Pastors set denomination’s tone
Re “Do denominations matter?” (October). We arrived at our first MB church 20 years ago. The acceptance we experienced flowed from the heart and personality of its pastor and co-leaders; they set the tone for the fellowship’s positive energy. To us, the denominational label didn’t matter, rather the love expressed to God and one another.
I know there will be others who will find hope and community in an MB setting and we must raise a cheer for this. But I don’t think the name on the building has anything to do with whether a group of people are growing in the “grace and peace…from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:2). People tend to want to go where they’re loved and treated with respect.
Pastors need to experience Jesus’ grace and peace for themselves. Their teaching and programming will always reflect their inner world. Is the wonder and intimacy of knowing God real to them and does it show in their treatment of the people they’re called to lead and care for? These are the real issues that will determine the relevance of the MB denomination in days to come.
Denominations not a panacea
Re “Do denominations matter?” (October). I believe that denominations are necessary and advantageous, but certainly not a panacea for all. I cringe when church leaders devote a Sunday morning service for church affairs and waste an opportunity to direct attention instead to our Saviour. I’m saddened when I converse with someone and realize they define their faith in terms that stem only from one denominational experience. I’m especially grieved when some people express an attitude that their denomination is superior to all others.
But what bothers me most is when a church refuses to cooperate with other churches in a local event or program that requires the efforts of the entire body of Christ. I noticed many years ago that God most tends to show up when congregations unite. Maybe the body of Christ misses the greatest opportunities to advance the kingdom when parts of the body work in exclusion.
Proudly display MB name
Re “What’s in a name?” (Homepage, October). If we’re truly missional, we will keep our original “Mennonite Brethren” name – it’s the hallmark of our distinctiveness and the uniqueness of our mission. Newcomers to our church will be even prouder of our rich heritage when we proudly display our name.
God forbid that I, as a missionary, would ever consider changing my own personal name, thinking I could reach more for Jesus Christ.
Church is for the whole town
Re “What’s in a name?” (Homepage, October). Our church has never used the initials “MB” in its name and has, for almost 30 years, been called Whistler Community Church. Our core group was from several different denominations and the decision to affiliate with our MB conference (1980) took place after the initial group began meeting for Sunday services.
We hope the word “community” helps our town understand that church is for the whole town. I think the word “Mennonite” is an ethnic term for 95 percent of the people who use the term in North America. So, using the term MB or Mennonite puts up an unnecessary barrier for people who would like to be part of a particular church.
I agree with John Redekop (lose the name) rather than Bruce Guenther (explain the correct theological meaning of the name), in order to make it easier for people to meet Jesus among us. We do better when we describe our church (we follow Jesus, we want to live in community, we believe in the way of peace – the three Anabaptist distinctives) rather than the name of our church.
Emergents disregard biblical authority
Re “Strange bedfellows: Anabaptism and the emergent church” (Features, October). I was troubled by this article. This positive portrayal of the emergent movement, which disregards biblical authority, is dangerous. The emergent movement doesn’t believe that the Bible is authoritative in matters of doctrine because it doesn’t believe that doctrine is knowable. Therefore, while Anabaptists are people of the book, emergent people are not.
New Westminster, B.C.
Ask God about laughter
Re “No laughter please” (Letters, October). Lydia Dyck’s letter intrigues me. She implies that since there is no record of Jesus laughing, then laughter mustn’t be appropriate. Furthermore, she implies that laughing is “copying the world,” something she prays we won’t do.
Just because there is no written record of Jesus doing something doesn’t make it wrong. There is no record of Jesus eating soup either – should I question my consumption of borscht?
Second, “not conforming to the pattern of this world” was Paul’s admonition to the church to allow the priorities of God to shape our thinking and our being, not the priorities of the dominant culture. Reacting against the world’s values without allowing God’s values to be our primary compass can result in us demonizing values that God and the world both have in common.
St. Catharines, Ont.
Re “Gathering 2008” (September). While delegates were gathering in Montreal this summer to discuss Regenerate 21-01, my wife and I headed west.
From what we observed on our trip, it seems we have an underlying problem in our denomination that won’t be solved by the well-intentioned goals of Regenerate 21-01. We need healing first before we can move forward together.
The rapid changes over the last decades have been badly managed. The lack of flexibility on the part of old and young has driven a deep wedge between the generations. The love that we valued so much has grown cold. We have a serious disconnect still present in many churches. Those who stayed were unwilling to change enough, those who left went with the attitude of an ultimatum. Both don’t reflect the attitude of Jesus.
Only reconciliation will unite us. Let’s deal with the selfishness and consumerism within the church and teach patience, love, and grace.
St. Catharines, Ont.
Accountability structures on the decline
Re “After Gathering: time to hold the executive board accountable” (Editorial, September). I share the editor’s concern that Regenerate 21-01 did not receive the careful scrutiny it deserved at Gathering 2008. The proposal is based on the assumption that, in general, our churches are lacking in the areas of leadership and outreach and are therefore not very “healthy;” and that the expenditure of large sums will address this situation in a significant way. (Ironically, the film festival at Gathering, and the many baptisms regularly reported in the Herald suggest just the opposite.)
