Turning from Food to God

By Angela Steckle.


 

Food is an essential, and often a quite delightful part of life.

We all eat. We all need to eat to survive. Our bodies need food! The problem, however, arises when we put food before God. When we use food as a way to comfort ourselves. When we repeatedly overindulge and end up abusing our God-given bodies, rather than using food to nurture them in a healthy way.

About a year ago, in the midst of some deep emotions, God revealed to me that my struggle with food was much more than just a few extra calories here and there. I had recently started going to counselling, as life had become very overwhelming for me and I just wasn’t coping well anymore. This was bringing up some old emotions that I had stuffed away inside of me for many years and until then, had successfully managed to avoid. Starting counselling had felt like a volcano of emotions erupting from a place so very deep inside of me, and sometimes at a very rapid rate.

There was one day in particular where the emotions had been bubbling just under the surface all day. I had been trying hard to push all of that pain, and all of that shame back down by using food to numb myself. That evening, I was having such a difficult time keeping those emotions at bay, and I went into my kitchen looking for anything and everything I could eat in a desperate attempt to feel better. I just kept eating and eating until I could no longer take the pain that was building in my stomach. I felt incredibly ill. This time, the binge was not successful. It was all for nothing. I didn’t feel numb! And now, to add to all of those feelings I was so desperately trying to escape, I was filled with shame. I was now totally repulsed at myself for the way I had binged and mistreated my body. I felt completely out of control and my mind was consumed with looking for ways to escape my pain.

In that moment, I realized that the only choice I had left was to bring my pain to the One who has the power to heal. I realized that I was allowing food to have power over me. I was turning to food first, and God second. I was horrified at this revelation, and I felt that God must have been horrified as well. The thing is though, God knows our hearts. He knows these things even before we do, and He has a way of using these shameful, broken moments to bring us closer to Him.

I went upstairs and entered my prayer room, I closed the door, got on my knees and for awhile I just sat with God. I felt Him there with me, waiting for me to open up. After a while of sitting with Him, the tears began streaming down my cheeks. I expressed all of my shame and all of my sorrow. I was begging God to forgive me for allowing something other than Him to take up so much space in my heart and my soul, and for turning to food to numb my pain, rather than coming to Him with my pain. God wants us to bring our pain and our shame to Him, and He wants to be our source of comfort and strength.

When the tears stopped, I could still feel God with me. I truly felt the depth and fullness of His grace and love, as He stayed fully present with me throughout my utter humiliation.

Over the last year and a bit, I have managed to lose about 45lbs. This is certainly not something that I have been able to accomplish on my own. I have to give it to God every single day. I have to ask for His help with self-discipline and self-control. I have to remember to turn to God, not food, when life feels overwhelming. These are daily disciplines that I often forget to do. I have on many occasions fallen back into old habits, and find myself abusing my body with food again, or using food in an attempt to numb any painful emotions. These times are always humble reminders of my sinful human nature and my desperate need for God.

Overeating and overindulging always lead to a major deterioration in my spiritual life. I still notice when I fall back into old habits. My head starts to feel foggy. I can feel all of my emotions, good and bad, start to dissipate and I know that I am once again, not living in the full abundance that God intends for my life.

Self-discipline is a major struggle for me in many areas of my life. Problems tend to arise when pride sets in and I think I can handle it all on my own. I fail to humbly give things over to God in prayer and ask for His help. What a shame it is to attempt to hide our brokenness from God! For it is only when we are able to face the broken parts of ourselves and bring those dark parts into His light, that we can truly experience and understand the depth of the grace and unconditional love and forgiveness that we are so freely given.

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Angela Steckle lives in Zurich, Ontario, along with her husband Trevor and 4 little kids. Currently, Angela is a stay-at-home mom. She leads the Bluewater Rest Home Chapel program with Kingsfield – Zurich Mennonite Church and is the presence of Jesus in the lives of many.  Angela and her husband, Trevor, were baptized in August 2016. 
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The Bible and a Hermeneutic of Suspicion

By Elmer John Thiessen.


 

This post is prompted by a column in my own denominational paper, entitled, “Hermeneutic of Suspicion,” by Melissa Miller (Canadian Mennonite, Oct. 23, 2017). The column is a remarkably forthright statement on a widespread view of Scripture in the Mennonite Church of North America, and it goes a long way to explaining why there are growing divisions between conservative “lovers of the Bible” and the liberal/progressive wing of the Mennonite Church and beyond.

