Who are Anabaptists?
We use the terms "biblical theology," "anabaptist," and "evangelical" to describe our faith because these words also grow out of our history. Because MBs have been shaped by other movements that we have found compatible, a brief review of our story is helpful in understanding the context for such words as "evangelical" and "anabaptist."
We Mennonite Brethren have always considered ourselves a biblical people. While at times we use such statements as the Apostles' Creed, we describe ourselves as confessional rather than creedal. That is, we confess that we seek to believe, study, and obey the Bible as our primary authority. Our confession of faith is a statement that describes how our reading of the Bible (as God's inspired Word) connects us to the world in which we give witness. As a biblical people, we have instinctively tried to resolve theological and ethical questions by asking, "What does the Bible say?" or "How do we interpret Scripture as our authority for today?"
We speak of a biblical theology in contrast to a systematic philosophical theology. We make this distinction because we seek always to be guided more by the Bible than by a particular theological system—be that systematic, evangelical, or even Anabaptist. Our norm should always be the Bible. We use the word theology because we recognize that we need to read the whole Bible—to avoid lifting any single verse as a proof text that silences other biblical words.
At the same time we recognize the priority of Jesus' teaching. We have tended to use the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) as our first lens. We read the Gospels through the lens of the Sermon, the rest of the NT through the lens of the Gospels, and the OT through the lens of the NT. The term theology points to the need for interpretation. We seek to interpret the Bible within a world-wide community of faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This biblical faith aims to rekindle the dynamic of the early church. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we gather to study the Word together. As the early church discerned God's will together at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, we pursue a community hermeneutic. The early church gathered around and evaluated the apostolic testimony of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter; so also we gather around the biblical text to discern together how its authority guides our lives.
We seek to be a biblical people, but we recognize that our biblical interpretation has always been influenced by a range of theological currents. When our church formed in 1860, the first members expressed their agreement with Menno Simons. They were also strongly influenced by the Lutheran pietist movement with its emphasis on (1) group Bible study, (2) warm Spirit-filled faith growing out of personal conversion, (3) thoughtful faith nurtured by disciplined study, and (4) evangelistic witness. MBs also were open to influences from the larger evangelical church, especially Baptists who encouraged world missions and helped the young MB church develop its congregational polity. This openness to other evangelical churches continued in North America in the twentieth century and still characterizes MBs today.
While we claim a biblical theology, we recognize that other Christians also claim that the Bible is the source of their distinctive understandings. As a community we interpret the Bible from within our community's historical faith, seeking to minimize interference from influences that might distort our faith.
Two labels have been used to describe our community's understanding: evangelical and anabaptist. Both words have their origins in particular historical movements, but have taken on a range of cultural associations. Some find the labels positive and helpful while others prefer to avoid them. We use them here as a way of identifying the sources of the biblical perspectives that we affirm. These labels and the biblical perspectives they represent are somewhat overlapping rather than exclusive. What follows is a summary of what we have taken from each tradition—both evangelical and anabaptist.
We share the following emphases of evangelical faith (the word evangel itself means gospel or good news). Individual Christians are born again through conversion, receiving the gift of new life through trusting in Jesus' atoning death on the cross (John 3:16-18; Romans 3:19-26). Our theological authority is the Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Discipleship in Christian life is nurtured through personal spiritual disciplines (1 Timothy 4:8). We understand our mission as a church to give witness to Jesus and to call others to new life (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8). We sense that our mission can be strengthened by learning to engage culture transformatively as we cooperate with like-minded Christians.
We also share some of the emphases of anabaptist faith (the word anabaptist was used by enemies of one group of 16th century reformers who insisted on believers baptism rather than infant baptism). God's people are born again for the purpose of growing as disciples (followers and learners) of Jesus (Mark 8:27-38; Matthew 5-7). Followers of Jesus are incorporated into the covenant community through baptism and grow as disciples whose lives demonstrate faithfulness as we practice holy living and mutual accountability, worship as a community, and engage together in mission (Matthew 18:15-20).
Our theological authority, the Scripture, is interpreted within the community as illumined by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15). Our mission in obedience to Jesus' Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:34-40) and to make peace through reconciliation with God, ourselves, our enemies, and God's creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Matthew 5:38-42). We sense that our mission is always counter-cultural because our allegiance to the Lord Jesus and the kingdom that he proclaims puts us in tension with the culture around us.
As Mennonite Brethren we give witness to a biblical theology that has at its center the following:
- Conversion - receiving new life by trusting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord
- Believer's baptism – baptizing believers who confess Jesus and enter church fellowship
- The Bible – obeying the authoritative Word of God, interpreted by the community as illumined by the Holy Spirit
- Church – living as a covenant community in worship, fellowship, accountability, witness
- Discipleship - seeking to follow Jesus' teaching and model
- Mission - witnessing and serving in passionate obedience to Jesus' Great Commandment and Great Commission
- Peace witness - reconciling all to God, ourselves, our enemies, and the creation
To sum up, at MBBS we seek to "give witness to a biblical theology that is both evangelical and anabaptist." We aim to reflect the MB Confession of Faith which is our church's interpretation of the Bible at the outset of this millennium.
We also hope to lead the church to faithful discipleship characterized by personal devotion to Christ expressed within the covenant community of believers. We continually seek a biblical vision of the redeeming and reconciling work of Christ for persons and the world in which they live. Our passionate commitment is to act as God's agents in the world as we anticipate the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.