Should our priority be to family or church if we have to choose between the two?
This a familiar question so I’ll attempt to avoid the normal cliches. Warning: you may think that this is a tangent. As I read the New Testament and study the early church, it seems odd to put the church and family at odds. Yet it is often presented in a way that creates a trichotomy which goes something like this: “A Christian should prioritize their relationship with God first, biological family second, and church third.” However, this creates an unbiblical division, which may be one of the greatest obstacles to church becoming the family it was intended to be.
So how do we reconcile the tension in Scripture relating to love of God’s kingdom versus love of family? There are apparent contradictions such as, “honor your father and mother” versus “hate your father and mother” or “husbands cherish your wives” versus “let those who have wives live like they do not.” It is easy to explain away these tensions without thinking deeply about why God put these tensions in His Word. Think about it this way: when a person is born again, all relationships are to be brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (including parental and spousal). For many in the world, choosing to follow Christ can result in estrangement from loved ones. Therefore the divisions we often operate in do not work in much of the world.
Paul’s instructions to Timothy are challenging: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” This passage shows that the Gospel is holistic in the way it affects relationships. It not only changes our relationship to God but also our human relationships. For when we are born into the family of God, we are born into a real family, a family held together by the blood of Christ; a family which supersedes even blood relations. In light of the Gospel, biological lines do start to blur as the family of God is knit together by the Spirit. Let me be clear, I am not condoning neglect of familial responsibilities in order to build a name for oneself within Christendom. But I do believe we have often failed to grasp that the church of Jesus Christ is a family.
How do we discern God’s will?
The answer to this question might be too easy. We prefer the drama that comes with sitting in a coffee shop asking a friend to help us decipher the “signs” God has been giving us. We like to look for open doors, wet fleeces, and black cats. What if we stopped I-centered hermeneutics and chasing falling stars — and took to heart Scripture that is crystal clear, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
This answer sounds snarky, I know. But honestly, I get tired of the self-seeking drama in my own heart when it comes to this question. Furthermore, I am not saying that Scripture has an easy answer for every question we face, God’s Word does not work like that. What I am saying is that in our attempts to “discern God’s will” do not neglect things God has clearly revealed as His will for our lives.
What Scripture passages provide a basis for personal non-resistance?
The Sermon on the Mount is the classic place to start. Matthew 5:38-48 has the clearest teachings on the way Christ expects His followers to respond to evil. Paul also makes a strong case in Romans 12:9-21. He echoes the teachings of Christ and also provides a clear argument for a genuine love that should mark our relationships with others. Paul says that God’s wrath will ultimately bring justice, so we should not fight evil with evil, but rather overcome evil with good. I would also add that the entire tenor of 1 Peter provides a strong foundation for suffering as a Christian, even in the face of mistreatment. Peter has a message that Christians desperately need to imbibe if we are going to remain faithful to Christ’s Word today.
What does it mean to be Anabaptist today, and are we being true to the original values of Anabaptism?
Simply put, an Anabaptist is and has always been a Christian who practices daily discipleship, striving to follow all of the teachings of Christ as given to us in the Bible. This was essential to the first Anabaptists, and it is no less important today. However, labels do collect specific meaning over time, and so the “Anabaptist” title should probably be restricted to those who, along with the qualification given above, also practice a lifestyle of love and nonviolence, are committed to obedience of Scripture, and have attached themselves to a disciplined church body that lies within the Anabaptist stream of thought. We have a tendency to glamorize the first Anabaptist leaders and to talk about returning to the values and convictions of these heroes of the faith. While we have much to learn from the examples and writings of the first Anabaptists, our ultimate goal should be to hold true to the teachings of Christ. We should constantly be comparing ourselves with Scripture, as our founders did, not with the 16th-century Anabaptist church. The question we must all ask is, “Am I being faithful to the Word of God?”
What is the unique value of Anabaptism in today’s culture?
I believe that the single greatest strength of Anabaptism today is its potential to be a strong counter-culture based on the Bible. A strong identity gives Anabaptists an edge in evangelism, enables them to challenge the broader Christian church, and helps preserve our communities of faith.
A strong identity doesn’t have to mean an isolated identity. Anabaptists are regaining a passion for evangelism, and our strong faith communities, as well as some of our practices, give us an edge in reaching other minority groups with the Gospel. As believers join the church from various backgrounds, our challenge will be to sort through what is truly biblical in our traditions and lifestyle. However, we must take care not to compromise Scriptural truth in the process! The Anabaptist faith has the potential to call the larger church back to faithful Christian living, but in order to do so we must stop wholesale imitation of the evangelical church. Instead, we can seize the opportunity to counter materialism, emotionalism, and sexual immorality in the church with biblical truth and show the Christian world what discipleship looks like.
Finally, a strong identity can help preserve our churches, but only if we define our identity by biblical terms, not based on traditions! Our beliefs must be well-thought-out and carefully articulated, and we each need to develop resistance to habits that isolate us and fragment our church communities. The challenges are great, but as American churches and society drift, I am convinced that many will be drawn to strong Anabaptist groups who are willing to model life as radical followers of the Living Word and the written Word. Will that be us?
What’s the difference between self-care and selfishness?
This issue is primarily one that female voices tend to raise, and for good reason: wives and mothers cannot as easily escape their responsibilities as men can. Self-care advocates reason that a woman must reserve time and attention for her own needs (such as proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep), in order to better equip herself to serve her family, church, and community.
While this argument has legitimacy, I would like to challenge us to find any time in Jesus’ earthly ministry when he chose self-care over service. Jesus did not use His divine attributes as a source of super-human stamina, and many times in His public ministry, He came to the end of an exhausting day with pressing needs still surrounding Him on all sides. Even when He had finally sent the crowds away, Jesus often chose not food and sleep, but all-night prayer! His source of strength wasn’t earthly, in terms of calories and naps, but heavenly. He found renewal and energy through time spent with the Father.
So, while I do believe that it’s not healthy for women or men to run themselves ragged, I also think that the self-care mindset looks like selfishness when compared to Jesus’ example. In the moments when we’re at the end of ourselves, let’s choose to allow our weaknesses to drive us to Christ for strength and nourishment. Finally, for men in particular, if we are serious about following Jesus, we will take the lead in sacrificing so that our wives and families can have periods of rest and refreshment. Our pattern should not be providing comfortable things for ourselves, but laying down our lives for those we love.