Is a “Radical Lifestyle” a Hurdle for Seekers?

One conversation that caught my ear at the Anabaptist Identity Conference last month was a segment of a panel discussion called “The Turtle Wins.” David Bercot was asked a question from the floor:

I’m concerned about the mentality that would lead us to think a radical lifestyle is a hurdle, or makes it—is going to reduce the attraction of the gospel, [unclear] make us less effective in our mission in the world.

The moderator helped clarify the intent of the question: Does our radical lifestyle pose a hurdle for seekers and make us less effective in our evangelistic mission? (“Radical lifestyle” was left undefined, but the questioner was asking about the lifestyle of conservative Anabaptists.)

This is how David Bercot responded:

I personally do not find the legitimate expressions of biblical lifestyle, radical Christianity, to be hurdles or barriers. It’s the ones that are Mennonite custom and traditions, those are what make it hard, because other things you can explain to your children, your spouse, say, “Well, hey, it’s right here in the Bible, you know. It may seem strange just because everybody else has dropped it, but it’s in the Bible.” But when you try to explain, you know, why you have to wear a plain coat rather than something else—and some of those are little things that, sure, you know, we can conform to—but, yeah, they can add up and become quite a hurdle. Sometimes it’s forgotten that we have families, too. We have relatives. You all have a blessing that your aunts, your uncles, your grandparents are all Anabaptist. You have family reunions—well, you know, we have family too. And the more things that are added to us that are not biblical requirements, they’re just to fit into Mennonite culture, make us look that much strange and different to our families. And we care about them as well. And I don’t know where the perfect answer is. There just… I think there needs to be a sensitivity that, yeah, everything cuts both ways. If it’s a commandment of Jesus, I think we seekers are often as ready or more ready [Dean Taylor: “yeah, amen”] to take, just bring it on—yeah, we wanna follow Christ wherever that leads us. But if it’s purely culture, um, I don’t scoff at that, because I realize that the Mennonites have developed a wonderful culture, and it’s nice to plug into someone else’s culture, not have to reinvent the wheel. On the other hand, like I say, it does present barriers, and I think it would be something that would be nice to, in our circles, to just recognize that, hey, these are some hard hurdles for seekers, and what can we do to at least show that we’re sensitive and that we appreciate what they’re facing instead of, “Well, you’re proud, that’s the problem why you won’t, you know, wear, you know, a coat with hooks and collars, cause you’re proud,” you know, and it has nothing to do with pride.

I think that it is crucial for us ethnic Mennonites to listen closely to what David is saying: “Mennonite custom and traditions, those are what make it hard… they can add up and become quite a hurdle… things that are added to us that are not biblical requirements… it does present barriers… these are some hard hurdles for seekers… and it has nothing to do with pride.”

I was glad David had the courage to say what he did, and I was sad that he didn’t receive stronger agreement from the ethnic Mennonites who shared the stage with him at the time.  As David said, the answers aren’t always easy, but can we do as he invited and “at least show that we’re sensitive and that we appreciate what they’re facing”?

You can listen to this discussion for yourself here. (Go to about 33:20 for the interchange quoted above.)

For more of my reflections on this conference, see my post “What I Learned at AIC 2015 about How to Use the Bible.”

Do you have truth you can share in love on this subject? Share your insights in the comments below.


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41 thoughts on “Is a “Radical Lifestyle” a Hurdle for Seekers?”

  1. That exchange stuck with me also. I do think this is something that Mennonites should pay attention to. I wonder if some of the most difficult things to deal with come from the moderately conservative groups where they have allowed this and that until only the bare minimum of plain vestiges is expected. A tiny doily pinned precariously at the back of the head, the straight cut coat gathering dust in the back of the closet….I like the idea I have heard some suggest that various groups of plain people should think of themselves as a particular Order. The way they do things are not explicitly scriptural, but they are things they have decided on, they give identity as a certain Order, and if you would like to join, it would be joining this Order. I wonder if this wouldn’t even be helpful for children that are reared in a particular Order to recognize themselves as such and not feel confused about why others can be Christians too and not dress or do things like they do.

    1. “I like the idea I have heard some suggest that various groups of plain people should think of themselves as a particular Order. The way they do things are not explicitly scriptural, but they are things they have decided on, they give identity as a certain Order, and if you would like to join, it would be joining this Order.”

      Sharon, I think this is basically the approach that some Beachy churches, for example, are taking–or at least that some of the younger ones are advocating. Some of the older ones seem to truly think that they have biblical cause for most of their practical membership requirements. Many of the younger ones can see that they don’t, but one solution I’ve heard from a segment of these younger ones is to say, “Yes, we freely acknowledge that some of what we do and require is cultural, not biblical. We don’t pretend otherwise. But we still think it’s good and fine to require these cultural practices, as long as we don’t pretend they are biblical.” Then seekers are left to decide if they want to join or if they want to go to the church down the road.

      To be honest, I don’t think this addresses Bercot’s concern at all. It certainly doesn’t remove the barriers he describes; they are still present to make it hard for people to join our churches. And, most importantly, I think it confuses voluntary orders with the church of Jesus Christ. Are our churches churches or monasteries? It is one thing for a voluntary order or a mission organization or a Bible school or a parachurch organization to add extra-biblical requirements that fit their unique mission. There is no biblical requirement for all Christians to join such an organization; people are free to join or not. But if we truly believe that the church is for all Christians, and that all Christians must be connected to a local fellowship, then I’m not sure we have the liberty of adding rules that cause the kinds of difficulties David describes. If we take this approach, we might as well admit up front that we are an exclusive order and then get out of the business of missions; to expect seekers to join our churches under this mindset is much like expecting seekers to not merely become Christians, but to become permanent members of one of our Bible Schools.

      1. It is a conundrum, it seems like the plain no conformed to the world lifestyle is what attracts seekers, but once there, they want to change it to suit them. I have often thought that it’s the free thinking nonconformists who are attracted to the groups who discourage free thinking and expect conformity….it’s something I certainly haven’t figure out.

  2. I don’t think dress standards are the kind of radical lifestyle we are called to as Christians. As radical, I think more of commands of slaves to obey masters, hate our families, etc. The radical of Jesus was to challenge the religious status quo of his day. But I’m not sure if that’s what a conservative Mennonite means when they say radical lifestyle.

