The Honest Confession of a Hypocritical Pacifist

I am a pacifist. I don’t say that very often. I am annoying in so many other ways that I try to avoid making an issue of my convictions in this area lest I provide people with either another reason to be annoyed with me or an explanation (at least in their minds) for why I am so annoying in the first place.

Once in a while I am pointedly asked, often as a result of something I have written, “Are you a pacifist?”. I usually obfuscate a bit in my reply, noting that pacifism is mainly a political position with philosophical roots. I prefer the term “biblical nonresistance,” since my objection to violence, including the violence associated with “justifiable” wars, is rooted in my understanding of the teachings of Jesus. Continue reading

Podcast No. 7

Vector Button PodcastPodcast No. 7 is now available. It is called “I Just Want To Go Home,” and it is about 10 minutes long. To download it as an mp3 file, click here. To listen to the podcast now, click on the button below. This podcast is also archived on the “Podcasts” page of this blog. Thanks for listening. 

There Is Still No Plan B

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a blog post in which I affirmed my lifelong belief that God had called me to vocational Christian ministry and repeated my intention to fulfill that call for the remainder of my life. I called that post “There Is No Plan B.”

Yesterday I published a post in which I described my current circumstances in stark terms. I laid out both the scope of my current ministry as well as the financial realities which my wife and I are facing. A few of my readers wrote to assure me of their prayers and to offer other expressions of encouragement.

Early this morning, after a mostly sleepless night, I sensed God sayingStarry night that I should re-publish that post from last February as a way of declaring, once again, that I am in this for the duration. I have edited that post a bit, adding some elements toward the end that reflect the current situation more accurately, but it is essentially the same content that I originally wrote. I meant it then. I mean it now. There is still no Plan B.

Continue reading

I Want It All

I’ve not had the best of luck with Facebook status updates lately (as I noted in my blog post of November 9). Still, I ran across a series of updates which I published last May (Yes, I keep a file. Do you think I take Facebook a bit too seriously?), and I felt they were worth repeating. In fact, upon reflection, I decided to use them as the basis for a blog post. They will help me say something I have wanted to say for a while.

When I wrote the status update which I published on May 3, I had no idea it would be the first installment in a short series. I don’t recall what prompted it. I only know that, over the course of a week, I published five status updates, all of which conformed to the same pattern.

That is, in each of them, I reflected on the ways my life had been affected by the qualities and characteristics of the major Christian traditions with which I had identified over the years. Instead of saying more about that series of posts, I’ll simply share them with you again, as they appeared on my Facebook wall from May 3 to May 10, 2012.

Continue reading

I’m Not Trying To Make Trouble

Tomorrow is my birthday. I will be sixty-three years old. Ever since I turned fifty, it has been increasingly difficult for me to believe that I am as old as my birth certificate says I am. When I was a kid (and this is probably true for everybody), a person in his or her sixties seemed positively ancient. A few years ago, the name of former President Lyndon Johnson came up in a conversation (don’t ask me how that happened), and I remember the shock I felt when it was noted that LBJ was only sixty years old when he left office. In my recollection, he was always an old man. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I do even now, how many people think of me as an old man.

For much of my life, or so it seems in retrospect, I was the youngest person in the room. My late November birthday meant that, from first grade through high school, almost all of my classmates were older than me, some by nearly a year. I was also a short, scrawny kid with limited athletic ability and crooked teeth. (In those days, dental insurance was unheard of, and there was no money for “luxuries” such as orthodontics.) But I was smart and could think fast on my feet. Perhaps that explains, at least in part, why some people say I was always on the defensive and ready to engage in an argument at the drop of a hat.

Life would have been far different for me if I had not been blessed (and I mean that sincerely) with a sharp mind and a gift for public speaking. Despite my obvious physical limitations and the fact that my family had little in the way of material wealth, I have never felt intimidated in the presence of people with money or power (and I have known some). I attribute that to my awareness, from an early age, that I had a good mind and could express myself effectively.

