Strengthen what remains

January 11, 2017 | Viewpoints | Volume 21 Issue 2
Phil Wagler |

I wonder what it was like to be on the receiving end of those seven letters to the churches named in Revelation 2 and 3. The words of Jesus to fellowships in present-day western Turkey were both encouraging and at points sharp with direct challenge. Jesus is serious about the health and vitality of his body, no matter where they are or what they are staring down.

To disciples in the city of Sardis the Lord speaks bluntly: “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God” (Revelation 3:1-2).

What would it have been like to receive that word and know it’s about you? Your fledgling community of the Way is a generation removed from the resurrection, you’re fighting to be faithful, and others seem to notice. And then you hear that your reputation is not the reality. Jesus knows. In this moment he is a doctor anticipating time of death: “You are dead.” This fellowship is on life-support. Something remains—but it must be strengthened, and soon.

This is my last contribution to Canadian Mennonite. I have been praying for something worthwhile to say to the Mennonite Church Canada community for 12 years. That suddenly seems like a long time, and whether these ramblings were worthwhile may be open for debate!

For the past six years I have been serving in pastoral ministry and now global mission leadership within the Mennonite Brethren family. I am thankful to the readership and staff of this magazine for giving me the opportunity to serve Jesus by writing what I always hoped would be thought-provoking, Jesus-glorifying and mission-activating pieces, even as I was an MC Canada outlier.

I have sojourned as an Anabaptist mutt. I was formed in an Ontario Mennonite church that I’m grateful for; a year with Mennonite Central Committee shaped me profoundly; I was blessed to serve as pastor of two MC Canada fellowships; worked for a time in an Evangelical Missionary Church school; was encouraged by the too-brief privilege of being among the Northwest Mennonite Conference on the Prairies; and I now contribute to our wider Anabaptist family among the MBs.

In each of these circles I have been challenged and transformed by the Holy Spirit’s fire evident in the diversity of this branch of the family of God, and I have come to see that all is not well. So perhaps it is this “mutt-ness” that fans the fire in my Germanic belly for a renewed, Jesus-centred, mission-focussed work of the Spirit among us. I would be unfaithful if I did not conclude this run of columns without calling the MC Canada family to hear the words of Jesus to the church at Sardis as a word for us now. Do not live off a reputation for being alive. Wake up. Strengthen what remains. Do it soon.

The gift the Mennonite churches are to be to this misguided and broken world will not come through brilliant structural renewal, proud intellectual declarations or figuring out how to please culture. We will only remain a blessing as we boldly recover the story we are blessed to undeservedly steward: A God of love is on the move, calling peoples and nations to repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ and his “foolish” cross, and commanding us to a Christ-like, cross-life lived out as the redeemed community of the King, joyfully swept up by the power of the Spirit in his counter-cultural reconciling mission. This is the narrative that must be embraced unashamedly. What will the future look like if what remains is not strengthened? Jesus still speaks to the churches. Who has ears to hear?

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Amen! brother. I believe you speak what is in the hearts and minds of many in MC Canada and for me personally. We can see ourselves as alive, believing we reflect accurately the Anabaptist vision with proud declarations for peace and justice and yet blind to what's true. We certainly need a renewing of the vision for "calling peoples and nations to repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ and his foolish cross." You are what kept me reading CM. Thank you and God bless you and your ministry.

Christianity is a multilithic religion, and Anabaptism a multilithic movement within it, which we as Mennonites have tended to deny with a passive but stubborn, uninformed and unhelpful determination.
In Phil's columns I have heard a passion for a certain understanding of Jesus’ message, the phrases and cadence of which I recognize (even while often not really understanding what they are trying to say), having grown up Mennonite Brethren. That is a church I left many years ago for a Mennonite Church, having come to a partially (not absolutely) different understanding of the call to follow Jesus.
I perceive God calling the Church, through “secular culture,” to a faithfulness to Jesus, many times since the Enlightenment, in a way that Phil would be unlikely to endorse. Many thousands more Mennonites are going to move in and out of Mennonite and other churches, as changing North American spirituality bends the status quo of “Christian” institutions beyond recognition over the coming decades. Let us affirm rather than bemoan these comings and goings, blessing what we can.
Thank you for your columns Phil; you kept this committed liberal Mennonite reading your column almost every issue.

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