and when – Guest Blogger, Dana Cassell

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from screens and screens,
airport corridors and the adjoining seat,
grocery store lines and rush hour traffic
erupts this
manufactured outrage –
a pointed explosive perfectly aimed
to obscure –
with its hateful,
prickly
hot lava vomit –
any trace of what actually is:
the beguiling,
the seductive,
the slow, unfolding movement of body-bound reality.
because it is,
all around,
all the time:
that glacially paced
reality
of human existence,
drawing out drama for weeks or months or millenia.
babies take decades to die.
love needs years to take hold.
cancer holds out over slow, quiet months.
infuriated, we look for a fault,
a valve to release a little steam,
to allow ourselves to keep boiling,
keep roasting.
life is too slow for us,
too gradual for our instant messages
and too long-winded to fit
in a facebook update.

so what else are we to do?
erupt.
emote all over ourselves.
and in the momentary catharsis
forget how much is yet to come,
how many fellow slowgrowers we’re leaving
buried in
the wake of our lava leaks.

better to simmer a while,
to linger a little longer,
to give the unfolding its due time
than to spit vitriol in an
ill-fated attempt

to wrestle God’s own
chronology
into our stuffy little notions
of what ought to be
and when.

This poem was originally posted on Authenticity. You can catch Dana’s more frequent observations on Twitter.

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An Inside Out Faith – Guest Blogger, Randall Westfall

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By Randall Westfall

If I were to ask you to make a list of things that you loved to do as a child, what would be on your list? For me that list includes (but is not limited to): running barefoot, building forts, catching things, building campfires, climbing, getting dirty, telling stories, imitating animals, hiding, exploring, and a ton of other pastimes that would take up more time than I have been allotted here.

If you were to ask a child today what their favorite activities are, you’d likely get a different list of activities. Though overlap may occur, I suspect that most would involve a screen or an outlet as many have replaced formative experiences outdoors with informative experiences indoors. It’s even changing our vernacular as dictionaries are doing away with words like heron, dandelion, and blackberry in favor of iPod, broadband, and ironically Blackberry.1

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term nature-deficit disorder (NDD) to illustrate the significant psychological, physical, and cognitive costs that alienation from nature has on children today.2 NDD isn’t an actual clinical disorder as much as it gives voice to what many of us were already thinking by addressing our intuitive understanding that nature is not only good for our children but essential to their healthy development.

Children today spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors and less than 25 minutes a week outdoors.3 A trend that is leading to epidemics in childhood obesity, depression, ADHD, Asperger’s and more.4 Why is this happening? Studies are showing that there are: a) more demands on children’s time, b) parental fears of “stranger danger,” c) more sedentary lifestyles, d) urbanization of America and e) an increased use in electronic media (up to 44 hours a week).5 These “digital natives” are experiencing the world in a radically different way than their ancestors did and it has consequences on their spiritual development.

Throughout history, our ancestors encountered God primarily through two means: nature and storytelling. Nature was experienced through the senses (body) and the heart, and stories informed the intellect (mind) and the heart. Over time, our stories evolved from oral narratives, to being captured in written form. In the past 25 years, as technology has expanded its reach and outdoor experience has degenerated, we find ourselves processing our experiences more through our mind and less through our body. In fact, we are witnessing the beginnings of what some scientists are calling a “transhuman” era6 where we are no longer multi-sensory beings; rather we become one-dimensional as our experiences are increasingly filtered through some type of technological medium.

This is all a part of NDD, and it is affecting our spiritual landscape. In ages past, a child’s spiritual life was assumed, largely in part because of the way they interacted with the natural world around them. As we become less engaged with the outdoors, we can no longer make assumptions regarding spiritual development. Children are trading in outdoor experiences for a virtual house arrest in which they live through external, digital devices. Being outdoors has shaped who we are for centuries, yet in the span of a generation; children who are “nature-smart” are becoming an endangered species.

Could it be that we are actually doing more harm than good living in a “Take only pictures; leave only footprints” culture, as our efforts to protect and preserve nature are also creating barriers to interacting with it. When it comes to nature, we have adopted a “museum” approach whereby children are taught to look but don’t touch. Other adages like stay on the trail, don’t wander, may be inadvertently projecting our fears that when interacting with nature someone will get hurt, be it either human or the landscape. If you can’t interact with something, it isn’t long before you lose interest. And if enough time passes, we dishonor God by basically declaring that “what you have made no longer interests me.” We’re encouraging children to “play it safe” in controlled environments, hyper-stimulated by electronic media. If they aren’t hyper-stimulated, they either become anxious or disengage. NDD keeps our appreciation for nature so long as we don’t interact with it. Imagine the same being said for our faith? I appreciate God, but I don’t interact with God. What do spiritual disciplines look like to that person?

The paradox of faith is that the God who dwells on the inside often must be encountered outside. When we lose the appeal to explore outer landscapes, then what metaphors will navigate the journey for our inner landscape? Faith has become inside out and it isn’t until we realize our connection with nature; then the Mystery at work in the depths of our souls and the Mystery in the natural world are parts of the same reality.7  Author John Lionberger believes that “Being outdoors has the power to join two extreme states of awareness, consciousness and acuity, which lead to peak experiences the recipient finds deeply spiritual.8 In my time in outdoor ministry, I’ve observed that children who have a connection with nature are more aware of their relationship with God than those who spend little or no time outdoors.

This is not about doing away with our iStuff, rather we must learn to find a balance between the digital and the natural. What if for every text or email sent, we spent those moments sitting and listening for what the robins and towhees were saying to us? Or instead of recognizing the thousands of corporate logos we see on commercials, we take the time and familiarize ourselves with the wood sorrel, plantain, and nettle in our own backyard? Or every video game spent trying to get to the next level; we spent an equal amount of time following a set of raccoon tracks to discover hidden levels of its life?