Continue reading

The Past Is Prologue (or How Anabaptism Continues To Influence This Anglican)

I’ve told this story before. A couple of years ago I took a graduate-level course in the history of Anglicanism. One day, well into the course curriculum, I found myself responding, yet again, to what I perceived to be an unwarranted and misguided criticism, from one of my fellow-students, of some aspect of the Free Church tradition, where I had spent more than thirty-five years in vocational ministry.

After several minutes of “spirited” exchange, the professor waded into the fray. After confirming that my learned opponent was indeed misguided in his critique, at least on that particular point, the instructor leaned across the lectern and looked directly at me. “You’re not an Anglican,” he said. It wasn’t a judgment or an accusation, and there was not one note of rancor in his voice. He was simply making an observation. “You’re not an Anglican,” he repeated. “You’re a liturgical Anabaptist.”

He later explained that he wasn’t challenging my commitment to Anglicanism nor suggesting that I should not be preparing for Holy Orders. Rather, he was voicing his opinion that my Anabaptist convictions were so deeply ingrained that they naturally informed my response to criticism of the Free Church tradition and infused it with passion. I have to say I think he was right.

Last winter I wrote a blog post called “My Debt to Anabaptism.” I meant everything I wrote there. Since that time, however, I have had occasion to think more about my quarter-century sojourn among Mennonite Anabaptists, the lessons I learned and the convictions I developed there, and the relationship of that chapter of my pilgrimage to my current identification as an Anglican priest.

One such opportunity was occasioned when I heard that Gene Herr had died. In response, I wrote a blog post called “Gene Herr Was My Hero” to express my appreciation for the testimony and example of a man who grew up as a Mennonite Anabaptist but was drawn toward the liturgical tradition later in his life. I admired his courage in following his convictions and his insistence that these two traditions could strengthen each other.

More recently I stumbled onto the online musings of Tim Chesterton, an Anglican priest in Canada, who developed an interest in historical Anabaptism and its contemporary expressions and drew conclusions similar to those of Gene Herr regarding the compatibility of Anabaptism with the liturgical tradition and the mutual benefit which he believed Anabaptism and his own Anglican heritage could be to each other. He spent a sabbatical studying Anabaptism and compiled his conclusions into a series of blog posts. I found them fascinating.

All of this convinced me that I needed to write another post in which I would update the conclusions I expressed in my earlier post. This, then, is that.

My professor was right. I am a liturgical Anabaptist. I might still be a Mennonite if I could have found a place, within the particular group of Mennonites with whom I was serving, where my growing convictions regarding the importance of the liturgical tradition would be acknowledged and appreciated. Finding no place like that, I had no choice but to turn in another direction. I became an Anglican with Anabaptist convictions instead of an Anabaptist with liturgical sensibilities.

I love Anglican worship, and I don’t think I could ever feel at home again in a tradition in which the celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) was not the pinnacle of the church’s corporate worship. At the same time, I miss a lot that I had come to love and appreciate as an Anabaptist. Yes, I miss the tradition of a capella congregational singing which some Mennonite churches still cherish. And, oddly enough, I miss the sense of “family-ness” which pervades much of the Mennonite community, even though I always felt that I was a guest at the table and not really a member of the family.

Here’s what I miss most about Anabaptism, however. I miss the serious conversation I used to engage in with other Anabaptists, many of them my colleagues in ministry, concerning the interface between the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, their interpretation by Paul and others in the NT Epistles, and their practical application amidst the contemporary culture. I didn’t always agree with my fellow Anabaptists, but I always respected their viewpoint (even though I’m certain that more than a few of them would be surprised to hear me say that).

Like most traditions, and like me when I was serving among them, Anabaptist Christians talk a better game than they play. But I miss talking that game with them, and I’ve concluded that, at least sometimes, the more you talk about something the more likely you are to do something as a result.