  3. That was one of my favorite parts of the conference as well. This conversation was more fruitful than a lot of the talks about the encroachment of “fundamentalism”.

    One thing that I think was missed by a lot of speakers is that they seemed to think that a “radical” style of life only can look one way. While I think things like living in community with a common purse and other practices like that are indeed radical, I can also see that someone who forsakes their homeland and goes to a foreign land where the Gospel gets you killed is at least as radical, even if those doing so own a TV or the women wear pants. Being radically set apart for Christ is much more of a heart issue than an externals issue.

    Again not to say that there is something wrong or erroneous about the Mennonite and other conservative/plain Anabaptist traditions but as an outside I can tell you that it can be a big hurdle indeed. One speaker, maybe Bercot, said something about the conversation for a new person coming in always being a one way street, and being told over and over what you are doing wrong does very little to aid someone in integrating into a community. Conversely I don’t expect conservative Anabaptists to adapt to the standards of others (like people who want to be Roman Catholic but demand Rome change all her teachings to suit them) but there must be some middle ground where people are extended the grace to grow and those deeply steeped in traditions are willing to at least examine their traditions now and again because some of them seem to have taken on a life of their own.

    1. “One speaker, maybe Bercot, said something about the conversation for a new person coming in always being a one way street, and being told over and over what you are doing wrong does very little to aid someone in integrating into a community.”

      Yes, it was Bercot who said something like that—another significant statement that should be transcribed… I got the impression that Bercot has finally been able to become a full member of an Anabaptist church now, about 25 years after first meeting Anabaptists, only because (at least in part) he is now part of a new church plant, where he is able to shape the church from its founding days as an equal participant. This despite conservative Anabaptists devouring his books and looking to him for wisdom and leadership for years!

  4. Is there also a place for saying we are trying to implement general principles of scripture? If there are cultural elements that have their root in scriptural principles we could turn to those and perhaps gain a rationale for retaining a practice. Or we perhaps might find we need to update what we’re doing to a modern application that is nonetheless every bit as much an application as the older practice.

    Sensitivity to outsiders is key. There are constructive and destructive ways of asking why. Too often we assume the questioner has a destructive motive. Let’s assume people have the best intentions until they prove otherwise! And good pointed questions can help us understand our Mennonite strengths and weaknesses better. And also expose our ignorance where we don’t have good answers and need to do some digging.

    We should also not be ashamed. We have a good heritage that keeps sending us back to the Bible to see what it really says and how that might impact our daily lives.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Roger; good to have your voice here!

      I agree with much of what you wrote, especially this: “Let’s assume people have the best intentions until they prove otherwise!” That approach is crucial for all parties in such conversations—both the ethnic Mennos listening to seekers, and the seekers listening to ethnic Mennos. (Are those appropriate terms for the two parties? Any better suggestions anyone?)

      I also want to affirm that Anabaptists have a good heritage. To adapt the words of a friend: We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but neither do we want to let fear of losing the baby prevent us from getting fresh bathwater periodically!

      Regarding the thoughts in your first paragraph: Is there also a place to ask how many of our practices and applications should be uniformly required of all members? In other words, might there be room within the same congregation for some to live out Scripture in accordance with the traditional Mennonite expressions they have inherited, while others in the same congregation, who don’t come from Anabaptist roots, live out Scripture in different ways? In yet other words, might it be two different things to (a) have a biblical rationale for one of our cultural practices and (b) have a second biblical rationale for expecting all members to express that first biblical rationale in exactly the same way? (My thoughts here are connected to my comments in a recent post where I contrasted focusing on applications versus focusing on implications.)

      1. Dwight, there certainly needs to be some room for variation in application. But I think there is also a blessing in hashing out something that is workable for everyone. The difficulty in “hashing out” is that certainly no one will be entirely pleased with the result. Then again, there may be a “win-win” – that’s where having the discussion is worthwhile.

        At the end of the process, the goal should be a mutual submission to the Word and a mutual submission to the collective decision of a congregation. What that looks like is going to vary. We shouldn’t use church standards to beat each other over the head but neither should we allow obedience to become a dirty word.

        1. Thanks, Roger. I agree with much of what you wrote and really like your spirit, even if I might still want to question how apostolic is the practice of congregation-wide universal applications. Romans 14 and similar passages seem to me to point more toward a voluntary surrender of rights on an individual and case-by-case basis, when the issue at hand is one where logically multiple simultaneous practices is possible (such as food or clothing choices).

          But I hasten to add that there will still be plenty of questions where submission to group decision is both logically essential and good for us (such as questions of whether to pave a parking lot). And I most certainly agree that the process of discussing such issues can (should, by God’s grace) help a congregation grow in understanding and unity.

          Thanks for sharing. I am deeply grateful to be able to interact with people who see things a bit differently than I do, or I’d be much more likely to never see past my blind spots.

  5. I know of one overseas Beachy mission where those on the field insisted before going that “Beachy” standards not be imposed on converts. What happened next was a big surprise. The converts insisted on a group standard–so they would know what they’re committing to. After such a standard was carefully hammered out with group input and one of their number was ordained, the converts took a hard turn toward Amish-style conservatism. Eventually the group disbanded and the ordained man went back to an evangelical church and the missionaries went home. I’m not perceptive enough to understand all that contributed to or resulted from these goals and events. I suspect, however, that at least these two things were going on: 1. Those who wished to join the mission group originally were predisposed to radicalism of various kinds, and that radicalism eventually reasserted itself in body-splintering ways. I think this is often the case with people who come into conservative Anabaptist settings and leave after some time. Someone who did exactly that has told me that this is how they see it as well. This suggests that the “problem” of having a church body composed of people who come from various religious/ethnic backgrounds is not always a misdirected emphasis on the part of conservative Anabaptists. 2. People found that establishing a functioning Christian community (i. e. a congregation) can be very hard work. When this reality soaks in, not having to invent everything begins to hold some appeal for everyone. No matter what the final agreements look like, they will reflect the cultural milieu in which the participating members have lived–because it’s impossible to live in a cultural void.

    While I certainly believe that David Bercot observed things accurately, I am also aware of many efforts that are already being made by conservative Anabaptists to accommodate the varying perspectives that result from having congregations composed of people with varying backgrounds.

