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Leaving Salem

Mennonites sometimes use the term “non-violent” evangelism. It is their way of describing the process of sharing their faith, without hurting those with whom they share. According to George Hunter, the Mennonites didn’t corner the market on this approach. It was used with wonderful grace and welcome by St. Patrick in Ireland. This is how he taught his disciples to share their faith:

A seeker or traveler would be welcomed into the Christian community with the greatest of hospitality. The traveler’s feet would be washed, he would be given a guest house with comfortable bedding, and he would receive more than enough food and drink. Soon, if the traveler chose to stay with this new tribe he had found, he would be given what was called a “soul friend” – an anamchara – a small group to teach and to learn from, and places for times of solitude, prayer, and reflection.  Over time, persons in the community would share the ministry of conversation and prayer with the trekker on a daily basis. After some days, weeks, or months, the former refugee might wake to find himself believing what these Christians believed, and he would commit to Christ, be baptized, and join the community of God. He would commit to more than a belief system, however, but to a way of life modeled for him by those with whom he had been living.

Communities such as these are almost unheard of in our world, at our and the world’s loss. What we call the church must invite seekers in to participate and eavesdrop on the lives we live. We must create a culture of hospitality that goes beyond coffee and refreshments, where questions and exploration are not only tolerated, but encouraged and expected. This is a fantastic transition from what is common in the church where the Christian message is presented, decisions are privatized with the “bowing of heads and closing of eyes,” a response is immediately called for, and only then are individuals welcome into fellowship.

We have always said “Follow Christ and we will let you in.” We need to learn to say, “Come on in that you might learn from Christ and follow him.”

Leslie Newbigin, asks this question: “How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross?” And he answers his question by saying: “The only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.”

 

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