Category Archives: Theology

Anabaptism 101 (Sermon Series)

Hello blog readers!

This past Sunday I finished preaching through an exciting 6-week sermon series entitled Anabaptism 101 at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship (CMF) in Virginia, where I’ve been pastoring since the first of the year.

The series focuses on the historical roots and current convictions of Anabaptism. As many of you know, I didn’t grow up within an Anabaptist tradition. And since half our congregation didn’t grow up Anabaptist, this sermon series seemed like a good place to begin as pastor.

 

Here is a brief outline of each message in the series:

  1. Beginning of a Movement—A general overview of key persons, events, and issues that led to the “radical” 16th century Anabaptist movement. What does “Anabaptist” mean? Where does the name “Mennonite” come from? Where is Anabaptism going today?
  2. Radical Discipleship—The Anabaptist view of discipleship in detail. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Did Jesus really expect us to follow his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? What is so different about the Anabaptist view versus the popular evangelical view?
  3. Word Made Flesh—The Anabaptist view of the authority of Scripture, and a Christo-centric hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Old Testament. Do Anabaptists hold a high view of Scripture? What is so different about the Anabaptist view of Scripture versus the popular evangelical view?
  4. Church as Kingdom Community—The Anabaptists saw the church as a missional, counter-cultural family of Kingdom citizens. What is the meaning and purpose of baptism? What is the meaning of communion? Why live a simple life? What does it mean to embrace “the other”?
  5. The Politics of Jesus—The most controversial and oft-misunderstood aspect of Anabaptism: non-violence and the politics of Jesus. In what ways did Jesus resist empire? How far do Anabaptists take Jesus’ message of peace and reconciliation? How do Anabaptists understand church & state? How subversive is the NT?
  6. Triumph of the Lamb—Answers to the most common objections concerning the non-violence of Jesus. Didn’t Jesus come to bring a sword? Didn’t Jesus tell his disciples to buy swords? Finally, does the portrayal of Jesus in Revelation contradict the Jesus of the Gospels? How will the way of the crucified Lamb conquer evil in the end?

You can download and listen to each message by visiting our temporary sermon archive. We will be archiving all sermons on the new church website once it is up and running. Please stay tuned for that.

There was Q&A after each message, but you can only hear it following the Triumph of the Lamb. Our small groups are going through The Naked Anabaptist for further discussion and study. If you’re looking for a good overview of Anabaptism, or Neo-Anabaptism, check out Murray’s book.

If you have questions or comments, please let me hear them here at the blog.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Is it “My Religion”?

I have always enjoyed the Christian metal band, Skillet. They have some of the best lyrical content and heart-pounding rhythms in the business.

So, I like Skillet. But I’d like to offer a brief critique of the lyrics to a song off of their most recent album, Rise (2013). While I think that it makes the point that Christ is the source of life and faith, I believe it goes too far and falls headlong into a Christian egocentrism. It certainly leaves that impression.

Here is the song with the lyrics.

I have to say that the song seems very representative of our individualist American culture, especially post-modern religion. It says I don’t need anyone else. I don’t need the church. I don’t belong to a group. I’m an island. It’s just me and Jesus (my faith). I can live apart from an intentional worshipping Christian community. Very popular these days.

Of course we don’t need the traditional trappings of “church” (e.g. stained glass, pews, “high” priests, etc.) to follow Christ. I’ve been through all of that. I get it. And, yes, if people disagree with your beliefs, the important thing is for you to be faithful. Maybe he means that. I’m not sure.

But to say that it “ain’t their business what I wanna believe” is contrary to NT teaching of knowing Christ in community.

The NT teaches that Christians belong to one another and Christ. If the lyrics are suggesting that intentional Body (church) life is unnecessary for discipleship, then I couldn’t disagree more.

Listen to Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (MSG):

“By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink.”

If the band is even hinting that my faith is simply about me and Jesus, then the song promotes a message that is antithetical to the Gospel which calls us into relationships with one another.

We are “living stones” being built into a spiritual house (1 Pet 2:5).

In my opinion, this song sounds like one more example of a cynical Christian that is fed up with institutional Christianity and jumps clear over the road into the opposite ditch of a nebulous church practice, a me-centered Christianity.

We may feel better singing it, but it does nothing to improve our situation.

We are never to give up on one another or to cease fellowship with the church (Heb 10:25). We belong to one another. It’s not “my religion” (if it’s even religion at all). It’s “our faith” together in Christ.

No matter how much a person has learned about the love and grace of Christ for themselves, if after an extensive period of time you are refusing to gather with believers (for whatever reason) in regular community where you are required to act on that love and grace, then you’re being disobedient.

Be intentional about knowing Christ in community. There is no other religion.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

Read here for more on the fallacy of the nebulous church idea.


Deep Listening

In the last couple of weeks I have been reminded of the radical polarities within society, culture, and the church. I have especially noticed this when it comes to Christians trying to have conversations about theology and ethics.

We must learn to stop thinking from within the extreme positions of any given issue, and discover a third way. Continually responding to our brothers and sisters as if there are only two camps of thought is dishonest and destructive.

This is the way of politics, but it’s not the way of Jesus. The way out is through the practice of deep listening.

“Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.”  Prov 18:13 MSG

There are many issues today that are threatening to tear the church apart. We can’t hope to overcome these challenges without learning to listen before we speak. This means that we come to the table in order to listen and learn.

