A Glimpse of the Kingdom: Reflections from the Mennonite World Conference’s Global Youth Summit

Image via Lani Prunés.

Over 400 participants from all continents (barring Antarctica) gathered on Messiah College’s campus in Harrisburg, Pa., to further their understanding of Anabaptist teachings while exploring what it means to be a part of the global church during the 2015 Global Youth Summit, under the theme, “Called to Share: My Gifts, Our Gifts.” Participants engaged in deep learning through workshops led by professors and historians, connected to their history through historical Mennonite tours all over Pennsylvania where they visited museums and Mennonite churches and met Amish families, and tapped into their musical side with globally-infused worship.   

My role as the North America representative for the summit (which coincided with the 2015 Mennonite World Conference) meant meeting with delegates on an individual basis — the delegates being representatives from global conferences. It meant hearing stories about home churches and struggles with governments, and discussions about theologically Anabaptist responses to violence and change in all four corners of the earth.

And, of course, it meant witnessing people randomly break out in song and dance. Both a boisterous drum circle and competitive games of Dutch Blitz lasted well into the night.

Waiting Faithfully

Christian faith involves waiting with confidence. Photo via Wittybear/

What does the Christian life consist of? What does God expect from us?

Here’s Jesus’ answer, according to Matthew’s Gospel: “Wait faithfully. Together. Or else.”

Sure, that isn’t an exact quotation, but it sums up — again, according to Matthew — what Jesus says to his followers when he instructs them about how they should live after he has departed from this earth.

Let me address the “or else” part first. That usually attracts the greatest attention.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus seems a little infatuated with judgment and retribution. At the conclusion of each of the four parables he tells within Matthew 24:45-25:46, the section that comes just before the plot to seize and kill him springs into action, certain characters don’t fare so well. They are cast out to where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” locked out of a banquet by the guy who presumably invited them in the first place, tossed into “outer darkness,” or punished in “eternal fire.” Along with the book of Revelation, Matthew’s Gospel has generated a large share of distress through the centuries.

Are these promises about judgment authentic warnings spoken by an uncomfortably stern Jesus, or are they brutal revenge fantasies put into his mouth by ancient Christian communities that had lost the ability to trust their own members or to put up with differing opinions and practices? We may never know.

A Summit for Change

IN JUNE, SOJOURNERS decided to take part in a little experiment. What would happen if 300 faith and social justice leaders gathered together for a few days to discuss some of the most pressing issues of our time? Our first ever Summit, under the leadership of chief strategy officer Timothy King, had as its tagline: “World Change through Faith and Justice.” Only time will tell how this experiment will play out in the long run, but in the short term I would consider it a great success.

Held over four days in June at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the conference brought together 296 leaders from churches, faith-based organizations, NGOs, media outlets, business, and politics. Fifty-three percent of attendees were female, and half were people of color; they were drawn from a wide range of Christian and other religious and spiritual backgrounds.

On the first night, when I saw who was there, I knew the Summit was going to be a powerful and wonderful time. Some participants were local Washingtonians. Others came from as far away as Ethiopia to attend. The group included icons of the social justice movement such as Ron Sider, Marie Dennis, Yvonne Delk, Otis Moss Jr., and Tony Campolo as well as newer leaders such as Otis Moss III, Rachel Marie Stone, and Daniel Varghese, a Georgetown undergraduate who celebrated the Summit’s “radical egalitarianism.” As Timothy King mentioned in our opening session, the group looked a lot like the kingdom of God!

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God Sets the World Right

EVER SINCE ADAM AND EVE ate themselves out of house and home, we’ve experienced a brokenness in our lives. Rather than offer praise for God’s wondrous acts, we attempt to build God’s kingdom ourselves. Rather than tell of God’s greatness, we whine that religious obligation demands too much. Rather than involve ourselves in the community, we divide into factions over whether we should work or pray, wait or proceed. Still trying to be more god-like than accepting the assignment to bear God’s image in the world, we attempt to make a name for ourselves. The result? Human-initiated plans cast in language that parodies God’s own plan, pitting human counsel against divine. Setting nation against nation.

