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What if love prevailed?


March 24, 2003
-by Craig Friesen

Craig Friesen

Rosthern, SK.— Our three year old son, Errol, has an incredible imagination.

A particular fondness for dinosaurs and role-playing means that it is not unusual to be awakened in the morning by the soft growl of a pretend tyrannosaurus-rex prowling next to the bed. Fortunately, that t-rex still enjoys cuddling under the warm covers and his claws are retractable.

When it is time for breakfast the t-rex must disappear because “t-rex’s don’t eat oatmeal or waffles.” Errol’s imagination is vivid and it can become frustrating for him when his parents do not (or can not?) join in with the same passion and flare.

Adults, on the other hand, often bemoan the loss of imagination they had as children. Only some of us have the dramatic talent necessary to pretend we’re someone else – to play a role. Often we give up on trying to be overly creative and leave that to a person with proven interest and ability.

“What if” is the language of imagination and possibility. Both youth and adult Assembly 2003 planners have explored a wide variety of “what if” statements in the context of Assembly theme discussion. We were fully aware as we did so, however, that this is not just the stuff of imagination or wishful thinking. “What if we truly loved and respected one another in the church?” is not a pie-in-the-sky question. We can’t leave questions like this one as mere speculation because that would suggest we get to choose how the gospel impacts our lives.

As recipients of God’s salvation gift, we believe we are made new or born again. Part of the mystery and challenge of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord is the transformation that takes place within us. A sense of duty or loyalty may motivate us to make some changes in our lifestyle and relationships, but mostly we learn to recognize God as their author.

The apostle Paul is a master at using metaphors to describe the Christian transformation: dead to sin and alive in Christ (Romans, Ephesians); freedom and slavery (Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians); foreigners and heirs/members of God’s household (Romans, Ephesians); old self and new self (Ephesians); and so on.

In Philippians 1:1-11, the theme text for this year’s assembly, we have another indication of God’s power to transform believers as Paul prays that God who began the “good work in you will carry it on to completion” (1:6). While Paul spends less time here describing the changes in the believer, it is quite clear that such transformation not only comes from God but is an ongoing process that reaches completion at the day of the Lord.

One of the striking phrases for me in this theme text is “partnership in the gospel.” God transforms us for a purpose – to bring glory and praise to God – which we see spelled out later in verse 11. ‘Partnership’ is not one of those New Testament concepts for which we struggle to find a 21st century understanding; we have more than adequate context in our society by which to measure the importance of Paul’s words.

The Philippians’ partnership with Paul was not about status or position – the model from our business world – but rather about friendship and common purpose. Even though he himself was in prison for the sake of the gospel, it gave Paul joy to know that he had friends who shared the same purpose in proclaiming (or defending) the good news of Jesus Christ. The partnership imagery fits well with other word pictures Paul uses, such as the illustration of the church as the body of Christ. Although Paul is church planter, teacher and mentor, there is no hierarchy expressed here save that all are working for the sake of God’s kingdom. It is unclear whether those whom Paul describes as preaching Christ “out of selfish ambition” (v. 17) are also to be considered as partners in the gospel. Nevertheless it is apparent that those who are partners with Paul have been equipped by God to do so.

The partnerships created and nurtured in the Mennonite Church since St. Louis ’99 were not driven, I believe, by structural complexities but by the desire to “partner in the gospel.” “Priesthood of all believers,” “partnership in the gospel,” and “being the missional church” may not be entirely synonymous in theological terms but they do have something in common – the implication that every follower of Jesus Christ is participant in the work of God’s kingdom.

It was Paul’s prayer for the Philippian Christians that their love would grow more and more each day. This love was to grow in knowledge and insight so that these partners in the gospel would increasingly be tuned in to God’s will – able to discern that which is best or righteous in the sight of God.

The question begs to be asked. What if love prevailed and we were truly partners in the gospel of Jesus Christ? I think we would find it easy to address issues of our day that divide and weaken the church. A discussion on multiculturalism within the Mennonite Church would not be necessary except to reveal the strengths each one of us brings to the whole – there would be no majority or minority group within the church because in Christ we would all be equal partners! There would be no need for missional formation as all followers knowingly participated in God’s work in our world.

Discernment on sexuality issues would be characterized by compassionate debate, grace and a desire for healing. Christian Peacemaker Teams would not have to ask for funding or participants, for all of us would desire to actively make peace in all countries and at all times. If love prevailed Christians and churches would be centres of healing for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual problems beyond what public hospitals and social services can offer. Our list could go on indefinitely.

What an incredibly different world we would live in if love indeed prevailed in the lives of all the partners of Christ’s gospel! Paul’s prayer for the Philippian church was not the raving of an imprisoned madman. Our Assembly 2003 theme invites us to imagine what could be if we all were equal partners in the gospel and if the knowledge and insight we sought about all matters were grounded in a Christ-like love that grows without ceasing. All glory and praise belongs to God who began this good work in us.

- Craig Friesen is chair of MC Canada’s Assembly Planning Committee and pastor at Rosthern Mennonite Church in Saskatchewan