My experience among Anabaptists sharpened my sensitivity to injustice in the world and strengthened my convictions regarding “biblical nonresistance.” (See Matthew 5:43-48.) That is a perspective almost completely absent from the circle of colleagues among whom I move as an Anglican. I miss it terribly. (It is not absent from Anglican sensibilities altogether, however, as this quote by Desmond Tutu illustrates.)

So, in this update to my post titled “My Debt to Anabaptism,” I am going on record to declare that, whatever the context of my future ministry as an Anglican priest, I will be making it clear that the shape of my Anglicanism will be strongly informed by my Anabaptist convictions. And now that I know that men like Gene Herr and Tim Chesterton share my convictions in that regard and have left a written record to serve as precedent for me, I am even more energized and encouraged.

In The Tempest, Shakespeare wrote that “what’s past is prologue.” I don’t know how long I still have to serve Christ and His Kingdom, but whether it is two weeks or thirty years, I plan to serve it as an Anglican Anabaptist (or should that be an Anabaptist Anglican?). I am totally convinced that my pilgrimage has not been a series of disjointed meanderings. I feel enriched and empowered by my exposure to these two traditions—Anabaptism and Anglicanism—into which God has providentially guided me over the past thirty-five years. They are not mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, mutually beneficial, and I am grateful to God for allowing me to experience the benefits of both communions… separately in the past and blended in my future ministry.

For some specific descriptions of ways in which this union of Anabaptism and Anglicanism may manifest itself it my future ministry, stay tuned to my future blog posts. Thank you for reading, and as always…

Soli Deo Gloria.

Gene Herr Was My Hero

I don’t think I ever met Gene Herr, although our paths may have crossed many years ago, before I knew who he was and when I was even more of a nobody than I am now. Gene was a Mennonite, born and raised, who became a Roman Catholic in 2005 when he was in his seventies. Perhaps that sentence alone is enough to tell you why he is a hero of mine.

My wife assures me that I first learned of Gene Herr sometime in the late ’80s or ’90s, while he and his wife were living in Michigan where they had founded a ministry called The Hermitage. Located on 50+ wooded acres, The Hermitage was (and still is) a place for spiritual retreat and formation. When I included a description of the St. Patrick Center in the ministry prospectus which I wrote a year ago, The Hermitage was one of several similar endeavors which provided inspiration and a model for that vision.

Gene Herr died on January 1 this year, although I did not learn of his passing until today. The June issue of The Mennonite, the monthly organ of Mennonite Church USA, published a major article which assessed the impact of his life and ministry. Gene Herr actually was what I have aspired to be—a sacramental and liturgical Anabaptist.

The only personal contact I ever had with Gene Herr came about nearly two years ago, in August 2010. I had written a letter to the editor of the Mennonite Weekly (now World) Review. Gene read my letter and sent me a handwritten note of encouragement in response.

Here is part of what I wrote in that letter—

I joined the Mennonite Church in 1982 and for 26 years served in a variety of ministry roles, including 8 years as a pastor and 14 years as a teacher in a Mennonite Bible college not affiliated with MCUSA.  While teaching there, I came to appreciate the beauty and richness of liturgical worship.  Since I was unable to find a Mennonite congregation in that area which shared my convictions, I began attending an Anglican church, but I never abandoned or compromised my nonresistance convictions nor my commitment to kingdom living and radical discipleship. Still, because I no longer attended a Mennonite church, my teaching contract was terminated in 2008.

I am now preparing for Holy Orders in the Anglican Church in North America, not so much because I have uncritically embraced Anglicanism but because there seems to be more room for my Anabaptist convictions in the Anglican communion than for my liturgical sensibilities in Anabaptism.  I am less an Anglican than a liturgical Anabaptist.

Here is part of what he wrote in response—

My wife and I had a retreat place in southern Michigan. We began with strong Mennonite support with a goal of working at a spirituality to make possible what we have as a call to peace and justice. Our work became wonderfully ecumenical. …

In ’05, the 50th year of my ordination (as a Mennonite minister) at Scottdale, PA, I became a Roman Catholic. … I identify with your struggle and quest for a home. … Blessings to you as you live and serve between the traditions. I have many (Mennonite) friends and still am able to do some teaching in Mennonite settings.

And then, this from the article in The Mennonite, which I mentioned above—

In response to God’s call,… Gene, a lifelong Mennonite, was received into the Catholic Church (in 2005).

This step wasn’t a rejection of his Mennonite roots but the fulfillment of a lifelong faith as an Anabaptist, says Ivan Kauffman, who with Gene and others helped develop Bridgefolk, a movement of sacramentally minded Mennonites and peace-minded Roman Catholics who come together to celebrate each other’s traditions, explore each other’s practices and honor each other’s contribution to the mission of Christ’s church.

“Gene did not turn his back on his Mennonite heritage or on the Mennonite church,” Kauffman says. “He continued to serve the Mennonite community in various ways to the end of his life. What he did do was find ways to make the riches of the pre-Reformation spiritual tradition, out of which the 16th-century Anabaptist movement emerged, available to 20th-century Mennonites.

“He and … Mary did so in ways that were helpful to hundreds of other Mennonites. In the end, however, Gene came to believe he should not just borrow from the Catholic tradition [but] become a full participant in it.”

Gene testifies to this perspective in an essay he wrote: “I am a Roman Catholic not because I have a file folder full of arguments to prove this is superior to all other ecclesial groups but because this is a way of living into a tradition that connects me to God’s people in a fullness of faith, hope and love across millennia.”

That is very similar to the testimony I could give regarding my own pilgrimage from Anabaptism to the liturgical tradition of Anglicanism.

I did not grow up in Anabaptism, as Gene Herr did. And for nine years I was the face and voice of a group called Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship, which pointed out areas within contemporary Anabaptism (especially MCUSA) where we saw evidence of “doctrinal erosion” and a slipping away from the orthodox heritage of historical Anabaptism. For both of those reasons, my transition from Anabaptism to Anglicanism resulted in greater alienation between me and my former associates within MCUSA than was true of Gene Herr in his relationship with Mennonites after his conversion to Catholicism.

Still, even in his case, as the article in The Mennonite observes—

As (Gene and his wife, Mary) pursued their visionary calling, the wider church did not always understand or affirm the new territories they explored. Eventually, however, many pastors across the church came to appreciate the pastoral nurture they received from the couple at The Hermitage…

I was not fortunate enough to have benefited from the kind of face-to-face mentoring and spiritual support from Gene Herr which so many others experienced, but I was enriched and encouraged by my limited contact. That brief encounter was enough to let me know that, in Gene Herr, I had found a “kindred spirit.”

I have no idea what, if anything, will develop, in my case, as far as a significant ministry among Anglicans is concerned. So far, the landscape looks fairly bleak in that regard. But it may very well be that, through this blog and in other ways, I can still share with my friends and acquaintances in Anabaptism the reality which I have experienced through my encounter with liturgical Anglicanism.

I am not out to make Anglican converts of Anabaptists. In all of my life and ministry, my goal is to encourage believers to take seriously the call of Christ to be faithful citizens of His Kingdom. The rich heritage of the liturgical tradition has been a great help to me in my personal pursuit of that goal. Gene Herr was an encouragement sent to me from God, and one of these days I will be able to tell him that in person.

RIP, Gene Herr.

 

Trusting God In The Consequences

I think I understand why people find it so difficult to change their minds and why they are skeptical of others who do make changes like that. It is because they believe that the change they are considering or the change they observe in others requires the repudiation of all that has gone before. In most cases, however, that is simply not true.

It has certainly not been true of me. I grew up and began my ministry in Baptist Fundamentalism. I no longer identify with that community in any official or institutional sense, but I retain some of the convictions which I developed there, and I have some good memories. True, I have shed the tendency to judgmentalism and legalism which was (and is) too often part of that tradition. But I have maintained a love for the Bible, which was instilled in me back then, and I genuinely appreciate the depth of devotion to their beliefs, even if they are a bit skewed, for which Fundamentalists are rightly known.

