“The Great Missing Link in Much of Anabaptist Missions” — David Robertson

It is sometimes useful to read books written by those who don’t fit neatly into any of your existing boxes. Such is the case, for me, with David Robertson’s book A Vision of Kingdom Christianity: Finding the Big Picture of God’s Design for His People (published in 2015 by Kingdom Vision Books, Niverville, Manitoba, Canada).

My employer and friend Marvin Kauffman recently gave me this book to read and review, since he enjoyed it. I’ve found it an interesting read. Robertson is a prophetic voice and a lifelong kingdom pilgrim who is still eager to learn how to better follow Christ.

Vision of Kingdom Christianity

I’m not quite done this book, but here is a brief overview.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One is called “Something Is Missing: In Search of the Kingdom.” Robertson discusses four “cloud layers,” as indicated by his chapter titles:

  • The Big Picture Is Being Replaced by Little Pieces
  • Anabaptism Is Being Blended with Popular Protestantism
  • Spirituality Is Being Separated from Practice
  • The Authority of the Bible and of the Church Is Being Replaced by the Authority of the Individual.

Part Two is called “Putting the Big Picture Together: Essential Pillars of the Faith.” In this part, which forms the bulk of the book, Robertson discusses twelve core realities, rehearsing them in a manner designed for use in training disciples. Again, chapter titles:

  • God Exists
  • God Has Spoken
  • Peoplehood
  • The Kingdom of God
  • Discipleship
  • The New Birth
  • Faith
  • Humility
  • Ecclesia
  • Missions
  • Watchfulness
  • You Will Give Account

Robertson says “I come from a background of evangelical Protestant Christianity and am moving towards the kingdom Christianity that characterized much of the early Anabaptist movement” (p. xiv). Given that self-description, it is no surprise to see that John D. Martin wrote the foreward to the book. (Brother John D. is known for, among other things, his hymnal and his involvement with both the Anabaptist Identity Conference and Charity Christian Fellowship.)

Given the endorsement by John D. Martin, it is also no surprise to see Robertson critique Protestants for having “in general, like the original Reformers of the 1500s, … missed the essential Gospel core” (p. 17). (That’s probably not a nice thing to say on Reformation Day.) And it is no surprise to hear Robertson critique modern Anabaptists for looking more and more like evangelicals. Nor is it surprising to hear him emphasize that “the church as a new people group has the right to establish general standards in practical and cultural areas and to pass them on to other churches” (p. 144). (I’m not entirely convinced by his exegetical argument on this point.)

But other things that Robertson says are perhaps less expected. As a sincere and original disciple, he does not fit neatly into our expected boxes.

For example, listen to these extended excerpts which first inspired me to share this post. Do you think our brother is saying something here that we need to hear?

One thing that puzzled me when I first came into contact with Anabaptist people and their writings was their use of the word discipleship. They talked much of discipleship and even claimed that one big difference between themselves and the Protestant evangelical churches was their emphasis on discipleship.

Coming from my Protestant background, I reached the opposite conclusion. It seemed the Anabaptists had no time to disciple because they were so busy working to make a living. And if they did have time, they had no actual program to do so, except maybe a pre-baptism class.

The Protestants, on the other hand, had whole libraries of books describing one-on-one discipleship, group discipling, multiplying disciples, and sharing the faith. They had an incredible stock of resources that could be used to give direction and guidance to the disciple. So what was the difference? Who really emphasized discipleship? I think the answer is both. Eventually, I came to learn that for the Anabaptist, discipleship meant obedience in all of life. Without growth in obedience to the teachings of Christ, they believed there was no discipleship. They rightly saw that discipleship involved all of life and not just class time.

The problem, however, is that there are still men and women, young and old, who need to be systematically taught the basics of the Christian faith, practice, and witness. All too often we Anabaptists have no sound resources to do so, and no people who have been trained to take on this joyful task. Here the Protestants can teach us, for they have men freed up to develop resources, to train laborers, and to do the actual work of discipling.

To my dying day, I’m sure I will remember the different men who after experiencing great revival in their lives and joining the church, shared their desire and even expectation that they would be meeting with me at least once a week. Oh, the agony to know I could not meet their expectation and that there was no one else prepared to do so…

We must not just talk of discipleship. We must train and free men up to do it. We desperately need both the Anabaptist and Protestant understandings of discipleship. (pp. 84-85, bold added)

(I am very happy to endorse that statement on this Reformation Day.)

