March 15, 2015

What’s the Difference?

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (NRSV)

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.


So I’ve decided to confuse you a little bit. Last Sunday I preached about labels and how inadequate our attempts to put labels on people are. How ultimately the labels we create exist in tension with Christ’s call to love and not judge. So this morning, we’re going to talk about the importance of labels, or at least why a couple specific labels exist and matter for us. If you remember last week I said one of the ways that Christians have labeled things, organized things, is through denominational titles. This morning we’re going to look at a question that comes to us from Joan Jessep, and it deals specifically with a couple labels that are important to me.

As many of you know, I didn’t come to Emanuel through the United Methodist appointment system. I was a District Superintendent hire with the help of the folks at Church Union. I was actually in the ordination process with Mennonite Church USA. I’ll tell you I a little more about my story in a second, but the question from Joan came from her knowing my background. Her question was this: What is the difference between the Methodist and the Mennonites? Are they pretty similar or very different?

The sermon this morning is going to address this question. I’m going to spend some time telling you a little about my story as it relates to the labels of denomination and my calling to ministry, and then we’ll spend some time talking about the history and theology of these two groups of Christians. I’ve formatted this sermon to be a little different, hoping that we’ll have some back and forth conversation throughout that will aid in the discussion.

We’re looking at two specific traditions this morning, the Methodists and the Mennonites, but I’m hoping that our conversation might have implications and meaning beyond those two specific groups.

So my story. I grew up in the United Methodist Church. Did confirmation at Mary Esther United Methodist Church in the panhandle of Florida. Felt the initial call to ministry in my life as a member of Fishing Creek Salem United Methodist Church in Lewisberry, PA. If it’s any signifier of how much of a nerd I was and am, I remember reading the United Methodist Book of Discipline for fun when I was in high school. When I came here I was definitely no stranger to the United Methodist tradition.

When I was in college, though, I was spending a lot of time studying some lesser known and understood theological traditions. I was introduced for the first time to the theology of the Mennonite Church. I began to associate with the Mennonites and by the time I got to seminary I had become a member of a Mennonite community. In seminary I entered the Mennonite ordination process, which is a bit different than the Methodist process. The Mennonites operate with a congregational model of pastoral calling, where the individual congregations decide on the pastor. There isn’t an appointment process like there is in the Methodist church.

So when I finished seminary and Natalie and I decided to get married and settle down in Pittsburgh, we moved on faith feeling that we were being called to Pittsburgh, and me to Pastoral Ministry in Pittsburgh, despite the fact that there was no guarantee that I would find work, especially work in a Mennonite church in Pittsburgh. As it turns out, that was true. I worked unskilled construction labor for 6 months when I got to Pittsburgh until what I can only see as a providential series of events led me to Church Union where I met Larry and Stephanie who in turn introduced me to this congregation. The rest, as they say, is history.

So you can see how both the Methodist and Mennonite traditions play a very important part in my story and in my work as a Pastor. And like Joan, you might now be interested in what exactly are the differences between these two traditions. So we’re going to look at them. Separately and then together. I’ve pulled out a couple key identifying factors of each tradition that I think are important. Like I said, this is going to be a little more conversational than most sermons, so I will be asking some questions that won’t be rhetorical. Hopefully you’re ready to speak up when the time comes.

Let’s start with the Methodists. What are some of the first things you think of when you think of Methodism?

Like a lot of families, especially in Pittsburgh, many of you have catholic relatives or have yourself come from a catholic background. So one of the first things you think of when you think of Methodism is that it isn’t catholic. In other words, Methodism is a protestant tradition. It traces its lineage to the protestant reformation and it emerged out of the Church of England. John and Charles Wesley, two very familiar names, are the early founders of would become known as Methodism. In the 1700’s, the Wesley brothers traveled as evangelists to the US and began to preach the gospel, developing a distinct form of ministry, worship, and theology that would serve as the foundations, or methods, of a new denomination.

Now, much of this is probably pretty familiar if you we confirmed or took a Methodist membership class, and while the history is interesting, it probably doesn’t make for the best sermon. I’d like to move out of the history a little bit and highlight a couple theological concepts that are central to the Wesleyan tradition.

In tracing its roots to Wesley, Methodist theology and practice focus on holy living. The purpose of the Christian life is to pursue a holy life, forgiven of one’s sins and called to holiness. This stems from the traditions roots in Arminianism. Arminianism, as opposed to Calvinism, emphasizes free will. God’s grace is prevenient, which means it goes before us, and we have been given the ability to choose God’s grace and thus choose to live a holy life. Much of Methodist belief, therefore, is about seeking and understanding the practices of holy living. This freely chosen holiness is one of the distinctive and central aspects of Methodist belief.

Another interesting and important part of Methodism that I think is helpful in understanding what makes the tradition unique is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. How many of you have heard of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral? Can anyone tell me the four parts? The four pieces of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral are Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. These four categories are the authoritative sources of our theology and beliefs as United Methodists, as Christians.

Many protestant Christian traditions believe what is called Sola Scriptura, that scripture is the only authoritative source for our beliefs and theology. Anything and everything we need is directly revealed in scripture. Wesley, however, taught something called prima scriptura, which basically says that while scripture is the primary source for Christian beliefs, it is read through the critical lenses of tradition, reason, and experience, and that we only know God when we use all these categories.

