Interrogating an Anabaptist: Matthew Yoder

In my second installment of Interrogating an Anabaptist I will highlight a good Facebook friend of mine named Matthew Yoder. I first ran across Matthew in an unusual manner, it began with some angry Neo-Reformed blogger criticizing Progressive Neo-anabaptism (I can’t recall which blog it was now) and while reading the comments I saw some responses from a guy named “Matthew Yoder”. His comments to the blogger were pretty interesting and I said to myself “I would like to have a conversation with that guy one day.” I did not run out trying to track him down I figured that he would show up somewhere on Facebook sooner or later on one of my Neo-Anabaptist friends’ pages.

Sure enough while going through the newsfeed one day I saw a post by my fellow MennoNerd Tíler Mícheál Ó Maoltuile (Tyler Tully) the author of The Jesus Event, I saw some comments from Matthew. I sent a friend request and after a ton of discussions and arguments here, I am presenting Q&A with my dialogue partner Matthew Yoder.

maty

Matthew Yoder is a graduate of Bethel College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biblical Studies and Theology and Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University for his Masters of Divinity. He was ordained by the Missionary Church March 5, 2006, and has served in several pastorates at Bethel Missionary Church and Liberty Community Church in Goshen, Indiana. He is currently a pastor of Clinton Frame Mennonite Church. Matthew’s blog can be found at:

The Wandering Anabaptist: Reflections from an Evangelical Anabaptist Perspective

Matthew can you share with the readers a little about yourself?

The way that I best describe my upbringing is that I can never remember a time in my life when I didn’t love Jesus.  A huge reason for that is the amazing legacy of faith of my parents and grandparents and I recognize the fact that I have been greatly blessed in this regard. These influences were a major reason why I accepted Christ as a child and continue to seek to be transformed each and every day into the image of Christ.

In terms to my call to ministry – that happened when I was a freshman at Purdue University. I was originally studying Political Science with a minor in pre-law but about halfway through my first semester sensed a call to the ministry. It actually took me quite some time to come to grips with my call because I didn’t think that I was really gifted in all of the things that I thought ministers did or should be doing. But in an effort to be faithful I transferred to Bethel College (IN) and through the years have had that calling affirmed in my life in numerous ways. I served in various pastoral positions in the Missionary Church for the first thirteen years of ministry and am now serving in a Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana.

When I first became acquainted with you on Facebook you described yourself as a “Evangelical Anabaptist”. What exactly is Evangelical Anabaptism?

I actually prefer the term – Angelical – but since I haven’t been able to get that to catch on then I suppose I’ll live with Evangelical Anabaptist. I guess that I would say that an evangelical Anabaptist is someone who sees a concern both with individual conversion as well as discipleship within a community of believers. Harold Bender noted that Anabaptists were concerned less about the plan of salvation and more about the life of discipleship. I would respond by saying that I think that both are important.

In the last ten years since I’ve began to identify myself as an Evangelical Anabaptist I have seen the term more and more from others. I think that at its heart is a great appreciation for Anabaptist beliefs with also a strong evangelical zeal to share the Good News with others.

Historically “evangelical” was attributed to Protestants not Anabaptists. In your opinion why do you think it is proper for an Anabaptist to take upon themselves this designation?

I think historically it’s important to realize that Anabaptists and Evangelicals have influenced each other in a number of ways. I would actually make the argument that Conrad Grebel – as representative of Anabaptist beliefs – was the second most influential Reformer behind Martin Luther.  Whether the issue is adult baptism, the separation of church and state, a lower view of the sacraments, etc., I think one can see the influence of Anabaptism in modern Evangelicalism.

As well, I think evangelical is one of those terms that can be used to define people from various traditions. When it comes to understanding what evangelicalism is, I like Michael Bird’s (2013) definition in his Evangelical Theology: “a historic and global phenomenon that seeks to achieve renewal in Christian churches by bringing the church into conformity to the gospel and by promoting the gospel in the mission of the church.” Now, the cardinal points of this he rightly notes are emphases on: conversion, activism in proclaiming the gospel, an emphasis on the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and a crucicentrism that focuses on the atoning work of Christ. If these are bad things, then I suppose that I have no problem allowing myself to be designated by the term. Does my understanding of these points take on an Anabaptist flavor that would differ from some evangelicals? Of course, but I don’t have a problem with the term itself. I think we have far more that brings us together than that separates us.

Today the name evangelical has a lot of baggage. Why do you feel it is wise to take it upon yourself now?

I would say that both terms – Evangelical and Anabaptist – carry a lot of baggage with them depending on who someone is talking to. But most times when I tell people that I am an Evangelical Anabaptist their next response is, “What is that?” In that way it allows me to explain my beliefs to people without the preconceptions. I’ve had more than one person say to me, “I never realized that I might be an evangelical Anabaptist too!” So no, I don’t think there’s a lot of baggage that comes when I use both terms together.

How is being a pastor of a Mennonite church different from any past pastoral positions?

maty_preachingI’ve only been in MCUSA for about four months and the denomination that I previously served has Mennonite roots and so the differences are probably not as stark as it could be. Perhaps the biggest difference is how we relate to each other in a denominational setting and how leadership functions. My previous denomination – although having a similar polity – has a bit more of a top-down approach in terms of how leaders function. I don’t think that’s necessarily a better or worse thing, but it is different.

Do you think it is important to read and study the original Anabaptist writings, if so how often do you engage in such activities?

I would say that unless we have an understanding of where we’ve come from then we can’t fully understand where we’re going and why. And so from that standpoint I would say it’s important to have an understanding of all of Church history – including Anabaptist history. I believe that by doing so we can stand firm on some theological foundations as well as prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes over and over again.

Now, whether that understanding comes from reading them directly or reading about them – I think that’s up for the individual. Although I certainly respect many of the early Anabaptists, I am also not willing to say that I agree 100% with everything that they’ve written or thought. They weren’t perfect and I don’t think we should set them up as such.

As a Mennonite pastor do you see any place or purpose at present regarding the ban?

If you are referencing the practice of shunning – then no, I do not see a place for that. I grew up in Amish country and saw this in practice a lot and more often than not it was done as a means to shame the person. In fact, more often than not the way it has been practiced is not over issues of sin but rather because someone left the Amish church. I have had both people in my church and friends whose families left the Amish church and were cut off from loved ones because they simply left the church. Now, by all means, I believe in the importance of church discipline, but I don’t think that should mean that we completely cut off our relationships with people and I think that it should be focused on issues of sin.

Recently there has been much controversy regarding an aspect of the Mennonite church licensing of a lesbian “pastor”. What are your thoughts on the matter?

In many ways I’m still learning about Mennonite polity and so I’m not sure if I can fully answer this along those lines. I would say that it raises some really important questions about what it means to be Mennonite. Is our shared identity only an ethnic one or is it according to a core set of beliefs? How do churches relate to conferences and how do conferences relate to the larger denomination? What role does communal discernment play in being able to go discern something that is at odds with a teaching position of the Confession of Faith?

Now, I realize that this has been an ongoing struggle within MCUSA for about a quarter of a century and no doubt there are many on each side of this issue who are concerned about where we are as a denomination. If we could take the specific issue out of the equation – it seems that a conference discerned something that was outside of the current Confession of Faith. My next question would be what a conference is theoretically able to discern that might be at odds with the communal Confession of Faith? Although someone may agree fully with Mountain State’s decision and their ability to make this choice, I think that it ultimately establishes a precedent that – when applied to a different issue – may bring about a completely different reaction by those same people.

Another hot button issue is John Howard Yoder. Can you share your thoughts on a few points such as: Do you think the discipline he received was enough or should something more have occurred?

I mourn in several ways over what happened. I mourn for the women whom he abused and for the devastation that it wrought in their lives. Although I do not fully know the timeline of what happened and who knew what and when – I mourn that there was not something done sooner as well. I mourn as well for his family who must re-live his struggles once again.

In terms of his discipline – I don’t personally know the process that he went through or what it entailed. I think that is partially what this discernment group may be looking into. I do know that his credentials were restored and I trust that the leadership at the time knew what they were doing – although I understand that perhaps not everyone may be able to say that. I believe that our efforts now should be turned toward making sure something like this is never allowed to happen again and to work to bring healing for the victims. Other than that I do not feel that I know enough to adequately speak into the situation.

In private conversations with others some have expressed that it is not right to use a dead man’s name and image as the poster child for sexual abuse even though he underwent church discipline. Do you agree with these thoughts?

I am not sure if I ever want to define anyone by his or her sin alone. It is one thing to acknowledge what happened but I feel that it is entirely different to define his entire legacy by it.

What is your opinion regarding women serving as pastors?

I love it and I’m all for it.

What is your method of sermon preparation and how much time do you invest in it?

I would say that the typical sermon preparation for me will last anywhere from twelve to fifteen hours. Normally I begin on Monday by studying the original language, culture, context, and theology of a passage. After I have a good understanding of the text I spend the next three days thinking about the passage, allowing God to speak to me personally, and to attempting to discern the ways in which I feel that God wants to speak to us as a community.

After spending the week thinking and praying about the passage, I will typically spend Friday writing it out in an expanded outline. I am typically a narrative preacher that only has a singular point each and every week and so everything will reolve around that singular point or emphasis. I will typically follow Andy Stanley’s Me/You/God/You/We sermon outline form when organizing my thoughts into a roadmap of beginning, middle and end. And then on Saturday evening I will then go to the church and practice in the sanctuary to work out the kinks and ensure that what I put on paper will actually flow well together. By the time that I’ve done all of this I normally thought so much about the sermon and made it such a part of me that I have it memorized by Sunday morning and am able to deliver it without notes.

Finally, what advice can you offer your fellow pastors regarding the ministry?

I have lots of things that I could say on both a humorous and serious level. By and large though I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that life is too short to be miserable. I think we spend vastly too much time, energy, and resources trying to please people who will never be content or happy and I think it takes away from the work of ministry in other areas. I think as well that so often we serve in ministries that become a job to us over time and we do things for a paycheck instead of serving in an area where God may have gifted, equipped, and given us the passion to do. I’m not saying that ministry should never be difficult or heartbreaking; just that I think it shouldn’t constantly be miserable. I think this has led to a tremendous amount of pastoral burnout over the years and I mourn that we have lost so many who are gifted and equipped over the years.

 

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