Church

Beware of the Ministry-Industrial Complex

Occasionally, I end up going to one of those “Christian” stores, or I get some sort of advertisement from them. Where I live, they are called “Family Christian Stores” with an emphasis on the family part. In other parts of the country, such stores also exist, but with different names. We have all been to those kinds of places. When I was an evangelical, that was where you went to get a Bible or some accessory for it, but I still occasionally end up going there for one reason or another. These stores have books by Sarah Palin and Joel Osteen, and entire walls devoted to American flags and New International Versions. We all know the type.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an advertisement catalog from one of those stores, and for some reason I looked through it. First, there was a bunch of customized Bibles. Sort of like some sort of collector’s item, there was a bunch of needless varieties of Bibles for purchasing. I always see this whenever I go to any bookstore – people treating the Bible like some sort of fashion statement. What really annoyed me was when I saw this. They have this line of patriotic clothing, but it is not just patriotic. They mix Christianity into their patriotism in an amazing way. They even have a “Jesus Saves” shirt stylized to read “JesUSAves.” They literally made Jesus an American and linked Christian salvation to Americanism. They are mixing Christianity, capitalism, and the American state into one single chimera. Now, this is not new. I have known that they were doing this for a long time, but this example proved to be the ideal opportunity to bring up the issue. (more…)

Grafting streams: from Church of Christ to Anabaptist

I grew up in Church of Christ, a branch of the Stone/Campbell movement (along with the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ with the Church of Christ being the most conservative). If you think of them as Southern Baptists without a formal denomination structure or musical instruments in worship, you would have a fair approximation. I grew up conflating Christianity with America, the Republican Party (particularly the Libertarian wing) and the military.

Among the strengths of the church were the desire to do the will of God, a strong theology of the priesthood of all (unfortunately just male) adult believers, and the willingness to be counter-cultural. They are officially non-creedal, but they have collected a set of traditions, especially of which parts of scripture are enshrined and which are explained away that can be at least as powerful as any written creed. (more…)

Becoming Franciscan

When my Christian faith first began to radicalize, I became very interested in the Franciscan tradition. The advocacy for radical discipleship, peace, and social and environmental justice that is associated with the ministry of Francis of Assisi naturally appealed to me. At first, I did as many do, and associated the Franciscan tradition with Roman Catholicism, but as I studied more, I found that the Franciscan movement is actually surprisingly diverse.

Back when Francis first started out, there were already a few different sects that identified with his movement, and some were so radical that they were even expelled as heretics. To be honest, I am surprised that Francis was not expelled as a heretic, like so many similar figures were. Even today, there are multiple Franciscan orders in the Roman Catholic Church, and there are numerous Anglican, Lutheran, Old Catholic, and ecumenical Franciscan orders. When I first started investigating the Franciscan tradition, and considered joining it, it was the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans that appealed to me. I actually planned on joining this order. I had spoken with one of their members about it, and even had the application ready to send in, but other events in my life caused me to put that on hold. I started to study other radical traditions, such as the Anabaptists, instead.

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Community and Tradition

I was not raised in the Christian religion. Like many from the First World, I was raised in a Christian culture, but I was not raised in the church or with a knowledge of the Christian religion. I spent most of my childhood as an agnostic with some Buddhist flavor, and when I was exposed to the Bible, it was through a children’s storybook. As a result, I associated the Bible with fairy tales. This would eventually come to change as I felt the desire to actually study religion. Part of it due to my brother’s influence.

My brother was like me. He was not raised in Christianity, but later converted to it as a teenager. He originally came to Christ through the Pentecostals, then he became an Evangelical. It was when he was attending an Evangelical Free church that I first came to truly appreciate Christianity again. It was also during this time that I got my first Bible, which was the New Living Translation. I did not believe in Christianity during this time, but it was something interesting to study and do on the weekends.