And this:

Jesus’ pattern of preparing disciples who will themselves make disciples seems to be more of an apprenticeship, rather than seven years of seminary. This apprenticeship, [sic] involves both study and practical work right from the start.

It is easy to criticize those who spend years in academic study preparing for future ministry, but have we fallen into the same trap of preparing now and obeying later? Perhaps we have adopted the philosophy that we must first build a strong, united church with no problems or needs and then reach out to others. But consider with me, would you apply that idea in your business? No, if you drank coffee and built unity every day you would soon go broke and get on each other’s nerves. In the workplace, team building, training, problem solving, and work go hand in hand, and so it should be in the church…

This command [the Great Commission command to “go”] violently interrupts the plans we have for our lives and businesses. The call to missions shakes us up; it is not comfortable…

The great missing link in much of Anabaptist missions today is this purposeful preparation, mobilization, and support of laborers. We Anabaptist-type groups have been good at doing relief work, cleaning up after hurricanes, re-building barns, and helping with medical expenses. Our labor (time) and money are poured into these projects and into schools to educate our children. We have excelled at these social ministries, but why has not even more time and money been expended proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom in every place, beginning in our own countries? We claim to have the foundational pillars of the faith that all must hear, but we leave the job of proclaiming the faith to the Protestants (who we say, have largely missed the critical kingdom message). That makes no sense.

We have prided ourselves in having no salaried ministers in our churches as if somehow not having paid workers will earn us a special “Well done” from the Lord. I know this is a sensitive subject with no easy answers, but maybe it needs to be examined. The final issue is not: “Are workers paid?” but rather: “Is the job God gave us being done?” To get the job done will take an army of trained, Spirit-filled volunteers as well as men who are released to give large portions of their time to equipping laborers and advancing the message and ministry of the kingdom. Why have we left this job to zealous individuals and to the rich among us? It is not the independent individual who has been commissioned with this great job, but the whole church. The church must get a vision of the work to which she is called, and then discern how her labor force can be equipped and supported to get the job done. To get the job done is going to take both sacrifice and support

Frankly, we are better at supporting intensive missions when they are overseas than we are close to home, but missions begins at home. The church is a missionary community in which we all together seek to sacrifice and support so that the kingdom is advanced, beginning right here close to home. As long as missions is mainly something that happens far away it will never be a vital part of the life of the church…

As kingdom Christians we believe the church has been given a job. To do this job, we need a continual stream of prepared laborers.

The blessed heritage of the Anabaptists places the responsibility to accomplish this job onto the whole church, not just the professional clergy… There is great potential as a while community of faith takes responsibility for the work. There is incredible potential, but all too often we have failed to embrace a specific purpose to which to give ourselves, and though we raise up laborers from within, we have failed to train them and to raise up enough to get the job done. No business would prosper and expand if it were run this way…

Who in our churches has been given the responsibility to oversee the advance of the kingdom beyond the local church? Who has God set apart and gifted for this? How can they be supported to free them to do the job? We ordain pastors and deacons, but what about evangelists, traveling teachers, apostolic church planters, and men with prophetic ministries to the whole church or society? Why have we focused so much on those ministers that serve in the local church and neglected to equally recognize God’s call for ministers who serve beyond the local body?…

In the book of Acts we see that there are apostles such as Peter, Paul, and Barnabas who are given to missionary outreach, and there are helpers such as Timothy and Titus. Then there is another group, the elders of the local church. These two groups of leaders work together but have two distinct areas of gifting and responsibility…

We must prepare and release laborers both inside the church and outside, so that the whole job of both missions and pastoring is faithfully carried out…

This pillar [missions] is not for later when we are mature or have resolved all the problems and needs in our Jerusalem. No, this pillar is for now. It must be there from the beginning. It is why we are still here. (pp. 160-65, bold added)

“We never did join the Mennonite church,” Robertson writes, “but our interaction with them caused me to go back to the Scriptures again and again to see what they really said” (p. 5). Robertson clearly throws his lot in with what he calls the “Radical Believer’s Churches” (p. 5), yet he aims to learn from the broader church, and his allegiance is ultimately to Christ alone.

