How do our member churches express the MWC Shared Convictions in beautiful, local variety throughout our global body?
The October 2016 issue of Courier/Correo/Courrier seeks to discern the variety of reasons why Anabaptist communities from around the world come together to form MWC. In the articles that follow, writers reflect on the question: How does Christ’s love for us motivate and guide our response to strangers in our local context?
Centring Jesus amid changing times
The church in North America is experiencing rapid change. Many are saying that the changes are as great as those experienced in the Great Reformation of the 16th century. Traditional beliefs are being questioned. Former structures are no longer working. New forms of church are emerging. In times of change, basic convictions provide courage, stability and a basis for new directions. The seven Shared Convictions of Global Anabaptists help to provide that kind of foundation. Jesus is Lord
In some of our churches, there is a new emphasis – central to the new reformation – on Jesus as Lord. Just as our Anabaptist forebears rediscovered a living Jesus after he had for centuries been enshrined in mystery and ritual, so there is today a stronger emphasis on following a living Jesus in everyday life. Often Jesus as Lord is emphasized even more than is Jesus as Saviour; it is from following other lords that we need to be saved!
The statement, “Jesus is the Son of God” in Shared Conviction # 2 is often misunderstood, especially by my Muslim friends. There are approximately 13,000 persons of this faith in the Canadian community where I live. They tend to understand Son of God in terms of biology and procreation rather than in terms of closeness of relationship. I prefer to say “Jesus, the Messiah, is the best way to understand God.” My Muslim friends can understand and affirm Jesus as a human who was filled with the Spirit of God. That can lead to dialogue concerning how we open our lives to a nurturing, empowering, revealing God through Jesus Christ.
Jesus is peace
We have many divisions and disagreements here in North America that can be traced to different approaches to interpreting Scripture. Some members and churches have a rather literal and flat approach to the Bible. They tend to accept teachings of the Old Testament and the Epistles as equal to the teachings of Jesus.
Shared Conviction #4 is helpful in encouraging us to interpret the Scriptures in the light of Jesus Christ. We are distressed by the gun culture that has emerged in the United State and how it is leading to violence. Shared Conviction #5, which emphasizes peacemaking, justice and the sharing of resources, needs continual emphasis.
During the Vietnam War, the Western District of the General Conference Mennonite Church (USA) conducted pre-draft boot camps which all 17-year-old young men in the area were asked to attend. These sessions clearly taught causes of conflict and the biblical basis for peace. Most participants chose alternatives to war. We need new and creative ways today to teach each other and our young people the ways of peace.
Jesus is teacher
A continuing question in North America and likely around the world is, “How can we strengthen our unique Anabaptist understandings of the Christian faith while also stressing unity with other Christian groups?
How can we become stronger in our faith without becoming competitive and critical toward Christians of other persuasions or people of other faiths?” Parallel to MWC’s Shared Convictions are three concise core values: “Jesus is the Centre of our Faith,” “Community is the Centre of our Life,” and “Reconciliation is the Centre of our Work.” These three core values, which were foundational to the Anabaptist movement and the early church, have come to renewed prominence through the booklet,
What is an Anabaptist Christian? published by Mennonite Mission Network in 2008 and now translated into more than 20 languages. Mennonite Church USA has used the three core values as a basis for its long-term purposeful plan. Numerous congregations have used them in their brochures to state their identity. Pastors have preached sermons on the themes and study groups have found the booklet to be helpful to explain what it means to be Christian.
Dann Pantoja of PeaceBuilders Community Inc. in the Philippines reports, “We have adopted it as our worldview.” After a workshop in Thailand, participants said, “Now we finally know what it means to be a Mennonite Christian!” As we teach the Shared Convictions and the three core values, I believe it is imperative to admit that none of us has the whole truth. We need to learn from each other. As we deepen our understandings together, we all become stronger.
The Shared Convictions of Global Anabaptists state clearly what we believe. These beliefs help to determine our feelings toward God, each other and the whole earth. These feelings in turn help to direct our actions. The first Christians and the early Anabaptists lived their beliefs with courage even if it meant persecution and death. May these convictions also help to fill us with the love and courage we need to live according to Jesus in these changing times.
Palmer Becker has spent a lifetime serving the church as a pastor, church planter, missionary, conference executive and educator. He is author of What is an Anabaptist Christian? and Anabaptist Essentials...Ten signs of a Unique Christian Faith (forthcoming). Palmer and his wife Ardys live in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. They are the parents of four grown children.