Miller begins her column by recounting Paul’s teaching about all Scripture being inspired by God, which she, along with “many of you,” have “imbibed” in earlier years. It would seem that she has moved beyond this naïve position, as she goes on to give a brief history of the power struggles that led to the formation of our canon of Scripture, and that are thought to undermine their authority. Later in the column she expresses sympathies with an atheist friend of hers who simply cannot understand how an ancient book can be an adequate guide to contemporary ethical problems. And then Miller articulates her own “hermeneutic of suspicion” which she learned in seminary and from feminist and liberation scholars. The Old Testament, we are told, was written by writers who were male and privileged, and this will have shaped the stories that they wrote. All this is seen as casting some doubt on the authority of Scripture.

Miller concludes her column by suggesting that perhaps “suspicion” is too strong a word for “some lovers of the Bible,” and so perhaps “caution and curiosity” would be “more fitting” for those who have not advanced to a more enlightened view of Scripture. There is a condescending tone here, and indeed throughout her column, that I find troublesome. I also want to raise a question about Miller’s choice of  “curiosity” as a more fitting substitute for “suspicion.” I fail to see the relation between these two concepts. Curiosity has a positive connotation, while suspicion has negative overtones. I am all for curiosity, and there is nothing to stop someone holding a high view of the authority of Scripture from being curious.

Miller goes on to claim that a hermeneutic of suspicion has led her to “a broadened appreciation for the Bible’s powerful message, particularly when interpreted by those who are weak, oppressed and marginalized.” I fail to see how a hermeneutic of suspicion can have these positive results. Curiosity can certainly lead to new insights, but not a hermeneutic of suspicion. Suspicion can only cast doubt on what we read, and in the end it undermines all meaning. This might not be entirely fair to Miller because she is drawing on a particular meaning of a “hermeneutic of suspicion” which has some currency in the theological world. Theologians use this expression to refer to a critical understanding of the motivation of biblical writers and the contexts of dissension and dispute out of which their texts arose. But, caution is in order when dealing with motivation. I quite agree that coming to understand a text within its context and trying to understand what problems biblical writers were trying to address can help us to better understand what a text is saying, and what it might have to say to us today. But I fail to see why this needs to be seen as a critical task associated with suspicion. Trying to understand the context and problems that biblical writers were trying to address is a constructive task, and one that curious lovers of the Bible can take with utmost seriousness.

One of the central problems with a hermeneutic of suspicion is that it fails to be suspicious about its own methods. A hermeneutic of suspicion is self-defeating. It should be suspicious about its own method of suspicion. Further, as Ludwig Wittgenstein taught us long ago, doubt can only come after belief. We all need to start with belief and trust before we can practice doubt and suspicion. Indeed, a careful analysis of speech acts will reveal that trust must and most often does precede suspicion. I would encourage Miller to ask herself if she would ground her own communication with her friends, spouse, and children in a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” I am quite sure that she would advise against it. I’m confident she would say that such a foundation would lead to the destruction of the very relationships that she holds dear. What she fails to see is that a hermeneutic of suspicion applied to the Scriptures does the very same thing. What is needed is a hermeneutic of trust.

Sadly, Miller and other liberal biblical scholars have “imbibed” too much of a secular, postmodern, historicist, and deconstructionist approach to literary texts. Here it should be noted that this “school of suspicion” is no longer in vogue in the field of literary criticism. Perhaps Miller, along with other liberal biblical scholars should do some reading in the latest developments in the field of literary criticism.

Miller is also indebted to the writings of feminists and liberation theology. We are reminded that the writers of the Old Testament were male and privileged, and thus again what they have to say needs to be viewed with suspicion. Here again Miller fails to subject her sympathies with feminist ideology to critical scrutiny. To question what someone says because he is a male is not only a failure in logic, but also a betrayal of Christian faith and love. It is a failure in logic because it commits the ad hominem fallacy – attacking persons instead of their arguments. As Christians we are called to love, even our enemies, and we must also be very careful not to create artificial and unnecessary divisions. In the church there is neither male nor female, because we are all one in Jesus Christ, Paul reminds us (Gal 3:28). So let’s be careful here. I as a male would like to join hands with Melissa Miller in our common search for truth, also with regard to a proper approach to Scripture.

Then there is the problem of privilege and power with regard to the writers of the Old Testament. Here Miller’s thinking reflects the spirit of the influential writings of Michel Foucault who claimed that all knowledge claims are rooted in privilege and power. The fundamental problem with reducing knowledge claims to power is that such reductionism is again self-refuting. If all claims to knowledge are merely (or even mainly) expressions of power, then Foucault’s own analysis of knowledge is just another expression of power. So, why bother listening to him? By the same token, Miller’s analysis of the Bible is also merely (or even mainly) an expression of modern feminist power, and so must be questioned as suspicious.

Miller also expresses some sympathies with her atheist friend who thinks that “an ancient book is woefully inadequate as a guide to ethics today.” I am convinced that much of the skepticism regarding the Bible within the Mennonite Church today has to do with its being ancient and outdated. But there are several problems with such a dismissal of the relevance of the Bible to our time. This approach falls prey to what I call “the fallacy of newness.” The old is seen as necessarily outdated and the new is seen as progressive. But old ideas might just be true! Further, many of us continue to find the Bible very relevant to our time. I enjoy teaching the ancient philosophers and find them amazingly relevant to contemporary society. Just last year I taught a course entitled, “Plato’s Republic: Then and Now.” My students and I found that Plato had a lot to say about the political problems we are facing today. Why then shouldn’t the Bible be able to speak to us today? Jesus repeatedly quotes from the Old Testament, obviously seeing it as authoritative and relevant to his time. We can and should do the same.

The Bible’s relevance also extends to the area of ethics. The God of the Bible is the creator of everything, including the ethical norms that he built into creation and which apply to all individuals and all societies for all time. We ignore or disobey these ethical norms at our peril. Many of the commandments of the Bible need to be seen as having universal and timeless application. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus clearly reaffirmed some of the commandments of the Old Testament and went on to say that “anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19). Pretty strong words!

Many Christians, including Mennonites, like to believe that the New Testament emphasis on love supersedes the law of the Old Testament. But they forget that the admonition to love is itself a commandment, and Jesus links love with obeying his commandments (John 15:9-17). John bluntly says that anyone who does not do what Jesus commands is “a liar and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:4). And lest anyone gets confused on what this means, John continues: “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands” (2 John 6). Paul also reminds us that the rule of love is in fact fulfilled in keeping the commandments (Rom 13:8-10). We are simply wrong in trying to create a disjunction between Jesus’ ethic of love and the ten commandments of the Old Testament. And both have relevance to our time. “Your word, O Lord, is eternal… Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you” (Ps. 119:91).

Thankfully, there is a more positive note in Miller’s column. Sadly this more constructive emphasis is undermined by the overall skeptical stance taken with regard to Scripture. Indeed, it is rather hard to reconcile Miller’s adoption of a hermeneutic of suspicion with her hints of a more positive approach to Scripture. But positive hints there are, and I want to focus on these for a while and see how they can contribute to a more coherent and constructive approach to Scripture. Miller identifies herself as one of those “who value Scripture,” and who “trust the God-breath that worked through human hands and motivations to produce them and to guide us today.” Indeed! Here we have at least a partial acknowledgement of the Scripture as “inspired by God” and “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and training in righteousness” (II Tim 3:16). It would seem that Miller treats this verse as something that she not only “imbibed” in the past, but that is still a current conviction of hers. So, why all the negativism? Yes, there is a human component to the writing of Scripture, but we must never forget the divine component. The writers of the books of the bible were somehow inspired by God.

Miller also points to Jesus, “whose self-giving love ethic is magnificently compelling, timeless and exactly the model needed for the world in any age.” Here Miller is recognizing that Jesus’ words which are in fact recorded in Scripture are in some way self-authenticating. Those who read the Bible with open hearts and minds will find it to be most compelling. But the self-authenticating nature of the Bible extends beyond Jesus’ love-ethic. Jesus also gave us a penetrating analysis of the human soul. “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils comes from inside and make a man unclean” (Mark 7:21-2). I find this to be a very accurate analysis of the recurring sinful inclinations of my own heart, and I need to be reminded of these words again and again. The writer to the Hebrews describes the word of God as “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword,” and very much able to judge the “thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12-13). Again, Miller seems to acknowledge all this when she says that the teachings of Jesus “inspire, guide and disturb.” Indeed!

So there are at least the beginnings of a more positive and constructive view of the Bible in Miller’s analysis. Building on this, we need to start with a hermeneutic of trust rather than a hermeneutic of suspicion. Does this mean that we should entirely ignore a careful understanding of how the Scriptures came to us? Does this mean that we should ignore any critical approaches to Scripture? Not at all. But we need to maintain proper proportions. We need to engage in careful and critical analysis of the Bible at the right time and in the right place and in a proper manner. We also need to make sure that we build up the faith of others. Let’s recognize the dangers of hurting others when we engage in an indiscriminate over-emphasis on a hermeneutic of suspicion. With Paul Ricour, we need to move from a pre-critical to a critical to a post-critical hermeneutic when we read the Bible. We need to start with a hermeneutic of trust, move on to a hermeneutic of curious, careful and even critical study, and then move on again to a hermeneutic of trust and reorientation.

I am sure that I will be dismissed by some as a narrow-minded fundamentalist, but let me assure the reader that I am not. As a philosopher, I love to think critically, and I am very much aware of the complexities of language. I, for one, do not accept the inerrancy of Scripture. This doctrine is itself an artificial construct of fallible human beings, developed at a particular time in history as a response to certain modernist tendencies in theology. As such it bears all the marks of an over-reaction. I reject the doctrine of inerrancy because its approach to the language of the Bible is too mechanical and too simplistic. I like to think of my approach to the authority of Scripture as being even higher than that of inerrancy. So I believe that all Scripture, though written by human beings, is “inspired by God” and is therefore eminently useful “for teaching, for reproof, for correction and training in righteousness.” I believe that God has revealed himself in our Scriptures, and in Jesus Christ, who is in fact described in our Scriptures. We must not separate these two aspects of God’s revelation. And let’s not forget the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth” who continues to “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I (Jesus) have said to you” (John 14:17, 26).

Of course, there is much more that needs to be said by way of developing a theology of God’s revelation, and then spelling out how God’s word should be interpreted and applied to the contemporary world. But my main concern in this blog has been to critique skeptical approaches to Scripture that rely on hasty generalizations and simplistic slogans. Such an approach to Scripture cannot feed the soul.  Instead of sitting in judgement over the Word we need to humbly place ourselves under the Word and let it judge us and also nourish us.

I conclude with some words from a prophet who warned about the coming of a famine, “not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” Then follows a description of men and women staggering from sea to sea, and wandering from north to south, “searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.” What is especially poignant about this desperate and hopeless search for an authoritative word of the Lord is that it is “the lovely young women and strong young men” who are fainting because of thirst (Amos 9: 11-13). I want to suggest that it is not only the young but also the middle-aged and older generations who are suffering from a famine of hearing the words of the Lord because of the widespread adoption of a hermeneutic of suspicion when it comes to our Scriptures. May God help us to move towards a more defensible and constructive appreciation of the word of the Lord as revealed in the Bible and in Jesus.

 


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Elmer John Thiessen now lives in Waterloo, Ontario following thirty-six years of teaching philosophy at Medicine Hat College. He is a member with Waterloo North Mennonite Church, where he is involved teaching and preaching.

He received a B.Th. degree from the Mennonite Brethren Bible College, in Winnipeg, a B.A. degree from the University of Saskatchewan, with a major in physics and philosophy, and an M.A. in philosophy from McMaster University.  While working on his M.A., he spent a year of study in Germany.  He received his Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo in 1980, writing his dissertation on the problem of indoctrination.

Elmer’s most recent book entitled, The Ethics of Evangelism: A Philosophical Defence of Proselytizing and Persuasion, was published by Paternoster Press (UK)  and by IVP Academic (USA) in 2011.  This book won the Word Guild Canadian Christian Writers Award in two categories: Apologetics/Evangelism and Culture.

Click here to find Elmer’s blog and here for a more complete bio.

Never More Than We Can Handle?

By Tom Warner.

Earlier this fall, Hurricane Harvey devastated the coast of the state of Texas. Flooded cities and death took their toll, now followed by the massive cleanup and rebuilding. It has been suggested that the restoration costs will approach $200 Billion US taking many years to accomplish.

But then, if you travel to inland Texas you will find desert. This seems to be the way of life on our planet. For some, life is like a hurricane flooding over us and for others life is a desert-like drought. How do we handle such diverse extremes in our personal life? Where is God in all of this immense diversity of life and death?

Some like to say God does not give us more than we can handle. That sounds nice, but is it true? Perhaps a look at what God says is in order.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

Every person has various temptations. They will lead us to sin if we let them. Is God talking about overcoming temptation to sin or is He saying He will not give us more than we can handle in the extreme circumstances of life? Concluding that God does not give us more than we can handle in life does not fit the context.

When we are tempted to sin, we are to look for an escape route, as this is promised. The extreme escape route for Christian martyrs when confronted with the sin of denying Christ was death. That may well be the only escape God has for us when tempted. That’s a tough thought to reconcile in our heart.

If we consider life’s circumstances of either devastating flooding or a drought-filled desert, that is what real life and death are about. Choosing to live in a hurricane prone area will mean now-and-again life will be simply said, very bad. Choosing to live in a desert can also be very bad when you have no life giving water. This is very odd indeed. Yet your life and mine have those extremes all too often and at the same time!

What does God say about how to live faithfully, following Him in the extremes and the regular patterns of life when we follow Him?

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  – Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

Now this is a great promise from God!! This is a God who I am happy to embrace, for my life has its share of floods and deserts. Those are the times I felt I was drowning in circumstances or I was dying of thirst in circumstances that threatened to destroy me.

Attempting to believe something God does not say only adds to the misery of a flood or desert. This combination can destroy your life and your faith. Believing what God says is like living in a flood or desert knowing He is with you no matter what the circumstances and the outcome of those circumstances. He is the best first responder on the planet!

This is true faith in a truth-saying God. God does not give us more than we can handle in terms of temptation without an escape plan. But, life gives us more than we can handle in terms of floods and deserts.  What God gives us is Himself in the person of the One and Only way to God, Jesus Christ, when your life is flooding or dry.

Whatever your circumstances, Jesus will be with you when you choose to love, follow and obey Him. Is it not time to get your head above the water and stop drowning without Him, or to drink deeply of the true water of life, who is Jesus?

Talk with Jesus and confess you need Him to forgive your sins. He died in your place to offer you forgiveness, as the penalty for your sin is death followed by eternity in Hell. But you must ask and believe in Him to be able to make the offer personally effective. Come to church this week and learn about the Mercy and Grace of God so you may live in whatever circumstances are your life.

As this month is Thanksgiving, we read how God would have us live in all our circumstances. When we do, we will enjoy the fire of His Spirit to keep us going strong.

“Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” – 1 Thess 5:16-20 (NIV)


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Tom Warner is a pastor with Erie View United Mennonite Church. Tom describes his faith journey as follows: “As a young man of 20, Christ called me to His love. Not having a Christian family background, it was strange and wonderful to know Jesus personally. The ministry Christ has laid on my life is one of seeking to bring Him into the centre of the church that has the family background yet seems to miss the joy of His Presence in daily personal experience.”

Friday Night Lights

By Phoebe Steckley.

It all began in the fall of 2015 when Scott Zehr gathered a small group of people to share his vision of loving his hometown of Tavistock, Ontario, and the people in it. My husband, Dean, and I had the opportunity to be in this group of people. At that point we were married for about 3 ½ years and had been thinking for some time about the kind of life we wanted to live, how our faith influenced that, and what kind of things we wanted our family to focus our time and energy on. Living “life on life” with people in our community was something that we desired, and the dreams that Scotty had certainly matched up with what we had been thinking.

As a group we spent time in prayer and discussion about what loving our town could look like, and eventually Friday Night Lights was born out of that. It is described as “a safe place to connect and consider together questions about life and faith and everything in between.”

On our first meeting night, Friday, March 11, 2016, we didn’t know what to expect. Community members had been invited, but would they come? As the event’s starting time came and went, it was clear that no one else was coming. Slightly discouraged, the four of us who were there decided to go ahead anyway and sing the few worship songs we had planned. And God showed up; He encouraged us through our songs and prayer time.

I specifically remember singing “At the Cross” by Hillsong Worship, and being encouraged by the line, “You go before me, You shield my way”. I began to realize that God is at work in the world, and it’s not up to us to “make something happen”. We can certainly be a part of God’s work, but we need to follow the Spirit’s leading instead of trying to muster up supernatural results by our natural selves. Encouraged, the four of us left that night and planned to meet again. Our next meeting brought about more people, and even people from the community who may not otherwise be connected to a church.