I don’t agree with all of Robertson’s conclusions, but I expect I would be encouraged and deeply challenged if I met this brother over a cup of coffee or—more likely—in his prayer cabin or on the streets of some Canadian town, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.


What do you think? Do you agree with Robertson’s diagnosis of how poorly many Anabaptist local churches handle missions? Do you agree we should learn from the Protestants in how they train intentionally for both missions and discipleship? What can we do to better recognize (both see and authorize) those among us who are gifted in evangelism and church planting? How should the money flow change to get the job done? Share your passion in the comments below.


Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


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16 thoughts on ““The Great Missing Link in Much of Anabaptist Missions” — David Robertson”

  1. I agree with most of his comments that you posted. Sounds like he has some of the same frustrations that I do. Sounds like a book I ought to read.

    1. I’m sure I could post excerpts that you disagree with, too. Sometimes I wished his thinking was based more carefully on a study of NT ecclesiology. But he has a heart for faithfully following Christ and discipling others, and he loves both the lost and the church. He’s a brother, and iron sharpens iron.

  2. Thanks for sharing that. I too think I might want to read that book.

    I have similar doubts about the statement, “the church as a new people group has the right to establish general standards in practical and cultural areas and to pass them on to other churches”, especially in the area of culture.

    And yes, I share the same concern about how Anabaptists (Mennonites/Amish in particular) handle missions. Learn from the Protestants? I can say I have learned some things from other denominations… but I am just so reluctant to advertise it. I would rather encourage going back to the Bible, which is where I think we can find definite protocols and methods for evangelism and church planting.

    And yes, I agree that it seems like many Anabaptist churches treat evangelism as either an overseas activity, or simply a personal thing we can do if we feel like it. Personal evangelism is important. But I think the N.T. would show that a corporate program of evangelism is essential to full effectiveness, just as a body is effective only when all members are functional and dedicated. I think we lack a massive amount of “richness” even simply by not involving ourselves in preparing to share the Gospel. For example, I’ve been looking at a study on “Who Is Christ?” (His deity and His ubiquity in the O.T. and N.T.) as a tool for reaching out to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The amount of evidence for Christ being the very Jehovah is surprising. And yet we miss so much of that because we really “don’t need” all that information when we don’t prepare for evangelism.

    I definitely think the idea that discipleship involves all aspects of life is biblical. Discipleship must be practical, but I think the practice will be aimless and arbitrary if we have little meaningful study. Essentially, as our bodily movements flow from the thoughts in our mind, so our practical discipleship flows from our understanding of the commandments and teaching of the New Testament.

    1. Good thoughts, Eddie, especially about how study and practice are each meaningless without the other. Convicting!

      On learning from Protestants: I don’t think we should be reluctant to acknowledge such things. I am happy to learn from anyone who helps me see part of God’s word that I have been missing.

      Blessings on your study of Christology!

      1. Yes, you are right. We can be thankful when others point something out from Scripture that we were not aware of. I guess I was trying to emphasize having dinner with the Word of God first before knocking at Dr. Luther’s door for a morsel of theology.

  3. The argument he sets forth for paying some workers in the church from the offerings is pretty weak. The Mennonite church we fellowship with has three ministers who all work regular jobs and share the work among the majority of the men of the church. The problem with paying guys until others get equipped is that the equipping never seems to happen.

    1. Arthur, I think we are traveling different directions on this question. I suspect you have seen the abuses that often comes with the practice of salaried pastors. I have seen the problem of sheep who don’t receive proper care because the pastors are busy full-time with their business occupations.

      I agree that Robertson doesn’t present the strongest arguments for financially supporting Christian workers. (But if I may, I think your last sentence is also a weak argument; will removing the pay help with getting the equipping done?) Paul presents stronger arguments, which I’ve discussed here: http://dwightgingrich.com/giving-to-through-church-3/

      Thanks as always for engaging! 🙂

      1. I think in reading the passages in 1 Corinthians 9 that you cite the message we come away with is that Paul sees being paid for the Gospel as a stumbling block and that he also sees preaching the Gospel as a reward in and of itself. Of course we also have the issue of Paul being an apostle and an itinerant tent-making evangelist, a far cry from a permanent staff member in a local assembly. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians I would argue that there were no paid clergy in any sense we understand it today.

