Growing up, I was mostly very compliant with rules of any sort. I didn’t just accept everything at face value–I often turned things over in my mind and tried to make sense of them–but I didn’t usually challenge those things even if I thought they might be wrong. For me, keeping peace and avoiding hurt feelings was more important than pushing my agenda.
I was one of those people who was extremely conscientious about doing what the church said, even when it was impractical. As long as I can remember, I have longed to follow Jesus, and if following rules was one way to draw near to Him, I wanted to do it.
After Will and I were married, he spent seven years as a school teacher and principal of our church school. Will and I loved to work together as a team, so we both put quite a lot of time into the school. We were good Mennonites, and probably a little proud of it.
The last year of school, our world came crashing down. In addition to a huge disappointment with the church community, a special-needs child presented us with challenges we didn’t know how to handle. During this season of loss, I realized that being a good Mennonite was not enough to protect me. The church I loved could not protect me. And I did not have the inner resources I needed to deal with the level of betrayal I experienced.
What followed was an intense journey of seeking to know the heart of God, and a filling of the Holy Spirit. I began reading my Bible like I had never read it before because I was desperate to know what God really wanted from me.
The issue of church rules was the farthest thing from my mind at the time. All I cared about was finding meaning in life, finding an anchor for my soul, and finding a closer relationship with God.
During this season of wrestling and praying and reading the Bible, I began to notice things that made me ask hard questions. I didn’t want to do anything different from the way I had always done church, because I believed in the church. I certainly didn’t want to become one of those hoity-toity people who thought they had a special edge on the Holy Spirit and never listened to anyone else.
But what was I supposed to do with the growing convictions I was feeling about the things I was reading in the Bible?
One godly person helped me during this time by telling me, “God will accept whatever you are willing to offer Him. If you want to keep your Christian life at this level, He will accept you there. But you will miss out on what you could experience with Him.”
I didn’t like those words; they made me uncomfortable. But I couldn’t forget them.
Will and I began seeking for a purpose because we noticed that our current lifestyle simply was not working for us. Jesus’ last instructions to the disciples were to “go into all the world and preach” (Mark 16:15) and we weren’t going anywhere. The few people who came into our church from the “outside” never stayed very long because it was too hard; the church only allowed people in who were willing to take on the culture in addition to following the Bible.
To make a long story short, Will and I answered God’s call to move into a new town. Life in town exposed us to a different side of what we had seen growing up Mennonite. On one hand, it was easy to see how our culture had trained us well–we were family-centered, hardworking, and devoted to Jesus. On the other hand, we could see areas in which our culture had not equipped us well to deal with current problems in society.
While I worried and prayed about the druggie on our street, fed neighbor children at my table, and tried to help my single-parent friends who were barely making a living, my church at home discussed at length what kind of fabric the ladies ought to wear.
I knew the young man doing drugs on the street did not know or care what the difference was between solid-color fabric or plaid fabric. Showing him Jesus was a hard enough task. I would watch him through my kitchen window, with a lump in my throat. How could I offer him something that could free him from his addiction? Was God big enough to save him? Yet, at church we were talking about fabric. If you haven’t experienced it, it’s hard to explain the splitting effect that has on your mind and soul.
The church did not spend all its time talking about fabric–we heard many solid Biblical messages there. The people were devoted Christians who cared about living a life separated unto God. But I saw that if the church spent the bulk of its time making and changing and enforcing rules, we wouldn’t have much time or energy left to do anything else.
Still, I’m a traditional person, and I loved the church and my old way of doing things. What was I supposed to do?
Living in that tension drove me to my Bible again. I decided one winter to read through Paul’s letters twenty times. I’m not sure if I read quite all of the books that many times, but it was close. That season of reading was transformational for me.
I still remember the morning I was reading through Colossians for close to the twentieth time. Over and over again, I read the verses with a sinking feeling in my heart. I can’t do it, I thought. I can’t live by man-made rules when the Bible repeatedly says not to. I wanted to be true to my tradition, but I also wanted to be true to the Bible. I wanted to experience Jesus while being able to bring others to Him.
Reading the New Testament repeatedly in the space of several months brought me to where I am now, that I don’t see a Biblical foundation for having church rules in addition to what the Bible already says, especially if they exclude Christians from the communion table. Perhaps we have freedom to make a few rules in a local context, depending on the people who are coming into the church (Acts 15), but they are not to be burdensome (Acts 15:28). In general, I don’t think that I am capable of improving on what God says the Christian life ought to look like.
This article by Dwight Gingrich, The Holy Scriptures Must Be Our Ruling Standard, was also influential for me in seeing that living with a lot of rules wasn’t even the Anabaptist way.
I know I am not perfect and my understanding may change over time. I do not have the heart or energy to judge my dear friends who are faithfully serving God within a rule-based system. I still love so much about the Amish Mennonite tradition, and in many ways I feel more at home there than anywhere else.
I firmly believe that some are in the tradition because God called them there, and they are able to live above the rules in a way that honors and pleases Him. Some of my best friends are there, people whom I deeply respect and admire. Others are probably in that tradition because they have trusted in fear instead of in God, hardening their hearts against Him.
Something within me dies if I am not living where the Gospel is going out into the world. I want to present the pure Gospel, with nothing added or taken away. For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, and its power for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16).
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Colossians 2:20-23, 3:1-2 (ESV)
68 thoughts on “Should A Church Have Rules?”
I love this. I struggle with it every day…I grew up in a church similar to this. When I was older I moved around teaching at different schools. Then I ended up teaching at a school in Georgia. This church was a small outreach church in a small town. These people were doing all they could for God. They asked me more about my relationship with God then they did about what print my dress was, or wheather I wore flip flops to town. Then I met a boy who went to a more conservative church… one kinda like the one I grew up in. We got married and I moved here. But oh boy…. do I ever struggle. This definitely opened my eyes to a few things. Thank you for sharing this.
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The struggle is real! Feel free to email me if you wish! God bless.
Thanks for telling your story, Rosina! You have written graciously.
And what an Anabaptist sort of a tale: At the center is repeated reading of Scripture, with an earnest desire to obey, even if this means changing one’s practice of church. I find myself agreeing with your questions, your conclusions, and the spirit in which you have shared both.
… Our families really must meet sometime!
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Thank you for your validation, Dwight! I would love to meet your family!
This post is so relatable to me right now. Something I am dealing with…so many hard thoughts to think about. God definitely calls us to do radical things.
Sometimes the hardest thing for us to give up is a culture that is precious to us, so that like Paul, we may “gain Christ.” I wrote about that here: https://arabahrejoice.com/2016/03/20/that-i-may-gain-christ/
Blessings to you on your journey!
