout history Anabaptists and Mennonites have taken the way of the cross, avoiding all compromise with corrupt religions. They have lived a quiet and peaceable life, but their refusal to offer any kind of lip service to oppressing majority religions has often brought persecution upon them.

Pierre de Bruys in the 12th century and Menno Simons in the 16th century were first priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Once spiritually enlightened, they abandoned that church, called it Antichrist, and became earnest evangelists of pure Christianity, untainted by the non Scriptural practices of their former religion. In Menno’s day the persecutors also included the Lutherans and the Reformed Churches.

Anabaptists and Mennonites took very seriously the admonition of Paul in Ephesians 5:11 – And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. They believed that Jesus meant exactly what He said in Luke 9:23 – If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Fellowship without Brotherhood
The original Pietists were members of the Lutheran Church, meeting privately without any formal organization. They had an individualistic faith, each one believing he could worship God on his own, appreciating the fellowship of like-minded believers, but having no need of the strictures of an organized body.

Anabaptists and Mennonites did not see their church as restrictive, but as a much needed support network to help them grow in the faith and maintain their spiritual purity. They were a brotherhood; their leaders were brethren, not Lords. They saw the church as it is described in the New Testament: a body of which Christ was the head and each member was needed for the body to function effectively.

1 Peter 5:5 – Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

Conversion without Discipleship
Pietists and Anabaptists have both earnestly striven to proclaim the gospel to those who do not have a personal knowledge of the Saviour. Pietists, however, make the new birth the main point of their evangelism. True, there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. But is this enough? For Pietists it appears to be the end point of evangelism.

For Anabaptists and Mennonites it is the starting point. The Great Commission says: Go ye therefore, and teach (or, make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20. (The Greek word matheteuo can be translated as teach or disciple.)

Sinners not only need to repent and be converted, they need to learn to live as a Christian. Colossians 2:6 – As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him. It is true that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to walk with Christ, but this is best done in the company of other believers who will help, encourage, teach and correct. In other words, they should not be abandoned to stumble along partly in the light and partly in darkness, but offered the support they need to grow into the person that Christ wants them to be.

This does not mean living by the rule book: that does not lead to spiritual growth. But there are spiritual dangers and spiritual resources that mature believers know of and new believers often don’t. Galatians 5:13 – For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Revival and communion

Holy Communion in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite is not a matter of routinely gathering at fixed intervals to partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine in remembrance of our Lord.  We believe that the peace and unity symbolized by this service must be fully authentic.

To this end, we have revival meetings before communion.  A congregation will call two ministers from different congregations to come to preach the gospel, to visit the members and to endeavour to resolve all barriers to true unity and fellowship.  It happens on occasions that problems surface that cannot be resolved in a short time.  In some cases a problem may be serious enough to be brought before the congregation as Jesus instructed in Matthew 18:15-17.  Or, if there is a more widespread problem, communion will be delayed until this is resolved.

We are all too human, often tending to think that we are misunderstood, we have been somehow wronged, or that our children are not treated fairly.  We may also become involved with things in the course of work and business that are not consistent with the Christian faith.  At revival time we are asked to look at our faith and the way we are living it and to bring ” every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Revival meetings this year at Swanson had an inauspicious beginning.  A large part of the congregation came down with gastroenteritis (some people call it stomach flu)  just before meetings were scheduled to begin.  Less than half the congregation were well enough to be in church the first evening.  After a few days, both of our revival ministers came down with the illness, one of them even had to sped most of a day in the hospital due to complications.

Still, after 12 days of church services every evening, we were able to declare our peace and unity and go forward.  There were inspiring testimonies of victories won over anger, doubt and depression, confessions of  being too contentious and of being too passive.   Our visiting ministers are now on their way home (to Québec and Idaho), having left us with an admonition to go forward and not backward in the Christian warfare.

This was the first communion for  six young people who had been baptized over the past year.

Can anyone join the Church of God in Christ Mennonite?

The above question was typed into a search engine and brought someone to my blog yesterday.  It seems to me this is a question that merits a straightforward answer, so here goes.

Perhaps the best place to start is with the questions asked at baptism.  The first three questions deal with belief in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  The fourth question is about whether the applicant for baptism has truly repented of his / her sins and been born again.  The fifth question asks whether the applicant is resolved to forsake the world, deny himself / herself, take up the cross and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.  And then there is this question:

Do you promise to love the brotherhood, and to exercise care and concern for the spiritual welfare of your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, and to accept the same from them?  Are you willing to reprove your spiritual brethren when you see them do wrong, and are you also willing to accept reproof from them?

Membership in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite is open to all who can honestly, from the heart, answer yes to these questions.

Some onlookers may be confused by seeing that the majority of the members here in Canada are of Low German ancestry.  It is not a requirement for membership to assimilate to that ethnic group.  Membership in an ethnic culture is not accessible by people not born in that culture, however Christian faith and spiritual fellowship are  accessible by people of any background.

The ethnic mix of the church here in Canada is slowly changing as people of other backgrounds are added to the church.  Some of our ministers are of other backgrounds.

Another factor changing the image of the church is our interaction with brethren from other countries.  The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite is active in 37 countries; the churches in Canada, the USA, Haiti, Brazil and Nigeria are self governing indigenous bodies.  The church in the Philippines will be added to this list in a few months, as the last foreign missionaries leave that country.  Ministers from Nigeria have been called to conduct revival meetings in other African countries as well as congregations in Canada, the USA, Brazil and the Philippines.  Ministers from Haiti have also come to Canada and the USA for revival meetings.

A minister from Belize and his family moved to a congregation here in Saskatchewan a few years ago.  There are a few other Hispanic members in that congregation, all now quite fluent in English.  This minister was in our congregation last summer for a few days of special meetings.

So, the answer to the question above is that membership in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite is open to anyone, of any background who is truly a born-again, Holy Spirit-led believer.  My wife and I are not of Low German ancestry, we have been members of the church for almost 34 years and I still don’t really understand that culture.  It doesn’t matter.  Nobody ever told us we had to.  All that is required is to love our spiritual brothers and sisters.

%d bloggers like this: