Today's guest blogger is Tim Wenger, a masters student located in Winnipeg, MB. He writes about how we need to remember that as Mennonites, our social justice work is rooted in us following Jesus. For more of Tim's writings you can visit his blog, http://tttpas.blogspot.ca/ .
Over the past year, I have heard several people say that every 500 years or so, there is a major shift in Christianity. Constantine's reign in 306 CE marked the church moving from a fringe religion, to eventually being a state religion. The Great Schism between Rome and the East in 1054 CE left scars in the Global Church that are only now beginning to heal. The Reformation in 1517 resulted in many divisions within the Western Church. Each of these events impacted the world in huge ways.
Many people are suggesting that we are again in a major shift, the most recent example I've experienced was at Mennonite Church Canada's National Assembly. During a Young Adult Event, MC Canada Executive Director made reference to this shift, and has outlined some of his thoughts on the topic here. To help navigate this shift, the national church has assembled the Future Directions Task Force to look at what the future of the MC Canada will look like, and we had some good discussion during the Assembly about it.
In a recent podcast, Willard and Dan Dyck talked about the future of the church. Willard suggested that the future of the church will be one where the church engages in issues such as Aboriginal Justice and Climate Change, and I agree, the Church needs to engage with social justice issues. It needs to in order to stay relevant, but it also needs to in order to stay faithful to the people who God is calling us to be.
From the creation of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, God has called a people to show the world around us how to live differently. The Lex Talionis Law in the Torah (an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth) was a demand for equality under the law. Where other cultures allowed those in the upper classes to severely punish those in lower classes for any infraction, the Torah limited retaliation to an equitable punishment.
With Jesus, the people of God became open to all, not just the Jews, but also the Gentiles. The message was do not conform to Rome's morals, of greed, and violence, but make Jesus your King. Peace, Justice and Love became the law written on our hearts.
As history unfolds, we see a pendulum swing. From the weakness of Christ to the Strength of Constantine, from ritual in the middle ages, to faith in the reformation, etc. But we often swing too far. When the pendulum swung towards faith in the reformation, we began to lose the importance of action. Martin Luther wanted to remove the Canon of James from the Canon, thinking that it wasn't relevant to our faith. We swung to a place where faith resulted in inaction.
The Anabaptists always spoke out against this, showing how faith in Christ requires us to love our neighbors, remember Menno's Famous quote: "True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it serves those that harm it, it binds up that which is wounded, it has become all things to all people." As the world realizes that faith requires action it begins to swing in the other direction. We can't just pray about an issue, being a follower of Jesus means going out and fixing it.
However, I have cause for concern about this swing. At some point we can/will/have swung too far. Sometimes our concern for social justice becomes more important than the reason why we seek it in the first place. Sometimes I see Mennonites go from being Anabaptist to Secular Humanists. I see us as being more concerned about the ends and not the means.
I see us neglecting our prayer lives and bible readings, casting them aside rather than realizing that they are the reason we seek after justice.
My Social justice concern comes out of my love for Jesus. I care for the other because I see that they are made in God's image. We need to remember that it was the Prophet Amos, a man who was calling Israel back to following God, who said "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" (Amos 5:24). As we shift towards a Christianity that is a voice for the downtrodden, let us also remember that we believe in prayer and faith.