Internal Dialogues

“Mennocostal” – Pentecostal Mennonites – may be the best characterization of most Anabaptists in Mennonite World Conference today. The influence of Pentecostalism in Mennonite congregations worldwide is an overwhelming reality. In their study of Mennonite World Conference churches, Conrad Kanagy, Elizabeth Miller, and John D. Roth conclude, “One of the defining differences between MWC members in the Global North and the Global South is their experience of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, with Europeans and North Americans much less likely to identify with these experiences… Pentecostalism is the most rapidly growing expression of Christianity in the world, and Anabaptists are not foreigners to this reality.”1

Pentecostalism’s influence in our lives has pushed many of us towards an internal dialogue between the Anabaptist tradition and the new Pentecostal tendencies that emerge in some parts of the world. In my faith journey, that dialogue looks like the following so far:

Do I believe in miracles and the gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy and tongues?

Yes, I do. I have experienced them.

I also think, as Encanto (a recent movie about Colombia) says, people themselves are God’s miracles. People are more important than the gifts they bring to the table. In Jesus’ words, at the end of the Sermon of the Mount, you can do all sorts of supernatural things, but if you do not do what he says, you do not know him (Matthew 7:21-23).

I also believe illness and suffering are everyday human experiences that God may transform for our wellbeing and growth. God does not promise to remove those experiences from our lives. Instead, God promises to walk with us through them.

Do I believe that God wants us to prosper?

Yes, I do. Financial prosperity is one of the many things in which followers of Jesus may thrive.

However, such economic prosperity is not the result of a special prayer technic. It is not related to an individualistic consumerist desire, and it is not a reward God gives to those who provide their tithes to force God’s hand.

Financial prosperity results from a simple lifestyle, the consequence of living a life that cares for creation and is aware of our responsibility on the environmental crisis.

We communally experience financial prosperity. It happens when followers of Christ share their possessions and needs. Anabaptists understand that according to the Book of Acts, a consequence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is financial sharing in the community of the Spirit (Acts 2:44).

In addition to prophecy, miracles, and other mystical experiences, a life of generosity and sharing of wealth has to be a fruit of the Spirit. Only God’s presence can overcome the natural human tendency toward egocentrism and self-satisfaction. Only God’s presence overcomes consumerism and materialism, creating an alternative community to the society.

Do I believe that God empowers leaders with the Holy Spirit? Yes, I do.

When the Holy Spirit fills a leader, they serve others and do not look for recognition, honour or positions of power. A leader that serves in God’s Spirit solves conflicts in the way of Jesus and never takes the initiative to fragment Christ’s body. Divisions and power struggles never are a path of a leader that follows God’s Spirit.

Do I believe in peacemaking and reconciliation? Yes, I do.

Life in the Spirit is a life of peacemaking and restorative justice. It is possible to be an activist that promotes justice and peace without following Jesus. However, to be so in the way of Jesus, we need to depend on the Holy Spirit and have a solid personal relationship with the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Those are some of my internal, personal thoughts about my commitment to follow Jesus in the Anabaptist tradition and my experience of doing so in the context of modern Pentecostalisms in the Americas. But of course, these opinions may change because following Christ implies movement and growth. So, likewise, they may change when tested and submitted to the community of Christ’s followers, the church. As vital as they are, individual beliefs are never enough to witness a life fulfilled with the Spirit. Only a life submitted to the community of believers bears witness to God’s presence in our lives.

In this issue of Courier, internal dialogues open the way to intercultural, inter-Anabaptist conversations about the influence of Pentecostalism in our global communion and our experience of life in the Spirit according to our Anabaptist tradition.

May the Spirit of God guide us to continue discovering in practice the implications of following Jesus in the power of God’s Spirit!

—Cesar Garcia, General Secretary, Mennonite World Conference

This article first appeared in Courier / Correo / Courrier, April 2022