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“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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ESV Audio Bible on Sale

Dear blog readers,

Welcome back to me after a wonderful trip to Canada, Dominican Republic, and Haiti! Highlights of the southern leg of this trip included a beautiful Caribbean wedding, a Haitian airline that took our money and flew ran, visits with Open Hands groups and national leaders in Haiti, and losing my glasses in the ocean.

Since this is not a travel blog, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination–except to say that our trip brought opportunities to ponder churches and money in more contexts. I learned anew, for example, that nationals often learn church giving patterns, for better or for worse, from foreign missionaries. In Haiti I heard of one foreign mission agency whose primary work, I understand, is to go around building churches buildings for Haitians. What do you think? Is this helpful? Sometimes? Always? Rarely? And in the Dominican Republic I listened as the wife of a long-time pastor described how nationals in their local church went about starting an evangelistic outreach in a neighboring town: they assumed that they should build a church building for the residents of the town and send them clothing. They did this, I understand, before many converts had even been won to Christ. Evidently they learned well from the foreign missionaries who helped start their own church. What are we teaching, intentionally and otherwise?

I also rejoiced to see Haitians providing for themselves with responsibility and dignity through the Open Hands program, and heard Christian workers from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico describe an urgent need for similar financial teaching in their own nations.

I do not mean to be critical in my questions above. Even our best efforts often have unintended negative consequences. And thankfully, God takes even our imperfect efforts and wins children for himself! That said, this might be a good place to plug a book on missions and giving that many are finding helpful: When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

I enjoyed reading your comments on my series about church giving. I’ve responded to each in the comments threads and will consider this series done for the present. Thanks for your interest!


Now, as my title promised: The ESV Hear the Word Audio Bible is on sale at ChristianAudio.com.  Since this website exists to build up the Church of Jesus Christ by helping her listen carefully to the Scriptures, I thought you’d like to know. This is my favorite audio Bible, and it comes on sale for this price only once or twice a year. (Many other audiobooks are also on sale.)

You can download it for only $7.49 here: http://christianaudio.com/esv-hear-the-word-audio-bible-audiobook-download.

If you’ve never used an audio Bible, I encourage you to try it. I’ve found that listening to the Bible provides some benefits that reading doesn’t (and vice versa).  In most historical periods, including biblical times, more people have heard the Bible than read it. God’s Word is designed to be heard!

 


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Giving To and Through the Church (Part 6)

[See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 in this series.]

Part 6: A Handful of Concluding Thoughts About Giving to the Church

Now that this series is nearly over, perhaps I should discuss my title. Did you notice that it’s a little clunky? “Giving To and Through the Church.” Why two prepositions–to and through? And why did I capitalize them, contrary to standard practice? (You might not have noticed unless you’re reading by email.)

Good questions. Thanks for asking!

I chose this title because I wish to draw attention to something I’ve noticed as I’ve read the New Testament with an eye for what it says about church and giving. Unless I’m forgetting something, I don’t think we read any commands in the NT to “give to the church.” We read commands to give to needy Christians and to gospel proclaimers. We read encouragements to give to church leaders who are overseeing and distributing collections for needy Christians. But we don’t find any commands to give to the church.

In other words, I think we are quite missing the point if we simply teach people that they should put money in the offering plate on Sunday, thereby fulfilling their duty to “give to the church.”

The church offering is not a destination for your giving; it is a channel for your giving. In the NT the closest we read of people giving “to the church” is when they were giving money “to” church leaders (such as the apostles in Jerusalem or Paul visiting his young churches) with the express purpose that it would flow “through” these leaders and on “to” needy Christians. The goal in such giving was not to fulfill some legal demand that Christians must faithfully give to their local church. Rather, the goal in such giving was to meet actual physical needs. People were hungry!

In some cases it just so happens that it is most effective to meet physical needs through a systematic effort organized by church leaders, rather than by disorganized individual donations. But to give “to the church” simply for the sake of giving to the church is as insensible as giving to Voice of the Martyrs merely for the sake of fulfilling some abstract sense of duty rather than out of compassion for suffering Christians. “To” the offering plate is useless on its own; “through” the offering plate is powerful when the money actually goes “to” needy Christians.

After all, “the church” is a term that refers in the NT to people, not to a building, a bank account, or a denominational body. If this is true, then our vision for giving to Christ’s church should extend beyond our local congregation and even beyond our church fellowship, conference, or alliance. We follow the NT pattern of giving “to and through the church” when we give to local leaders who distribute funds to local Christians. But we also follow this NT pattern when we give to Destinations International or Christian Aid Ministries. We follow this NT pattern when we organize local collections for that lonely Catholic widow, or for that sick Pentecostal father of eight whom God hasn’t yet healed. The church is bigger than your local congregation, so giving to and through the church is bigger, too.

Since the church is like a family, we should give “especially [to] members of [our] household” (cf. 1 Tim. 5:8),  that is, to the saints whom we see regularly in our own church gatherings. The brother I can see (1 John 3:17), the brother I can speak to (James 2:15-16), is the brother I am most responsible to care for. But when Scripture says we are to give “especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), do not imagine for a moment that this household is limited to your local congregation.

In other words, when we consider my title, we would do well to ponder not only the clunky prepositions, but also what the NT means when it speaks of church. Then we should let our observations shape what we do when we “give to and through the church.”


Let me summarize this series by quoting Paul’s words to the churches of Galatia. Notice, in the middle, the gospel motivations for giving (reaping eternal life from the Spirit). And notice, at the beginning and the end, the instructions about where our gifts should go:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal. 6:6-10)


Systemizing biblical data, as I’ve done in this series, is important and ultimately inevitable. Yet it carries the potential risk of leading us to read the data through our own patterns. Sometimes we force data to fit our patterns, and sometimes we entirely miss other data that our patterns don’t prompt us to be looking for. I’m sure I’ve done some of both in this series. I’ve argued that there are three main NT reasons for giving to and through the church: (1) to support needy local Christians, (2) to send relief to distant Christians, and (3) to support gospel proclaimers. I’ve suggested that church building expenses must not detract us from these primary reasons, and that churches should not command tithing but rather exalt giving as a gospel grace. And I’ve reminded us that “the church” is much bigger than your local congregation and the Sunday morning offering plate.

What have I missed? Where have I been imbalanced? Which other NT passages should I have included in my survey?

Share your insights and questions below. If there is enough feedback, I might respond in one final post for this series. Thanks much for reading! And thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!


PS: If you enjoyed this series on giving, please consider making a donation to Open Hands. (Visit their Website or Facebook page to learn more, or send a donation to Open Hands, 1245 Old Route 15, New Columbia, PA  17856.) Why should you consider giving to Open Hands?

  1. It is a great way to put to practice what you just read! (Here is a quote from their website: “Open Hands operates savings and credit associations in countries where Anabaptist missions are working with people who are experiencing the effects of poverty. We hire and train national Christian individuals to form and supervise savings groups in association with local churches. Our objective is to assist the local churches by helping people grow in Christ, and by teaching them to save funds in order to operate micro-businesses. The Open Hands program will increase their income and will result in stronger, more self-sufficient churches.”)
  2. I adapted this series on giving from some curriculum that Open Hands hired me to help write. Without Open Hands, this series wouldn’t have happened. (Disclaimer: This series has been significantly adapted and personalized according to my own perspectives. Open Hands may not agree with everything in this series.)

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