When my view of the parameters of the Kingdom of God expanded beyond the limits of Fundamentalism, I found a home in non-denominational Evangelicalism.  The character of the faith I observed in Evangelical Christianity was less strident, less doctrinaire than that of Fundamentalism, yet its roots were still firmly planted in historical orthodoxy. That balance is important to me even now.

The blog post I wrote on January 23 was titled “My Debt To Anabaptism,” and it described my pilgrimage from mainstream Evangelicalism to the Mennonite Church as well as the elements of belief and practice from that tradition which had the greatest influence on my life and ministry. My view of the importance of the Kingdom of God, my ongoing appreciation for the character of radical discipleship, and my commitment to biblical nonresistance all took shape and began to develop during my quarter-century among Mennonites.

All of these traditions have contributed something important to my life experience. They have all helped to make me who I am today. I come to Anglicanism out of an admixture of Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism (which also included exposure to the Charismatic Renewal), and Anabaptism, and I am richer for the experience. I’m grateful for the diversity which my pilgrimage reflects. I believe my preaching has been enriched, my teaching enhanced, and my pastoral gifts honed through my association with believers from a wide variety of traditions and communions.

I have changed my mind on some issues. And yes, I have concluded that I can no longer embrace some of the beliefs and convictions which I once held. But I don’t repudiate any tradition with which I was formerly associated (although my attitude toward Fundamentalism comes close, on occasion).

There is a down side to a pilgrimage like mine. It can be very lonely. It can lead to confusion and suspicion on the part of those who can neither understand nor accept the scope or the nature of the changes which I feel God has directed me to adopt. And each time I have moved from one communion to another, I have been required to develop a completely new network of colleagues and associates. My old networks have not transferred to my new contexts. Further, since I came to each new home from outside the tradition, I have sometimes been regarded as an interloper. The process of gaining trust and building relationships is time-consuming and, for an introvert like me, emotionally exhausting.

Has it been worth it? If you had asked me that ten years ago, my answer would have been an unequivocal yes. My transitions, first to Evangelicalism and then to Anabaptism, were relatively smooth, although not totally without some loss and pain. Still, the benefits far outweighed the sacrifice. This time, however, things are very much different.

In the first place, the cost of my transition to Anglicanism has been far higher, both materially and emotionally. Moreover, my moves to mainstream Evangelicalism and later to Anabaptism both resulted in numerous opportunities to use my gifts in vocational ministry. I felt genuinely needed. More often than not since moving to Anglicanism, I have felt superfluous. I have a theory about why that is, but I’ll save it for a later post. In the meantime, has it been worth it? The best I can say at the moment is that it’s too soon to tell.

So, I’ve talked about the down side of changing my mind. Is there an up side? You mean in addition to the incomparable satisfaction of knowing I have been faithful in responding to what I believe to be the movement of God’s Spirit in the depths of my conscience? Yes, at least in these ways.

First of all, I am far more tolerant of those who disagree with me than I used to be. In many cases, I have been where they are; I have held many of the beliefs which they now hold with such fervor. I understand the attraction, and who knows? They may be right. In any event, I cannot disparage their positions without bringing judgment on my own earlier motives and discernment.

And further, I hold my own current convictions far more lightly and, I hope, more humbly than I used to. If I was wrong once, or at least not completely right, I can certainly be wrong again. These days, there are far fewer hills on which I am prepared to die than I once imagined.

It is really difficult to make substantive changes in our fundamental beliefs. Believe me, I know. I also know, however, that sometimes the sense that God is prompting the change is so strong that the only appropriate response of faithful discipleship is to make the change and trust God in the consequences.