I think to a lot of Christians, the bible is like the iTunes service agreement. You don’t actually read it, you just scroll to the bottom and check the box that says I agree. It is only when we employ the categories of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that we have the tools necessary to understand scripture and ultimately know God. This is central to what it means to be a United Methodist. The Book of Discipline says this, “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illuminated by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.”

So let’s switch over to looking briefly at the Mennonites. When you hear the word Mennonite, what do you think of? What are some beliefs of practices you would associate with the Mennonite tradition?

Often the Mennonites are associated with the Amish, and that’s for good reason. Both the Mennonites and the Amish trace their roots to the radical reformation in Europe. Now this means that Mennonites are not protestant in the historical sense. Protestant churches like the Methodist can trace their lineage to the protestant reformation, but the radical reformation gave birth to a different movement, called Anabaptists.

How many of you have heard the term Anabaptist before? What Anabaptist means in a literal sense is Re-baptizers. The early community of the Radical Reformation was given this name because they did not believe in infant baptism, rather they believed in what was and is called believers baptism, only when someone was able to make the decision to be a follower of Christ for themselves were they able to then choose to be baptized. Now this highlights one major difference but one even more significant similarity between the Mennonites and the Methodists. The difference: Baptism.

Methodist practice infant baptism. I was baptized as a infant as I’m sure many of you were. Maybe even in this church. Mennonites, on the other hand, do not baptize infants. While I would contend that this is a less significant difference in contemporary Christianity, at the time of the reformation this was a significant enough theological difference that there are recorded accounts of Lutherans killing the Anabaptist because of this belief.

However, despite the difference in beliefs about baptism, I think this highlights a more significant similarity in that both Mennonites and Methodists believe strongly in free will. In the ability to choose for oneself whether or not to accept and follow Jesus as Christ.

Another distinct thing about the Mennonites, while the Methodists have the quadrilateral as the source of their theology and doctrine, Mennonites have traditionally held up the Sermon on the Mount as the essential source of Christian belief. Scripture is read through this lens, and the teachings of the church are modeled after Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Can you think of anything off the top of your head from the sermon on the Mount?

One thing that Mennonites take very seriously in the Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s call to be peacemakers. Christ calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Mennonites are one of a few Christian traditions that are called historic peace churches. Mennonites practice and teach religious nonviolence and nonresistance. This commitment to nonviolence is probably one of the more distinguishing parts of Mennonite belief and practice.

Mennonites also hold up the importance of simplicity found in the gospel teachings. Those who are more dogmatic refuse certain modern conveniences, much like the Amish. I’ve heard it said like this, a tour guide in Amish country asked a bunch of tourists how many of them had TV’s in their homes. All raised their hand. And he then asked how many of them felt that having a TV in the house detracted at least little bit from the closeness of their family. Most raised their hands. Now, he asked, how many of you will go home and take the TV out of your house. All the hands went down. That, he said, is the difference between you and the Amish.

Mennonites, like the Amish, believe that simplicity is a virtue to be strived for as Christians. To live simply is to live in the way that Christ called us to live, and this can mean cutting down on the amount of material possessions we have, but also using less electricity, living more sustainably, less exorbitant lifestyles.

So there you have a brief outline of two different Christian traditions. What are some similarities you noticed? What are some differences?

One of the most important similarities I find between the Methodist and Mennonite traditions is the emphasis on holy living. In both traditions, there is the belief that we as Christians are called to live differently. We’re called to live lives of love for our neighbor. This led the Mennonites to reject violence outright. It led the many Methodists to reject slavery. It leads both communities to doing the work of justice for the poor. Both Methodist and Mennonite traditions emphasize the importance of caring for the poor and oppressed, which you probably have noticed is a common theme in my sermons as well. I think this connects the two traditions in a very important way.

Both the Methodist and Mennonite traditions emerged out of specific contexts, one from the protestant reformation and one from the radical reformation. Both have interesting traditions specific to their own history, but I think there is a lot more that connects the two than one would often see and it’s been an interesting and meaningful part of my journey to find that connection in my own life.

So I said earlier that I hoped by looking at these two traditions we might see something that had even broader implications. Ultimately, what do we see? I think we see that one, denominations exist for a reason. We’re all different. We all have different stories and different histories, different backgrounds and different families. Thus denominations have emerged as a way for us to recognize and celebrate those differences. A unified church universal is not a homogenous church universal. God celebrates our differences, and rather than allowing those differences to cause strife and conflict, we should allow them to cause conversation and communion. They give us a chance to learn more about different traditions. If we really believe that there is one body and many parts, than maybe it’s time we celebrate the different parts of Christ’s body, the Church.

One, denominations exist for a reason. And two, no matter what are differences Christians from all traditions, catholic and protestant, Methodist, Mennonite, Presbyterian, and Orthodox share more in common than we have differences. And all that is in common ultimately comes down to one thing: Jesus Christ. We’re all on a journey trying to discover what exactly it means to follow Jesus. And we might come to different conclusions, but it is this journey that unites us. So hopefully when we hear about other traditions, we can begin to ask them questions: how have you been on this journey? What do you believe it means to follow Jesus and to Love God? It is in the process of asking these questions and seeking the answers that we encounter God. After all that, What questions do you have?


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