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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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

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