Asher Witmer

rediscovering Jesus

When You Want More Than Your Mennonite Distinctives

Church is confusing these days. Especially with all the different denominations and applications to scripture.

when you want more

© Depositphotos.com/justinkendra

I feel a tension in my generation of Mennonites. We learn in church that a passage of Scripture means this and we should be doing that because of it.

But other believers aren’t. Other people who have authentic relationships with Jesus aren’t necessarily wearing the veiling or dressing in dresses. In fact, some of them are having a greater impact on our culture. So why do we insist on doing things our way?

Then, when we go into missions, we learn to let the indigenous people apply scripture how they see best fit for their culture. And it’s okay if it is not the same way we apply it. They can wear headbands, if that’s what is best for them, even if we wear white bonnet coverings. Their men can wear shorts, even if we’re not supposed to.

But if it’s alright for them, why isn’t it for us?

Sometimes it feels like our particular interpretations and applications of scripture, as Mennonites, make it impossible for others to join our churches unless they completely abandon their background. So, if we really want to influence society it seems that we should change. Like quit doing things the way we’re taught in church and embrace the way culture does it—at least the way those believers who are having a greater impact do it.

A few get fed-up with Mennonite ethnocentricity and leave–taking off the covering, putting on the wedding band.

But does it actually solve anything if we do that?

Does changing the physical help bring about spiritual fruit?

I don’t think what keeps Mennonites from being relevant to culture are applications, but the inability to differentiate between what is sin and what are just differences in those applications.

We like to make eternal judgments of people based on what they do physically. And that gets exhausting. Especially when we see spiritual fruit coming from people who are doing physical things differently than we are, like not wearing the veiling.

But don’t we have that same mindset when we then decide that we don’t need to wear the veiling or dress the way our church says in order to follow Christ? Aren’t we still unable to differentiate between different applications? We’re still focused on the physical. Nothing has actually changed, we’re just now choosing to look at different parts of the physical.

My church may have a good application of scripture. And just because someone else has an equally good application that is different from ours doesn’t mean I need to change, does it? If it’s a better application maybe it would be good to change. But it doesn’t always feel like we’re pursuing better as much as we are different.

But then I wonder why Mennonites are so ineffective when it comes to engaging culture?

Is the way we apply scripture the problem? Should we change what kind of veil our ladies wear, whether women can wear pants and men can wear shorts? Should we taboo our hymnals and bring in the band?

What do you think? I’d like to hear from you.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

*I’ll tell you why I’m Mennonite as well as why that isn’t the point, right here.

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About Asher Witmer

I am a son of God, husband, father, and difference maker. I love helping people sort through hard questions they face and rediscover Jesus. I have written three eBooks dealing with church frustrations, and send out daily posts addressing faith, church and relationships.

  • Craig and Karen Long

    Yes, Asher: we are all in search of our True, Righteous Root: Messianic Israeli citizenship. No other titles! That is our Messiah, Yahshua, Who did everything His Father spoke, as His Son, an Israelite in Whom there was no guile. He never violated His Father’s Word, as He became the Living Word, the Torah in the flesh, and sacrificed His 19 to 20 cups of Blood on the tree of Calvary! Greater works He told us that we would do, as we abide in Him, the Vine, in the Great Graft. As we are grated into the Vine of Yahshua and become part of the 10 northern tribes of Israel, who were taken into captivity in 721 B.C.E., we must realize that the captivity of the prophesied 2730 years was completed in 2009! And, this is the 7 year period of Restoration that we have been in. He has been renewing the Covenant with many for one week. The tribe of Judah is learning of the Messiah. as the 2 sticks, the 2 houses, are coming together in the Hand of YHVH. We are finally learning to practice our Father’s commandments, Shabbat included (which was the reason for the captivity). Our Father, YHVH, is whistling for the gentile dogs, those who followed the pagan customs of the world instead of the Father’s instructions, His Torah, and He is calling us over the tumult of this wild sea of the carnal beast system to be grafted into His Kingdom, His Vine, back to His House where there are many rooms. (Book of Hosea.) Then, the titles of mankind disappear and we are set free to follow Him and His Manual for our lives ~ His Son! Egypt, Babylon, and all of the plagues are removed far from us as we receive Yahshua’s forgiveness by His Blood and come back, teshuva, repent to Father’s House. HalleluYAH! He lives forevermore and He Alone is Worthy to open the seals on the title deed to the earth that haSatan has taken in the Garden of Eden 6,000 years ago. Worthy is the Lamb to receive Praise and Kavod, Wisdom and Thanks, Honor and Power and Strength: Be to our YHVH forever and ever. Behold: the BrideGroom Comes! Acts 3:21

  • Linnford Bender

    Experience teaches us much and we can learn much from the experiences of others. Bitter experiences as well as good experiences can skew our idea and vision of most anything including “church”. If our idea of church is shaped by “experience” as opposed to a Spirit led and directed understanding of church as revealed to us in the clear word of God we will likely arrive at a self defined view of church instead of a God defined view of church…

  • John Kulp

    Asher, I have read your blog post and some of the comments, and hesitate to join the discussion, but as I was once a young Mennonite married man with two children and some of the same questions and concerns you have, I felt it might be appropriate. I knew your father and a few of your uncles, but that is beside the point. There is no doubt that conservative Mennonites make far too much of the “physical”, as you put it, to the extent of continually dividing because of it and bringing ever more shame to the Lord Jesus and to His body, which He stills sees as one. We ought to view it as “one” as well, and act according to principles that are in accordance with the “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3), rather than separating ourselves according to our own wills and believing God is honored in that. I will say that the two great convictions the Lord gave me at 24 years old, from my searching the Scriptures, were that there must still be a scriptural basis or ground for Christians to gather on that does not ignore the “physical”, but subjects that aspect to fellowship on the basis of sound doctrine and holy practice, leaving room for differences and growth of spiritual exercise. The other conviction is one that is still difficult to understand for most Mennonites, that our salvation and security is not based on anything we do or are faithful in, as it is all of grace. This latter belief, arrived at over a couple of years of God working on me, had me basically silenced in the church, but the Lord has brought immense blessing from it over the last 26 years, and I have never looked back, though I love very dearly my friends and family who are still in the Mennonite Church.

  • rmullet

    Thank you so much for thinking critically about these issues and for your humility and sensitivity. I’ve been wrestling with these questions for years and can’t say I’m any closer to resolution than I was, but the important thing for me has been coming into a church where questions are okay, after growing up in one where they weren’t. To the point about church being confusing, yes! As a forty-something who is still confused about a lot, how much more confusing is it for my teenage children? I’m not okay with giving the “pat answers” that I still hear that never satisfied me. I realize in part that they didn’t satisfy because my soul longed for more. I have had to learn to listen to my soul and to the Holy Spirit, and to trust them.

  • Marvin Mullet

    I believe that generally Mennonites are seeking to replicate their culture in others. Compromising standards of appearance and doctrine unnecessary if the Holy Spirit is directing the efforts. It is when I have decided what is important, what order principles and applications should be assimilated that I run into trouble. When the Holy Spirit is running the show, He will do the convincing on His timetable. I saw a fellow believer change his position on divorce and remarriage 180′ over the course of four years or so; not because I was pushing the point, but because God was working on him. Same thing with non-resistance, and participation in voting and government. If we represent God’s Truth, HE will be vested in the outcome. One closing thought: If I am right, I don’t have to win the argument. Eternal Truth will prove Itself. The confusion involves the doctrines of men. Blessings Marvin

    • Amen! Thanks for sharing, Marvin.

  • A second compliment to Brother Chester Weaver from my quarters. Your combination of old, experienced conservatism and tender godly concern is most admirable. I think it’s unfortunate that your name is not clickable. Could your contact information be provided for anyone who wants to continue a conversation with you? You have a lot to give to my generation (I’m just 21).

  • Matt Miller

    Thank You for writing the easy to understand article above from the person labeled ( a guy on a journey ) that is the what I meant to say in a few words, in my writing above and i know i didnt really go into detail at all, my apologies if it read to defensively, I struggled to put into words what the depths of my heart really is. I guess my school teacher was right I needed to take more interest in language, ( not my favorite subject ) sorry,

    Also thank you to Asher for having a blog with open minded questions and looking at the truth, (as a people hungry for truth)

    This dialog reminds me much of the 5 blind men that touched an elephant, then afterwards argued on what they saw (felt) of the event, I feel that we (Christians) don’t realize how often we are the stumbling block to the world by the blindness of our own selves, we need to hear one another and more importantly we need to show the world what true love really is, quote from The Servant, by James Hunter, (Love does what love is) their are no conditions to meet in unconditional love, it’s just love whether the recipient deserves it or not, so glad Jesus loves me this way I fail to much to be called perfect on any other basis, please don’t read this wrong, as a sinner a have to recognize my need I have for a Savior.
    But the world is searching for a place to bring their hurting heart to, most of them don’t want theology they want simple truth that gives hope in the most hopeless situation that gives them a foundation that they can build their lives on, I once heard someone say, that everyone only needs the simple truth to come to Christ and find redemption, then it’s up to himself to become a hungry theologian to find for himself what really is the depth of truth,
    By the way the definition of Theology means to study Religious Faith, Practice, and experience; especially the study of God’s word and of God’s relation to the world.

    A Theologian being (a person engaged on that journey)

    Sadly the Roman Catholic Church brought false theology into Christianity hence we have a dilution of theology today,

    Fellow Christian Brothers and Sisters let’s not quarrel on this journey about theology and practice of principles but let us encourage one another on this journey to love one another and truly have an open love for the sinner so that we are not a stumbling block to them but a Servant that is wanting to serve them at Jesus table. After all, when we see a fallen man we should have the humility to say, but for the Grace of God there go I,
    And instead of being like the blind men let’s truly be open in hearing each other, and help each other form or see the bigger picture.
    I think that’s the openness and transparency that the world is longing to see in humanity. Especially Christians

    Me to, a guy on a journey, and a man on a mission, for God’s glory,
    God bless

  • Anonymous

    ” And he gave them their request, but send leanness into their soul. ” Psalms 106:15

    ” Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling..” Philippians 2:12

  • Joanna Martin

    Anabaptists have done a good job in reaching out through service. We are known for our disaster response service, our community service, our honest business, our work ethic. But the place where it seems we struggle most (from my own experience and observations) is when it comes to disciplining new believers.
    I will give the scenario of a conservative Mennonite church that is reaching out in a city near them. They have decided that to love others and teach them about Jesus is the heart of the matter. They have a children’s club, a youth girls ministry, a youth guys night, a family night, etc. Over the course of time there are several new believers. Now the process of disciplining begins. Some of the first things we encourage in the life of these new believers is to be baptized, join a church, and tell other about Jesus. Here, the difficulties arise. The new believer may want to join our outreach, but we have a list of guidelines for volunteers. Is is right to ask people to ‘just do’ these things, without a heart conviction? They may want to join our church, but again – a list of pre-required guidelines. They wish to be baptized but our guidelines say that that should happen at the same time as church membership. It seems an almost insurmountable amount of changes are needed just to be part of a fellowship of believers.
    If we ask for all these outward changes immediately after conversion, how is this giving the Holy Spirit room to move? Doesn’t this bring an unhealthy focus on the outward? This is where it feels difficult for me as a Mennonite to draw people to Jesus and encourage them to reach others with the gospel, because of the list of applications they are expected to embrace. Sometimes I find myself considering recommending non-conservative churches to seeking young people, but I hate that because I do see truth in the things the Anabaptist church holds to, and am thankful that I have been given these values.
    This question may depart somewhat from the original article, but I is what I have wrestled with as I seek to use my culture as a door and not a wall.

    • Joanna Martin

      That should be read ‘discipling’ everywhere that spell check changed it to disciplining.

