Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Non-Traditionally Conservative"

From the very first time I used the words "non-traditionally conservative" in the profile section, I knew I would have to write about it sometime. Well, it's starting to stick in my gut so I might as well get it out of my system.

Now one thing the older generation never told me is that sometimes the older you get the LESS sure you get about things. I always looked at the older ones and thought how nice it would be to have everything figured out  and your convictions all set like concrete. Of course, maybe I'm the first one to which this phenomenon is happening. I've been suspicious for awhile now that I'm abnormal.

On one hand, I'm definitely a conservative. Almost a "rank" conservative in some ways. Like in vehicles. Suppose I could take a poll about vehicles that would include all our conservative Mennonite churches. What percentage, do you think, would be driving a primary vehicle that has almost 250,000 miles on it??  I'd be willing to bet (if I was a betting man) that the percentage would be very, very low. Conservative Mennonites may be big believers in simplicity and non-conformity but it doesn't show up too much in their cars.

Even my dear son Myron pokes some fun at our van that has 248,000 miles, but I'm determined to make it run till 300,000. It still goes between 5,000 mile oil changes without needing any added oil and has the original engine and transmission. I like a vehicle to run well, look decent,etc. but I've just never felt the need to prop up my image with a status symbol.

And clothes? I think I could go a year or two and not feel the need to buy a thing along those lines. (Well, let me qualify that. I do need a buckskin shirt and pants, but other than that I'm entirely good)

So in areas like this I'm quite conservative. But in some others, not so much. Like in areas concerning church systems of uniformity. One time years ago, William McGrath was having meetings at the South Boston church. We got there late and got seated all the way up front. He asked the question, "How many of you believe that  for a church to have unity you must have uniformity?" Hands were raised all over, but I couldn't conscientiously  raise mine.

We go almost every year to the "Physically Challenged" seminar at Penn Valley Retreat Center in PA. It's a real mixture of people; Amish, Old Order Mennonite, Horning, Eastern, Beachy, Pilgrim Fellowship,  and a few stray, suspicious "Independent" Mennonites like ourselves. We have the most wonderful fellowship as any I've ever experienced. And we should.

But I wonder what would happen if we would decide that since our fellowship is so great, we'll just camp out there for a year or two and have church. Do you think it would work?  I'd be very afraid that our desire for "uniformity" would destroy the fellowship we so enjoyed. But couldn't it work if we kept our eyes on what gave us grounds for fellowship in the first place? 

I really don't know how this happened that I turned out this way. I mean, I come from pretty stable Mennonite stock on both sides of my family. And the last thing I want to be is a pain to my brothers and sisters in the faith.

I really do consider myself a blue-blood Anabaptist. (if there happen to be any of you out there reading this that aren't familiar with the term "Anabaptist"; it doesn't mean "anti-baptist" but rather "re-baptizers". The Anabaptists had their start  in the early 1500's when they, among other things, rejected infant baptism) When I think and read about the sufferings these spiritual forefathers of mine went thru, my heart is deeply stirred.

And let me say this also; this blog is ABSOLUTELY  NOT going to turn into a place to rant about all things Mennonite. There are far smarter people out there better at that than I am. To be honest with you, when I read or hear people putting down the Mennonites in a derogatory way, it makes me a little upset. I know we've got some problems, but these are "my people" you're talking about!

But I'll have to admit, I've got a few questions and a few problems with us myself. I'm one that's big on things "making sense". And of course sometimes things seem to "make sense" within our subculture but not so much to the ones looking on. Now the "way of the cross" will never make sense to most of the non-believers looking on. That's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about things like this: in some groups the requirement may be (for "simplicity" and "non-conformity") to have black cars. but if you would go to their services probably 90% of the men would have on white shirts. How is this figured out? How can we be sure we shouldn't be wearing black shirts and driving white cars? Personally, I wear black shirts a lot; it's my small effort in trying to bring a little balance to the situation.

Harrisonburg, VA. Does this "make sense" to you?

Another thing that bothers me is I'm afraid sometimes we have a superior attitude. I've heard preachers talking about the poor conditions in the Christian churches of today and say something like, "and even in our Mennonite churches" this and so. To me it sounds like we consider ourselves at the top of the list. Wouldn't it be better to say, "Our churches aren't innocent in this (whatever we're talking about) either".

I was listening to a sermon in a visiting Mennonite church recently. And a good sermon it was.Well, it was.............. until the minister was talking about how even with all the terrible conditions in the world today, God is still building His church. He was telling about some non-Mennonite couple they had learned to know who had moved to another state and were starting a fellowship that was really hungering and thirsting after God. The minister and his wife were on a trip and stopped in to see this couple. He said what a blessing it was to him to see how "God was building His church". Now of course, he said, we wouldn't commune with them.

What? Did I hear right? This is "God's church" and we're supposed to be part of God's church also? It left me feeling a little confused. It's more than a little scary to me if we were sure by all evidences that someone was part of God's church but we couldn't commune with them. It would give me the panicky feeling of "what if I'm in the wrong church?"

And then I worry, too, about the verses talking about"teaching for doctrines the commandments of men". How I hope we're not doing that. I do think that a group of believers has the latitude to make some "brotherhood decisions" about applications of scripture. And I think if you voluntarily joined this brotherhood, you shouldn't  just ignore these decisions. But I still worry, is it possible, even in brotherhood agreements, to come up with some that are  "commandments of men"?

I worry that we spend too much of our energy building and maintaining our "guardrails",trying to protect ourselves from the evils without, leaving little time to focus on what is supposedly the church's main mission. I worry that sometimes we rely on the "rules" to keep us and our people in line, when if we had a heart that was burning with a desire to follow Jesus, maybe the "rule" wouldn't even be necessary.

There is an amazing amount of activity that has to happen to keep the church "machinery" going. Sunday school teaching, Sunday evening services, Wed. night groups, accountability groups, youth group, home groups, etc. etc. Now, I know we need to teach our children and encourage ourselves around the Word.

But I can't help but wonder. Let's say we had half of the services we now have. And let's say we'd spend the other half in learning to know and interacting with our neighbors.

This is how it feels to me personally. It feels a little like a football team that gets together often for that all important "huddle". And gets pretty enthused at times in that huddle, and enjoys greatly the fellowship there. But never really gets out there and plays the game. That's how I feel about myself; I've been sort of faithful in supporting the "huddle", but I feel like I've done SO,SOOO little in playing the game. At times I feel almost discouraged enough to give up because of this.

What can you say to help me?? "You think too much". Probably. "YOU NEED A BRAIN TRANSPLANT!" Probably that too.

The simplest thing to do would be to reduce your conviction list to one. Just do whatever your church tells you. Without meaning a bit of disrespect to churches and leaders of them, I think God wants more out of us than that. Doesn't the Bible encourage us to "Search the scriptures to see if these things are so?"

I sincerely hope I don't offend anyone with this ramble. You notice that I made very few proclamations. I asked a lot of questions and was honest about some of the things that worry me.

How I long to be "found faithful". It's the longing that pulls at my heart and makes all other desires look completely insignificant. 

Oh, God, help me to sense your call and direction. Help me to see my sometimes impulsive ways. And help me for sure to know the difference.


  1. Well, my mom used to say, 'what the American church needs is a little persecution!' I guess that would bring things into focus pretty fast. I'm just scared that we won't recognize it when it comes.

    I hear what you're saying, Merle. You're making sense to me, if that's any consolation:)

  2. You don't sound confused or confusing to me.... I've wondered some of those same things. Very thought provoking, thanks.