        I would also note that I am less concerned about financially supporting missionaries than I am about paying men in local assemblies. Given the generally awful state of equipping across the church, having paid full-time clergy doesn’t seem to be much of a remedy.

        I blogged quite a bit about this topic over the years but another friend who doesn’t blog anymore, Alan Knox, has written extensively and with a less polemic tone plus he is very well versed in the original languages. I would commend a few posts/series for your perusal when you get a moment.

        http://www.alanknox.net/2008/10/1-corinthians-9-and-salaries-for/

        http://www.alanknox.net/2008/10/pastors-and-churches-and-salaries/

        http://www.alanknox.net/2012/02/elderspastors-and-financial-benefits-introduction/

        1. Thanks Arthur. I’d like to take a look at those links.

          A quick response to a couple of your thoughts:
          * “Paul sees being paid for the Gospel as a stumbling block” – I think there is some truth to that in a couple places in Paul’s letters, where he fears that if those to whom he is preaching the gospel are his patrons, he will end up being bound in a patron-client relationship of obligation to them, without freedom to preach the truth clearly. But the wider evidence I see in his letters is that he is happy to receive (and even recruit–see Romans) support from other Christians–that is, he is happy to be supported by Romans as he goes to Spain, though he would work hard to avoid be supported by Spaniards while preaching in Spain. Also, I think we need to balance his resistance to patron-client obligations with his repeated assertion that those who support Christian workers will be blessed (see the end of Philippians, etc.). So we need to balance the ideal of voluntary preaching with the ideal of generous giving from those who have received (past tense) the preaching.

          * “Given the generally awful state of equipping across the church, having paid full-time clergy doesn’t seem to be much of a remedy.” Again, I think we need to balance our stories. I am thinking of a full-time Christian missionary/pastor/trainer in New York City who was my personal mentor. He depended entirely on the support of Christians locally and far away, and his full-time efforts have had a massively transformational effect not only in my life, but in the lives of hundreds of believers in our Anabaptist circles and on mission fields around the globe. The self-supporting pastors I admire would simply have had no time for this crucial work.

          Hopefully I can read those articles this afternoon. Blessings! 🙂

        2. Arthur,

          I’ve taken time now to read at least some of Alan Knox’s extensive discussion of this topic of financial support of pastors. (Most of it, I think.) Wow, he’s given this a lot of thought, and obviously experienced a lot of push-back, too.

          A couple things up front: I really like his gracious tone. He is a model in this regard. I also like his insistence on turning to Scripture rather than to the pragmatic arguments that even some of us have emphasized here. And I agree with his hesitation about what appears too often to be a for-profit structure of pastoral salaries. That is, I agree that there is something wrong if an elder says “I won’t preach unless you give me a salary,” and I agree that the Scriptural pattern is to look for people who have *already begun* doing gospel proclamation and then come alongside and support them so they can do the work even better.

          Regarding the first link you provided, which discusses 1 Corinthians 9: I agree with much of his interpretation, including that the context of the immediate chapter indicates that Paul was either talking about *all* gospel proclaimers or else, if we insist on identifying a narrower category, traveling apostles. However, I don’t see that Knox anywhere observes the links between 1 Corinthians 9 and 1 Timothy 5:17-18. Let me quote myself (from the link I provided earlier) to explain what I mean:
          ———-
          Does this command [from 1 Cor. 9:14] apply only to missionaries, or does it also apply to local church gospel proclaimers? Listen to Paul’s words to Timothy:

          Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

          Notice some details in these verses: First, these verses are discussing elders, a term used for local church leaders. Second, Paul says these elders are worthy of double “honor,” a term used earlier in the same chapter to refer, at least indirectly, to the church’s material care of needy widows. (The same term honor is used in the next chapter to refer to the respect and good service that Christian bondslaves must give to their masters.) Third, notice how Paul says that it is especially those who work at preaching and teaching who should be honored, thus matching the focus in 1 Corinthians on gospel proclaimers. Fourth, notice the Scriptures that Paul uses to support his command: The first is the same OT command that he used for the same purpose in 1 Corinthians 9, and the second is the same teaching of Jesus that I suggested was the basis for Paul’s statement “the Lord commanded” in that chapter. The citation of that teaching here confirms the hypothesis that Paul also had it in mind when writing to Corinth.

