Anabaptists in the Reformation were often called "the radicals." They took an active stand to call the church back to the Bible. They went forth witnessing and preaching to everyone they could. When called into question about their faith, they valiantly shared the Word knowing it probably would mean torture and death. They were hated, persecuted, and killed for this active faith in God. Many would not back off or compromise their faith because of personal danger. They were men of "conquest" for the kingdom even though sometimes it may have looked like defeat.
We look back at these courageous forefathers of ours and laud their faith that moved them to actions. We prize the faith for which they defended and stood. We sing, "Faith of our fathers living still . . . How sweet would be their children's fate, if they like them could die for thee!" But do we truly have the same faith for which they lived and died?
Fleeing the fires of persecution, many of our forefathers came to America for a land of freedom and peace. They settled on the frontiers of America, happy to be free and allowed to live out their faith in this land. They soon came to enjoy being "the quiet in the land." In time they began to face questions that would test the foundations of their churches. Would they fight to defend themselves from the Indians? Would they help the colonists in the struggle for freedom from England? What could be done to restore spiritual fervor and keep their youth from leaving the church?
Men of vision rose to some momentous tasks to preserve the faith of the Mennonite church. The Ausbund (the old martyrs hymnal) was printed in America in 1742. In 1748, they had the Dutch Martyrs Mirror printed in German with help from Peter Miller at Ephrata Cloister. In the early 1800's, bishop Christian Burkholder published a book, Addresses to Youth. It was an instruction book for youth to reinforce Bible teaching on subjects like conversion, obedience, and faithful Christian living.
These efforts to "preserve" the faith of the church made a difference for many. The Truth was upheld and the church strengthened. Today, we look back and appreciate what those men of vision did for the church. Their influence shaped the lives of the rising generations and had tremendous impact on the church.
It seems apparent that both the idea of "conquest" and the concept of "preservation" are needed for the church to remain faithful. The proactive witnessing, speaking out against sin, moving out in missions, etc. is a fulfillment of the command of Jesus to "Go ye therefore." The efforts to have solid, stable church life preserved for us and the next generation are also very vital for the survival of the church. A closer look at the example of the apostles will show us they were active in both of these missions of the church. While Apostle Paul was actively preaching and starting mission churches, he was also sending men and letters to encourage and stabilize the churches that were struggling to keep the faith.
One could point out churches in the past who swung their efforts mostly to one side of this discussion and soon lost out. Some went into the "preservation" mode thinking that evangelism leads to apostasy and they fell into materialism, evil, and strife within the church. Others recklessly abandoned the "preservers" and went out to evangelize without stable congregational life for support and lost out too. Both of these extremes have lost many of their youth to the world and it's no surprise.
We do well to honestly answer the question, "How are we doing with these two missions of the church? Are we "preserving" the church, while at the same time moving forth in "conquest" for the kingdom?"
Recently a brother from another church asked, "Which of your local congregations have a convert from the community in the last year?" The answer is embarrassing. He opened it up further and said, "Well then in the past five years, is there any?" That only made the situation worse. The impact we are having on our communities is very minimal. We quickly comfort ourselves that people are Gospel hardened and it's not our fault we have so few responses. Might this be a sign we are tending to "preservation"and accomplishing little "conquest"?
Another brother commented that we have such a good youth group. There are many faithful youth with zeal for God. Many of our youth are involved in chorus and Bible studies with town children. If you want to get some evangelism done, ask the young people and you will have many volunteers. But ask for the middle aged or families to be involved and the volunteers are few. Maybe our youth have more zeal for "conquest" than we older ones.
We do well to ask, "What is the vision of our leaders, and our middleaged and older men?" If most of our church growth is from church hopping and from children being born into our families we are in a preservation mode. If marriage and material interests are our primary pursuits, we are more focused on preservation than on conquest. If our congregations divide because of dissension instead of for the cause of evangelism, we are not conquering and hardly even preserving what we have! We must honestly evaluate our vision for the church. While maintenance and preservation are so vital, we will not keep the faith of our Lord without an active "Go ye therefore." We need middle-aged and older men to staff present outreach efforts and to lead out in blazing new trails of mission and evangelism. We need families to sacrifice their American dream to go and live among the people of the world who never have heard the Gospel, including the large cities of America. We should have some Spanish services in our local cities for the many immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America.
We need these men and women of faith to be examples for our youth to follow and to work along side in the work of evangelism. Our youth love conquest and challenge. They have energy and zeal to put into something. Will we sit back while they pour that energy into sports, hunting, restoring old cars, etc.? Or will we provide the places for outreach and call them into action for the Kingdom of Christ?
Would we consider an inner-city mission in Harrisburg, New York, or New Orleans? We go to these places for street meetings and handing out tracts. Are we willing to disciple the people who respond to the Gospel in these places? Or do we go to the city for the sake of going and not for the cause of truly reaching souls and leading them on in "the all things" of the Gospel?