How will we prevent NDD from being passed on to future generations? It’s time for us to start embodying those childhood passions we listed above, as spiritual disciplines to feed the fire of faith just as we do with devotions, bible study, prayer and worship. Only then can we become fully awakened, fully alive, and experience the abundant life that Jesus wants us to step into. Our eyes, ears, noses, taste buds, bodies, hearts, and even brains were created in such a way that it is vital for us to engage creation, in doing so we always encounter the Creator.

Randall Westfall is the director at Camp Brethren Heights and founder of Ancient Paths Outdoor School in west-central Michigan.He is a graduate of Wilderness Awareness School near Seattle, with certifications in Naturalist Studies, Wildlife Tracking, Edible/Medicinal Plant Studies, Bird Language, Art of Mentoring and Wilderness Survival. He spent just as much time immersed in nature as he did sitting at his computer writing this article.

 

  1. Morris, Charles. National Catholic Reporter. 18 November 2011.  []
  2. Richard Louv. Last Child in the Woods. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2005. []
  3. Play Again. Dir. Tonje Hessen Schei. 2010. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Ibid. []
  6. Richard Louv. The Nature Principle. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2011. []
  7. Robert M. Hamma. Earth’s Echo. Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2002. []
  8. John Lionberger. Renewal in the Wilderness. Woodstock: Skylight Paths, 2007. []
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The Anabaptist’s Will, The Pietist’s Heart & The Lover’s Gaze – Guest Blogger, Scott Holland

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[Part 3 of a three-part series on James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.1 Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.]

by Scott Holland

I’m writing my rather tardy contribution to the Brethren Life and Thought Blog on Easter weekend, a time when many Christians celebrate the bodily life and resurrection of Jesus. We are reminded at Easter that unlike the Greek philosopher Socrates, who faced his sentence of capital punishment with a calm, welcome acceptance as the cup of poison hemlock was placed in front of him, Jesus, the Jewish rabbi, resisted his death with the anguished plea, “Father, if it is possible remove this cup from me.” For Socrates, the body was the mere prison of the soul. For Rabbi Jesus, the body and the book and the beloved world were imagined as united in God and thus believed to be blessed by God.

James Smith’s marvelous book, Desiring the Kingdom, offers his readers a well integrated philosophy of God, world, self and others. As a philosopher schooled in both classical theologies and Continental philosophies, Smith offers us a theology of culture in which the heart, head and hand cannot be pried apart in naming ourselves and rendering God’s name in history. This theology of culture makes four important moves: First, it offers an anthropology of humans as embodied actors rather than thinking, theorizing, talking heads. It prioritizes practices rather than ideas or doctrines. It looks at these cultural practices through the lens of worship, liturgy and ritual. Finally, it offers a culturally engaged rhetoric and practice of antithesis without being against culture.

Working out of the best of the Reformed tradition, Smith critiques the rationalism so dominant in the academy and public life by offering a more holistic understanding of the human person as “a desiring, imaginative animal.” However, Smith’s project doesn’t merely replace the thinking head of rationalism with the believing body of the Christian. Indeed, in James Smith’s theological vision, the human is more than a reasoning, believing, narratological animal; the human being is also a longing, loving actor in a blessed, broken world. In this vision, we are offered a robust understanding of the narrative and performative constitution of the self.

Professor Smith trained at Villanova University, a school where classical Augustinian Christianity dances with postmodern, phenomenological and Continental philosophy. Desiring the Kingdom brings these rich intellectual and spiritual traditions into both implicit and explicit conversation with the Reformed view of theology and education. Much like Smith, I trained at a school known for blending a Catholic analogical imagination with Continental phenomenology: Duquesne University. For a window into how our theologies nicely intersect see my How Do Stories Save Us?.2

Brian Gumm’s blog suggests that James Smith’s work might resonate with my “The Pietist as Strong Poet.” Indeed it does. In that piece I accent the Pietist’s epistemology of the heart and theopoetics of desire as a corrective to received theological and philosophical orthodoxies. With James Smith’s satisfying book open on my desk let me reflect briefly on the “The Anabaptist’s Will, the Pietist’s Heart and the Lover’s Gaze.”

Continue reading “The Anabaptist’s Will, The Pietist’s Heart & The Lover’s Gaze – Guest Blogger, Scott Holland”

  1. Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. []
  2. Holland, Scott. How Do Stories Save Us?: An Essay on the Question With the Theological Hermeneutics of David Tracy in View. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and Louvain: Peeters, 2006. []
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In place of (non-)sacraments: Re-enchanting the Brethren

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[Part 2 of a three-part series on James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.1 Part 1 is here and part 3 will be up next week!]

by Brian R. Gumm

A few weeks ago I wrote a post for the Anabaptist Missional Project blog entitled “The Sacrament of Mission,” which attempted to take key points of James K.A. Smith’s somewhat recent book – Desiring the Kingdom  – and explore its implications to Christian mission. My choice of title was there (and is here) a playful jab at the Anabaptist tradition which raised me, being as it is a mostly non-sacramental tradition for its five centuries of existence in various expressions.

While the Schwarzenau Brethren have long practiced the beautiful biblical-mimetic ritual we call “Love Feast,” there’s been the insistence that such practices – like baptism – are “ordinances” from Jesus. So we do them primarily because Jesus told us to, not because they have some “mystical” or “magical” power. Combined with a free church “priesthood of all believers” ecclesiology and liturgical practices, Vernard Eller could look at high church sacramental traditions in his book, In Place of Sacraments2, and pejoratively describe them as “commissaries,” dispensing with mystical goods and services. Better than all that, Eller described the (surprise!) free church model which he called the “caravan” approach to practices like the Lord’s Supper and baptism.

While honoring the good historical reasons that Anabaptists opted out of sacramental traditions (to their own peril, initially), appreciating much of Eller’s positive work in In Place of Sacraments, and being happy in our contemporary circumstances as a believers church tradition, still I wonder: Should we reconsider our bad attitude about the sacraments? In our desire to avoid magic-thinking, is there a way in which we’ve swung too far the other direction and depleted our social imagination as Anabaptists worshipping and serving a crucified and resurrected, therefore living, God? Have we thrown the genius of narrative-shaped ritual out with the sacramental bathwater?

