(Appeared first in May 2011, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.— Romans 15:4 (TNIV)
These words glisten with meaning in the context of the fledgling church at Rome. As a spiritual mentor, Paul the Apostle was distressed that church members were arguing about differences that, in the end, didn’t make a difference to God.
Even worse, their relationships were marked by judgmental attitudes, moral contempt and spiritual obstacles that blocked the road to faith. Paul expressed a desire that the God who gives endurance and encouragement” would give them “the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice” they could “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verses 5-6).
Paul addressed the people who were strong, urging them to bear with the “failings of the weak.” In so doing, he showed that in order to get along with others we will need to “put up with” or “endure” the behaviors of others. I suppose all of us have had that feeling, even about our closest family members or work associates. Pause for a moment to reflect: Do you ever feel like you have to “put up with” people in your circle of fellowship? Certainly Jesus did. He said as much to his disciples in Mark 9:19.
Perhaps we too readily hang our hopes for the church on false premises, such as the unrealistic beliefs that others will change to be like us. Many a bride or bridegroom started out their marriage with the hope that their spouse would make major changes for them. If you’re one of those people, let me ask, How’s that been working for you so far?
Paul urges a different kind of hope, rooted in the example of Jesus and other biblical characters who learned to endure the weaknesses of others. The Scriptures are replete with stories of people who “put up” with others in order to help them grow.
We desperately need this reminder. Our church is sorely tempted to follow the pattern of this world. We are sharply divided at times, too often on the basis of political preferences.
In contrast, I was encouraged by the meeting of the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) in late March. There I witnessed leaders from across Mennonite Church USA talk about genuine differences with love and respect. They also spoke of ways they nurture the hope that is encouraged by Scripture and built on the foundation that has already been laid—that of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Juan Montez, moderator of Iglesia Menonita Hispana, gave a moving testimony. He spoke of IMH’s intent to put on the shoes of grace and peace so that they can walk together with Anglos and other racial/ethnic groups who feel differently about the choice of Phoenix as a convention site in 2013. He suggested that the willingness of IMH to work with undocumented immigrants is like the commitment of Barnabas (the Son of Encouragement) to work with John Mark. At the time, Paul wasn’t willing to “put up” with the young man who had earlier left the missionary team. But later, Paul wrote that John Mark was helpful in his ministry. (See Acts 15:36-41; 2 Timothy 4:11).
Juan hopes that Mennonite Church USA may yet come to see how undocumented believers can be useful for ministry in the church.
I wouldn’t give a nickel for church unity based solely on common bloodlines, religious heritage or political preferences. But I will pour out my life to help Mennonite Church USA find a unity based solidly on commitment to Jesus Christ and nurtured through the encouragement of the Scriptures. To that end, the recent CLC gave me new hope.