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In my experience, so much of the Menno system is based on fear, rather than the Bible or specific things God is asking a group to do. People are scared of what could happen if they don’t have the rules. Fear isn’t God’s foundation for living. Fear is the enemy’s version of faith.
For some people, church rules seem to be comforting. For others, church rules simplify their lives, free their minds up for other decisions. But for people like me who are very conscientious about rules, church standards have been a crushing burden. The weight of trying to be good enough, to not break any rules by so much as a fraction of an inch, sucked life from me. I was far more concerned about breaking a church standard than I was about pleasing God, because I was taught that if you’re going to please God, you WILL obey all the church standards. In my experience at various churches, breaking a church standard was as serious as breaking one of the Ten Commandments. That seems just plain wrong.
What could happen to a local group of believers without rules? What if people discussed their choices of entertainment, media, clothing, houses, lifestyle, with each other instead of depending on rules to keep everyone in line? What if we asked each other questions, looked at Scripture together, encouraged each other to make wise and God-honoring choices, living with our differences yet loving each other? Is there a new and better outcome we’ve never considered because we’ve always heard a church can’t function without specific rules?
If mature believers around us made choices different than ours, would it not force us to be deeply prayerful and more thoughtful about our own choices? How could my choice of vehicles be affected by friends who chose to buy less expensive vehicles because they wanted to free up money to spend in the Kingdom instead of on themselves? How could my decision not to wear shirts with writing across the chest, based on my husband’s input and a desire to please God, affect younger ladies who are forming their own personal standards of modesty? The process of wrestling with and forming my own internal standards has been very good for me. I surprised myself by making some stricter choices that no one else is regulating, because I want to live out the principles I see in God’s Word and I want to honor and acknowledge Him in all parts of my life.
I don’t drink coffee because I don’t like coffee. But recently I talked with someone who had chosen not to drink coffee because he doesn’t want to be controlled by coffee. No one made that rule for him. He actually likes the taste well enough. But he said he wants to need Jesus in the morning, not coffee. He made that internal rule for himself out of love for Jesus and a desire to please Him.
What would happen in a church if people made choices like that about all aspects of their lives, choices that come out of prayer and thought and study of the Scripture to see how we can live out God’s Word today? These choices would be internally formed and motivated, rather than externally imposed. That seems like a system that treats people like grown-ups who should be trusted to make wise choices, not like children who don’t know how to choose wisely. What could happen in a church full of people who self parented, rather than looking to the church to be their parent? What if we based our decisions on what would honor God, rather than on what is allowed or not allowed by the institutional church?
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I love what you wrote about internally motivated choices. I remember someone telling us after we left the Beachy church, “Now you can do whatever you want!” But that really is not true…now we do whatever Jesus wants us to do. Sometimes following Jesus is much harder than what the church ever asked for, but it’s deeply rewarding.
Acts 2:36,37,38,39 Mark 16:16 amen Apostlic faith church CAC Apostlic Hall crossroads Tennessee
Dear Rosina, thank you for this! One difference between you and me is that I never felt at home in the Mennonite world. I struggled immensely and wondered why other people weren’t asking the questions I was, so I usually felt like the outsider looking in, even during the years I was most involved. I think I have my father to thank that I never became a painstaking rule keeper. I can still hear him tell me, “At the end of life, you won’t answer to the preachers for how you’ve lived your life. You will answer to God.”
However, how well I know the “splitting effect that has on your mind and soul”! I remember sitting in a service that was about testing new congregational songs for a new conservative Mennonite hymnbook. The incongruity of it all made me so uncomfortable. There are so. many. Mennonite hymnbooks. Was this really what being a follower of Jesus meant? What about all the broken people, both out there and in our own churches, that need help and hope and love? After a while, I couldn’t handle the cognitive dissonance and simply started to withdraw from the culture I grew up in. I didn’t know how to “be a good Mennonite” and follow God at the same time.
I am so grateful that God in His time and wisdom led me into another place. I’ve been attending a different Mennonite church lately that seems to value authenticity and relationship. It’s been very healing for me. However, the more I get involved, the more subtle pressure I get to become an official member and/or sign a covenant agreeing to their beliefs and rules. While compared to the majority of Mennonite churches they have very few established rules, leaving a lot of it up to individual, Spirit-led application, it still feels like putting the chains back on.
It saddens me that, to truly help someone or welcome them, they feel the need to make them conform, rather than simply caring for the people God puts in their path and trusting God to lead them into truth. I don’t identify as any specific denomination. I simply want to be a follower of Jesus and celebrate God’s work in this world wherever I find it by loving those around me.
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I identify with so much of what you’ve written here–being unable to live with the cognitive dissonance, feeling “chained” by the thought of signing a contract in order to belong, and especially longing to just love people and show Jesus to people.
Rosina, I want to bless you for sharing. You shared my heart and a lot of the things we went through. 6 years ago we left the traditional church we were with and started a fellowship where our standards are based on principal and not spelled out in detail. I am experiencing a freedom that is so refreshing. I had long felt that there was a better and more Biblical way. We have experienced a joy in our fellowship that can only come through the Holy Spirit. Our members meetings are actually fun. Our leadership is very servant oriented and I bless them for that. Dwight Gingerich helped us when we started and gave us some direction. I would be glad to share our 1 page statement of belief and practice by email if you want. Maria, I was really blessed buy your post
Thank you for sharing your heart.
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If member’s meetings are fun, you’ve got something good going! 🙂 I’d love to see a copy of your statement. My email is email@example.com. Thank you!
Thanks for your kind words, Lynn! I think you have overstated any blessing I shared. It would be great to join you all for a Sunday worship time again. 🙂 I am so glad to hear your good report.
As a part of a new congregation that is also seeking to be principle based, I would love to have a copy of your belief statement as well. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hey! This is several yrs since your comment, but my husband & I are struggling with this very thing!! We are feeling called to leave the traditional Mennonite…. and we would love to see you statement of faith & practice if you feel like sharing it! Thanks!
Interesting… we left in spring of 2018… its been a journey. We had no clue what we were getting in to.
Wow! Thanks for sharing! I needed this… For reasons I won’t spell out. But just know that I soaked up every word.
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Thanks for this, Rosina. Just some brutal honesty here: Gal. 2:20-23, which you shared at the end, had been stuck in my craw for basically all my adult life. It’s in the Bible, so I know it has to be true. There’s a part deep down inside of me that even wants it to be true. But there’s another part, equally deep, that’s just sure it *can’t* be true, that there *has* to be some intrinsic value in deciding as a group what “mak[ing] no provision for the flesh” looks like, and holding each other to those decisions. There’s just a real head-heart disconnect going on here. Like you, I cherish my faith community. Like you, I want to follow Jesus more than anything else. I very much want to be able to do both, but not at all sure I’m pulling it off.