      • Chester Weaver

        Joanna, I know the conflicted feelings you face. I have worked in Texas relating to non-Anabaptist background for over twenty years. I no longer live there but the issue remains a live one at any place in the United States where we “fish for men” as Jesus taught us to do. Please allow me to make several observations.
        1. Somehow our concept of “fishing for men” seems to be different from Jesus Christ’s concept, the Master Fisherman. When the “fish” came to Him, He talked about hard things, such as He did to the Rich Young Ruler, who went away sorrowing. He pointed out one time that the seed sown on rocky soil will endure for a time but when “hard things” arise they will perish and die. Other seed sprouted but could not compete with thorns (“hard things”) and the new life was choked, not bearing fruit. But others did fall on good ground where the fruit varied in amount. He taught potential “fish” to count the cost, to take up His cross, and to endure to the end. In other words He put some hurdles in the way. His method seemed to be that He would deal with those who “pushed” into the Kingdom, who saw their eternal life there, and who were willing to pay a price to get it. I realize that this hurdle idea can easily be taken too far but it remains a fact about Jesus’ method of “fishing” that we seem to believe He failed in.
        2. In my experience, one of the biggest problems we face when the “fish” do get in, is that the fish are often more conscientious about their walk with Christ than the “fisherman” and thus the “fisherman” create a hurdle to further growth. New believers who have thoroughly repented of their past notice “fisherman” who are rather inconsistent with their professed walk with Christ. They note inconsistencies such as bad attitudes, carnality, materialism, immodesty, lack of love, equation of culture with faith, rebellion, shrinking covering size, passive husbands/aggressive wives, poor stewardship of the body, etc. When they bring such concerns to the attention of the “fisherman,” the “fisherman” justify themselves; in essence tell them to be quiet. This is quite discouraging to them.
        3. If the “fisherman” holds an evangelical theology, the issue you mention is large. If the “fisherman” holds a simple New Testament Kingdom theology the issue largely resolves itself. A New Testament theology operates on the basis that anyone coming to Christ is anxious to do His will. Most times dress issues are not the real issues. Other issues are the real issues including the unsanctified parts of the new believer’s soul. Many, many new believers struggle deeply with their own spiritual needs; that is why they often come to Anabaptist people who have some structure to their lives. They hope for some help. And the help they need is often deep and messy. Many, many times Anabaptist people are ill equipped to really minister to those desperate souls. This issue is a great challenge for us and we must be humble enough to admit it and do something about it. To refer someone to another church rather than our own is to acknowledge that we are very needy people ourselves, a good place to be. Jesus came for all such people. But we must allow Him to both heal us and them.

        More could be said; enough for now.

        • Yes, I think enough has been said for now.

          I respect your experience, Chester, and although I don’t know you personally, I trust you have a heart of love for people. But one of my concerns is that we hear what people are really wrestling with. What I hear Joanna struggling with is very common among my generation. It’s not so much matter of watering down the Gospel, as wrestling with the extra Biblical hoops we make people jump through. To follow Christ does call us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. We’re not trying to change that. Many of us just wonder if that necessarily means wearing a particularly conservative style of dress or veiling? We mix the application (cape dress, no designs or whatever/white bonnet, black flowing veil, etc) with the principle (modesty/submission to authority and God’s design of headship order).

          In reading through many of your comments, it feels like you have come with presuppositions and assume where people are at without hearing exactly what they are struggling with. I could be wrong, but that would be my observation.

          Also, just because one has a lot of experience doesn’t discredit other peoples’ experience. Other people have different experiences. If we’re going to have a profitable discussion, we’re going to have to value everyone’s experiences. Which means mine don’t trump yours, and yours don’t trump mine, and so on and so forth. Yes, years give the opportunity to learn so much from all the experiences. But, as Elihu pointed out to Jobs friends, that doesn’t mean younger people don’t have valuable things to add to the discussion.

          As the author of this blog, I appeal to you to show a mutual respect for what others are experiencing and the perspectives they bring to the discussion. You are welcome to take this conversation further in the direction you’d like to go with it on your own blog. But much of this has departed from the heart of my original post. There is a lot we can learn from this discussion if we have the patience and maturity to sort through all the comments. But I have to think of what one person commented to me personally, “I think your article is very needed. I feel bad for people who were blessed by it to have to read through some of those comments that aren’t really engaging the heart of your post.”

          Thank you for your patience and input throughout this discussion. I plan to post a follow-up post on Friday with my thoughts on the questions I posed.
          God bless!

      • So well said, Brother Chester. Thank-you. And thanks too for your contribution to the AIC. It is my full intention to listen to more of what you have to say (at AnabaptistsLive.org).

  • aguyonajourney

    This discourse has been interesting to follow. I am a sucker for history and culture and philosophy and theology and how movements started and how they fell apart, etc. Anyone who knows me knows I’m fascinated by this. But I have this deep and growing conviction that discourse doesn’t get us anywhere. We may be progressive or orthodox, Anabaptist or Calvinist (and discussions on those topics have their place), but the fact of the matter is the majority of the human population does not care. They simply don’t care.

    The majority of the human population is deeply involved in the basic mundane struggles of life. Maybe they’re simply trying to make ends meet, get out of debt, and make sure the kids turn out. Or they might be reeling from the death of a loved one or the divorce of parents. They might have grown up in a “pagan” home and not know anything about God or Christianity, let alone deciding which theology is correct. Or they may have grown up in a home where everything looked right – they were conservative Mennonite, maybe even had a dad in Mennonite leadership, but in the home there was no love or grace or forgiveness and now they want nothing to do with that dead religion of their Conservative Mennonite parents. Or maybe they’ve been trying their entire adult life to overcome a compulsive habit or sin that no matter how much they try to overcome it through discipline, prayer, fasting, the Word, counseling, or religion they cannot do away with it. Or maybe they have a private, or public, chemical addiction that ensnares them for life, coming clean and then falling back, coming clean and then falling back – an addiction that would prevent them from being a part of any traditional Menno congregation. These are the stories of real people and these people don’t have time to figure out which tradition to follow or which theology is most Biblical. These people will only follow someone who extends Love to them. Love expects nothing of them and therefore it’s what enables them to follow. Love expects that they will probably fail a lot. But failure doesn’t deter Love. In fact True Love knew they would be so prone to failure that he not only came to earth and died for them, he also sent the Holy Spirit to work with them even after they believed on Him.

    My burden is that we simply lay down our fear of repeating history. Can we lay our fascination with endless discourse down and simply look at ways our churches can practically open the doors to people who need to be loved? Can we start acting instead of endlessly talking and debating? I think we all want this, but it’s simply not being played out in the majority of our churches. We may have some semblance of ministering to our own in felt ways, but even that is grossly lacking in many churches. When we are able to break down those barriers and start being a safe place for people, we will then be able to lead people to the the One who is True Love – and when they know Him, we won’t have to fear and dictate what people wear or how they dress because the Holy Spirit is more powerful than any “guardrail.” But as long as we cling to culture or conservativism or progressiveness or new movements or tradition or whatever you wish as the answer, we will lose people. When we spend our days debating theology and philosophy the average Joe on the street will walk right past us because we are talking way above his head – it simply isn’t meeting his felt need.

    But what would catch their eye and not “be above their heads” is seeing us love one another! Holding proverbial (or literal) hands and walking together and loving and sticking it out together in the midst of disagreement is much more eye popping than splitting and leaving and patting ourselves on the back for protecting the purity of the church the Anabaptist movement or our personal families. Anybody can argue, anybody can split, anybody can walk out – but it takes Christ in us to overcome our pride and actually love each other and move towards each other. That’s what will win the world: our love for one another. But this kinda brings us full circle, we need to move and live among them so that they see this. This doesn’t happen on summer trips to the city to pass out tracts or once they get all their ducks in a row and can finally be a member in our church….we need to look at ways we are preventing ourselves from loving people and preventing these people from experiencing our love (His love).

    • Anthony Mast

      Wow! What he^^^ said. This is spot on. Thanks for putting this into words.

    • Yes! Amen!! Thanks, son, for steering this discussion back on track!!!

    • Yes, Marcel. you hit on the heart of the issues we are discussing. Thanks for sharing!

    • Amen! Good words here!!

    • Patrick

      I just came here, and have been reading through the comments. This comment by Marcel is so spot on!! I am grateful that I have been able to see people in my life — whether they were Mennonite or not, that have lived this out.

  • If there is a way to edit comments I wish someone would tell me. The previous post should read.”Luisa, It is lovely…” and it should say “blend” not bend into your surroundings” 🙂

  • Rosina

    So many verses in the NT speak against having religious rules, and we Mennonites are good at explaining them away. However, I don’t have a problem with dressing traditionally, as long as I don’t have to force others to apply the Bible in exactly the same way. I long to learn more about what God’s church really should look like!

    A side note, the definition of modesty as I’ve heard it is “to not bring attention to ourselves.” I’ve thought it a little odd, because our traditional dress REALLY makes us stick out. 🙂

    • Luisa, It lovely to hear your testimony. I have noticed that,at least on the web, there is a growing number of Christian ladies who feel convicted to cover and it seems with that they are drawn to modest, feminine clothing. Many times they are the only ones in their congregation and it is incredible some of the flack and down right they receive from other Christians as well as in the workplace. These women’s attitudes are incredible and put women of Mennonite background to shame in their willingness to be obedient to their King no matter the cost.

      Rosina, I would say that definition is basically true, but it isn’t the best definition. I don’t think the converse is true at all as; ‘Modesty is to bend into your surroundings.’I have thought that Christian dress should be such that people notice that something is different, but can’t quite put a finger on what it is, especially to someone whom the Spirit is drawing to himself. Jesus talked about speaking in such a way that the ones who had ears to hear, would hear. I would say we should be the same, in the things we say and what we do.

  • Luisa

    I really enjoyed the outlook of this blog. I’m no blogger, or professional or anything of the sort. I simply came across this through friends that shared it.
    For me, I had always been raised to be a “Christian” eventhough I was never thoroughly taught what that meant other than the basic ten commandments. I began to live my life as a teenager and college student with these basic biblical rules in my heart. But I always felt there was something missing. Somehow, I still felt empty, relationshipless with Our Heavenly Father. I came to a point where I met an ex-mennonite and he And I began dating. He has always expressed how being raised how he was, he was just taught to follow rules and he never truly understood any purpose behind any church rules in his specific childhood church. We agreed we needed to find a true church for us and our future family. We are now attending a Mennonite-bMennonite-based church and are both closer to God than we ever have been. He has learned what rules we must set for ourselves sometimes and why. And I have learned how to better apply some of the biblical teachings into my everyday life.
    If it is of any relevance, I now wear a veiling (not a bonnet-style because it was hardly practical) and I now longer wear pants. Only skirts and dresses. I have not changed at all who I am other than adding the step to include God and my beliefs before making important life decisions.
    I cannot say that I am “where I want to be” mostly because I believe that it is a continuous journey. But I will say that if I wouldnt have found the Mennonite culture, which I knew nothing about beforehand, I would not have found a closer spiritual relationship with Our Heavenly Father.
    To conclude, I feel that sometimes the Mennonite culture is what people need and are looking for, as myself.

  • If you google ‘traditional dress of Alsace’ and look at the images you might find it interesting that there are some remarkable similaries to Old Order Amish clothing styles. The differences are that the traditional clothing are ornamented with laces, bright colors and fancy details. One thing I found especially interesting is that the traditional head gear of the Alsace is an enormous bow like thing that women wore. I immediately thought of the intricate heart shaped caps of some Amish groups in PA. Isn’t that interesting? At one time in history, Amish Mennonites dressed in the local customs but did so in a plain unadorned way. As I understand from history, rules about dress weren’t introduced until the late 1800’s early 1900’s. But what was emphasized was humble yielded-ness so that the very mindset was that one wanted to identify with the group. We think very differently. We think of dress as an expression of our individuality. To ask someone to give up something as personal as what they wish to wear is incomprehensable. So what do we do?
    I think it depends on what ‘ Good News’ a new believer has been given. Is it the revivalistic gospel or the kingdom gospel?

    • That’s fascinating, Sharon!

      “At one time in history, Amish Mennonites dressed in the local customs but did so in a plain unadorned way. As I understand from history, rules about dress weren’t introduced until the late 1800’s early 1900’s.” This is my general impression, too, but I would like more sources to confirm my impression. Do you have any recommended resources for studying this switch in Mennonite approaches to dress?

      I’m still processing the kinds of ideas you raise in your closing sentences. I certainly agree that our individualism is often a problem, and the clothing (as many other things like music and hairstyles) is a way we express our uniqueness. But notice my switch in words from individualism to uniqueness. Is all expression of uniqueness individualism? Is the solution to individualism a requirement to group conformity in our outer looks? Can diversity of looks and humility coexist? Sometimes we form opinions about a person’s proud attitude from their unusual choice of clothes but then when we get to know them, we find their attitudes are not all that we feared. We don’t live in a monoculture as our forebears did, so can we really expect everyone in our churches should adopt one clothing culture or otherwise we conclude they are proud? On the other hand, I certainly agree that many seem to be using clothes to draw attention to themselves in immature ways. Perhaps for many of us on the male side of the house, simple modest jeans and T-shirt would be the modern equivalent of what the Mennos did with traditional Alsace attire? But how do we find a balance in our approach when we live in a multicultural setting that is far different from either 1600 Alsace or 1800 Pennsylvania?

      I certainly agree with your final suggestion that the kingdom gospel calls for a whole-person discipleship, which includes our clothing choices and the motivations for those choices. I think one starting place is to humbly and honestly ask each other, but without always assuming we already know the answer, “Why are you choosing to wear that?” When our heart motives get lined up with Jesus, our clothing choices will change, though not always in predictable ways.

      • I will need to think a bit about direct resources. What I know is what I’ve picked up reading various sources on Plain culture. One of the first articles I read quite a long time ago, and I think it was by Stephen Nolt, was about the plain culture of all early Americans. There was a general sense among most religious Americans that vanity and ornamentation were expressions of pride, not only in dress, but in lifestyle as well. That shift in general society came with the Industrial Age and automated machinery that could mass produce textiles and other goods including furniture. This gave general society a more materialistic outlook as ordinary people had access to affordable abundance. So the issue of clothing really is a first world problem, but the ideas of separation, humility, and modesty are age old.
        I think the worst thing a church can do is make a set of rules, either very strict as in ultra conservative, minimal as in BMA style, or nonexistent as in CMC style, then dust off your hands, and think well that’s taken care of and never address the old by very relevant principles of separation from the world, humility, and modesty again.
        Also, to another point you made about thinking something about a person until you get to know them and they are very different than they appear. I agree, piety is internal and attitudes of the heart matter very much, but we aren’t very Mennonite if we think that’s all that matters, are we? 🙂
        And then on a bit of a different note I want to share something I just came across. Not because it necessarily makes a point, but because I found it fascinating and I want to tell someone about it. 😊 http://plaincatholic.webs.com/

        • Thanks, Sharon. Another resource I know of, but haven’t yet read, is Melvin Gingerich’s Mennonite Attire through Four Centuries. I’m curious to learn more of why Mennonites moved from general exhortation about modesty in attire to a uniform standard.

          I could say more, but should devote myself to some other work right now. 🙂 God bless.

  • Asher, I’ve read your post and the comments following, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts as well. So, first, thinking about your title; “When You Want More Than Your Mennonite Distinctives”.My mind asks these questions; are we thinking about a distinctive theological stream? or are we thinking about a distinctive culture?
    If we are thinking about a distinctive Mennonite, or Anabaptist theological thought, I would ask this: How well do you know Anabaptist theology? Do you know the Anabaptist concept of Salvation? Do you know the Anabaptist view of the church? What makes Anabaptism distinct from Protestantism? Have you studied the history of what makes us “Mennonite” now?
    If you choose to go down this rabbit hole, and perhaps you have, you will find layers upon layers of realities that will challenge your way of thinking to the very core.

    If we are discussing Mennonite cultural distinctives, and I suspect we are, then here are my thoughts. I think culture is an expression of what we think. When we get to a place where our cultural distinctives don’t make sense, or seem to conflict with what we believe, then our thinking has changed and what we believe no longer supports what we do.

    Here is a bit of history in a nutshell. From the mid 1800’s Mennonites and Amish Mennonites were forced to figure out how to live in a modern world. Some in both groups chose to keep the old order or traditional way. Others chose to borrow from Revivalists, then Fundamentalists, and finally Evangelicals. The borrowing was thought to infuse Mennonite theological distinctives with spirituality. However, it succeeded in creating cultural distinctives that seem to make no sense with what we now believe as “Mennonites”, even conservative Mennonites. I think we basically have Mainline Protestant Mennonites/Amish Mennonites, Evangelical Mennonites/Amish Mennonites, Fundamentalist Mennonites/Amish Mennonites, and Old Order Mennonites/Amish Mennonites…there are only a few Anabaptist Mennonites/ Amish Mennonites….Maybe this last sentence will be challenged. 🙂

    • Chester Weaver

      Very perceptive, Sharon. Evidently you have done some homework, have done some thinking outside your local box, have allowed your soul to be stretched a bit in good ways. Somebody is caring for you. You are seeing the bigger picture, the picture that each of us is just a point in the flowing stream of history. In the providence of God each of us has arrived at this point of time and history, colored, shaped, molded, impressed, repulsed, invited, and influenced by people and events mostly beyond our control. God is asking us to sort all of this out in His fear. He has always placed people into a historical context; it is impossible to be otherwise. We are the product of our history whether we like it or not. The question is what we will do with the cards we have been given. Either we will rise to the challenge or be bowled over by the challenge. A person (or group) who becomes part of a renewal movement is like a boy on a tricycle running away from a mad dog; either he will pedal furiously forward while looking backwards at the dog and eventually wreck or he will keep his focus forward-looking for some kind of redemption and find deliverance.

      It has been well said that only people who have come to rest (to terms) with their tradition are able to transcend it. Otherwise reaction sets in with dire consequences.

      I note that many comments on this blog do not speak out of much experience. As I noted previously, I am witnessing the second round of similar thinking in my lifetime, the two separated by about fifty years. For those who may be interested in learning something of what it was like fifty years ago, I would recommend two resources. First, the book entitled God and Uncle Dale portrays the Mennonite Church of the 1960s in the context of a captivating story. This is the inside view. At the same time the public news network CBS News noted that changes were happening among Mennonites, did a week filming a documentary, and edited it down to 28 minutes of very perceptive commentary. It is so well done, so nuanced that one viewing cannot catch all the nuances. The documentary must be seen several times to get the entire message. It is amazing to me that the world had such perception about what was happening.

      In 2007 a book entitled Road Signs for the Journey, based on three surveys done in the Mennonite Church in 1972, 1989, and 2006 was published by Hearld Press. Incredible what has happened in 50 years! It is amazing to me that they published the incredible results. But now eight years later that book is already out of date but the picture of decline has not ended.

      As for me and my house we may not repeat that story. We were all set to do so. Providentially, my father along with many others knew that God had a better way, the way of heart-felt obedience to Christ, the way of a living relationship with Him. Thus we were spared so much. However, most of my people failed to chose the better way back then and are now suffering the consequences. Ideas always have consequences.

      • Anonymous

        Another good study is the history of the Lancaster Conference Mennonites. I work for a 64 yr. old man that remembers coverings and ordinations in his home congregation. Today the ministers are seminary graduates, very few if any coverings, nicotene and alcohol use and a band instead of congregational singing.

      • Thanks Chester. My journey in Anabaptism started about ten years ago when some pretty significant changes started happening in the CMC church I attend. What followed was a time of questions, what is going on? Why is this happening? One of the first books I got my hands on was David Bercot’s “Will the Real Heretics Stand Up?” Then followed with his “The Kingdom That Turned the World Upside Down”. It was like the refrain of an old song I haven’t heard for twenty years. See my parents left the OOA in the late 40’s and joined the Conservative Amish Mennonite Conference, then left that conference as a part of the early Conservative Movement to the Conservative Mennonite Fellowship. It seemed in my growing up years I heard a lot of reaction to liberalism, and a lot of turmoil in church politics. But I also heard the message of the kingdom and other Anabaptist teaching from our bishop Dan J D Byler. Since then I have spent most of my life in a Conservative Conference church.So when I read these books, it was like the refrain of an old song I haven’t heard for twenty years. This was what I grew up hearing, but without the baggage. So I began wondering, Can I look for answers and renewal by looking into Mennonite, Amish, and Anabaptist history, instead of the reactionary default and looking outside of my own faith stream? So I started poking around on the web. And the rest is quite literally a rabbit hole that I went down.:-) Do do read some things other than Anabaptist history and theology. I am currently quite smitten with N.T. Wright’s writings. 🙂 I have however, very recently read the book you recommended at AIC 2015, ‘Gospel versus Gospel’. Hopefully Dwight will share his thoughts on it and I hope to hear more discussion on it. This winter I also read the 100 year history of CMC “Together in the Work of the Lord’ by Nathan Yoder. I am still ruminating the implications of that book.

      • “A person (or group) who becomes part of a renewal movement is like a boy on a tricycle running away from a mad dog; either he will pedal furiously forward while looking backwards at the dog and eventually wreck or he will keep his focus forward-looking for some kind of redemption and find deliverance.”

        I think this statement says something of the promise and the potential peril of rooting our identity in our history. Promise because it is so helpful to know where we come from and how we got here, and peril because sometimes we are so busy looking back at history (the good or the bad) that we forget to fix our eyes primarily on Jesus and the good news of his redemptive work.

        I have noticed that the different people can study the same history and come to very different conclusions. For example, I have talked to someone who had connections with some of the characters in God and Uncle Dale, but who had a different “take” on some of that history than the author of the book presented. (I forget the details by now, but think the difference in interpretation had to do with how church authority was used.)

        Another example is that fascinating CBS documentary. It is definitely worth watching! Yet it leaves me with many unanswered questions. Especially this: What was being taught in the biblical studies classes at Goshen College at the time, and how did this impact the core beliefs of Mennonite students and preachers at the time? I understand that there was already a significant loss of trust in the historical trustworthiness of Scripture among the faculty. How did this impact the evident loss of conviction about obedience to NT commands? If you don’t believe Scripture is a trustworthy record of what Jesus said and did, or of how God moved through the apostles to provide a foundation for the church, then you won’t be too concerned about obeying it. How does that impact what lessons we should draw for today from the documentary? For, example, what about people today who choose to set aside some of Mennonite traditional culture but who still hold to a very high view of Scripture? Are the dynamics really the same now as then? Certainly some today are tragically losing trust in Scripture, whether through unbelieving scholarship or because they don’t want to admit how Scripture speaks to their own sinfulness, but others (for example, the Biblical Mennonite Alliance leadership) are both (a) very purposefully choosing not to retain a regulated uniform attire because (in part, if I understand correctly) they feel it often hinders the development of personal convictions and open accountability, and also at the same time (b) very intentionally promoting a high view of Scripture and submission to it. Those dynamics look different to me than the dynamics that are displayed in the CBS documentary. We must certainly learn lessons from this history. But should we also exercise caution in saying “this is that” when comparing present outward actions to historical outward actions? Might the underlying beliefs and motives sometimes be significantly different? Might the longterm results thus also be different?

        The challenge of interpreting history is also demonstrated by the book Gospel Versus Gospel. I was reading from this again today. It is very interesting and helpful! Yet so far my interpretation of the events described in the book is a little different from the author’s interpretation, and a little different from your interpretation Chester, and a little different from George Brunck II’s interpretation (who felt the book dangerously misrepresented the true Gospel). So to base a current course of action on appeals to the past is a difficult thing! We can’t simply point at a set of events and say “See!” We also need to interpret those events and convince others that our interpretations are largely accurate. And as we do the task of interpretation, it is very helpful to hear from a variety of voices; I am in partial agreement with all the interpreters of Gospel Versus Gospel that I named, for example.

        The NT church can help us see how to think about history. On the one hand, they understood themselves to be part of a long history of God dealing with his people, and they drew important lessons about obedience from that history. They also imitated the ethical lives of the apostles–a tradition of working hard, for example. On the other hand, they did not look to a traditional church culture or to outward uniformity or to church-wide standards to provide stability and help their church members live holy lives. Rather, they pointed repeatedly to Christ and urged each other to “walk worthy” of their Savior and their calling. Paul’s vision of spiritual maturity is one who can lay aside his own cultural preferences for the sake of the gospel. That looks like relativity to some, and it is–it is making everything relative to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is exactly as it should be.

        A friend (J. Mark Horst of Heralds of Hope) just posted this on Facebook today: “Fellowship in the N.T. basically means sharing and self-sacrifice with other believers. As N.T. scholar J.R. McRay has noted, “Fellowship in the early church was not based on uniformity of thought and practice, except where limits of immorality or rejection of the confession of Christ were involved.” Christianity Today 1988″

        So I much agree with this way forward: “the way of heart-felt obedience to Christ, the way of a living relationship with Him.” I don’t think we should confuse this with either a license to sin or an historical culture, no matter how wonderful ours has been in so many important ways.

