The both/and church

Do Anabaptists reject the either/or mindset that drives Christians apart?

Mennonite Brethren in Brazil, where German-speaking and Portuguese-speaking groups overcame their differences. — Agência Missionária da COBIM Mennonite Brethren in Brazil, where German-speaking and Portuguese-speaking groups overcame their differences. — Agência Missionária da COBIM

We live in an either/or world. The middle ground is shrinking. Polarized by politics, race or religion, rival factions compete in a zero-sum game of us-versus-them.

In an either/or world, we need a both/and church.

Anabaptists are equipped to embody a both/and version of Christian faith, one that avoids the either/or mindset that divides.

Christians generally recognize the both/and nature of our faith. Consider these examples:

— Jesus is both divine and human.

— The Bible is both the Word of God and the work of human authors.

— Faith consists of both belief and action (because faith without works is dead).

— God is both transcendent (distant and mysterious) and immanent (near and relatable).

— God’s reign is both a present reality and a future hope.

— Human nature is both good (created in God’s image) and sinful (fallen and needing forgiveness).

— Truths about the natural world can be expressed both metaphorically in Scripture and literally in science.

— Faith involves both head (thought, theology) and heart (emotion, spirituality).

— The church is both one universal body and many separate communities.

With a both/and mindset, Christians recognize that more than one thing can be true at the same time. We are not satisfied with either/or thinking. Affirming one side while denying the other distorts our understanding (which is always incomplete) and pits people against each other.

The healthy church is both historically rooted and deeply engaged in our time and place. It needs both traditionalists, who preserve time-tested wisdom, and visionaries, who push for change when habits of thought and action need to be challenged.

Both/and thinking makes room for diverse points of view. Often those who disagree grasp different parts of truth. Sometimes we can learn the most from people we think are the least like us.

A both/and church is all about making connections. The church is the bridge that links people who otherwise might never find a common cause except in their love for Jesus Christ.

Within Christianity’s both/and vision, Anabaptists look for faithful steps on less-traveled paths. Ours is a third-way movement, sometimes defined as neither Catholic nor Protestant. Seeking peace, we try to avoid an us-versus-them mentality.

As people who reach beyond binary choices, third-way Christians are natural bridge-builders. We want to connect our unique story to the larger story of God’s people. We have taken steps of healing with Catholics and Lutherans, persecutors of Anabaptists centuries ago. But among ourselves, we are devoutly sectarian, far more likely to split than to reconcile.

In Galatians 3:28, Paul uses the ­language of neither/nor rather than both/and to describe the unity of believers. He says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.

Today we might use both/and language: We are both conservative and progressive, straight and LGBTQ, people of color and white.

While all are one in Jesus Christ, our distinct identities are precious. The church is not a melting pot that erases differences. Among our identities, “conservative” and “progressive” are strong ones. A both/and church needs them all — and centrists, too.

Christian unity does not depend on uniformity. If it did, unity would be impossible, because we will never agree on everything. Spiritual unity means valuing relationships more than agreement on certain issues, even LGBTQ inclusion. Sometimes it means agreeing to disagree.

A both/and church does not lack conviction or try to keep everyone happy all the time. It is not lukewarm (as Revelation 3:15-16 warns us not to be). Members take a stand for what they believe and give others the grace to do the same.

Spiritual unity happens when believers with differences put their love for Jesus first. This is the unifying principle of both/and. This is the bond that connects Anabaptist churches in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil (both featured in the June 16 print edition).

Are we a both/and church?

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. He lives in Newton, Kan., attends First Mennonite Church of Newton and is Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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