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I hear you. It’s tough. Sometimes we just have to do the best we can with the light that we have, and trust God to bring further light for each step.
Well said, Rosina.
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Very interesting! We are currently going through similar experience. We feel so disengaged from church right now. Thanks so much for this article, it helps us to realize that we are not alone!
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You absolutely are not alone. Keep immersing yourseves in the Scriptures, with a heart open to the Holy Spirit, and He will guide you!
First, thanks for bringing this issue to our attention again!
You wrote: “While I worried and prayed about the druggie on our street, fed neighbor children at my table, and tried to help my single-parent friends who were barely making a living, my church at home discussed at length what kind of fabric the ladies ought to wear.”
On the face of it, this situation can indeed appear quite sad. But as someone currently in a traditional conservative Anabaptist community (though certainly open to other expressions of Christianity, should God lead us in that way), I would offer a few additional comments. In the spirit of your blog, I offer these not to be contentious but to bring perspective.
1) It is possible that this church, who was having meetings to discuss what kind of fabric the ladies ought to wear, was doing so with the express intent of getting that out of the way so they can more effectively “minister to the druggies on the street and feed their neighbor children.” I don’t know what that church’s spiritual climate was. I’m only saying that could have been the case.
Pre-deciding clothing styles can be like a math student who spends years learning the multiplication tables. While it’s true that she is doing nothing to “improve the world” by learning multiplication tables, it’s also true that she will never go on to make noble and lasting contributions to the field if she doesn’t get the fundamentals in place first.
Thus the issue of giving guidelines for clothing can be (notice I didn’t say, always is) a way for us to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, an issue that could rob us of precious time and energy for doing the important work of Christianity (i.e. bind up people’s wounds, both spiritual and physical; pray for people; show compassion for all, etc.).
Now, of course this has to be voluntary and I think that is the thing that has caused so much anguish among “plain Anabaptist” churches: psychological manipulation has been employed by the older generation to get the younger generation to stay.
2) Which brings me to my second point; there is a long-standing tradition in Christianity known as voluntary, intentional community (various Catholic orders, Plymouth Brethren?, various Anabaptist gropus). It is my belief that conservative Anabaptism as we know it will survive only as all of our churches shift toward that model. In doing so, we will of course “lose” some of our children but the upside to that is it will become more authentic and diverse.
Again, people should join our intentional communities of their own free will, with both the newcomers and those who were there longer realising this is not the only valid expression of Christianity; but a good one nonetheless and one that has pre-decided several potentially draining issues (several, because it shouldn’t be only clothing but also perhaps technology, style of housing, food choices, etc). But it MUST be voluntary.
And of course, this doesn’t mean that the rules in our “order” are inflexible. If a community has decided on the cape dress and someone who wants to join has a legitimate reason for not wearing a cape dress, then I think there are other viable forms of women’s clothing that can be considered. That said, I don’t think a tastefully-made, modest cape dress is such a horrible form of clothing if you look at in the vast cosmic scope of history. (It might be horrible if you look at the Hollywood-inspired, cheeky clothing worn by most Western women today).
Sorry, this has gotten far too long! But again, thanks for writing and we enjoy reading your blog from time to time.
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I read your comments with interest, and thought maybe I would add a few of my own thoughts. I appreciate your contemplative, pleasant manner of writing and hope I can come across the same way.
1) Having been a part of Anabaptist circles all my life, I personally haven’t ever seen meetings regarding fabric, hairstyles, or other outward appearance issues become a way to eliminate or drastically reduce time and effort in the more important work of Christianity. I have only seen it become a great distraction as people focus inwardly on their members rather than outwardly at ministering and reaching the lost.
Personally, I’ve wondered how looking so “outwardly correct” benefits us (or anyone else)? We want to view outward appearance as a foundational truth (getting our fundamentals in place first) and forget that transformation must happen before any “nonconformity” can mean anything. While we busily pick apart each other’s outward appearance, we usually miss real heart issues that need to be dealt with. I’m guessing the drug addict in darkness isn’t going to notice the type of fabric my clothing is when I share the light of the gospel with him. What’s going to stand out is my love -or lack thereof -for him. It may possibly grab his attention that we look differently than others, but that in itself will not be enough to draw him to God, transform his life, or keep him saved.
I think we have become so used to our culture’s obsession with outward appearance that we forget that wasn’t why Jesus came, nor was it ever His agenda to try to change how people looked. He wants to change our hearts.
And please understand, I’m not saying clothing doesn’t matter or that it’s okay to dress immodestly, I’m just saying it was not Jesus’s purpose or agenda. Nor is it a foundational truth in Scripture.
2) I appreciate your openness to an intentional community that is “more authentic and diverse”. Our people have a tendency to fear diversity. We have far too long believed we must all look exactly alike in order to have unity, and yet the uniformity has not brought unity. Can we love people where they are at and still encourage growth? I see the need for change in this in my own life. My desire is to see people as Jesus sees them. May God keep growing us!
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Thank you for your comments, Gideon, I enjoyed hearing another thoughtful
Simon already articulated some of my thoughts. I’d also add that I keep coming back to the fact that it does not matter how much “sense” something makes: if the Bible tells us not to do it, then we shouldn’t.
Even if we say a rule-based system is voluntary, the socioeconomic pressure is still there. For instance, I did not have to be a member of a Beachy church. But leaving meant losing friends and family; home, auto, and medical insurance; the right to participate in Communion; etc. That is a huge social and economic cost, even though I see myself as being even more dedicated to the Kingdom and to my fellow Christians than ever before.
Still, Acts 15 does seem to give room for a few rules when needed, based on the local context. I can see how a church group might need to agree to not do certain things that would be highly offensive to Muslims or Jews, for instance.
I long to be part of a diverse and alive New Testament church community, and I’m glad to hear from others who also care about God’s church.
Gideon, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I want to respond to your second point. I think you are right in noting a similarity between our conservative Anabaptist churches and the historical practice of voluntary communities. And you may be right that the most pragmatic (my word) path forward for such churches is to more explicitly embrace the model of being a voluntary community. And there is certainly a long tradition within Christian history of such communities.
I am somewhat hesitant to embrace this model, however, for a variety of reasons that I have not yet fully thought through. Some overlapping questions:
* Would following such a model actually mean that our congregations become something other than churches? I think it is true that historically many (most?) such voluntary Christian communities (monasteries, convents, etc.) existed outside and alongside the churches where most Christians gathered. Would history suggest that following such a model would require us to be honest and give up the name of “church” for our groups?