Continue reading “In place of (non-)sacraments: Re-enchanting the Brethren”

  1. Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. []
  2. Eller, Vernard. In Place of Sacraments. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972. []
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Ascetic Christianity: Brethren Dress and Smith’s Cultural Liturgies

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[Part 1 of a three-part series on James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.1 Part 2 is here and part 3 is here.]

by Joshua Brockway

James K. A. Smith has written an accessible and insightful discussion of practices and the Christian faith. Smith turns to consider practices and liturgies as foundational for the ways we act in the world as Christians thus challenging worldview understandings of Christian education and formation,. Rather than discuss these practices in ideological terms Smith defines these liturgical practices as “a ‘hearts and minds’ strategy, a pedagogy that trains us as disciples precisely by putting our bodies through a regimen of repeated practices that get hold of our heart and ‘aim’ our love toward the kingdom of God.”2 Yet, Smith is clear that liturgies are not just proprietary to the Church. All cultures have within them liturgical practices which aim a person’s desires towards some other ultimate end end.

Brethren, however, have not been warm to the language of liturgy. Following many other Radical Reformation traditions, we have come to define our worship as “Free Church” and our theology as asacramental. These moves are rightly understood as reactions to the clericalism of 16th and 17th century Europe. Yet, the effect has been that we are not attentive to the ways rituals and liturgies shape our actions. Smith’s work, on the other hand, makes very clear that the question is better framed not by a rejection of liturgy, but by asking which liturgy defines us.

Continue reading “Ascetic Christianity: Brethren Dress and Smith’s Cultural Liturgies”

  1. Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. []
  2. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 33 []
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Coming Up…

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Now that the series from the Young Adult Forum is complete, here is what’s up next.

This week we will be starting a seriers of reflection/responses to Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith.  Smith is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. He has written a number of books and weighed in on topics such as hermeneutics, Radical Orthodoxy, Post-Modernism, and Calvinism.

So why engage Desiring the Kingdom? Simply stated, too many theologians, philosophers, and psychologists have shown that what we think has little to do with how we live. We might know a lot of things, or even for that matter believe, certain things, but those beliefs are often contradicted by our actions in the world. This is especially true in the ways Christians have approached education. Smith comments on this reality near the end of the book:

To be blunt, our Christian colleges and universities generate an army of alumni who look pretty much like all the rest of their suburban neighbors, except that our graduates drive their SUVs, inhabit their executive homes, and pursue the frenetic life of the middle class and the corporate ladder ‘from a Christian perspective.’1

Our next three posts then will engage Smith’s insightful work. These posts will come from Joshua Brockway- director, spiritual life and discipleship for the Church of the Brethren; Brian Gumm- licensed minister in the Church of the Brethren and graduate student at Eastern Mennonite University’s Seminary and Center for Justice & Peacebuilding; and Scott Holland Professor of Theology and Culture and Director of Peace Studies and Cross-Cultural Studies for Bethany Theological Seminary.

 

  1. James K. A. Smith Desiring the Kingdom, 219 []
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Questions about Technology and Community

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Our last double issue of volume 55 published a number of articles related to technology. Here are some great questions that emerged from that issue. Extend the conversation here!

Question for “Enough about Me, How Do You Like Me? How Social Networking Is Making Us

Fall in Love with Ourselves”by Shane Hipps

What is it about technology that might contribute to narcissism? In what way could social networks such as Facebook have the opposite affect? How might social networks actually promote consideration of others?

Question for “Technology and Christian Community”by Arthur Boers

Boers states that a group of people doing a common thing, such as watching the sametelevision program or using Facebook together, are not really a community.  Do you agree?

When we publish an issue we create study questions for some of the articles. We hope that this makes the journal a great resource for small group study. You can find the complete set of questions here While you are there take a moment to suscribe!

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A Look at Ordination the Church of the Brethren

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In 2008 the Church of the Brethren hosted a gathering of Young Adults as part of the continuing conversations about ministerial leadership. The goal of the gathering was to discuss the emerging realities for the church as the denomination discerned the needs for a new system of calling ministers. Each of the sessions began with prepared presentations and a series of questions for those gathered to discuss around their tables. After the event, a Minute was prepared from the conversations. Brethren Life and Thought will publish a number of the presentations here over the course of several weeks.

The following presentation was prepared and offered by Dana Cassell.

In its entry on “Degrees of Ministry,” The Brethren Encyclopedia declares, “traditionally, Brethren have not been concerned with precise titles or names for their elected church officials.” This is true, and sometimes maddening. This paper was originally prepared for the Ministry Advisory Council, and grew out of research that I had been doing for last year’s celebration of the 50thanniversary of women’s ordination in the Church of the Brethren. That initial research was frustrating because of the lack of unified titles in our ever-changing credentialing system. Some of the early women in leadership listed themselves as ordained, some as permanently licensed, some simply as “ministers.” This work led me to investigate the history of ordination in the CoB in an attempt to answer this one question: What does it mean to be ordained in the Church of the Brethren?

There’s no readily apparent answer to this question, but I have some findings to share with you. You’ve probably heard or known at least some of this before, but my hope is that this compiled history is helpful in telling a somewhat coherent story of our history of choosing leadership, and in our current and future discernment about how we continue to do so.

For two hundred years, Brethren ministers operated in a plural, non-salaried system. Each congregation had several ministers, or elders, and none of these men (and they were all men, except for a very few instances where a woman fulfilled the duties of her incapacitated husband) were paid. In 1855, Annual Meeting described three ministerial offices, filled by congregational elections conducted by adjoining elders. The degrees were to be identified by functions and duties associated with them:

  • 1st: The “speaker” was to preach or conduct worship service with permission of 2nd or 3rd degree minister.
  • 2nd: Elected from membership or an advanced 1st degree minister, a minister of the 2nd degree was authorized to preach, appoint or schedule worship meetings, administer baptism, perform marriages, and officiate at love feast in absence of an elder.
  • 3rd: Those elected into eldership/full ministry were senior members of the 2nd degree ministers. They were the only leaders ordained through the laying on of hands, and were authorized to preside at council meetings, to install deacons or ministers, to anoint the ill, and to conduct love feasts.