I began to realize that God is at work in the world, and it’s not up to us to “make something happen”.

Since then we’ve slowly grown, and there is now a core group of “regulars”, including many who were not part of the initial vision group, which is exciting. We usually meet at 7:00 every Friday night at D&D Cafe in downtown Tavistock. There is certainly a “come as you are” attitude; we gather around dining tables, the coffee is on, and someone often brings a treat to share with the group.

I must admit – there has been more than one Friday night when I’m ready to be done with the week and check out in front of the TV. But after going to Friday Night Lights I’m never upset that I’ve chosen to go out; the feeling of comfort and rest and the feeling of checking “in” with God and with this group of people always tops the perception of “rest” I would have gotten while checking out from the week.

We typically begin with a song or two accompanied by Scott’s guitar, and he often talks briefly about a passage of scripture. So far we’ve done a number of video series by Kyle Idleman, a pastor from Louisville, Kentucky, that address issues in life and faith that are relatable to all walks of life. We’ve looked at a variety of things, from the life of Jesus in Christmas and in Easter to most recently finishing a series on the idols that can replace God on the throne of our lives, titled “Gods at War”. After the video teaching we sing a few more songs and share items for prayer. We pray together, and enjoy more conversation and coffee after the “structured” part of the evening concludes.  

Being part of this group, I’ve learned is that there isn’t as big of a divide between “us” and “them” as I had originally felt. (“Us” being people who know God and His word, and “them” being people who don’t yet know Him). But a saying that I’ve come across recently and really like by D.T. Niles is, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” Having grown up in a Christian home and believing for my whole life, I feel like I should share what I know about God and life and faith with those around me. But the fact is, I need Jesus just as much as those I would share Him with. We are all beggars; some of us have just found the bread.

“Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” – D.T. Niles

In the past year or so I watched a message on YouTube called “Gospel Fluency” by Jeff Vanderstelt, who is a visionary leader of the Soma Family of Churches in the United States. At one point, he teaches on Ephesians 4:15: “But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head – Christ” (CSB). Jeff makes the point that we often use this verse to back up our criticism of others, but he clarifies that “speaking the truth” should actually mean speaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the Truth. We need to continually speak the Truth out of love for one another, in order to build one another in greater likeness to Christ. We need to speak this Truth to people before they know Jesus, and after they know Him. I need the Gospel spoken to me just as regularly as someone who hasn’t accepted God yet. And that is one thing that I appreciate about Friday Night Lights – I feel that we are, truly, a group of people who are figuring out life and faith alongside one another.

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Phoebe Steckley lives outside of Tavistock, ON, with her husband, Dean, and their 2 ½ year old daughter, Lena. She teaches English and Visual Art at Huron Park Secondary School in Woodstock. She grew up at Living Water Community Christian Fellowship, where she and Dean now attend.

Commemorating the Reformation with Tears

By Dianne Loerchner, R.P.

During the readings I became very aware of the ‘battles’ that had occurred within the church five hundred years ago. Deep within me I felt the pain and anguish I suspect God may have felt as He watched His church being ripped apart. The tears came unbidden. This surprised me. I had expected an historical reflection and not such deep emotions.

It was Oct. 21, 2017 in the small town of Zurich, Ontario.  Our three churches were gathered to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Leading the celebration were Rev. Nadine Schroeder-Kranz, pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran, Father Matthew George, the priest of St. Boniface Catholic Church, and Ryan Jantzi, pastor of Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church. During the week preceding the anniversary celebration, all three churches had been invited to a daily conversation over lunch regarding the Reformation.

The service on Oct. 21st was based on the document, From Conflict to Communion (accessible here). As the leaders read parts of the document, surprising and unexpected emotions rose up inside of me. In choosing to attend the service I had thought it would be interesting to get together with other people in the village to commemorate such a momentous historical occasion in the life of the global church.

The service was very uplifting and encapsulated the five hundred years in about one hour. During the readings I became very aware of the ‘battles’ that had occurred within the church five hundred years ago. Deep within me I felt the pain and anguish I suspect God may have felt as He watched His church being ripped apart. The tears came unbidden. This surprised me. I had expected an historical reflection and not such deep emotions.

