Regional Anabaptists and leaders from around the world gathered on February 12, 2017, for “Transformed by the Word: Reading Scripture in Anabaptist Perspectives,” the first in a 10-year series of events called “Renewal 2027” organized by Mennonite World Conference (MWC). The events will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, with appreciation and critical reflection on what is now a global movement within the larger body of Christ.
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 (Paraguay), chair of the MWC Faith and Life Commission.
At the church tradition’s 500th anniversary, “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, with singing from the Assembly 16 songbook. Participants also engaged in a Bible study on reaching agreement on controversial subjects within the church, based on Acts 15:1–21.
Anabaptism is as needed as ever, said Valerie Rempel, professor at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary (USA), calling 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.”
“There is no segregation when it comes to the message of Christ, to those sharing it and to those receiving it,” said Makadunyiswe Ngulube (Zimbabwe). She and the other YABs committee (Young Anabaptists) speakers, reflected on Matthew 28:19 and highlighted personal responsibility to learn, go and share as followers of Christ. “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,” said Ebenezer Mondez (Philippines).
Ecumenical guests spoke about reading Scripture across confessions. Renewal can come when we read the Bible as individuals, but it is even more powerful when we read Scripture together, said Lutheran Friederike Nuessel (Germany). Nuessel and Roman Catholic Monsignor Augusto-Castro (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 YABs mentor Tigist Gelagle (Ethiopia). “The way of the cross is the basic teaching that inspires me about the future of the church.” 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.”
Event participant Doris Hege, chairperson of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Gemeiden, was reminded that 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?”
Daniel Geiser-Oppliger of a Mennonite congregation in Switzerland was similarly impressed with the relevance of the Word of God for Anabaptism today, and valued the fellowship of the event: “being together, seeing old friends and meet[ing] new brothers and sisters.”
John D. Roth was the primary coordinator of the Renewal 2027 event in Augsburg, with help from Jantine Huisman (the Netherlands), Henk Stenvers (the Netherlands) and Rainer Burkart (Germany), who served on the local planning committee.
The next Renewal 2027 event will be April 2018 in Kenya, on the theme of the Holy Spirit.
For more on Renewal 2027, see “The next 500 years of Anabaptism.”