This description from Annual Meeting seems to be descriptive and not prescriptive: this is, roughly, what was already happening in congregations. It describes an organic system of homegrown leadership: there was a built-in mentoring program, each leader required full congregational approval, and the “credentials” or “titles” were associated with functions and practices – not personal qualities or “leadership ability,” though these things certainly factored in. Leadership was chosen in response to congregational need and not personal initiative: ministers were “advanced” to the next degree of ministry based on seniority when a congregation needed another elder. Volunteering for a position of ministerial leadership was a surefire way NOT to be chosen. Peter Nead, a passionate member of the conservative camp, insisted in his theological writings that there are 3 types of preachers:

 usually the self-called preacher was out to start a new sect, and was therefore accountable to no one. The man called preacher was a hireling, and therefore was most interested in pleasing his employers so that he would have a good living. Only the called of the Lord was motivated to please God and seek Gods approval…the only way to know who the Lord called was to consult the church…The ministers of the true church are not hirelings: it is the love of God; and not the filthy lucre, that constrains them to preach the gospel.1

Nead’s fears that ill-chosen leadership would lead to sectarianism and customer-service mentality were not unfounded. Conrad Beissel’s Ephrata cloister experiment was a classic example of ministerial leadership gone awry. Beisel claimed for himself a divine status and authority, and those in his group submitted to him. For those in the cloister, Beissel’s word carried more weight that either scripture OR the gathered discernment of the body – sources which had held utmost authority in traditional Brethren ecclesiology. Similarly, Brethren had long been at odds with “hireling” preachers, citing the failures of the institutional clergy as one of the initial reasons for leaving the state churches in Germany. Nead’s warnings came from collective Brethren experience, and they arose in the beginnings of what was to be an unending debate about how to define “the ministry.”

In the mid-19th century, Annual Meeting began to deal with divisive and confusing issues surrounding the ministry – what ordination meant, how it should be granted, if ministers ought to be paid, whether or not education was necessary or problematic for those in church leadership. These questions were part of a larger struggle between conservatives and progressives that would lead to serious fractures and the eventual institutionalization of the Schwarzenau movement into the Church of the Brethren and other denominational bodies.
The first major question to come before Annual Meeting was whether or not a minister ought to be compensated for his work. Like so many queries, this was a practical question that veiled a larger struggle: ought the ministry be a professional vocation? Compensation was a hot topic, generating impassioned speeches, sermons, and periodical articles.

The Conservatives were firmly against an educated, paid, professional ministry, but progressives insisted that the professional minister was the only way to keep up with a swiftly changing world. This particular issue factored largely into the splits of 1881-1882. The Conservatives focused on biblical precedent, citing Jesus’ commission to the disciples, sending them out without silver or gold in their purses. Similarly, they appealed to the Acts account of believers sharing their possessions (Acts 4:34) to warn against personal income. The salaried ministry was “deplored as a corrupt, parasitic system which was dangerous to vital Christianity, also against an educated ministry, which was viewed as despising the humble, unassuming lifestyle of primitive Christianity.”2 An 1845 Henry Kurtz sermon, quoted in John Kline’s diary, paints the position vividly:

I have to say that God never meant for the Gospel to be used as a means for getting water to the preacher’s mill, or grain into his garner. When the Gospel is converted into merchandise, the preacher becomes a merchant, and like all other merchants it becomes his interest to handle his goods in a way that will please his customers, and put them in such shape and procure for them such kinds, whether good, bad, or indifferent, as will suit their fancies and please their tastes. The love of money is a root of all evil, no less in the ministry than anywhere else.3

The Progressives, whose opinions would ultimately shape the Church of the Brethren, argued that a paid ministry would free ministers from the distractions of full-time employment, enabling them to devote their full attention to the ministry of the church. In a changing and urbanizing society, they argued, the church must change to keep up with the needs of the world:

The church’s historic belief in imitating Jesus’ love and living according to the Sermon on the Mount necessitated a change in attitude toward industrial and urban society in the latter half of the 19th century. The work of ministry was progressively seen as an adaptation to and an extension of Christ’s message to a society in need.4

Debate raged at Annual Meeting, as the church gradually accepted an educated, salaried, professional ministry. But change did not happen all at once.

In 1856, AM insisted that payment for ministerial services was against the gospel, and not allowed. In 1861, however, AM agreed that financial support for ministers was appropriate in “times of necessity or hardship.” In 1866, “supporting the ministry” became allowable, but a stated salary remained unacceptable. Again in 1882, AM affirmed that there is to be “no specified sum per day, week, month or year, paid to ministers on missions or any other work; but the Mission Board or Committee having control of funds may donate to ministers such sums as in their judgment their circumstances require.”

As is often the case, practice changed before polity, and in 1891, Tobias T. Myers of Philadelphia became the first full-time salaried Brethren pastor. It took another 20 years, however until Annual Meeting finally officially allowed congregations to pay their ministers set salaries. Despite its long history of plural, non-salaried ministry, the church had gone from adamantly opposed to a professional ministry in 1856 to grudgingly accepting it as inevitable in 1911. In another 25 years (1939), the General Brotherhood Board would actually be actively encouraging congregations of 200 or more to hire a full-time, seminary-trained, salaried minister. A 1951 statement explains their motivation: “We believe that a consecrated, trained pastoral ministry, properly supported both financially and with the cooperative efforts of the membership, will be the most efficient ministry in making the church an adequate influence in the community through an adequate organization of its resources for worship, fellowship, and service.”

