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“True Evangelical Faith” and the Brethren in Christ Church

Menno Simons, a 16th-century Dutch Anabaptist and the namesake of today's Mennonites, was proud of his "true evangelical faith." How can his spiritual ancestors practice a similar evangelicalism while also remaining true to their other theological roots?

Many in the Brethren in Christ tradition are familiar with the poem “True Evangelical Faith,” based on a 1539 writing by Dutch Anabaptist leader Menno Simons:

True evangelical faith cannot lie sleeping,
For it clothes the naked,
It feeds the hungry,
It comforts the sorrowful,
It shelters the destitute,
It serves those that harm it,
It binds up that which is wounded,
It overcomes evil with good,
It has become all things to all people.

Of course, as a recent op-ed by Tabor College professor Richard Kyle reminds us, today the term “evangelical” has been politicized and pigeonholed:

. . . Evangelicals now wield considerable political, economic and cultural influence. Their numbers are significant and growing. Evangelical churches are the largest and most dynamic in the nation. They have established numerous parachurch organizations, some with budgets greater than many denominations. Hundreds of colleges with an evangelical orientation dot the American landscape. . . .

Evangelicalism’s success has come at a price—it has confused American culture with the Christian faith. And in doing so, it has accommodated the faith to cultural trends, perhaps more than any other religious body in America. . . .

In part, evangelicalism’s problems have arisen because the movement is unabashedly populist. Evangelicals have championed the spiritual superiority of the common person against the elite or learned clergy. In doing so, they have reduced serious religious thinking to its lowest common denominator. Evangelicalism’s obsession with numbers since the mid-20th century has caused the movement to pander unashamedly to the popular tastes of American culture.

Thoughtful worship has degenerated into showmanship, often with a circus atmosphere. Evangelicals view America as God’s chosen nation and feel that they (and the nation, too) have a corner on divine truth and righteousness. They have sanctified large segments of American culture, especially its consumerism and middle-class values.

Worse yet, evangelicals do not gather around doctrines or church organizations but tend to follow charismatic leaders. American evangelicals have indeed embraced the cult of personality.

Kyle’s article is tailored specifically to his Mennonite Brethren audience; in its conclusion, he calls the MBs not to renounce evangelicalism, but to consider how to stand out as evangelical Anabaptists rather than blend in as generic evangelicals. (Read Kyle’s entire article here.)

A similar question could be posed to today’s Brethren in Christ. In what ways can the Brethren in Christ “stand out” from American Evangelicalism? In other words, how can we realize a “true evangelical faith” that incorporates aspects of our three foundational theological traditions?

Readers: Share your thoughts in the comments section.