Tuesday, 3 November 2015

No such thing as "Naked Anabaptism!"

 Isaiah 2:2-4, Mark 1:14-15, Revelation 21:1-5

"There is no such thing as a naked anabaptist! " Gareth Brandt proclaimed at last week's retreat for Mennonite Church Alberta pastors. Our cultural settings and situations always influence our understandings and expressions of faith. In his new book, Spirituality With Clothes On: Examining What Makes us Who We Are, Brandt gets into the ways our culture and personalities help/hinder us in the understanding and expression of faith. (Brandt is professor of practical theology at Columbia Bible College in Abbottsford, BC)

I didn't get to blogging last week, because I was at the retreat, retreating! (And thinking about how culture influences faith expressions, church life, and lots more!)

I still had a sermon for the Nov.1 Sunday- and interestingly, the topic was to boil down my belief into a simple explanation of why I believe. If you were asked (sincerely, by someone with no Christian background) to explain your faith, how would you answer? For me, the "faith in a nutshell" or "elevator speech" has three components. God is the Creator-Love. Jesus is the Redeemer-Hope. Because I believe in a Creator/Redeemer, my life has purpose-Direction.

Of course life always throws complications at us, but this is my core, this is where all the thinking and planning and living starts. This is the most "naked" my faith gets. The acts of living, the application of belief is what puts the "clothes" on who I am and gives the world something to see and understand.

 On Nov. 8, Tim preaches the last sermon in the series that deals with the "shared convictions of anabaptist-related churches." Faith that Transforms the world is the topic.

That fits with my core belief that the Jesus way is what brings redemption to broken people and systems and situations. Jesus is peaceful, yet decisive and active. He emphasizes love and is especially concerned for the poor, marginalized, and misunderstood. He is a non-coercive servant leader. His way is hard, and does not always yield immediate results, but I'm convinced it is the best way.

I have trouble reading the Isaiah passage. It speaks of the Lord's house as being the highest of all, with the nations streaming to it for teaching and for judgement between them. The teaching and judgement results in the annihilation of war.

The trouble I have, is that it sounds like a new centralized governing body to solve problems. I don't see any real hope in human institutions. "Christendom" didn't work. (Granted, ways of governing are better than others, but all fall short of the Utopia of Isaiah!) How is this Isaiah vision different from every other structure we've seen in human history? What happens when there is judgement between nations and one of the nations doesn't agree? If I, as a parent, make a judgement in some dispute my children are having, I tend to divide up the things equitably, assign appropriate responsibilities, and have the "attitude" adjustment talk with them. Can you imagine God doing that to a "have" nation like ours? Can you imagine a nation listening without having to be coerced?

This judgement is exactly what has happened to Israel. (See Is.2:6-3:5). Israel has misbehaved-therefore-they are one of the nations also streaming to the 'mountain of the Lord", they aren't up there on the mountain. They need to come for teaching and judgement just like everyone else.

I guess my problem with this passage is that it seems to propose that if we have the "right government" in place, all is well. It's just too human an explanation, and I don't think we humans have it in us to get it right. Humans always use coercion, force, violence, and war.

It helps when I take the "people" off the high mountain, and leave that to God. I don't understand what this new system will look like, except that I expect to be standing at the bottom of the mountain to learn and hopefully to accept judgement.

In Revelation it says there will be a new heaven and new earth, the old has passed away. Maybe that helps too. My old ways of understanding systems is very human-this is something different. This is mystery, this is hope, this is trusting that God is in charge!

Questions for discussion:
1. How would you describe your faith in simple terms? What is "core" to your belief?
2. How do you imagine God as ruling? What happens to those who refuse to be taught?

Final thought. (A little tangent, just because it caught my eye.) An example of how culturally bound our expressions of faith are is found when you read through Isaiah 3. As the prophet describes how depraved and pathetic Jerusalem and Judah have become, verse 12 says; "...children are their oppressors, and women rule over them..."  Insulting words that are culturally bound! Women ruling is only an insult in a culture that believes this is unnatural or that women are incapable. It doesn't work in our time and place. (Brandt's assertion that faith and practice always has cultural clothes is pretty obvious here!) So I have to assume that the original hearers of this might have a  very different view of 'government' than we do. I have trouble seeing hope in Isaiah's vision, because it seems modeled on human structures which don't work. I do like Isaiah's portrayal of God's people as among those needing to be taught! Overall, for myself, I prefer the Revelation idea of something totally new-something I haven't yet been able to imagine.)

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