* Building on that thought, and more importantly, do we see any NT model for such extra-church voluntary communities? I do think we see missional groups that functioned somewhat independently from local churches, though often sent out from them (Paul and company). And we do indeed see that such groups sometimes had mission-shaped expectations that excluded others from joining (Paul and John Mark, etc.). But is that not different from a non-traveling voluntary community that sets rules less for missional purposes than with the stated aim of assisting its members in holy living (and, sometimes explicitly stated, of withdrawing from the world)?
* Do we see any positive example in the NT of a local congregation consciously setting extra-biblical (or extra-gospel, in the days before the NT was compiled) requirements for membership? Do we see any positive examples of knowingly making it difficult for other Christians to join a local church? Do we see any positive examples of assuming that such Christians can just find another less restrictive church nearby? Or is the picture that of working toward a gospel-shaped unity where any Christian would be fully recognized (communion, etc.) in any other church, and this despite the natural challenges of cultural differences that may make one naturally (in the flesh, apart from the Spirit) feel more at home one place than another (Jew vs Gentile)?
* Is the church really a “voluntary” community in the same sense that a monastery or Bible school is? Is it not, rather, the body of Christ to which all believers must/do belong? In that sense, is it not involuntary rather than voluntary (for the believer)?
In short, I think there is a place for missional groups that, by nature of their evangelistic goals, have some extra-biblical constraints. And I think there is room for some voluntary stationary communities (Bible schools with rules, discipleship groups, maybe even monasteries, etc.) with extra requirements, as long as they don’t see themselves as replacing the church and as long as their members are also seen as being part of something larger–the church. And I also think that in a local church there will be extra-biblical practices (such as installing an Internet filter for a person who is struggling with porn) urged upon individual members at times as part of the discipling process of the church in that person(s) life. But I am less sure that there is biblical warrant for placing many (only four in Acts 15!) such rules upon a group that calls itself a church. Currently I am of the understanding that the nature of the church (universal and in its local expressions) stands against such an approach.
I realize that there is a certain movement right now that is advancing what they call “the Benedict Option” for the church. I don’t understand it well, but the basic idea seems to be that of Christians more or less withdrawing from society and building their own communities with a robust Christian (sub)culture that will be strong enough to survive the coming “dark ages” of a morally rotting society around it. (From the blurb of a book that popularized the idea: “Rod Dreher argues that the way forward is actually the way back—all the way to St. Benedict of Nursia. This sixth-century monk, horrified by the moral chaos following Rome’s fall, retreated to the forest and created a new way of life for Christians. He built enduring communities based on principles of order, hospitality, stability, and prayer. His spiritual centers of hope were strongholds of light throughout the Dark Ages, and saved not just Christianity but Western civilization.”)
I have mixed feelings about this idea. Some Anabaptists, reasonably, see this idea as an affirmation of what Anabaptists have been doing all along. And there certainly is a place for developing a Christian culture that is apart from the culture around (though it must still remain engaged or it will have lost its very identity as a gospel-proclaiming community).
But I say all the above to say this: If I have mixed feelings about Christians as a whole pursuing “the Benedict Option” in relationship to society, my feelings are even more mixed about the idea of a sub-group of the church doing a “Benedict Option” in relation to the rest of Christ’s church by setting up extra-biblical rules.
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I love your blog and the thoughtful issues you discuss. You have a valid and needed perspective. My perspective differs from yours in some ways possibly because I’ve never been deeply disappointed and hurt by my church. (although our church is a long shot from perfect) So I’ve been sitting here waiting for someone to bring forth a thoughtful and valid defense, but I’m guessing the problem is that everyone is nodding humbly and murmuring “so true, so true.” Come on Anabaptists! Rise up and defend yourselves! It’s not gonna happen. We’ll turn the other cheek and wait for the next blog post. 🙂 Ha. I’m not going to defend us either, but there were some questions that came to mind as I mulled this.
What if there is not really a substantial difference between having rules (a written expression of brotherhood decision on some practical applications) and not having rules (at least, not written down)? For several years we found ourselves in a different Anabaptist tradition that has not had rules for hundreds of years, but they have a very uniform lifestyle, dress, and conduct, that is surprisingly similar to Amish/Mennonite tradition where church expectations have been in writing.
All churches are in the process of discussing something (I guess?) Apparently our lifestyle is such that while other churches/denominations may be discussing how to keep their youth and pre-teens from being druggies on the streets, gay marriage and whatever other current issues, our churches are discussing plaid vs. plain fabrics. I’m going to suggest that those discussions might not be hindering us from showing Jesus to the neighbors. Evangelism and showing Jesus through relationships seems to happen better on an individual level rather than by discussions on the church level. (I just made up that statement right now. 🙂 That’s how we’ve found it I guess, although I def think there is a place for kid’s club, singing at nursing homes, etc that is a more systemized church effort.
Why are there even people that want to join our churches who haven’t been raised Mennonite, when there are plenty of Bible based churches out there that they could attend? There must be something that is attractive to them about the benefits of a community approach to living out the Gospel. I’m going to suggest that they want the lifestyle and togetherness and beauty and joy without the hard work of the discipline of submission to the brotherhood that precedes the outcome. Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines says, “The highest level of fellowship–involving humility, complete honesty, transparency, and at times confession and restitution–is sustained by the discipline of submission…all are caught up together as a community of mutual servants in mutual submission.”
As far as the fear factor, my mind turned to Abraham and Lot. Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom, and had no fear, even on the eve of destruction and disaster. For him, a bit of fear would have been healthy, and the beginning of wisdom, and an understanding of the reality of the situation. He was righteous, but he lost everything, including his family. Abraham on the other hand remained separate from the people of the land, and through him all the families of the earth were blessed. What might this mean for us?
Wow, this has turned into a defense after all. I’d better start my own blog. Having said these things, please know that I agree with the underlying heart and ideas.
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Dorcas, Gideon’s comment actually came in before yours but somehow it landed in my spam folder and I didn’t see it until last night. I’m glad you decided to comment, anyway. 🙂 Most of the negative feedback has been coming to me privately.
Something that comes up repeatedly in the feedback that I’ve been getting is the issue of submission to the brotherhood. I’m thinking of writing another post if God leads, about this and some other questions. For now, let me just say that I do believe in mutual submission. I think those closest to me would verify that I often ask for advice about weighty matters. The people I ask might not be church leaders in a formal sense, but they are people whose spiritual maturity I respect.
Thank you for your thoughts!
Thanks for those responses.
