History

living tribute

I learned of Martin Luther King, the hero of the Civil Rights Movement, in school.
I learned of Martin Luther King, the peacemaker, at church.

In both cases I learned about King as an icon. He was like an angel-man, superhuman. King became a real person when I moved to Atlanta.

It was a fall from a pedestal of sorts, when I learned about all of the trials, the fractures, the tribulations, the anguish, and the arguments that went on behind the scenes of the marches and the committee meetings. To listen to lectures by the veterans of the movement, (Former Ambassador Andrew Young, Rev. Joseph Lowery, R. D. Abernathy, Rev. James Orange) all still involved, but some bitter, some who have appropriated the movement…whew! I learned about the hundreds of sidelined and under-recognized women who laid the groundwork for so many of the church meetings, boycotts, and potlucks (Septima Clark, Montgomery Women’s Council, Ella Baker, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson). Most of all, when I saw the struggle of his immediate family to know how to live out the legacy of the father they lost when they were young children, it all became so tangible. (more…)

Progressive Assumptions and Christian History

The progressive gospel proclaims that even though all history is in shambles, even though all history has been enslaved to enslavement and oppression and violence, we can move beyond. The progressive gospel involves a certain story about history which is a history of violence; we cannot proclaim that history has been really good without also (inadvertently) condoning the injustices we have now overcome, like patriarchy or slavery. Historical heroes are acceptable, abstracted from those moments of overcoming injustice, but history itself is a dangerous source (except for critique). Drawing positively from history reeks of a certain conservatism, a certain reformism, a protection of the status quo, when what we really need is revolution. For it is obvious to us now that the violence comes fundamentally from the system, which has persisted from the very beginning but which we might finally undermine.

A Christian historiography confesses that the Spirit has been at work in the world since the beginning, bringing the body of Christ to perfect discipleship. Where a progressivist history of Christianity knows only several moments—crusades, Inquisition, witch burnings—the church would rightly remember all those hundreds of years between these aberrant disasters. We remember the martyr church of the early centuries, the early fathers attempting to bring an empire (shockingly) claiming to confess Christ into line, the monastic movements being born in the fourth and fifth centuries, the mystical exemplars of the late millennium, the Franciscan and Dominican mendicant movements of protest against an emerging pre-industrialist economy… we can go on and on. Sinlessness the church does not claim for herself—but she is a body marked by gratitude and praise and so marked by a surprising and resourceful moral creativity. The church readily and with much thanksgiving roots herself in her own history, because we believe that this is the cloud of witnesses that will point us towards the crucified Lord of history. What progressives know as the ever-violent system, the church proclaims is the old age of death and violence, and that Jesus has begun a new age of life in his resurrection over death. Here is the real hero of overcoming injustice. (more…)

Enculturation?

In some recent research that I’ve done over the past semester of school, I’ve come across some things that have really interested me regarding the early church versus our political situation today.

This all stems out of a paper by Ted Grimsrud entitled “From pacifism to the just war: the development of early Christian thought on war and peace.” The title is really pretty self-explanatory. Grimsrud claims (and I’m inclined to believe him, since he’s way smarter than I am) that the early church writers advocated a completely pacifist lifestyle. This held until the century leading up to Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as Rome’s state religion. The gradual enculturation of the church forced the development of theologies that treat violence, specifically state-endorsed warfare, as acceptable. Since the church was Rome’s religion, it had to be able to excuse Rome’s actions. (more…)

Maeyken Wens: One face of Early Anabaptism

There’s been a couple of posts today referencing early Anabaptists and discussing what exactly they stood for. As Jonny pointed out, they are far from homogenous. I always like pointing out the example of the Batenburgers, survivors of the Muensterites who basically turned terrorist. I always like pointing out their infidel-hating, cow-massacring ways to counterbalance any overly pious view of early Anabaptists.

But I’m not here to write more about the Batenburgers. Instead I’d like to look at a woman named Maeyken Wens who was burned at the stake in Antwerp on October 6th, 1573. If you’ve ever flipped through the Martyr’s Mirror, you may have come across the image that goes with her story (at right). Unlike most of the Martyr’s Mirror etchings, its not an image of death or persecution, but of the aftermath. Her son Adriaen is sifting through the ashes looking for the tongue screw that clamped her tongue so she couldn’t sing or testify. I first heard her story from John Sharp, Mennonite historian, storyteller and father of Michael J. If you grew up Mennonite, you’ve probably heard it too and you may have even seen the tongue screw, carefully handed down from generation to generation to remind us of our persecuted past.

But it isn’t the story of the tonge screw that I want to write about either. It’s the letters Maeyken wrote to her husband and her son that interest me most. (more…)

Mennonite Church (global?) identity

(This was originally written as a response to Eric’s article on “Calling the church to go pee pee,” but I decided that I don’t really want to be associated with Eric, and my post brings up some new issues. So I deserve my own [first ever] post. And since it’s my first post, I apologize if this topic has already been discussed enough. I haven’t been keeping up with all the posts over the past months.)

Good thoughts, bro. Like you, I wonder about the drive to look back to the “original” Anabaptists as a model for our developing church identity. A few weeks ago, Brian McLaren came to Goshen College and hosted a meal for a select group of AMBS and GC students interested in the future of the Mennonite Church. The discussion quickly turned to the developing identity of the Mennonite Church, and the growing feeling among young people that there’s a lack of intentionality about the formation of that identity. Not surprisingly, pacifism was the first thing mentioned as the central point of Anabaptist/Mennonite identity, and Brian encouraged us to emphasize that aspect in the future. There was a clear sense that what the Mennonite Church really needs is to return to the perfect example of the 16th century Anabaptists.

Let’s not be nostalgiac about the early Anabaptists. (more…)

The ‘Reign of God’ is among you…

The Associated Press reported, on October 8, that 75 people attended the funeral of Charles C. Roberts. About half of the “mourners” were Amish.

In a world run by retaliatory violence, a community near Lancaster PA took a chance on the Reign of God.

That’s history. It’s irrefutable. It’s staggeringly convicting. It’s Anabaptism – lived.