Our foundational documents and our Journey Forward

Iris de León-Hartshorn is associate executive director of Mennonite Church USA. This post is adapted from a presentation Iris gave at the April meeting of the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC).

The Word Became Flesh

John 1:1-5; 14, 16-18 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

At the last meeting of the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) I did a short presentation about our church documents in relationship to the Journey Forward process. Renewed Commitments is a summary of what we heard at the Future Church Summit (FCS), and its intent is to invite us to experience and share how we are engaging in our context as followers of Jesus.

diagram of the various Mennonite foundation documents throughout history

But one question keeps coming up: What will happen to our current documents? Our past confessions and documents don’t go away. All our documents are still in play in various ways, just not all in the same way for every person, congregation or conference. They continue to be a sign post of where we were when the document was written, a historical piece. Renewed Commitments serves an identity and aspirational document describing who we are and what we aspire to become as followers of Jesus Christ. The attached spiral image illustrates the various confessions of faith throughout our Anabaptist history. It show us that the church is not stagnant. The various formational documents throughout our history exemplify our living faith, open to respond to the living Word, Jesus Christ.

Journey Forward is a way for us to engage the living Word of God. We are followers of Jesus Christ, who continues to reveal himself to us through scripture, worship, prayer, fasting and other spiritual practices. As Anabaptist we interpret scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, the living Word as revealed in John 1:14.

At the FCS, the theme team listened and recorded what they heard the church saying was important to us as Anabaptist in the 21st Century. Renewed Commitments is a snapshot of what they heard coming to the forefront. So how are we living out these commitments and how do we see ourselves engaging in these commitments from congregations to the denomination?

We want to focus on a living faith. As followers of Jesus we must commit to responding to the Word in our local and global context. Can we extend the grace God has given each person, each congregation, each conference to respond to God’s call for their context as they minister in the name of Jesus Christ?

We will always have issues before us and the fact is that there are many issues we are still working through from women in leadership, racism and now the question of what does inclusion mean. Being able to talk and challenge each other on the many issues we face is important but these conversations must start in our congregations and conferences.

Our documents reflect what we discern God is revealing to us as a community of faith as we leave room for the Spirit’s movement and God’s continued revelation to us in the future.

The Journey Forward is a process meant to call us to a living faith, open to hearing the living Word, to faithfully minister in our context and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us as God creates a new thing within us and with all of creation.

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