Should not the Gospel be lived out and taught in those places as well as our countryside places? We have heard the reasons why we shouldn't go. Some would say it is not safe to live in a city. You can't raise a family in a place like that. City people should move out to the country to be faithful Christians.
But may I ask, did the apostles preach in the city and send the converts out of town for good church life? Was it safe for our Anabaptist forefathers to testify to neighbors and friends? Did they make their choices based on security and the best thing for themselves and their families? Do we have faith that the Gospel really does have the power for inner-city people, too?
We can be creative and find ways to do potentially dangerous things at work in a safe way. We know how to put filters on internet connections because we need the services we find on the web. But are we really finding God's way to reach the lost souls of our large cities? Are we satisfied with the number of souls we have been able to save from city life and move to the country? Since the number of converts is so few, does it suggest our approach may have some flaws?
If we would have a bit more "conquering" zeal to "Go ye therefore" we would look at more possibilities to reach these lost people in our own land. We would actively pursue establishing a mission congregation in the city or close enough to invite seekers to come to church.
What is our vision for new mission churches in areas where there is no conservative witness? Can we keep alive the zeal to reach out when our congregations reach a certain size? Are we able to move ahead with ordinations so there are leaders to help establish new works? Can we release our local pastors to go serve on missions in other areas? Or are we "preservers" only and cannot see how we could ever make it at home without our pastor? Maybe we should set in place a plan that when an ordained man reaches 60 years of age he is released from his home congregation and available to serve where he is needed. Could this help to provide stable leadership for outreach and inspire home churches to ordain more leaders to take up the work?
What is our vision for ordinations in a new work? How many years of faithfulness does it take for converts to no longer be a novice? "Preservation" would say it is maybe even ten years. The Apostles and our forefathers ordained sooner than ten years. Again the issue is a matter of balance. Can the "preservers" and the "conquerors" find a God-honoring balance on this issue?
What is our vision for providing the funds for these type of mission endeavors? If we at home are living an easy life and preparing for retirement, we feel compelled to pay mission workers enough so they can live an easy life and retire someday, too. If the toys of this world have our heart affection, we will spend our blessings from God on these earthly pleasures. Can we all learn sacrifice and selfdenial for the Kingdom of God? If we would all put more focus on "laying up treasures in Heaven" we would have more funds to reach farther in missions. How does our vision of finances compare with that of Felix Manz, Menno Simons, Michael Sattler? They abandoned somewhat secure futures for the faith that compels men to sacrifice and "Go therefore, and teach all nations."
What is our vision for our families? How many times in a year do we need to go to the cabin? How many things of pleasure seeking do we justify because it is quality family time? Can we as fathers find ways to take our sons and daughters along on church mission projects? Can we have a family project that is mostly for the building of the kingdom instead of mostly for our fun? Do we need to have gift exchange each Christmas, or can we get together and as a family put our gift money toward helping the poor in other countries? If we are only in the "preserving" mode we will keep family activities mostly to ourselves and for our pleasure. If we have the vision of "conquest" we will find ways to work together as a family to expand the kingdom of God.
May God help us to find His way for us on these issues. For many of us, we ponder these questions and our hearts are stirred and we want to be part of the zealous church moving forth in conquest. In our hearts we say, "Amen." But we will be tempted to lay this article down and go on "preserving" our peaceful and easy lifestyle. Instead, we should study the lives of Jesus, the Apostles and our courageous, faithful forefathers and pattern our lives by them more than by our worldly contemporaries. If we want to claim the faith they had, our actions will need to closely resemble their actions.
May we be committed to pull together in unity as a body of believers on this subject. God give us the humility to blend our zeal and energies together lest these two concepts cause strife between us and end in our ruin as a church. Satan will smirk with glee if the "preservers" and "conquerors" spend their time and energy on inner strife and fail to move forward on either front!
If we are more focused on "preserving" than on "conquering" we will see spiritual life begin to grow cold in our congregations. We will watch youth leave our group, some for more liberty, and some for more action and vision. We will watch as inner strife robs the church of its power and silences our message to the world. We will see converts from the world come to our churches and then leave for something better.
If we focus mainly on "conquest," we may begin to think that evangelism is all that matters in church life. We may be tempted to move out on our own and forsake the "preservers" who get in our way for conquest. We may think that attention given to keeping the standards or teaching doctrine is useless and maybe even a detriment to the church. We may even lose our appreciation for the church and the counsel of a brotherhood working together to find our way. We may too quickly throw off time-proven practices and our heritage to reach the world and in the end lose our families and our witness.
But if while we endeavor to preserve the church, we keep alive that vision of Jesus and the early church to "Go ye," we will have an attractive and alive church. It will be one that keeps its youth actively pursuing kingdom interests. Children will grow up in our families, knowing the joy of Christian service. Our fathers and leaders will be the role models for our youth to safely follow for the future. Our personal and family pursuits will be far more than just temporal things. Our sacrificial lifestyle will enable us to finance and staff the work at hand. Converts will be glad to be a part of this zealous, conquering church. We will be known as the zealous keepers of the faith of Jesus Christ! We then can hear those blessed words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."