My Debt To Anabaptism

This past Saturday marked the 487th anniversary of the beginning of a movement, which arose as part of the Protestant Reformation, known as Anabaptism. I grew up as a Baptist, and I knew a little about the historical connection between my tradition and Anabaptism. For example, I knew that the “Ana-” prefix did not mean “anti.” Anabaptists were not “Baptist-haters.” (Don’t laugh. An Anglican priest, who really should have known better, once said to me, in all seriousness, “What a terrible name for a movement. Why would they want to be known as people who hated Baptists?”)

As a student at Wheaton (IL) Graduate School in the early 1980s, I began to look seriously at sixteenth-century Anabaptism. I was intrigued and challenged by the testimony of these Christians who endorsed the theological convictions of the magisterial reformers but insisted that orthodoxy (correct belief) should issue in orthopraxy (correct behavior).  They believed that the nature of the Christian gospel demanded changed lives as evidence of its reality.  Becoming a Christian was not merely a matter of believing the truth.  Authentic faith should produce a genuine transformation in the life of the believer.

The history of Anabaptism is the story of people with the courage of their convictions.  When these faithful Christians concluded, from their study of the Bible, that baptism should be administered only to those who had made a public confession of faith in Christ, they “re-baptised” (which is what “anabaptist” means) those who had been baptised as infants.  As a result many were subjected to torture and even death at the hands of other Christians who misunderstood the motives and intentions of the Anabaptists.  I admired that kind of courage and determined that my testimony would reflect a commitment to faithful Christian discipleship, whatever the cost, like that of the Anabaptists.

Through my study of historical Anabaptism, I learned that groups such as the Mennonites traced their origin to that sixteenth century movement, but I did not feel compelled to identify officially with them. As an evangelical Christian, I was convinced that American evangelicalism could be enriched by exposure to the examples of authentic faith in historical Anabaptism.  A renewed emphasis on faithful discipleship, including a commitment to peace, justice, and simplicity, might very well serve as a needed corrective for an evangelicalism which had become too comfortable in its accommodation to contemporary American culture.

Even after I decided to complete my MDiv degree in a Mennonite Seminary, I did not expect to find a place of ministry among Anabaptists.  I still believed that my exposure to historical Anabaptism would enhance my effectiveness among evangelicals and help to bring a measure of needed corrective to that tradition.  In the summer of 1982, however, following my first year of seminary, I was called to the pastoral staff of a large Mennonite congregation, and the Anabaptist/Mennonite community would be the primary context for my ministry for the next twenty-six years.

I was baptized at age eight. Until I was in my mid-twenties and a Bible college graduate, my perception of Christian faith and practice was mainly shaped by protestant fundamentalism.  As a young pastor in Ohio, my horizons were expanded, and I came to understand the Kingdom of God as a far broader and more inclusive reality than I had previously been taught. I moved from fundamentalism to the “kinder and gentler” experience of American evangelicalism.

Then, as a student at Houghton College and later at Wheaton Grad School, I came to believe that evangelical Christianity had imbibed too deeply of American culture and looked more like the prevailing culture than the Kingdom of God.  I began to look for a community of Christians who believed that the discipleship to which Jesus called us was of a more radical and counter-cultural character.  I was encouraged by the historical example of the Anabaptists, the “radicals” of the Reformation, who had strongly influenced my own Baptist tradition, and whose legacy was preserved, at least in theory, in groups such as the Mennonites.

About ten years ago I began moving into yet another stage of my continuing pilgrimage… a further step in my relentless pursuit of authentic faith.  My soul hungered for something  my sojourn among Mennonites had not provided.  I began to read the early church fathers and to explore the character of Christian worship in the first centuries of church history.  I gained a new awareness of the place of mystery and reverence in worship.  I found meaning in the Daily Office and in the seasons of the church calendar.  I gained a fresh appreciation for the importance of the Eucharist (Communion) in the church’s worship, and I began seeking an experience of holistic spirituality which was not focused on conversion alone or doctrine alone or ethics alone.

