Unity with the Christian and Missionary Alliance

John 17:20-26
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

We are moving right along in our sermon series on unity in the church. For those of you that have not been following along we have spent the last three weeks looking at Jesus’s prayer for unity among his disciples and we are going to continue to look at this prayer until we get it right.

In an attempt to bring a sense of unity to our church, we have been focusing on different denominations that are represented in our congregation. We have spent a Sunday focusing on the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church. Today we are looking at the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, and next week we will be concluding our series by looking at the Presbyterian Church.

If you are here today looking for a preacher to stand up and tell you why everyone that disagrees with him/her is a heretic and is going to hell, you have come to the wrong church. On the other hand, if you are looking for someone to simply say that we all essentially believe the same thing and attempt to minimize our differences, you are also in the wrong place. What we are doing here is seeking to better understand other groups of Christians, recognizing that we do have significant theological differences, but also noting that we have a strong center of agreement in Jesus. And it is around that central figure that we must seek to find unity.

Our practice has been to spend the first part of our time together looking at the history of our focus denomination. We have then looked at something that we as Anabaptist/Mennonites have to offer that tradition and followed that by looking at what we can learn from that particular denomination. This is a way to engage one another in a spirit of humility because I know that I sure don’t have all of the answers. However, today we are going to do things a little bit differently and smoosh together our “what we offer” and “what we can learn” because I believe that both Mennonites and the Christian and Missionary Alliance can learn from one another in the same area: how we fulfill Jesus’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

First of all, we need to clear something up. The denomination that we are looking at today is officially called “The Christian and Missionary Alliance.” However, that is a mouthful and very few people actually refer to The Christian and Missionary Alliance as The Christian and Missionary Alliance. On their denominational website they simply refer to themselves as “The Alliance,” “CMA,” or “C&MA.” I personally like C&MA because it is fun to say fast.

The C&MA began, like so many other denominations, as a movement and not as an intentional break between churches and denominations. C&MA was begun by A.B. Simpson in the 1880’s as a missionary training institution. And as the word “alliance” suggests, it was simply made up of like-minded allies who wanted to partner with others to send missionaries out into the world. And in 1884 Simpson’s training school sent out their first missionaries to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Simpson and his friends in the alliance not only trained missionaries, but also planted churches in the United States. Over the next 90 years the alliance of churches moved from being just a group of loosely affiliated people to a denomination, though it did not officially achieve denominational status until 1974. It was during these years that one of the most famous members of the Alliance was writing and doing theology, that is A.W. Tozer. There was also a young man who preached his first sermons as a youth pastor in an Alliance church that went on to make a pretty good name for himself; that name is Billy Graham.

I came to know of the C&MA when I was in Ohio and served as an assistant pastor in an interim role along with an interim lead pastor who had retired from a long career of ministry at the local C&MA congregation. He was a graduate of Nyack College in New York, which I found out this week is actually the name that was given to Simpson’s original missionary training facility when they purchased land outside of New York City to develop an entire campus.

Today the membership of the C&MA totals about 500,000 in the United States and Canada, and about 3 million world-wide, which is a witness to the missionary efforts of this young denomination.

The theology of the C&MA revolves around what Simpson called the “Fourfold Gospel.” These core values are: Jesus Christ is our Savior, Jesus Christ is our Sanctifier, Jesus Christ is our Healer, and Jesus Christ is our Coming King. And with a name like The Christian and Missionary Alliance, you have to assume that one of the foci of the church is on missionary activities.

As I mentioned in my introduction, I think that we as Anabaptist/Mennonites have something to teach the C&MA in this area, and I believe that we can learn from them as well. With this in mind, perhaps it would be helpful to better understand a bit of Anabaptist history in order to understand what has been the main form of witness in the Mennonite Church for the last 400 years or so. Let’s begin by going back 500 years to the Protestant Reformation.

The 16th century was indeed an exciting time to be a part of the church. The Catholics didn’t get along with the Protestants, the Calvinists didn’t get along with the Armenians, but they all had one thing in common: nobody liked the Anabaptists.
The Anabaptist movement began in the year 1525 (according to the monogenesis approach) when a group of men submitted themselves to adult baptism, claiming that a person needed to enter into baptism voluntarily.

These Anabaptists did a number of things different from the rest of the Christian world around them. They took Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount literally and did not participate in war, they did not swear oaths, and they separated the functions of the church and the state.

Eleven years after the first adult baptisms took place a Catholic priest by the name Menno Simons chose to be re-baptized as an adult. It turns out that this Menno guy knew a thing or two about writing and doing theology, and he soon became a major leader in the Anabaptist movement. His followers became known as “Mennonites.”

These early years of Anabaptism and Mennism saw great growth in the movement. People went around the cities and the towns, sharing their new set of beliefs and practices, living a lifestyle vastly different from those of other Christians. They were willing to die for what they believed.

With this growth also came a significant amount of persecution. Remember, all of these other denominations were able to agree on very few things, with the exception being that the Anabaptists were heretics. And in those days, heretics were put to death. Yet in spite of this persecution, the Anabaptist/Mennonite movement continued to grow because of the distinct lifestyle and verbal witness of these Christians, particularly those who were being martyred.

Within every human being is a set of instincts. Some of these instincts are stronger than others. But one that we have probably all experienced and are readily familiar with is the “fight or flight response.” The fight or flight response is an instinct that tells our brains that when we are in danger of pain or death, we automatically chose between these two options for self-preservation. If you are confronted by a violent person, you either run or you fight back. But these Anabaptists had already made the decision that fighting was not an option for them. So after years of persecution and being burned at the stake, having eyes gouged out and tongues burned, and being charged with heresy, the Anabaptists chose to find other places, other countries, other lands where they could be free to worship God and live out their faith in peace.

Now, this people group that had been so vocal with their theology was choosing to keep silent. This group that had begun with such an evangelistic fire was now putting their energy and focus on maintaining their own community of faith. Self preservation. And who could blame them. If you know that writing theology or sharing your faith publicly will cause you to be put to death, you soon learn to keep your mouth shut. The Mennonites soon became known as “Die Stille im Lande” or “The Quiet in the Land.”

This approach to living separately as the Quiet in the Land carried over to the new country when Mennonites entered into the United States. Many groups continued to use the old mother tongue of German and only marry within the Mennonite community.

However, though Mennonites were choosing to not reach outside of their own communities to do theology and verbally witness, Mennonites have much experience in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ through other methods. For instance, in 1920 an organization began as a response to a drought in the Ukraine. Mennonites who were looking to follow Jesus’s command to feed the hungry and help those in need formed what is now known as Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which functions today as the relief, service, and peace-making arm of 15 different Anabaptist organizations.

Today MCC sends workers around the world in efforts to clean up after natural disasters, to establish medical centers and train medial workers, to teach business practices in developing countries, and empower people to make the world a better place. MCC has been among the leaders in developing markets for fairly-traded handiwork and crafts, chocolates, and coffees. If you have ever been in a store and seen the Ten Thousand Villages label, you have seen the fruit of MCC’s labor.

Many Mennonites will argue that this kind of service is a witness, that it is evangelism. I would agree. We can easily reference passages like Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

As some have said, we are called to live in such a way that when others see the way that we use these bodies, these hands, these wallets, that they will know that there is something different about us and what we believe. And I would say that it is not only a witness to the world, it is a realized eschatology, though not one that denies Jesus will return one day.

Eschatology is the study of end times. So when I say that we as Mennonites practice a realized eschatology, I am saying that we live here on earth, in this fallen, dilapidated world, as if Jesus is our king. Where the C&MA emphasizes a coming kingdom, we emphasize a king that has already come, has established a kingdom, taught us how to live as a part of that kingdom in his absence, and promised that he will return. And it is our kingdom living that is a witness to all non-believers, a city on a hill.

We feed the hungry because one day when Jesus returns to heal the world there will be no more hunger. We clothe the naked because one day there will be no poverty. We heal the sick in our hospitals and clinics because one day there will be no more sickness and pain. We work for peace and justice because one day we will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks and we ain’t gonna study war no more.

Those of you that are familiar with the C&MA will want to point out that you do indeed have an organization similar to MCC. And those of you from Mennonite backgrounds will know that we also have some wonderful mission agencies in our own denomination. Right here in Virginia Conference we have a great organization in Virginia Mennonite Missions. But I believe it is clear that we in the Mennonite Church lean heavily toward the lifestyle evangelism model and the C&MA church leans more toward the proclamation style of evangelism.

Taken to the extreme either of these approaches comes up short. We have all met advocates of the lifestyle evangelism model who simply try to live a good life and don’t ever tell anyone why they live as they live. On the extreme other end is those who will proclaim forgiveness through Jesus but not sacrifice a penny from their pocket or a minute of their time to help someone in need. I’m not saying that is what happens in the C&MA church, but we all know that it does happen in the broader Christian community.

We need both and we need to do both better.

We need to be living in such a way that people come to us with questions as to why we do what we do. People are rather taken back when I tell them that my in-laws just spent three years of their lives, in the prime of their earning potential, doing voluntary service in one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the country. That’s weird, that’s abnormal to most people.

But there are nice, polite, kind, and weird people all around us. So what separates us from the secular humanists in our communities? That’s where we need to learn from the C&MA. We need to keep 1 Peter 3:15 in mind: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

The C&MA has done a wonderful job of sharing their understanding of the Gospel. So have we as Mennonites. We just do it differently. Which is right and which is better? I believe both are right and both are better.

In Jesus’s Great Commission, he tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all of his teachings. We are to be making disciples, making other followers of Jesus, not just believers. That whole “teaching them to obey all of my teachings” thing means that we must witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through our words and our deeds.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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