    I would never suggest that all reluctance to see things the culturally-informed conservative Anabaptist way is a result of pride or some other dark motivation. David Bercot was right on this matter. I think it’s only realistic, however, to acknowledge that those who come into such groups may still be in need of more understanding of what a faithful Christian life looks like–as we all are.

    1. Interesting insights, Miriam—thanks for sharing. I certainly agree that the challenge of integrating non-ethnic Mennos into our churches is more complex than what could be expressed in that short Bercot quote.

      Some of your observations and questions make me ask: Isn’t it true that there is a tendency in many people’s hearts—Mennos and otherwise—to try to turn Christianity into more of a religious system than a dynamic, Spirit-guided life, and that this tendency needs to be exposed and warned against as we disciple and integrate eager new believers?

      I certainly agree that “it’s impossible to live in a cultural void.” But I think it is also important to observe that (a) there is a difference between living within a culture and mandating that culture on others, and (b) there is such a thing as developing a church culture where gospel-rooted cultural diversity is an expected and even valued element that people of all backgrounds share. In other words, when choosing between cultures, we don’t need to simply choose between all-Amish, all-Indian, all-Kenyan, or such, but we also can choose between all-one or mixture-of-multiple cultural approaches. I think I see Paul pointing toward the latter as the goal of mature believers.

  6. David Bercot said:

    “…I realize that Mennonites have developed a wonderful culture….”

    With the exception of the sentence above (and another like it), Bercot is spot on. Conservative Mennonites have indeed built huge hurdles and enormous barriers that prevent sincere seekers from finding a place among them. Can any objective person really attempt an honest refutation of Bercot’s central point? I don’t think so. From the inside, the distressing reality may not seem so obvious. From the outside (non-Mennonite background), it is clear as crystal.

    Aristotle left us with an illuminating way of considering the immense value of Perspective. If you approach an aquarium and ask a fish, “How’s the water in there today?”… how do you think that fish will respond? The fish is going to say, “What’s water?” Now pause a moment and reflect upon Aristotle’s point. It may well change your life. All of you ethnic Mennonites are in a fish bowl of sorts. You have been so immersed in one particular environment, so conditioned by one peculiar culture, that you are naturally incapable of suitably assessing that environment and culture. Blind spots abound, even if, by the Grace of God, you have the honesty to attempt a critical analysis of your cultural milieu. Frankly, your only hope of Perspective, of true objectivity, is to escape the fish bowl.

    Once upon a time, I was a sincere seeker among the conservative Mennonites. We actually relocated to a new city in the hopes of finding fellowship and church membership within your circle. But I made a mistake. The mistake was not in the relocation. I am happy to have met and sojourned among the conservative Mennonites. Generally speaking, you are fine people and fun to visit with. A few of you remain my friends to this day. But back to the mistake….

    In sum, my error was this: I thought the conservative Mennonites were NT Christians, whose lives and ambitions would be very similar to the original Anabaptists, particularly in their zeal to proclaim the Gospel. However, what I learned, much to my disappointment, was that contemporary Mennonites are almost completely invested in an identity that has nothing to do with original Anabaptism nor the NT Scriptures, and they have almost no interest whatsoever in the propagation of the Faith. Custom was held as authoritative, I discovered, while the Commission to win the lost was disregarded. Consider the following: if the plain coat, the cape dress, a particular kind of headcovering and beard, as well as the Sunday morning white shirt and separate seating were somehow outlawed, then the Plain people would feel and believe that their Christianity was under attack. They would experience such a hypothetical ban as a direct assault upon their Christian faith. And yet, and yet… none of those things bear any necessary relation to the New Testament. God does not command any of them in the NT Scriptures. Each of those practices and Mennonite priorities could be thrown into a trash bin tomorrow without the slightest loss to true Biblical faith and religion. What does all of this mean? It means, honestly, that the Plain people have built their identity upon sand. This I did not comprehend when we relocated to be among them. I erred in thinking that conservative Mennonitism was a close approximation to authentic NT Christianity.

    Two conclusions then:

    1. David Bercot is wrong in the sentence quoted above. The Mennonites have _not_ developed a “wonderful culture.” What they have developed is a culture of false religion. If the Plain people were simply an ethnic group making no Christian claims then we might speak of Mennonite culture as “interesting” or maybe “wonderful.” But as it is, the Plain people claim to represent Christ and His Kingdom to the world, and they do so in ways that grossly misrepresent Christ and the true concerns of His Kingdom. Mennonites have substituted their own customs for the pure Word of God and raised those customs to the level of Christian identity. They impose Mennonite cultural norms upon those desiring to join Christ’s church. This is unacceptable. In truth, it is intolerable.

    Faithfulness to Christ is defined by the written Word of God alone. Adding to that Word equates to unfaithfulness no less than subtracting from the Word. So the Evangelical churches are unfaithful to Christ when they permit their women to dress immodestly, but the Plain churches are unfaithful to Christ when they require a cape dress as the only acceptable expression of modesty. The former is worldliness, but the latter is false religion! You are not free in Christ to codify your own particular application as a standard of joining Christ’s church. The church does not belong to you; it belongs to Christ. He is the church’s Head and He alone establishes the standards of church membership. Oh, how I wish that conservative Mennos would recognize that going beyond what is Written is just as much a departure from true Christian discipleship as forsaking what is Written.

    2. Mennonite identity is what it is – unbiblical. But it will not change. And it cannot be reformed. Plainness is at the core, the very core, of conservative Mennonite identity, but plainness is of no concern whatsoever to authentic Kingdom life and expression. You can have Plainness or you can pursue the Kingdom of Christ, but you can’t have both. Plainness is not simply how one particular group of Christians has decided to give witness to Christ’s Kingdom. No, Plainness profoundly obscures and misrepresents the Kingdom. It does not obscure the Kingdom peripherally; it does so essentially. For the Kingdom of Christ does not consist of plain coats, cape dresses and acappella singing.

    It will not serve Christ and His Kingdom to make Plain churches more seeker friendly. If Mennonites are determined to preserve the creed of Plainness then they will continue to hinder the advancement of the Gospel. More is needed than a little tweaking here and there. What is needed is a new identity, a reworking, from the NT Scriptures alone, of what it means to be a loyal Christ follower, completely apart from the presuppositions of Plainness. What is needed is a new beginning.

    “And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham (Gen 26:18).”

