'Outside' admirer's adviceBy Dick Benner
It is instructive, as Mennonites find our way through the religious and cultural wars, to hear from those who share our values but not our religious heritage.
Such is the case with Brian D. McLaren, a writer and nondenominational pastor who tells in his latest book, A Generous Orthodoxy, why he is an Anabaptist/Anglican — a strange combination, to be sure.
While McLaren trips over Mennonite/Amish stereotypes in his admiration, he does spot core beliefs as important landmarks for the larger Christian community. One of those landmarks is our seeing the Christian faith primarily as a way of life.
He writes: “While so much of contemporary Christianity is nominal (affiliating with the name of Jesus Christ but demonstrating little fruit) or notional (holding passionately to notions, doctrines or propositions about Christ but again demonstrating little fruit), Anabaptists have long understood that what really counts is a fruitful way of life.”
Self-described as growing up “on the end of one of the most conservative twigs of one of the most conservative branches of the one of the most conservative limbs of Christianity,” McLaren is disillusioned with the version of the gospel offered by many U.S. churches. He favors the “costly community” represented by the Anabaptists.
“Churches (today) tend to become gatherings of self-interested people who gather for mutual self-interest — constantly treating the church as a purveyor of religious goods and services, constantly shopping and ‘trading up’ for churches that can ‘meet my needs’ better,” he writes.
McLaren admires our tradition of living “marginalized throughout modernity.” He thinks we have functioned well on the margins. He is convinced the gospel can be lived better there than at the centers of power, prestige, wealth and control.
“Ever since Constantine, Anabaptists believe, the church has been perverted by copulation with the Empire and its seductions,” he writes.
While not a strict pacifist, McLaren holds up this core belief as a model for all followers of Christ. Anabaptists have refused to kill their enemies, who should be loved and forgiven, not killed.
“Community” has become a buzz word in the church in recent years, McLaren writes, with many churches hoping they can conjure it up with candles, programs or training videos.
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