Portrait of global Anabaptism

Survey collects data on identity and practice of MWC family worldwide

Dec 12, 2016 by and

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Results of a Mennonite World Conference survey of 24 member conferences show the church is growing and the gospel is spreading, primarily in the Global South.

Many observers already knew MWC’s growth is predominantly in Latin America, Africa and Asia, but the Global Anabaptist Profile’s scope offers new information on identity and practice.

It is the most comprehensive portrait of MWC member churches to date.

Women from the Democratic Republic of Congo fill out the Global Anabaptist Profile survey. — Mennonite World Conference

Women from the Democratic Republic of Congo fill out the Global Anabaptist Profile survey. — Mennonite World Conference

The study’s conclusions — anticipated to be published in full this month — reveal MWC’s members read the same Bible but interpret it differently and find differing degrees of relevance in its various parts.

All survey participants claim the presence of the Holy Spirit, but experience very different manifestations of that same Spirit. All joined the same peace church tradition, but military service or policing roles are either tolerated or resisted. All received the good news, but some are much more likely to evangelize than others.

Many core Anabaptist convictions were almost universal. For example, 94 percent of respondents claim it is very important to be born again, and 91 percent identify Jesus as the only way to God.

There is a wariness regarding military service. Seventy-six percent of respondents, if faced with obligatory military service, would either refuse to serve or would select noncombatant military service. In the Global North and the Global South, a nearly identical segment of about 62 percent would choose conscientious objection.

Views of Scripture

But there are greater differences. Awareness of MWC diverged along both regional and denominational lines. Fifty-five percent of those in the Global South express awareness of MWC, compared to 75 percent of Global North respondents.

Although the majority of respondents claim the Bible as the Word of God, 55 percent of respondents from Africa, Asia and Latin America add that the Bible should be taken literally. Only 20 percent of North American or European respondents shared this view, many favoring interpreting the Bible in context.

While Europeans and North Americans find the New Testament the most relevant, only 28 percent of those in Asia, Africa and Latin America said the same. Instead, respondents in the Global South were more likely to identify both Old and New Testaments as equally relevant.

Charismatic gifts are more common in the Global South. Eighty-four percent of those in Africa, Asia and Latin America have prophesied, spoken in tongues, been miraculously healed or involved in liberation from demonic oppression, compared to 31 percent in Europe or North America.

The Global North and Global South should not be seen as homogenous groupings, however, as there are also important regional differences. Africans and Asians were most likely to have experienced liberation from demonic oppression, while 56 percent of Latin Americans have been miraculously healed.

Evangelism variation

Personal evangelism also varies. While 51 percent of African respondents speak of their faith to people outside of their family and church circles at least once a week, only 13 percent of Europeans do the same. Thirty-three percent of Asians and 26 percent of Latin Americans invite non-Christian friends to church on a weekly basis, compared to only 9 percent of North Americans.

The study suggests personal evangelism is a regular practice among many in the Global South but relatively rare for those in the Global North.

“We see much in the information that is very valuable to us,” said Reynaldo Vallecillo of Amor Viviente in Honduras. “This helps us see our needs, especially in areas of teaching.”

Reasons for beliefs

Some profile administrators responded to the differences in results with anecdotal explanations. When faced with a civil war, for example, the Convención de Iglesias Evangélicas Menonitas de Nicaragua developed a strong stance against military service.

“We recognized that we would be killing other brothers in the church,” Marcos Orozco said. “We were clear that we couldn’t do this.”

Africans and Asians cited the reality of ancestor worship as an influence in their reliance on Old Testament passages addressing similar practices.

The destructive socio-economic and political implications of the North-South divide are reflected within the church. In this sense, the data are a call to repentance. But they are equally an invitation to wonder and praise for the different ways the gospel is manifested in each context.

Profile administrators affirmed their appreciation for the unity they gained through their participation in the study.

“The numbers communicate [a unity] across culture in ways that words could not,” said Regina Mondez of the Integrated Mennonite Churches of the Philippines.

Orozco agreed. “We need to learn from the experiences of other brothers and sisters in the global church family, recognizing that we each have strengths and weaknesses that we need to reinforce and improve,” he said.

From a report by Elizabeth Miller of Goshen, Ind., project and communications manager at the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism, first published in MWC’s Courier.

See more insights from the survey in the Dec. 19, 2016 issue of Mennonite World Review.

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