(Appeared first in April 2012, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!—Galatians 4:19 (TNIV)
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.—Romans 12:2 (TNIV)
Something is wrong with Christianity in America. Various recent surveys have shown that many people professing Christianity, even those who claim to be born again, have virtually the same attitudes and lifestyles as their non-Christian neighbors. Jesus must be embarrassed that such Christians carry his name.
The hard reality is that many of us do not reflect kingdom living—the Lordship of Christ—even in our own lives. I am compelled to agree with Ron Sider, who concluded that “evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered and sexually immoral as the world in general.”
In his recent book, called The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Sider gives many concrete examples to show how contemporary Christians have compromised the faith they profess. Too many Christians in the United States think of themselves first as Americans and second as Christians. And lest we as Mennonites too quickly point fingers at our brothers and sisters who more readily carry the label Evangelical, we must admit that we too are conformed to the pattern of this world as expressed in mainstream American culture.
The missional church pursues a different path, seeking to follow Jesus in costly discipleship. The two verses cited above point to the Apostle Paul’s interest in giving birth to an alternative society. Did you notice the not-so-subtle implication that the Galatian church needed to be born again? Even though Paul addresses them as children, he declares their need to be born anew in the image of Jesus Christ. And Paul’s plea to the Romans points away from worldly assimilation toward transformation. This clearly points toward the need for the character trait and signpost below:
Missional character trait: The church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death and resurrection of its Lord.
Signpost: In its corporate life and public witness, the church is consciously seeking to conform to its Lord instead of the multitude of cultures in which it finds itself.
Mennonite Church USA’s Purposeful Plan asserts that “we dare not accept three myths at the core of prevailing American thought:
• Personal freedom and fulfillment is achieved by throwing off restraints and limitations, as symbolized by Hollywood.
• Military domination of the world is better than all available alternatives, as symbolized by the U.S. military industrial complex.
•Unfettered corporate capitalism, as symbolized by the excesses too common on Wall Street, is the best way for all of us to get by.
To stand against these fictions as a church, we must bear witness to the freedom and fulfillment we have found by binding ourselves to the way of Jesus, to communities of faith and to relationships of love and fidelity. We must ultimately place our security in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, rather than seeking to find our security in the power of empire. We must commit ourselves to the biblical principle of Jubilee alongside economic practices that serve the common good and create opportunities for working people and the poor.
In our current context, these are identity markers that will signify the saving power of our Lord. As we publicly embrace this kind of nonconformity, the seven priorities outlined in the Purposeful Plan will indeed do their work, making of us ‘an effective sign, instrument and foretaste of God’s kingdom.’”