Members of the Anabaptist Renewal Circles declare that they are committed to earnestly seek more of the Holy Spirit and His transforming power. This inspires confidence for in their words lurks a confession of inadequacy. They seek more of the Holy Spirit and more of His transforming power. Earnest Christians always desire more.
Stories told by 88 yr.-olds tend to be anecdotal. My father was ordained to be a helper of Will Hege who is remembered for the innovations he introduced to Marion Mennonite Church. My father lived to become the senior minister. I rely on the memory of a second cousin for insight into a change in my father’s ministry.
Young Barbara was gifted but tended to be a bit rebellious. My father pled with her to stay in the “order” of the church so her gifts could be used. One Sunday morning my father spoke from the pulpit on behalf of the pastoral team. The team had been trying to require certain standards of the congregation, he said, but they saw they were in error. From then on they would preach the word as they understood it, and allow members of the congregation to rely on the Holy Spirit and their consciences to determine how each would live.
The story amazed me. Barbara said she had notes of that Sunday on an envelope. I asked to see it, but she told me that when they moved it was lost. I know that the Marion Mennonite Church has changed dramatically. A few years ago I happened to be present for a communion service when Cleon Nyce was pastor. I was privileged to participate, but noted that only two sisters, widows, were in the church’s order (prayer veiling and in dress style) that my father had tried to uphold in his early ministry. Only those two women could have received communion at the time I was there, yet the church is alive, alert and growing.
I was surprised and pleased by a reference to Franklin Conference in a column in The Mennonite by Ervin Stutzman titled, God’s footprints in the ‘Crisis’. He wrote that he was heartened by the way delegates of Franklin Conference were engaged in a conference session in late March, 2014. They were asking the right questions, he said.
I was honored to receive a letter forwarded to me by a fellow octogenarian who had been a youth with me in the Marion congregation and who is perhaps a bit older than I am. The forwarded letter was written by a leader of the Franklin Conference, first as a pastoral letter for a specific congregation, and then modified a bit for a larger audience. I’ve read the letter several times.
The writer described recent “activism” by Mountain States Conference as a seismic shock and as a bombshell unleashed on the denomination, adding that “nowhere in our DNA as a denomination is there enough strength to withstand this shock to our system”. The writer’s dismay helps one to understand the angst of many members of Mennonite Church USA. Fear is a natural response and if Jesus were to speak now, he would likely say, “Fear not, for I am with you”.
The letter writer believes that many in the pews are unaware of the value received by a small conference from the connection with thousands of like-minded Mennonites. The connection is usually viewed only as contamination. He wanted his readers to know that the majority of MC USA Mennonites were just like them. He observed that his readers are part of a silent majority that has been awakened out of a deep sleep. He reported that Ervin Stutzman is about to send out a survey that will allow the silent majority’a voices to be heard.
The letter writer notes that many Conference Leadership Council participants expressed discomfort with what they perceived as insufficient Biblical/theological basis for the Mountain States Mennonite Conference decision. The writer questioned the MSMF’s reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit, and questioned, “After all, if the Holy Spirit led them, then how could I or anyone else ever oppose what God was doing.” That is a good question.
Here I now return to the commitment of the Anabaptist Renewal Circles to earnestly seek more of the Holy Spirit and His transforming power. Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as an unseen Wind that blows where it wants to. So we may speak of the Spirit as a Wind that can be heard but not seen. A weather forecast will tell us the direction the wind is expected to blow, and the wind’s speed, but it is impossible for them to show us the wind itself.
Jesus is said to have been conceived by the over-shadowing of the Holy Spirit. He was not silent about the Holy Spirit. He said to his disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. (1)But the Spirit of truth will guide you into all the truth; (2) He will disclose to you what is to come. (3) He will glorify me, for He will take of mine and will disclose it to you”
Jesus reiterated, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, (4) he will teach you all things, and (5) bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Finally, Jesus had another hard saying: say what you want against me and it will be forgiven, but blaspheme the Holy Spirit and you will not be forgiven.
Is it as clear to you as it is to me that Jesus lifted the future word of the Holy Spirit above his own spoken word as the Son of God incarnate? Is it any wonder that Stephen rebuked those about to stone him for resisting the Holy Spirit. Has the Mennonite Church USA been wrong in its use of the Confession of Faith as a discipline? Will the Circle have the guts to ask forgiveness from the many believers denied membership and shunned from the community?
This is not meant to be an exhaustive study of the Holy Spirit, but read the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. See if it was not the Holy Spirit that empowered the Apostles and the persecuted Christians to cross cultural and Torah established boundaries and go about the world and preach the Gospel? Dare we ignore the warning of St Paul to grieve not or to quench not the Holy Spirit?
I’ve been encouraged to ask painful questions. Will the Circles gathered at Weaverland have the courage to respect the work of the Holy Spirit in the MSMC? Will they offer encouragement to the faculty and board of Eastern Mennonite University? To consider the possibility that the Mennonite Church USA has been wrong in its use of the Confession of Faith as a discipline for those who fall short rather than a simple confession?
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