From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Church planter promotes pioneer hybrids

Date 21 Feb 2001 10:54:12

February 21, 2001
Beth Hawn
Mennonite Board of Missions
(219) 294-7523

February 21, 2001

Urban church planter promotes pioneer hybrids

ELKHART, Ind. (MBM) – What does an urban church planter from
Britain have to say to North American Mennonites about plant
breeding?  The cross-fertilization that Stuart Murray speaks of
applies to denominations, not seed corn, and the pioneers are
Christians who are willing to step out of their comfort zones.

February has been a busy month for Murray.  Feb. 9-10, he
lectured at Peace Mennonite Church in Portland, Ore., on biblical
hermeneutics in the Anabaptist tradition, the subject of his
doctoral dissertation.  This was a component of the theological
education courses offered by the Pacific Northwest Mennonite
Conference for pastors seeking ordination.  The following
weekend, Murray was in Elgin, Ill., as the keynote speaker for
the conference on church planting arranged by the Anabaptist
Evangelism Council.  Sandwiched between the weekends were
interactions with Mennonite Board of Missions staff in Elkhart
and a lecture at Goshen (Ind.) College.

Murray, director of church planting and evangelism at Spurgeon’s
College in London, is benefiting from a sabbatical year to pray,
reflect, read and travel.  In addition to exotic trips – such as
one to visit a friend engaged in mission work among the Karen
hill tribes of Thailand – Murray is currently on his third visit
to North America in eight months.

In an MBM chapel on Feb. 14, Murray told the story of Peter’s
venture beyond his comfort zone into “the heart of the enemy,”
the home of Cornelius, an “uncircumcised, card-carrying,
pork-eating Gentile.”  Peter and Cornelius were pioneers in a
time of religious crisis, similar to those of our own times.
Currently Britain is grappling with the demise of Christendom,
with only 7.5 percent of the British population attending
church.  Similarly, the Mennonite Church in North America is in a
time of transition as new liaisons are forged and old boundaries
are erased.

“Where are the modern-day Peters who dare to pioneer new ways of
living out the good news of Jesus Christ in changing times?
Don’t squash [them],” Murray warned.  “Yet, [they] sometimes get
things wrong.  They need to submit to discerning communities.

“If you’d ask me to name my denomination, I would struggle,” said
Murray, who grew up in a Plymouth Brethren home, attended an
Anglican school, came to faith in a Methodist church, and
discovered a deeper spirituality in the evangelicals and
charismatics that he met in university.  He is currently teaching
in a Baptist seminary.  However, it wasn’t until he discovered
Anabaptism that led him to the London Mennonite Centre that he
felt he had “come home.”

“Anabaptism gave me a framework that held all the strands of my
faith together,” he said.  “It integrates the significance of the
word with social critique.”

“Hyphenated Anabaptists” is the term that the Anabaptist Network
has coined for Christians such as Murray who choose to remain in
their denominations but discover a theology that promotes living
out the biblical teachings of the centrality of Jesus, the
importance of community, and radical peacemaking.

The Anabaptist Network grew up around the ministry of Alan and
Eleanor Kreider, MBM workers in Britain from 1974-2000.  “Murray
was a co-planter,” said Alan.  “He was the visionary who saw how
it could all come together.”  Since its creation in 1992,
membership has expanded to 550 members throughout Britain.  The
network sponsors study groups and conferences guided by the
vision of being a leavening agent in existing churches, rather
than of planting new Mennonite churches.

Since 1575 when Queen Elizabeth I ordered the banning and burning
of Anabaptists, their voice has been largely silent in Britain.
North American Mennonite mission workers reintroduced that
essential voice to the chorus of Christian voices in Britain.
“However, cross-fertilization is also necessary in North
America,” said Murray.  “I am more excited about Anabaptism than
most North American Mennonites.

“If I had only one word [of advice] for you, it would be
‘Rediscover your roots.  Your historians are the only ones who
are interested in our 16th-century spiritual ancestors.”
Early Anabaptism was a missionary movement, Murray pointed out.
However, he said, evangelistic passion doesn’t sit well with many
North American Mennonites who are committed to living
distinctively and hoping that the surrounding society will
notice.  This approach only works in a society that is already
oriented toward Christianity.

“In a post-Christian age, society has no point of reference by
which to identify the difference,” he said.  “Britain can serve
as a laboratory for North American Christians, as we are one
generation ahead of you in the movement away from being a
Christian nation.”

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