        Last comments: We can learn so much from each other on this thread! I want to thank those of you who have reminded us to be humble and to keep hearts tuned to worship of Christ. I need that reminder as I ponder questions like these. I long for a deeper personal walk with our Lord.

        • Dwight, thanks for sharing this. And posing these questions. This is so much in alignment with the heart of the original questions.

    • Sharon, thanks for commenting.

      My questions are primarily asking about the way we apply the principle of modesty, for instance. Most conservative Mennonites would say it should be a flowing dress. Does using that application make unnecessarily difficult for people (thinking of new disciples) to practice modesty?

      (Refer to the question of my post:
      “Is the way we apply scripture the problem? Should we change what kind of veil our ladies wear, whether women can wear pants and men can wear shorts? Should we taboo our hymnals and bring in the band?”)

      But then taking that further and wondering, if it’s okay for someone else to apply modesty differently than we apply it, does that means we should change our application? Is a dress a wrong or unnecessary application?

  • Justin Bontrager

    This reminds me of Matt 12:43-45 where it talks about an unclean spirit leaving a person and returning and finding it empty. It says the last state of that man is worse than the first. If we simply get rid of things we will become worse than we were. But if we fill ourselves with something better then we will be better than what we were.

    I believe that there are a lot of unnecessary rules in the Mennonite circles, but the answer is not to get rid of them. I believe the answer is to be ok with getting rid of the unnecessary things and then filling your life with the Spirit and Love of God so that there is not room for the unnecessary things.

    If we are determined to hold on to the traditions so that we are “Mennonite” and at the same time trying to fill ourselves with something better then I don’t believe we will get anywhere. Are the traditions that make us “Mennonite” wrong? I don’t think so but I know they aren’t necessary. (they aren’t in the Bible) It’s not wrong for someone to wear a straight cut coat to church, but is it right to say that if you want to be a part of us and take communion with us then you have to wear a straight cut coat? We say we don’t have a monopoly on truth but we live like we do. We say we aren’t the only church but we live like we are. We live like unity is looking alike and that is not what scripture would say.

    I think most people believe that Jesus dressed in heaven pretty much like the culture He was born into before He was born into this world. He DIDN’T. Concerning His outward appearance He became like the culture He was born into. I believe if He would have been born into todays world, He wouldn’t have looked like an Amish guy. He wouldn’t have stood out from the crowd like we do. To quote Jim Patroski (not sure on that spelling) “We have become this quaint little people with no relevance to the world”. I grew up in Shipshewana IN and LOTS of crazy tourist would come in to see the Amish. And very little actual witnessing was ever accomplished by that. There were people that thought it was cool that they got to “touch an Amish” tho. That doesn’t sound like making disciples to me. John the baptist on the other hand dressed very differently than the culture did. He was an oddity. But we are not John’s disciples, are we? We are supposed to be Christ’s and as was said earlier in this discussion we are also supposed to follow Paul as he followed Christ.

    Do we have to become like the world to win the world. I don’t believe so. But we do need to be relevant (and I know some people are scared of this word but I’ll still use it here) to the world. Here is a definition of relevant: having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand. Does an Amish guy have any relevance in the technical world that we live in? He couldn’t very well tell you the dangers of the internet.

    I could go on for a long time on this subject and the many bunny trails that go off from it. But I will quit here for now and just say as I said earlier. We don’t need or want to get rid of things. We need to be filled with the Spirit and Love of God and be ok with doing whatever He asks us to do. And not fear man (other Mennonites) when it’s different than what tradition would dictate.

  • Anthony Mast

    After reading my own comments I realize they weren’t very clear or always uplifting. My apologies.
    What I an trying to say is if the “Mennonite distinctives” are man made they are worthless. However if God is leading you there and He is working that out with you, that is where you need to be. Where I see the issue is when it is a certain group of people that make rules and regulations that they know doesn’t have anything to do with righteous living, it’s just a rule.
    Could you say that if you’re sorting this out with Jesus that He would show you these things? If it wasn’t for men telling you these things (outside of your father/family[and some of those aren’t that great either]) would you still agree or do these things? If you are walking with Jesus and walking along side those He has called you to love on for a period of time and there was none that “looked” like you would you still be the same? These are questions that are still relevant to me even though I don’t have these distinctives.

    Learning to lived loved in the Father’s affection.

    I’m still not sure if my thoughts came out the way I wanted, but here it is.

    • Anthony,

      thanks for considering how your comments come across. I know it is difficult to write what you’re trying to communicate and have it sound appropriate to. I struggle with it, myself. 🙂

      I think your questions are good ones to consider. Thanks for challenging us with them.

  • Matt Miller

    A crooked line doesn’t know it’s crooked until it’s held beside a straight line, our measurement of truth needs to be based on Jesus Christ, and Him alone, not on an anabaptist patriarch, if we were to take all of the Catholic thinking out of our Anabaptist lenses of reading and applications of the bible we might be back on track with the apostles in applications and being able to effectively reach the lost .
    I understand and respect a lot of you elderly peoples insight, but I wonder if we truly understand where we got off track?

    • It’s kind of too bad we’re not Calvinist so we could believe that God will save who he wants to save and all we have to do is tell the lost that they are lost, so then we wouldn’t have to worry about being effective, right?

  • Marlin Beachy

    It’s interesting to read of the different experiences and what each has learned from them. I understand the angle to the questions Asher presented. Having been close to the point of planting a church in a non mennonite background environment leads to this kind of questioning.

    I as well grew up in an environment of home and church where sound fundamental biblical truths were lived and taught. By God’s grace I adhere to His ways each and every day. Yet I have seen so often a shift of balance between a way of life vs. The Way of life. How does someone look like he’s supposed to look, talk as he should talk, do as he should do yet can’t love his neighbor as himself or know how to get along with his own people? I am in complete support of living according to the principles of God’s Holy word but, it’s dangerous when a way of life becomes our salvation so to speak. Are we serving a way of life or serving God? Are they synonymous? What’s missing??

    I look at the life of Jesus and how He related to “sinners” versus how we look at women today who don’t wear a veiling or wear pants or men that wear shorts etc.. Jesus responses were wise and Spiritually indicative of where a person was in his spiritual life. Of course Jesus was God and knew the condition of a persons heart. We don’t have that ability, yet I believe so much of what is lacking in anabaptist practice today is the discernment of the Holy Spirit.

    When Jesus stood up for the women at the well He wasn’t justifying her sinfulness, but He wasn’t condemning her either. He was ministering to her on her level so to speak. I do believe we can be overbearing to a fault sometimes in drawing a hard line leaving no room for the work of the Holy Spirit. We need be able to Spiritually discern what a persons real need is. I do believe understanding can come through obedience, yet there is something to be said for the Holy Spirit completing a work in one’s heart versus mere obedience to a command.

    On the day of Pentecost when thousands were saved and many brought into the church daily, the emphasis was on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Don’t get me wrong, I am well grounded and firmly uphold the anabaptists doctrines, but if the anabaptist way of living is what some believe it is, why can’t we be as effective as we should be in reaching the lost, healing the sick and making the lame to walk again. Jesus admonished us to be Holy as He is Holy and to be perfect as He is perfect. Our way of thinking may or may not have anything to do with His holiness and perfection! In summation, we can only be what He is in us!

  • John Miller

    This is very interesting to me
    We left a conversative old order Amish chuarch to have the freedom to share the gospel without having to explain a lot of things that could not be explained clearly from scripture.
    With in two years there was a division because some wanted to bring in rules to make some of the fruit spiritual.
    It doesn’t work.
    Today the church looks how they wanted to but the fruits of the spirit are loosing out.
    Families are leaving because the peace of God is not active
    It all comes back to laying down our thoughts and life for the Lord
    Being his hands and feet.
    Being effective takes a lot of serving others with humility.

  • Al Yoder

    I would like to thank Tanya Bethany & Phil for their testimony on this discussion. To us as born into the Anabaptist camp. Why does it often take those that have left the world culture to tell us to;” wake up and smell the coffee.!” The real seekers out there are looking for ” REAL ” ethenic substance in a broken world . ” We as Anabaptists would like the fruit, but are many times not willing to take care of the rootstock to produce the fruit.” May we be gracious and learn from each other.

  • Phil Haines

    I too found this because someone posted a link on Facebook.
    Background: I don’t look through the same glasses many of you do. I attended a Mennonite church until age 7 and then we moved to Detroit and I attended public school and of course no longer attended a Mennonite church. By the time I graduated from high school I was an average American teenager. I had seen all the movies, knew all the popular music, dressed in shorts, etc. I remember one time being asked to quote a Bible verse and couldn’t even get John 3:16 right.
    In college I picked up my Bible and started reading it for the first time. I made a list of verses I thought were commandments, verses of inspiration, verses of warnings, verses of promises, etc. I remembered the preaching I had heard from the Mennonite church and started to realize much of the Bible is left out in today’s Protestant churches. It was at this time I went through an intense personal struggle. I could put this away and continue on the path to a successful career and “happy” life. I could do this and still be a Christian like so many in America. Or I could take the path that spoke of a strait gate and narrow way. A way that involved coming out and being separate. A way that included self denial and taking up the cross.
    It was at this time David Bercot’s book Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up was published and someone gave me a copy. I read how the early Christians understood what being a follower of Christ involved. It was a radical either/or and not both in following Christ and the world. I was at a decision point. What does following Christ really mean? Couldn’t I have an authentic relationship with Jesus and a successful professional career or do I need to follow Christ first and turn my back on the world?
    Asher I would take issue with your statement “Other people who have authentic relationships with Jesus aren’t necessarily wearing the veiling or dressing in dresses.” How do you know they really have an authentic relationship with Jesus? Sure they might have a good testimony to give and can have real worshipful experiences but is that all it takes to have an authentic relationship? As has already been mentioned talk is cheap but I want to know the fruits. Can a Christian be divorced and remarried? Can they enjoy the cesspool of lust produced by Hollywood? Can they enjoy sports more than a good sermon? Can they watch a little porn as long as no one finds out? Can they tell “little” lies as long as it keeps them out of trouble? Can they spend the Lords day in work and recreation?
    You see although my last name is Haines my mom had been a Yoder. Her parents were married in the Amish church. However they soon left it and started on a path away from the “rules” that they felt bound them. They were the type that considered Amish and conservative Mennonites their mission field. They were in the mainstream Mennonite church and looked down on those who held standards. They had a glowing testimony for the Lord. Probably most would say they had an authentic relationship with Jesus. Yet most of their grandchildren have nothing for Christianity. They drank and partied the night before grandpa’s funeral. Although he was a real church going man they have nothing for his Christianity. Why? Because they saw he was half carnal and half Christian and they knew it was hypocritical. They threw away the half Christian part and chose only the carnal part.
    Noah was a preacher of righteousness yet how many was he able to save in his generation. How relevant was he and what influence did he have on society? It’s not in the numbers but it’s in the faithfulness. In our conservative Mennonite church we have a young girl (22) who has a life story that can make you cry. She too grew up in the world and never heard of the Mennonites. Yet she has been converted and can’t understand why young people would ever leave the Mennonites. This is where truth is and not in living a half Christian/half carnal life. No we won’t be able to attract the crowds and have mega churches. But that’s not what we are after. We are after authentic relationships that truly understand what it means to follow Christ.
    I know many of you see through different glasses where all you have heard preached is rules and have not experienced being forgiven much. I encourage you to go back to the early Christian writings (first 3 centuries) and see how they understood a Christian should live. The closest replica today in America is found in the conservative Anabaptist churches.

    • Chester Weaver

      Thanks, Phil.

      You know what you are talking about. You now have eyes that see and ears that hear. Keep talking!

