On Sunday morning the front of College Mennonite Church seemed crowded. I learned why as the morning unfolded. The program had many small events of special interest to families: Child-parent dedication, baptism, reception of new members, a report from the MDS project in Louisiana, a homily and such like. You may enjoy it by clicking here. (Scroll to about 46 minute mark for baptismal testimony.) It was a totally warm and welcoming service. But was it really? Could it be that through no fault of their own some could not be welcomed into a Mennonite church? I weep for them.
The Anabaptist Renewal Circles are committed to affirm the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective and call the church to faithfulness. Early Anabaptists were willing to die because of their faithfulness to Jesus? Is this the faithfulness that Circles calls us to, or is it more likely to be faithfulness to one line in the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective?
Anabaptists did not rely on early creeds for guidance or identification. They understood that as pilgrims on a journey the terrain though which they traveled would change. They could learn from each other as they shared their varied experiences. So Instead of creeds, they wrote confessions of faith that reflect the experiences of their journey.
Thomas Finger made a detailed study of the confessions of faith generated by Ana-baptists on their pilgrimage. He noted in his paper that a confession with narrow perspectives was of limited value and did not stand the test of time. I’ve read the 1995 Mennonite Confession of Faith according to a Mennonite Perspective and discovered many rich passages. I like the following lines from the last paragraph of Article 1:
“God’s sovereign power and unending mercy are perfect in almighty love. God’s knowledge of all things and care for creation are perfect in preserving love. God’s abounding grace and wrath against sinfulness are perfect in righteous love. God’s readiness to forgive and power to transform are perfect in redemptive love. God’s unlimited justice and continuing patience with humankind are perfect in suffering love God’s infinite freedom and constant self-giving are perfect in faithful love.”
Some may wish to insert or delete a phrase here and there, but there is no threat of division except for one of the 24 articles of the confession of 1995. To contrast confessions, see the “Ceremonies and Practices” of Article 8 of the 1963 Confession of Faith: (The emphases are mine.) The writers of the 1963 confession and the writers of the 1996 confession did not agree. Is that a significant learning in regard to change of terrain during the 19 year span between 1995 to 2014?
The Lord Jesus and His apostles instituted ordinances for the church to observe permanently as symbols of Christian truths. The apostolic church literally observed them. Among these are baptism with water, the communion of the Lord’s Supper, the washing of the saints’ feet, the holy kiss, the laying-on of hands in ordination, the veiling of Christian women, the anointing of the sick with oil, and the institution of Christian marriage. When the church observes ordinances as expressions of a heart of faith, divine blessings are received, and a Christian witness is given.
Finger wrote that the specificity of the 1963 confession caused it to be replaced by the 1995 Confession. Finger also observed tension between letter and spirit in anabaptist confessions He wrote that while the “letter” was not engraved so deeply into the 1963 confession as into its 1921 predecessor, it still shared that general emphasis. It still sought to regulate life in many respects so it passed into history.
Will the Anabaptist Renewal Circles take heart by the general church agreement on the twenty-four articles of the 1995 Confession, and the realization that only one sentence of one article threatens to divide the Mennonite Church USA today?
I promise to engage that one annoying sentence in the next post.