While I realise this is far too nuanced a subject to really do justice to on an internet forum, I think you have given me some good things to think about and I wish to thank you–as well as add several brief comments to further clarify where I’m at in my journey. I’m not sure how I’ve ended up defending the traditions of conservative Anabaptism since I am, like many of my fellow Millennials, disillusioned with some aspects of it. And indeed I do agree with some of the points you made…Maybe we’re closer to being on the same “side” than we think. So again, this is not to be contentious but an effort to come closer to mutual understanding.
Rosina and Dwight, you both mentioned Acts 15 as being an example for us to have minimal rules. My question is, how do we know those “rules” weren’t only what they were saying the church should do as it related to Judaism? Indeed, if you look at the context, the passage is dealing specifically with the Judaism question. How do we know, in other words, that they wouldn’t have had four other guiding, agreed-upon rules for how to dress, how to deal with spectator sports, how to manage finances, etc.? To say they didn’t is at best an argument from silence.
Beyond that, I suppose I’m coming from a perspective that is not a strict biblicist. (I think our churches should also be informed by 2000 years of church history–as well as the local, current group of brothers and sisters listening to the Spirit and each other on issues on various real time, real space issues). It’s too simple to say, “If it’s not in the Bible, it’s not legitimate.” Now, I know that could be taken completely wrong, so “let him that readeth understand.” If you want a thorough expose on my understanding of the Bible’s role, please contact me at email@example.com.
As for the Benedict Option, Dwight, while I enjoyed the book, that type of lifestyle is not at all what I was advocating. We shouldn’t be a cloistered order or group or church, (or whatever you wish to call it). We should be in and among the world; we should NOT be preserving some kind of superior civilisation either, as I understood the Benedict Option to be saying we should do with Western civilisation (or at least some romanticised form of Western civilisation).
You asked then, very appropriately, what people should do if they don’t catch the vision for our specific lifestyle agreement. Again, I’m not a strict biblicist, and I don’t think we have a completely corollary situation when you compare today’s church with the one in the Book of Acts. In post-Christian Europe and North America, such an individual or family will (at least in by far most cases) be able to find a church that is more closely aligned to their vision and emphasis. I am idealistic enough to think the global church should be unified in spirit, but I am also pragmatic enough to say that it will differ in practice and emphasis. Does that make sense?
I think what is frustrating with my (our?) own Christian tradition of Cons. Anab. is that it has become heavy on system and we have mistakenly bought into the notion that our children are following Christ when they are only following our culture. Because we have indeed created our own culture. Yet it’s too simplistic, in my opinion, to say we will just opt out of the culture or system because:
1) we will, in time, just replace that culture and system for another (stonewashed-jeans, raspy CCM evangelicalism; contemplative, candle-burning Catholicism; etc.) Maybe not in the first generation of the revolution, but certainly in the second and third.
2) No man is an island so we have to make sense of life through the prism of social construct we were born into. Even if we end up leaving, it will be unhealthy to do so out of reaction.
Simon, I agree with most of what you said. As to whether the nuances of a Christian’s clothing will make an impression to the druggie she or he ministers to…probably not. But the style of clothing might indicate what kind of community/social construct the druggie will be led into. If you want my personal opinion, the Amish and Mennos could learn much from some evangelicals on how to grasp the druggie’s hand, and some evangelicals could learn from the Amish and Mennonites on how to create a place (strong community) where the druggie could thrive.
Thanks for listening. Probably not telling you anything you hadn’t heard before, but if it was helpful, or a new perspective, then I’m glad. Personally, I enjoyed hearing your perspectives and I will be pondering them during the next few days. Meanwhile, to quote the aforementioned Benedictines: Ora et labora!
Gideon, I heartily agree with the wisdom of learning from church history, as well as listening to the Spirit speak into a specific context. Both are too often undervalued. Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts here!
Gideon, I wish we could talk face to face. I enjoy the tone in which you express your thoughts, and there is the right mixture of disagreement and agreement to foster good discussion.
One clarification on where I’m coming from: I think it is important to precisely define what we are talking about. I understand we are discussing the question of extra-biblical church rules, not the question of a church culture. I sense we both agree that churches will naturally end up with their own cultures (ways of doing things), and that this is fine. There will always be cultural challenges for anyone who involuntarily (by birth or by integrating as an adult) finds themselves facing a new culture. That is not wrong of itself, and we certainly should not imagine we can avoid it.
But we can still evaluate the place of rules in such church cultures. After all, it is just as possible for a culture to develop a practice of avoiding rule-making as it is for the a group to develop a list of rules. And it is just as possible for a group to develop a culture that values openness to (a biblically-limited range of) cultural diversity as it is to develop a culture that emphasizes uniformity of practice. I’m assuming we will have church cultures, but asking which sort of culture best fits with the nature of the gospel.
I think it is also true that rules are often a weak substitute for the power of tradition. Melvin Gingerich summarizes the practice of “Mennonites in most times and places” like this: “They wished to avoid legalism and thus were reluctant to endorse detailed regulations. By stressing the life of humility and naming the articles of clothing and decorations that they believed violated biblical principles of simplicity, they often became a “plain” people rather than the “gay” people. Living in communities, they came to regard certain items of clothing as conservative without any attempt being made to prescribe by church edict the exact costume or garb that must be worn.”
But with the twentieth century, things changed: “A uniform costume was pleaded for, demanded, and ruled on by conference action. Detailed descriptions of plain costume were made part of conference regulations, in contrast to a simplicity earlier maintained largely through tradition.”
Briefly, on the question of biblicism. I’m not saying “If it’s not in the Bible, it’s not legitimate.” Rather, I’m saying “If it works against the picture of the church and the gospel that we find in the Bible, then we might want to jettison it.” There are lots of legitimate practices that we don’t find in the Bible, but which fit well with its message. But we also find many innovations of practice throughout Christian history that have not fit well with the Bible’s picture of the church and the gospel. Such innovations make it hard for us to live well as churches and make it hard for us to understand and share the gospel.
Face to face would be good. 🙂 God speed, friend!
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Dwight: I also would enjoy meeting you and discussing this. Someday… Meanwhile I thank you for sharing your perspective here. And I would love to read Melvin Gingerich’s Mennonite Attire through Four Centuries if I could get my hands on it.
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This was an interesting read… I don’t have anything super wise to say at the moment except maybe that we all speak from our own journey and that’s all we can do… Listening to all of you was good and I am still on my journey trying not to react because of the painfulness of my journey… Bringing Jesus into it all… Thanks Rosina! ❤
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I am not opposed to having church rules, but there is one thing that continually frustrates me: In our discussions about dress standards, I have never heard anyone mention the Fall as described in Genesis 3. The reason we are wearing clothes at all is because of man’s sin. The reason I struggle to sew a cape dress is because of man’s sin. The reason we have discussions about wearing plain coats to church is because of man’s sin. God never intended for people to be burdened with making or buying clothes but because of man’s sin, we need to be clothed. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that clothes are about separation from the world, or about unity in the church, or about simplicity, or even about pleasing God but really they are about living in a world that is broken. God bringing redemption to the world is going to be a beautiful, amazing thing.
