by Dennis Edwards, Sanctuary Covenant Church
“To Mennonite” means to translate faith in Jesus Christ into concrete actions.
I have been a believer in Jesus for over 40 years but for most of my life, Christian faith meant being able to recite the right doctrinal positions. I became keenly aware of this during my college years at a secular university and then later at a prominent Evangelical seminary. In both settings Christians often asked each other, “Do you believe_____?” and that blank would be filled by some debated issue such as “that woman can preach” or “in speaking in tongues” or “that Jesus will return before the Tribulation.”
Expressing one’s faith meant laying out the correct stance on an issue, one that was held by many of the popular Christian writers or teachers. Models of the faith were people who spoke or wrote. Those who “did” the faith were missionaries or saints who lived in some bygone era. I hardly ever heard people challenging each other in how we should live out our faith in the world. As a matter of fact, when it came to living out one’s faith, the emphasis was on personal piety which meant avoiding certain noteworthy sins (such as extra-marital or pre-marital sexual activity, drinking alcohol, smoking, and gambling).
During a Christian Ethics class in seminary, the instructor, a known anti-abortion activist, spent about five out of ten weeks discussing abortion. When I asked about racism as a possible topic for the course, he sighed, rolled his eyes, and made it clear that it wasn’t really an issue for our class.
I was hurt as well as disappointed. It seemed that Christian ethics was defined as having the right arguments on certain societal evils—but only those evils that seemed relevant to white evangelicals. By way of contrast, one of my first introductions to people who were “Mennoniting” was a presentation on dismantling racism. I was impressed that rather than just talking or writing statements—both good things—there was also activism. People were actively promoting an anti-racism strategy.
I realize that avoiding certain evils may continue to define Christianity for some people, and I dare say that for some “to Mennonite” may include that very perspective. I’m not naive to the reality that many Christians in America, including Mennonites, define holiness as simply avoiding certain sins.
By the time I decided “to Mennonite,” however, I was aware of relief and development work. I was aware of activism for justice. I was aware of the centrality of peacemaking—even loving one’s enemies. I took the opportunity “to Mennonite” as an invitation to join with others who believe that faith was to be demonstrated in acts of compassion, mercy, and justice. “To Mennonite” means to live at peace with all people. It means to love others as oneself while loving the LORD with whole hearts, minds, and strength. It means to care for the “least of these” because that is the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I must point out that sound doctrine is very important to me; I even have a PhD in Biblical Studies because I am passionate about what the Scriptures say and that we should “rightly divide” them. I respect that there are Mennonite institutions where people can learn and have their academic interests nurtured. But I know that Christians are not just about what is in their heads. To me, “to Mennonite” means to serve Christ with our heads and our hands, flowing out of the love that is in our hearts.
Dr. Dennis Edwards was pastor of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington D.C., a partner in mission of Franconia Conference. In May of this year, he moved to Minnesota to pastor Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis. Blessings on your new endeavor, Dennis!
Next week, Donna Merow, pastor of the Ambler congregation, will share her experience of Mennoniting through simplicity and service. How do you “Mennonite”? Join the conversation on Facebook & Twitter (#fmclife) or by email.
Who am I? (To Mennonite Blog #1)
Serving Christ with our heads and hands (To Mennonite Blog #2)
Quiet rebellion against the status quo (To Mennonite Blog #3)
Mennoniting my way (To Mennonite Blog #4)
Generations Mennoniting together (To Mennonite Blog #5)
Body, mind, heart … and feet (To Mennonite Blog #6)
We have much more to offer (To Mennonite Blog #7)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)