Increasingly, I have found doctrinal statements or prescribed sets of beliefs don’t work for me. In setting our ‘rules’ in stone, we (as Christendom, historically) have legislated exclusivist behaviour–accepting those who agree with our truth and excluding those who do not.
Reading about the Anabaptists (and their various incarnations across the globe), I discovered that they share the same caution regarding creeds and statements of faith. I appreciate their conviction that what we believe today may change as we see things in a different light tomorrow.
I found the following on the website of the Anabaptist Network (UK & Ireland).
The Anabaptist tradition has been wary of creeds and fixed statements of faith, concerned at imposing interpretive grids on Scripture and of conveying the idea that there is no possibility of our understanding developing in fresh ways. But Anabaptists have produced various Confessions, setting out not a comprehensive statement of beliefs but a summary of distinctive values, convictions and practices. These statements are always provisional and subject to review in light of fresh insights.
The Anabaptist Network has set out seven ‘Core Convictions’ which form the basis of all their inter-relatedness and mission. I can’t help but see these as a good starting framework for a better way of living as the ‘Beloved Community’ (a.k.a. the kingdom of God) within our own context of relationships and church/para-church/ex-church communities:
1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.
2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.
3. Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalised Jesus, and has left the churches ill-equipped for mission in a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.
4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.
5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship. As we eat together, sharing bread and wine, we sustain hope as we seek God’s kingdom together. We are committed to nurturing and developing such churches, in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender and baptism is for believers.
6. Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation, and working for justice.
7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations.