Three speakers—one each from Kenya, Canada and Ethiopia—shared stories of doubt in their local contexts at Mennonite World Conference’s (MWC) morning worship on July 22, 2015.
“We are learning, in this wonderful global family, that this is the best way to deepen our convictions: listening to God’s word in and from different life settings,” said Tom Yoder Neufeld of Canada, a pastor, author and recently retired Bible professor.
He introduced fellow MWC Faith and Life Commission member Rebecca Osiro, pastor of Eastleigh Fellowship Centre, in Kenya.
Using examples from her language and culture, she described how doubt can be like thorns that prick us on our journey. “Christ is our greatest thorn remover today,” she said.
But doubt can also be positive. “Doubt, they say, is an element of faith,” she said. “For by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we arrive upon the truth.”
But, she said, doubt is not healthy when it causes divisions.
“Through MWC, we have a forum to fellowship,” she said. “It is not a time for us to be critical of or distance ourselves from one another.”
Yoder Neufeld said, when yearning for simple answers, doubt is good. “When it keeps our faith from becoming blind and our convictions from becoming brittle, such doubt is essential for convictions to grow out of faith, rather than fear,” he said.
The conviction that the Bible is the word of God can be a source of doubt.
“But that conviction can be shaken by how difficult it is for us to agree on what it says,” he said. He noted present struggles over sexuality in the Global North.
“Doubt leads to neglect, and neglect to nothing less than corporate loss of memory,” he said, listing slavery, colonialism and genocide of indigenous people as examples.
The church itself can be a cause of doubt, he said. “The church will test our faith. After all, you and I are in it,” he said. “But the church is also God’s gift of us walking together.”
When we feel lost, we must remember God is the way. God walks with us. “That is where our hopes and convictions are anchored,” he said.
Tigist Tesfaye Gelagle of Ethiopia said walking with doubt and convictions is the story of her faith life. She is a youth leader in various roles in a church in Addis Ababa and serves on MWC’s Young Anabaptists committee.
She said things like decreasing church membership in the Global North and instability caused by rapid growth in the South cause her doubt.
And in college, she learned about colonization. She heard things like: When the whites came, they told us to pray by closing our eyes. When we opened our eyes, we had their Bibles and they had our land.
She struggled with the question: “Is my faith an imposition of colonizers, or is it the truth?”
But in the midst of these experiences, she said Jesus is a glimpse of hope that is beyond culture, religion and our understanding of faith.
“As we strengthen our faith, doubt will sharpen our convictions,” she said.
Kelli Yoder is asssistant editor and web editor of Mennonite World Review. This article was written for Meetinghouse, a group of Mennonite publications.
To see the video of this session, go the PA 2015 site: http://pa2015.mwc-cmm.org/watch-live.
During Wednesday morning worship time, Deborah, from Indonesia, leads the international music ensemble in the singing of "Nyanyikanlah" (Sing to God a New Song), with gestures typical of worship in her country. The crowd in the big arena joined in with the singing and the movements. (Photo by Dale D. Gehman)