One thing that I learned from Evangelical Protestantism was that everything is personal and private. We are supposed to have a personal relationship with Jesus. We are supposed to personally convert to Christianity, and salvation was all about personal redemption from sin and death. Even the Bible was to be read and interpreted privately. Even in economics, Evangelicals tend to stress capitalism and enterprise over community and charity. Then, I began to study Catholic theology, and I started to use a New American Bible.

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Changing the World Inside of Us: Undoing Sexism among the Mennonites

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crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

It was five years ago in May 2008 when the Mennonite bishops of Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Conference finally allowed minsterial credentialing of women in their churches. Notably, they stipulated that women were still not allowed to become bishops.

I followed this story closely because I grew up in the Lancaster Conference until I was 13. I watched the damaging impact the anti-women culture had on my mother when she became Sunday school superintendent in the church where I grew up. Shortly after my grandmother’s brother left the church as a result of my mother’s new role, my grandmother came to visit. I’ll never forget listening to my mother tearfully explaining to my grandmother why she’d taken on the role. "No one else wanted to do it," she explained. She had hoped that the male leaders in the church would back her up, but they did not. They were both crying by the end of the conversation.

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Stories Long Untold: The Yuckiness of the Cross and Sexualized Violence

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As I attempt to focus on the death of Jesus today, on Good Friday, I find it difficult. I’d rather check Facebook, read a magazine or stare out the window. Tonight there’s a church service that I’ll go to, but for now the ugly reality of death and violence feels far away.

What happens if I look more closely at that aversion: that sense of yuckiness? Recently, Rachel Halder of Our Stories Untold, shared with me a story that got me thinking about this in a different way. Rachel is a survivor of sexual abuse who has become an speaker and organizer around the issue of sexualized violence within the Mennonite Church in the U.S. She shared this story about an experience working with women in a Mennonite related project:

I brought up the fact that we needed to collect stories of women who have been abused. Again, as they always are, people were very hesitant about this. They were (perhaps rightfully?) worried that older women in the church would be turned off by overt language about abuse and they wouldn’t be willing to talk about any of their stories because of that "yucky" topic.

I too often find myself avoiding the topic of rape, sexualized violence or sexual abuse. These are topics that are extremely uncomfortable. I know they are important, but I’d rather let someone else talk about them. And this is where the yuckiness of the cross challenges me. In Philippians 2:7-8, we read that Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross."

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Reconstitution Not Reform

The original Anabaptists’ intention was to attend to their Lord and their God’s will in a manner that was satisfying. However, there was an accompanying goal that is seamlessly interconnected with the initial one. This objective was to reconstitute the ekklesia in the pattern of the archetypical first century apostolic assembly. To reconstitute something is “to constitute again or anew; especially…to restore to a former condition” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. According to The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology the Anabaptists “saw the church as “fallen” and therefore beyond mere reform, and called for its reconstitution along New Testament lines” (70).

Roger Olson goes into greater detail regarding this objective in The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform when he explains that the Anabaptists were more protestant than Protestants in the sense that the Anabaptists:

“protested what they saw as halfway measures taken by Luther and the other magisterial Reformers in purifying the church of Roman Catholic elements. Their ideal was to restore the New Testament church as a persecuted remnant as it was in the Roman Empire before Constantine. To them, the magisterial Reformers were all stuck in Constantinianism and Augustinianism. These were the two main diseases of medieval Christianity that the radical Reformers wished to eradicate from their own independent and autonomous congregations, if not from Christianity itself” (415).

The Protestant Reformers desired to reform the Church, according to the above-mentioned dictionary to reform means “to put or change into an improved form or condition”. It also means, “to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses” and finally “to put an end to (an evil) by enforcing or introducing a better method or course of action”.

