On occasion, readers will ask me why I don’t just “leave the Mennonites”. Some of them ask from the viewpoint of, “Why would you stay in a denomination that is doing all these things that are so wrong?” This group of people has already walked away because of some of these very reasons.
Another group says, “If you don’t like the way we do things, why don’t you just find another denomination?” Many in this group are the older generation that believes “the way we do things has worked well for us so far, why change anything?” This group of people do not like when others point out things that are viewed as discrepancies within our culture. They prefer to have those that disagree with any Anabaptist practices to just leave. Who wants to have someone in the midst of our controlled environment that keeps speaking out of turn and pointing to things we don’t like to have pointed out?
Then there are others who, like myself, see a hope for change and stay with an idealistic expectation that if enough of us speak out and pray for change, change will come.
Often when people leave the Anabaptist faith, they leave because of one of the following two reasons. Some leave because they feel there are too many things wrong within our culture and they see no hope for change. Others leave because they spoke up too much and are pushed out.
Years ago, I found myself leaning into the first category. I seriously considered walking away from the Anabaptist heritage altogether because of the very things I write about on this blog. But in attempt to find some answers to why we do some of the things we do, I began to read a lot of our history. Reading and researching Anabaptist history because I want to know was very different than being in school or in some Anabaptist conference and being forced to listen.
As I read, I found myself agreeing with so many of our core beliefs. For example, I am more of an Arminian than Calvinist.
I also believe in believer’s baptism. In other words, belief in Jesus as the Son of God and repentance should come before baptism.
I believe in loving my enemies, returning good for evil, and also refusing to take up the sword to fight and kill. We call that “non-resistance”.
Conservative Anabaptists believe that everything in the New Testament is for us today. We believe it is the Word of God and we do not believe that parts of it don’t apply to today. That is why we still practice the head covering, we don’t ordain women, and we will not endorse homosexuality. I agree with this.
There are also many things within our culture that I love. We believe in hard work and we keep our family life and marriage as a high priority. We notice needs of others and believe in meeting those needs– whether that means giving our time and physical labor, or whether that means giving to meet a monetary need. We believe in living a simple life so that we have extra to give. We don’t attempt to follow the world in all its sin and wrong desires, but we would rather live a lifestyle that follows Scriptural principles.
We have traditions of loving to sing and teaching our children to sing. We believe in studying the Bible and knowing what it says. We teach it to our children and have Bible memorization as a high priority. We believe in discipleship and helping those who desire to learn.
Do we always do these things perfectly? Obviously we don’t. We are a fallen people. Despite our best efforts, we stray from the original intent of our cultural habits and have a tendency to become a rigid works-oriented people. We have even allowed some of our good traditions to become more important to us than Biblical commands.
Does that mean I should walk away because I see things in our culture that are being done wrongly? Should I leave and try to find another denomination that is a little closer to perfect than ours? That is a question that each person must ask themselves.
For me, I found the answer to that question to be no. Yes, I could probably find groups that have at least some of those core doctrines to be the same. But probably not all of these same core beliefs would be there.
Some of our cultural traditions could probably also be seen in other denominations, but they would likely also have other traditions that I would not agree with. Just as we can never find a perfect church, we will never find a perfect denomination. We must know what our core beliefs are and be a part of the denomination that reflects those. We must also be a part of a church within that denomination that has traditions and a culture that is most like our own.
Does that mean we must accept every tradition and belief? If there are things that are not aligned with the Bible, we cannot turn a blind eye to it. We cannot allow our love for our people and culture to blind us to discrepancies within our groups. No matter how much God loves us, He will not overlook sin in our lives. In fact, God chastens those He loves.
So if we love our people and culture, why would we not also then desire change in those areas that are causing others to stumble instead of pretending we are without fault?
Every Anabaptist writer that dares write anything negative about our traditions finds themselves under fire from our people. We face ridicule, anger, scorn, and people suggest that maybe we should leave. Sometimes we are even blatantly told that leaving should happen soon. We are accused of causing dissension, we are told we are losing our faith or falling into heresy.
Many have left. Many more will leave. How stubborn will we be? Why can we not stop being so defensive and consider that since we are not a perfect people, our churches will not do everything perfectly and our denomination may not have everything perfectly aligned either?
If God had the apostles writing to the early churches to correct them and address things that they were falling away from within the first century, how much more are the churches today susceptible? We can easily see beliefs and practices that have gone amiss in other churches and denominations, but are we unwilling to even consider that we may have areas that need to change as well?
Instead of taking a stubborn stand against any writer or preacher that dares question or point to discrepancies, why can’t we humble ourselves and take a deep inward look? If our beliefs and practices have strayed from Scripture, we need to know it. And we need to change if we do see areas that we have strayed in.
We want to be known as a people that walk in humility and are willing to take correction and reproof. But how willing are we really when it is something that has been ingrained in us for the past century or more? Are we really willing to humble ourselves and pray, asking God to reveal it to us if there is something we need to change in the way we do things? Are we willing to turn from it if He reveals it to be true? Some of the most deplorable sins in our midst are a consequence of these areas that we refuse to even consider that we may be wrong in.
How long will we stiffen our necks and refuse reproof? How long will we judge unjustly those who differ slightly from us in traditions? How long will we accept teachers that teach in opposition to God’s Word by twisting Scripture to make it fit our traditions?
It is time we take a stand for Truth.
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?– unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.”
2Cor. 13:5-8 NKJV