In addition to compensation, the shift to a professional ministry also meant changes in processes of calling out leadership and in educational expectations. In 1915, Annual Meeting agreed to allow individuals to volunteer for ministry. The same decision advised the establishment of educational standards for ministry, and permitted employment of pastors – though ministers were still encouraged to give their services to the church for free. In 1921, the General Ministerial Board was created to “promote the growing trend for each congregation to have its own professionally trained and salaried pastor,” and in 1922, the designation of “licensed” pastor was created – allowing beginning ministers (including women) to preach, but perform no other functions. Responsibility for ordination officially shifted from the congregation to the district in 1921, and in 1923 the first official Pastor’s Manual was published – an official guide that confirmed the breakdown of the personal mentoring inherent in the old degree system of ministry. Perception had changed so drastically that Edgar Petry could write in his 1942 Bethany thesis that

The full-time pastorate represents the maximum adaptation to modern life. It is the result of the movement to meet the needs of people in a scientific and industrial world…It provides for a more systematic and efficient carrying out of the functions of the minister and of the church. It elevates the place and work of the minister in the church and community and releases him from the task of making a living.

These changes led to a lack of uniformity across the denomination – some congregations still used the degree system of ministry (even though AM had combined the 1st and 2nddegrees into the category of “ministers” in 1917), and others were employing licensed or ordained pastors. In 1957, to clarify the functions of the various leadership positions, Annual Conference listed the duties of elders and the duties of pastors. A decade later, in 1967, AC finally discontinued the office of elder, combining elders and ministers into the category of “ordained ministers.” Despite this merger, no new list of duties or functions was created for these “ordained ministers.” In one century, ministerial leadership had undergone a complete transformation in the Church of the Brethren – but nowhere did the denomination define or document what, exactly, these changes implied.

The confusion persists. In nearly every decade, Brethren voices have called for clarification. In 1950, Floyd Mallot contended that “the future of the church depends upon the surmounting of the problems that arise out of the change from the free to the professional ministry.In 1978, Floyd Bantz wrote in a Brethren Life and Thought article;

We know deep down inside ourselves, apparently, that there is a set-apart ministry, but we aren’t sure why there is, nor what it is to do. We certainly do not want that set-apart ministry to have any intermediary power. We want to control its institutional authority and we are not sure just what are its unique training and skills…We are not sure we know what ordination means but we do raise questions about continuing ordination for those who do not do what ordination means.5

In 1987, a Believer’s Church conference took on the subject of ministry. The Findings Committee listed pressing questions about ministry for the Anabaptist communities:

  • We need a more precise working definition of “universal ministry,” “ordination,” and “gifts.”
  • We are uncertain about the process for employing spiritual gifts. What is the balance between the individual’s leading and the faith community’s calling?
  • What structures and forms at the local and denominational level are best suited to carry out the vision of ministry of all believers?
  • There was uneasiness expressed with formal graduate level training programs for vocational profession of “minister.” What forms of training are most suitable for the universal ministry of all believers?6

A 1997 Survey of Brethren women in ministry by Rebecca Slough and Debbie Eisenbise showed that ordained women in the Church of the Brethren tend to see their ordination less as a spiritual or communal commitment and more as an institutional pass or credential needed to fulfill their calling. These findings, the authors say, “leave open the question of what ordination actually means for Church of the Brethren women pastors.”7

The implications of this confusion and lack of clarity on what, exactly, ordination means are not pretty. Because we lack a working definition of our leadership credentials, the title and office of “minister” has been used as an instrument of injustice. Granted, the old 3-degrees system was certainly not free of nepotism, sexism, and prejudice. But since moving from that mode of ministerial leadership to this institutionalized system of ordination, the Church of the Brethren has found itself with an undefined credential. We are very reluctant to define or delineate who CAN or SHOULD be ordained, but have not hesitated to create a list of those who CANNOT or OUGHT NOT be: remarried people (1933), women (until 1958), homosexual people (2002).8

I don’t mean to paint this ambivalence about institutional leadership as all bad. I think there are, in fact, some benefits to operating without clear polity and doctrine. And yet, we continually call ourselves to define ordination, to call gifted leadership, and to figure out what it is that we expect in the ministerial leaders of our church. And so, my question is, is it possible to define ordination in the Church of the Brethren, given the crooked path we’ve taken to get to where we are today?

  1. Peter Nead, “Theological Writings on Various Subjects; or, ‘A vindication of…” (Dayton, OH: B.F. Eller), 1850. []
  2. “Ministry,” Brethren Encyclopedia, Donald Durnbaugh, ed. (Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc) 2003. []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. Floyd E, Mallot, Studies in Brethren History (Elgin, IL: Brethren Publishing House) 1983. []
  5. Floyd Bantz, “Liturgical Connection: Reflections upon the Meaning of Ordination,” in Brethren Life and Thought, 23 no 2, Spring 1978. 72. []
  6. David B. Eller, Servants of the Word: Ministry in the Believers’ Church (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press) 1990. []
  7. Rebecca Slough and Debbie Eisenbise, “The Significance of Theological Education in the Career Development of Women in Ministry: A Case Study in the Church of the Brethren” in Brethren Life and Thought, vol. 42 no 1-2, Winter-Spring 1997. []
  8. Each of these decisions came in the form of an Annual Conference decision. []
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Leaders Living Integrated Lives

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In 2008 the Church of the Brethren hosted a gathering of Young Adults as part of the continuing conversations about ministerial leadership. The goal of the gathering was to discuss the emerging realities for the church as the denomination discerned the needs for a new system of calling ministers. Each of the sessions began with prepared presentations and a series of questions for those gathered to discuss around their tables. After the event, a Minute was prepared from the conversations. Brethren Life and Thought will publish a number of the presentations here over the course of several weeks.

 

The following presentation was prepared and offered by Anna Lisa Gross.


