Humility

During class on Saturday, I was talking to a fellow cohort member about some of the topics raised in our study of church history.  He was telling me a story about an Asian missionary who attended an American seminary, in the hopes of becoming better prepared to reach his people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This man was taught “proper doctrine,” according this seminary’s tradition, and returned to his native country, ready to preach and teach and train others.  With zeal, he taught other missionaries and sent them out, prepared to plant new churches.  Most of them failed.  Why?  Because those who taught this man, taught him doctrine and theory, but failed to teach him the necessary practicalities of evangelizing in the jungles of Asia, where the spirituality is much more connected to nature and spirits, rather than books and Western forms of reason and psychology.  He trained his workers well for work in the Western World, but not for their context.

What does this have to do with my subject, HUMILITY?  From denominations and Christian traditions, to seminaries to churches to small groups… we all believe we know what is right and true. Of late, I have been bothered by the prideful and arrogant posturing between Christian “parties.”  The fundamentalists are sure the emergents are going to hell.  We Mennonites look down our noses at the fundamentalists.  Evangelicals snub Catholics because they are obviously in error.  Mainliners scowl at the Pentecostals with their flamboyant displays of emotion.  Calvinist seminaries are suspicious of Catholic schools who think Anabaptist seminaries are misguided… blah, blah, blah. We are a closed-minded, arrogant lot.  They don’t use the word “inerrancy”! They don’t make sure men remain in headship! They don’t make room for the Holy Spirit! They don’t take the Old Testament seriously! They don’t take Jesus’ words seriously! They’re Republicans! They’re Democrats! They’re social activists! They aren’t social activists! They talk too much about grace! They don’t talk enough about grace!

Before I go any farther, let me confess that this is me.  In my seminary cohort, I am the only Mennonite.  We have a Korean brother, two African-American brothers (at least one is Baptist), a Chinese brother, a few who lean toward the emergent train of thought, a number who come from the Reformed tradition, and a few who I think would call themselves evangelical fundamentalists (I think… could be wrong on that one).  We have lively discussions about theology and practice. We question each other and argue over some issues… and I have seen in myself the very attitudes I mention above.  I am not always humble, probably not even very often.  And I am getting weary of this, in myself, at our school and also in the broader Christian community in America.

Many times we base our critical attitudes and sweeping judgments of one another on Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “defend the doctrine.”  We must stand up for what is right. We must tell our sisters and brothers when and how they are wrong so that they may be corrected and come back to a true expression of Christian faith.  Obviously, we are the ones in the right, right?  Obviously our pastor or our denominational camp is reading the Bible correctly. We are right. They are wrong… and we have a million reasons why.

What if we’re wrong? What if we listened first and condemned only after we were able to explain the other point of view fairly and accurately?  I’m serious here. Read that sentence again. What if we shut our mouths for an hour or two and reflected honestly on our own assumptions about faith and God and the Bible?  What if we considered ourselves students instead of teachers, and took a posture of learning instead of leading, if only for a moment?  What if our seminaries invited missionaries from Africa and Asia and South America to come and teach about the ways the Gospel has been contextualized in those cultures, so that students would not only be trained in Western thought, but in a variety of philosophies?

If we pray for humility and accept the discipline of humility, I wonder if we will begin to see how much bigger God is than our narrow view.  I need to learn humility.  American Christians everywhere DESPERATELY need to learn humility.  We need to listen before we speak and respect that God is at work all over the place… not only in our church or our tradition.  We are all right, and we are all wrong. How dare we approach another professing Christians with anything less than respect and humility!  How dare we forget that we, too, are flawed and prone to heresy! None of us have all the answers.

(I will now step down from my little soap box.)

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Robert Martin
    Apr 08, 2008 @ 08:35:23

    Amen and preach it, my Mennonite sister!

    Not much more I can say. I’m guilty as charged and am, with the help of the Spirit, trying to rectify this lack of humility within myself.

    Reply

  2. Dennis Kuhns (Dad)
    Apr 18, 2008 @ 20:40:06

    Let me add my “amen” as well. I have been tired for a very long time at all posturing that has invaded our socity and our churches. “Teach me humility, O my Lord.”

    Reply

  3. Robert Martin
    Apr 22, 2008 @ 16:58:41

    Dennis, coming from a “seasoned” Mennonite pastor, your comments mean a lot. I hear in your statement some of the comments that my mother said to me during her years ministering in the Mennonite church.

    When the older generation starts requesting that sort of humility, it gives those of us that are up and coming that much more hope in the future of the Christian church in general.

    Thank you for your encouraging words.

    Reply

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