(This is a repost from my home blog at http://ballymennoniteblogger.blogspot.com/)
A new issue of the online version of “The Mennonite” church publication has been released. I just got my e-mail today. I enjoy getting this weekly dose of information from the primary publication of my denomination. It keeps me informed as to what’s going on at the denominational level and gives me some different insights on modern issues from a Mennonite perspective.
However, I must say that this morning’s issue disappointed me. Not because of the lack of content, nor because it somehow didn’t meet the professional standards of the publication. It disappointed me because of the content itself. The lead article in today’s e-mail found here discusses how the health-care reform bills currently being worked on by the US federal government coincide with Jesus’ inaugural sermon from Luke 4.
On one level, I agree with this article. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom in which there is no more poverty, no more disadvantaged, no more illness, no more pain, where everyone can come to the table of the Lord with equal stature and be blessed by God. Amen. Preach it. Come Lord Jesus.
What disappoints me about this article goes towards the roots of what the Anabaptist movement and the Mennonite denomination has been about for centuries.
The foundations of our denomination are not in advocating programs in the government, having the state dictate the ethics of the church, giving power to the secular human institutions to carry out God’s kingdom. Quite the contrary. As I read the stories of faith from our denominational past, both the general as well as the ones more close to my personal story, I hear stories of a people who have a faith in their God that acts out in personal witness and activity. I hear of people who, when the secular organizations are insufficient, step up to the plate and sacrificially give of themselves to meet the needs. Organizations like MCC with their meat canning project, Mennonite Disaster Service when FEMA fell through, educational programs in third world countries, advocacy for peace in Palestine when the UN fails to save lives… the list goes on. One instance after another where a denomination, when a need is seen, gets out of the pews and goes into the world to carry out the mission of the Kingdom that Jesus read about in the writings of Isaiah.
Don’t get me wrong. I do feel that it is the responsibility of the members of the Kingdom of God to act as God’s ambassadors to this world, calling our governments and secular institutions to repent and come into line with God’s plan. However, the article in the Mennonite, along with many discussions with other Mennonite church members, advocates giving this power to the government. One reasoning I heard was that “It’s such a big job, there’s no way the church can do it.” This has been the primary argument for a number of things, from this current health-care reform debate to debates on welfare reform to conversations about marriage. The church does not have the power or the resource, therefore we must advocate the government’s role.
I’ve got one word for that argument: BUNK. Here’s why. The suppositiion seems to be that the human ability of the Christian church is insufficient to meet the immense needs of the poor around us. Listen to that again. God’s church does not have the power to do it. Okay, one more time. The body of Christ is unable to change the world. You hear that? You hear what is being said? The argument seems to be that there is a limit to what a people, who call themselves the body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do God’s work in this world, blessed by God with talents, abilities and gifts…there is a limit to what God’s people can do. The power of God, acted out through his people, is limited. We can’t do it. God is not big enough to help us do what needs to be done. The same God who, as the God-Man Jesus, raised Lazerus from the dead, healed countless people, cast out demons, fed 5,000 men with a few loaves of bread and some dried fish… Nope. Can’t do it. The church cannot do it. God does not have the ability to give us any power to make these changes. It costs too much, takes too many people, takes up too much time, there are too many obstacles. Nope. God cannot help us do this. We’ve gotta have the government do it.
This is the same God who Paul wrote, as a reason why he was able to surmount many obstacles, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13). Or how about the same Paul who wrote that, when faced with the power of sin, is able to say “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). What about the many stories in the book of Acts where the church stepped up to the plate and, through their own sacrifice and generousity, were able to meet the needs of hundreds of people without having to ask the Roman emporer to do so? Paul alludes to this in his letters to the churches, how Macedonian Christians gave out of even their poverty and, because of this act of sacrifice, were able to bless many.
Again, please understand, I do believe that we need to call our government to justice and mercy. We need to ask our government to step in on the part of the poor and disenfranchised, to act justly, to live mercifully. But we CANNOT.. I repeat, we CANNOT expect the government to do it. It is a human institution and subject, especially in an institution that is constitutionally not a spiritual organization, to the failings of all such human institutions. Our own church confession of faith, concerning government says, “Even at its best, a government cannot act completely according to the justice of God because no nation, except the church, confesses Christ’s rule as its foundation.” (Article 23).
As I said, I agree with the article in The Mennonite and the resolution in Columbus that the Mennonite church “asks members to urge their legislators to support legislation extending access to all Americans, especially the poor and disadvantaged”. That is EXACTLY what the Mennonite Church has done over the centuries. But what is MOST important to our traditions of the church, is that it doesn’t stop there. It is the church (meaning the body of believers characterized by faith in Christ) living out the mission of God that ultimately bears the responsibility for the Kingdom. To sit back and expect the government to do so I would argue is going along with the idolatry of the government (also stated in Article 23 of our confession of faith). To say that the government has more power than the church to effect change in our society, I believe, is a wrong statement.
Let’s write to our legislators. Let’s tell them what we want. Let’s be that voice the cries out in the darkness. Let’s be the light on the hill. But let’s also be salt and light in the world. Once we’ve raised our voices to the secular powers, let’s grab hold of the power given us by God, as joint heirs with Christ, and step out into the world, confident that God will bless us with everything that we need to be able to do the work of His kingdom in this world. Peter Dyck used to tell the story of the Berlin Exodus. He always introduced the story by stating a German phrase: “Gott Kann”. Obama’s supporters used a particular chant during the campaign. “We can do it, yes we can.” As the Christian church, I would say we can borrow this, with a slight edit:
“We can do it!”
“Yes, God can!”