Narrative and identity

In postmodernity, narrative and identity are key. Narrative is the method of truth-seeking, meaning-making – and just like so many movements that we’re experiencing, this is not new, as the Old Testament and parables show. So, narrative is the method of meaning-making. Identity is the way of moving through the world, the foundation for our living. No one can speak with authority outside their own social location (class, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, language, ability, age, education, et cetera), and identity is increasingly about social location more than any one specific role that we play in our lives. I can’t speak with authority on being a mother, or having disabilities, or being a gay man because they are outside my social location. This is one of many reasons that leadership needs to be representative of the full spectrum of humanity, so we can hear the real narratives of real people, rooted in their own identities, especially as the Church of the Brethren and the culture are increasingly asking for multicultural conversation. But first, we need to talk and reflect deeply about our own ethnic identities before we can hope to build strong multiethnic relationships and we need to talk and reflect deeply about our own sexuality before we can make proclamations about someone else’s, et cetera.

Integration and boundaries

How many of you have an email address?

  • How many of you have a single email address that you use for work, for family, for school friends, for community involvement?
  • How many of you have a separate address for many of these aspects of your lives?
  • How many of you use Gmail, or another program that pulls all of your email accounts into one inbox?

Technology allows for and encourages integrated lives. We are available 24/7, as we’ve already talked about, to our work, our family, our friends, our community involvement, and each of these aspects of our lives can show up when we’re trying to focus on another. Technology will only increasingly affect culture in this way. Is that good or bad? Who knows? Perhaps we won’t know until we’re able to look back on this time. For now, what feels right for you?

How can the church, especially congregations, support leaders whose lives are integrated in these ways? We’ve moved from a model of leadership that had few boundaries, to one obsessed with boundaries, to this time of integration. Take for example, Ed. Ed IS a pastor, he claims this as his identity, his fundamental way of interacting with the world – no boundaries between work identity and home identity, because work is everything. Or, Sue. Sue is a minster, Sue is a friend, a daughter, a writer, etc. She has clear boundaries between each role, and seeks self-care (sometimes by switching to a different role that is more comfortable). Or, Alex. Alex is Alex. Alex ministers, is married, studies, serves on boards, but Alex is Alex.

I am part of this emerging model, and because that is my perspective, it’s easy to prefer it. But certainly there are strengths and weaknesses of each model. And certainly these movements are not determined only by generation: personality and culture matter, too.

Ed’s model of no boundaries could invite integrity – he’s a pastor everywhere he goes, so he probably wants people to see him fulfilling that role with integrity – and we know we have high standards for pastors’ morality. But many leaders in this model desperately need time to let down their guard and live into their flaws. In fact, the more we try to show a public, flawless face, the stronger our faults can be in our lives. For many pastors and other leaders, this has meant that a secret life emerges, where those with less power – often their children or spouse or others, suffer.

Sue’s model of clear divisions between roles could invite secrets – a part of her home life that she doesn’t share with her workplace, for example. And I’m not talking here about specifics – I don’t mean to suggest that anyone give all the details of their sex lives to their congregation, but that ministers be comfortable acknowledging that they’re even dating – and I know pastors who will NOT share this information with their churches. But the element of self-care can allow for healthier home life, work life, and greater longevity in all of these roles. Intentionally choosing a place in life to be a flawed person can mean that faults are lived into, rather than taking on a life of their own.

In Alex’s emerging model, all of who we are is present in all of what we do. In a counseling session, Sue may find that a parishioner’s struggle with her mother is triggering Sue’s own painful relationship with her mother, but because she is in “pastor” role, she shuts that door to focus on the parishioner. But Alex might think, “wow, I feel strong emotions rising that are about my own relationship with my mother, not about this woman’s story. What does this emotion teach me, and what are the differences between our stories that I need to remain aware of?”

Our struggles, failures, and doubts must be able to enter our lives in all aspects, including our leadership in the church. Have you heard these things during joys and concerns time?

  •  I’m drowning in credit card debt.
  • I’m ashamed of my sexual desires.
  • I can’t pray.

How can leaders model this vulnerability? Are there things we do NOT want ministers to be vulnerable and honest about? Should any of these things preclude someone from church leadership? I don’t think so – in fact, I think leaders who can hold these struggles in tension with their faith and commitment are particularly strong. Leaders in the church should not be morally perfect people – even if we could agree on what that would mean, it’s impossible. Leaders in the church should be as imperfect as anyone else, but willing to share vulnerably their imperfections. The very stories of their struggles – and their successes over struggles – are valuable testimonials.

And leadership is more than just airtime – we must lead with listening, and lead even when no one can see what we’re doing. How do we honor the vulnerability of others? How do we facilitate communities that honor each others’ vulnerability?

I said earlier that, beginning in our own narratives and identities, we need to talk deeply about our own sexualities, for example, before we make proclamations about other’s sexualities. This summer, Annual Conference passed revisions to the Ministerial Ethics Paper that specified that ministers should not have sex outside of marriage. I know many of you here, and I know that most of you, including myself, have had sex before and/or outside of marriage. So how can we pass a paper saying that ministers should not have sex before marriage, without acknowledging how many of us have and exploring why?

Those of us who are now married may be able to more easily vote for a paper with this language. Even if we did have sex before marriage, or even if we’re having sex outside of our current marriage, we’re much safer in the eyes of the church. But married people passing such a ruling has significant implications for single people, and people in committed relationships not generally accepted by the church (most obvious of which are same-sex relationships).

So this brings up privilege. It is just a fact that some identities give us more privilege than others. When we speak out of our privileged identities, for example, when I speak as a white person, I need to be particularly intentional about language and power. And I believe that Matt used his own male privilege very well earlier, pointing out to other men that the talking space was being dominated by men. Matt, as a man, can do this without eliciting the backlash that a woman might – you know, being called a feminist, or something. Matt can be called a feminist without it threatening his social influence.