Good points, Rachel! And yes, my spirit groans for that day of redemption.
Oh Rosina, it would be so much fun to hash this over a cup of coffee! This is the age-old discussion and I feel like I don’t have any new wisdom to bring to the table, but here are a few observations. I think some of the complexity of this subject is in the terminology. Rules, expectations, guidelines, applications- they all speak of the same subject but mean quite different things. I think most churches have expectations that may or may not get written into a statement of faith. Take, for example, strip clubs as inappropriate places for Christians to be entertained. If your church takes that stand, whether in understanding or in written form, you embrace an extra-Biblical rule. My guess is the early Roman Christians would have taken stands against frequenting the Roman baths, which were filled with sensuality and immorality. That would seem reasonable. Regulating the size of flowers on womens dresses is also extra-Biblical but feels completely different. One seems reasonable and the other a bit ridiculous 🙂 How do you tell the difference; where do you draw that line both personally and corporately? I don’t think I would enjoy raising children in a brotherhood that prescribes for them their convictions, but I find the thought of raising them in a church where their peers and role models find freedom in wearing skimpy tops and short shorts to be equally terrifying. Logically following, if a person claims Spirit-leading and feels they can dress that way, what can be done about it? How do you explain it to your children?
I too grieve parts of my heritage- the parts that are internally broken. The parts and burden that make it so difficult for newcomers to feel welcome and at home. The way there can be no diversity because its scary. But I look at the new movements of freedom and anti-system and structure and don’t find any new depths of holiness, godliness or faithfulness, and for some, its actually quite the contrary. I’m not for man-made traditions as described in Colossions but I value brotherhood and accountability which I think can only be found where there are understood expectations and appropriate applications to Biblical principles.
My church doesn’t have many “rules”, and the applications we do have allow for diversity and are attainable to the person walking in off the street. I can’t tell you the last time we had a major discussion on them. We stay pretty busy with more important things, I guess 🙂 It seems to be working well at this point, but I think a few decades will be the real proof.
I don’t know, except that I’ve almost written a blogpost here, and in the words of Pontius Pilot, “What is truth?”
Edited to add that my church is definitely not perfect, and we struggle with a different set of struggles and challenges. Allowing for and embracing diversity can be challenging because each person brings a different perspective. Different views on ministry and outreach forces discussions that aren’t always easy. But at the end of the day, it’s worth it. Just wanted to clarify 🙂
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I love this Vicki! My father has always explained it this way to me. He says as young children that reach accountability, do we as parents simply “let them be” ? We can’t expect them to be fully matured. And as a family, do we not have man-made rules within the home. If there is to be structure and order of any kind, there will be man-made rules. And church is simply an extension of family, (or should be) When rules become overbearing and so detailed it becomes burdensome and unnecessary. But we will be forced at some point to enforce some. In an extreme scenario, would I feel comfortable with a lady in bikini attending church service, knowing I have a 17 year old son in the audience. Perhaps to her this is “modest”. And no where in scripture does it speak against this. She would be forced to accept a “man-made rule” if she was to continue attending. Understand this is an extreme case.
I have battled with these questions over the years. I don’t have the answers, but I’m thankful for a Godly and faithful father that has had patience with me!
Would a better option be to put the bikini-clad woman in a cape dress, with no change of heart? Would that not be more dangerous, because then the church would accept her as a believer even with her wicked heart?
Perhaps I didn’t make it clear that I am not advocating disregarding Scripture. The Bible does have rules, modesty included. I don’t have a problem with believers discussing how they might flesh out what the Bible says. But I do have a problem with arbitrary rules splitting up the body of Christ and keeping believers from communing together.
The abuse of being “Spirit-led” as a reason to do whatever you want has caused a lot of damage, and I’m deeply saddened by that. If a spirit leads someone to do something against what the Bible commands, it’s not the Holy Spirit, even if he/she thinks it is. And that is certainly not a spirit I want to embrace or follow.
I think manmade rules have their place in a family, but not in a church. The church is often compared to family life, which is reasonable, but we forget that the head of the church is Jesus, and He is the one with the authority to make the rules.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
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Vicki, I’d love to have a chat with you in person! I like what I see of your church, and am blessed by your kindness and openness to the community around you.
Sorry to be joining so late in the conversation, but I wanted to add my brief perspective as a person who was not raised Mennonite but who is now in faithful and delighted attendance at a conservative Mennonite church. I was recently listening to a six part series on the history of the Anabaptists that was taught by a respected man in the conference some years ago. The first five parts were very edifying, as the speaker described the early Anabaptists departure from the state church and its unbiblical doctrines. But then on the sixth part of the series his message and even his tone changed as he spoke of church discipline. By his reasoning it was the responsibility of church members to obey the rules given by church leaders, even when there was no direct Scriptural basis for their rules, if they were well intended. I found this so ironic, given all the history he had just spent five parts chronicling. Wasn’t this the very reason why the Anabaptists departed from the Catholic church? separation from unbiblical rules to follow the teachings of Scripture? So by insisting on rules that had no direct Scriptural connection he was essentially insisting on a return to a SYSTEM so many had been martyred in leaving. I understand and agree with church discipline and the authority of church elders, but shouldn’t this authority only be exercised in the essentials when there is clear Biblical instruction? As friend of mine once said, “only be dogmatic about what the Scriptures are dogmatic about.” Thanks again for your beautifully honest posts. I always look forward to reading them.
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“Only be dogmatic about what the Scriptures are dogmatic about.” Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for adding your insights here!
I have nothing intellectual or deep to add to this very stimulating discussion. Only this: it is my opinion that affluence is to blame for most of our obsession with clothes and rules about them, pro or con. I don’t desire poverty any more than the next American, but the simple fact remains: we have too many options!
That is a very insightful comment, Lovina.
In fact, I’m uncomfortable with our American affluence that results in mission organizations requiring people in other countries to wear homemade clothes shipped from America when modest second-hand clothes could be found locally.
I may be headed toward being a one-note instrument with this recommendation, but allow me to commend Paul Hiebert’s book “Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues”, a collection of various of his writings. Specifically, the essay including “The Category ‘Christian'” in the title, though (coming from a place similar to you) I found a number of the articles in the collection to be quite significant in my faith development. I’m going from memory, and think it might orbit some of the issues you’ve addressed more directly here, but would provide a lot of richness and “back-story” to the analysis.