It appears we’re increasingly of the view that leaders are there to lead, and that delegates at conventions and church members in the local church setting are there to embrace and support what’s being proposed; that the critiquing of proposals leads to dissension, disunity, and factionalism. The model of servant leaders whose proposals are discussed and evaluated by the fellowship so that something approaching a consensus might emerge, appears to be on a rapid decline.
Authority without accountability dangerous
Re “After Gathering: time to hold the executive board accountable” (Editorial, September). Any authority without proper accountability can be a dangerous road to follow. Increasingly, churches and church leadership are moving more toward authoritarian styles of governance with little or no accountability to their members.
The absence of accountability is contrary to what God has taught us. The Bible, from beginning to end, teaches us about the need to be accountable. Even Jesus was accountable to God the Father (John 8:28).
Authoritarian leadership has often led to serious conflict within the church. The blood of Anabaptist martyrs was due to the authoritarian strength of the church. The martyrs of today will not lose their blood but they may lose their jobs, in the case of pastors and staff, or they may be forced to resign from their committees or leave their churches. The evidence for this is everywhere in Christian circles and is nothing to be proud of. If the conference has leaned away from accountability, it’s going in the wrong direction.
St. Catharines, Ont.
Don’t forget youth
Re “Canadian MBs set a new direction for the next decade” (Features, September). As we think about where we want to go in the future, let’s not forget our youth. They are looking for something new in their lives, and they want to experience things we experienced in the past. My 16-year-old son, Afonso, for example loves to listen to stories about my youth, activities, and hobbies. I can see him drinking in my words.
We, from the “old school,” need to understand our kids, love them, share our past with them, and above all orientate them for their future. That’s only possible by passing the right values with love, patience, and wisdom.
José Manuel Arrais
Words are imprecise
Re “Take Scripture literally” (Letters, September). I appreciate Ben Kramer’s concern for the MB church. But what does it mean to “take Scripture literally”? Words may have a number of meanings that by no means are always clear in the Bible.
Take the word “Israel,” for example. First, it was the name given to Jacob, Isaac’s son. It’s also applied to the descendents of Jacob, and to the nation of Israel (not necessarily all descendents of Jacob). The name is also used for the apostate northern kingdom in distinction to Judah. In the psalms, there is a strong fusion of Israel as symbolic of the people of faith and of ethnic Israel. However, to Paul, the true children of Israel are the people of faith in Christ. This enumeration suggests there may be a wide range of meanings to words.
The Bible uses words colloquially, imprecisely, as we do. A literal reading of Scripture is desirable, but virtually impossible. The danger is that we variously choose our own definitions and label them the “literal” meaning.
Lots of figurative language in the Bible
Re “Take Scripture literally” (Letters, September). Scriptures must be taken seriously, of that there is no doubt. But it’s wrong to misunderstand the meaning of the term “literal.” If we read the Scriptures only literally, we’re in serious trouble.
Jesus himself was our teacher in using figurative language, such as imagery, similes, and metaphors. We as Christians commonly use these images when we say we’re supposed to be “salt and light.”
It would be foolish to take these sayings literally. Taking them seriously is hard enough, is it not?
What it means to be Mennonite
Re “Mennonite should remain an ethnic term” (Letters, August) and “Mennonite should be a multi-ethnic, theological term” (Letters, September). The term Mennonite has never been an ethnic designation. There has never been a “Mennogolia” or “Mennogeria,” from which Mennonites originated. The term Mennonite has always been a designation for any people who followed the Christian teachings of Menno Simons – salvation by faith alone, believers baptism, fellowship of believers, non-resistance, etc.
I became a Mennonite when I accepted Jesus as Saviour, and was baptized in an MB church. I will remain a Mennonite as long as I’m a member in a Mennonite church. The designation “Mennonite” has always been one of Christian affiliation, not one’s place of birth. Should I choose to join a different denomination – say, Baptist – I no longer am a Mennonite, but a Baptist. My ethnicity remains DGR, I can’t change that.
In our church, we have Mennonites from China, Japan, Korea, Romania, and Russia. None of them speak Low German, or make plumi moos, but they are Mennonite by faith and practice. That’s what it means to be Mennonite.
Responsibility to protect unborn
Re “Caring for the least of these” (Features, July). I appreciated Ross Muir’s discussion about the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and “the least of these.” But why do we look overseas when we have atrocities right here at home, which take nearly 100,000 lives in Canada every year – abortions? Doesn’t our pacifist stand motivate us to protect our vulnerable unborn from the violence of others?
Why aren’t we intentional about offering help for the pain following abortion? We hear about transforming the culture, yet we live in a culture of death.
True evangelical faith clothes the naked, but the lives of our naked are being sacrificed. Surely abortion is the most egregious act of violence since our founders wrote our formative documents. Someday we may well ask ourselves: how could we have been so blind?