When I was younger, discipleship was a word rarely mentioned, and nonconformity mostly meant dressing differently than society around us. I’ve since discovered a fuller understanding of these two terms that I’d like to share. Jesus and the New Testament believers lived lives that showed they were guided by different values than those of the society around them. They truly had the testimony that they “loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11). Most people are unwilling to yield their lives to a Christianity that requires fighting against the norms of society and enduring things which go against their nature.
Article 16 of the Mennonite Confession of Faith, Discipleship and Nonconformity states, “We believe that there are two opposing kingdoms to which men give their spiritual allegiance, that of Christ and that of Satan1.”
These two opposing kingdoms are so at odds that one cannot mix even the smallest part of them together, so all-encompassing that there is no third or fourth way out of choosing between them (Mt. 6.24).2 Jesus repeatedly emphasized choosing between light and darkness. We can’t hover somewhere in between or say that whatever a person prefers to believe is right for them.
Assuming that you have chosen the kingdom of light, discipleship then becomes your obligation and calling. Discipleship means following Jesus and learning from him everything that we can. That’s it. We don’t succeed in every attempt to do so, but as we continue, our successes ought to become more frequent.
In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus states that the way to life is difficult and that only a few will find it. The gospels show that those who would be followers (disciples) of Jesus must take up their cross (rejection by the world, denial of self) and not count their own lives as valuable (Luke 9:23-26, Mark 10:21). A defining characteristic of true disciples is being prepared to go against that which is deemed normal by the majority of people around us. Sadly, we have not been exemplary in this area; most of western Christianity today looks like we consider our physical pleasures and comfort to be the most important thing. Frankly, that is not Jesus’ message.
Now then, you may be wondering “How can I actually live in such a way that I will become more like Jesus?” I assure you that, while it is possible, it will not be an easy thing for anyone. Time and time again, humanity has demonstrated that it is impossible to live a life in complete harmony with the will of God without surrender to the Lordship of Jesus and the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
What is nonconformity? Think of it this way– if discipleship could conceivably go undetected because it’s “between me and God,” then nonconformity is the outworking of our spiritual experience that boldly proclaims that we are different. So different that others cannot help but note the change, the odd values we promote that set our behaviour in stark contrast to that of the world.
The world tells us that we need to stand out from the crowd, follow our own path, be true to ourselves, and do what is right for us as individuals. Sounds like nonconformity right? In a sense, yes, I suppose it does. But let’s take a closer look at Biblical nonconformity and see how it differs from this kind of nonconformity.
Romans 12:2 says that we are not to be conformed (to behave like others, to fit in), but transformed (to make a thorough, dramatic change). This scripture and others indicate that our choices are not to conform or to do as we please, but rather to be conformed or to be transformed. We cannot transform ourselves; therefore we are in desperate need of an outside agent to enact change in our lives. If the answers were within us, we would naturally have started living them a long time ago.
Nonconformity really means going against the world’s expectations and exhibiting behavior that is like Christ’s.
Let’s take a look at the next section of Article 16:
“[T]he fruit of the Spirit is in evidence. They recognize the lordship of Christ, and perform all manner of good works. They seek for holiness of heart, life, and speech, and refuse any unequal yoke with unbelievers. They manifest only love toward those of other races, cultures, and economic levels.”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” (Gal. 5:22,23a). These characteristics must be seen in the way we relate to others. Notice also the emphasis here on involving our whole being in conforming to the lordship of Christ. It’s not only the body or only the spirit, but both body and spirit.
Most people are sympathetic to popular causes. They will protest, give money, or otherwise show solidarity with those who are oppressed in some way. While this is often a good thing, Christ’s disciples are called to a more complete, systemic love. Those who are deemed unlovable especially need to experience the love of Christ through us. Maybe it’s that annoying sibling or classmate that just knows how to do everything that irritates you. Perhaps it’s the little girl with unwashed face, dirty hands, and zero manners who lives next door. Or the guy three doors down who does no work, even though it’s obvious to you he is perfectly capable. You know who they are – those who make us feel guilty because we show them no love, but it’s so much easier to love someone far away, isn’t it?
Article 16 further states:
“We believe that [the believers’] adornment should be a beauty of spirit, expressed in attire that is modest, economical, simple, and becoming to those professing Christian faith. They should seek to be Christian in their stewardship of money and possessions. Their recreational life should be consistent with the Christian walk.”
I often find myself defending my clothing and recreation choices by comparing them to what everyone else is doing or how much I can afford. I don’t believe a church body should have to make many rules about how we dress and act; however, to be fair, we have been very immature in this area and need some correction. I encourage you to seek the face of God in these everyday decisions. Ask not “What is wrong with it?” or “Can I get away with it?” Instead, let what brings the most glory to God govern the decisions you make.
Throughout history, Christians have tended to emphasize either mystical inner transformation (important) or outer good works (also important) at the expense of the other. To take both of these and synthesize them into a Christ-like whole requires handling and skills greater than our own bumbling efforts.
Discipleship means following Jesus regardless of the cost to self, because we love our Master Teacher so much it would break our hearts not to please him. Nonconformity means showing the world how Christ would behave if he were here. May each examine his own life before God, and encourage others to renewed effort as well. Our calling is vital to a fallen world– let’s pursue it with all our being.
|Daniel Yutzy lives in Huntsville, Arkansas with his wife. For fun, he teaches music at a local church school, conducts choirs or ensembles, and dabbles in finger-style guitar and choral composition. He is as passionate about learning as he is about teaching. He enjoys being with people who know what is important and act accordingly. Alternately, a well written biography, novel, or history will keep him occupied for hours. He loves soft rain and beautiful corners of this marvelous world. God has blessed him beyond necessity.|
- Mennonite Church. “Mennonite Confession of Faith, 1963.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1963. Web. 30 Nov 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mennonite_Confession_of_Faith,_1963&oldid=100737.
- All scripture references ESV