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It seems to me that the difference between the two groups isn’t divided neatly between those who are for rules and those who are not, but instead is divided between those who have been hurt by the way the rules (spoken or unspoken) have been used within the church and those who have not.
Once a person has been hurt within a church they thought was safe, it will open their eyes to find where truth exists within the church. Sadly, sometimes the nuggets of truth are very small. Those who have never been hurt can be very hurtful with the way they use the rules and those who have been hurt struggle to love those who hurt them.
When I see this play out, I often think of Jesus’ words, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35
I think there is much truth in that. I wasn’t going to say more, but there are these thoughts that keep pushing…
Rosina, your story touches me, almost gives me goose bumps in places. Maybe some day I’ll tell you mine, but not here. 🙂
There are so many people asking what the true church is. I have asked it myself. Certainly the practical issues of obedience are a part of it. But many groups that look good from a distance have a very hurtful culture. The Pharisees asked Jesus once what would be the sign of the Kingdom. Jesus’ answer has been a guiding light to me. He said when people say, “lo here,” and “lo there,” to not believe them. The Kingdom of God is within us. The true church is the spirit of God working in each individual life. I have seen people from both sides of the rule question that are showing God’s spirit in their lives of obedience and love. It is good for us to consider what promotes growth and nurturing in church life, but the outward earmarks can so quickly turn into another system, a “sign of the kingdom” that proves nothing unless the Spirit of God is working in people’s hearts.
When our family faced condemnation and rejection, the only place of peace for me was to cry out for mercy like the publican. But here, too, temptations can push in, and sometimes I caught myself praying “within myself” something like, “God be merciful to me a sinner, and God I thank Thee that I am not like those Pharisees over there.”
It was good for me to read Jesus’ prayer for all believers in John 17, and just pray that we will all be in the presence of God together, where we will “know even as also we are known.”
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In saying the true church is the Spirit of God working in each individual’s life, I am not saying one individual makes a church. I need a body of believers!!!!
I understood what you were saying! Truly, it is the Spirit that gives life.
I’d love to hear your story sometime! 😉
There’s a lot of truth to this, Brenda. For myself, I didn’t mind the rules, probably at least partly because it was all I ever knew.
What did hurt me was seeing new Christians being refused Communion. My intense reading of Scripture then confirmed the inner hunch I had that this kind of separation is wrong.
Now I’m one of those who can’t have communion at my former church, so I understand more on a personal level how it must feel to people coming in.
John 13:35 is one of my favorite verses–a beautiful description of what a Christ-filled life looks like.
I read all this with interest. I loved your honesty and your enthusiasm. I guess I will be honest too! I guess I’m coming out of it from the “other” side. You felt confined and chained in your traditional group, I feel caged and frustrated in a group similar to yours. I grew up in a conservative Mennonite home. I married a man who was not of the same background and together we have lived a church story similar to what you describe as yours currently. That has been years now and my husband comes full circle and understands now what the tremendous value of group practice is. We have been disillusioned by people who claim no standards are better, and that walking by the Spirit gives more freedom for service to God. We have fully experienced both and have not seen enough difference to merit the downside of the last years of our experience. We can see a lot of value in having some kind of group practice. We also are “alone” in a town where there are no other “Mennonites.”
I guess one big question I have is how does one ever feel comfortable calling people “Christians” if those people do not believe in Jesus’ clear teachings of nonresistance, no divorce and remarriage, non accumulation of wealth, etc. Seems to me that the kingdom cannot be divided or the kingdom will fall, and that is what is experienced so much today. How can we expect our children to embrace these clear teachings of the Bible if we embrace the divorced and remarried woman and call her our sister. How can I teach my sons to embrace Jesus’ teaching of nonresistance in every aspect of life if I call the man in the military in the local church I frequent, my brother?
I think the bigger issue of being “alone” is not dress, but the need to have people who believe as we do in these basic Bible teachings for our children to relate to on an every day basis.
Once again, thank you for your honesty and for having patience with mine!
Hi, DR. This article relates to your question. I believe it presents a theology of the “family” of the church that accounts well for those we see endorsed as follows of Jesus (parts of the “church”) from the time of Jesus’incarnation on.
J, I’m not doing well at replying to you. First tech problems on my website hindered my response to your comment there, and now I buried my response to you in a comment to DR. Sorry! 🙂
DR, you ask some good questions. In particular, I am thinking of this: “How does one ever feel comfortable calling people “Christians” if those people do not believe in Jesus’ clear teachings of nonresistance, no divorce and remarriage, non accumulation of wealth?” I am still wrestling with how to respond well to that question.
The main point I thought I’d make here, though, is that I think your question is a different one from the question that Rosina was addressing in her blog post. I think she is questioning how churches exclude people based on extra-biblical rules, and I’m quite sure she is not suggesting that we ignore the clear teachings of Scripture itself. I think it is important to distinguish between the two questions. Both adding to and taking away from God’s word is a problem!
J, you had shared about bounded versus centered sets on my blog, too. I responded there but my blog isn’t emailing people when I respond (tech glitch), so I’ll respond here, too.
In brief, I think there is value in considering both perspectives (bounded and centered), and I actually think that the biblical model of Jesus’ church includes aspects of both.
If I may push back a little, I think the article in the link you shared is somewhat biased. A couple observations to support that critique:
(1) Here is part of the article’s description of bounded sets (with which the article disagrees): “It is an “us” versus “them” mentality where everyone on the inside is accepted, loved, and welcomed , while those outside the fence are kept away until they can change their beliefs and behaviors to fit the entry requirements.” On the other hand, centered sets are described like this: “Everyone is loved, welcomed, and accepted, no matter what.”
These sentences claim that those “outside the fence” are not “loved” in a bounded set situation, but that is begging the question. (“To beg the question is to assume the truth of the conclusion of an argument in the premises in order for the conclusion to follow.” – Wikipedia) Who says you can’t love someone even while excluding them from a group? Paul told the Corinthian church that the sexually immoral man should be “removed” from among them “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” That sounds like love to me.
(2) The author does not understand 1 Corinthians 15 well. This passage is essential evidence in discussing his topic, but he does not mention it until it is mentioned by others in the comments below. Then he says this: “1 Corinthians 5 is a notoriously troublesome chapter. But notice that whatever Paul is saying, he adamantly tells the church that he does not want them to stop keeping company with sexually immoral people, or with the covetous, extortioners, idolaters, and the like (v. 10).”
First, I strongly suspect that part of the reason he finds this chapter “notoriously troublesome” is that he doesn’t like what it clearly states: that a church should “remove” unrepentant professing Christians from its midst.
