Monday, January 3, 2011

Calling All Anabaptists

This piece is part of a series of Menno Weekly Review posts responding to Eastern Mennonite President Myron Augsburger’s vision for an “Alliance of Anabaptists in North America." For more information on Anabaptism, check out this and this. My wife and I have been invigorated by our participation in a Sunday morning community that is one part Anabaptist, one part 12-Step, one part postmodern & one part prophetic.

Myron Augsberger can add another community to his proposed Alliance of Anabaptists in North America — our little post-evangelical house church in Orange County, California.

Out here, there are very few folks who know what an “Anabaptist” or “Mennonite” actually looks like. We often hear sincere friends respond, “Oh, like the Amish? Do you use electricity?”

While at Fuller Theological Seminary, my wife and I discovered, and now fervently identify with, the vision of the radical reformation. We participate with a community dedicated to God’s mission of justice and healing through imagination (not violence), forgiveness (not revenge), enemy love (not nationalist patriotism & "exceptionalism") and humble service (not coercion).

We passionately yet imperfectly celebrate the inaugurated reign of God in Christ together, focusing on what Mennonite pastor Tom Longenecker artfully explained to me as the five Anabaptist distinctives: confession (transparently sharing personal stories), charisma (guided, empowered and comforted by the Spirit), communion (authentic community and solidarity), cross (suffering service to the world) and new creation (the newness of Christ healing and transforming our lives).

What our community longs for is to be connected to the wider body of Christ and the historical Christian tradition. Joining an Alliance of Anabaptists would allow us to identify with followers of Jesus who have very similar sensibilities and find support for witness in our unique context.

Here in Orange County, there are not any Anabaptist communities within a 25-mile radius and we do not “fit” with our well-known non-denominational megachurches, fundamentalist Bible churches, mainline liberal churches, or Catholic or Orthodox institutional communities. We are an enigma — social outcasts wandering through a wilderness of wealth, consumerism, white privilege, image obsession and an utter indifference to the marginalized and oppressed.

We cannot thoroughly pursue this kind of radical discipleship on our own. However, our little community would not be interested in joining a Mennonite or Brethren denomination or institution.

First of all, my wife and I have had tremendously positive experiences worshipping with two Mennonite congregations, in Pasadena, Calif and Lawrence, Kan., but we have found that to be “Mennonite” is be associated with a rich ethnic and family heritage, mostly from birth. There is a language and style (liturgy, hymns, etc.) that are deep with meaning, but quite foreign for followers of Jesus — like in our house church — who have not grown up in these settings.

Second, we yearn for a different paradigm of organization and structure than what denominations and institutions naturally foster. We think networks, not hubs. We are tribal, not hierarchical, more at home with lay leadership, rather than professional religionists.

And lastly, we value an open space for differing theological and doctrinal convictions. We are all going through an invigorating process as we journey with Jesus, changing our minds (repenting) as new information and experiences avail themselves to us. Within our own community, we differ on key issues like same-sex marriage, the infallibility of scripture and the existence of a literal hell. These, as we have experienced, are most often game-changers at the institutional level.

Yet we would covet an opportunity to be covenanted with ethnic Mennonites and multi-generational Brethren who have much truth to teach us. Most of the participants in our house church do not know what an “Anabaptist” is, but we are finding, more and more, that they are intuitively compelled by the trajectories of the Third Way.

What we desperately need are rugged Anabaptists of all stripes to come alongside us and whisper peace, simplicity and revolutionary subordination to us as we creatively and strategically confront the principalities and powers that Jesus died to liberate us from in Southern California.

Fellow Anabaptists, let’s join hands.
This call for dialogue was originally posted here

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