    1. Kevin, thanks as always for sharing your passion. I agree with important parts of what you wrote. I do want to suggest a bit more nuance, though. In particular, could you perhaps consider the good as well as the not-so-good when assessing Mennonite culture? I find some elements of my birth culture very good indeed—the emphasis on brotherhood mutual aid in many forms, the heritage of non-violence and forgiveness of enemies, the appreciation of the dignity of hard work, and more. Yes, there are ugly elements, and I’m very eager for us to submit such elements to Scripture and to a more lively brotherly love but, well, I have a hard time thinking that any other ecclesiological historical heritage available today would be, on the whole, significantly better. All churches are broken to some degree, and all in need of renewal.

      Also, if I may be so bold, a few tips for being “heard” better as you share here—tips for anyone who may read this:
      (1) Let’s assume the best of those with whom we are disagreeing. What is the best possible construction of their words? (For example, my nuance regarding the “wonderful culture” of Mennonites.)
      (2) Let’s write in such a way that we prepare for someone who may read our words assuming the worse about our intentions. How can we help prevent misunderstanding and hurt? How can we help people agree with us rather than build walls?
      (3) Let’s remember that some (hopefully many) of the people that we disagree with in such discussions are our dear brothers and sisters with whom we can expect to spend eternity. Do our words now reflect that hope? And, perhaps most importantly,
      (4): Do I, right now as I’m writing this, sense love in my heart toward the person to whom I am writing? If not, I probably better stop immediately.

      In saying the above, I do not want to downplay the ugliness of what you experienced as you interacted with conservative Mennonites. I could add other painful stories that are all too true. Nor do I want to take away from your call to submit Mennonite culture to Scripture. But perhaps I am a bit more optimistic than you that at least some of my fellow Mennonites are indeed eager to do just that more faithfully! Voices like yours can help us assess ourselves more clearly. Please keep sharing.

  7. Sharon writes:

    “I wonder if some of the most difficult things to deal with come from the moderately conservative groups where they have allowed this and that until only the bare minimum of plain vestiges is expected. A tiny doily pinned precariously at the back of the head, the straight cut coat gathering dust in the back of the closet….”

    I understand your criticism of the tiny doily, in light of the meaning of “katakalupto” – Paul’s word for headcovering in 1 Corinthians 11:6-7. But what in the world does “the straight cut coat” have to do with being a disciple of Christ Jesus???

    Sharon continues:

    “I like the idea I have heard some suggest that various groups of plain people should think of themselves as a particular Order. The way they do things are not explicitly scriptural, but they are things they have decided on….”

    I believe this mindset is seriously misguided.

    Christ commissions His people to plant churches, defined by His Word. We are not free to establish “Orders” based upon what we “have decided on.” We have absolutely no authority from Christ the Lord to build such an Order as you are describing. It represents a perpetuation of the “Mennonite problem” and ought to be rejected as disloyal to Christ, the Head of the church.

  8. Dwight writes:

    “… if we truly believe that the church is for all Christians, and that all Christians must be connected to a local fellowship, then I’m not sure we have the liberty of adding rules that cause the kinds of difficulties David describes.”

    This is exactly right. We must repeatedly remind ourselves, it seems, that the Church does not belong to us. We do not have the liberty to set it up however we wish, to establish membership standards according to our own preferences. Such action is really tantamount to treason, to put it frankly. It fails to appreciate that we are men under the authority of King Jesus and His Word. The Head of the church has not been silent on what the church is and how it is to be defined. And He certainly has not left it to us to order the _only_ institution that He ever commissioned to be established in history. One would think this is obvious, but apparently it is not.

    Is this readiness to “play” with the Word of God a result of Mennonite rejection of Fundamentalism or does it predate the late 19th century? Certainly, theological perspectives often associated with Fundamentalism, such as Dispensationalism, Premillenialism, Patriotism and an overly moralistic hermeneutic when reading the OT, are to be repudiated. But the Fundamentalists were utterly sound in their high regard for the Word of God as God’s actual Word. In that high esteem for the raw authority of holy Scripture the Fundamentalists are to be honored and emulated.

    The Bible, the Word of God, comes to us with absolute authority, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is not so much to be applied as it is to be implemented. I fear that the Plain people have grown accustomed to viewing their applications of the Word as finally authoritative, which implicitly reduces the Word of God itself to a secondary authority. No conservative Mennonite would admit to such, of course, but it seems to me that, whatever the Plain people may say, improvisations of the Word have become their functional authority.

    Along with this functional diminishment of Scriptural authority has come an equally impoverished view of the church. Somehow the Plain people have reached the conclusion that their local assembly actually belongs to them. They regard the church, it seems, as primarily a human institution. Christ does not reign in the church and rule by His Word alone, apparently, but human traditions are permitted to govern, even though these traditions essentially quarantine the Plain people and reduce them to little more than an ethnic group. And in the end, regrettably, that’s what the conservative Mennonites have become. They are merely an ethnic group content to keep outsiders just where they are – on the outside.

    The Plain people, I hasten to add, still possess the vestiges of NT Christianity buried deeply beneath their false religion. Non-conformity, non-resistance, modesty and headcovering are all there, submerged under the impenetrable shell of traditional interpretations and cultural accretions. But you must recognize that the shell is invincible. It will not be restructured and it cannot be removed. If you want to truly serve Christ and His Kingdom, then you will have to climb out from underneath the shell and reorganize around the NT alone. And when you do, those vital vestiges of authentic Christianity, to which you alone possess any glimmer of relation, will once again burst forth in this dark world and give to Christ the King a witness worthy of His Cross, a genuine testimony to His present rule and reign.

    “And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham (Gen 26:18).”

    1. Kevin, I think you’ve shared a lot of truth here. Since my husband and I moved our young family to a town with no Amish or Mennonites, we’ve been deeply blessed by our interactions with people from other denominations, and I’m beginning to see more of life outside the Mennonite box. My perception of the Church is growing. However, it hurts to hear Mennonites all dumped into the “false religion” category. I know many people who are genuinely loving, and I don’t think they are false, even though the system has flaws. (John 13:35) I’m concerned about our focus on rules, too, as it seems like the NT is full of verses against religious rules. I guess right now I am trying to sort through everything and learn what God really wants from us. But I feel like I need to have hope, before I am able to change. Can you offer us hope along with the criticism?