Second, and more clearly, the author takes v. 10 out of context. In this verse, Paul is saying that we cannot stop relating to people *outside* the church who have such sins. He makes a clear distinction between those *outside* who do these sins and those who claim to be *inside* who do them. Paul says it is the latter group that we should withdraw from, not the former. But the author of this post lumps everyone into the same group and uses Paul’s teaching about one group as instruction for how to treat everyone.
I think we are too quick to make man-made boundaries for our churches. But I don’t want to lose the Bible’s explicit teaching on the boundaries of Jesus’ church. Again, both adding to God’s Word and taking away from it are equally dangerous!
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Thanks, I appreciated your reply. I guess I should clarify that I wasn’t intending to judge the writer of the post in any way, I was simply expressing (in my own stumbling way) that in my own personal experience with a wide variety of people and places, that whatever differences there are in application, some things simply have to be held common for a Christian to be a Christian. In my own experience I have seen this whole thing of anything and everybody taken too far. Christianity loses its meaning when there are no definitions.
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Well said. I agree.
DR, thank you for commenting. I hear your cry–if Christianity is not exclusive in any way, what do we have to offer the world? You said, “some things simply have to be held common for a Christian to be a Christian.” Yes, I agree.
I did not cover everything that could have been said in this telling of my story, for lack of both time and space. I’m seeing that I left out parts that raised questions in people’s minds. Perhaps I will be able to make those things clearer in future posts. God bless your journey!
Thanks, Dwight. I don’t actually remember commenting on your blog, but it doesn’t surprise me. 😀 You raise fair, logical points re. this writer’s take on centered sets, which make me think I was hasty in choosing this online source for centered sets. I didn’t think the original Hiebert article I read was online, but this one actually looks very much like it might be the one. https://danutm.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/hiebert-paul-g-conversion-culture-and-cognitive-categories.pdf . I think you’ll find less to object to in his presentation.
Not directly addressing your points, except to acknowledge that some blending of models may be in order: some of the test cases that come to mind, in addition to the man you mentioned, are Peter, Judas, and Cornelius. Peter flaked out on Jesus, clearly earning “denial before the Father”. And in the period between his denial and repentance, he presumably was or wasn’t a “follower of the way”, with substantial implications for theology. Judas did far more, and it seems consensus is that he was not truly a follower. And I’m unaware that Cornelius renounced military service, but Peter threw up his hands and accepted Holy Spirit’s judgment. (Not the point of that story, admittedly, and I understand the Church did for a few centuries require laying down arms, I believe correctly…but I think still at least a weak signal.) And the crucified thief, who had little opportunity for life change, but according to one gospel a chance to become a follower.
Of all of those, Peter and Judas seem most interesting. Two betrayals, two life trajectories from there. I’m writing after my bedtime and my brain’s fuzzy right now, but it feels like there’s connection with Jesus’ stories of the responsible/wayward sons and of the two sons sent to work in the fields… though I don’t have the “oomph” at the moment to take it from intuition to explicit.
I’m rambling. G’night. 😀
Thanks, J. I appreciate your response. I really should read Hiebert directly, so his ideas get a fair hearing.
Briefly, on the Peter and Judas examples:
* Both those examples are from before the start of the church age proper, Pentecost. They are from a time when Jesus was still leading his disciples to gradually understand his identity and mission. It seems the boundaries of his followers were more fuzzy then than after Pentecost.
* If Peter had continued in his denial, he most certainly would have been removed from the church. Judas was certainly considered an “outsider” after his betrayal by the rest of the believing community (Acts 1).
I feel like I should be able to deduce who you are, J, based on your perspective and your time zone. 🙂 Blessings!
The little I’ve read of Hiebert (I’m just delving into his Anthropological book right now) is more comprehensive and he does talk about church discipline as a necessity. I haven’t read/processed the book enough yet to give a full report…but the bit I’ve read is thought-provoking. I especially liked the chapter on the excluded middle, but that’s a different subject. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your heart, Rosina! For people that have grown up in a church with a lot of extra rules I think it often becomes their security. You can’t just take them away without something to replace it. I think knowing Jesus in a personal, intimate relationship is what gives life and freedom. Freedom isn’t doing whatever you want. Freedom is the ability to do what is right. And knowing about Jesus and actually knowing Him are two vastly different things.
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“Freedom isn’t doing whatever you want. Freedom is the ability to do what is right.” I like that, Pauline! (And I like you, too. 😉 )
Pingback: My Take: – The Mennonite prodigal
You have a beautiful way with words as you always have had. My perspective on this from being a non-Mennonite child entering the world of the Mennonites at 6 and then leaving at 13 lends a somewhat unusual perspective, I think. I would also point out that I don’t believe this is exclusive to the Mennonite and Amish but many hyper traditional/ fundamentalist church settings that ensure their people toe the line by scaring them into obedience.
As a family entering the church we always had to “prove ourselves”. Be more – more obedient, more conservative, more cautious of avoiding wrong appearances, more humble, more submissive.
I remember well the debates over fabric pattern sizes and colors, and of skirt and sleeve lengths. Of breaking off car antennas, painting bumpers black, etc. The list could go on seemingly forever.
Was the covering too big, too small, too pleated, not pleated enough. Should men wear or not wear beards, suspenders or belts.
And then the leaving…the shunning..my parents’ “damning we innocent children’s souls to hell by forcing us out of the Mennonite way of life – being separate from the world.” Yes, they were told this. Yes, we children were told something along the same lines by someone.
Oddly enough, there is little I have struggled with a spirit of bitterness over – a few lingering things. A few things I’ve truly never been able to grasp and come to terms with. This, by the grace of God.
But the overarching theme over the last 20+ years has been, for me, the scarring of living under the burden of manmade rules rather than freedom in Christ. Don’t get me wrong. Freedom in Christ isn’t a release of all responsibility. There are still Biblical guidelines and standards, but it should be freeing to live in and under those rather than a constant fear of losing one’s balance on the tightrope of religious rules.
To the point of worrying over fabric patterns while there is a hurting world outside the door, I agree with you. I would argue that fabric patterns don’t lead a person to hell (unless they are suggestive in some way). Setting ourselves so apart from the world that we stand out like a sore thumb instead a beacon of hope and light isn’t helping change that trajectory. In fact, it’s hurting more than helping anyone.
I could go on at length, but I’ll close for now. I’m glad I’ve come across your website. I find myself clicking from post to post, excited to read your thoughts and perspectives.
An old classmate.
Heather, it’s been years since I’ve heard from you! Thank you for sharing your wise perspective! I’d love to catch up in person someday. ❤