Back to Alex’s model – living integrated lives means that self-care takes a very different form. We don’t necessarily find healing by switching roles, because our core self is involved in all aspects of our lives, and our core self is what needs rejuvenation. So we don’t shut the door on work to relax. Instead, we try to make work better. We don’t settle for poorly facilitated meetings, knowing we can go home, turn on the TV and forget about it – we strive for better facilitation. We don’t lose ourselves in an 80-hour work week to avoid the problems we’re having with our spouse – we know the problems we have at home affect who we are at work, and must be addressed directly. Similarly, we’re resisting the current over-mobility of our culture – moving around the world for school and jobs. Instead we’re seeking a deep relationship with a specific location, and technology can aid us in this. Of course, telecommuting and similar technology is still not available to all – we can’t assume it’s a common ground.

This model really is emerging – many of us in this room are still in Sue’s model, some, perhaps, in Ed’s, perhaps a combination of two or three. But I believe that most people 20 and younger are living primarily in Alex’s model. Facebook can be an example, here, as well. There is serious concern about what of our personal lives might end up on Facebook and affect our current or future employment. But the teenagers I know with Facebook accounts are not concerned about a picture of them with a beer affecting their future work opportunities. This may be youthful ignorance or short-sightedness. It may be a desire for complete authenticity. It surely is a combination of both. And this integration will only increase as the technology that fuels it advances, and as people relish their integrated lives.

What do you want as a leader in the church? To keep parts of your life fully private? To live a life that can’t be criticized? To live in a community that sees all of who you are, accepts you fully, and joins you on an authentic journey toward wholeness?

What narrative do you tell with authority that the world needs to hear?

How is your life boundaried? How is your life integrated?

 

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United Without Confusion and Without Mixture: An approach to Brethren Ecclesiology

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In 2008 the Church of the Brethren hosted a gathering of Young Adults as part of the continuing conversations about ministerial leadership. The goal of the gathering was to discuss the emerging realities for the church as the denomination discerned the needs for a new system of calling ministers. Each of the sessions began with prepared presentations and a series of questions for those gathered to discuss around their tables. After the event, a Minute was prepared from the conversations. Brethren Life and Thought will publish a number of the presentations here over the course of several weeks.

The following presentation was prepared and offered by Joshua Brockway.

There comes a time in the life of every member of the Church of the Brethren which arises as a kind of rite of passage. Inevitably someone has asked, or will ask, each of us where we go to church. To which we name our local congregation; Something Church of the Brethren. It’s the puzzled look on the face of the questioner that lets you know you have reached this rite of passage. “So, what religion is that?” Now, I am not venturing into the discussion of our name but simply saying that trying to explain the Church of the Brethren is an endeavor that is akin to explaining Cold Fusion. So we really dumb down the answer and say something we think they will understand: “Oh, we’re like the Mennonites.” Or we get historically and theologically accurate and say (in one breath): “Well we are part of the Radical Pietist movement as it took shape in the late 17th early 18th century in Germany. We also took much of our thinking and practice from the Anabaptist groups that often resided in the places where we fled to when local princes and governors began persecuting.” By now the eyes of our inquisitive friend change from puzzled to crossed, and we resort to the simplified response: “Well, we are kind of like the Mennonites.”

For any who have read Carl Bowman’s recent survey of the Brethren this is not just an anecdotal example.1 The numbers are showing that we indeed barely know who we are. When those surveyed were asked about topics from our denominational tagline, that is Peacemaking, Simplicity and Community, it was clear that a growing element of our membership does not identify with traditional “markers.” I do not want to engage in a conversation about so-called core testimonies or markers of Brethren identity, but to simply ask how it is that we understand ourselves as a Church. Unfortunately, the study is also showing us that a more reliable identifier of our members is where we fall in terms of issues in the political landscape of the United States. I also do not want to venture into the pile of issues which divide us, but to wade rather into that which defines us as the Church. In that spirit of asking and wading, I will argue two things: First, that our way of thinking about our Radical Pietist and Anabaptist elements is too often defined by our political and economic culture. Second, and more constructive I want to offer a Christological re-interpretation of those same elements.

Part of the Culture question we wrestle with as a tradition within the left wing of the Reformation is to ask what defines us, both as individuals and as the Church. In the last year the economic crisis has revealed an answer, at least in terms of the American context. Our social order, the bedrock of our culture is the economic exchange between persons. Art, education, and science are all grounded by the exchange of goods or services for money. In the past, persons involved in these vocations shaped their context. Today such influence is limited or enhanced based on the practitioner’s ability to return on the investment of finances of others. A quick look around the news stands or the television news channels and we see that the primary mode of understanding is in terms of exchange, money, goods, services, credit and debit. This frame of economics is the new totalizing force in culture. We might, as good Brethren, argue this is not the case for the Church. Yet, consider the way we discuss evangelism and service: The common thread becomes the sharing of services, the selling of our faith, the buying into a particular community by a person, or even the removal of buying power when a member leaves. Let’s be brutally honest here, how much of our anxiety over the decline in membership is a fiscal fear, an anxiety over the market value of our tradition. We would like to say that our culture, our thought, and our practices are defined solely by the vision of the Kingdom of God in scripture. It is clear, however, that the wider culture of money has a tremendous impact on our way of understanding the Church.

This kind of exchange model is not new for the understanding of society. In birth pains of the Enlightenment Jean-Jacques Rousseau formulated a theory of government which has defined the American landscape ever since. His theoretical discussion of “Social Contract” described political agreements as a process of exchange. As a basis of this theory Rousseau begins with the Individual, who, in his state of nature, is free and autonomous, attentive to his own needs. This Individual only enters into a community for ego-centric needs. That is, the community offers something which the Individual cannot provide for himself, and so the Individual relinquishes some of his freedom in exchange for the good of the community. The initial example of such a pact comes quickly in Book 1 of Social Contact making heavy use of the image of a family. Here he says that children only remain attached to the father “so long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as the need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved.”2

Though Rousseau is working within a conception of authority, politics, and governance his theory is, at its core, an economic one. Some have appropriated Rousseau’s theory for thinking about the Church. These ecclesiological theories present an individual’s participation in a community as a rational choice, a kind of cost benefit analysis. Thus, when a seeker enters the doors of the Church building, they immediately and subconsciously begin weighing the benefits and losses on an imaginary scale. On each side of the scale first impressions are weighted against the theological ideas, which are then weighted against factors as rudimentary as how far the building is from home. The individual then buys into the community based on this cost-benefit equation. Will this community give as much if not more than it asks of the seeker? Only the individual can decide. Rousseau’s Social Contract helps highlight two underlying assumptions within these kinds of ecclesiological theories; 1) primacy of the individual and 2) that this same individual must give up elements of his freedom to take part in the community.