    2. Some more thought-provoking words here, Kevin. Thanks.

      I especially like this: “It [the Bible] is not so much to be applied as it is to be implemented.”

      And thank you for affirming that conservative Mennonites have at least “the vestiges of authentic Christianity.” 🙂 May we repent where necessary to ensure our candlestick is never removed from its place!

  9. Kevin, I think your critique is truthful in a lot of ways, some of which are painful to hear. However, I don’t think that getting rid of certain standards such as cape dresses is going to enable a wave of spiritual renewal among Mennonites. What’s needed in many cases is a spiritual renewal within a conservative practice. The Word, of course, is central and using the Word enables us to critique our practices such as plain suits and cape dresses and ask, do they help us maintain a biblical practice? If they don’t, we need to find out what does. If they do, we should continue to hold to them, in humility, without being ashamed.

    In some ways it would be nice if getting rid of visible markers of distinction would set off waves of revival among Mennonites, etc. Unfortunately that is not how things have worked historically and so we should look more deeply if we want to understand where spiritual depth and renewal will come from.

    1. Roger, yours is a voice shaped by a lot of reading of history, so I value what you say.

      Some questions as we ponder… I most certainly agree that merely “getting rid of visible markers of distinction” will not “set off waves of revival among Mennonites.” We have seen the former without the later many, many times. And I fear that many who want the former aren’t really that interested in the latter. That said… isn’t that argument exactly what an Old Order Mennonite might say when discussing whether they should get rid of the horse and buggy? (“Getting rid of the horse and buggy won’t set off waves of revival.”) And might not a Jew of the first century said the same thing about, say, circumcision? In fact, didn’t Paul himself say “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision”?

      So it seems to me that merely demonstrating that a change won’t, of itself, bring about spiritual renewal is not sufficient evidence that it should be retained. Paul goes on to say that what matters is “a new creation.” And he seemed to think that for most people most of the time (at least Gentiles), this new creation was best expressed by leaving circumcision behind. At minimum, he was extremely clear that those who belong to Christ must leave circumcision-as-a-requirement behind. Does this suggest anything about whether or when we should make our traditional practices into requirements?

      I’m also pondering your question, “do they help us maintain a biblical practice?” I think that this is a better guide than the first one I cited. But I still have questions. Is there a difference between merely maintaining a “biblical practice” and helping people develop and live such practices out of heart convictions? Do traditional standards help or hinder us in developing such heart convictions? In child-training, such rules are certainly helpful for a time, even shaping the values of our children, yet as children near adulthood we think it is wise to remove most such rules, allowing them to mature and internalize their convictions. One time I heard three older church leaders, each having much more experience than myself, observing that it seems that those who come from churches with multiple outward standards are those who often have the hardest time developing inner convictions about things like modesty once they transition to churches with fewer standards (such as moving from Beachy to BMA). Why might this be, and what lessons should we draw from this? To what extent should we treat adult Christians as children? To paraphrase your words, “Using the Word enables us to critique our practices such as plain suits and cape dresses and ask, do they help us maintain biblical heart convictions?” What methods did Paul use to try to help his churches “maintain biblical practices”? Did he suggest prescribed outward standards? Did he teach gospel theology and call people to “walk worthy”? When he dealt with the disorderly who refused to work, did he convince them by gospel and personal example and warnings of church discipline, or did he prescribe X number of hours per week that each member must work? Did he work from the outside in (prescribed standards and rules, designed to shape heart motives) or from the inside out (heart renovation by gospel and Spirit, designed to result in good fruit)?

      In Anabaptist history there has not always been as strong an emphasis on outward uniform rules. Regarding dress, for example, I understand that for the first several centuries of Anabaptist history, suitable dress was supported by a combination of general cultural momentum (all Christian women wore veils when praying, most people of all sorts covered their bodies modestly most of the time) and biblical teaching against ostentatious clothing (which set Anabaptists apart visibly from many other Christian groups). Only a little over a century ago, if I understand correctly, did specific rules about uniform attire begin to serve as requirements for church members. These rules tended to prescribe and solidify the more conservative traditional Mennonite dress expressions from the previous decades. So the actual attire didn’t change radically (although there was a conservative turn toward greater simplicity), but the method of enforcing the practice changed significantly. So I ponder this question: Are uniform rules a helpful substitute for general cultural preference? Previously, the common clothing practices were “tweaked” by biblical exhortation; now a fast-fading historical costume was mandated as a way to apply biblical principles. Previously, we lived within a general cultural setting that had a rather homogeneous appearance (besides class differences), and we tweaked the lower class clothing to better reflect biblical teaching; now we live within multiple highly-diverse clothing cultures (where class plays a less significant role), and we are asking whether we tweak the best expressions of such cultures or whether we mandate our own historical uniform costumes. Should we encourage simple T-shirts and jeans/khakis, or should we enforce “plain suits”? Sinful clothing expressions are more common every decade, it seems, and no one should underestimate the challenges before us. Yet we still need to ask to what extent uniform rules are a gospel-shaped solution to these challenges. Are uniform clothing standards for all members a relatively new experiment for the Church, historically speaking? Bible trumps history, but is there anything we should learn from history here?

      I am convinced that there will be some variety among those who follow Christ as to how much tradition is retained, and that that is fine. And I’m also convinced that both of us those who naturally like to retain traditions and those of us who naturally like to reject them need to submit our desires to the gospel in ways that will change our behaviors. The most important thing is that we don’t confuse our preferences either way with the gospel message itself, and that we only lay on others the burdens and freedoms of the gospel, not our cultural preferences. If we do this, we can have fellowship in Christ across diverse cultural expressions.

      Roger, you didn’t ask for all these questions, so don’t feel compelled to answer them. 🙂 Thanks for your contributions here.

      1. I don’t really have time to get into all the pertinent questions you raise here 🙂 The “getting rid of distinctive markers” argument is a negative one only – focussing getting an Old Order out a horse and buggy will not deal with a heart issue. It may very well be the case that the Old Order Mennonite keeps driving the horse and buggy and experiences a changed life. However that argument doesn’t work to move me into the buggy with him – I need the changed life, but not necessarily the horse and buggy. And likewise for the distinctive markers in the Mennonite church.

