Tag Archives: Church

Anabaptists, Ecclesiology and Community

Yesterday I reflected on the ways that the movie, Lars and the Real Girl, offers us a vision of ecclesiology that is founded on radical love for the individual and for a whole community. Love that is both fluid/adaptable and inherently particular.

John Howard Yoder

The Mennonite and Anabaptist faith tradition also takes seriously the particularity of each church body. In his book, Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World, seminal Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder, addresses the diverse and evolving nature of Christian communities. Yoder notes that congregations must see moral discernment as an ongoing process. He writes, “Just as a wisely written constitution for an institution or government provides procedures for amendment and for decision making rather than immutable prescriptions, so the Christian community is equipped not with a code but with decision-making potential.” He goes on to emphasize that communities must take their social location and overall situation into account when developing ecclesiological standards. Yoder writes, “Any full system of goals and procedures which could be adequate to guide the obedience of Christians in one specific situation, would by that very fact have to be out of date or out of place in other situations.”

Yoder’s ecclesiological practices are similar to  Marjorie Suchocki’s process ecclesiology, which I discussed yesterday. Both emphasize

Marjorie Suchoki

that the ways love and justice, the guiding principles of the church, manifest themselves and will need to be discerned within each individual church community. This may seem obvious. The various Mennonite congregations that I have had occasion to visit all have different ideas about what it means to be church, and their ministries reflect these distinctive callings. Congregations full of middle-class professionals in Goshen, Indiana will support each other in different ways than a congregation in the midst of a rapidly evolving agricultural area in Pennsylvania or than the congregation full of first-generation immigrants to the United States in the middle of Los Angeles. Although there are Mennonite and Anabaptist congregations that fit each of these very diverse distinctions, and the majority of these congregations identify their work as growing out of the legacy of Jesus Christ’s ministry of reconciliation and love, each of these congregations interprets their call to ministry very differently. 

Yoder also describes the process of moral discernment and the discovery of community standards as a community process that must be inclusive of all members of each church or group. Building on the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth, written out in the Bible, Yoder emphasizes that “everyone has something to say.” The emphasis on the priesthood and participation of all believers is one of the distinctive elements of traditional Anabaptist and Mennonite ecclesiology.

In the Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective, one attempt to represent the key beliefs of Mennonite Church USA in this current moment, it states, “In making decisions…all members of the church listen and speak in a spirit of prayerful openness, with the Scriptures as a constant guide…In a process of discernment, it is better to wait patiently for a word from the Lord leading toward consensus, than to make hasty decisions.” This focus on consensus-building and the inclusion of all members’ voices is important. Although the church has often fallen short of privileging the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals and others, the underlying principle of the church emphasizes the importance of including as many voices as possible in a decision-making process. In fact, due to some unfortunate circumstances surrounding Yoder’s relationships with other women (which could certainly merit a whole other series of blog posts on their own), he himself was at one point asked to submit to the broader church’s discernment and communal discipline.  In fact, one could suggest that an Anabaptist ecclesiology implies that the broader the swath of voices included, the more integrity a decision-making process has. 

This focus on equality and inclusivity is also compatible with Suchocki’s process ecclesiology. It seems logical that any ecclesiology that emphasizes love and justice as guiding ecclesiological principles will care about equality and inclusivity. Suchocki emphasizes the importance of both the individual and the community. She notes that it is the community that brings an individual into being, but that in return, the individual contributes to the life of the community. She also emphasizes that the church can only “manifest holiness” through its communal structure. Individuals within each church are bound together by a common identity in Christ, and are therefore each called to participate in the communal work and ministry of the church.

Clearly, the ecclesiology espoused throughout Anabaptist history is much more radical and inclusive than we perhaps believe and/or live out today.

So, how does your church fit within this picture? What does the idea of church and/or ecclesiology mean to you?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Church

Every Woman Strives to Keep it All Together

Anna Yoder Schlabach, another Mennonite in a little black maternity dress

Guest post from… Anna Yoder Schlabach graduated from Goshen College in 2007 and from Iliff School of Theology in 2011 with a Master of Divinity. Anna and her husband Brian currently live in Albuquerque, NM , where they serve as leaders for Mennonite Mission Network’s Service Adventure program. They currently live with four teenagers, four chickens and one dog. They’re expecting twins in August.

The other day I received a Thirty-One catalogue from my sister-in-law who was hosting a Thirty-One party (think Mary Kay but with tote bags instead of make-up). Since I’m about six months pregnant, I flipped through the catalogue hoping to find an affordable diaper bag. And although I didn’t find what I was looking for, the content proved to be a surprising source for a little self reflection. Each page of the catalogue had a catchy slogan on it, certainly created not only to inspire women to buy bags, but to inspire women themselves. Phrases like “Smart virtuous women have goals, right?” and “Be yourself, be confident, be independent” are splashed across the pages.  These slogans were ok, but the one that really got me thinking was, “Every woman strives to keep it all together.”

While every woman may strive to keep it all together, for me the task has recently seemed more daunting. Somewhere between moving to Albuquerque to lead and live with a group of four teenagers, weathering a house fire in December, and getting pregnant  and seeing an ultrasound with not one, but two babies on it, things may have spiraled out of my control. Some of these are challenges, and some of these are gifts from God. Either way, I can’t keep it all together and I don’t think a tote bag is going to help. I may have to ask my community for help. But I’m not happy about it.

A decade ago (when I at least thought I had things under control), I was a senior in high school and considering becoming baptized.  A huge part of what eventually sold me on getting baptized was the way I saw my community responding to someone who needed help. A person in my congregation shared one Sunday morning about a medical condition that would likely leave her in a wheelchair for life. People in the congregation got up and embraced her, creating a circle of support around her in a moment of communal despair and lament. That image compelled me to join this community – a community of people asking for and receiving help. Community is one of the things that Mennonites do best.  We are a people who believe in living out the life of Christ through

I think I'll need more than a tote bag to hold it all together...

our relationships with each other. I believe that the church is the perfect place to seek help, but then why am I so reluctant to appear weak or vulnerable or like I don’t have it all together, particularly in front of my church community?

I think part of what bothers me about asking for help from my congregation is that I like being up front at church, this is part of what drew me to seminary; I enjoy leading worship and being involved in public ways.  But I always like to be prepared when I’m going to be in front of people. I like to appear that I have it all together, not only because I think it makes the worship service flow better, but because I like to present my best self, which is maybe antithetical to what worship is all about. It’s not about me, it’s about God. And it’s about following Jesus, a man who probably didn’t give a lot of thought to how his hair looked when he was speaking to the masses, or about appearing “in control” when he washed his disciples’ feet.

The real Jesus never would have done this

Plus, Jesus was always receiving from other people. He was hosted in peoples’ homes all the time and he rarely shied away from people who clearly couldn’t keep it all together. As followers of Jesus, we are called to both accept hospitality from others, and to seek help, allowing the community to respond as Jesus would to our myriad needs. Come August, I hope that I have the grace to allow others to care for me (and forgive me for showing up to church with my hair unwashed and spit-up on my shirt). This isn’t shameful, this is what it means to live in a way that recognizes that we all rely on God, that we can’t do it all by ourselves. No woman can keep it all together by herself. Thirty-One suggests that the solution is just the right combination of tote bags and motivational quotes, but I’m trying to trust that the answer is more likely found in opening myself up to the care of my community, trusting that at some point, I’ll be on the other side of the helping again.

3 Comments

Filed under Church, Mennonite Identity, Motherhood