This is my church. Right or wrong. I will defend my church.
This is ideology.
This is comfortable.
This is the ten spies, not the two spies.
This defends the status quo.
This is playing politics.
This takes no courage.
We always did it this way.
We will protect and defend even if some things are wrong.
This destroys by allowing wrong to continue.
This is my church, but something is wrong. Some things must be repaired.
This is truth.
This is not comfortable.
This is the two spies, not the ten spies.
This challenges the status quo.
This is integrity.
This is not playing politics.
This takes an enormous amount of courage.
Life can be and must be improved.
We will not defend things that are wrong. We will builds one another up in the most holy faith.
Will we learn from history?
“The only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.”
No matter how you say it, the message is clear. There are lessons we can learn from history. History is there for us to learn but, for one reason or another, we do not learn. Typically, we choose to not learn. Somehow we can make it turn out differently even when we follow the same, failed path.
What can we do?
First of all we have to study and learn the lessons. For that to happen, we need to learn from a reliable, knowledgeable, and trusted source. History can be presented as propaganda or as truth. It can be used to control or to inform. Religious history is particularly susceptible to misuse. Recent observations brought the subject to mind again.
Brethren and Mennonite histories have traveled on parallel tracks. With similar beliefs, these groups have carried truth into their world. They have been successful at surviving the winds of change for the most part. The Mennonite church has been quite more successful, not only to survive but to thrive. The reason for that is that the Mennonite church has different origins.
Mennonite history has a martyr motif because it has a martyr history. For them, the world is an unsafe place that may, at any time, choose to turn against you. For Brethren, with no martyr history, the world is a safe place. Specifically, the Brethren have fewer schools. They have been comfortable with public education in North America. Not so the Mennonites.
Decisions along the years have also impacted the groups. Recently, one of those decisions has become more apparent. These groups began with a very high view of the Bible and with integrity of the individual. Integrity was a primary factor in both of these groups.
Many years ago, the very strong Brethren system began to make a subtle shift. Their people were very loyal. They were loyal to the integrity of the Bible and the church. As time brought changes that should have been challenged and rejected, the church began to see integrity and loyalty as the same thing. They began to emphasize loyalty to the group. Loyalty began to trump integrity. The rest, as the say, is history.
When loyalty became a virtue higher than integrity, loyalty became the highest virtue. Challenging the church or its decisions became the worst ‘sin.’ Leaving or splitting the church became the worst decision anyone could ever make. Can Mennonites learn from this before it is too late?
The current conservative Mennonite church exists as a result of choices – those choices were revivals.
The Old Order groups began in the late 1880s as a response to social acculturation and the religious influence of Protestant revivalism. They chose to remain free from influences that could bring harm to their groups.
The current conservative Mennonite churches began in the 1960s as a response to the lack of structure of that era. They chose to chart a course that would preserve the historic Mennonite approach to life and church.
Where are these groups today? They are strong. They have preserved a culture that preserves family and community. They are healthy in many ways. To be part of their groups is to have an identity and a security that is comforting and healing. Part of their social health and strength is the formation of rules and directives designed to preserve the groups. Could there be a downside to this approach?
Is it possible that loyalty could be taking the place of integrity? Is it possible that the priority has become preserving the group even when there may be reasons to challenge some of the decisions and practices? The priority has become following the leaders even when their lives may not be the examples that they should be.
Many leaders of past generations were men of absolute character. To know them was to trust them; to know them was to be directed by their life choices and decisions. Their integrity was never in question. The calling was to service, not to power. They were servants and that is the way they perceived themselves and that is the way their people experienced them because that is who they were.
Loyalty is very important. It is only valid, however, if it is preceded by total integrity. Loyalty is a deceptive force. It promises what it cannot deliver. It attracts us and pulls us in so quickly. It sounds so good. It builds camaraderie. It makes us feel like a unit.
The Brethren succumbed to this siren call. They moved from integrity to loyalty all the while insisting that integrity and loyalty are the same thing. Will the Mennonites learn from Brethren history or will they also be subtly drawn into the belief that integrity and loyalty are the same thing?
The lure of requiring loyalty over integrity is the thin-edge-of-the-wedge that will divide the group. It will be unthinkable to suggest that maybe the church may be making some less-than-healthy decisions. That is where the conservative Mennonite world is today. This is the saddest possible place to be.
At issue is truth. Only truth will produce trust. Without trust, community will fail. While “Keeping the Trust” is a goal, to continue keeping trust is paramount but fragile. It will be lost unless the insistence of integrity is maintained and not confused with or replaced by loyalty.
“Keeping the Trust” was one of the revivals. It left a system that had moved from integrity to loyalty. Three generations later came a call from concerned persons seeing the need for revival again because trust was lost. So subtle is the allure of loyalty. Trust is so easily lost as loyalty replaces integrity or, as in most cases, they are considered one and the same.
There are wake up calls. There are people who want only the best for the church but those people are sometimes marginalized by the leaders. Many of those people are asking for the church leaders to revisit some decisions and correct the concerns. This happened in the Brethren also. Those voices were silenced or quieted. The loyalty momentum of the group overran the shrinking voice of integrity.
Jesus spoke into this subject. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” In our desire to be free we can chose bondage that looks like freedom. Only truth will make us free. Only truth will preserve trust. We should not have to beg for that. Our churches should be the trusted stewards of that approach to life.
Church leaders often control their people and dictate their approach to life. Yes, it is not wrong to have guidelines for life. It is not wrong to make decisions that provide directive for people and groups. It is wrong, however, when the leaders succumb to the siren call of loyalty that trumps integrity and then insist on loyalty to their system.
Truth is our highest call. It is also our deepest foundation. Without it we will all perish. Truth is not always friendly to our plans. But truth is always the answer to our deepest longings. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. From that Truth springs the fruit of: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. There is no law against those characteristics.
Trust is lost when truth is lost. That is what is happening now. Brethren people wanted to stay in and support and be part of their church. Today many conservative Mennonite people are leaving their church. They do not want to leave. But, they cannot accept the lack of integrity that is presented as loyalty.
Their hearts are broken with the sadness of their need to make such difficult choices – the choice between their heart being part of the church and their mind not able to accept the wrongness of the situation. They leave with heavy hearts and do not know where to go. It is a choice they should never have to make.
There are wake up calls. This is a wake up call. The conservative Mennonite church needs another revival. It will be more difficult than previous revivals. The issues then were obvious. The issues today are more hidden and subtle. Revival will be more difficult in the current Spiritual environment than it ever was before.
Revival is, however, needed more than it ever was before. It will take courage and wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish a new revival. It will require humility and contrition. It will demand return to Scripture and the historic Mennonite beliefs. It will be worth what ever is needed to bring revival to the conservative Mennonite church groups today.
May our Good Lord give us wisdom and courage to stand for truth and right in a world that has turned truth upside down. May we with Jason, in the book of Acts, lead a group of men who will turn our world upside down by turning it right side up again.
This Post Has 2 Comments
” It will demand return to Scripture and the historic Mennonite beliefs. ”
Historic Mennonite beliefs?
That is an all or none statement in my opinion…
The Mennonite Church has attempted to maintain an approach to faith that applies Scripture to life. How successful has that been? That is the constant question we have to answer. That will require diligent thinking and acting for each new generation. Is it “all or none?” IMO it is a diligent attempt to believe and live God’s way for His creation. fr