I once had a conversation with a Mennonite man who idolizes his wife and children.
I told him he was unloving towards me, and, as one careful to meet his religious duties, he was perplexed—what more could he do?
He remarked that he can’t love me with a romantic love (I never suggested to him that I wanted a card on Valentine’s Day) and then asked me how I wanted to be loved by him.
So I asked him for brotherly love and quoted an example from Scripture:
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. (2 Samuel 1:26)
He thought that was preposterous.
He loves his wife very much, he has made his own biological offspring his main mission in life, and for him to love me more would be impossible.
He did not truly love me as a brother and could not because he lacked authentic faith.
Why do Mennonites fail to deliver true brotherhood?
Mennonites take pride in their greater commitment to each other and the concept of a brotherhood of believers. The comparison they like to make is between themselves and those whom they dismiss as being nominal Christians.
The assumption seems to be that church attendance equates to brotherhood. And, since we compare favorably to those who only attend church on Christmas and Easter, we are doing well. Besides that, we continue to go through the motions of servanthood (with a ceremonial foot-washing) and even do it twice a year.
But honestly, that is pathetic.
People only compare themselves to those downstream from them because they are making an excuse to be pathetic.
If you want to be more than pathetic you compare yourself to the perfect example and pursue that. Mennonites fail to deliver on true brotherhood because their own pride blinds them from the possibility that they are falling short and could actually do better.
They lack the faith to break with their religious status quo and shoot for the impossible.
What is true brotherhood?
It is a shame conservative Mennonites shun competitive sports. If they had learned to commit to others like high school athletes must dedicate themselves to a team then they might know something of the potential for brotherhood.
I have a cousin who just returned from his years of active duty in the military. He says that while the challenges were tough, he will miss the comradery and brotherhood.
In practical terms, this means falling on a grenade to save your buddies (or just something as mundane as taking the time to run a lunch out to a brother in arms who forgot his) because in the military the good of the individual is sacrificed for the good of the team. The individual dies when they enter the brotherhood.
The church I’ve been a part of for decades is a disappointment. Many of the so-called leaders are apologists for complacency and promote faithless religious devotion. Instead of being advocates for others (like Paul was for Onesimus) and helping them to carry their burdens as is Christian, these frauds teach that more Bible reading is the answer.
I’m sorry, but vacant promises to pray for each other twice a year while splashing water on each other’s feet is not brotherhood. Telling me that a book is some kind of magic elixir cure for all needs is spiritual ignorance. And the book that these phonies claim to revere says this is not the case very clearly.
What Christian brotherhood should be according to Jesus.
It does not take a high level of reading comprehension to find the central point of the New Testament. The point is to have the kind of faith to live out the self-sacrificial example of Jesus. What this means is following the command to love each other so the world can see clearly that we are his disciples:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
Jesus defines this command to love further:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:12-17)
The idea of dying to self that is expressed in the teachings of Paul is often taught as if it is some kind of religious devotion devoid of a practical end. As if we prove our love for God through emptying ourselves of any and all desire.
But the self-sacrificial love of Jesus is not aimless or vague, it is being “devoted to one another in love” to honor others above ourselves (Romans 12:10) and practicing brotherhood.
Be real or I’m not interested in your words.
The reason the church falls short is because it has compromised love for the brotherhood and made it secondary to family, business, or other personal ambition. But Jesus did not teach individualism. He did not promote patriarchalism either, and instead taught us to be a brotherhood.
The relationship of David and Jonathan is a picture of true brotherly love:
After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:1-4)
Our devotion to brotherly love should not come second. Unfortunately there are many in the church who are not willing to come to the aid of another the same as they would their own family. There are many who put their religious agenda and protecting their own biological progeny above all else.
That is the case with the man I had the conversation with. He is regarded by many as a model citizen; his children do all the ‘right’ Mennonite things and are treated with favoritism, but his family is a bunch of religious self-seekers—like their dad.
The language of brotherhood should not be used lightly. Don’t call me a brother or sister unless you are actually willing to treat me as one. I don’t like being lied to.