        The gospel changes lives both inside and out. If we encounter someone who is unsaved and has all sorts of visible signs of sin in their life, we would be mistaken to clean them up without addressing their heart issue. Nonetheless, a changed life would be changed both inside and out. My Dad likes to point out that Noah pitched his ark inside and out – both had to be done to properly seal the ark. And for our Christian lives to be properly sealed we want to be changed inside and out.

        We also need to be individual conviction meshed with collective conviction. Our culture suffers from an excess of individualism, often narcissism, and being submitted to a church helps us deal with this. The flip side is an enforced group conformity which stifles individual conviction – maybe that speaks to the problem you mentioned with the people leaving Beachy and joining BMA and seemingly having weak convictions about personal appearance. It would be interesting to look at the group left behind and see the condition of the convictions of those content to stay.

        Applications will vary, of course. If we take the whole view of scripture, I think we find that while there is an emphasis on inward change and a resistance to imposing needless hurdles to the gospel, there is a place for standards. In Acts 15, after all, the apostles decide not to force Gentiles to accept circumcision, but then they do ask them to abstain from food offered to idols, meat of strangled animals and a couple other things. Those are plainly external items, yet the apostles clearly didn’t think making those requests was “anti-gospel”.

        1. Thanks again, Roger. And I wasn’t expecting you to answer all my think-aloud questions. 🙂

          I probably agree even more fully with your thoughts here than in your just-previous comment.

          My main observation, in brief, would be that I regularly see Acts 15 cited by conservative Anabaptist as support for lists of standards that are often much longer than four, while the clear thrust of the original account is a pairing down of such standards, not a justification for keeping them. (I’ve even read in a conservative Mennonite book the idea that Acts 15 went from one rule–circumcision–to four–those sent out in the letter–as if the chapter records an expansion of standards rather than a trimming down. This reading forgets that the one rule of circumcision was a symbol of the requirement to keep the entire Jewish Law.)

          What the NT does hint is that some of the early Jewish churches (at least in Jerusalem) continued to keep many elements of their Jewish law and tradition. I’m not sure the NT directly blesses them for doing so, and it certainly prohibits them from forcing others to do so or from placing any salvific hope in such practices, but it does show that Christians can take a variety of positions on such matters and still be gospel people that are part of the true Church. We should be equally gracious today.

          1. The Acts 15 passage is indeed interesting. I agree it has been overused in support of an extensive list of standards, whereas the requirements were very minimal. Certainly some form of guidelines were probably needed for the newly converted Gentiles. But in the overall context was it more an effort to bring peace between two widely differing cultures that were now coming together as one than a setting up of standards? I’m not sure.
            Certainly vs. 19 and 24-28 need to be included in our attempt to discern the intent of the passage as a whole.
            Keep on, I’m paying rapt attention to your discussion.

            1. “In the overall context was it more an effort to bring peace between two widely differing cultures that were now coming together as one than a setting up of standards?”

              I agree. But it was also more than just a search for a pragmatic solution. The dialogue that led to the chosen solution was a theological one that traced prophecy and the current working of the Spirit. In other words, there were theological limits to the possible pragmatic solutions. True peace, after all, is found not merely in human compromise but ultimately in gospel truth. And the four rules that were adopted seem designed to open the door for further sharing of gospel truth, aiming avoiding unnecessary offense without compromising the gospel message itself.

  10. Rosina writes:

    “…I feel like I need to have hope, before I am able to change. Can you offer us hope along with the criticism?”

    It depends on what kind of hope you are really looking for, Rosina.

    If you are hoping to remain a Mennonite, while making a few adjustments here and there, then I do not believe the New Testament offers you any hope. You have to fully reckon with the truth that the religious paradigm of the Plain people is a paradigm of idolatry. It has established human traditions in the place of God’s Word. If you would follow Jesus then you will have to abandon Mennonite idolatry. This is the meaning of repentance in your context. You will have to go out from among them. You cannot live in support of false religion and, at the same time, enjoy the communion of Lord Jesus.

    Now, if you are hoping to find cleansing from the _stains_ of false religion, then an abundance of hope is held out to you in the Gospel of God’s grace. The living Christ stands ready to wash away those stains . He will cleanse you from all the defilements of Mennonite idolatry. Grace and Hope are spread out before you in the lavish provisions of the Gospel. Repent of your idolatry, the sins of participating in false religion, and go to Christ in whom you will find an extravagant Grace and an abundance of Pardon.

    Jesus went to the Cross in order to bear the sins of both worldling and idolater alike. There are prodigals who defile themselves in riotous living and there are “elder brothers” who defile themselves with religious inventions. Both kinds of people must find the Grace of God in order to rejoice in the Father. There is no joy and wonder apart from Grace. And there is no distinctive Christian identity except that which is founded in Grace, from top to bottom, from the inside out.

    I don’t believe “elder brother” Mennonites really understand this. How can I say that? Because if we strip away the plain coat, the cape dress and the uni-style headcovering, none of which God commands, then Mennonites are immediately shaken, they are in confusion, their identity is lost. What does that mean? It means that Mennonite identity is grounded in something other than God’s Grace; it means that Mennonites don’t really grasp the meaning of the Gospel.

    Where do you find your security before God? Is it in the cape dress? How would you know if you were relying on the cape dress for your security before God? Simply by this: Stop wearing it. Explore other expressions of modest apparel and feminine reserve. Now if you find that proposal threatening or upsetting or at all disturbing then you have discovered a misplaced security. You have actually uncovered an idol. Why? Because God does not command that you wear a cape dress. If you find the relinquishment of the cape dress to be at all troubling then you are resting upon a religious invention as a basis of your security before God. And that is the very definition of idolatry.

    God would have our security before Him founded fully on the Grace that is ours in Christ Jesus. We are fully accepted as God’s children solely on the basis of what Christ has achieved for us on the Cross. He bore our sins in His body on the tree. Christ purchased for us the Grace that we so desperately need, Grace to cover all our sins and Grace to found our identity fully in Him. And so we must sit down before Christ and allow Him to apply this wondrous Grace to our souls.

    Be done with doing, in a vital sense. Yes, we must obey Christ and follow Him. Yes, the NT has real standards (not those codified by Mennonites) to which we must conform. But authentic Christian identity is not shaped by obedience to those commandments nor conformity to those standards. That is not the Gospel and that is not how we are to think of ourselves. If we are Christians then we are debtors to Grace. If we are true followers of Christ then we are defined by God’s Grace, inside and out, from top to bottom, from beginning to end.

    I must conclude. God did not send Christ to the Cross, and Christ did not lay down His life there in sorrow and agony, so that you could ground your identity in religious inventions that are utterly meaningless to Him. The true Gospel does not produce such idolatry. Consider then whether you have truly grasped the Gospel and the meaning of Grace. I assure you that in this Gospel of God’s grace there exists the greatest endowment of Hope that you could ever dare to imagine. And you will have tasted the Gospel’s peculiar relish and hope when the thought of forsaking the cape dress leaves your soul in quiet security and your heart in perfect peace. Then you will know that your confidence is in Christ alone. Then you will be standing firmly in His Grace. And then you will be prepared to unite with others in a genuine NT church.

    I leave you with some lines from James Proctor:

    Lay your deadly doing down-
    Down at Jesus’ feet;
    Stand in Him, in Him alone,
    Gloriously complete.

    1. Kevin, you are speaking some important truths, but you are speaking too strongly and unkindly. To say that the only way to repent is to leave the Mennonite church is wrong and divisive. Paul said to warn a divisive person once or twice.

      There are many people within conservative Mennonite churches who understand grace very well, and who are remaining where they are because that is where God placed them and because they are working to help others understand grace better. These people also know that they are accountable not only directly to God, but also to their brothers and sisters who may still need to grow in understanding.

      Also, please do not pit grace against works. True grace produces works, as I trust you agree, and the NT clearly teaches that we will be judged by our works, as a sign that we have been living in saving grace. Thus to say that “authentic Christian identity is not shaped by obedience to those [NT] commandments nor conformity to those [NT] standards” is hardly true. Paul’s goal was to train others in the “obedience of faith,” and the Anabaptist church has offered an important though imperfect reminder of this truth that obedience is not optional to Christian identity.

      Kevin, I like a lot of what you say. But please stop assuming the worst about the motives of people whom you have never met–that is, the majority of conservative Mennonite Christians.

  11. Dwight writes:

    “…could you perhaps consider the good as well as the not-so-good when assessing Mennonite culture? I find some elements of my birth culture very good indeed….”

    Yes, but the Mormon and the Jehovah’s Witness could say the same thing. The Mormon could point to the impressive families and the happy, disciplined children within their ranks. And the JW could point to the tireless evangelistic efforts of his people, of his birth culture, if you will. But these things are of no moment when considering the big picture. We rightly assess these organizations to be false religions, based upon particular deviations from Scripture.

    My point has never been that no good thing can be found among the Plain people. Rather, I have been reflecting upon the big picture, whether or not conservative Mennonite churches can rightly be considered as genuine NT churches. And I’ve been compelled to answer that question in the negative, for reasons detailed above.

    Mennonite culture, in the nature of the case, cannot be separated from Mennonite religion and the Mennonite church. It all stands or falls together in the big picture. And it falls, I am sorry to say, because Idolatry is its center. Conservative Mennonitism is a false religion.

    1. Kevin, I think you are being far too broad-brush and harsh in your criticism. You are absolutely correct that we cannot earn our salvation by works. And you are absolutely correct that too often man-made rules distract us from obeying God’s word. We need to hear these truths. But I do not think you are understanding that Christian faith and obedience also involves listening to the desires of my brothers and sometimes laying down my desires for theirs, or that there are many people within Mennonite churches who fully understand grace and would feel free to practice a variety of expressions of obedience to Scripture, yet who chose to live as they do for reasons of brotherly love and peace in the church, or for witness to others of similar background. These, too, are biblical reasons as surely as the direct behavioral commands of the NT are. Are these reasons sometimes presented as excuses for not walking in the freedom of the gospel? Most definitely. But even Paul, who understood grace as well as anyone, said that “to the Jews I became as a Jew.” Even he participated in circumcision and Jewish oath-taking from time to time.

      If you want to damn the entire conservative Mennonite church to hell as being members of a false religion (and this is how some of your words sound), then you will need to do the same to all other evangelical denominations for other equally worthy reasons, and you will be a very lonely person in heaven. I urge you to stop making such strong broad-brush criticisms of whole church movements and instead focus on calling individuals to a clearer understanding of the gospel. Even Paul didn’t say that the entire Galatian church was not a genuine church, and Jesus’ words of firm warning to the churches in Revelation were more gracious than yours here.

      It is equally wrong to refuse to acknowledge your brother in Christ as it is to try to gain salvation by works. Unless your words communicate love, even the truth you share will do no good. I urge you to tone down your language or I will need to remove your comments in order to prevent you from hurting my readers. That would be a shame, since you also have things to say that we benefit from hearing. Please, for the sake of the name of Christ and the upbuilding of his Church, ponder these words.

  12. Roger writes:

    “What’s needed in many cases is a spiritual renewal within a conservative practice. ”

    This analysis fails to comprehend that the old man-stitched wineskins of “conservative practice” cannot contain the wine of the NT Gospel. That Gospel, when properly understood, actually liberates one from what you are calling “conservative practice.” The two, spiritual renewal and conservative practice, are actually antithetical, Roger. The Gospel provides new identity papers that necessarily thrusts one out of and away from the Mennonite orbit and its “conservative practice.”

    Spiritual renewal is desperately needed, but when that happens Mennonite “conservative practice” will be jettisoned. For to observe “conservative practice” and especially, to insist upon it as a condition for church membership, is to invite the apostle Paul’s rebuke that you are “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14).

    I write in love and with your highest interests upon my heart 🙂

    1. Interesting but dangerous thoughts, Kevin – I don’t agree, as you might expect. To take the verse you cited (Gal 2:14), you would not only advise the Jewish Christians not to force the Gentiles to get circumcised – you would advise Peter to force Jewish Christians not to circumcise! . . . To “Jettison” all trace of your Jewish identity . . .

      I think the gospel is strong enough to survive and thrive in a conservative practice that puts Jesus Christ at the centre. In fact, that is what I have been fortunate enough to experience in my life and church community. And having Jesus Christ at the centre will result in some kind of practices that are contrary to the dominant culture. Legalism/moralism is a real threat, but let’s try to keep that and our attempts to obey God separate from each other. They might look superficially similar inside a Mennonite church, but one is a heart-universe removed from the other.

      Your view is one I cannot endorse from my understanding of the Bible. If I am misrepresenting what you said, I apologize.