    • Dave H

      Phil Haines, I enjoyed what I read in your comments and it is truly awesome that God can move in the lives of people like us and bring us from darkness into His Light. My experience in the “conservative mennonite” (I don’t capitalize either word for good reason) circles was one of spiritual abuse, witnessed homosexuality as a young boy, physical abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual threats from church leadership, etc., etc., all in the name of God and “holiness”. I am sure this also happens in what is being called “liberal churches” in this blog. My biggest issue with the different anabaptist churches I grew up in is the leaderships inability to acknowledge, confess and repent of the sins listed above, among many other sins which is what I will call 100% hypocrisy. I have also commited terrible sins that hurt my heart, but God in His Love kept persueing me until I saw where I was without Him, that I needed Jesus’ Blood to be cleansed, that I needed The Holy Spirit to fill me so I can walk in victory (not perfection or adherance to rules over and above His Word) over sin and death because of His resurrection (being raised again). I cannot judge people, but I can judge peoples actions and I personally have never witnessed greater hypocricy than in the conservative mennonite, old order and amish church settings. I personally know several people who will perish eternally thanks to similar experiences to my own, except for Grace and Gods Love which only ends when the last breath is taken and a soul is not yet yeilded to Christ. I witnessed many “rich young rulers” in this setting except the one thing holding them back from walking with God was not money, but their heritage i.e. plain clothes, the veil, no radio, no TV, no ______ fill in the blank. Like the pharisees, the church leaders make non-biblical rules to be followed (some even unGodly) and they (the laymen) obey the church leaders (wolves in sheep’s clothing) and all the manmade rules (many of them based on scripture taken completely out of context – 2 Peter 3:16) above what should be their relationship with Christ which is what Jesus despised so much about the religious elite of His day. Like the rich young ruler, they appear to “do” everything right, but they have no RELATIONSHIP with Jesus personally which is evident in their lack of interest in seeing other people be FREE in Jesus, but rather have others (the world – anyone not part of their church fellowship) follow the rules so they too can “appear” to be “Christlike”. A life bought with and cleansed by the Blood of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized by (literally means “immersed in”) water will produce spiritual Fruit (Galatians 5:22,23), not just diciplines, will be involved in making disciples (sowing seed, watering or harvesting), will suffer persecution for the gospels sake (2 Timothy 3:12 – being made fun of for dressing different does not qualify if the relationship with Jesus is not there) and will, by Gods Grace (not the clothing or followed rules) be God honoring and endure to the end.

  • I’m very hesitant to comment anything after these great learned minds, but I will offer just a couple observations from my limited personal experience.
    -I think we can easily lump all things together that make us Mennonite, and consider them all in one light. Then, if we decide that as a whole it is not beneficial, poof! Out the window with everything. In reality, Mennonites are who they are from a mix of literal scriptural interpretation and tradition. Should we really consider them in the same light? In my perspective, it isn’t fair to talk about the veil or modesty or nonresistance in the same breath as what type of veil, what type of dress, accapella singing, etc.
    -In light of that, I have never found holding to literal scriptural interpretation to be a barrier to unbelievers. I think we tend to think they are a barrier more than they really are. For instance, as a young woman I tend to think that people look at my veiling and skirts as too weird. However, I have found on my college campus and workplace that if I am open and friendly, they will be too. I am treated no different than anyone else. It’s when something becomes about what “my church says” that eyebrows really get raised.
    -So I’m beginning to wonder if we as a young generation, in our concern over the focus on externals, have ourselves become overly focused on externals. Mennonites judge other Mennonites for how they look and sing and so forth, but the world really does judge us for how we engage with them. I wonder if we will find that an open loving attitude that reaches out will go much farther in winning disciples than discarding our beliefs or even our traditions.

    • Right on Tanya Bethany! I wish there were more young people with as much insight as you’ve just demonstrated here.

    • Chester Weaver

      Tanya Bethany,

      Well said! Often young people create their own problems. Out there, authenticity, humility, honest conviction, moral purity, modesty, consistency, simplicity, and unashamed identification with Christ and His church are often admired in young people. Sometimes it is ridiculed. But so what! Jesus taught us that we would receive all kinds of opposition as His loyal disciples.

    • Tanya,

      thanks for commenting. I believe you nailed it!

  • Chester Weaver

    Worship

    “I delight to do thy will, O God.”
    “For I say … to everyone among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think”
    “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
    “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
    “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for [Mennonites] that they may be saved.”
    “And may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.”
    “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition
    “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.
    “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every one according to his work…. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

  • Vicki Baer

    At the risk of this being lost in all the other great comments and replies, one of the things I think about a lot is that Jesus didn’t need to be counter-culture to reach his people, he became one of them, in humility. Isn’t humility pretty key? I’m not advocating dressing or behaving in ways that are distracting or take away from the message we present. Also, I think that depending on where and with whom we are sharing our message, dressing Mennonite can be just as distracting as dressing immodestly, although I’d venture to guess its for different reasons. Humility again, I think.

  • Anthony Mast

    So if found this because someone posted it and it showed up in my newsfeed on facebook.

    Background: Born and raised in a Beachy Mennonite congregation. Now do not identify with a denomination. (actually don’t attend a Sunday morning service and haven’t for about 7 years)

    I am learning to live in Father’s affection. Looking from the “outside” back in, it really is sad to me. Some of the “rules” that i got in trouble for have long changed and are no longer an issue. For me it is hard to take anyone seriously when this happens. Stop erecting fences to hem people in. It’s all about control. When you erect these fences, “guardrails” if you will, they do keep people in but they also keep people out. Why can’t we just put the fence posts down and let Jesus deal with these people. Are we afraid that Christ can’t build His Church like He said He would? Are we afraid that someone will do something that we really want to do, but call it sin, and they aren’t going to get punished for it? Are we afraid that Jesus can’t iron out the wrinkles of our neighbor? Well He can and He will, in His timing.
    When Jesus rose from the dead it took away the need for the laws of the Jews, such as priesthood, sacred places, etc. Why then do we appoint “people” to be our go between and our leaders? Why do we call our “buildings on the corner” churches, or sacred places. When reading scripture, don’t apply Church to “the building on the corner”. It doesn’t mean the same thing.
    I know I’m all over the board here and I don’t even know if I’m still on topic.

    I’m glad I wasn’t eating or drinking though when I read this:

    “Yes, the Gospel way lies between the errors and baggage of Old Orderism and Mennonite liberalism.”

    It would have been a mess to clean up. I don’t know if you meant it this way, but it came across as “this is the sweet spot and I have found it.” It may be for you. If that is where God is truly calling you than by all means be there.

    All this being said, I may be totally nuts. Just sayin. I just want people to live in freedom in Christ. This is what I’ve found and want others to have the same. It pains me to see people in bondage.

    I also know that love has a better track record than being argumentative.

    I like what was said about the principles. We can take any verse or verses and pull out a principle and build a religion around it. It stays religion though and religion is empty. If you read the Bible as a love letter to you to show you how much you are loved, it reads totally different than from the perspective of a rule book. God is not sitting up in Heaven with a big stick with a nail in it waiting for you to mess up. He is incredibly crazy about you and especially fond of you.

    PS. Did you know that there are people out there that consider the Amish and Mennonites their mission field?

    • Anthony Mast

      This would be much easier to express sitting down with someone one on one over a cup of coffee or a beer. Writing isn’t really my thing, but i enjoy a good discussion.

  • Karlin

    “I wonder why Mennonites are so ineffective when it comes to engaging culture?”

    It seems like at least part of the problem is not being willing to meet with people where they’re at, in the midst of their sin or whatever, and helping them to grow. You mentioned Mennonites struggling to differentiate between sin and preferences, and I think that’s part of the problem, but regardless of whether someone is doing something sinful or just different, it seems like Mennonites struggle to allow imperfect people into the church. I really don’t mean that statement to be antagonistic, just an observation.

    I think though that that issue of “getting in the trenches” with people and loving them in the midst of their sin and helping them to grow, and not excluding them until they’ve reached a certain level, is not only a Mennonite issue. That’s a struggle for any Christian in any church anywhere. It’s a struggle for me, even though I’ve been needy of, and the recipient of, that kind of love many times, so it should be easy to pass on, right? Nevertheless, it seems perhaps it’s more of a tendency in Mennonite churches. People are expected to check x, y, and z off a list before they can become members of a church; x, y, and z being, in my opinion, mainly non-essentials or at best, applications that a young Christian may not have reached yet.

    I think your point about differentiating between sin and preference is important too. This is just my 2 cents, but it seems to me that that is why it’s so easy for young people who leave conservative churches, or start to go more liberal or whatever, to lose everything else Biblical too. If the type of your lapel is held up as a Biblical command, and you find that you can throw that out without any repercussions, then perhaps Mennonite doctrine on divorce, for example, (which I think is much closer to being Biblical) doesn’t really matter either, and we can throw that out too.

    I appreciate this post, and wanted to contribute what I could to the discussion, but I hope to share these thoughts humbly. I’ve really enjoyed reading other posts of yours too, Asher. You inspire and encourage me.

    • Anthony Mast

      I just heard the example today of a baby learning to walk. As parents we rejoice and are crazy about our kids when they are learning to walk. Baby walks, falls down. “YAAAAAYYY!!” But when a person accepts Christ they mess up and we’re there to beat them up and say no no no, this is the way you do it.

      The preferences is just a group of people having control over another. Nowhere are we commanded to do that. Walk along side, yes.

    • Karlin, thanks for sharing. I believe you’re right–we don’t always do well at loving people where they’re at and getting in the trenches with them. Thanks for contributing!

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  • Al Yoder

    First Things First by Witmer:
    Excellent thought … A heart that seeks and longs after God must first have a broken and a contrite heart. As I move around in the everyday world today, people are looking for ethenic and real people that have some Godly supptance to it, whether it is how we appear, and also how we respond to a broken world out there. In many cases sadly we have isolated us from ” them.” We as a church have allowed walls to be build to those who are out there and also between ourselves. When we sense that there are walls being build to keep in or keep out, we must make sure there there are openings where there is freedom to pass. The Anapabtist have a wonderful foundation , but we have also created some of our own rubble that we walk in and stubble around in. ( Lehman ) I also would like to say that I appreaciate you as a younger group that are willing to grapple with the issues in our day.

    • Anonymous

      Why focus on man made rules and traditions when we really need to focus on making more disciples and follow Jesus teaching because we are all to be disciples if you consider to be a Christian

      • I don’t think it’s an either or thing.

      • Anthony Mast

        You must be young and fear repercussions of saying such a statement. 🙂 I don’t blame you. I used to be that way. Let me encourage you though, don’t stop asking questions. Question everything, even the very existence of God. He will reveal Himself to you. Ask “why” about everything.

        • Anthony,

          Thanks for sharing your comments and concerns. There’s a lot we can learn. I would ask you to consider how your tone comes across, especially in this last comment. Our words are to build-up, not tear down by belittling other people. Thanks for hearing me out.

      • Anonymous

        Asher, I’m sure my comments weren’t all uplifting. The crazy thing about written words is that it’s only about 10% of the actual communication with the rest being tone, expression, and body language etc. With writing not being my gift it is hard to find the way to express my thoughts the way I want them to read. So yes, my apologies.
        You do write very well and you posed some great questions. God bless you on your journey.

  • First Things First for Faithful Fellowships

    In the book of Genesis we find a motif put forward that we find supported throughout the rest of Scripture. It has to do with the Tree of Life versus the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The context is God and His first followers—two people whom He had just made—on a cool walk through the garden. You could say it was the first place God ever met with His people. The first church if you please. It wasn’t a house church (there was no house), but a home fellowship. And their home was a garden… the Garden of Eden. This is where God met with them.

    The Tree of Life—along with all the other trees in the garden—was wide open for them to eat from. But one particular tree in the middle of the garden God specifically commanded them not to eat from: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Why would this be? Why did God go to the bother of making a tree—bearing obviously delicious fruit—but then tell them not to eat from it? God’s answer was pointed, though to our curious minds somewhat lacking in detail. He simply said, “You will surely die.”

    That should be enough to keep us a long ways away from trying to feast from this tree! If someone pointed to a delicious smelling bottle of liquid and said, “If you drink this, you’ll die,” every one of us with healthy minds would promptly turn away. Or if you were standing at the top of a cliff and someone pointed to the beautiful valley below but said, “Don’t move toward it because the moment you do you’ll plummet to your death.” Would you promptly step off the cliff? Not if you’re in your right mind. No, you’d back away and the mere thought of ever stepping over that cliff would make your head spin.

