“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit,” says the Lord. Zech. 4:6b
“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5
Some friends will be synchro-blogging today – interacting with an old article from the MB Herald. The title of the article by Stephen Dintaman, 1993: “The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision.”
Why is experiential knowledge of God less common among Anabaptists? Why have so few experienced healing from the wounds they carry? And why does prayer seem so often only a token among us? At times prayer is a last resort, and too often only a token characteristic of our meetings. Our level of faith in general is low, and our tendency to rely on natural abilities is high.
In 1 Corinthians 1-4 Paul describes two kinds of wisdom: human and divine. He contrasts human ability in general with the power that comes from God. He mentions church growth, the ministry of preaching and the ministry of teaching. All these things can be pursued in human strength and wisdom, or in the power of the Spirit. That power was clearly displayed at the Cross, where God raised up Jesus from the grave, defeating even death itself.
In these chapters, Paul makes some striking statements of contrast. The first occurs in chapter 2:4.
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words,
but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,
so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom,
but on God’s power.
If this became the standard for testing the teaching and preaching ministry in our churches, how many would pass? In how many churches do we see a demonstration of the power of the Spirit? Wesley Duewel writes, “If you rely on training, you accomplish what training can do. If you rely on skills and hard work, you obtain the results that skills and hard, faithful work can do. When you rely on committees, you get what committees can do. But when you rely on God, you get what God can do.”
In how many of our churches do we see any kind of result that MUST be attributed to God’s power, and not to human wisdom or ability? The greatest measure of the work of Christ is a transformed life, but in the New Testament we see the operation of many spiritual gifts, with miraculous results. In fact, the two are related. Transformed lives, and the power of the Spirit, seen in gifts of prophesy, healing, knowledge and more, are closely related. Where the Spirit is at work, people grow to maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16, notice that ALL FIVE equipping gifts are required, and not only pastor-teachers).
In the MB Herald in 1993, Stephen Dintaman wrote an article titled “The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision.” His intention was not to criticize the vision or practice of 16th century Anabaptists, but the way that vision had been taught and practiced more recently. He referenced the work of Harold Bender, who in 1942 stated that the essence of Anabaptism is summarized in three points: 1) the Christian life as discipleship; 2) the church as community; and 3) the practice of non-resistant love. Dintaman notes that for Bender himself, there was much more to the vision. He shared his vision of Anabaptism against a horizon of beliefs that were not explicitly stated.
Dintaman notes two particular assumptions behind Bender’s work. 1) He held firmly to basic evangelical doctrines about the being and work of God in Christ; and 2) he believed and taught that the living out of the vision was only possible through the indwelling presence of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Dintaman writes that the next generation of “Anabaptist vision” theologians after Bender “taught passionately about Christian behaviour and deepened the concept of discipleship. But they gave only passing attention to the work of Christ and the work of the Spirit in the inner transformation of the person.”
This approach to the Anabaptist vision resulted in generations of Mennonites learning obedience to Christ, without learning equally that discipleship is only possible because Christ empowers us to follow Him, and without always personally experiencing the reality of the Spirit in their lives.
Furthermore, each of us needs to understand and know ourselves as beloved. Dintaman points out that we are Jesus friends, and not only his servants. “Until we get as passionate about praise and prayer as we do about social-political analysis, we will remain spiritually impoverished.” This echos the kind of conviction found among the Church of the Savior. Elizabeth O’Connor writes,
“We are not called primarily to create new structures for the church in this age; we are not called primarily to a program of service, or to dream dreams or have visions. We are called first of all to belong to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and to keep our lives warmed at the hearth of His life. it is there the fire will be lit which will create new structures and programs of service that will draw others into the circle to dream dreams and have visions.
“To understand this is to be thrown back upon those disciplines that are the only known gateways to the grace of God; for how do we fulfill the command to love, except that we learn it of God, and how do we learn it of God, except that we pray, and live under His word and perceive His world?”
E. O’Connor, Call to Commitment (1963) 92.
Dintaman’s critique is significant for a number of reasons, but two are critical issues as we think about our impact in our communities TODAY. We want to reach our neighbours – de-churched as well as our neighbours who may have never been exposed to the Gospel. Dintaman raises a number of issues, but in light of our practice of discipleship, two are critical for us.
1. There is no point in sending people out on mission who have not personally experienced both the forgiveness of Christ, and the inner work of the Spirit. These ones may attempt to follow Christ on mission, but they will do it with heavy hearts and not joy, because they have not personally begun the inner healing that an encounter with Christ should bring.
2. People who have learned self-reliance often have shallow prayer lives. They do not experience the leading of the Spirit and do not exercise His gifts. They are handicapped as Christian workers, and even more handicapped as missionaries.
As Dintaman puts it, Anabaptist churches often fail to grow not because we don’t have good plans or because we fail to make efforts at outreach, but because self-reliant people have little patience with human weakness (including our own). Moreover, we don’t know how to rely on the Spirit, who is the one Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 3, who “gives the growth.”
In short, a theology of discipleship without a strong theology of the Spirit creates burdened people who carry too much baggage to be effective in helping others find God. We first need our own people both saved and set free — knowing more than a form of godliness, but also its power. Then we have a chance to establish a dynamic local mission movement.
Find Dintaman’s short article HERE
Find the synchro-bloggers through these links: