5 Common Pitfalls Theologians Fall Into and How They Can Be Avoided

ImageI am a nerd. A silly, wacky nerd, but a nerd nonetheless. I read theological musings for fun, attend lectures on my day off, and play the violin. I’m also the proud owner of a “serious hat”, a “study tie”, and an exam mustache – all of which I insist on wearing to my exams… my professors at Tyndale just shake their head when they see my getup. I truly do value higher education and as someone who is completing a Master’s degree with the intention of hopefully claiming a PhD down the road, I’m the first to say that I believe many pastors benefit from general academic theological training as well as practical ministry experience.

Yet, as someone who has spent much time in the academy, I’m also aware that the more you learn in Theological Studies the harder it is (for some) to maintain their own spiritual practices and to continue to desire to hear a Word from the Lord rather than simply a Word from A.W. Tozer. Therefore, I have written this blog post for all of the seminary students out there who are academically minded as an encouragement to them to consider how to stay married to Christ while also being wedded to the intellectual institution known as higher education.

Pitfall #1: Reading the Bible ONLY as a textbook rather than as the Word of God.

Make no mistake, the moment you decide to pursue your MTS, MA, or MDiv degree from a seminary is the same day you will discover that you will be taking Old Testament, New Testament, and church history courses. I have a few friends who are apprehensive to do seminary courses despite the fact that they already serve in ministry for the simple reason that they are worried about how seminary will affect them spiritually. The truth is, that at times I (and many others) have struggled to maintain a deep spiritual walk while also dissecting and probing the depths of the Bible. Yet a wise and understanding professor will be able to teach their students how to “explore the Bible” rather than to simply “tear it apart.” I had one really great professor when I was a student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. Himself the closest thing I have ever seen to a MENSA, and a true scholar, Dr. Ben once asked the class “can you still read the Bible spiritually?” After allowing space for us to reflect he then added quietly, “The person who first asked me this question admitted to me, ‘I can’t.’”

What is the solution? To make space for the Holy Spirit, to occasionally practice reading the Bible as if you’ve never read it before, and to form friendships with non-academics. Consider making a friend with Alzheimer’s or who has a developmental disability, read the Bible with them and then don’t shut them down or try to correct them when they say something that is not at all historically accurate or goes against the original Greek or Hebrew. Ask your non-theological practical ministry friends what God is teaching them and then stand back and be amazed at how God still works in our lives today. Obviously, as someone who is more academically minded I believe that there is a very important place to distil Scripture, but as a Christian I also know the importance of maintaining an attitude of worship in my daily devotional life.

Pitfall #2: Cynicism

Cynicism is perhaps the biggest pitfall that our non-theologian friends pick up from those of us who have spent significant time in the academy. The more we know about the Scriptures, the easier it is for us to become critical about the emotionalism and charismatic activities we may hear from well-meaning Christians who have never taken a single seminary course.

What do I recommend to combat this problem? Believe that the Word of God still has power today and that it still shapes us in community (remember that community is made up of EVERYONE, not just PhD candidates!). Occasionally worship in a tradition that is not your own (I would especially encourage you to attend Charismatic worship from time to time if you are from a more reserved tradition). Read up on topics you disagree with (for example Prosperity Gospel, tongues, prophesy) to learn more about different viewpoints rather than to simply use it as ammo as to why these groups are wrong and you are right. Make friends with brand new Christians who are still so young in their faith walk and so on fire with Christ that they aren’t bogged down with the theology that has been instilled in those of us who grew up in the church over years and years of Sunday school and church camps. Also, I’d really encourage you to hang out with kids – they have a real spirituality going on and take everything at face value. Their faith is so simple and yet so profound. Plus, they will be completely bored if you talk about hermeneutics with them, so it’s also a nice brain refresher 😉

Pitfall#3: The temptation to read C.S. Lewis, Bonhoeffer, Nouwen (insert great theological writer here) in a way that places their beliefs as higher than Biblical truths

Okay, all Theologians have their favourite writers and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In many cases there is so much we can gain from reading books! However, the difficulty I face (and I have heard others in seminary face) is that when I read Lewis or Nouwen I sometimes feel like I’ve reached my spiritual quota for the day and therefore can neglect the Bible – after all, I’ve been reading it for several hours for my classes already.

My solution: Carve out a minimum of 15 minutes a day to read Scripture with no other agenda in mind (don’t bring your concordance, Greek or Hebrew Bibles, or commentaries to this practice). Just read the Word in order to hear what God wants to say to you that day and how He wants you to apply it to your life. I’m not advocating to take a bunch of verses out of context or to read into the text, but I AM saying that it is very important for scholars to nurture their own spirituality. Also, make time to read other theologians (rather than just your favourites) and make space for a healthy mix of spiritual AND theological writing. Read for pleasure, rather than just what is assigned to you in class. Reading biographies, fiction, and poetry are all great ways to be inspired by the deep spirituality even in common day occurrences and even in writings which were not necessarily written by theologians.

Pitfall #4: Neglecting fellowship/communion and spiritual disciplines due to book writing, dissertations, and lectures

As one who has spent much time in the academy, I am all too familiar with the temptation for up and coming theologians and pastors to skip chapel and church because they feel they have too much to do and have been tearing the Bible apart all week anyways. However, when students fail to be part of a body of believers on a regular basis they are missing the whole point of their studies. See, the point of being a Theologian is not simply to be a super genius who knows the Bible inside and out – if you aren’t living the kind of lifestyle the Bible expounds your studying is in vain! Going to church and being part of a small group allow you the opportunity to nourish the spiritual side that might be starved during your studies. It also gives you an opportunity to engage in worship and fellowship rather than just in reading and research.

My Solution: Regularly keep the Sabbath. I cannot stress this one enough. It wasn’t until I was a grad student that I finally began taking the Sabbath seriously and being intentional about not doing research and writing on that day. Once I did decide to keep this practice, however, I soon realized that it was the most amazing thing for both my spiritual and emotional/mental wellbeing. Choosing not to write a Thesis on Sunday provided me with an opportunity to read books for pleasure, to pursue other passions such as practicing French and playing my violin, and to hang out with friends without guilt that I still had homework waiting for me. I also noticed that once I started keeping the Sabbath my grades went up, I started prioritizing more during the week, and ultimately I was able to get way more accomplished. (To read more about my experience with Sabbath check out: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/learning-and-re-learning-to-keep-the-sabbath/).

Aside from keeping the Sabbath, I believe all seminarians and would-be theologians need to be part of a vibrant church AND small group (not just one or the other) and they need to make attending these meetings a priority. I also recommend that aspiring Biblical scholars have a wide network of both Christian AND non-Christian friends from a variety of professional backgrounds (not just other PhD candidates). Also, remember to leave room for FUN (avocations) and do not feel guilty about turning down invitations to speak or write when you are feeling overwhelmed. Know your limit and write within it 😉 (To use a rip off of the Ontario Jackpot commercial).