    Because they were forbidden to feast from a source of knowledge does not suggest that there’s something wrong with knowledge. All knowledge originates with God. In fact the book of Proverbs highlights knowledge and implores us to get wisdom and get understanding. There’s a proper place for knowledge, but only after we have first feasted from the Tree of Life and ingested God’s goodness into our beings will we be able to handle knowledge. Jesus said, “They that worship me must worship me in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). Notice the sequence? Spirit first, then truth. The Apostle Paul in clarifying priorities wrote, “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). Again, there’s an order listed; a proper sequence. Power first, then wisdom.

    Any church that is birthed from a craving lust for knowledge of good and evil will surely die. God has promised it so! But one that is born from a hunger for the very life of God will thrive! It cannot do otherwise for it’s His life at work. And it will be a reproducing life. Life propagates more life in others. True life multiplies like the living organism it is. It is born again, and again, and again in the lives of everyone around it.

    The Tree of Life is where we feast. It is a place of worship. But if we worship the wrong thing we get in trouble. That’s why Adam and Eve were cast out of that beautiful Garden of Eden. They got their worship wrong! They thought Satan was the one worth listening to (worthship = worship) when he slithered up to them and suggested God didn’t really know what He was talking about. In his subtle way he convinced them that in fact such knowledge would be exactly what they’d need in order to survive in this world God gave them—the exact opposite of what God had said. He stoked their lust for knowledge… the knowledge of good and evil: “In the day you eat thereof you will be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

    The Tree of Life is the place for feasting! True knowledge will follow. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the place of following—not feasting. It is the place of obedience. By not eating from such a place we obey God and if we eat from it we disobey. But obedience was not the first issue. Wrong worship was. Disobedience followed wrong worship. By worshiping Satan and thinking his word was worth listening to (worthship) instead of what God had said, Adam and Eve disobeyed. And they died. And “as in Adam all died…” (1 Corinthians 15:22) so we have died too. In fact, unless we are made alive again in Christ, we will never understand even this simple principle, just like Adam and Eve could not grasp it.

    Worship is the path to obedience! If we get our worship right, obedience will follow. But if our worship is wrong, it produces nothing but disobedience and doing things our own way. So for a real church to be birthed, it has to be born from the Tree of Life.

    Most churches struggle and die today because they are born from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They exist because someone got all hung up over a piece of knowledge somewhere; over some evil they were convinced should be avoided, or over some good they thought they could not live without. And so a church was born. But since they were feasting at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were set up to die because God has said they would. Before long—and it’s amazing how sure this is (but then again, why are we surprised that God knows what He’s talking about)—before long they are squabbling and scrambling around in the branches of the Tree of Knowledge because none of us have perfect knowledge or understanding of exactly what is good or of what truly represents evil. Before long, everyone is dead. They may still prop themselves up and mechanically go through some prescribed motions, but in reality they are dead, just like Adam and Eve died though they kept right on going through the motions of living.

    Let’s keep our priorities right. Let’s keep first things first and secondary things secondary. If we do, the fellowships formed around us will be both life-givingly contagious AND faithfully refreshing reminders to everyone that God knows what He’s talking about; that He is worth listening to; that real obedience is born from a heart of worship.

    • Dad, thanks for sharing this powerful truth! That’s the heart of it all: where’s our worship? This whole discussion could end in life if we focus on Jesus, or it could end in death if we focus on getting things just right (knowledge).

  • Jethro, I don’t think we can equate “boundaries that keep people in” with “boundaries that keep people out.” Really though in the broad span of your comment it made sense to me and I get it.

    I agree, there are boundaries that keep people out. The issue is “which boundaries are important enough.” In my mind “I don’t want to join that church because I don’t want to wear a covering.” is different from “I don’t want to join that church because I don’t want to wear a cape dress.” Others disagree. Hence this blog post.

  • You mentioned “Sometimes it feels like our particular interpretations and applications of scripture, as Mennonites, make it impossible for others to join our churches unless they completely abandon their background.” Also, I believe you implied we should consider the wisdom in clinging strongly to certain Mennonite customs if they’re not directly expressed in Scripture. I’d like to share some thoughts I’ve had on that.

    Alright, so conservative Mennonites often talk about setting up “guardrails” in certain areas. We often recognize that these guardrails are not clearly expressed in Scripture, but we feel it is still probably a good idea to keep them so we don’t stray off the road. Now I want to run with that illustration.

    Think about it. In the literal, driving part of this illustration, there are plenty of places along the road where there aren’t guardrails. At these places, you still don’t want to drive off the road, but if you do, it probably won’t result in major damage. It’ll shake you up, but you might be able to simply drive out of the field back onto the road, and you will continue on your way being much more alert and a much more attentive driver. Another thing worth noting about guardrails is that while it makes it much more difficult for people on the road to drive off the road, it ALSO makes makes it almost impossible for someone who is not on the road to drive onto the road. And a third point is that putting up guardrails does not make a person a better driver. It doesn’t solve the primary problems with a poor driver, it only treats the externals and consequences. Damage control, if you will.

    Now let’s go back to the figurative side of this whole guardrail analogy and try to draw a few points. 1) If a church implements standards about every possible thing (ie builds guardrails along the fields instead of just the cliffs) it will result in a long wall that creates an unnecessary barrier for anyone who is not a Christian, but wants to become a Christian and begin fellowshipping at such a church. 2) If a church sets up guardrails relating to every little detail, it is entirely possible that members will continue looking good and they will keep doing what their church asks but they still are not Christians. (ie they keep looking good because they’re still on the road, but they’re crashing into the guardrail all the time.)

    If someone has a conservative (in the literal sense; desiring to conserve what already is) viewpoint, they won’t hesitate to build all the guardrails they need to keep people on the road. If it makes it harder for other people to get on the road, that’s a price worth paying. If someone has a progressive view, they will want to keep guardrails (ie extra-Biblical standards) to a minimum to make it as easy for people to get on the road as possible. That doesn’t mean paving the entire field and telling people they’re OK where they’re at, but it does mean not erecting artificial barriers that make it harder for people to get on the road God has already paved.

    So maybe I took that analogy way too far, and maybe it made more sense in my head and won’t make sense to anyone reading this. However, I think there are things to learn by looking at guardrails from the perspective of someone who is not on the road (ie not a Christian).

    • Jetro, you make a valid illustration. I really like this point and believe it’s worth our attention: “Putting up guardrails does not make a person a better driver. It doesn’t solve the primary problems with a poor driver, it only treats the externals and consequences.”

    • Anonymous

      That’s a great way to put it ,thank you

    • Anonymous

      Well said jethro we all live by a standard whither the church makes it or we make i know i need brotherhood because of my humanity i need others to help me

      I don’t think blaming the mennonites
      As a whole gets us very far because we dont all have bad things to said about them. I don’t think mennonite
      Is the only way but i have not seen
      Any other way that promotes separation from the world as biblical as mennonite. That’s my thought. Maybe short term i think
      What i am trying to say is to often we become to conservative In are liberalism.
      Another thought I’d like to share is
      The thought of the doctrine of balam liberalism God didnt want him to go curse the people and God tried to stop him but he blamed the donkey for running him into the wall
      But that God let him go on in his rebellion balam knew it was wrong to curse the people.Let’s be careful in blaming the mennonites for our Experience. Just because U have had a bad experience cause there could easy be churches. That don’t have your experience. I hope u can make sense of what i am trying to say. I am not a writer. By trade. God bless u as you strive upward in faithfulness

  • Lynn Yoder

    Years ago I delivered a load of feed suppliments to a dealer who was also a Mennonite pastor in a local church. He knew my folks were “plain” an told me he felt compelled to make a comment and said, “do you think the world notices the ring your wearing, and don’t you think thats a poor testimony?” I answered, the world does not notice the ring because for them it’s not an issue, only plain people notice rings because they’re not allowed to wear them.
    We can discuss issues like whether our praise should be acapella or instruments, whether it should be hymns or a band with praise and worship music, but regardless of the format if we want our worship and praise to be scriptural then we must remember that God is Spirit and we must worship Him in spirit and in truth, otherwise the format whatever it may be will be meaningless and done in vain.
    How often is the answer in the Word, but we miss the answer because we’re asking the wrong question.

  • I can totally identify with your blog and I’m sure anyone in missions is sure to wrestle with these same questions. This is a battle that will not end. We need to figure out where We stand and then stand strong. As long as We question where We stand so will everyone else. If people are asking us why are we doing this like this and all we can say is cause we are Mennonite then we are sure have problems. one of the reasons for that is new believers want to be Christians not just Mennonites.

    the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments.

    1Jn 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
    1Jn 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
    1Jn 2:17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

    There are so many Scriptural reasons for doing what we do that we don’t have to shrug our shoulders and say cause we are Mennonite.

    There are also many spiritual conditions that cause constant strife. (antagonism, bitterness, not getting what we want (lust) and plain refusing to bare the cross.

    The culture of the Kingdom of God is not American or any other nationality. When people try to use that argument that we are trying to impose our culture on them I simply tell tell them we are as odd in the American culture as we are here. There is a quote I like by I think John McArthur. it says: Where did Christians ever get the idea they could win the world to Christ by imitating it? So my question is, as Mennonites do we have something the world needs or wants? To the point that they are willing to count the cost and are willing to cross the great divide and enjoy the price of a life submitted to Christ.

    Here is the sad part, there are many Mennonites that don’t even know the Gospel and their proper dress don’t even hide the works of the flesh. (filthy language, No love (don’t love their wives), lustful, addictions and anger) just to name a few. Some have learned that if you trust to much in the outward the one way to break free from that is to discard it and discard it they do. along with it they discard the gospels call to come out from among them (the world) and I will be your God and you shall be my people. The real issue here is a lack of the fear of God. Ye hypocrites, clean the inside then the outside will be clean also.

    I realize I didn’t answer the questions…..What should we do with _______________ found in their culture. (the covering, The Shorts, the TV – when your internet is worse and you name it.) If I’m not antagonistic, bitter, selfish, in the bondage of sin and seek to please Christ and seek peace and unity in the brotherhood how would I live if I came to Christs Church where you are in leadership. it could depend on where you take a stand. But if I am antagonistic, bitter, selfish, in the bondage of sin and do not seek to please Christ and do not seek peace and unity in the brotherhood I will leave and talk bad of you no matter how hard you tried make exceptions for me. Warning!! God hates syncretism.

    A lot of times something terrible bad happens and then afterwards a lot details of events leading up to the disaster come out that makes it no surprise as to what happened. Example(pastor leaves his wife for someone else. later details: he was counseling her at her house by himself… it started out so innocent……the end.

    Take heed to the parable of the sower……….. Soul leaves the Faith. Later details: soul didn’t understand the Word(Seed on trail)…….. Soul was offended when things got tough(rocky soil) ……Soul really loved his worldly pleasures(thorns choked it out) …… conclusion; we saw it coming we’re not at all surprised the soul left.

    I love the thrill that I get when I’m with Gods wonderful people.
    The way is narrow few there be that find it.

    Blessings,
    Nelson

    • mattlandis

      Nelson, I just wanted to say you make an excellent point with your comment “we are as odd in American culture as here”. When Jesus said what the kingdom of God would look like “the people were amazed”, not…oh, that’s normal.

  • Chester Weaver

    I’m sorry for coming on too strongly. Since I have been through this jungle before, the way seems clearer to me than it would to a younger person. I apologize.

    The issues that are being discussed all have a history; there is nothing new under the sun. I bless Dwight for reading some of it. I wish others would also, especially young people. In 2015 the wheel does not need to be reinvented. I have encountered people who in essence say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts; I have already made up my mind.”

    A mindset of “how can I be obedient to Christ?” is different from “how can I best win people to my church?” A mindset of being “effective” and “relevant” for Christ is different from radical loyalty to Christ. Radical loyalty to Christ openly acknowledges the distinctiveness of the Two Kingdoms and of the open enmity between them. “Whoever will be a friend of the world (adopts the values of the world) is the enemy of God.” As radical followers of Christ we must unhesitatingly love as Christ loved and reject hypocrisy, apathy, and lukewarmness as Christ did while being gentle with those who acknowledge their neediness and sinfulness. At the same time He exposed the Pharisees and Saducees for who they really were. We must ask why someone says, “Lord, Lord” and does not do the things He says. Love for Christ is radical in its loyalty to His Person, His values, His truth, and His clear direction. At the same time it does not crush the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax. Jesus did not coax people into His Kingdom; He told parables to sort the genuine from the false. Note what Jesus says about the purpose of His parables in Matthew 13.

