I am grateful that my earliest discipleship as a new believer was in a church that understood itself as a family. Being together and doing life together was common practice among our Mennonite Brethren churches. I heard one leader joke, “How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb?”
“It takes 50 — one to change the light bulb and 49 to prepare the meal!”
Those potlucks and many meal times in homes were warm and memorable experiences for me. The stories and testimonies I heard profoundly shaped me in those early stages of learning what Christianity was all about. Working with these folks and seeing how they lived their lives laid an important foundation for me.
But families sometimes have conflicts and disagreements. Our church was no exception. One of those issues was over how Christians should respond to war and military service. Mennonite churches historically are “peace churches” and advocate nonresistance in the face of violence. One of the implications of this is the assumption that Christians should not join the military or even defend their property or families with force when faced with a violent intruder. Our church was actually split on this issue with some members who had served in the military and believed strongly that they had done so out of obedience to the Scripture and out of love for their neighbors. The pacifists in our church, however, saw this as inconsistent with Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” (Matt 5:44) and “do not resist the one who is evil” (Matt 5:39).
This difference of conviction was not ignored or papered over. We had focused times to work through the issues and hear both sides. But there was never a resolution where each side ended up agreeing with the other. But there was a mutual respect and a deeper appreciation that both sides were attempting to live out the gospel and to be faithful to the teaching of God’s word. So in spite of disagreement, we stayed unified as a church and sought to share the gospel and facilitate a life of discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ. My family was a beneficiary of their loving evangelistic outreach and caring discipleship.
In this issue of the Talbot magazine, Joe Hellerman writes on the church as a family and Rick Langer presents his thoughts on how Christians can have “faithful disagreement.” Both of these essays are timely, relevant and needed for the important perspective they bring.