Pitfall #5: Pride OR False Humility

Along with cynicism, pride is one of the biggest enemies to what we are trying to accomplish as Scholars and it does not go unnoticed by our congregations, best friends, and spouses. To be sure, there is such a thing as a healthy dose of confidence and an ability to claim and live into your gifts. L’Arche truly has taught me that to name what I am good at and to accept compliments is a must to living in community. On the other hand, academics must be very careful to guard their hearts against haughtiness and thinking they are better than the rest of the church simply because they have intensely studied the stuff with which pastors are made.

I once had a random conversation with the bookstore manager at Tyndale University College and Seminary. Although it was a short and random conversation it is one that I hope to carry with me throughout the remainder of my academic and professional life. In this conversation, the manager told me that in her native language the word for “Knowledge” is actually the same word as “little.” She reminded me that the more we learn in school the more temptation we have to think that we know it all. In reality, even after we get a PhD we have only begun to scratch the surface of the iceberg. There’s still so much we DON’T know. It’s impossible for a PhD to know all the ins and outs of Theology. Therefore, we need to remember that even if we are very knowledgeable, we in fact know very little.

My Solution: Never stop learning. A true scholar does not stop educating themselves as soon as a PhD is earned, instead they devout themselves to a life of scholarship, research, and bettering themselves. They choose to publish and lecture on different topics rather than just sticking to only one. So, after you get your Bachelor’s, Master’s, or PhD continue to learn, continue to read, and continue to discuss your findings with others.

You’d be amazed at the number of seminarians I have met who absolutely detest going to Sunday school at their church because they find it “annoying” to sit through a discussion where someone shares their own beliefs and this person happens to have no theological training and thus does “not know what they are talking about.” If this is your current mindset, I’d urge you to re-examine yourself – perhaps you have fallen prey to pitfall #5. What I recommend is that you DO attend these Sunday school classes, hear your classmates out WITHOUT correcting them or shutting them down and truly listen to the questions they are fielding. Chances are the questions they are asking are more personal based ones rather than simply historical-critical ones.

Live and walk alongside recent immigrants, the illiterate, and people with developmental disabilities. Get to know people who learn in non-traditional ways and figure out how to teach and connect with this crowd. How to bring the Bible to their level and make it interesting to them rather than being a professor who can only connect with a handful of students who are academic like yourself.

Learn to accept your own flaws and short comings and resist the urge to always prove yourself (a very easy pitfall for seminarians and scholars). Know that your essential worth is tied up in who you are as a person and how God has formed and made you, not how many books you have written and how many lectures you have given. Make your legacy one of kindness, trust, and faith rather than simply one of writing and scholarship (as important as those two things are). Value the spirituality of homemakers and retired folk. Spend much time with children and learn to see God and the world through their eyes. Lastly, continue to mentor AND to be mentored. One of the best ways to safeguard yourself against intellectual haughtiness is simply to have someone mentor you who knows more than you and to continue to tell yourself that there are still areas you need to probe and learn about. That you don’t have it all together, and never will, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice and can’t share your insights.

I truly believe that academic scholarship is a high calling and that God uses both men and women in this field to further God’s Gospel message. By avoiding the common pitfalls that most academicians fall in to from time to time, we are making that Gospel even more real and tangible. So go, explore, research, write, and come back ready to teach a seminary class 🙂

For more musings on what I’ve learned since starting seminary check out: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/words-of-wisdom-to-college-grads-considering-seminary/

What Would Jesus Vote? Would Jesus Vote?

ImageIn Ontario we are facing an upcoming election. On June 12th, thousands or millions of voters will hit the polls to make their voice heard. Before June 12th thousands of more Canadians will be meeting with their local Members of Provincial Parliament, attending rallies, and writing petitions which they hope will hold some merit.

As I consider the upcoming elections, it has started to get me thinking about what the healthy Christian response to holding politics should be. Should Christians evade the topic entirely or should they run for office themselves? Does having a Christian represent us in parliament really make that big of a difference or is the only thing that counts when it comes down to it the opinions they hold on paper? How does an Anabaptist deal with the tension of pacifism and politics? Furthermore, as a question to something we’ve been exploring in my Church History class in seminary – are there still fragments of Christendom that evade our politics and if so should they be abolished?

There are a variety of hot button topics that trouble me as a voter and as a Christian alike. What should I feel about abortion? Do I truly disagree with it from a fundamental standpoint or am I allowing my religious viewpoints colour how I feel on this issue? What about homosexual union? There are many Christians who are against homosexuality and there are many others who are in favour of it. My point here is not to get into a discussion about the various pros and cons this would create nor is it to share my own viewpoint on this subject, but it is simply a question of: should my moral and religious obligation be to stand behind a fundamental approach to Biblical texts or should it be to become more inclusive in our society? (After all, are there logical arguments against gay/bi-sexual unions apart from the Bible and fundamentalism in general and if there aren’t should Christians be imposing theological texts on a society that generally is uninterested in matters of Christianity?).

As I think about my role as a voter, these are all issues that I have to learn to hold gently, but also in tension and contrast with one another. Although I do not believe the Bible speaks to the issue of voting, I do know that the Bible does discuss the importance of how we view those in authority over us. In Romans 13 we read that those who rule over us are given that appointment by God and that we should not resist their power (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+13). We are reminded of the importance of not evading civil responsibility such as the payment of taxes (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22:15-22). And yet, as a Christian our highest calling is to do justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly with our God (http://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Micah%206:8).

You may wonder what your role as a Christian voter is, but I think the answer is pretty clearly laid out in God’s Word. He commands us to speak out against injustice and to defend the rights of the most vulnerable in society (http://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Isaiah%201%3A17).   The Christian way to approach politics, then, is not to ignore the pressing issues, but to seek out more ways to promote gender equality, economic justice, and empowerment of the “least of these.”

It greatly sadness me when my peers (who are young adults) seem not to care about what is happening in the political arena. This especially troubles me when I consider my peers who I went to Bible College and Seminary with as well as my colleagues in various forms of Christian ministry. The truth is, that we can indeed serve God and give Him the glory through making informed and educated decisions about who will best represent us in parliament.  

Below, I’ve highlighted some ways that I believe will serve God as we approach this election:

1)      Be informed. Whether or not you are a Canadian born citizen, landed immigrant, Permanent Resident, or Canadian living abroad get to know the issues. Maybe you feel that because you are a PR rather than a citizen and therefore cannot vote that you do not want to spend time getting to know what is burning on Canadian’s minds. HOWEVER, if you presently call Canada your home then I would URGE you to help take responsibility of what is happening in our country. If you are an immigrant, you can bring a special perspective to what is happening politically. In many ways, there are still important ways that we need to reform immigration in Canada providing resources, governmental grants, and jobs to people who have chosen to live with us.

On the flip side, there are certain individuals who feel that immigration is not a big deal. They think that we should be granting jobs only to Canadian born and bred youth and radical people who feel like Canada should not accept any more immigrants. To this I say the following, unless you are 100% Native (Aboriginal) Canadian, do you really have the right to say this? Canada is a country made up of immigrants! Sure, maybe it was 5 generations ago that your great-great-great grandparents came over here, but the fact is, had they not immigrated you’d still be back in the motherland! Please also consider, as your Christian duty, that sometimes people HAVE to immigrate to other countries due to religious persecution and intolerance or due to severe famine or natural disasters. That’s what whether or not you are a Canadian citizen, I’d encourage you to read up and research information on immigration reform.

2)      Vote wisely or choose not to vote. Don’t just take voting lightly, go to the polls and check off the box your parents expect you to check off, or spoil your ballot because you think all politicians are out to get you. Instead, think before you vote. Similar to the previous point, go to each party’s website and read their platforms. Phone, email, or drop in to your MPs office to ask them questions that are pressing on your mind. Then choose which one you agree with the most and which one you think will represent you the best. If you choose not to vote, make sure that you are doing it for good reasons not simply because of laziness or thinking that all politicians are crooks. I do believe that there could be legitimate reasons for a Christian to not want to vote, but before you decide to take that route truly ask yourself, “will I be serving God more with or without my ballot?” And if you choose not to do the ballot ask yourself how else you are expecting your voice to be heard. Remember that in many cases a spoiled ballot may say a whole lot more than simply not showing up to the polls.


3)      Refuse to let Religion Rule to Roost. By religion I am not necessarily talking about true Evangelical faith which cannot lie dormant. I’m not talking about the relationship with Christ part, but about downright fundamentalism. You see, there are certain Christians who believe that the only “Christian” party is the Conservative wing. I have actually attended youth events where the Conservative leader tried to hook young adults into voting for him (or her) simply because he (or she) was a “Christian” and would represent them as a “Christian” in power. I’m not saying that having Christians in power is not important. I truly would love it if our prime minister and all the MPs and MPPs WERE Christian. After all, as a Christian I believe it is our responsibility to go and make disciples (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2028:19). HOWEVER, never vote for someone SIMPLY because they are a Christian. If they have the most God-fearing and best platform (in your opinion) and HAPPEN to be Christian consider that an added plus. But remember that many God-fearing Hindus, Jews, and Muslims can also serve you really well in the political arena. Sure they may not believe theologically as you do, but they still have very good morals and high standards.

As Christians we are blessed with the honour of showing our dedication to Christ in every aspect of our lives. When I was at Tyndale University I had an amazing professor who used to challenge my class full of 17 and 18 year old kids that everything we do is an act of worship – an act of giving God worth. In that sense it doesn’t matter whether you’re leading your youth group, serving on the mission field, or writing an academic paper – as long as you do it with the right heart and the right motivation you can be praising God. So, I’d like to take this a step further and encourage you to consider giving God worth with your ballot this year. Read and watch the news, talk with your friends and get them energized about voting, discuss the hard questions between the intermix of faith and politics with your pastor, youth leader, or campus chaplain. Then, GO. Go to the polls on June 12th and check off the name that you feel best reflects Christ’s will. And, always remember to PRAY. PRAY for all the parties and candidates who are running that they will be able to seek Christ’s face and if they don’t know Him yet, that they will form a personal relationship with Him someday. PRAY before AND after your cast your ballot and then leave it into God’s hands. And as you walk away from the polls remember that even if the person you wanted to see doesn’t get into power, that as Christians we can still work towards political, racial, and gender equality and that we should never give up. Especially not after June 12th.


The Importance of Pediatric Dentistry – A Guest Blog Post By Grace Beckett

Image This week, ZweibachandPeace is happy to welcome guest blogger, Grace Beckett to our humble nook.  Although ZweibachandPeace is generally a blog about pacifism and social justice, we are also always open for suggestions and writing on new and important topics.  Thus, when Grace stepped forward and offered a blog post on pediatric dentistry we were very happy to include her writing on this blog.  Now, you may be wondering, “how does pediatric dentistry have anything to do with Christianity?”  The answer: our bodies are Temples and we should take care of our bodies! (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+6:19-20).  Dentistry is one way (along with fitness and healthy eating) that we can be good stewards of the bodies that have been entrusted to us by our Creator.  Additionally, lack of good dental hygiene and care can result in larger health problems – the more healthy we are the better able we are to love and serve on others!  So, I’d encourage you to read this blog with an open mind and to consider the importance of pediatric dentistry in the lives of our kids and grandkids! Thank you, Grace, for your hard work in making this article possible!

Do you have something you’d like to share?  Please consider writing a guest blog post for Zweibach and Peace and your article could be featured in the upcoming weeks.  If you’d like more information on the possibility to writing for Zweibach and Peace please check out this link for some more info: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/zweibachandpeace-looking-for-guest-bloggers/.

It is often suggested by medical and dentistry experts that children should start getting routine dental checkups done at an early age so as to maintain good dental health. So pediatric dentistry is a very important aspect of your child’s oral healthcare.


Your child’s teeth can be protected from decay and cavities if early checkups are undertaken. Otherwise, if the situation gets worse, it can lead to issues like excessive pain, concentration issues and so on. Children who have a healthy mouth and strong teeth are easily able to chew all kinds of food, have a clear speech and a confident bright smile too.


Pediatric dentistry over general dentistry


Sometimes you come across some general dentists who treat children as if they are young adults. Make sure you do some good research on the pediatric dentists practicing in your neighborhood and also use referrals as well as family contacts to reach the right person.


There is a reason why children need to be taken to pediatric dentists. It is because there is a vast difference in treatments undertaken in pediatric dentistry and it requires specific training, which is not received by general dentists.


Benefits of early dental checkups


According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association, by the age of one, a kid should ideally be taken to visit a dentist. This could also hold true when the child gets his or her first tooth. A visit to the dentist is actually an opportunity for parents and caretakers to understand how to take good care of their child’s dental health and keep their teeth free from any cavity or decay.


For instance, in pediatric dentistry, doctors deal with several young patients who suffer from cavities as a result of sleeping with a milk or juice bottle in their mouth. The dentist can explain the exact reason for cavity in the child’s teeth to the parents so that it could be avoided in the future. Pediatric dentists give insights into several aspects of pediatric dentistry such as:


  • Reasons for the tooth decay
  • Getting children used to drinking juice or milk from a cup at an early age
  • Proper brushing of teeth


General insights: Dental care for young children


  • Use any toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head to remove bacteria-causing residue from your child’s mouth. There are toothbrushes, which are specially designed for infants. Make sure to brush minimum once a day, preferably before bedtime
  • Habits such as thumb sucking only create problems if they are continued for a long period of time
  • It is a good idea to avoid putting any liquid apart from water in the child’s bottle at the time of sleeping

About the author

Grace is an expert working with Kid’s choice dental, a company providing pediatric dentistry. She loves writing about medical articles for kids and parents. Other fields which interest her are fitness and social media.


Watch Your Language

ImageAt L’Arche we have one core member (resident with a developmental disability) who likes to remind assistants and other core members to “watch their language”. Usually this happens when someone is frustrated and lets one slip or sometimes when she interprets that although we are not saying a bad word due to the tone of our voice we may as well be swearing. One of my favourite moments was when my German co-worker uttered everyone’s favourite German explicative to which Sally replied, “Watch your language!” My German friend immediately followed it up with, “But, you don’t even speak German!”

Although I do not necessarily condone the use of swearing because I can see it being detracting from a good and fruitful ministry, my point of this blog is not simply to tell you to “watch your language” in case your great grandmother overhears a word and washes your mouth out with soap. Rather, I’d like to take it a step further and suggest that ALL Christians must watch their language – the way we speak and interact with one another in general.

Language is one of the most powerful forms of communication that we have, and although people in psychology related fields would tell you that 90% of communication is non-verbal, the fact still stands that what is conveyed to others through speech or writing has a profound effect to either build up and edify or to tear down and destruct.

This is why the Apostle James writes to us that although a tiny piece of our body, the tongue has immense strength and with a single careless word from it whole lives can be demolished.1 On the other hand in Proverbs we discover that, “a word rightly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”2 Therefore, we can see the contrast between words which heal and words which cause already bruised bodies to burn and fester.

As Christians, so much of what we do and say affects our presence to the world. The Apostle Paul writes that we need to be on our guard against slander, envious sayings, hypocrisy, and lies.3 These are items that all Christians must be on the lookout for. While it can be juicy to share in the latest gossip, when falsehoods are spread among the saints it has the power to not only split a church but to also tarnish our image of how non-Christians view us. Jesus reminds us that not everyone who says “Lord Lord” is truly a child of God, but only those who do the Will of the Heavenly Father.4 In other words, although we might be able to speak fluent Christianese, if we aren’t living the lifestyle of the Father – one in which we seek to edify the church, we are no more than illegitimate sons and daughters of the King.

Part of watching our language also means that we try to avoid quarrels and contentious debates.5 I’m the first to admit that I love a good debate. Get me going on some wild and theological topic and it’s like the Energizer Bunny on Steroids! But friends, there is a huge difference between wanting to discuss something, wanting to challenge our thinking on something, and arguments which lead to schisms in the church. In the first two instances, debate has the potential to be healthy and good. It is a way of exploring your opinions and the opinions of others and thinking of whether there is a better way to articulate your viewpoints. On the other hand, when debates get so heated that yelling and church splits take place – we know we’ve taken it too far. I believe that’s the kind of debate Paul was urging us not to get into. In the period when the Christian church was just a baby, it was so important for unity among its members to exist. Even today, I would go so far as to say the greatest enemies of the Christian faith do not lie OUTSIDE of the church, but WITHIN it – those who stir up seeds of controversy just for the sake of getting a knee-jerk reaction out of the members within it.

So, how can Christians watch their language? Here are a few suggestions that I would recommend trying if you truly want to serve Christ with the Words you speak and the way you speak them:

1)      Get to know God and His Word. The more I hang out with my friends the more I discover that I begin to speak and think exactly (or almost exactly) like them. For example, when I was in university and living with my first year roomate, she used to always say “deal” and “awesome” – spending a lot of time with her made me start saying those exact same words. Also, consider the best friends in your life who you know so well that you can almost always finish each other’s sentences. Jesus reminds us that His Sheep (disciples like us) hear His voice and recognize Him.6 When you have a best friend even without caller ID (I mean, really who doesn’t have Caller ID these days, but just go with me on this one) you can immediately recognize who they are the minute they say hello. The more we spend time with God, the more our relationship gets cemented and we are able to discover exactly how Jesus would choose to respond with grace and love even when we are tempted to slander or argue back. Jesus is not in the emotional blackmail business, but He is in the business of peace and forgiveness!

The best ways to get to know God and to begin to start speaking like Him come from hanging out with Him in prayer, experiencing what He is saying to a body of faithfully committed disciples (such as a solid Bible believing church or small group), and through discovering first hand for yourself what He says in His Word.

Now, if you’re not used to reading the Bible this may seem like quite the challenge. Isn’t the Bible boring? Isn’t it a bunch of stuff that was said to people thousands of years ago that doesn’t even apply to me today? Well, it doesn’t have to be. If you’re open to the adventure, you’ll soon discover how what the Bible said in that time period still relates to us today – such as choosing a life of service and being committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect. If you’re not sure where to even begin, I’d recommend that you check out Bible Gateway’s new website which was just recently laid out to be even more user friendly than it was before. On Bible Gateway’s website – https://beta.biblegateway.com/ – you’ll even be able to access a Verse for the Day, some interesting devotional and scholarly articles to take a look at, and even an audio Bible if you feel like listening rather than reading. Bible Gateway is also a great place to go if you’re looking for some help creating a Bible Reading plan or if you have an idea of what you’d like to read about but are not quite familiar enough with the Bible to know where that passage might be located (just use the Keyword Search)!

2)      Watching your language also means asking people to help you watch your language. It takes time to break out of bad habits and to learn new ways of saying words and phrases that you’ve been saying for years. Just like you wouldn’t expect someone to pick up Mandarin or Russian in a few days, you can’t expect yourself to radical shift your speaking and thinking in a week either. Instead ask a mature Christian friend to help stop you when you are speaking words which don’t best reflect Christ and to help you come up with better ways of saying some of the phrases that you’ve been used to using before.


3)      Lastly, watching your language does not imply that you cannot stand up for yourself or discipline an erring member of the body of Christ. Yet, the difference is, that the mature Christian will be able to call someone out on account of their sin in a way that reflects love, patience, and acceptance. Many Christians have a fear of telling someone that they are going against Scripture because they don’t want to be seen as judging the other person, but Christianity does call for a team approach where those who are wiser and older in the faith are to bring erring brothers and sisters back.7 Nevertheless, we are reminded that “a gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” – so when we do decide to call someone out for their sin we have to make sure we do it in a way that is respectful to them and with the best intentions on our part. We need to be sensitive to their needs and feelings and try to share with them in a way that shows our care and support.


When we watch our language we will be able to discover that we way we view ourselves as Christians and the way that others view us as disciples of God and His children will be radically altered to express more of Christ’s vision and mission in our lives.

1 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+3%3A1-12&version=NASB

2 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+25%3A11-13&version=NASB

3 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+5%3A20&version=NASB

4 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A21-23%2C1+John+2%3A3%2CLuke+9%3A35%2CRevelation+22%3A14&version=NKJV

5 http://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Titus%203:9

6 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+10%3A27&version=NASB

7 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James++5%3A19-20&version=NASB


00 Agents – The Good Cops Who Fight Sin and Oppression (Part 3 of a 3 Part Series on Anabaptist Distinctives)

ImageAs MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism. This blog will explore some of the Anabaptist distinctives that my fellow Mennonerd, Tyler Tully, has written up on his blog (http://thejesusevent.com). To read what other Mennonerds are saying on Tully’s Anabaptist formational arguments, I’d encourage you to check out: http://mennonerds.com/special-blog-series/mennonerds-on-anabaptist-convictions/).

The following is Tyler’s description of what being Agents of God’s Shalom looks like:

“Agents of God’s Shalom– More than merely being non-violent on a personal level (a measure that all Anabaptists will not flinch from) we are dedicated to producing God’s Shalom in our communities. Therefore, we stand against violence in all of its forms (Empire, oppression, poverty, war, etc.) while we live in justice as an alternative community. Shalom is more than the absence of conflict (Pax Christi), it is the peace that surpasses all understanding and the project of the Holy Spirit as God’s Reign fosters wholeness through reconciling the hierarchies of class, race, ethnicity, age, sex, gender, sexuality, and ableism. Although there are tensions within the Anabaptist movement as to the Church’s possible political activism, Anabaptists reject Dominionism in favor of persuasion. Thus Anabaptists can responsibly engage the Powers and Principalities through prophetic and non-violent witness. Yet like Jesus, this living of justice as an alternative makes us bearers of violence as it is sometimes done against us, but it is never instigated by us.”

The following poem differs from the other writings in that it is not a personal reflection. This story displays some of what I have learned from living in Toronto for 4 years and rubbing shoulders with many who would consider themselves outsiders of the church. It is a call for Christians to rise up and choose to live an active lifestyle of faith through emulating Christ rather than simply to sermonize. It is the belief that all Christians have the ability to be “Jesus with Skin on” though only a few of the really serious ones will actually take Him up on the offer.

You sit there drinking your hot steaming cup of coco while I look aimlessly into the sky

5 years ago today, I took to the streets

I still have my tattered blue jeans and my wool sweater from that era.

I had a few bad knocks in life

I few rough turns.

I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was born the wrong shade

With the “wrong” mindset

And the “wrong” gender.

It wasn’t my fault,

Or so I keep telling myself.

I needed protection, I needed a way out,

And so I took to these streets.

Aimlessly I search the sky overhead

Begging for an answer

But there is none.

The question barely forming on my lips

As I quiver and shake.




I used to have a family.

I used to laugh and play with my younger siblings

And now nothing.

There was a time in my life when I was the hero,

And now I’m the one trodden down.

You, see, there was a church just around the corner.

But there was also a bar.

The bright lights flickered to me, calling me to engage in a new found escape,

While the church seemed a bit lonely and abandoned.

The church was meant to be an agent of change,

But the only agent I see presently is the one writing up a report and walking past me on these streets.

I haven’t caused harm to anyone

And then I realize

That maybe there really isn’t an answer at all

Yet questions always are unending.

BUT even in the questioning there is a beauty

And that beauty is that as hard as life can be

There will always be Ambassadors of the truth.

Those who don’t just talk about some newfound faith,

But truly live it out.

Those who do not preach sermons,

But live each day as if their life were a sermon.

Those who do not judge,

But embrace,



They do not ignore,

But stand tall,



When I think about what makes a Christian, I consider,

It is not the ones who shut the doors of their church to me


I am too stinky

Wearing ugly clothes

And have a “past”,


The ones who walk beside me daily,

Who come into my life,

And who choose to stay for the long run,

Rather than just a few short weeks to say that they have “made a difference” and to feel good about themselves

They’ve chosen to come and live in my neighbourhood

Despite the fact that socioeconomically they could have done much better

They choose to bring me a sandwich


Eat it with me.

And they do invite me to church,

But in a different way than you might expect.

For they are not inviting me simply into a strange and foreign building

Where the spires reach to the highest heavens

And where the stain glass beckons an artistic expression

Such beauty lies in these places,

But I am not yet at the place where I can understand and appreciate the beauty.

That day is coming

But is not now.

For now, they don’t invite me to the Bible study

For I do not know how to read.

They do not invite me to the banquet

For I have no money or clothes

But they invite me into a living and breathing relationship

One in which they are present

One in which Christ is so present that I can see, and taste, and touch, and smell Him.

They do not try to change me,

But they beckon me to come.

And as I move in closer to them,

I see the face of Christ imprinted on them.

Years ago someone asked me what Christ looked like.

I thought He looked like a kind and gentle man with a beard and piercing brown eyes

Today I know that He looks like

The woman who offered me an extra cup of soup at the homeless shelter

The man who sat down with me over coffee and listened to my sobs

The young girl who begged her Daddy to have compassion on me.

When I stop and consider

I realize Christ is in each and every person

If only they will open up themselves to that possibility.

And so,

As I take to the streets again,

I feel courage.

I no longer feel ashamed.

I know that there are agents – secret angels working for Christ

Who will offer comfort and consolation.

This truly is what the church is.

This truly is what being a Double O agent is all about.

Baptism and Community Involvement (Part 2 of a 3 Part Series on Anabaptist Distinctives)

ImageAs MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism. This blog will explore some of the Anabaptist distinctives that my fellow Mennonerd, Tyler Tully, has written up on his blog (http://thejesusevent.com). To read what other Mennonerds are saying on Tully’s Anabaptist formational arguments, I’d encourage you to check out: http://mennonerds.com/special-blog-series/mennonerds-on-anabaptist-convictions/).

  • Tyler’s description of “Free Church of Confessing, Baptized Disciples- For the Anabaptist, community is essential in following Jesus. Although individuals choose to respond to this calling, or not, we enter into community with others through baptism as community is maintained through discipleship. Salvation is realized in community, but so is sin.  As a matter of intersection, some Anabaptist groups draw from Wesleyan and Liberationist wells that are also aimed at communal and economic reform in light of the Kingdom of God. Although not unique among (mostly white) post-liberal groups, post-colonial theologies continue to influence this new wave of Anabaptist expression just as historically rooted Anabaptist theology has influenced them. In tandem with the movement of the God that delivered the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt, the social and cultural reality of Jesus as a marginalized Jew in an occupied land, and the history of Anabaptist persecution during the Reformation period and beyond–Anabaptists choose to minister in, of, and amongst the marginalized. We see this as a natural expression of our commitment to discipleship in the Kingdom which stands against Christendom and the State.

To be honest, this blog post gave me the most amount of trouble in terms of thinking of how I wanted to present it. Finally, I decided to present it from my own viewpoint as someone who was baptized as an infant and later re-baptized as an adult. This poem is my description of how I have come to an understanding that baptism is reserved only for those old enough to make a conscious decision for themselves to choose to be part of community. On the other hand, I wish to say that I do not look down upon churches which practice infant baptism as many of them are using it simply as an expression of dedication to God and to the church.

When I was an infant,

My parents decided to baptize me.

Water splashing all over my brand new body.

I didn’t get the smiles.

I either cried,


Perhaps yawned.

I was wearing a pretty white dress.

The colour of purity

Of innocence

Of simplicity.

And such was I at that age.

The world had not yet shown me it could be cruel

There was no reason not to trust

I could see people as purely good

Because I had not been indoctrinated by books, arguments, or theoretical concepts.

Baptism is an important time


It presents an opportunity for re-birth, renewal, and re-generation.

It is a time of commitment, dedication, and belonging.


It is not necessarily the point of Salvation.

And this is where I radically differ from the view on infant baptism


I feel that many people who baptize babies may not necessarily realize

The historical implications such an action means.

It is more than just a dedication

In many cases it is a belief that Salvation is imparted to a child or granted for a short amount of time

So that if the child passes away they will be safe

BUT had they not been baptized

Who knows where their soul would lie

It is the claiming of one’s soul for God.


Infant baptism poses some serious questions about the historical links

The cruelty that Anabaptists had to undergo because they chose not to allow their children to be baptized

Because baptism meant being one with the State

So if you weren’t baptized, you couldn’t really be a citizen.

Which is ironic, because

Christians are called first and foremost to be citizens of heaven

Which includes being counter cultural at times.

When I was older

I chose to become re-baptized as an adult.

To make a conscious choice

To belong to a community of my own volition

Rather than because I was told that I am now a member of this church

To take Salvation a step further

And to claim it as my own.

To make baptism one way among many to prove that point to others.

I still believe community is essential in allowing one to thrive in their faith

But we cannot ignore the ways community comes into our lives.

Babies cannot make a decision for themselves to live out community by

Serving the poor

Living amongst the marginalized

Breaking bread with people on the fringes


Adults can decide those things.

Adults can decide to be full members of community.

Adults can decide to be baptized.

Being Jesus Centered in a Me-Centered Generation (Part 1 of a 3 Part Series on Anabaptist Distinctives)

ImageAs MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism. This blog will explore some of the Anabaptist distinctives that my fellow Mennonerd, Tyler Tully, has written up on his blog (http://thejesusevent.com). To read what other Mennonerds are saying on Tully’s Anabaptist formational arguments, I’d encourage you to check out: http://mennonerds.com/special-blog-series/mennonerds-on-anabaptist-convictions/).

“It is indeed an important and necessary thing for us to come into God, but it is quite another for God to come into us. In the first instance, we are still the center of attention. In the second instance, Jesus Christ becomes the focal point.” – Richard Foster

Since the majority of my blogs are largely written from an academic point of view, I have decided for this Syncro-blog I’d like to do things a little differently. Therefore, I have written three poems on the three aspects that Tully brings up in his blog. Before each poem, I will give a brief explanation as well as Tully’s description of the main points of each argument.

My first blog is written in neutral terms. It is a description of how although different denominational branches may differ in their practice and methodology, we all share the same common denominator that we worship Christ first and foremost. Being Christ-centered is a call to alertness and active discipleship rather than passive obedience. It is a reminder to always come back to the core truths of what God is illuminating to us rather than to simply search out academic meanings for hours. Of course, as an academician I fully support seminaries and the learning that takes place there, but before the mind, must come the heart. And before the heart must come the Spirit. Only when we choose to live a holistic life that gives God precedent in every aspect of our lives, will we come to an awareness of who He is and what He is doing in our midst.

  • The first distinctive that Tully notes in his discussion on what makes an Anabaptist is: “Jesus Centered- Jesus stands as the lens by which we read the entire Bible, and the exemplary by which we engage all theology. Jesus takes all precedence in matters of faith and life for us. He is the exact representation of God and the King of our Kingdom. His example, teaching, and identity matter more than anything. His values, ethos, and commandments often put us at odds with the priorities, laws, and expectations of Christendom and State. Anabaptist communities operate as alternatives to the systems around them. It is the centrality of Jesus above all things that defines every other particularity within Anabaptism.”


If I were to draw a circle

I would put Christ in the middle

All around it would be a dotted line

A line that is flexible

And yet in some strange way


Faith is flexible because

There are times when healthy discussions are fruitful to body-life.

There are times when we don’t necessarily know exactly what this verse or that verse may mean.

It’s flexible because

There are different expressions of worship and faith.

Some may prefer to be evangelical and charismatic

Others prefer to make faith more of a private matter.

Neither expression is necessarily right or wrong

Because we need both.

We need Catholics, and Orthodox

We need Episcopals and Lutherans

And we need Anabaptists.


Faith is also unchangeable because it is a constant

There are certain things we can’t mess with

Christ being at the Center is one of them.

When Christ came into our world, He came as an Agent of God’s peace and Light

He sought to bring about radical reformation and change

People talk about Martin Luther being the first reformer

But it happened much earlier than that

It happened the day that Mary said yes to the Cosmos being inside of her.

It happened the day Noah said yes to building the ark.

It happened the day God gave Adam a second chance.

As Anabaptists,

We are called to consider

What being Christlike is and how we will choose to put Christ in the Center.

It’s no longer about dogma and dissertations.

It’s a simple childlike faith.

But even though it’s simple, it’s hard


It calls for a radical shifting of our worldview

And it calls for overturning the powers that be in this world.

As Christians,

Our Ultimate Allegiance lies with Christ,

Who chose not to partake in a worldly empire

But rather a heavenly one.

If you’ve got this

You’ve got Anabaptism.

If you’ve got this

You’ve got Christianity.



The Hermenutics of Anabaptism – How We Read Scripture and Why – Part 2 of a 2 Part Series

ImageIn part 1 (see here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/the-hermenutics-of-anabaptism-how-we-read-scripture-and-why-part-1-of-a-2-part-series/), I explained some key aspects of how the early Anabaptists viewed Scripture as well as expanded upon those points through entering in some of my own points of dialogue. In this section, I’d like to continue with Loren John’s presentation on “Anabaptist Approaches to Scripture – What’s Different and Why?” by looking at some of the greatest challenges that we face on reading the Bible Anabaptistly in our time. Here are the points Loren suggests:

1)      Loss of Biblical Literacy

2)      Busyness and Non-Use

3)      Fundamentalism (Loren notes that this is helpful in some ways, though we do need to be careful because oftentimes Fundamentalism can simply be used as a way to cut off people who may believe differently than we do)

4)      A Decreased Attention Span When It Comes to Bible Studies

5)      Relativistic Existentialism (Egocentrism – “Us” versus “Jesus” Mentality)

6)      Under-Reliance on Scholarship

7)      Over-Reliance on Scholarship

8)      Temptation of Self-Protecting Sophistication (We “know it all”)

9)      Harmonization of Scripture (Thinking That All Scripture Passages Basically Say the Exact Same Thing But In Different Ways)

10)  Fragmentation of Scripture (Flip Side of Harmonization – Basically Thinking That There is No Cohesion, No Unified Message In Scripture)

11)  Abundance of Wonderful Resources (Where To Even Begin?)

12)  Lack of Good Experience (We Associate The Bible With Negative Experiences Studying or Interacting With the Bible)

Discussion: It definitely is a concern to me that our culture has lost touch with what the Bible is saying and what its purpose is. It used to be that the Bible had a central place in North American culture, but anymore nowadays, it seems that only a small minority of people actually place the Bible as a high priority in their lives.

In his lecture, Loren, defined Biblical literacy as

1)      Having a Knowledge of People, Dates, and Events

2)      Having a Sense of an Over-Arching Theme of Story Line

3)      Incarnating the Scriptures to Evaluate Our Life Choices Based on Biblical Principles

Although one could argue that these three steps come in sequence – after all, you can’t know how to relate to people if you don’t know the over-arching theme of Scripture as being peace, love, or justice, and you can’t know that the Bible is about love and mercy if you don’t know the stories of how God kept forgiving and challenging His people to forgive over and over again. On the other hand, one could argue (as I likely would) that working from the bottom up is what really is most important. Sure, having a very basic understanding of some key players would be good, but if you don’t know the approximate dates or major historical events like the destruction and rebuilding of the temples, I’m not about to go off on you about that, either. Rather, choosing to live a life based on the overarching theme is likely what is going to bring Salvation about.   Unfortunately, the culture at large, doesn’t even seem to have that in the general sense.

#2 – The other important point I think Loren raised is that we are living in the information age. Suddenly we have all this information at our fingertips, conveniently accessible and easy to use. However, with easy use comes easy manipulation. Here again, we are called upon to discern in community. The other problem this presents is that when one is exposed to many resources they are more likely to procrastinate. As I keep mentioning, scholarship is important, but so is learning from and interpreting Scripture though one’s life experiences, one’s culture, and one’s friendships with others.

The irony is that as information becomes more readily accessible to us, we seem to become “busier” and have a decreased attention span.  Anymore nowadays we cannot go for one hour without checking our Facebook for updates, we can’t go a day without sending the world a Tweet that we did something amazing like go on a date or wake up on time for work, and we can’t go a week without our cell phones (because… well… it might be an “emergency”).  It’s funny how we complain about only having 24 hours in a day.  It’s not that we don’t want to, it’s just that we don’t have time to sit down with the Bible for 15 minutes or to pray or to read wholesome literature.  And yet, we can find half an hour to scroll mindlessly down a Facebook feed, to call up half a dozen friends, and to text 15 people.  Yep.  It’s not that we don’t have the time, it’s about where our priorities lie, and unfortunately for many Christians our priorities simply do not lie in reading the Scripture and meditating upon it.

Conclusion: Loren Johns presented a very informative lecture on how Anabaptists have come to view Scripture over the centuries. What I took away from this whole thing is that we need to become more aware of the role Scripture plays in our lives. Rather than putting everything on a denominational horse, we need to question ourselves to see if we personally are in alignment with God’s will for our lives. It’s never a simply or easy answer, but as long as we keep looking to God, He will guide and direct us.




The Hermenutics of Anabaptism – How We Read Scripture and Why – Part 1 of a 2 Part Series

Image This afternoon during my split shift break I had the privilege of attending a special webinar through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. The seminar leader was Dr. Loren Johns, professor of New Testament at AMBS and also an accomplished writer, editor for the Believer’s Church Bible Commentary series, and genealogy expert (trust me, if you ever meet Loren he’ll try to figure out how you are related to him even if you happen to be Hispanic and he – ethnic Mennonite).

For those who are not aware of my denominational background, I consider myself fairly ecumenical. I grew up primarily in the Lutheran and Baptist denominations, however, chose to embrace Anabaptism (and more specifically Mennonitism) of my own accord. As such, the deep historicity of the Mennonite faith, their love for community involvement, and their desire to work towards a world of peace and justice have grown on me. Yet, because of my background as ecumenical both growing up as well as through attending Tyndale University College and now Tyndale Seminary, I have long had to wrestle with how, although we are all brothers and sisters and share much in common, the Anabaptist distinctives and approach towards a Biblical hermeneutic have shaped who I am as a person as well as how Anabaptist denominations as a whole are viewed by those outside this particular understanding of faith.

What I would like to offer in the following paragraphs is a short synopsis of what was discussed during Loren’s presentation. Due to the fact that his presentation was one hour long followed by another half an hour of questions and comments, I will only highlight a few of the most important aspects of what was discussed. After I have laid out his meticulous research, I will provide my own critique to be used as a basis for discussion. Ultimately I hope that this blog will be edifying to you and help expand your knowledge of how we have come to interpret and “own” Scripture and that it will be useful to your church as well in understanding how community and leadership both play distinctive roles within the body of faith.

Loren’s Presentation focused primarily on two key aspects of Anabaptism and its relationship to Scripture.

1)      7 Ways 16th Century Anabaptists Viewed Scripture Which Are Inherently Unique From Other Denominational Backgrounds

2)      12 Challenges that 21st Century Anabaptists Face As They Struggle To Maintain a Pure and Historical View of Scripture in the Church and Cultural Climate of Today (Addressed in Another post – https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/the-hermenutics-of-anabaptism-how-we-read-scripture-and-why-part-2-of-a-2-part-series/)

7 Anabaptist Distinctives On Approaching the Bible

1)      Spirit and the Word

The 16th Century Anabaptists believed that when one read the Bible they must do so with an awareness and acknowledgement that the Holy Spirit is present. The Anabaptists were called to be open to Spiritual awakenings whether personally or through congregational worship.

2)      Rule of Paul – Congregational Hermeneutics

The Holy Spirit moves and guides our congregation into communal discernment for a specific time and place. As evidenced in 1 Corinthians 14:27 there is a time and place for the weighing of individual opinions or ideas, all things being brought back into subjection to God’s Will and plan for the church. (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+14%3A27&version=NASB)

3)      Rule of Christ

Christian discipline should be discerned at large by a congregational structure rather than by one or two key leaders (such as the Pope or a bishop). The text most often quoted in this argument is Matthew 18   http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+18&version=NASB)

4)      Christocentrism

Scripture serves first and foremost as a witness to Christ and just as Christ is the center of our lives, so He also, is to become to focus of Scripture. This then leads to three main interpretations for how to deal with Old Testament understandings of Scripture while still keeping Christ at the center:

1)      To read (almost) every Old Testament prophecy as a direct foreshadowing of Christ’s rule and reign

2)      To evaluate all teachings through the lens of Christ, carefully weighing what was said through looking at the model of how Christ lived His life (especially helpful when coming to some troubling war texts in the OT).