    To me it is ironic that MCUSA is trying to impact US culture by lobbying with peace advocates on a political level while accomplishing little. At the same time the Amish forgive the Nickel Mines shooter and the moral example impacts the globe. Amishman Jonas Yoder refused to allow his children to go to high school, was taken to court, lost, got his case taken to the US Supreme Court and a landmark ruling was issued in 1972 which impacted the entire nation, granting unprecendented freedom for Christian schools and homeschools. Very few people ever bless God for Jonas Yoder while they rejoice in freedom to educate their children according to the dictates of their consciences. Rod and Staff Publishers pioneered in the Christian school curriculum market and profoundly impacted how Christian school curriculum was presented. Christian Aid Ministries is the Gold Standard for humanitarian work in Third World countries, actually earning themselves the envy of other organizations. These are recent examples off the top of my head. God alone knows more.

    Yes, some Anabaptist people are misguided in some of their efforts. Yes, the Gospel way lies between the errors and baggage of Old Orderism and Mennonite liberalism. But the best answer to all of these problems is not so much criticism as it is demonstrating the radical way of discipleship, of selflessness, first of all as an individual person, then as a family, then as a group (small or large). Talk is cheap; shouting “Hallelujah” is easy; godly behavior is not, suffering for godliness is not, Gelassenheit is not. These last three make impacts wherever they exist. One of the reasons that Anabaptism mushroomed at the beginning is because of the glorious dying the public witnessed. People were strongly attracted to a faith worth dying for. In their heart of hearts, people today are looking for a cause worthy of dedicating their lives to, something bigger than themselves, something authentic. They often are looking for something countercultural.

    Getting people to my church matters less than people seeing Christ living in me. In our dark world, the Christlife shines brightly wherever it actually exists. The world is hungry for authenticity, not for cheap religious talk and testimony.

    I hope I am not being cynical or arbitrary in my comments. Love does not operate that way. If I am, please inform me. I am passionate about these things and need others to keep me level. I have seen so much unnecessary loss to the Kingdom of Christ in my lifetime that I must do what little I can to prevent any more. I would love to assist potential losers to become winners!

    • No problem, Chester. I understand your heart. Thanks for the apology.

      I think you’re hitting on the tension that is here: while some non-Anabaptist churches are being more effective in making disciples (which what Christ calls us to), we also know that there are valuable parts of our heritage and we don’t want to just throw it all out.

    • Anonymous

      Great response Chester. If we have to look and act like the world to gain the world we’ve missed the goal and haven’t helped them find deliverance from anything.

    • Ellie

      “In their heart of hearts, people today are looking for a cause worthy of dedicating their lives to, something bigger than themselves, something authentic. They often are looking for something countercultural.”

      My question is, if this is true (and I think it is) why are there not people showing up on our church doorsteps? This is the question we wrestle with. What is wrong? Because people ARE looking for this. And they must not be finding, here, what they are looking for.

  • Al Yoder

    I would agree with Chester, that many of us have seen a repeat of this 50 years ago, and today there is very little happening in those liberal churches. The “Evangelicals ” have done a good job to pedal their soft and easy gospel to to our own Anabaptist generation today ! Perhaps not more than ” A feel good theology ” which will also pass by & by. In Jesus day they had the same problem. The cost of discipleship was to great. John 6:66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. It is truly sad in many ways, there seems to be a herd mentality among us. When one goes, we all want to follow. Menno Simons also taught that without a Holy Life a person has no right to claim salvation. Let’s ” Focus on the flowers and not the weeds.

  • Samuel Byler

    I believe the Mennonites focus to much on the institution of their church. If they could accept other Christians as God does, love them, have communion with Gods people regardless of how much they have learned or grown in the Lord. And focus more on teaching those who have come to Christ no matter how weak they are without giving up the scriptural principles they have been taught, then the church would grow.

    The purpose of the people of God to meet is to encourage each other to follow Christ and what that all means, and doing that without looking down or dispising those who have not understood the will of God, such as holy living and bible doctrine.
    Just my thoughts.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Samuel. I think you’re on to something. How do we get unchurched people to come to church? How do we engage with them?

  • mattlandis

    “Relevancy” and “effectiveness” are very tricky to define, and more so the longer you think about it.

    Is it numbers? By that definition “if Abraham really wanted to influence society he should have changed…”! Like maybe stop obeying crazy commands of God (or maybe get another wife…oops, he did try that) that only seemed to curtail his “effectiveness” in achieving what God *actually* wanted for him, namely a “great number” of descendants? And we do have an example of someone who was being “relevant” while Abraham was not—but unfortunately it was Lot! Interestingly not minding “numbers” as the definition of “effective” & “relevant” also undermines putting too much stock in the fact that “radical” Mennonites are overtaking acculturated Mennonites. But it does point out the irony that acculturated Mennonites, if using “numbers” as a gauge for “effectiveness” / “relevancy” has catastrophically failed. By this definition Jesus was “relevant” the day of the triumphal entry and quite “ineffective” the day of his death.

    Is it by making it “easier” to join the Kingdom of God? By being popular? It is interesting that when big crowds started following Jesus he seemed to up the “demands” of entering the Kingdom. His biggest audience was treated to sermon so radical and demanding that many Christian throughout history and even today think that is an impossible standard to live by!

    Is it by writing super popular, NYT best sellers? By this definition of “effectiveness” Christ was incredibly ineffective and ” he should have changed…”!

    Is it just staying alive and doing God’s work? Jesus said faithfulness to God meant allowing wicked men to kill him. Peter said this the most ineffective, irrelevant and stupid thing someone could do while having the supremely important job of setting up the Kingdom of God. Jesus said: “Get behind me Satan.” One theologian noted: “Jesus was so faithful to the enemy love of God that is cost him all his effectiveness; he gave up every handle on history.”

    Is it by joining in lockstep with the dominant culture of the day? On this point one might do well to remember the Jesus pulled off his supremely significant and super faithful work on earth…while being an observant Jew! “if Jesus really wanted to influence society he should have changed…” and joined Greco-Roman culture and really made a difference!

    Is “effective” what Christ what we see Jesus calling His followers to? If the definitions of “effective” are so troublesome, perhaps it is the wrong question? Perhaps what Christ wants instead is something else…perhaps faithfulness, obedience & patience?

    • I think we’re getting too freaked out at the use of “relevant” and “effective.” Relevance is how Jesus pursued people. He met felt needs and lead them to realize their spiritual needs. A great example, but not the only one, is John 4.

      Effective is what Jesus calls us to: “Make disciples of all nations.” That includes numbers. And it includes faithfulness “teaching them to observe ALL Things.”

      Both of which, I suggest (and a host of people in my generation would feel) that we as Anabaptist’s aren’t doing well at. And I think it’s in partial because of the fact that we teach as “Christ’s commands” things that are merely applications.

      How do we become more effective as Christ was? Does it mean throwing out our applications?

      • Could you clarify what a present day Anabaptist should look like? Should we still be diligent in searching the scriptures to know how better to live like Christ taught? How can we do that while still appreciating much of the good teaching that has been passed down to us and without being influenced by the applications that have sometimes become more important than some of Christ’s own teachings?

  • Chester Weaver

    Interesting! We heard this same reasoning forty-five years ago. The big cry then was relevancy. The result of that push for relevancy is MCUSA. At that time the “people who understood” looked askance at the Old Orders, smiled, and knew that they would soon dry up and blow away. Forty-five years later the tables are turned and it is the Old Orders who are increasing in number while the “relevant church” is declining in numbers.

    The conservative Anabaptists are having more impact on the culture than what meets the public eye or that gets acknowedged. The same thing happened when the Anabaptist movement first began. When people are whole-heartedly obedient to Christ in a love-faith relationship with Him, He uses them to do His non-spectacular but significant work in the world. Five hundred years ago the radically obedient Anabaptists pioneered the idea of separation of church and state and thus, with the input of others in the subsequent years, changed the entire course of Western history! Talk about relevancy! They were so relevant that they were ahead of their times! But they did not set out to be “relevant;” they set out to be obedient to Christ and He used them to do significant work in the world. The same is true today.

    Much could be said at this juncture. However, behind the cry of “relevancy” is the cry for whole-hearted worldliness – never acknowledged, of course. Since I have seen this scenario before, my heart goes out to the ignorance behind the cry. People supposedly mean well, the talk sounds OK, but death follows closely behind. It does not require a rocket scientist to see through the matter.

    A worldview of evangelical theology naturally results in this kind of thinking. Why have Anabaptist churches lost their own New Testament worldview (sometimes referred to as Anabaptist theology) to adopt a “non-relevant” worldview? The evangelicals have caught many Anabaptists who should know better. The flesh-accomodating theology appeals to the flesh. Thus many Anabaptists have bought into a kind of gnosticism that is deadly while at the same time feeling good about the “sound theology” they have borrowed from the evangelicals.

    I hate to watch another generation end up being losers. But if we insist upon it, God will allow us to do our own thing while we pat each other on the back. Ultimately, He chooses the consequences.

    • gingrichdk

      Chester, we need people of your generation sharing the stories that you witnessed. Thank you for sharing. You give us lots to think about. In response to your comments, I have a question: Is there a another way that is possible besides the options of Old Order or MCUSA? Do we need to choose between holding onto a traditional culture (Old Order) or else losing biblical principles and holy living (MCUSA)? (I’m speaking in generalities here.)

      I am thinking about what I heard at the Anabaptist Identity Conference about fundamentalism and its influence on Mennonites. I thank you for helping me to think more carefully about these things. If I understand correctly, it is broadly right to say that the Old Order Mennonites and Amish basically rejected fundamentalism from the beginning (perhaps seeing no need for it, given their cultural distance from modernism). What is now the MCUSA, however, first embraced fundamentalism (1890s to about 1940s), then radically rejected it along with some important biblical principles, even losing much trust in Scripture as being historically and theologically trustworthy (1950s to present). Could there be another option that includes rejecting the worst of fundamentalism (militant language, emphasis on measuring godliness by lists of rules, etc.) and yet holding onto the best of it (a sincere desire to be biblical, an emphasis on missions, etc.)? (I’m reading Gospel Versus Gospel and liking some of the critique but not always the solutions.)

      I’m not sure I’m content that any of the following are quite a balanced biblical approach: being the quiet in the land (what fundamentalism critiqued), being fundamentalist (what both the quiet in the land and MCUSA are currently critiquing), or being MCUSA (what the quiet in the land are also critiquing). Could there be another option where our identity is rooted less in adherence to our culture and past (Old Order), conscious imitation of new evangelical methodology (fundamentalism), or the narrow value of a self-defined love-and-peace (MCUSA)? What does it look like to “become all things to all people” not for personal gratification, but because we “do it all for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:22)? What would a Mennonite Paul look like? Or what might Paul say to us Mennonites today? How should we respond when someone like David Bercot acknowledges that it basically took him 25 years to fully integrate as a Mennonite, and this not until a new congregation was being planted, where he was able to help shape it from the start? (I think I’m paraphrasing him correctly.)

      I think this conversation is confusing to so many because the things that are considered “Mennonite distinctives” now include both direct biblical teachings (wearing veils, etc.) and cultural applications of Scripture (uniform attire, etc.). Are we clear on which is which? Or do we think that we need to hold onto both for fear we lose both? To be very clear, I think we must hold onto biblical teachings, no matter how radical they make us look. But what do we do with the cultural applications? Surely they are not wrong in themselves. But what does it look like to surrender them “for the sake of the gospel”?

      There is so much that it challenging to interpret here: the past, the Scriptures, and our own hearts. May God give us wisdom, faith, and undying devotion to Christ.

      Thank you for your patience with my questions, Chester, and thank you Asher for bearing with me as I took the conversation perhaps a little beyond where you were expecting.

      • Thanks, Dwight, for asking more questions. You pose some good ones.

        One question I’m guessing some of my readers wrestle with is “Why do we ask what a Mennonite Paul would look like? Why do we have to throw Mennonite in there? Shouldn’t we just follow Christ, as Paul did?”

        I think you’re on to something when you say that what adds confusion to this conversation is that so often Biblical principles are taught on the same level as our applications. What would you say to someone in a church situation where this happens . . . and who feels that their church is ineffective in reaching unchurched while other, non-Mennonite churches aren’t?