  13. Dwight writes:

    “Also, please do not pit grace against works.”

    I don’t believe that I have used the term “works” in all this discussion. What I have criticized are peculiarly Mennonite “works” (to use your term), like plain coats and cape dresses, that have nothing to do with NT obedience.

    “Thus to say that “authentic Christian identity is not shaped by obedience to those [NT] commandments nor conformity to those [NT] standards” is hardly true.”

    I did not write, nor do I believe, that obedience to NT commands is superfluous or optional. But that obedience does not ground or shape our Identity as Christians.

    Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:10 —

    But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

    The apostle’s identity was grounded in Grace. I think that is clear.

    “…the Anabaptist church has offered an important though imperfect reminder of this truth that obedience is not optional to Christian identity.”

    Change that last word to “life” and I’m right there with you. Obedience is not optional in genuine Christianity. That is certainly true. And it is also true that this emphasis is one of the great hallmarks and strengths of original Anabaptism.

  14. Dwight writes:

    “…I think you are being far too… harsh in your criticism.”

    To the contrary, I would suggest that your own evaluation of the “Mennonite problem” is far too soft. If what I am stating is true, and I insist that it is, then I am probably not being harsh enough. Amos or Hosea or Jeremiah would, no doubt, leave you stinging more than I have. Do you think the Jews of their times might have thought those prophets “too harsh” in their criticism? I imagine such was a regular complaint in Israel and Judah in those days.

    But I will desist at this point, as I have made things as clear as I can for now.

  15. This is an interesting discussion thread. I came across it after searching for “Anabaptist Identity Conference.” I very much enjoyed listening to the conference recordings. My question is this: Is it appropriate to compare the fading Mosaic law at a time when the light of Christ had just come into the world, to the “practice” part of Christian faith and practice that has been established by hundreds of years of born again, Spirit-led Anabaptist believers? One set of rules was outshone by the light of Christ. The other seems to be teetering and threatening to be blotted out by a world that is quickly sliding into darkness as the church is “falling away.” Are Anabaptists being stubborn mules who like their quaint garb, or is the world changing for the worse faster than true believers can adapt?

    1. That’s a good question, Naomi. In part, I agree. Many Anabaptist traditions have begun and are practiced to this day from a devotion to following Christ. On the other hand, I think we need to also remember that the Mosaic Law was good, too–God-given and reflective of his righteousness. I think we also need to remember that what Paul contrasted the Mosaic Law with was not a new set of ethics, but faith, and the freedom of walking by the law of Christ and by the Spirit. So any code of ethics today that distracts us from relying by faith on the righteousness that God provides through Christ and by the Spirit is a problem, no matter how good our intent.

      This discussion is complicated by the fact that many of the “Anabaptist rules” that we receive today were actually unknown to the first generations of Anabaptists, who knew nothing of uniform attire, restrictions against certain forms of technology, etc. We need to be like those first Anabaptists who were willing to submit all the practices that the church had developed over hundreds of years to the authority of Scripture, keeping the good, rejecting the bad, and flexing for the gospel’s sake on what is neither good nor bad on its own. We can’t rely on a culture, no matter how good it is, to keep the hearts of us and our children pure. Evil worldliness has been proven to thrive within strict religious rules just as surely as in lawless settings. The church can “fall away” into legalistic faithlessness just as surely as into godless immorality, and sometimes at the same time.

      We need to renew our vision of having Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, Scripture-guided churches–of asking “What do the apostles have to say about this?” rather than simply doing as Anabaptists have “always” done. This will include learning and retaining the best from Anabaptist and all church history, while rejecting the call to follow worldly thinking in all its forms, whether legalistic and lawless.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  16. For Kevin Brendler, who I do not know, I invite you to stop by in NYC sometime and visit for a while to discuss your concerns over a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. I can drink it black or with cream and sugar–you choose. I think your concerns, and the concerns of many others I have had the privilege of hearing, are worth noting when we consider the denominational problems facing the Mennonite church. We cannot and should not just ignore the concerns and plug along without considering how we shall now live.

    That said, I self-identify as a plain Anabaptist follower of Jesus, so I am one of those you urge to repent.

    I would wish to explore your spiritual history and ask how it has been with you in the last 12 months in sharing your faith with the lost and dying around you. I desire to grow in my ability to “do the work of an evangelist” and to disciple new believers in the faith. In reading your posts, I get the impression that you seem to have an inside track on everything wrong about the Mennonite denomination. It would be interesting to explore if you have discovered insights into effectively doing the work of an evangelist and discipling and integrating new believers into the Kingdom of God. Does the level of passion shown in your critiques of Mennonites correspond with as much or more fervor in your heart to win the lost for the Kingdom of God? The medium hazelnut is on me. Look me up sometime. Rich

  17. Dwight, this was an interesting read, and I see you have a lively discussion going on here. I might add that it seems that the spiritual battle is generally three-pronged: 1. Self; 2. World; 3. Devil.

    I think in terms of the American church the land-mines show up in generally those three ways: 1. Self–I will go to a church that fits me and makes me feel good or that appeals to me or, on the other side, I will go to the church that dots the i’s and cross’s the t’s that I want and lays out the law as I feel it should; 2. World–the church will drift towards and with the world or, on the other side, the church will define itself by its level of counter-cultural positioning; 3. Devil–there is a huge element of deceit that Satan is employing in blinding the eyes of so many church leaders and church-goers to the Truth of Christ and His Word but, on the other side, there is a hypocritical and self-righteous posing that “teaches as doctrines the commandments of men.”

    The way of Life in Christ is narrow and the road to destruction is broad. The landmines are exploding all around us–even in the churches of America. May God help us.

    Oh, that the “radical lifestyle” of plain anabaptists would be characterized by a captivating love for our Lord, a deep love of the Brotherhood, a hatred for sin, a burden for the lost, a generous and ongoing spirit of giving, a commitment to self-less serving, a perpetual and eager and loving and truthful proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. I suspect that a significant reason we encounter so many critiques of our decision to be “plain people” is because we are often missing some of those key components of radical, Kingdom Christianity.

    1. Thanks, Rich. You are insightful and convicting, as per often, which is good, for you are “doing the work of… exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.”

      I agree: The church is facing attacks on every hand. Oh for grace to walk together in newness of life!

      God bless you, brother.

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