The Mennonite Thing

rice-fields-northern-thailandOver the years of working with young people, occasionally someone will condescendingly refer to the “Mennonite thing.” I find that to be a curious expression! What is the “Mennonite thing”? How does that differ from the “Baptist thing”, the “Pentecostal thing” or the “Lutheran thing”? What is it about the “Mennonite thing” that distinguishes it from any other “thing”? I get the feeling from the context in which it is used that the “thing” is undesirable, something akin to shameful. How does culture, missions, ethnicity, and doctrine pertain to this “thing”?

Jeremiah 35 records that the Rechabites had a “thing” that distinguished them. Imagine some sporty camel pulling up in front of the only pub on this strategic side of Jerusalem. Off jumps a typical Casanova of the party crowd from a neighboring city. As he enters the rather dilapidated pub he finds it basically empty. While ordering his drink, he inquires about the atypical novelty of the only pub on this side of town being so ill-frequented. “Where are your customers?” he wonders. “Well,” says the proprietor, “It’s a Rechabite thing.” “What do you mean, a Rechabite thing?” probes the guest. The owner leans across the bar and says, “I can hardly keep this business going because of the influx of Rechabites into this suburb of Jerusalem. They don’t have gardens and they have rules against building houses! But, here’s the rub. They don’t drink any wine! A strange group, those Rechabites are! They don’t bring me any business!” J

ehonadab, the ancestor of the Rechabites, lived in the time of King Jehu. These two zealous young men knew each other and were both incensed about the idolatry that mushroomed under the rule of Ahab and Jezebel. Jehu met Jehonadab one day and inquired whether Jehonadab had the same fervor that he did to cleanse Israel. Jehonadab joined Jehu and the two men fervently killed all the prophets of Baal!

Interestingly enough, Jehu continues to be a prominent figure in Biblical history but Jehonadab slips into more of an obscure role. Because of Jehu’s zeal in delivering Israel from the house of Ahab, he is promised that the kingship would remain in his family line for the next four generations. Unfortunately, the Bible records that Jehu was not careful in following the God of Israel. It goes on to tell us that the next four generations of Jehu’s off-spring “did that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Finally Shallum assassinated Zechariah, ending Jehu’s line!

Meanwhile we hear virtually nothing of Jehonadab. Jehonadab was the son of Rechab from which this group of people got their ethnicity, life style, and name. While Jehu’s sons were building an infamous reputation of doing “evil in the eyes of the Lord,” Rechab’s sons were passing on a heritage. They didn’t attempt to acculturate with the compromised life-style of those around them. They stood in contrast. The “Rechabite thing” came to be known as the preservation of a godly life-style that was laid down by an ancestor 250 years earlier! To make a contemporary corollary, that would mean our generation honoring guidelines formulated in 1757! The Rechabites were so markedly different that by the time of Jeremiah, they came to national attention because their “thing” was not mere grudging conformity to antiquated rules, but zealous conviction about life-sustaining applications. They stood as one to abstain from Jeremiah’s offer of wine.

IGo is located in a housing subdivision called Koolpunt Ville. Recently, one of the students noticed an expatriate chat blog where IGo’s presence was being discussed. It read, “Some of the Koolpunt Ville subdivisions have a high percent of farang (foreigners). Like ten percent. I am sure I spotted an entire gaggle of Mennonites there this week, with the whitest faces, women in head coverings, men with facial hair, nearly Amish.” Some of the things we practice today are seen by evangelicalism as being completely out-of-date. Many of them have relegated holiness of life to a forensic statement by God that has little or nothing to do with life style. They view attempts to demonstrate it outwardly as legalism.

I feel fairly well acquainted with the down side of Conservative Mennonites. We do have a down side! I’ve observed how our brotherliness tends to shrivel as we critique each other. We do have problems with critical attitudes and it is not a one-way street. So called “liberals” criticize the “conservatives” and vice versa. But I feel a lump of sadness when Mennonites begin to implode with critical attitudes toward each other, when condemning remarks are shot at the brotherhood rather than the enemy.

If the “Mennonite thing” is seen as sitting around at home enjoying life in a comfortable niche, it is lamentable. But I fail to see where that characterization differs from any other denominational “thing.” If that is all it is, then it is not a “Mennonite thing”, it an apathetic thing that is endemic in all of western Christianity. Let’s talk about where we can improve, and be more consistent with Scripture. But let’s not look down on the grace God has given us through a disciplined church, because what we look down on, we will shortly abandon! Let’s try to think outside the “box” in relation to “things.”

The “Mennonite thing” includes such aspects as a good work ethic. Strong family units are generally more common amongst them. There is a willingness to suffer loss for the sake of an enemy in ways that many denominations know little about. The Amish parents of the five slain girls in Pennsylvania who invested in the Roberts family is reminiscent of Dirk Willems’ rescue of his pursuant who fell through the ice in the 1500’s. Friends of mine wanted to start legal procedures for the adoption of a child in Pennsylvania while living in Indiana. The lawyer told them that she does not begin such procedures without a down payment of $5000.00, yet because they were Mennonite she took the case over the phone with no down payment and subsequently cut her price seventy percent!

If everyone in the world were somewhere between the most liberal and most conservative member of your church, what would this world be like? Would there be terrorism, divorce/remarriage, open sodomy, breweries, sensual immodesty, child abuse, abortion, or drunken driving? I’m not saying that none of these things happen in Mennonite churches, but I think we can safely say they are not the “Mennonite thing.”

We repeatedly meet Asians who are intrigued by our zealous, joyful “legalists.” As our students played volleyball one evening at a nearby gymnasium, a missionary to a tribal Muslim group was visiting. He immediately mentioned that he would love to get IGo students into his area because “you are more disciplined like they (the Muslims) are.” Our friend and Thai helper, Pastor Kiat, has been drawn to the IGo students because of the “Mennonite thing.” While there may be many hurdles that most of the so-called Christian church will never conquer in returning to a Biblical life style, there does seem to be a rising fatigue with the sloppiness and down-right disregard of living application in some sectors of evangelical and Protestant churches.

What should be our response? I’m not proud that I am a Mennonite, but neither am I ashamed of it! I’m grateful and I’m humbled! I thank God that my forefathers in the church wrestled to make practical application of Biblical truth corresponding to the issues they faced in the time in which they lived. We must continue to do the same. But, because this has been true, we have opportunities before us around the globe that are unique. What would be the effect of a non-resistant people living out their faith in the midst of a Muslim community like the Amish did in Pennsylvania? Would the Muslim view of Christianity be any different than it is currently? If “Christian” America would have extended to Iraq after 9/11 what the Amish families did to the Roberts family, what would the story in Iraq look like today?

The need for godly life-styles in those who claim the name of Christ is desperate and the opportunities for such people are incredible! Are we attempting to preserve a culture? Are we trying to live holy lives? Maybe these two are more integrally linked than we have thought. The world needs to see a Christianity that looks and acts Christian. Join those committed to such a calling!

By Val Yoder, IGo Administrator (I Witness News/Winter 2007)

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