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The past as prologue

Dick Benner
By Dick Benner, Editor/Publisher
Mar 08, 2017 | Volume 21 Issue 6

“While Anabaptists affirm the inspiration and trustworthiness of Scripture, we are not strict literalists,” writes Palmer Becker in his just-released book, Anabaptist Essentials. This Canadian pastor, educator and missionary makes his point from no less than our Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, a document being held up as something of a Mennonite creed by some biblical literalists.

Becker’s easy-to-read book is built on three concepts: “Jesus is the centre of our faith, community is the centre of our lives and reconciliation is the centre of our work.” It should be a primer for every congregation and, as one reviewer noted, it should be “assigned reading for every Christian for its clear-eyed assessment of conflict and its effective strategies for engaging and transforming it.”

Nothing could be more timely, as divisions form in some areas of our national communion over fallout from the Being a Faithful Church 7 resolution passed at the Saskatoon assembly last July. There are the “literalists” who want to hold to the Confession’s creed on same-sex marriage, and others, by a majority vote, who want to “create space” for those holding a different interpretation.

It continues to soak up a lot of energy as we work through our differences on this issue, energy that should be focussed on the three “essentials” Becker points to, not to mention the negative effect it is having on our young people who just wish we could move past this issue and engage in the more pressing challenges of the 21st century.

Read the Young Voices section and catch the excitement as our young adults engage in improving indigenous relations, raising awareness of environmental degradation, using their creativity in music and the arts to enrich worship, and developing a global worldview through their experiences in Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) programs in Third World countries.

Anabaptist Essentials can give us the anchor we need as things move rapidly toward a new structure for Mennonite Church Canada with a proposal before church representatives who make up an Interim Council. That proposal will be considered in a special delegate assembly in Winnipeg from Oct. 13 to 15, 2017.

Given the relatively short 17-year lifespan of MC Canada, and the much shorter time—five years—taken to consider Future Directions for the denomination, we are not sure the average person in the pew has a good grasp of the significance of this “happening,” nor has a keen interest in its outcomes.

While the goal of the Future Directions process is to “revitalize MC Canada,” it is unclear whether the “priesthood” has, or is, tuning in with any enthusiasm.

Part of it is a matter of semantics and the plethora of Mennonite acronyms. Let’s see: Is it MC Canada or MCC Canada? Or, since the nomenclature went from conferences to area churches, and the soon-to-be “regional” churches, what differentiates MC Eastern Canada from MC B.C., for instance?

In a section on “discernment through teaching,” Becker asserts correctly that “there is currently considerable anxiety in many Mennonite circles about biblical literacy. More and more opportunities for study are emerging, however. These include seminars of various kinds, workshops at annual conferences, webinars launched by seminaries and a variety of online courses from different sources.”

He then urges the next logical step in discernment by calling for dialogue through small groups, which he says is essential for believers to be accountable: “Congregations that are experiencing renewal and growth inevitably have a strong emphasis on small groups.”

With this Anabaptist primer, Becker has given us a blueprint that will both anchor us and guide us through the next stages of the transition process. He calls forth in new and refreshing ways the biblical and spiritual principles and core values that have guided us as a people of God on a nearly 500-year journey since our beginnings.

His emphasis on “giving and receiving counsel” is a bulwark against an individualism that leads to division and an emphasis on “purity,” rather than growing in grace and reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide our thinking as we embark on the uncharted waters of the 21st century post-Christendom era.

Becker’s book is the foundation for a new Begin Anew series of studies being made available for congregations as they find their way through a time of political upheaval, a turning away from religion in general, global unrest, and a growing sense of nationalism and isolation worldwide.


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