The Future Church Summit: A look at our history and hopes for renewal

Hyun Hur, is co-director of ReconciliAsian, a peace center in Los Angeles that encourages local Korean immigrant churches and other ethnic churches to explore what it means to participate in God’s ministry of reconciliation locally and globally. He is also co-pastor of Mountain View Mennonite Church, a small multi-ethnic church located in Upland, California.

The first time I encountered  Anabaptism was in a church history class almost 30 years ago. I learned about the 16th century Anabaptists and was immediately drawn to their radical commitment to Jesus and their faithful pursuit in following the Spirit. These radical reformers realized that in order to follow Jesus they had to resist Christendom — a system in which Christianity is the established religion, a system that maintains the status quo and dilutes and tames Christianity.

As a young man who grew up in a megachurch in South Korea, the faithful witness of the radical Anabaptists attracted me. I wanted to integrate the spirit and practice of Anabaptism into the Korean church where I was serving, but my ideas were met with great resistance.

In a church that did not see nationalism and militarism as incompatible or contradictory with Christian witness, my voice was problematic. People commented that I was being too idealistic and naive in understanding what it means to be a Christian.

When I came to America to study in a seminary, I met Mennonite professors and students. I felt connected to them and was greatly encouraged to be part of a larger community of Christ followers who understood what I was trying to live out. Eventually I joined the Mennonite denomination, anticipating with excitement to learn from their long history of radical discipleship, deep commitment to community, and courageous peacemaking. Indeed I have learned and have become great friends with many wonderful Mennonites locally and nationally, but I have also recognized that the Mennonite church also needs renewal.

Renewal can be true when it is rooted in a strong ecclesiological identity — what Wilbert R. Shenk calls the church’s raison d’etre — the reason or justification of existence. What is the reason that church exists in the world? Shenk writes, “The New Testament defines the raison d’etre of the church to be a missionary witness to the world.” And the renewal of the church is found in her faithful participation in God’s universal ministry of reconciliation. Church and mission are inseparable in their essence — to function as the primary means of God’s mission to the world.

I have observed that the Mennonite church has lost the prophetic spirit of the radical reformers. It was the largest counter-Christendom movement, resisting anything against Jesus’ Lordship. It is ironic that the stories of the 16th century Anabaptists have spread to people outside the Mennonite community and have challenged them to follow Christ with deeper convictions, yet many Mennonites do not see the relevance of the 16th century Anabaptist stories. These distinctives in history and practice of the Mennonites are true gifts to the larger body of Christ, to various denominations in the larger church, yet we do not recognize them to be so.

I hope Future Church Summit in Orlando will give us an opportunity to look back at the rich and complicated past of the Mennonites and our Anabaptist roots — the radical and fundamental distinctives — and see them as gifts to pass on to the future generation.

I pray that the summit will allow us to look back to our history and celebrate where we have been faithful witnesses in this violent and hurting world. I also hope it will be a time for us to recognize how nominality, individuality and violence have permeated in our churches and our communities. We need to sit with our failures and disappointments for us to move forward. I hope we will lean into the newer and more diverse voices of our Mennonite brothers and sisters who will help us to reexamine and rediscover who we have been and who we will become.

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