Through nearly 60 years of ministry I’ve enjoyed fellowship with diverse groups of believers. Based on this experience, I believe Anabaptist denominations are too small, too exclusive and too institutional.
I’d like to see something far larger, more diverse, more open to others who differ – and also a fellowship of shalom rather than a structural organization.
My vision is for an Alliance of Anabaptists in North America.
Such an alliance would be for fellowship and witness. It could help us make an impact on society in a way that is more than sectarian. It would find a place alongside Mennonite World Conference, which is a gift of God to us and to our brothers and sisters in many lands.
An alliance could help us find unity in diversity and peace amid pressing issues that distract us.
An alliance is not a merger. It permits each group to maintain its uniqueness while extending the hand of fellowship to others.
It means being open to one another, crossing the aisle to those who have withdrawn from us due to convictions that differ from denominational patterns.
In fact, many of us have differences within the groups we belong to.
Believing that no one group has “captured the kingdom,” we can keep each of our groups from idolizing its own position while humbly living the faith as we understand it.
Such an alliance should support our common quest to walk with Jesus, to help each other understand the centrality of Christ for faith and life and the kingdom of God as our primary identity.
An alliance can provide a sense of belonging to a community of disciples who support one another in an increasingly hostile world.
Those who minimize the potential of such an alliance are often those engaged in the structures of a denomination. But our primary experience of church is in the congregation, not the denomination. In an alliance, ministry by the laity can be encouraged and shared.
Who should make up this alliance? It should be open to all who confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his kingdom and who walk with him as his disciples, as understood in our Anabaptist perspective.
With an Alliance of Anabaptists in North America, our witness might be heard with a fresh recognition that we have something to offer, something that Christianity as a whole would be much poorer without. Others could see that Anabaptists are not narrow sectarian hold-outs but a vital force for the kingdom of God, calling people to saving faith.
I welcome your response.
|Myron’s call for a broader Alliance of Anabaptists in North America is a reminder that we are “not narrow sectarian hold-outs but a vital force for the Kingdom of God, calling people to saving faith.” It reminds me of a gathering of Anabaptist related short term mission discipleship training program leaders who met for a day of prayer in Pennsylvania in 1995. Participants were from the Eastern Mennonite Conference, Conservative Mennonite Conference, and Mennonite Brethren.We began the day in worship and prayer and God met us in amazing ways. We were led to repent of denominational pride and independence. The Lord spoke to us about both our personal leadership journey’s as well as about his vision for our programs. Out of that day came the collective vision for the Global Discipleship Training Alliance, focused on starting discipleship training programs in the Global South. The GDT Alliance now includes over 200 programs and annually trains tens of thousands of young leaders in mission.
When our mission is clear, and we collectively submit to the Lord of the harvest and each other, amazing fruit can emerge.
—Randy Friesen, MB Mission, general director
|In many ways my vision matches Myron’s. That’s based on my experience of 5 years working on an inter-Anabaptist curriculum production (Jubilee: God’s Good News), 6 years on MWC’s Executive Board, 10 years meeting with the Canadian Council of Anabaptist Leaders (CCAL) and the Council of Moderators and Secretaries (COMS – a US/Canadian biennial gathering) and a unique fellowship between the Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ. In the latter, we met biennially to discuss church health, leadership health and development, church planting and mission. We tried to find ways for collaboration, one of them being the automatic credentialing of pastors who move between our denominations.In every case, I enjoyed getting to know some wonderful people – sometimes staying in their homes.
The Mennonite/Brethren in Christ world in North America could really benefit from an effort to bridge gaps between all the fellowships and unite around a multiple point vision of identity and discipleship. We could support one another in mission and living as a countercultural body into a restored vision for peacemaking. As Myron suggests, we are small and in our context, small is denigrated if not suspect. An alliance would put our movement on the map a little more, and might help those who struggle with some of our core beliefs.
My sense is, however, that U.S. and Canadian Mennonite Brethren leaders struggle to see value in inter-Mennonite “alliances” and cooperative work. Our separatist character still holds after 150 years. Moreover, a neo-separatist movement influenced by admiration for reform theology is adding distance. Until we find a way through our own internal grapplings on this front, an alliance such as Augsburger envisions is but a pipe dream.