When we consider the murmurs of a split within the denomination these two assumptions come right to the forefront of the debate. When the larger community is seen as no longer offering the needed services or for that matter contradicts the values of the individual, the only valid option seems to be to break the bonds of the relationship.3 Lest you think I am making too much of this economic example, think back to my longwinded description of the Brethren above. When we say that the Brethren are some kind of mix between Radical Pietism and Anabaptism how do we understand these two traditions interacting? Most often the two are portrayed in constant tension, as if the spirituality of the individual is some how trampled by doctrine and practice of the community, or that the decisions of the larger community have no impact on individual practice. In a more concrete example look at what the Radical Pietist marker of “No Force in Religion” has come to mean in terms of Annual Conference Statements: If the delegates agree with me, then the statement has weight, if not, then there is no need to follow what it says. I wish I could say this is new, but the reality is that this is how many of our Brethren scholars have interpreted the relationship between the Anabaptist and Radical Pietist elements of our tradition. Unfortunately, it is more reflective of American conceptions of democracy and social contract than it represents the Christian witness.4

So how else can we talk about these two elements our tradition which does not place them in opposition to one another? As a student of the Early Church one easily comes to mind. In the sixth century the Church wrestled with the relationship of the divine in the human being of Jesus of Nazareth. Without presenting an exhaustive survey of creedal developments or various Christological formulations, it is important to note what the definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451) tried to avoid. On one hand it rejected monophysitism – that is, when only one of the natures, divine or human, is present or where they are so united as to created a third kind of being. On the other hand the council set out of bounds any rejection of either the humanity or the divinity of Jesus Christ. Basically the council stated that Christ is “acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being.” In a really simplified version, you can’t talk about Christ the man without also talking about Christ the Divine.

In many ways we need to be able to say the same thing about the Church of the Brethren, that the Radical Pietist and Anabaptist, the individual and the community are one and the same. This is to say that the Rousseau-like tension, where the individual must relinquish much to be a part of the faith community, or that the faith community must see itself as a distributor of religious goods, has to be exorcised from the way be think about “Being and Doing Church.” How is it that we can talk about individual Christians without the frame of a community, and how is it that we talk of the Church as if it is not comprised of faithful people? To adopt a Chalcedonian ecclesiology is to finally recognize that there is no individual Christian without a Church, and there is no Church without individuals.

Anthropologists, ritual theorists, liturgical theologians and even philosophers all in many ways understand this Chalcedonian way of being a community. In their own ways these thinkers describe the way community practices such as worship and even a congregational potluck shape the way people think about the world. What they have not grasped is that these communities are comprised of individuals whose very experiences of life give content to these ritual structures. What we as Brethren hold in “tension” is really a way of working out the age old dichotomy of the individual and the collective. In a way we have been trying to do what these theorists only pondered. Yet, we get stuck in a way of thinking that is based on the economic and political models of the North American context and constantly fight about the authority of the denomination and the freedom of the individual. Our own grounding in Jesus Christ offers us a way to see the dynamic interplay of communal formation and individual participation that reaches beyond what politics and money can offer. To understand our way of being and doing Church in incarnational terms – that is, two natures united without mixture and without confusion – we arrive at a uniquely Christian way of thinking about the world and ourselves. So when we are asked about who the Brethren are, maybe we finally say with some conviction that we are an incarnational people. That seems to me to be the best starting point for any discussion.

1 Carl Desportes Bowman, Portrait of a People: The Church of the Brethren at 300 (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 2008).

2 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract, Bk 1.2.

3 See Greg Davidson Laszakovits, “I Am Not Saying…I’m Just Saying…” in Messenger November 2008, vol 157.10. Though Davidson Laszakovits does not follow the typical formula for discussing the prospects for division he does confirm the social contract approach to ecclesiology. The thesis of his editorial asks if the factions within the Church of the Brethren could minister more effectively and energetically if there were to be an amicable split. In essence, the individual desires for ministry are hindered by remaining in the denominational community.

4 Meier, Marcus. “Anabaptist and Pietist Influences on the Early Brethren.” In Lines, Places, and Heritage: Essays Commemorating the 300th Anniversary of the Church of the Brethren, eds. Steven Longenecker and Jeff Bach (Bridgewater, VA: Penobscot Press, 2008), 157–68. Meier recently argued in this essay that the historical evidence shows that the two traditions were not as distinct as we have often portrayed them. Instead, the Radical Pietists and Anabaptists mutually influenced one another.

  1. Carl Desportes Bowman, Portrait of a People: The Church of the Brethren at 300 (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 2008). []
  2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract, Bk 1.2. []
  3. See Greg Davidson Laszakovits, “I Am Not Saying…I’m Just Saying…” in Messenger November 2008, vol 157.10. Though Davidson Laszakovits does not follow the typical formula for discussing the prospects for division he does confirm the social contract approach to ecclesiology. The thesis of his editorial asks if the factions within the Church of the Brethren could minister more effectively and energetically if there were to be an amicable split. In essence, the individual desires for ministry are hindered by remaining in the denominational community. []
  4. Meier, Marcus. “Anabaptist and Pietist Influences on the Early Brethren.” In Lines, Places, and Heritage: Essays Commemorating the 300th Anniversary of the Church of the Brethren, eds. Steven Longenecker and Jeff Bach (Bridgewater, VA: Penobscot Press, 2008), 157–68. Meier recently argued in this essay that the historical evidence shows that the two traditions were not as distinct as we have often portrayed them. Instead, the Radical Pietists and Anabaptists mutually influenced one another. []
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