My church journey in and out of Mennonite and Pentecostal traditions begins before I was born. Because of a thoughtless and frankly embarrassing comment from the pulpit toward her at age 15, my mother left the Mennonite church at the age of 18.
She and my father raised their children in evangelical churches until emotional healing finally came from a church plant in New Holland, Pennsylvania, USA. Interestingly enough, though classed as non-denominational, this congregation was planted by Mennonites and was marked by the gifts of the Holy Spirit which sprang from the Pentecostal movement.
After leaving for Bible school, my own church journey took me through a spectrum of movements that some might find uncomfortable at the very least and others name as cult-like at worst. I finally found stability when I based my faith not on a movement or denomination but rather my relationship with God and in the study of God’s Word.
Anabaptist research opens questions
Also interestingly, it’s precisely because of research I did on Anabaptist history, a movement which emphasized the principles of truth from the Word, pacifism and social justice, that I began to question some things. Why did both Pentecostal and Mennonite movements back-burner things that were hallmarks of the other’s movement when good things clearly sprang out of them?
For example, why did it seem charismatic churches sent their children to Mennonite and Calvinist camps to memorize Scripture and learn more Bible stories?
On the other hand, why does it seem Mennonite preachers often relegate teaching on the Holy Spirit to a brushed off sermon once or twice a year?
Although there are secondary doctrinal issues that define us differently as Pentecostals and Mennonites, eventually I realized it doesn’t have to be an “either/ or” mentality but a “both/and.”
Pentecostal zeal enlivens faith
This realization came when I researched the history of the Anabaptist movement and I saw the zeal that fired up so many in the early days of the movement to give up their lives for the truth that they believed. It changed my thinking because I realized that their fire was as much- if not morezeal for the Lord then I experienced in any Pentecostal or charismatic church.
In my own history, more than one ancestor lost entire families for not backing down on their Protestant beliefs in France, or fled Germany with other persecuted Anabaptists.
Just as my own mother’s journey came full-circle to receive emotional and spiritual healing through a Mennonite church plant, so my family’s healing continues through the places God is leading me. Now I serve on the leadership team of a multi-cultural international church in Halle, Germany, planted through cooperation between Verband Deutsche Mennoniten, Eastern Mennonite Mission and Deutsches Mennonitisches Missionskomitee.
Balance guides multi-cultural welcome
The balance I’ve learned of acknowledging the Holy Spirit as much as loving the Father in Jesus Christ as a living and active part of the God I worship has served me well.
At Soli Deo Church, we offer services in multiple languages at almost every gathering including Sunday services, so we’ve learned we need a similar balance. We have to be patient and be open with people from all sorts of different backgrounds as much as they have to be patient with us.
There is a balance between holding onto our beliefs that may be based on Western church culture and recognizing that other cultures have an expression of Jesus inside of them that is based on their backgrounds as they come to the Father through the Son and the Holy Spirit. We may look different, but we are one as we look toward Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Learning to listen to each other in love is so important. Some who have joined us are not comfortable with overt expressions of the Holy Spirit that came out of the Pentecostal movement while others find it essential to their belief practice. And yet both groups have found a home with us. They all want to worship together, so we find a way where some would say there is no way.
It is precisely the appreciation of Anabaptist principles of following Jesus held in balance with the spontaneity of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit that equips me to help lead an international church.
That kind of love and appreciation of differences is the very message of the gospel and is what keeps us fellowshipping together despite our multi-cultural backgrounds. And I believe learning this balance will thrust us into the next big movement of God on this earth.
—Kellie Swope is a member of the leadership team of Soli Deo Church, a Mennonite church in Halle, Germany.