10-year series commemorates 500th anniversary
Mennonite World Conference news story
Mennonite Brethren were among the regional Anabaptists and leaders from around the world who gathered Feb. 12, 2017, in Augsburg, Germany for “Transformed by the Word: Reading Scripture in Anabaptist Perspectives,” the first in a 10-year series of events called “Renewal 2027” organized by Mennonite World Conference (MWC). Renewal 2027 commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition with appreciation and critical reflection on what is now a global movement within the larger body of Christ.
From their beginnings and based on their understanding of the Bible, Anabaptists emphasized a personal commitment to following Christ, baptism upon a free confession of faith, a collective approach to reading and interpreting Scripture, a commitment to reconciliation and love of enemy and a rejection of the state church, said Alfred Neufeld, a Mennonite Brethren leader from Paraguay who chairs the MWC Faith and Life Commission.
At the church tradition’s 500th anniversary, “What should be reconsidered or reformulated? Where are the gaps in our theology and practice?” Neufeld asked.
The full-day event was interspersed exhortations from representatives of the MWC family with singing from the Assembly 16 songbook and a participatory Bible study on reaching agreement on controversial subjects within the church, based on Acts 15:1–21.
Anabaptism is as needed as ever, said Valerie Rempel, professor at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary in Fresno, Calif., calling for “radical Bible reading in the spirit of the early Anabaptists… [and re-engagement] with God’s Word and with our own theological tradition to see how it can offer us wisdom for living as Christians in our world and for engaging in mission that invites all people.”
Makadunyiswe Ngulube of Zimbabwe said, “There is no segregation when it comes to the message of Christ, to those sharing it and to those receiving it.” Ngulube and the other YABs committee (Young AnaBaptists) speakers, reflected on Matthew 28:19 and highlighted personal responsibility to learn, go and share as followers of Christ. “We need a culture that emphasizes discipleship as a responsibility for every believer of Christ… [drawn from] our deep understanding and full experience of his power and grace,” said Ebenezer Mondez of the Philippines.
Ecumenical guests spoke about reading Scripture across confessions. Renewal can come when we read the Bible as individuals, but it is even more powerful when read Scripture together, said Lutheran Friederike Nuessel of Germany. Nuessel and Roman Catholic Monsignor Augusto-Castro of Colombia were representatives in the just-completed Trilateral dialogue between Mennonites, Catholics and Lutherans.
Worship, fellowship, witness and service in the Anabaptist tradition turn reading Scripture into a living faith, said YABs mentor Tigist Gelagle of Ethiopia. “The way of the cross is the basic teaching that inspires me about the future of the church,” said Gelagle. The truth that inspired early Anabaptists to martyrdom is the key for following Jesus today: “The suffering of Christ is the central theme of the gospel.”
Event participant Doris Hege, chairperson of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Gemeiden, was reminded Scripture is a living word. “We need to read it as if for the first time in our current context,” she said. “What new things can God speak to us?”
Daniel Geiser-Oppliger of a Mennonite congregation in Switzerland was similarly impressed with the relevance of the Word of God for Anabaptism today and valued the fellowship of the event: “being together, seeing old friends and meeting new brothers and sisters.”
John D. Roth was the primary coordinator of the Renewal 2027 event in Augsburg, with help from Jantine Huisman and Henk Stenvers of the Netherlands and Rainer Burkart of Germany, who served on the local planning committee.
More about Renewal 2017
From the MWC website
Renewal 2027 is a 10-year series of events sponsored by Mennonite World Conference to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Anabaptist movement. The project calls attention to the global nature of the contemporary Anabaptist-Mennonite church and the ecumenical relations with other churches in the body of Christ, while renewing MWC's commitment to faithful discipleship to Christ.
The inaugural event of “Renewal 2027” took place in Germany Feb. 12, 2017, as a one-day conference, “Transformed by the Word: Anabaptist Interpretations of Scripture.” The gathering – 500 years after Luther’s famous appeal to sola scriptura – explored how Anabaptists have engaged the Bible in the past and how it continues to be relevant in our global community today. “Transformed by the Word” took place in connection with meetings of the MWC Executive Committee and Commissions.
The next event, focused on the Holy Spirit, is scheduled to take place in Kisumu, Kenya, as part of the MWC General Council meetings in April 2018. Subsequent events will be held alongside regularly scheduled MWC gatherings in Latin America (2019), North America (2020) and Indonesia (2021).
Although a special celebration in Europe in 2025 will mark the 500th anniversary of the first adult baptisms, the commemoration events culminate in 2027. 2027 is the 500th anniversary of both the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, which helped to consolidate the early Anabaptist movement, and the “Martyrs Synod,” when a diverse group of Anabaptist leaders met in Augsburg to develop a shared strategy for mission. Renewal 2027 will conclude with the 18th MWC Assembly.
We hope that Renewal 2027 will strengthen our identity by engaging conversations that reflect on what it means to be Anabaptist today as a global family in fellowship with the broader Christian church.
Overseeing the work of Renewal 2027 are Alfred Neufeld, chair; John D. Roth, coordinator; Liesa Unger, logistics; and Arli Klassen, finances. A local planning committee will select the theme and coordinate each regional event.
Renewal 2027 is guided by six goals:
a. to encourage and strengthen our global faith witness through theological/historical teaching and discussion focused on the Reformation and Anabaptist beginnings;
b. to renew and deepen our understanding of Christian faithfulness as shaped by the Anabaptist movement;
c. to promote “right remembering” through a focus on local church history within the larger context of the history of the Anabaptist (and Christian) tradition;
d. to nurture a deeper sense of connection among member churches within MWC through a focus on our shared theology and history;
e. to improve ecumenical [inter-church] relations, using these events as an opportunity to highlight ecumenical conversations where appropriate;
f. to strengthen a sense of identity and witness with Anabaptist groups beyond MWC members.