Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
The days are growing darker in every way imaginable. I find myself struggling between great anxiety for the future, for the world, for the church, for my children and what they are growing up in and trying to convince myself that God is sovereign and faithful. I’m not seeing evidence of God’s sovereignty at the moment.
How can a sovereign God let so much evil be done in God’s name and to the defamation of the name of God’s church no less? It seems those of us in the United States stopped listening to each other 10 years. How do we make a difference when so many hearts seem hardened?
I wonder what will be next? What will propel us into the nightmare we never thought could happen in the United States of America again? After all, this is “God’s country,” I’ve been told.
There is another land considered “God’s country”:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Luke 3:1-3 (ESV)
“Repent and you will be saved!”
For me there is no other phrase in the Bible that conjures images of moralistic judgmentalism and misused power than this. “Repent.” You need to be forgiven for your sins before Jesus comes (again).
I can’t imagine anything more repulsive to say to another human being in an attempt to share the good news of who Jesus Christ is and why he has come. “Repent.” How is this good news?
“You’ve been bad. Admit it, and you’ll be saved.” Really?
Repent literally means turn back, or turn around. The most helpful translation for me has been “unlearn what you have learned!”
John the Baptist was not spreading his message of “unlearning” to those godless gentiles, but to his own people, those who already “learned.”
If the scriptures were written to witness to God’s community and inform them of what God expected of them, what does it mean for us as God’s community to repent, to unlearn, and why was it or is it necessary before Jesus comes?
My family and I recently moved to Excelsior Springs, Missouri, near Kansas City, where my husband bought a business and I plan to plant churches. This means we worship at home and all church formation for my three small children happens in regular rhythms and disciplines in our own home. Today, as we prepared for Advent, we had a robust conversation beginning with, “Is Jesus really alive? When can we meet him? Where is he?”
These are the perfect questions to begin the Advent season. After all, Advent is less about little baby Jesus and more about the hope/expectation that Jesus will come again, and whether or not we are prepared for it. However, after 2,000 years there has been a lot of cultural baggage that has come to be associated with Jesus, which leads me to another question: Will we know Jesus when he comes again?
BBC recently had a video portraying a white man praying to Jesus and finding himself confused when a non-white Jesus showed up.
Repent. Turn back. Unlearn. Unlearn what you have learned.
What are the things we must unlearn for the sake of recognizing Jesus when he is among us? What are the things we have come to associate directly with Jesus, the gospel, the church and God’s mission that have no bearing from the witness given to us in scripture? What idols have we created in the name of God that are preventing us from fully recognizing when the Spirit of God is moving in our midst?
I have recently had the privilege to partner with church movement makers from across the United States and around the world through Exponential and the 5Q Collective. These leaders from every denomination on every inhabitable continent are sensing the same holy discontent over the popular church and how it misrepresents the Gospel. In the last year of working with, learning with and growing with these wonderful women and men of God from every background imaginable one thing has become clear: God is doing something new!
Last week I sat in a room with Southern Baptists, Adventists, Methodists, Evangelicals of all sorts, Presbyterians and Reformed folks, and we all centered ourselves on the need to repent and unlearn everything we have come to know about doing church in order to become a church that looks and acts like Jesus. We have found ourselves repenting through our new-found relationships for the assumptions we have made about each other. They are simply wrong. We are more alike than not.
This awakening is happening among God’s churches, and we are saying together, “Who is Jesus? What does he do? What does he expect? Now help people look like that.”
There is a Jesus-centered movement happening right now. The church on the move across the globe is going back to Jesus in the fullest way imaginable. Starting with Jesus and declaring allegiance to Jesus alone has become the foundation of a revival. This is good news I can gladly proclaim.
But what does that mean for those of us who have an expectation that Jesus does things only in the Mennonite way? Will we see the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst, or will we reject it because it wasn’t the way we learned how to do church? Will we reject it because they aren’t one of our own, because they are a “them?”
The days are growing darker, the world is broken and hurting, and we need someone to save us. If we are truly waiting for Jesus to come, are we willing to unlearn (repent) in order to know him when he appears? I hope so.
Jessica Schrock-Ringenberg and her husband, Shem, and three children live in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, near Kansas City, where they own a business. Jessica works at envisioning, disturbing and equipping the church.
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