Resource highlight: The Anabaptist Tradition: Reclaiming its Gifts, Heeding its Weaknesses
“The parable of the talents (Mt. 25) invites us, as Anabaptist congregations, to ask ourselves what convictions have been entrusted to us as a treasure from our history, and what things we should readily toss aside in exchange for others.”
On May 29 2025 – three years from now – members of the MWC General Council, ecumenical guests, and a host of friends from around the world will gather in Zurich, Switzerland, for a day-long commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the first baptisms that marked the beginning of the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement.
The MWC Faith and Life Commission is looking forward to that event in Switzerland. But we also know that historical celebrations are complicated.
After all, the Anabaptist world looks very different today than it did 500 years ago. The majority of Anabaptists today live far from Europe in Asia, Africa and Latin America, in cultural contexts that are vastly different from the 16th century.
A focus on history can easily shade into hero worship – a focus on earthly figures rather than on Jesus, “the founder and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Preserving historical memories can become a form of nostalgia, or a defense of the dead weight of tradition and the status quo.
Several years ago, the Faith and Life Commission asked one of our members, Hanspeter Jecker, a Swiss Mennonite historian, to reflect on the place of history for Mennonite World Conference as a global communion. That document – “The Anabaptist Tradition: Reclaiming its Gifts, Heeding its Weaknesses” – is now part of a rich collection of Teaching Resources available in the three official languages on the MWC website.
The short document begins with a brief historical overview of the Anabaptist movement and its transformation into a global church. It then identifies seven theological themes that form the core of the “Anabaptist tradition” – motifs that you could expect to find in all of our member groups, albeit with different emphases and in a colorful variety of cultural expressions.
Finally – and significantly! – the document also names several “weaknesses and deficits” of the Anabaptist tradition, recognizing that our strengths also have shadow sides that need to be recognized and confessed.
“The Anabaptist Tradition: Reclaiming its Gifts, Heeding its Weaknesses” provides a useful roadmap for MWC as we prepare to celebrate the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement in 2025. That celebration will be an opportunity to reaffirm the distinctive theological convictions that bind us together. But it will also be an occasion for confession and transformation as we share together in a tradition that is always being renewed.
—John D. Roth is secretary of the Faith and Life Commission. He lives in Goshen, Indiana, USA, and is a member of Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship.
Like the chambers of a heart, the four commissions of Mennonite World Conference serve the global community of Anabaptist-related churches, in the areas of deacons, faith and life, peace, mission. Commissions prepare materials for consideration by the General Council, give guidance and propose resources to member churches, and facilitate MWC-related networks or fellowships working together on matters of common interest and focus. In the following, one of the commissions shares a message from their ministry focus.
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2022
Updated 28 March 2022: church corrected.