I Told Mennonites to “Go to Hell” (and they liked it!)
Before I explain the title of this blog, a couple of updates.
* My friend Dr. Jen Halverson has been in Haiti for five days now. She is working in one of the make-shift “clinics” that have been set up in what’s left of Port Au Prince. I’d encourage you to follow her blog and hold her up in prayer. The stories and photos Jen shares are horrific, but they help us get on the inside of the devastation we’re dealing with. I honestly doubt any of us will witness suffering of this magnitude again in our lifetime. Sadly, Haiti is already becoming “old news” to the world, while the suffering will go on for years and the rebuilding process for decades or longer. We must not forget these dear people.
* A number of us who are associated with Providence Ministries were hoping to join Jen in Haiti in the near future but we’re now being advised by our connections in Haiti that we should hold off indefinitely, for a number of reasons. We’re bummed by this, but it seems the wise thing to do. Meanwhile, I want to thank the many who have generously supported the Haitian Relief effort, especially those who gave to Providence Ministries. Thank you! Your money will facilitate Jen’s work as well as going towards long term relief efforts in and around Providence House. (If you’d like contribute, go here and use the paypal button or mail donations using the contact information in the right sidebar.)
And now, about those hell-bound Mennonites.
This week I was honored to be the keynote speaker at a leadership conference held at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg Virginia. My talks centered on how radically different the Kingdom of God is from all versions of the kingdom of the world and why it is so important to faithfully preserve this distinction. I just love the warmth and humility of this gentle tribe and they always make me feel at home. It seemed my talks were well received (which is not to say that everyone agreed with me on every point).
There just seems to be a unique chemistry I have with the Mennonites. It’s more than a little odd to me, because, in all honesty, I hardly ever say anything these folks haven’t heard many times before. The radical vision of the non-violent, Calvary-looking Kingdom that is so new to me and that I’m so excited about is the one Anabaptists have embraced for the last five hundred years! You’d think they’d be bored with me! Yet, as one dear lady at the conference told me after one of my talks, there’s a “newness” about the way I articulate this view of the Kingdom that rekindles their passion for it.
Not only this, but this lady felt my “unMennonite” demeanor was refreshing. When I asked what she meant, she said that my “hyper personality” and “iconoclastic humor” in the pulpit contrasted strongly with the Anabaptist tradition in which preachers have been encouraged to be subdued and reverent. In her view, my “unMennonite” style was helping old school Mennonites like herself hear the message of the Kingdom as if for the first time.
This lady particularly liked it when I told my Mennonite audience to “Go to Hell!” “I’m quite sure no Mennonite has ever heard that from a church pulpit before,” she said with a laugh. I honestly hadn’t planned on saying this (as if I plan most of the things that come out of my mouth!), but it just seemed to be an appropriate way to end a little talk I’d given on Jesus’ teaching that “the gates of hell won’t prevail against the church” (Mt. 16:16-18). I taught that, while Mennonites have traditionally tended to be preoccupied with keeping hell out of their communities and have thus tended to be a bit reclusive, Jesus is calling them (and all of us) to boldly take the Gospel into the world and aggressively storm the gates of hell (that is, areas that are under the dominion of Satan rather than God). And so, it just seemed appropriate to conclude this section of my talk by telling them to “Go to Hell!” It seemed they appreciate it!
As the religion of Christendom dies a slow death (praise God!) and the vision of the cruciform Kingdom is caught by more and more people around the globe, it will be interesting to see what role the Mennonites (and other Anabaptist groups) will play, for they alone have the tradition that is centered on this vision. My conviction is that if they will continue to rekindle their passion for this Kingdom while holding loosely to every other aspect of their tradition, and if they can raise up leaders and embrace others who are willing to take this vision of the kingdom and GO TO HELL, the Mennonites are positioned to be used by God to advance his Kingdom in the years to come in ways that will be powerful, beautiful and amazing.