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The Appeal of Anabaptism Today

When I was a small child, I had my exposures to Christianity. At the time, my family forced me to attend a Presbyterian church, and I was even forced to be baptized in that church. Eventually, my family stopped attending church altogether, and I was left with a perception of Christianity that was seriously flawed, and very negative. When I stopped going to church in my early childhood, I did not understand the Bible, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the Apostles Creed, and so many other parts of the Christian faith. For my family and I, Christianity was essentially a cultural gathering rather than the Way. For much of my childhood after this, I stayed away from Christianity, especially the Mainline churches that I had negatively experienced as a child. It was not until a few years later that I would begin going to church again.

Not long after my older brother had converted to Christianity through the Pentecostals, he had persuaded me to go to church with him. I did not believe in it, but I respected the teachings of Jesus and the community, so I gave it a try. The church that we attended was an Evangelical Free church (which really appealed to me since they only baptized those who voluntarily chose Christ). Despite the wonderful, lively way of doing church, the Evangelical faith that I was being exposed to was only a facade. On the surface, they appeared to be non-hierarchical and modern, but just beneath the surface was Christendom. Behind the rock bands and charisma was the backing of coercive missionaries, Republican politicians, and war. I had to leave. (more…)

Theology of Christendom

Anabaptism, to me, is one of the few beacons of hope that Christianity can still be relevant and authentic. Anabaptism is one of the few strains of Christianity that has not been completely co-opted. However, I still find myself in an awkward place that makes it somewhat problematic for me to call myself an Anabaptist openly.

First of all, I think that I am more than just an Anabaptist. Yes, I believe in the priesthood of all believers, voluntary believers baptism, the centrality of Christ, and I love the first few generations of Anabaptists, but I also love the Diggers, Unitarians, Universalists, Congregationalists, modern progressives, and so many other groups. I could be defined as an Anabaptist, but then there is also a lot more to it that I love. The fundamental difference between these other radical groups and the generic Anabaptist today seems to be one of theology. (more…)

All Or Nothing!

I am a fan of Greg Boyd’s books and sermons; I really appreciate his stand against Christendom or Constantinianism. Moreover, I value how he is one of the godfathers of contemporary Open Theism since I am an Open Theist as well. However, I recently heard a sermon entitled “We The Church” where his reasoning falls noticeably short. It appears that he forgoes thinking and looking at the matter all the way through because his criticism of others in this area could very well apply to himself. Let me explain the matter fully before continuing with the main point that I want to make.

In the sermon, he relates to his listeners how Woodland Hills Church identifies itself with Anabaptism. He provides a short history lesson on Anabaptistica and he focuses on the nature of the universal Ekklesia from the perspective of the Anabaptists. Eventually he addresses how post-first century Christianity in due course allowed the world to squeeze it “into its own mould” (Romans 12:2 J.B. Phillips). Resulting in the aligned Constantinian Ekklesia to become analogs of Roman and Grecian worshippers of pagan gods even adopting elaborate temples to worship their god, in other words they started to build elaborate cathedrals. Boyd goes on to admit that the Anabaptists met in homes to worship and that they viewed “the people as the Church” or God’s temple in place of a building in the same fashion as the first-century Christians (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Now we come to the problem, Woodland Hills is a 2,500-member church; technically this church would be qualified as a megachurch. A 2,000 + capacity facility hardly qualifies as someone’s living room. A megachurch is not someone’s home; it is a few marble statues or one ostentatious mural away from being called a cathedral. Just because you are not a member of some form of the Catholic Church that does not give you, a free pass if you know the truth of the matter.

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The evil, rotten core of US war and empire and why it should make us all angry as hell

Geleyn Corneliss being tortured while his torturers played cards illustration from Martyrs Mirror modified by Third Way Cafe

A page from the Martyr’s mirror depicting Geleyn Corneliss, who was hung by his thumb while his torturers played cards. Modified illustration from Third Way Cafe

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Yesterday, March 6, 2013, we in the US learned in The Guardian that our government put torture and death at the center of our policy in Iraq. According to the article, Jim Steele, who was heavily involved in the El Salvadoran death squads, was called in to replicate the model in Iraq in 2004 with millions of dollars at his disposal. This strategy, known as the “Salvador Option” was apparently known and discussed at the highest levels of the US government and supervised closely by General David Petraeus. These actions are consistent with US policy since the end of World War II: torture and mass murder in support of US economic interests.

