It's not popular in our day and age to submit our to someone else's authority in our personal lives, especially our religious or spiritual paths. And considering a lamentable past in Western history - Christian history in particular - it's not surprising (perhaps warranted in many cases) that individual commitment to a form of communal authority is unpopular.

So I realize my participation as a member in a local church as well as an organized denomination (so old fashioned, I know!), runs against the grain of popular culture. Yet I persist in believing and promoting this idea of Christian community (see here and here) and strongly support the following statement:

The church is a covenant community in which members are mutually accountable in matters of faith and life. They love, care, and pray for each other, share each other’s joys and burdens, and admonish and correct one another. They share material resources as there is need. Local congregations follow the New Testament example by seeking the counsel of the wider church on matters that affect its common witness and mission. Congregations work together in a spirit of love, mutual submission, and interdependence.
(Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith)

Today I want to reflect on "admonish and correct one another," the type of phrase likely responsible for much of the hesitation to commit to church in our N.A. culture. It's a loaded phrase full of sad memories for many people: broken relationships, abuse, legalism, narrow-mindedness, lack of understanding, insensitivity, and the list goes on... Today, in fact, I had a few of these negative stereotypes confirmed myself. I was notified (h/t Ryan) that I'd been flagged on a blog who's stated mission is to "shine a spotlight" on the Mennonite Brethren world - i.e. they seem to take the role of heretic hunters or theology police. Reviewing MB blogs, here's what their anonymous critique had to say about me:

Another blog by a pastor of a BC Conference of Mennonite Brethren Church seemed hopeful, until it became evident that he has been blogging about lent, Henri Nouwen, and resonating with Brian McLaren and Leonard Sweet, thanks to Regent college.

Hmm... Besides the absence of real engagement with what I actually wrote about the above topics - lent and Regent College, seriously!?! - my real issue is with how mutual accountability takes place in cyber-space. Now, I realize I've intentionally committed to be in relationship with others in my faith community (both in my local church and denomination). And yes, I believe this invites others to "mind my business" as a pastor friend so eloquently puts it. I get that. But in the above quote from the MB Confession of Faith, there is an underlying assumption missing from my anonymous MB brother/sister's critique of my blog: relationship.

If we are going to take mutual accountability seriously - and in our technological culture, I guess this includes cyber-accountability - then the patient path of transparency and honest dialogue is required. Critique isn't the problem, anonymity is. In my opinion, you can't be anonymous in Christian community, however tempting our cyber-freedoms make it.


Anonymous said...

Way to call this out! I think I found the blog you were talking about and I posted a scathing critique of the most recent post critiquing MB education for including courses on spiritual formation. He/she/whoever actually goes so far as to take issue with Richard Foster sympathizers. I doubt they will approve my comment though :).

I guess the "Fall Paradigm" is still out there in full force. This arrogant view of Christian history that assumes God had nothing significant to say for 15 centuries.

Do you encounter this type of closed mindedness a lot in the MB today? I've sort of been out of it for a while. My sense as an outsider is that the MB church is fairly progressive in terms of theological engagement, but I suppose there are always a variety of opinions within a denomination.

David Warkentin said...

Yeah, I don't see your comment yet. But when they assume if we simply read the Bible that we'll all "come to the same conclusions," your comment likely disproves their theory. And we can't have that now, can we!?!

As to the current MB community, no, this degree of closed mindedness is mostly absent. Yet there is a growing faction within our ranks who would seriously question the worth of "progressive...theological engagement." They have a similar angst as these anonymous bloggers: the MB's are slipping off their Evangelical foundation and we need to stop that now. The current debate is how we understand atonement. The dual MB identity of Evangelical and Anabaptist creates some tensions that some are more willing to accept than others. Makes for interesting gatherings!

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