The following is the reading from From Conflict to Communion that brought on my tears:

“As the commemoration in 2017 brings joy and gratitude to expression, so must it also allow room for (us) to experience the pain over failures and trespasses, guilt and sin in the persons and event that are being remembered.” (#228)

“In the sixteenth century, (our faith groups) frequently not only misunderstood but also exaggerated and caricatured their opponents in order to make them look ridiculous. They repeatedly violated the eighth commandment, which prohibits bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.” (#233).

“(They) often focused on what separated them from each other rather than looking for what united them. They accepted that the Gospel was mixed with the political and economic interests of those in power. Their failures resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Families were torn apart, people imprisoned and tortured, wars fought and religion and faith misused. Human beings suffered and the credibility of the Gospel was undermined with consequences that still impact us today. We deeply regret the evil things that (our faith groups) have mutually done to each other.”

As these words were being read, I almost felt as if I was back in that time period and feeling the pain of such incredible horror in the church. Think of it! Especially the words: “Humans suffered and the credibility of the Gospel was undermined with consequences that still impact us today” [italics mine]. How the church suffered! A prayer of lament and confession followed the above readings. The reading of Psalm 130, a penitential lament Psalm was included in the lament and confession, recognizing the many iniquities of that time period and asking for God’s forgiveness.

Further on in the service, words of great hope were read. And then – as I was listening to what is happening today as the churches who once fought and killed each other are now attempting to achieve unity – I had a brief sense of the deep joy I wonder if God must feel as He looks on a church that is now realizing how much they have in common. I became fairly weepy! This was such a surprise to me. And I wondered if the time for global church unity in Christ is right on our doorstep and the door is almost wide open – maybe it is wide open and we are slowly entering in. The journey continues.

From Conflict to Communion suggest five imperatives for the church going forward:

“Our ecumenical journey continues. In this worship, we commit ourselves to grow in communion. The five imperatives found in From Conflict to Communion will guide us.

Lutheran – Catholic Common Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation 2017

  1. Our first commitment: (We) should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced. (#239).
  2. Our second commitment: (We) must let ourselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith. (#240)
  3. Our third commitment: (We) should again commit ourselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal. (#241)
  4. Our fourth commitment: (We) should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time. (#242)
  5. Our fifth commitment: (We) should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world. (#243)

Gaze back to your high school grammar – an imperative is a command. The two churches that once were divided to the point of hatred and murder are today calling each other, and I suggest the rest of the body of Christ, to recognize and live out our unity though learning and growing, otherwise known as maturity, and rediscovering the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time. This good news is not only for the church, but for the world.

I must confess that I am somewhat puzzled. Generally I am not very emotional and tend to lean strongly towards the analytical part of my brain. I am not sure why I felt these emotions so deeply in a church in the small town of Zurich. The church was not even half full and most everyone was grey haired. As soon as I thought that, God seemed to impress on me that that doesn’t matter. He did not seem very concerned with those statistics.

Five hundred years is a significant amount of time. However, as I thought more about it, it seemed that, in terms of the history of the church, it is not so long. When I took Church History in seminary, one had the subtle sense that there was an overarching, invisible leadership in the church. Even though the church should have been ‘wiped out’ more than once, it never was. God was and still is in control. This is what I think I felt in the anniversary celebration. God is calling His people back to Himself. The church is in good hands – it belongs to God. We could say that the church is a motley group of characters who are trying their best to be what God has called them to be. Without God in charge the church would have disappeared long ago; God knows the history of the church, from the beginning to the end. Let us continue to be humble and obedient to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

 

Dianne Loerchner

Dianne Loechner lives in Bayfield, Ontario with her husband, Wolfgang. She has served as the Leader of Pastoral Care and as an elder with the Leadership Team of Kingsfield – Zurich Mennonite Church.

Dianne graduated in 1975 from Conestoga College as a Registered Nurse and has retained her membership with the College of Nurses as a non-practicing RN. In 1999, she was accepted into Emmanuel Bible College and graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Religious Education. Following this, she graduated in 2011 with a Master of Divinity from the counselling program at Heritage Seminary. In 2015, Dianne was accepted into the College of Registered Psychotherapists and currently works part-time with By Peaceful Waters, an Ontario counselling agency.