Tag Archives: John D. Martin

“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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What I Learned at AIC 2015 about How To Use the Bible

This past weekend I was blessed to attend most of the Anabaptist Identity Conference, held this year near Napannee, Indiana. This was the 10th AIC, and it lived up to its reputation as an event which gathers a provocative diversity of speakers and listeners.

We heard an Amish speaker (David Kline) explain the benefits of organic farming, and during one meal I sat across the table from a retired Goshen College history professor (Theron Schlabach). David Bercot shared with surprising candor his experience of how hard it is for most non-Anabaptists to ever join an Anabaptist church, given our cultural additives and our reluctance to let “outsiders” have a meaningful voice in shaping our churches. In contrast, Matthias Overholt, dressed in a plain brown suit and sporting a massive beard, animatedly preached the importance of “visible reminders that we are not a part of the world’s culture.” Beachy, Hutterite, Charity, Holdeman, MCUSA, Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, first-generation Anabaptists, unidentified plain Mennonites, and more–we all mingled without bickering for a few days and enjoyed GMO-free meals together. Some even traveled all the way from Down Under just to learn more about the Kingdom that turned the world upside down. Organized by the hippy-Anabaptist Overholt brothers, it was an earthy little bit of heaven on earth.

I don’t plan to give a detailed report of the weekend. The talks should soon be posted online here so you can listen and ponder for yourself. [Edit: See also the reviews by Rich Preheim and Theron Schlabach at the Mennonite World Review.] It would be interesting to discuss John D. Martin’s remarks about participatory church meetings  and observance of the Lord’s Supper (we need more of both) and Chester Weaver’s observations about how we have been shaped by Fundamentalism (some pro, mostly con). Suffice it to say that throughout the entire weekend I sometimes said “Amen,” I sometimes shook my head and agonized over error, and I always enjoyed the immersion education experience.

So, keeping things fairly general and naming names judiciously, here are some things I learned at AIC 2015 about how to use or not use the Bible in our preaching and teaching.

  1. Do call each other to passionately follow Jesus. Dean Taylor’s favorite question is so helpful: “What if Jesus really meant every word he said?” We need to hear more, not less, about following in Jesus’ steps, obeying his call to radical discipleship. The AIC always does well at this, and for that I am grateful.
  2. Don’t pit Jesus against Paul. I overheard one of the speakers in conversation, suggesting that it might be wise to place less emphasis on Paul’s writings. I believe he was suggesting that focusing on Paul’s writings tends to increase church conflict and distract us from following Jesus. I think this is a sad misunderstanding. I’ve written at length about this in my essay “Red Letter Reductionism,” which you can find here.
  3. Do emphasize that obedience is crucial. Head knowledge without obedience is useless. Preach the Sermon on the Mount! Keep James in the canon, for sure! And don’t hide disobedience behind either theological sophistication or a plain suit and cape dress. Again, AIC generally does very well on this point.
  4. Don’t say theology is unimportant. I heard one AIC speaker say “We are not theologians.” Another speaker (David Bercot) had a book on display entitled Will the Theologians Please Sit Down? (Full disclosure: I have not read the book through, so I may be wrong; but my sense from the title, excerpts, and some reports is that the book is not as well-balanced as some of Bercot’s other books. At minimum, I sense some readers are using it to bolster an unhealthy whole-sale rejection of theology.) Ironically, every one of the AIC speakers is obviously a theologian himself! This was evident by the multiple explanations (sometimes generalizations) of how Anabaptist soteriology (theology of salvation) and ecclesiology (theology of church) is different from that of Protestants. Theology is inescapable and essential.
  5. Do learn from historical examples of interpreting and obeying the Bible. One of AIC’s greatest strengths is its emphasis on history. Chester Weaver’s talks on Russian Mennonites were fascinating! AIC always includes such historical talks. Incidentally, the discipline of studying how the church in the past has understood and obeyed the Scriptures is called historical theology–more evidence that AIC is full of theology, despite some protests to the contrary.
  6. Don’t rely more on history than on the Scriptures. One of AIC’s greatest weaknesses is its emphasis on history. (No, I am not contradicting myself.) AIC speakers are very concerned with statistics about how few Anabaptist children have remained in the churches of their parents. They trace the patterns of the past and issue warnings about the future. Make no mistake: I definitely share some of their concerns. But I am even more concerned when I hear almost no appeal to Scripture during a panel discussion on how cultural traditions affect our ability to pass on the faith and integrate non-Anabaptists. (I raised my hand too slowly to add my question: How should 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 affect both our approach as witnesses and also our goals for the kind of self-identity that we want our disciples to adopt?) Some AIC talks referenced much Scripture faithfully and effectively. Others, not so much.
  7. Do shape your sermons around Scripture. One of the best AIC talks this year was one by Ernest Strubhar, where he traced through the whole Bible the big story of the war of Satan against God. This is theology–biblical theology! Some of Strubhar’s Bible texts are notoriously difficult to interpret, and I quibbled with a handful of details in his sermon. But the big picture that he painted was faithful and powerful, providing a real hopeful foundation for radical discipleship.
  8. Don’t pull Scripture out of context to bolster your own claims. Unfortunately, another sermon this past weekend did not use Scripture so faithfully. By his own admission, the speaker’s key text was used out of context, with key words being interpreted differently than what they actually meant. This text was used to structure the speaker’s entire sermon. In this way, the speaker brought an aura of Scriptural authority to his own ideas, using God’s word to make his own words sound more convincing. This is very dangerous indeed. Ironically, the real meaning of the speaker’s text, when read in context, actually undermines (in my estimation) one of the speaker’s main claims!
  9. Do invite others to critique your Bible teaching. This is another strength of AIC. After each talk there is a brief Q and A session. The Overholt brothers do a good job as moderators, allowing and encouraging honest feedback and questioning. The speakers also welcome this, evidencing grace and humility. Mutual critique is also built into the roster of speakers, since they represent a variety of backgrounds. It would be good to see more of this feedback encouraged in our regular church meetings!
  10. Don’t pit the Scriptures against Christ. Several times at AIC 2015 there was an evident tension between the Written Word and the Living Word. Several times questioners felt a need to ask a speaker to clarify himself on this point. But it is irrational to try to know a person while downplaying his words. The liberal modernists of a century ago claimed that we could follow the Christ of faith even if it was impossible to gain certainty about the Jesus of history. They believed that the Scriptural accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection could not be trusted, yet they tried to salvage a mystical Christian faith. Today we can see where “Christ” without Scripture has led the churches that embraced this liberal modernism. I think all the AIC speakers would eagerly affirm the trustworthiness of Scripture. But true trust involves more than affirming that Scripture is true; it also involves drawing our own conceptions of Christ and his kingdom from the full Scriptural witness. Some of the AIC speakers do this very well. Others didn’t always display as much functional reliance on Scripture as I would have liked.
  11. Do call each other to passionately follow Jesus. Okay, this is a repeat of my first point, but worth repeating. This is AIC’s greatest strength, and it is the very best way that you can use the Bible in your own preaching and teaching.

I came away from AIC 2015 with multiple blessings, including a renewed desire to live among a body of believers that listens well to the Written Word as a vital witness to the Living Word. I wouldn’t feel at home in every church group represented at AIC. But I am thankful to all the speakers for honestly sharing their hearts and prodding us to better follow Jesus.

Do you have anything to add to this list? What would it look like if you made a similar list based on how the Bible is used in your church pulpit? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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