A Charismatic Christian Wishing He Were a Mennonite

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Aaron D. Taylor

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.

6 thoughts on “A Charismatic Christian Wishing He Were a Mennonite”

  1. When I decided I was called to change churches in 2014, a few months after I had physically moved, I tried to find a charismatic church in my area whose theology I could live with. Couldn’t find that. But I did find an ecumenical church with pretty much all the things you see in Mennonites. And key for me, it didn’t use the professional upfront speaking to an audience paradigm which most churches use but is not Biblical IMHO. Instead it uses a shared leadership model where different people sign up for various roles in worship each Sunday. It may not exhibit much of what charismatics and pentecostals are known for, but it is much more participatory and free flowing than most church services. It actually feels like a faith community, which most churches don’t.

    Also, if you go back and look at the early days of pentecostals and charismatics, you’ll see they often did exhibit many of the characteristics you associate with Mennonites. But they’ve lost a lot of that in most places in the U.S., at least.

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    1. Hi Aaron, I resonate with much of what you have expressed here.
      I was raised in a Pentecostal tradition and add the passion and emotional expression of an Italian Pentecostal church, well you get the picture. Wonderful powerful expressions of the Holy Spirit experienced in and through my life that I would never trade for anything.

      And yet now that I’ve been serving in a Mennonite setting, I realize where I’ve been lacking!
      I’d like to explain this way. As a Pentecostal we emphasized the Holy Spirit, specifically the expression of the gifts and empowerment the Holy Spirit gives. However I feel like the focus on the Holy Spirit indirectly minimized the focus on the life of Jesus. Yes indeed, accept Jesus as my personal Savior, but then I was taught to pursue the infilling of the Holy Spirit, I’m afraid to the neglect of living the life that He calls us to live each day.

      Here is, as you suggest where the Mennonites teach us a lesson.
      They have challenged me to be a “radical follower of Jesus Christ” In all the ways you have expressed.

      And like you, I wonder what our world would look like if we followed Jesus under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit.
      I think it could happen as we begin to have more and more conversations like the one you started in this blog.

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  2. You don’t *have* to stay a Charismatic. I left the non-denominational church I’d been in and am now an Episcopalian. The church definitely has that grounding, that hands-on approach to living out the truth of the Good News that I’ve found very refreshing. God speed on your journey! 🙂

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  3. Hi Aaron, my name is also Aaron. I grew up Mennonite and now I’m a charismatic…and relieved to not be Mennonite any more. Oh, there’s a lot of solid Anabaptist theology I carried with me, and I’m on board with a lot of what you’ve articulated about (elements of) the charismatic movement that make me crazy. But the Mennonite tradition has plenty of its own cultural and theological baggage that drove me crazy too.

    Someone once wrote (I believe it was Dale Stoll, who used to be the pastor of a charismatic Mennonite church): “the thing that holds denominations together is a common past, not a common future”. That, I think, is what ultimately led to me leaving the Mennonite church. Let me explain, and remember this is my personal story and very possibly not representative.

    As a young man with a sense of call to pastoral ministry, I loved my Anabaptist roots, for all the beautiful reasons you’re drawn to the movement. But at the same time, I was also beginning to enjoy my exposure to the charismatic movement, again for all the beautiful reasons you enumerated above. And was developing a deep concern for people who were “lost” and far from the Shepherd, as Jesus would put it, and I was starting to feel powerfully drawn towards church planting.

    Sadly, there simply weren’t categories in my Mennonite world for the supernatural, for evangelism, or for church planting. Mostly – again, this is my perspective – there was an unending and exhausting squabble over the legacy of the Anabaptist movement. What does “radical discipleship” mean? So many times the fracture lines fell along the liberal/conservative spectrum, with homosexuality as the flash-point. Does discipleship mean radical inclusion at the expense of holiness, or does discipleship mean radical holiness at the expense of inclusion?

    In time, I decided that the denomination was squabbling over its heritage because it didn’t have a common future. I didn’t even care so much who’s “right or wrong” on the liberal/conservative spectrum. In fact, I began to see the very question as being wrong. Jesus came “full of grace and truth”, so shouldn’t radical inclusion and radical holiness be compatible?

    Long story short, I needed to pursue the path that Jesus set before me. But when I talked to Mennonites about the Holy Spirit they just looked at me cross-eyed. When I talked about the lost there simply wasn’t energy – or worse, there were universalist questions about whether it was even right to call people “lost” (okay, I guess I have to admit to identifying more with the “conservative” end of the spectrum). When I talked about church planting people asked “aren’t there enough churches already?” (No there aren’t; all the church seats in a 20 mile radius of my home would only hold 1/3 of the population in that same radius.)

    The people I found who resonated with my dreams and calling turned out to be charismatics. By and large they don’t speak the same Anabaptist language I grew up with, but by and large they have enormous concern for the poor, want to reach across racial divides, and want to empower women. In fact, in some cases they’re out-Anabaptisting the Anabaptists on traditional Anabaptist turf – and since they have a concern for the lost, they’re also baptizing more people. I eventually landed in an “apostolic network” that is relationally driven rather than doctrinally or historically driven. I like it a lot. We have a common future.

    Aaron, I really resonated with this line you wrote: “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.”

    I’ll join you in praying for that future, but I suspect the future lies in defining unity less in denominational and organizational terms, but in relational terms. That will mean a mulitiplicity of small, lean, and hungry relational networks. The bad news is, it will be a messy and spastic process and without a central agency it will be difficult to tell how widespread the movement is. The good news is, it’s possible to begin today.

    I certainly hope I haven’t been too negative about Mennonites; that would certainly not be my intention. I really appreciate this discussion. The challenge to think deeply about all these issues has been very helpful for me today. Thank you Aaron and Pax Pneuma for this forum.

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    1. Hi Aaron & Aaron,
      I believe the gifts of the Spirit and the love of the Spirit can merge in many denominations if they would only see the effects of nationalism and caesaropapism on the history of Church theology over the last 1.7 millenia. The Scriptures call the problem our “fear of death” which continues to enslave humanity in mortal sin. i.e. our fear of injury, loss & death causes us to give prime allegiance to the powerful States we are born into & serve them more the Prince of Peace. Our State justifies us in doing anything & everything to avoid departing this earthly life a bit earlier than otherwise – including killing national enemies & unfortunate bystanders and justifying it as God’s will. Since Augustine, the Bible has been twisted to support this, even though Jesus came precisely to convert us from this darkness into the Kingdom of God.
      I’ve written much more about Knowing God as a Pacifist at http://www.jub.id.au. God bless

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