When you ask what the Brethren believe, what they’re really about, what defines us as a group of people, generally you won’t receive long doctrinal statements written through-out pages upon pages by powerful theologians sitting in ivory towers. When you ask what Brethren believe, or who they are, you tend to get a small set of fairly simple answers. More specifically there are a few phrases that say more about who we are than any long winded doctrinal statement ever could. To my knowledge there are three phrases that both describe and shape who we are .
The first, and historically most recent, of these phrases is one that most people are probably familiar with. “Continuing the work of Jesus: Peacefully, Simply, Togeth-er.” This phrase beautifully and succinctly points to belief in the centrality of Jesus, particularly in how we read scripture, our belief that following Jesus requires us to reject the use of violence and work for peace, a high regard for a simple life unconstrained by material wealth, and the importance of creating Christian community.
The second, and much older, phrase is one that explains why we don’t find many doctrinal statements in our tradition. “We have no creed, except for the New Testament.” This phrase points to our nature as a non-creedal church. This sentiment expresses a high view of scripture, particularly the Gospels and the New Testament, and a desire to follow what the Bible commands.
The third shaping phrase is the one that I’ve been pondering recently. “Another way of living.” While the other phrases ultimately point to our belief in the centrality of
Jesus and to our attempt to faithfully follow even the hardest of his teachings in our daily lives, this phrase is a recognition that if we actually follow Jesus in this kind of radical way that we will wind up as very counter-cultural. It is the recognition that the kingdoms and cultures of this world form us in particular ways and require certain actions from us that are simply incompatible with the Kingdom of God and the culture that it creates. If we truly commit ourselves to the Kingdom of God and the culture it forms, then we will find ourselves on the margins of society and even on the margins of the Christian faith.
For more than 300 years the Brethren have been a church that has not sought to locate itself in the center of society but rather on the margins. We have seen relatively clearly that if you follow the way of Jesus that you will find your-self living in a different way than the culture around us. Even more boldly, we have said that the dominant Christian culture around us does not line up very well with the Jesus that we find in the Gospel, which has meant that our at-tempts to follow the way of Jesus have even put us at odds with the dominant Christian culture around us.
Simply put, we are part of a tradition who has tried to follow the Jesus we find in the Gospels to the best of our ability, and, more often than not, our pursuit of that Jesus has led us to the margins of society. Historically speaking, it is this view from the margins that has shaped how we view ourselves and how we view the current events of the world around us.
This week I was reminded of how counter cultural this Brethren worldview can really be and of the need to em-brace “another way of living.” I was listening to a radio conversation about the state of race relations in the U.S. At one point they had a guest who is a gun rights activist and the president of an African American gun owners group. The host of the show was talking with him about the mas-sive jump in people of color buying guns since the election and the host asked why people are joining his organization. The guest said there were three basic reasons that people tell him that they are becoming interested in guns. First was simple worries about crime. Second was worries about terrorism. And third he said, “It’s just becoming clear that the basic responsible thing to do is to have a gun and constantly train yourself to protect your family.”
When he said that last reason I instantly realized just how differently I saw the world. He’s right that that reason for having guns and continually training yourself to use them is becoming the norm. It was also instantly clear that as a follower of Jesus who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” that I simply see the world in a drastically different way. It was a moment of clarity where I realized that I put my trust in God, but that the world around me puts its trust in guns.
There are many different issues that we could look at that show this reality: living simply in a materialistic world, building community in a world of rugged individuals, etc… The point is that this move to the margins might be unsettling for many of us, but it’s not something we need to fear, it’s something to be embraced. Following Jesus from the margins is something we’ve done before, it’s part of why we exist as a people and it’s part of our spiritual DNA. It may not be recognized or even respected by others, but the work of being a people who show that “another way of living” is possible, ultimately puts us on solid ground.
Each month for our newsletter Pastor Alan writes a short article on a variety of topics. At times he will also create a video version of the article.