Adventists and Mennonites in conversation

Adventists and Mennonites in conversation

Adventist and Mennonite Leaders meeting in Silver Spring/USA

Bern, Switzerland [APD; CD EUDNews]. In 2011 and 2012, representatives of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and of the Mennonite World Conference met together for official conversations. In many respects the meetings proved to be a journey

March 08, 2013 | APD; CD EUDNews;

Bern, Switzerland [APD; CD EUDNews]. In 2011 and 2012, representatives of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and of the Mennonite World Conference met together for official conversations. In many respects the meetings proved to be a journey of mutual discovery. Mennonites and Adventists have had frequent contacts during the past forty years, particularly through their participation in the annual meetings of the secretaries of Christian World Communions.

These periodic encounters, along with other contacts, gradually led to the conviction on both sides that an official conversation might be both instructive and valuable. Adventists and Mennonites have distinct identities that are critically important to them. From the outset of discussions leading to the conversation, it was understood that organic union was not the objective. Rather, the dialogue would provide an opportunity for learning about each other's history, beliefs and values, clarifying misunderstandings, and removing stereotypes. Out of the discussion, therefore, might emerge areas where Mennonites and Adventists can join forces in selected areas of mutual concern.

The history of Mennonites stretches back 500 years, that of the Adventists' only about 160 years. Mennonites arose out of the religious ferment of the sixteenth century, Adventists out of the Second Great Awakening in the United States in the 1830s and 1840s. The mennonites come from the anabaptist tradition. The Anabaptists were persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants. Since “Anabaptist” was from the beginning a designation of opprobrium, many adopted the term “Mennonite” after the name of Menno Simons, a Dutch leader and writer, who stressed a renewed vision for the church, including the call for followers of Jesus to reject violence and seek peace.

Over the course of the centuries, Mennonites, along with other branches of the Anabaptists, suffered ongoing persecution, including imprisonment and death, because of their beliefs and practices. They frequently found it necessary to uproot and move on, seeking a more tolerant environment. Many eventually migrated to Canada and the United States where they established communities.

In 1925 European Mennonite churches came together to form the Mennonite World Conference (MWC). Today Mennonites are frequently known as a “peace church.” They are active in building congregations as disciples of Jesus - the Prince of Peace, living and promoting reconciliation, mediation, justice and peace in all aspects of life. As a consequence of active missionary and evangelistic engagement over the last century, MWC is presently made up of 101 national churches, in 53 countries, with 1.3 million members.

The first conversation was held June 28—July 1, 2011, at Seventh-day Adventist world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA; the second, May 27-31, 2012, at the Study and Conference Center Bienenberg, near Basel, Switzerland. Each day's discussion began and ended with worship, the worship leader alternating between the two communions. The theme, “Living the Christian Life in Today's World,” focused both conversations, which were built on papers prepared on selected topics by representatives from each side. These papers, while theological in nature, endeavoured to show the practical outworking in the life of the community.

During the first round of conversation, each group presented an overview of their communion's history. Papers followed on the topics of peace; non-violence and military service; discipleship and non-conformity; health, healing and ecology; and the nature and mission of the church.

In the second dialogue, major papers were presented from each side on eschatology, nonconformity, and hermeneutics. In addition, shorter discussions took up questions raised by each communion prior to the meeting in Bienenberg. Mennonites responded to issues of pacifism, Sabbath, salvation and obedience, personal lifestyle, hermeneutics, and eschatology. Adventists addressed questions of military service, Sabbath, contextualization, justice and discipleship, the role of women in ministry, church discipline, Ellen White, and eschatology.

Participants in the conversation quickly realized that they have much in common. They share a desire to recover the authenticity and passion of the New Testament church, a similar understanding of Christian history, and a strong commitment to be followers of Jesus in their personal lives and in their corporate witness to the world. Each communion brought to the conversation a deep experience of what it means to live the Christian faith, often as a minority voice in the world, and stressed the importance of discipleship and the practical living out of the Christian life. Together they understand that Christians live “in the world” but are not “of the world.”

pictures: Adventist Leaders meeting Mennonite Leaders (ANN archive)

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