We do not come simply to share our own thoughts and convictions, assuming that we know the other person and their journey. This will require humility and a desire to want to understand our neighbor for Christ’s sake.

Let’s remember that while some of us may have (or believe we have) a more pure & authentic understanding of Jesus than our neighbors, no one person or group has the corner market on truth and the fullness of Christ. We serve a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, cosmic Christ that can’t be contained in your (or my) theology or denomination.

Therefore, we need each other. We belong to each other (Eph 4:1-5). There is NO other way forward. The Kingdom is coming, and will come, through ONE Christ and ONE church (Jn 17:20-24).

After we have listened to the person from across the table, it is possible that we simply disagree on the matter. That’s fine, but at least we listened and sought the good of the other. We’re always seeking the good of the other. I think that’s what the third way of deep listening is all about.

Deep listening should always lead to a greater understanding and love for our neighbor, even if our neighbor turns out to be our enemy.

And in that case, we love them and pray for peace.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Seeking Christian Unity

NOTE: This post should be read as a follow-up to my last post, On Christian Community, Diversity & Equality.

As my faithful readers know, I recently began pastoring Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship in Southwest Virginia. My first month has been a great experience. We love our church. We’re getting settled in and planning for the year ahead. Thank you for your prayers and support.

I’m currently in the middle of a sermon series entitled Anabaptism 101. To use Stuart Murray’s language from his book, The Naked Anabaptist, we are covering the “bare essentials” of the Anabaptist tradition.

You can “LIKE” and listen to the sermons at CMF’s Facebook page if you’re interested. The series will eventually be archived at our new website.

In the first message (“Beginning of a Movement”) I cover a lot of history in about 40 minutes. I begin with the NT/early church and then talk about the merging of church and state with the emperor Constantine in the 4th century. From there I go on to describe the situation and circumstances that led up to the Radical Reformation in the 16th century.

It’s impossible to talk about the Anabaptists and not mention the terrible persecution they endured by both Protestants and Catholics because of their “radical” view of discipleship and their rejection of Christendom—the imperial church, militant and triumphant. It is rather shocking to read what the magisterial reformers (Zwingli, Calvin & Luther) thought about Anabaptists.

I make mention of this in the message, “Radical Discipleship” (2 of 6).

John Calvin is even responsible for seeing to the death of “heretic” Michael Servetus, a radical non-conformist. It’s ugly, folks. It should sober us to know how well-intentioned and misguided a Christian can be in “defending” truth.

This still happens today. It’s just mostly with our tongue that we burn people at the stake. According to James, that’s no small thing (James 3:1-12).

Okay. So let’s be honest, the Anabaptist movement isn’t without spot and blemish either. I want to make that clear as I write and preach on Anabaptism, and when explaining my reasons for naming this particular group “my tribe” and tradition.

Murray discusses this in his book. I highly recommend The Naked Anabaptist if you’re curious about Anabaptism. If you’re a Greg Boyd fan, you should know that he has written the forward for the book.

Embracing a Spirit of Unity

Yesterday I met a Lutheran pastor in our community for the first time. Our church partners with his church, and others, in ministering to the homeless during the winter months. I stopped by to drop off some clothes and Bibles. I had the pleasure of catching him in his office.

Our conversation lasted for about an hour and a half. It was an encouraging dialogue. I wanted to share some of it with you as a follow-up to my last post, “On Christian Community, Diversity & Equality.”

When I first met this brother, one of the first things he did was embrace me. He looked at me through watery eyes and apologized for what his tradition (Martin Luther/Lutherans) had done to mine (Menno Simons/Anabaptists).

I must say that I was surprised by the refreshing gesture, which set a tone for the entire meeting. Reconciling love was in the air.

Let me say… this pastor (I’ll call him John) didn’t have to do that. It was a long time ago. He didn’t do those things to me. Besides, I just recently joined the Mennonite USA and began pastoring an Anabaptist congregation.

Yet, he did it. And it brings me to tears as I write this post.

I can’t help but wonder how this act of kindness might be imitated in other areas of life and faith. What would that look like?

Before I could even sit down, John went right into telling me that his wife of 20+ years had left him for another woman. She is now married to her new partner. As a result of this (still ongoing) experience, his views on marriage and human sexuality have changed. It quickly became clear that we have some disagreements on this issue. It’s the world we live in now.

I hope you know me well enough to know that I didn’t bolt for the door. I listened to his pain, and I did my utmost to understand his journey. I have no doubt that we will have some edifying conversations in the future regarding the topic. I look forward to it. I can see Jesus at work in this fellow pastor.

Most of our conversation was focused on reviving the Ministerial Alliance, a network of pastors in our area. The association is meant to coordinate ministry efforts and encourage continued ministry in our local communities.

In the past this group has been made up of both male and female pastors from different traditions. Of course, some choose not to be a part because of theological/biblical interpretive disagreements on a number of issues.

For some folks, “ecumenicism” is a bad word. Doctrines still divide those who love Jesus and want to build his Kingdom. It’s unfortunate. But after my recent conversation with John, I’m hopeful about the future of the church.

Listen to Jesus’ prayer for his Bride to embrace unity:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”  John 17:20-23 NLT

Over the last few weeks, through local ministry and in attending an ecumenical conference, I have encountered folks from many different denominations. I even helped to feed and clothe the homeless alongside Lutherans.

I have been reminded of the singular bond that brings us together and sets us apart from the world: a love for Jesus, neighbor, and enemy—to see his Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

May Christ’s church seek peace and unity in love, so that the world will know.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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