Remembering a faith journey of 500 years

With a focus on Scripture, MWC gathering in Germany begins a decade of events to celebrate, renew Anabaptism

Feb 20, 2017 by and

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AUGSBURG, Germany — A Mennonite World Conference event looking forward to the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism looked back on the movement’s foundation in the primacy of Scripture.

Regional Anabaptists and leaders from around the world gathered Feb. 12 for “Transformed by the Word: Reading Scripture in Anabaptist Perspectives,” the first in a 10-year series of events called Renewal 2027. Organized by MWC, the series commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition with appreciation and critical reflection on what is now a global Christian movement.

From left, Young AnaBaptists Jantine Huisman of the Netherlands, Makadunyiswe Ngulube of Zimbabwe, Larissa Swartz of the United States, Mennonite World Conference staff member Nelson Martinez and YABs member Ebenezer Mondez of the Philippines listen at the first event of Renewal 2027 in Augsburg, Germany. — Harry Unger/MWC

From left, Young AnaBaptists Jantine Huisman of the Netherlands, Makadunyiswe Ngulube of Zimbabwe, Larissa Swartz of the United States, Mennonite World Conference staff member Nelson Martinez and YABs member Ebenezer Mondez of the Philippines listen at the first event of Renewal 2027 in Augsburg, Germany. — Harry Unger/MWC

From their beginnings, based on their understanding of the Bible, Anabaptists emphasized a personal commitment to following Christ, baptism upon a free confession of faith, a collective approach to reading and interpreting Scripture, a commitment to reconciliation and love of enemy and a rejection of the state church, said Alfred Neufeld of Paraguay, chair of the MWC Faith and Life Commission.

As the 500th anniversary approaches, “What should be reconsidered or reformulated? Where are the gaps in our theology and practice?” Neufeld asked.

The full-day event was interspersed with exhortations from representatives of the MWC family, singing and a participatory Bible study on reaching agreement on controversial subjects, based on Acts 15:1-21.

Anabaptism is needed now as much as ever before, said Valerie Rempel, a professor at Fresno (Calif.) Pacific Biblical Seminary. She called for “radical Bible reading in the spirit of the early Anabaptists . . . [and re-engagement] with God’s Word and with our own theological tradition to see how it can offer us wisdom for living as Christians in our world and for engaging in mission that invites all people.”

Maka­dunyiswe Ngulube of Zimbabwe and other members of the Young AnaBaptists committee spoke, reflecting on Matt. 28:19. They highlighted personal responsibility to learn, go and share as followers of Christ.

“There is no segregation when it comes to the message of Christ,” Maka­dun­y­iswe said.

Ebenezer Mondez of the Philippines said: “We need a culture that emphasizes discipleship as a responsibility for every believer of Christ . . . [drawn from] our deep understanding and full experience of his power and grace.”

Ecumenical guests spoke about reading Scripture across confessions. Renewal can come from when we read the Bible as individuals, but it is even more powerful when reading Scripture together, said Lutheran Fried­erike Nuessel of Germany. Nuessel and Catholic Augusto-Castro of Colombia were representatives in the just-completed trilateral dialogue between Mennonites, Catholics and Lutherans.

Worship, fellowship, witness and service in the Anabaptist tradition turn reading Scripture into a living faith, said Young Ana­Baptists mentor Tigist Gelagle of Ethiopia.

“The way of the cross is the basic teaching that inspires me about the future of the church,” she said. The truth that inspired early Anabaptists to martyrdom is the key for following Jesus today: “The suffering of Christ is the central theme of the gospel.”

Doris Hege, chair of Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Gemeiden, was reminded Scripture is a living word.

“We need to read it as if for the first time in our current context,” she said. “What new things can God speak to us?”

John D. Roth, director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen (Ind.) College, was the primary coordinator of the event, with help from Jantine Huisman and Henk Stenvers of the Netherlands and Rainer Burkart of Germany.

The next Renewal 2027 event will be April 2018 in Kenya, on the theme of the Holy Spirit.


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