Gospel message needs witness for peace, say Latin American Anabaptists

By agency reporter
January 8, 2008

Anabaptism, a dissenting Christian tradition associated with the world's historic peace churches, provides a specific way of understanding what it means to follow Jesus, a leading presenter at a major Mennonite consultation has declared.

The comment came as the results were being circulated this week of the 34th assembly of CAMCA (Consulta Anabautista Menonita Centroamericana) held at the Casa Horeb Church in Guatemala City from 28-30 November 2007. They emphasised the deep congruity between announcing the Gospel message and acting for peace and justice in the world.

In a Mennonite World Conference release, Milka Ridzinski writes: Some 120 people attended, including delegates from every member conference and organization in Central America as well as people from Mennonite Church USA, Canada and the Andean and Southern Cone areas.

Two related events had already taken place: the First Consultation of Anabaptist Hispanic Theological Institutions and the Second Gathering of Anabaptist Women Theologians of Central America. Participation was animated in all three events.

The assembly’s theme, “The Call to Mission, Reflections and Challenges from an Anabaptist Biblical Perspective” was examined by Peter Stucky of Colombia, Mennonite World Conference Executive Committee member for Latin America.

Stucky described the experience of the Teusaquillo Mennonite Church in Bogotá, Colombia, where he is pastor. He said, “I would like to use this [experience] to illustrate that to live the gospel and to live Anabaptism are not two different things, but rather that Anabaptism provides a specific way of understanding what it means to follow Jesus. I do not say it is better or worse than the perspectives of other families of faith, but that it is our own, that it enriches and orients us in the midst of the great tensions that we suffer in Latin America.”

Stucky also spoke of the falsity of the dichotomy that is sometimes presented between being Anabaptist or Mennonite, evangelizing and spreading the gospel or working for justice and peace, or praying and seeking the gifts of the Spirit. Such dichotomies "disunite us and tear apart the fabric of the Body of the Lord", he said.

Stucky opened his presentation on the Holy Spirit in Anabaptist history by saying, “It is no secret that in historic churches, the topic of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the church has generated considerable controversy, rejections, sadness and perhaps some divisions or loss of members and congregations in conferences. On one side, people with certain prejudices easily say that some of our churches don’t have the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, some of our Anabaptist 'purists' disqualify some of the more 'lively' Mennonite churches, saying they are not Mennonite.

“It seems that it is difficult for us to live together in respect when it comes to understanding what the presence of the Holy Spirit means in the life of the congregation. But what is certain is that if we don’t give the Holy Spirit an open and enthusiastic invitation in the life of our congregations we are going to be sowing in sterile soil and we will neither be able to evangelize nor give an effective peace and justice testimony.”

“We are thankful for this time of reflecting together in the light of God’s Word about themes that are of interest to us all, and for having been able to make of this occasion a space to enjoy communion and share experiences,” remarked Sandra Campos, chair of CAMCA.

In a concluding statement, delegates said that they felt called by the Holy Spirit to live and proclaim a gospel that “reveals anti-kingdom values in the world and offers a liberating and integrating message inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

They declared that their churches are an interdependent, committed community; that they would study, reflect, discern and listen to God’s voice through brothers and sisters and the signs of the times; that they would continue their pilgrimage together, aware of their unity amidst diversity; that they would endeavour to recapture 16th-century Anabaptist cornerstones for living out their spirituality; that they would use their gifts to build better churches, families and a better society; and that they would commit themselves to preserve hope, faith and unity. (For the full text of the declaration, visit www.mwc-cmm.org).

Campos affirmed that the assembly agreed that future assemblies will be held every two years, alternating with the Hans Denck Lectures offered by SEMILLA (Latin American Anabaptist Seminary) and that board members will serve for four years. The next assembly will be in 2009.

Coordination of the three regional events allowed for a better administration of finances. “We are thankful to the National Evangelical Mennonite Church in Guatemala, our host,” added Campos, “as well as to organizations that contributed funds and resource persons for one or more of the events: SEMILLA and other Latin American churches and institutions, Mennonite Women USA, Canadian Women in Mission, Mennonite World Conference, Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Mission Network of the Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, and CIMLAC.

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