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Last updated November 24.

Feb. 16, 2009 issue

Prophetic word: cherish your treasure

Our heart follows our treasure, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. We love most what we value highest. Jesus warned against loving earthly prizes. Treasures in heaven ought to own our heart.

But what are heavenly treasures? What if we don’t recognize them?

Among treasures of eternal importance, certainly the church is one. And surely our Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition of Christ-centered, peaceful living is a treasure that cannot be destroyed or stolen.

Yet it can be forgotten. It can be lost if we don’t understand its value. Our own neglect can do what moth and rust can’t.

Prophets in our midst tell us this. Some who speak most passionately about our Anabaptist treasure come from other Christian traditions. Some have joined us; others observe from the outside.

Greg Boyd, a Baptist pastor and theologian from Minneapolis, is one of these. His message: Cherish your treasure. He says emerging groups of Christians are just now discovering the treasure of trying to live like Jesus that Anabaptists found centuries ago.

“From the Emergent Church movement to the Urban Monastic Movement to a thousand other independent groups and church movements, people are waking up to the truth that the kingdom of God looks like Jesus and that the heart of Christianity is simply imitating him,” Boyd writes, summarizing a message he brought to a Mennonite Church USA all-boards meeting last June in Columbus, Ohio.

“Multitudes are waking up to the truth that the distinctive mark of the kingdom is the complete rejection of all hatred and violence and the complete reliance on love and service of others, including our worst enemies… .

“The irony is that, just as millions like myself are running toward this treasure, many Mennonites are running away from it. In the name of becoming culturally relevant, the distinctive, radical aspects of the Anabaptist tradition are being downplayed by some as they become mainstream American Christians.”

Boyd’s prophecy combines affirmation and warning for a church experiencing a crisis of confidence. MC USA is contemplating the challenges of an aging membership, declining numbers and a weakened sense of identity. Some wonder: Does a nonconformist church that lacks the typical markers of success really own a treasure? Should we stop swimming against the tide and dive into the mainstream?

No, says Boyd. Mennonites can offer a home — a “tribal identity,” a “historical rooting” — to emerging Christ-followers of the 21st century.

“The only tradition that embodies what this rising breed of kingdom radicals is looking for is the Anabaptist tradition, which the Mennonites are heir to,” Boyd writes. It is “the only tradition that isn’t soaked in blood, the only tradition that looks remotely like Jesus,” he says. We might dismiss that as excessive praise, but look again: remotely like Jesus. No Christian even comes close to the Christlike ideal. Boyd sees Anabaptism at least setting the right goal: imitation of Jesus Christ, nonviolence and all.

Only by cherishing our treasure, Boyd says, can God give a pearl of great price to the world through us. Mennonites don’t own the Jesus-centered life. The Anabaptist tradition is just a vessel that has preserved it. New containers wait to be filled.

Paul Schrag

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