3)      To read all Scripture with discipleship at the center (for example thinking about how Old Testament lessons can ultimately inspire us to live a more fruitful Christian life of radical hospitality and service)

5)      Priority of the New Testament

The belief that because Christ is at the center of our Scriptural interpretation, we should therefore, consider Christ the ultimate portrayal of God’s revelation and as a result believe that the New Testament has greater value than the Old.

6)      Perspicuity – Self-Interpreting Clarity of Scripture

Christians are granted a certain level of freedom to discover what individual passages may mean to them, yet, this is done with the caution that all Scripture must be read with the “Spirit at the Elbow” (Loren John’s term for an acute awareness that the Holy Spirit is present), in consultation with other Biblical passages, and tested within a believing community.

7) The Epistemology of Obedience

The Bible is more than just a guidebook, a road map, or a dictionary.  It is also a prayer and meditation book, a biography, and an artistic expression. Yes, there is a need for accurate study, but information cannot be sought out from the Bible without looking into the formational aspects of what the Bible is and does if we wish to do it justice.

Discussion: In these seven steps, Loren very carefully and very helpfully lays out a basic understanding of how the early Anabaptists would have been doing church life together. Yet, are all of these seven aspects still necessary in the life of a Christian (and more specifically Anabaptist) in our changing world and modern society?

#1 – I found the belief in the Holy Spirit being ever present in dialogue and discussion amongst believers today to be an interesting assumption. As someone who considers themselves more along the Charismatic lines and has attended a transdenominational school with a large percentage of Pentecostals, the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer still intrigues me. From the Mennonite angle, I would venture to say that in MOST (though certainly not all) Mennonite settings that the Holy Spirit’s role is overshadowed by that of the community.

Don’t get me wrong here. I know that unfortunately many people have misused manifestations of the Holy Spirit, have abused prophecy, and have distorted visions. I am fully aware that by trying to gain authority over another individual simply by exerting the fact that “God told me so” often leads to power trips, Scriptural neglect, or worse. Yet, I also know that the Holy Spirit was sent as a messenger after Christ had ascended into Heaven and as such He is still meant to be our guide, our shepherd, and our traveling companion (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+14%3A26&version=NASB). Therefore, it is my belief that we must strike a delicate balance. Certainly the Holy Spirit can and does speak to us at different times and in different ways. The Spirit may speak to us through poetry, through song, or through nature. We may discern the Spirit through a deep and profound way or through the whisperings and stirrings of our heart strings. Sometimes the Spirit may prompt us through a Christian broadcast, a conversation with a close friend, or a meaningful conversation with our spouse. Although these are all different expressions of how the Holy Spirit can manifest Himself to us it does not mean that any of these experiences are more worth more than any others.

Yet, what I have found is that whereas my Pentecostal experiences have been such that they place the Holy Spirit in such a high role that individualism can sometimes seem to take over rather than communal and collective engagement, many Anabaptist churches have done the exact opposite and allowed for the community to completely take over the territory that should belong to the Holy Spirit.

#2 – The challenge to carefully weigh an individual’s words and opinions against the church’s doctrinal beliefs and Scripture at large is an important and necessary one. Unfortunately, because we live in a world that is very individualistic, this sometimes creeps into our church and communal life. As Anabaptists, I believe we are called to discern God’s Will and next steps for our churches and for our lives in general. In Anabaptism, I have found that collective discernment is a high priority, although as with any other human institution, it does take careful reworking of power structures that be to ensure that this is really happening.

#3 – Christian discipline is a key part of keeping the church Spiritually healthy and there are examples in Scripture as to why allowing someone who is going contrary to the teachings of the leadership to continue in their practices can ultimately disrupt the life of a young, immature Christian. Yet, unfortunately, discipline has often been misused both in the past and in the present as a way to say, “if you don’t agree with me, you are wrong.” There needs to be a place for healthy debate and welcomed discussion rather than being shut down out of fear of excommunication or shunning. In Loren’s discussion, he gave some consideration to whether the word “discipline” should be changed with “discipleship.” The two words connote something very different from each other. In “discipline” the emphasis is on the negative – on consequences for unfavourable behaviour, but in “discipleship”, the emphasis is placed on building up one another and edifying the church. Therefore, I would argue that rather than focusing on how to severe a poisonous branch, we, as a congregation, seek to understand how that branch became poisonous in the first place and to safe guard ourselves by looking at preventative maintenance rather than radical amputation.

#4 – For this point, I place points #4 and #5 together. It seems that in the majority of churches the Old Testament is largely ignored while the New Testament is given much thought and weight. It is a comforting thought to interpret everything through the lens of the New Testament (and moreover the story of Christ) but as a student of Biblical Studies and Theology I believe this is doing the Old Testament a bit of injustice for we are reading it as one who knows the end of the story. In some cases, we cannot deny that there was a direct foreshadowing going on about the birth and death of Christ, but in other cases, we simply must accept the Old Testament as one means through which God communicated to the people of the Old Covenant. In many instances, God was not always speaking of a future hope being several thousand years later, but rather was speaking into the reality of that time. In a way, it’s kind of like if someone from the year 2050 looked at our present lives through the lens of what they now know and tried to tell us that all this happened a certain way even though it really wasn’t that way for us.

Therefore, I believe that to truly be a student of Scripture we must become familiar with the history and culture of both Testaments. As church leaders we cannot neglect one while raising up the other. I would even go so far as to say in order to truly understand the New Testament we must have knowledge of the Old.

#5 – Here again, I wish to bring up points #6 and #7 into this one point. There is a place for seeing how specific Scripture applies to our lives. In the academy we are taught essentially how to rip the Bible into shreds. In school I was taught, “this is what you were told growing up, but it’s completely historically inaccurate.” Well, there is definitely a place for careful academic study of the Word of God and I believe that all pastors should be trained (though perhaps in different ways) on how to remain as Biblically accurate as possible. Yet, on the other hand, we cannot deny that every one of us reads the Bible with a huge range of biases. Our culture, our own individual backgrounds, our denominational leanings – all of these profoundly affect how and what the Bible will mean to us. Therefore, I will admit that while the Bible can definitely be very instructional, I prefer to see it moreso as formational. As a way of inspiring and reaching out to all of us, offering us hope and encouragement in our own lives as we seek to be disciples of Christ within our communities of faith and abroad.