      • Asher, I understand what you mean by asking “Why do we ask what a Mennonite Paul would look like? Why do we have to throw Mennonite in there?” I thought of the same thing as I wrote it. But I wrote it as I did because we are Mennonites (or most of us here anyway), and we need to start from where we are and ask how to live and change from that starting point. There is no use trying to deny the past or present, even if it’s a past or present that includes bad along with great blessings. And one of the answers is, I think, at least sometimes, to hold to our Mennoniteness as Paul held to his Jewishness–he said, “To the Jews I became AS a Jew…” So maybe we should sometimes say, “To the Mennonites I became AS a Mennonite…” So I fully agree with your question. I’d just like to know what Paul would say if he stepped into a Mennonite church. (And I think if we study his letters carefully enough we can get a fairly good idea.)

        • This makes sense, Dwight. Thanks for clarifying it.

      • Anonymous

        I like these questions Dwight, but I have this bad habit of thinking about the end result of what a truly Neo-Anabaptist would look like, and skipping over the process of getting there. This is a really bad thing in my mind since an authentic Neo-Anabaptist would have to come to an end conclusion because of the process of getting there….ideas have consequences and all that. 🙂

      • Good grief, why did it do that? That previous post was mine and it went as “anonymous”

    • gingrichdk

      Immediately after posting my last comment here, I read this, which underscores Chester’s concern about where we could end up within a generation or two: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/april/evangelicals-unite-mennonites-mull-sexuality-evana.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=4687233&utm_content=350725761&utm_campaign=2013

      How can we best follow Christ in a world where such things are happening?

    • Chester, thanks for commenting. I don’t know you, but I sense you deeply care about our Mennonite/Anabaptist heritage. I appreciate that.

      I would appeal to you to reconsider the tone in which you share your comments. I suspect that the very people who you wish would listen to you will react to your statements because they’re arbitrary and cynical. For example, you say state that “behind the cry of “relevancy” is the cry for whole-hearted worldliness – never acknowledged, of course.” That may be true for the stories you know of, but that’s not true for stories I know about, or others reading this thread. People will react to it because it’s not sensitive to the real issues they feel. Many people leave the Mennonite church because of pain they have experienced. If we want to have influence on them, we need to be sensitive to that.

      Also, I am not necessarily “crying for relevancy.” I simply said that what keeps Mennonites from being relevant is not applications, but an inability to differentiate between those applications and sin. And, if we’re talking about relevancy in terms of how Christ reached out to people (such as in John 4), then yes, we need to pursue relevancy. But that should probably be defined further.

      You mentioned several times that Anabaptist’s are having an impact on culture. Could you share some stories about that?

      I appreciate your heart, Chester, I just want to keep this thread focused on the original post.

    • Anonymous

      Chester, I would caution against giving Conservative Mennonites a lot of credit in influencing culture for the positive. Yes, they have their positives, but they also have a lot of corruption in their system of religion in that I personally don’t know of any other that hides sexual immorality and religious abuse better than they do, even to the point of sheltering criminals. In the nemerous times that I have read through the New Testament, it does not bode any better for many of the conservative Mennonites than it does for the unconverted infidel, if not worse. In many ways, they are similar to the scribes and Pharisees. They believe their cup is clean, but inside is vomitus filth. There is only One Way, One Truth, One Life to follow, that is Christ Jesus and if we are Reborn of The Spirit and water, the outward has much less meaning than does the heart relationship with The Father through The Son by The Spirit.

      • Anonymous

        Dear Bro. Asher;
        I came accross your site & blogs. It is interesting to me as a 70 yr. old believer also on a journey.Also I know hardly anyone on this entire discussion. My story is also being written and is not over yet. Having lived in a large European city with a few million people and worked with inner city people of many different cultures it has taught me and influenced me to have a greater world view aside from our entire Anabaptist Culture. I would like to appeal to you Asher as an unbaised adult friend … Why are you not considering some of the few people that are challenging your views on this discussion . The Bibel has a lot of teaching to the fact of respecting a ” Gemeidschaft ” view of Brotherhood. ” A house divided against its self will not stand. Some of us would like to have the privilige to also have some concluding thoughts to the many GUESTIONS that are being raised in this discussion.

        Thank you for your consideration to this.

        • Thanks for asking. You are more than welcome to share your thoughts in this discussion. I just ask that you do it respectfully and in-light of the original questions of the article.

          You may be interested in reading my follow-up post to the questions I posed above: Why I’m Mennonite (and why that’s not the point)

  • Jonathan

    Hey, I’m not a blogger, but I do enjoy your blog. The first question that comes to my mind is, whatever I decide to do,does it draw me closer to God in my relationship with Him or does it come in between, and how do the choices I make affect others that we are doing life with??
    If the culture you live in is the standard to live by, or at least gets us to change so we can impact our present day culture, did Noah do that in his day? ? and if so why weren’t they all on the ark with Noah??

    • Jonathan, that’s a great question to ask! Our goal should be to draw closer to God and to lead others closer to Him. Thanks for sharing it!

  • One question I ask myself when pondering the questions you’re asking is, “What would Paul do?” I think prolonged Scriptural meditation on that question can help produce churches that emphasize both holiness and a love that welcomes all the members of Christ’s body.

    Another paradigm-shaper: I suggest that when thinking about how Scripture should form our lives today, it is usually more helpful to think in terms of implications than applications. That is, ask “What implications does this Bible passage carry for us today?” rather than “How can we make an application of this biblical principle?” I think this choice of questions can help remind us that authority ultimately lies in God’s Word, not in our word.

    • Jethro Nolt

      Could you expound more on your second paragraph? I’m not quite sure I understand the differences between implications and applications and the two questions you posed.

      • Jethro and Asher,

        There’s a chance I’m exaggerating the difference between the two, but I know I’m not the only person to think the difference might be significant. I’ll try to give an example. For instance, take the instruction “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” We could ask ourselves, “How could we apply that verse? What’s an application we could make for today?” Then we could make some applications like this: Any able-bodied adult over 18 must work at least 40 hours a week, or else they have no right to eat at church fellowship meals. Or youth 15 to 18 must put in at least 15 hours of labor or they have no right to eat the food their parents prepare. Those examples might be a bit corny, but perhaps you get the idea.

        If we ask instead, “What implications does this passage have for us today?” we will probably end up with a different approach. We would still be working with the same underlying principle, but we would be more likely to focus on the spirit of the teaching and ask how it speaks into each individual case we face.

        In sum, I think the “make an application” approach is much more likely to produce a list of human rules that generally support the principle but all too often end up overshadowing the principle they are supposed to support. I think it tends to produce a situation like in Matthew 15 where rules about washing hands distracted people from truly honoring God’s word, where we confuse the authority of our words (our applications) with God’s word (the teachings of Scripture).

        I’ll leave it to you to work it out in other examples that might be more relevant for us Mennonites.

    • Dwight, thanks for these wise questions to ask ourselves. I think Paul is a tremendous example of following Christ and engaging culture as He did.

      I also, like your suggestion to consider the implications over the applications. Could you expound on that further?

    • That’s good, Dwight! Implication.
      You’re quite a Pauline guy…

      • Should we be more Pauline than Christine?

      • “Should we be more Pauline than Christine?”
        That’s an interesting question! On the one hand I certainly say no. Paul made mistakes at times, (although I hasten to add that Scripture is surprisingly slow to clearly demonstrate this). Christ is our only perfect model and we want to be conformed to his image.

        On the other hand…
        * Paul claimed that Christ lived in him (Gal. 2) and that he was filled with the Spirit to equip him for his specially-designated role as apostle to the Gentiles. That means it’s pretty important, especially for us Gentiles, to listen to what Paul has to say, for Christ was speaking and living through his chosen apostle.
        * Paul often told people to imitate him in his whole way of living, as in, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” That means we should not imagine an either-or situation where following one means you aren’t following the other.
        * Perhaps most significantly, and this is related to my first point, Jesus lived as a faithful Torah-observant Jew. He lived before believers were freed from the Law of Moses, before resurrection power had been unleashed, before the pouring out of the Spirit, and before the doors were fully opened to the Gentiles. Paul lived after each of these, and so do we. Thus, if we are asking what kind of an approach we should take to the relationship between culture and religion, I think, yes, we should live and act more like Paul than like Jesus! That is how Jesus lived in Paul, and how he wants to live in us.

  • RoseAnn Kuhns

    One reason we Mennonites are so ineffective is that we don’t know how to love well. You wrote “we make eternal judgements” and I agree with you. But compassion and judgement can never coexist. If we are in a judgemental spirit we do not allow our hearts to be touched by the pain of what the other person is experiencing, we don’t accept their different application for what might be the best for their situation. On the other hand a spirit of compassion is willing to walk beside, to listen, to empathize, to care for their heart. As my son said, “God is not Mennonite, He is God.” So I wonder, Do I really know God, know His heart? And I again realize it is a life long journey to know my Father, to become like Him. Blessings on your journey. My husband and I really appreciate your honesty, your transparency.

    • RoseAnn, thanks for sharing. That is powerful insight: a judgmental spirit and compassion can never coexist. Why do you think so many Mennonites have become judgmental?

      I’m challenged by your final question, “Do I know God, know His heart.” I think it’s easy to develop convictions based only on our knowledge of Scripture and not formed from the experience of knowing His heart.

      • Joe Kuhns

        Asher,

        I don’t know for sure why or what makes Mennonites judgmental, I just know in our journey of loss, grief and pain we have been judged, lots and at times wrongly. One idea I have is that there are a lot of people with pain filled hearts and out of their pain they believe lies and make promises and live their lives out of that. We are told all the time Jesus died to save us from our sins and He was but if you look closely at Isaiah 53 it talks first about Jesus taking our sorrows, our pain, our grief so we can receive healing for that. Then a verse later he also died to take away our sins. Should we really make a big deal out of that? Probably not but I was never told that Jesus died for my pain. But maybe we should, because I don’t think people can really see the sin in their lives til they have the pain in their hearts healed, til their hearts are cared for, that’s just a thought that been niggling around in my brain lately. I am 41 years old and I just realized in the last 2 yrs that Jesus died for the pain in my heart. Why didn’t I hear that when I responded at revivals mtgs when I was 13? I’m not sure. I just know that for years and years I thought being a good Christian was keeping all the church rules and doing all the right things. But I was deathly scared of God and hoped I was a good enough Mennonite. I made it my goal to be the best rule keeping Mennonite ever. But still deep in my heart there was a longing for something more. And also I don’t think you can be a very effective Christian if you only ask Jesus to forgive your sins and not heal the pain in your heart. But I am also beginning to realize that I will always and forever have pain in my heart because of the losses I have had. So I also wonder if it doesn’t maybe mean that even though complete healing won’t happen till Heaven, right now I can have peace right beside the pain in my heart and choose to live in a Christ like way, choose to believe that God loves me desperately and wants what is best for me. That I live out of the truth of who God is rather than the lies I’ve come to believe. Not sure if I answered your question or not (and in reading over it, it feels scattered, I don’t feel I’m expressing well what I’m thinking.) But it feels like God has been taking me, especially, and my family are a journey to show us that He isn’t Mennonite. That He wants me to be okay with those who don’t live in a Mennonite culture. I really don’t have a clear vision or picture of what God doing or what He wants me to do but we have been thrown into a world where we have lots of contact with non Mennonites (previously we had very little contact outside our Mennonite culture) and some of these people are Christian. How do I know? They put their hands on me and prayed. They also talked about God, Jesus. And at the time when I looked least like a Mennonite woman (no dress, no prayer veiling, not even a Bible) Jesus came to my hospital room and I felt Him there with me. And I had one nurse tell me she came to my room at night to do her paperwork because of the peace she felt in my room. I first thought she was crazy because I was in such horrible pain that I couldn’t have been peaceful but later I understood it was Jesus she was experiencing, it wasn’t me. So I think your dad had it right, when we worship God and are willing to totally abandon our hearts to Him, and seek to know His heart, we will have a drawing power that people will want Who we have. May God richly bless you and your family as you live for Him, RoseAnn

        Sent from my iPad

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        • RoseAnn,

          This is powerful and full of truth. Thanks for sharing!