          Put these details together, and it becomes clear: Paul is telling Timothy that local church leaders—those who preach and teach the gospel—should be given generous (“double”) material support. (Mounce suggests another likely interpretation of “double honor”: respect + an honorarium.) In fact, if we compare this passage with 1 Corinthians, I think it is fair to say this: Paul thought that local church leaders who devote themselves to gospel proclamation have a “right to refrain from working for a living.” “The Lord commanded” that they “have [a] right to eat and drink,” and not “at [their] own expense.”
          ———–

          Knox doesn’t seem to notice the textual and theological links between these two passage of Paul, links which strongly suggest that elders, too, should be supported in the same ways that he commanded apostles should be supported in 1 Corinthians 9. (Knox doesn’t make this connection in his 2012 two-post series on the Timothy passage, either.)

          If all we had were *either* 1 Corinthians 9 or 1 Timothy 5, then Knox’s arguments about 1 Timothy 5 not referring to financial support would be a possible interpretation. (Knox himself admits his interpretation is only a possible one; he says this in his summary 2012 post: “it’s impossible to tell whether or not “double honor” refers to some kind of financial benefit.”) But given how Paul references the same OT command and the same command of Jesus in both 1 Corinthians 9 and 1 Timothy 5, an interpretation of the Timothy passage is not only possible but strongly probable: the exegetical evidence points strongly to the same meaning (financial support) in both passages.

          Regarding his 2012 blog series on the topic, his discussion of Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5 are only partial helpful. I feel he is confusing two questions:
          (1) Should elders be given financial support?
          (2) Should elders demand financial support?
          The Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5 passages address the second question, but Knox uses them as evidence for a “no” answer to the first question. I also hear this confusion in a summary paragraph he gives in the final post in the 2012 series:

          “So, in the only passages of Scripture in which elders/pastors and financial benefits are mentioned in the same context, there is no indication that churches should pay salaries to people so that they will be their elders/pastors. [Question 1.] In fact, these passages teach the opposite: elders/pastors serve others without regard to any type of financial benefit and work (independent of the “work” shepherding others) to support themselves. [Question 2.]”

          In conclusion, I definitely agree that the Scriptural pattern regarding offering support is that (a) gospel proclaimers do not demand it and (b) supporters give it to those who have already displayed diligence in gospel proclamation without demanding financial support. My main critiques of Knox’s conclusions are that (a) he misses the textual links between 1 Corinthians 9 and 1 Timothy which point to financial support of local gospel proclaimers (elders) and (b) he fails to consistently distinguish between NT admonitions to leaders and NT admonitions to non-leaders.

          I’ll end by agreeing with Knox that this isn’t an issue to break fellowship over! 🙂 Thanks again for engaging, Arthur. Knox’s articles were worth reading.

  4. I am of course coming to this from a different background. I would say cautiously that most regular attendees at evangelical churches with full-time ministers are woefully unequipped. I think it is more the case that regardless of the pay or lack thereof for ministers, there are some Christians who are high commitment Christians that do a lot of self-feeding and there are a lot of “show up, shut up and pay up” people that are not terribly interested in being fed/equipped. My experience in Anabaptist groups without paid leaders is that the membership is highly engaged and active and the leadership function is more diffuse rather than centered on one man.

  5. Thank you so very much, Dwight, for this post of excerpts with your comments! No, I haven’t read the post in its entirety yet, but I have bookmarked it and plan to print it out as well.

    Coming across your post (thanks to Google Alerts) seems so providential — our local mission board meets this afternoon — I’m chairman. 🙂 I plan to read aloud selections of your post, after our opening devotional/inspirational time.

    Gratefully,
    Mark

  6. Hi Dwight,
    I just got and read this book last week and I am totally inspired by it. In fact, I would like to give it as a gift to everyone I think has an interest in Kingdom Christianity. I think the author did a really good job in putting in a systematic way the main points that Conservative Anabaptists would recognize as their faith tradition.

    Somehow I missed that you had written a review on the book until this evening and I was pleasantly surprised to see what someone else thinks of it.

    I also really like how he designed it to be used for teaching or discussion. I think it could certainly provoke discussion and reflection.

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