—David Wiebe, ICOMB general secretary
|The concept in and of itself is worthy of dialogue, but there are several other issues that also need to be looked into. As I write this note, it is my understanding that there are approximately 24 different groups that share the roots from the original Anabaptists. I am not including the worldwide community here – just in North America. Margaret Reimer wrote a book entitled One Quilt, Many Pieces, giving a brief synopsis of their origins.Several questions come to mind as I think of an idea of an Alliance of Anabaptists. I will raise them at the risk of proving Myron right that, “Those who minimize the potential of such an alliance are often those engaged in the structures of a denomination.” At the same time, it is precisely for this reason that the leaders in any denomination are appointed – to safeguard the theological, doctrinal, confessional, and structural integrity as agreed upon by a body of believers. Failure to do so, even as we engage in new ideas from within and without, would be tantamount to abdicating our responsibility within the community.
Two questions to reflect on:
1. If there is some interest in having further dialogue around this idea of an Alliance of Anabaptists, what then should happen to the long established entity – Mennonite World Conference – A community of Anabaptist-related churches? Over the past two decades, MWC has worked hard to establish a strong presence around the world while presenting a balanced, Christ-centered, Anabaptist theological perspective. It is an awkward dance at best, but they are trying with some rhythm and momentum in their favour. They have been busy in creating a “comfortable space” for Anabaptists of all stripes to come under the shade of one umbrella.
They have also worked hard over the years to connect and partner with Mennonite Central Committee as well. If another “alliance” is formed, what then is the role of the Mennonite World Conference? I won’t even start bringing the ICOMB into this mix now.
They have been working at publishing the Anabaptist story from a global perspective. As a denomination, the Board of Faith and Life examined their Shared Convictions as it relates to our Confession of Faith and felt comfortable endorsing them. They read as follows:
By the grace of God, we seek to live and proclaim the good news of reconciliation in Jesus Christ. As part of the one body of Christ at all times and places, we hold the following to be central to our belief and practice:
1. God is known to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creator who seeks to restore fallen humanity by calling a people to be faithful in fellowship, worship, service, and witness.
2. Jesus is the Son of God. Through his life and teachings, his cross and resurrection, he showed us how to be faithful disciples, redeemed the world, and offers eternal life.
3. As a church, we are a community of those whom God’s Spirit calls to turn from sin, acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, receive baptism upon confession of faith, and follow Christ in life.
4. As a faith community, we accept the Bible as our authority for faith and life, interpreting it together under Holy Spirit guidance, in the light of Jesus Christ to discern God’s will for our obedience.
5. The Spirit of Jesus empowers us to trust God in all areas of life, so we become peacemakers who renounce violence, love our enemies, seek justice, and share our possessions with those in need.
6. We gather regularly to worship, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and to hear the Word of God in a spirit of mutual accountability.
7. As a world-wide community of faith and life, we transcend boundaries of nationality, race, class, gender, and language. We seek to live in the world without conforming to the powers of evil, witnessing to God’s grace by serving others, caring for creation, and inviting all people to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
In these convictions we draw inspiration from Anabaptist forebears of the 16th century, who modelled radical discipleship to Jesus Christ. We seek to walk in his name by the power of the Holy Spirit, as we confidently await Christ’s return and the final fulfillment of God’s kingdom.—adopted by Mennonite World Conference General Council, March 15, 2006
2. Who should determine the theological parameters for such an alliance? Myron makes several observations that are very worthwhile at face value. At the same time, I have questions about what it means to be, “more open to others who differ – and also a fellowship of shalom rather than a structural organization.”
While I can appreciate the intent of his comments, my limited experience has taught me that where there are two or three gathered over an extended period, a structure is formed. And, when a structure is formed, we need to have a solid foundation as to why we exist and what keeps us together. If the foundation for any alliance is based on a set of diverse theologies without clearly acknowledging and embracing the centrality of Jesus Christ as the only hope for our fallen world, then I am afraid we might have another “alliance” emerge out of this one. I would propose much caution should there be any exploratory dialogue or movement in this direction, particularly in light of the commitments we have already made to the MWC.
—Vidya Narimalla, CCMBC board of faith and life, chair
|While I support the goal of greater unity and cooperation within the body of Christ, I have three main objections to Dr. Augsburger’s proposal.First, it suggests a theological core, around which we all might rally, which is too tenuous to unite us – if it exists at all. And as an Anabaptist who is also self-consciously evangelical, I find it very difficult to see the potential for cooperation with Anabaptists whose understanding of Christian discipleship seems to conflict irreconcilably with my own.
Second, I believe that such an alliance, rather than break down institutionalist barriers, simply relocates them to a different level of organization, and in so doing mandates a lot of theological work that is more bureaucratic than missional.
Third, the possibility of a more powerful voice seems to run counter to the agenda that most Anabaptists have historically followed.
Can we work together on an ad hoc basis? Yes. Do I support an Anabaptist Alliance? No.
—Brian Cooper, CCMBC board of faith and life, vice chair
Respond to Myron Augsburger at myrona.esthera.gmail.com or
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