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Being Mennonite

July 31, 2008

Back in June the Mennonite published a great article by Tom Sine titled, Joining the Anabaptist Conspirators. Sine is a well known author and church futurist. His latest book, The New Conspirators, is on my reading list and I hope to get to it soon!

This article reminded me of something that has intrigued me, over the five years that I’ve been part of the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition. It has to do with what I have perceived from others who would prefer less emphasis on Anabaptist/Mennonite distinctives. For example, some who feel this way might operate under the impression that having the word “Mennonite” in the church name hinders our ability to reach out to new members. Or that the distinctive Mennonite/Anabaptist teachings (mainly peace/non-violence) limit our attractiveness in today’s cultural landscape. Perhaps if we shifted to a more “evangelical” identity, we would be more successful in terms of outreach. I’m using the term “Evangelical” as meaning a more general expression of Protestant faith, focused more on sharing the good news than particular theological distinctives, with less accountability to denominational leadership and more local church autonomy (though the reality is, making this kind of switch just seems to be exchanging one set of theological distinctives for another, and the loss of accountability and community should be a cause for concern).

I’m not here to argue for keeping “Mennonite” in church titles; that’s not the point. People will know what we believe by our actions, and I’d rather focus on that, and be willing to share with others what we’re about. But I am concerned with this undercurrent of moving away from our theology and praxis, when others in the Christian Church are actually moving toward it. I’ve heard some folks say, in essence, that the Anabaptists were on to something…they were just 500 years to early! In my opinion, Anabaptist theology and practice speaks well to the situation we find ourselves in our 21st century world. Younger generations seem to be connecting with outward focused faith, and are seeking a “third way”. Rather than move away from our theological heritage, it might be a great time to re-connect with it, and translate the practices in ways that communicate with this generation.

In my own journey-having come from the “Evangelical”tm model of church-I found that Anabaptist theology had a lot to teach me and challenged my assumptions about life and faith and ministry. And I eventually ended up there and feel very much at home. I needed something that would help me ask more questions, value community, teach me how to be sort of a “subversive” for Jesus, and challenge me to become distinguishable from our surrounding American culture (that’s hard, and it’s a daily struggle-as you can see by the fact that I’m sharing these thoughts on a blog, from my wi-fi enabled laptop, in the living room of the house I own…). Not everyone will have that experience, I realize; I have many friends who are part of other traditions, and that’s cool too-we sharpen each other and learn from each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and I value them dearly.

I hope that as Mennonites, rather than pulling away from our theology and perspective to “fit in”, we would instead learn to be proud (but not prideful) of it and encourage it, and be willing to share it in what we say and do. Not in a way that puts down other traditions, but rather in a way that generously learns from each other and invites others to help us look for what Jesus is doing today. I’m thankful for folks outside the Mennonite church like Greg Boyd, who have offered a needed pep talk. Sometimes we need to do that for each other.

  1. Magdalena Julie Bragdon Perks permalink
    September 27, 2008 5:40 pm

    Yes, there is that pressure to move toward an Evangelical approach because it gets the (people) in the pews. It’s a bit of Christian flavour of the month. I am a Plain Anglican, heavily influenced by Conservative Quakers and Mennonites, and I see this happening in the Anglican/Episcopal churches, too. Who we are is being badly diluted by PR. Anglicans are not flashy people (despite all those crazy vestments) and our own church tradition is almost a thousand years old. But it isn’t good enough anymore for those who have been out to the mini-mega-church on the edge of town and seen the powerpoint screen overhead, grooved to the band (excuse the arcane language) and felt what seemed to be enthusiasm. I haven’t left the Anglican tradition because it does have Tradition. There is a profound sobriety to the old British/Celtic Church that the Quakers, influenced by Anabaptists, tried to restore. (They failed and got kicked out – long story.)


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