Pentecost marks a special occasion in the life of the Christian community. This extraordinary record of what we call the “birthday of the church” is less often noted as the 50th day after Passover—a day to pause, gather, and remember the great acts of God. Passover marks the liberation of the enslaved children of Israel from Egyptian oppression, and Pentecost is the moment “the Holy Spirit is poured out by God ... to empower the church to advance Christ’s mission to the very ends of the earth,” as David P. Gushee puts it.

The Pentecost mission involves patience with God’s timing, which is submission to God’s will. Meanwhile, rather than looking up for Christ’s return, we look for opportunities to be evidence that the kingdom has come.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

[ JUNE 1 ]
A Thousand Hints of Hope
Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68: 1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

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Letter to a Kingdom Citizen

Visitor, LitDenis /

Visitor, LitDenis /

A common sentiment that’s expressed by both the left and the right on the issue of immigration reform is that immigrants need to prove their faithful adherence to the law and contribution to society before they’re put on some path to citizenship. It's redemption by works. It’s a reasonable means to verify their willingness to contribute to society. But a disconcerting irony dawned on me amid all this mutual give-and-take language we hear about immigrants; that is, many citizens themselves do not heed the same exhortation to contribute to their country today.

This is encouraged by the fact that citizenship today is identified entirely by a piece of paper, not by a way of life — by ink, not by deed. Although one’s citizenship technically includes a whole list of rights and duties, the fulfillment of these rights and duties is not a part of the identification process. This is understandable, as it’s very difficult to tell whether someone is trying to contribute to the state or merely trying to get what they can out of their legal privileges. I'm not out to start a Civil Reformation or something. But these thoughts have reminded me that the standard the Bible sets for Christian citizenship in heaven is something else entirely.

New Calvinists today have hammered home the doctrine of justification by faith through grace, not by works or legalistic moralism. Kingdom citizenship is claimed by faith in Christ. Got it.

Yet, Scripture is emphatic that Kingdom citizenship is not identified by faith alone, but also by works.

Wallis and Mohler Debate Social Justice and the Gospel

What was most telling about the disagreement between the two men was their discussion of Luke 4. Mohler argued the passage should be understood in light of how he interpreted the preaching and teaching of Paul and the other apostles. This means that when Jesus said that he came to bring good news to the poor that good news was personal salvation.

Wallis argued that yes, personal salvation is one part of that good news, but that the other part is the Kingdom of God breaking into the world and transforming societal relationships as well. When the Gospel is proclaimed, it is good news for a poor person's entire being, community and world -- not just his or her soul.

First, it was encouraging to hear Mohler spend a lot of time emphasizing that working for justice is essential to fulfillment of the Great Commission. Throughout the night he repeated his concern that a lot of Churches are REALLY bad at making disciples who actually do the things Jesus told us to do. As the president of one of the largest seminaries in the world, it will be interesting to see if he is able to train a generation of pastors who will do things differently. My concern is that he is missing the connection between his theology and the failure of Christians to actually do justice.

Andrew Marin answers, "What is an Evangelical?"


The reason the word Evangelical has become so poisonous is because the answer to the above question comes from a conversion-based model of cultural engagement - political, theological and social. Too many Christians believe, and have wrongly been taught, that those "others" and "opposites" who have made an active choice not to believe in "our" teachings are justifiably: 1) left to their own devices as we wash our hands of them because of their bad choice (think in terms of blood-on-their-own-head); or 2) uninformed, so much so that their "no" is an illegitimate answer.

Evangelicals care more about positions -- whether progressive or conservative -- than people. We lack nuance. We have become either all Scripture or all Justice. I don't know where the balance was lost in terms of holding Scripture in high authority and, simultaneously, loving with reckless abandon?