My name is Aaron D. Taylor and I’m a charismatic Christian. If you ever see me driving with my glasses on, I may look dignified, but don’t let my appearance fool you. Throughout my life I’ve been slain in the Spirit and drunk in the Holy Ghost on numerous occasions. I’ve felt the anointing, laid hands on the sick, cast out devils, and been prophesied over countless times.
It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable in my Pentecostal/charismatic skin, but I can honestly say today that I wouldn’t trade my Pentecostal/charismatic heritage for anything. I’ll admit it’s been a very long time since I’ve “shaken under the power” or “danced in the Spirit”, but to this day I pray in tongues, lay hands on the sick, and if I ever need to get the devil off my back, I’ll gladly pull out the “Sword of the Spirit” and start quoting Scripture. We Pentecostals and charismatics have a lot to be proud of. We were a miniscule, lower class fringe movement 100 years ago and now there are over 600 million of us around the world!
So why do I wish I were a Mennonite? Yesterday was my 30th birthday and when I think about the past 30 years of history, on nearly every moral issue that speaks to how Christians are supposed to live as a peculiar people surrounded by a godless culture, the Mennonites have been right and we’ve been wrong. While charismatic leaders were “naming and claiming” plush clothing, fancy cars, and million dollar mansions, Mennonites were teaching their children to live simply so that others could simply live. While charismatic leaders were petitioning the government to keep under God in the pledge of allegiance, Mennonites were warning their children about the dangers of nationalism. While charismatic leaders were building “apostolic networks” to win the world for laissez-faire capitalism, Mennonites were sharing possessions, building communities, and identifying with the poor. While charismatic leaders were putting bowling alleys and coffee shops in their multi-million dollar church buildings”, Mennonites were providing a decent living for third world farmers by setting up international co-ops and selling fair trade coffee.
As a charismatic, I never heard terms like “revolutionary subordination” or “civil disobedience” spoken in church. I knew that racism was a sin except for when it came to Palestinians. My list of sins never included sexism. It never occurred to me that following Jesus might include making sure that whatever investments I had in the stock market didn’t go to weapons manufacturers or companies with sweat shops in Indonesia.
Bearing the cross meant everything from giving up lust and smoking to bearing annoying in-laws gracefully, but the one thing it never meant was following Jesus in the path of non-violence. Imitating Christ meant performing miracles, never once did it mean identifying with the poor and the oppressed like the civil rights activists did in the 1960’s. It never once occurred to me that a Christian killing another Christian in battle might be a violation of the principle that loyalty to the body of Christ transcends national loyalties. Had someone suggested to me a few years ago that a Christian dropping a bomb on a defenseless village in Afghanistan is a contradiction of the number one priority of the church—saving souls—I would have looked at the person like they just arrived from Mars.
I wish I were a Mennonite because now that I realize that a Christian can’t call Jesus Lord without doing what He says (Luke 6:46) and at least attempting to walk as He walked (I John 2:6), I can’t for the life of me figure out why so many of my Pentecostal/charismatic friends have never considered the fact that Jesus never once made the distinction between personal enemies and national enemies.
If I were a Mennonite, I’d be able to mix freely with those who don’t twist Romans 13:1-4 to mean that a Christian can kill with impunity as long as he or she is an agent of the state—and the person deserved to be killed. I wouldn’t have to make the case to friends and family that these four verses are sandwiched between two passages that state unequivocally that Christians are never to repay evil for evil and that love is the fulfillment of the law. I wouldn’t have to feel ostracized for pointing out the obvious that Jesus—not Rambo—is the only standard of love by which a Christian is called to imitate.
Yes, I think there are a few things that Pentecostals and charismatics could teach Mennonites—and the broader evangelical world—as well. Much of the evangelical world views Scripture as a set of propositional truths; whereas Pentecostals and charismatics tend to view the Bible as a living document infused with spiritual power. Pentecostalism is great at presenting a holistic view of God as ready and willing to meet individual felt needs. This along with our supernatural worldview explains why Pentecostalism overrules liberation theology in Africa and Latin America. But as long as we’re measuring who has more to teach the other, I’m going to have to say that the world’s 600 million Pentecostals have a lot more to learn from the 1 million Mennonites than the other way around.
As much as it saddens me to say this, when my secular friends ask me to point them to a version of Christianity that actually looks like Jesus, until we in the Pentecostal/charismatic world get our act together, I’m going to have to point them to the Mennonites. Should the two traditions decide to merge in the near future, I think it would produce the most incredible spiritual and social transformation the world has ever seen. For the love of God, the Church, and a world desperate for change, I sincerely pray that day comes sooner rather than later.