Having grown up through the Mennonite Brethren tradition, I find there are many ‘core’ beliefs that I take for granted. Pacifism, separation of church and state, and adult baptism sound obvious to me. Of course, we should believe those! Aren’t they clearly THE TRUTH?
A deeper exploration of my own convictions, and opposing convictions held by friends, led me to critique my beliefs. Why do MBs believe what they do? Why do I choose to align myself with them?
A friend mentioned that the 2019 Equip Study Conference might help me to address those questions and so I went.
Honestly, as I have little formal education in theology, much of the content from the conference went well over my head. But I did find something important and that was during the practical application sessions.
What is it we were practicing, you ask?
The interpretive method
As I am not a biblical scholar, my explanation of the interpretive method is only as I understand it for those who are not familiar.
Together, Mark Wessner and Doug Heidebrecht explained to us that interpretation is done through recognizing the authority of Scripture, the guidance of the Spirit, and discernment in community.
To begin, we analyze our personal approach the Bible and adopt a posture that humbles us to be more receptive to hear what God is saying.
Next, we interpret a piece of text using literary and contextual cues as a community of believers.
Finally, we apply the interpretation to our own context and outline how we intend to live in light of it.
What I witnessed while putting this method into practice was powerful. Lay-people, church professionals, and theological scholars sitting together and seeking God’s voice as one people. A single body.
It was a clear reminder that reading and interpreting Scripture is no longer just for a select few but rather for every follower of Christ. In the group I was part of, we did not always completely agree on everything. That was ok. We were sharpening each other, filling in each other’s knowledge gaps, providing new insights that hadn’t been previously considered.
We weren’t going to establish a new resolution for our denomination; that wasn’t the point. What we did was wrestle with Scripture in a posture of humility, listening to the Spirit and testing our beliefs. That was beautiful.
The method we learned is exciting because it encourages you to have more voices at the table.
We have become comfortable with lecture style learning on Sunday mornings, and we have biblical precedence for that method. However, there is something powerful and beautiful about communal interpretation.
Our congregations must be reminded they are not merely receptacles of God’s Word. They are members of the priesthood, filled with the Holy Spirit for the building of God’s kingdom. Interpretation is accessible to them.
Though I still wrestle with my convictions and those of the MB Confession of Faith, I now understand that’s ok. I am part of a community that regularly and humbly returns to the Word to test those confessions, never assuming the work is finished. This desire to faithfully love God in light of the gospel of Jesus makes for a community that I can stand with.
1 Corinthians 13:12–13