This is no aberration: it is the norm for empire. Nevertheless, many will hem and haw, rationalize and suggest this is still a few bad apples, albeit 4 star general apples. Tragically, most in the United States will simply ignore it. But what about us, as Mennonites: as Anabaptist Christians? What will we do?

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The Pros and Cons of Ethnic Mennonites

This originally appeared on my own blog Abnormal Anabaptist. Tim has posted his article here so I thought it would be a good idea to put like with like.

Fellow MennoNerd Chris Lenshyn posted this morning an article presenting the tension that exists between those of us who are ethnic Mennonites (like me) and those of us who have found their way into the Mennonite denomination from other traditions (through various methods and such).  Let me quote a little bit of what Chris shared (the full article can be found here): (more…)

Legacy Mennonites and Anabaptist Camp Followers: a conversation

cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

The other day I had a good conversation with Mark Van Steenwyk, a writer and activist who lives in the Mennonite Worker community in Minneapolis, Minn. The conversation brought me back to concept of Anabaptist camp followers (ACF’s) that I first dealt with in December 2009, in Levi Miller, peace and justice and the Mennonite chattering class, a response to a piece by former Mennonite publish Levi Miller that took a jaded look at “peacenjustice” as a fading marketing ploy and coined the phrase Anabaptist camp followers. In the last paragraph of my article, I offered a challenge to Mennonites to welcome this generation’s ACF’s:

Today, we are seeing a new wave of “Anabaptist camp followers.” As with the earlier wave, many of them come from evangelical backgrounds looking for the missing peace and justice. I’ve heard many first and second hand stories of young evangelicals walking into Mennonite churches longing for the whole gospel only to find a church doing its best to blend in with all the other Christian churches in town. Will we once again blame them as naive idealists and turn our back on them as we focus on keeping those inside the fold happy?

Since then, the importance of ACF’s has become even clearer to me. I was part of the conversation that led to Widening the Circle: Experiments in Christian Discipleship, which is a conversation between ACF’s who have been drawn to the Mennonite church over the past 50 years and cradle Mennonites drawn to radical discipleship. From California to Georgia, the book looks at the seeds that have grown when ACFs have interacted with the Mennonite church. (more…)

Remembering the Diggers

There is a group from England that many people do not know of, but more people should — the True Levellers or Diggers. As Anabaptists or other radical Christians, I think that this short-lived group of English radicals has a lot to offer us, and it is a shame that they have been largely forgotten. So, I wanted to write a short blog on here so that people can get to know this wonderful group.

The Diggers were one of the many nonconformist Christian groups that arose in seventeenth century England (like the Baptists, Puritans, or Quakers). They were largely centered around Gerrard Winstanley, who also went on to become one of the first Quakers and Universalists.

What makes the Diggers so interesting is their radical economic polices. The Diggers strongly emphasized the Christian ethic expressed in the Book of Acts, and building off of Acts 2:44 and 4:32, they practiced communism. Specifically, they sought to do as modern Marxist and anarchist communists do, and eliminate private ownership of real property (what Marxists and anarchists call “private property in the means of production”). In many ways, the Diggers were a sort of precursor for the Catholic Worker Movement or Bruderhof Communities, because they hoped to achieve their vision by using pacifism, charity, and working of the land (hence the name “Diggers”). (more…)

Anabaptism and Progressive Christianity

(This is a blog I just wrote for my own website, but I felt that it should be shared here too.)

As I am sure many already know, I am training to be a minister of the Progressive Christian Alliance, yet I also identify as an Anabaptist. At first glance, it would appear that I am serving two masters, but I think that this is not the case. Instead of seeing the old Anabaptist spirit of the Radical Reformation and contemporary Progressive Christianity as two independent things, I see them as a single movement.

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