In short, I became an Anglican and, in May 2011, was ordained to the Anglican priesthood. I have told that story in another context, and I will continually refer to it in future blog posts. I am happy to be where I am now. In many respects I really do feel like I have come home. But I will never forget the opportunity I had to serve among Anabaptist Christians, and I will always owe them a debt of gratitude for what their tradition taught me about how to live faithfully as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Radical Discipleship

Over the next several months, I will likely use the term radical discipleship more than a few times in these blog posts. I thought I would take this opportunity to define that term as I will be using it.

If you’re like me, the word radical could seem a bit scary; it might even make you nervous. When I was growing up, my parents and other adults I knew used the term to describe people or behavior which they considered extreme and, by extension, irresponsible and unreasonable. I remember hearing my father refer to a well-known Fundamentalist preacher as “that old radical.” On another occasion, in referring to some sort of political protest of which he disapproved, he said something like, “you’d have to be really radical to act like that.” That is still probably the most common way the term is used… to refer to something that is extreme, maybe unreasonable, a bit “out there.”

I was still thinking of the word radical in those terms the first time I read the phrase “radical discipleship.” I couldn’t imagine that such an expression could refer to anything positive with regard to Christian living. Then I learned that our English word radical comes from the Latin word, radix, which means “root.” So, to be precise, I should understand the word radical to mean “that which relates or pertains to the root” of something.

In other words, to call something radical means, at least technically, that it represents the most basic, most essential, most fundamental characteristics or qualities of the subject under consideration. Thus, radical discipleship, as I will use the term, refers to discipleship (by which I mean “following Christ”) of the most basic, most essential sort. Discipleship that takes the teaching and example of Jesus seriously. Discipleship without any “fine print” that attempts to explain why the principles which Jesus laid down in the Gospels cannot apply to “our day and age.” Discipleship without any excuses.

I was drawn to Anabaptism because of its historical commitment to radical discipleship. I served in that communion for more than twenty-five years, and over the course of that time I discovered that Anabaptists (specifically Mennonites), just like everybody else, sometimes “talk a better game than they play.” But I did not leave that tradition because of any glaring hypocrisy. Mennonites are no better or worse in that regard than adherents of any other religious tradition. I left Anabaptism for Anglicanism because I was drawn to the beauty, the mystery, the majesty of liturgical worship. But in many respects I will always be an Anabaptist at heart. I never want to lose the spirit of those sixteenth-century Christians who said, in effect, let’s take Jesus at His word and act as though we believe He meant what He said.

For example, in Luke 14, at the height of His popularity during His earthly ministry, unlike modern politicians or religious leaders who might temper their “stump speech” to avoid offending any of their supporters, Jesus issued His most demanding terms and conditions for those who would be His disciples.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. … (And) any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”     

(Luke 14:25-27, 33 ESV)

This is “radical discipleship.” Granted, in this discourse Jesus uses a teaching technique called hyperbole. He lays out His terms in language that is exaggerated for effect, but His meaning is crystal clear. He expects His disciples to be loyal to Him alone, rejecting all competition.  He requires His followers to be willing to suffer for His sake, voicing no complaint. And He demands that those who follow Him hold their possessions loosely, willing to surrender everything for the Kingdom, if necessary, expecting no compensation. This is straightforward, no excuses, “get-your-priorities-right” Christianity.

And this shouldn’t surprise us. After all, the word disciple comes from the same root as the word discipline. That doesn’t mean that following Jesus is a joyless, burdensome, “boot camp”-like existence. It does mean that representing the King of Kings before a watching world requires a seriousness appropriate to the endeavor. And talk about joy. All those who embrace discipleship with this kind of earnest devotion are constantly motivated and encouraged by the prospect of hearing the King welcome us home with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. It is time for you to enter fully into the joy of your Lord.”

The question, of course, is what does radical discipleship look like in twenty-first century America? That is what I have been exploring, both for myself personally and for the church, the Body of Christ, as I have undertaken this “relentless pursuit of authentic faith.” I’ll be sharing some of my conclusions in the days ahead, along with the areas where I still have questions. Thank you for reading what I write here and for interacting with me, as you may feel inclined.