“That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)
With these words from the Gospel of John 17:21, we warmly greet the sisters and brothers of Anabaptist churches worldwide and also those from other Christian communions.
At this moment in history, we reflect on the first 500 years of the Radical Reformation.
“Renewal” is the name that the Mennonite World Conference has given for a decade of regional events around the memory of five centuries of our existence as a community of faith. We are approaching these 10 years of commemorations by focusing on our history from a global, ecumenical and transcultural perspective.
We remember the past to look toward the future. We want to recall our roots as we express gratitude to God for the inheritance of the faith we have received. But we also come before the Lord in a spirit of repentance and renewal, committed to learning from the past to grow in our relationship with God both here and now and in the years to come.
Why do we need each other?
With the theme of “Jesus Christ, Our Hope,” we seek to explore how our Anabaptist tradition has offered its witness to the world about Jesus as our hope since the 16th century.
Unity is one of the challenges that we have historically faced in the Anabaptist world.
Why do we need to be one globally with other members of our family of faith?
Why do we need something like Mennonite World Conference, a body that facilitates unity around 10 000 local congregations, 108 national conferences and 1.5 million baptized believers?
In contexts of persecution, oppression or violence, reasons why we need a global church seem more evident to our members: a global communion offers support when local congregations cope with difficult circumstances (e.g. financial resources, political advocacy, pastoral care).
In Africa, Asia, and Latin America, global interdependency is crucial for projects exceeding a local church’s capacity (e.g. mission, theological education, formation of new agencies).
What do our churches say about Jesus?
However, beyond pragmatic reasons to look for unity, our Anabaptist tradition must recover the idea of a visible global church.
The reason I affirm this has to do with the New Testament concept and practice of ecclesia. Scripture speaks of interdependent local congregations that lean on each other for theology, pastoral care, financial support in times of crisis and mission, among other things.
However, even more, critical is the fact that Jesus linked the credibility of his life to the unity of his followers.
Mennonite World Conference is the global “space” where we can receive unity as God’s gift.
As we thank God for Jesus Christ, our hope, let us also maintain an attitude of repentance for the divisions that have arisen among us, negatively affecting the impact of Jesus’ life and ministry in a world marked by polarizations, divisions and fragmentation.
- Let us ask for forgiveness for all the wounds that we have caused on Jesus’ body.
- Let us seek the renewal that sees the lack of unity of the church as evidence of sin.
- Let us seek the unity that comes from a contrite heart that recognizes its sin.
I pray that reflecting on John 17:21 will renew our understanding of Jesus as our hope.
May we embody hope by showing the world that the blessing of unity is possible when Jesus is the centre of our lives.
— César García is general Secretary of Mennonite World Conference. Originally from Colombia, he lives in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. He delivered a version of this speech at Renewal 2023 in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, on Saturday, 25 March 2023.