About two weeks ago, on our Wednesday noon session of Cracked Pots, I spoke about the break off denomination called Covenant Brethren Church (CBC). This group has withdrawn from the Church of the Brethren (COB) over perceived differences in theology, biblical accountability and interpretation, and lack of accountability towards congregations and individuals concerning select statements, policy, and polity in the COB.
What has gotten my stomach turning, however, is the blatant vitriol that I have seen on many sides of this conversation. Some are accusing the CBC of being unethical, others are praising their courage in stepping out. No matter where you are in this conversation, division is here – it is not coming – it is here! Because of this division, it begs the question, what will we do? What does it mean to be “Brethren” anymore?
I love our heritage – our Anabaptist/Pietist heritage. Core pieces of this movement for me reflect the character of God through acts of service, through peace and reconciliation, through living out our faith in community and the importance of keeping unity in that faith community, and looking at the injustice in the world and being an active participant in serving the least, lost, and lonely. In a nutshell, for me, to be “Brethren” means that I espouse these attitudes, these characteristics.
As I look at our denomination, and even my own congregation, I hear people say, we need to be more “Brethren”, yet, they are not able to articulate what that actually means. Being “Brethren” isn’t knowing about what is happening in the district, nationally, or globally. Being “Brethren” isn’t about getting and knowing what is in the Messenger (our denominational periodical). Being “Brethren” isn’t about going to National Youth Conference, Annual Conference, or even Older Adult Conference. While all of the things named above help us connect to our heritage as Brethren, they, in and of themselves, do not make us “Brethren”. As Jesus said it – “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). I would even add to that – out of the abundance of the heart, your actions speak.
When I hear people say they are Christian, I look to their actions, not just their words to determine if they are, in fact, Jesus followers. In the same way, when I hear someone say that we need to be more “Brethren”, I often then look to their actions as to how they live that out. Sometimes, when I see their actions, I think, “and by being “Brethren”, I want nothing to do with it!” In fact, many who have shared those words with me over the years, are not engaging in the community in a holistic way – only staying with their little circle of influence. Many do not serve in the church, encouraging future generations. Many do not seek peace and reconciliation, but rather are quick to point out what is wrong with others, our congregations, and other congregations. Many do not lift a finger in helping speak truth to injustice to those who are the least, lost, and lonely. I believe those who sow discord do not espouse the characteristics and attitude of someone who would claim to be a part of this Anabaptist/Pietist heritage.
Friends, I love our heritage. I believe there is an immense need for us “peculiar people” in this world. To be “Brethren” means to not look at self but rather to look to others and support their walks with Christ. It means that we serve others and speak to the injustices that God has placed on our hearts to speak into. It means we walk together in community, supporting one another where we are and encouraging us to be fearless disciples. It means we are to seek peace and reconciliation in relationships, communities, and in our world. It means that we follow Jesus, surrendering to his guidance, truth, and transformative power.
If that is what we mean by being “Brethren” then I am all in and I hope you are too – because that is also what it means to be a follower of Jesus! I want us to usher in a new way of living out this heritage – one that respects and lifts up the wonderful history and challenges us to be innovative, adaptable, and fearless moving forward. My prayer is that all those who want people to be more “Brethren” recognize their own walk in this heritage and seek to truly living it out in a way that would honor God, it, and others.
Live like Christ! Be a Jesus follower! As I do that, I put little accent marks on places that mean a lot to me – friends, that is my heritage, that is my passion, that is what I mean to be “Brethren”.
If you have any questions about our heritage and want to know more, please reach out to me, I would love to speak with you. Jesus first – ALWAYS!