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Spring 2003 · Vol. 32 No. 1 · pp. 122–26 

Ministry Compass

Planting Anabaptist Churches in Mexico

Jon Pritchard

For eight out of the last ten years I have had the privilege of being part of an inter-Mennonite church planting effort in the greater metropolitan area of Mexico City, Mexico. The organization under which I have served is known as “Comité Unido de Misión Anabautista” (the United Committee of Anabaptist Mission). Our goal was and continues to be the planting of churches with Anabaptist character.

Are we still about what Christ was about? If we are, church planting and mission will be a natural result of our life as churches.

It has been a refreshing opportunity to highlight and build our ministry teams and churches around those elements which have defined Anabaptism over the last five centuries. We have been led to put aside those things which have divided us into different Mennonite and Anabaptist denominations. We are not establishing MB, GC, MC, or EMC churches (the paragraph could be filled with more initials), but rather “Anabaptist” churches. The call has been given to fix our minds and hearts on what Bender refers to as the “Anabaptist Vision.”

WE ARE LIVING IN REFORMATION TIMES

Many people in Mexico today are questioning traditional religion, including both Roman Catholicism and traditional Protestantism. For most it is no longer sufficient for clergy to simply state believed truth. {123} They are looking for something or someone real to follow. In The Anabaptist Vision, Bender cites the words of an early Anabaptist leader which appear to be a mirror image of our context in contemporary Mexico:

We recognized a great lack as regards to repentance, conversion, and the true Christian life. Upon these things my mind was bent. I waited and hoped for a year or two, since the minister had much to say of amendment of life, of giving to the spoor, loving one another, and abstaining from evil. But I could not close my eyes to the fact that the doctrine which was preached and which was based on the Word of God, was not carried out. No beginning was made toward true Christian living, and there was no unison in the teaching concerning the things that were necessary. (Bender, 15-16)

Our culture even critiques the contemporary Evangelical movement this way. The divorce mentioned here between word and practice has placed people in a wary posture, protecting themselves from anything that hints at hypocrisy. I continually find myself in conversation with people who have given traditional church an opportunity to meet their greatest needs, only to walk off disillusioned by the experience.

This must catch our attention! We have the opportunity to plant new churches in the midst of this sea of doubt, but what do we have to share that is different from what is already out there? Let me continue with words from the same Anabaptist leader which follow closely after the previous quotation, speaking of an important “cloud of witnesses” who knew how to address the dilemma:

This gave me occasion to inquire further into these matters. Then God sent His messengers, Conrad Grebel and others, with whom I conferred about the fundamental teachings of the apostles and the Christian life and practice. I found them men who had surrendered themselves to the doctrine of Christ by “Bussfertigkeit” [repentance evidenced by fruits]. With their assistance we establised a congregation in which repentance was evidenced by newness of life in Christ. (Bender, 16)

The elements which distinguished Anabaptism and the lives of its followers filled a void in the lives of people plagued by incongruous {124} religious preaching and practice. There was a harmony resounding from the lives of the early Anabaptists that led people’s thoughts back to the New Testament church. This is rightly so, because the desire of Grebel, Menno Simons, and their brothers and sisters was not to initiate a new denomination, but rather to be faithful to Christ and his Word, which would result in the growth and extension of his Church. They represented a movement of the Spirit of God towards faithfulness to that which the Lord had always intended.

Bender points out three elements as the foundation for the Anabaptist movement: (1) a new conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship, (2) a new conception of the church as a congregation of voluntary members whose lives were defined by newness of life and believers baptism, and (3) the ethic of love and nonresistance as applied to all human relationships. These three distinctives enabled the movement’s original members to speak out a clear word and live out a life that made sense in a context of confusion. Anabaptism, lived out clearly in our context, can have the same effect.

WHAT WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT STILL WORKS

I want to continue by saying that the original Anabaptists believed that what distinguished them as a church was what also set the primitive Church apart from their religious contemporaries. It had everything to do with truly fleshing out in daily life what they had received from the life and teachings of Christ. Just as with the first disciples of Christ, these men and women made a conscious decision not to blend with the rest of society. This pure, Christlike testimony brought difficulty and even persecution, but at the same time resulted in the spiritual and numerical growth of the church.

I sincerely believe that the original Anabaptists would have much rather preferred a name like “truly faithful Christ-followers.” Anabaptism became a synonym for this—so much so that anyone who lived a consistent Christian life during the early sixteenth century was likely to be labeled with this nickname (Bender, 25). The testimony of true Christian living rocked the Reformation. This leads me to believe that true Anabaptism has something to offer contemporary society. I know it does in Mexico, and without a doubt in the rest of the world.

Authenticity still attracts people! Authentic Christian living still moves people. Can we say that the basis for effective church planting is authentic living? The most effective form of sharing the good news is still friendship or personal evangelism—the kind where people get to know who we really are and see whether we really live what we preach {125} and teach. What we have always been about as Anabaptists still works because what Christ has always been about still works.

Our spiritual ancestors would never separate themselves from the acts of Christ. With this statement, I open up my own life for examination and critique. In our quest to plant Anabaptist churches we must be willing to humbly open ourselves up to the question, “Are we still about what Christ was about?” If we are, church planting and mission will be a natural result of our life as churches.

TRUE ANABAPTISM RESULTS IN THE PLANTING OF CHURCHES

God has called us to be who we truly say we are, and to fulfill the mission we represent in Christ. All that we have claimed to be over the centuries as Anabaptists points to Christ and the establishment of his Church. A focus on discipleship as the essence of Christianity directs us toward the great commission (Matt. 28:19-20), among other Scriptures, for we are to go and make more of these disciples and teach them to live out everything that Christ commanded.

A new concept of the church as a community of believers, who totally represent a commitment to new life as represented by baptism, points us to the formation of church bodies to be able to faithfully live out the precepts of Christ.

A radical concept of love not only speaks of Christlike living, but also of our identity as his church. Jesus said that the whole world will know that we are his disciples by the way in which we love one another (John 13:34-35).

In Mexico City we have personally experienced how love has been the core factor for growth in the church, both spiritually and numerically. As Anabaptists we should be well aware of what it takes to experience “natural church growth.” We have followed a consistent call to be faithful to the core teachings of Christ. When others, as well as we ourselves, moved away from the fundamental teachings of Christ to superficial issues, brothers and sisters have risen up and called us back to the center.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

As an Anabaptist church planter I am trying to get back to the center, Christ, and his way of doing things. I have also been given the responsibility to call my brothers and sisters back as well. In the midst of societies plagued by overcomplexity, ambiguity, and confusion, a “faithful cloud of witnesses” has periodically called us back to focus on {126} the essential elements of faith and practice.

A faithful witness to these elements has historically brought revival and church growth. May the Lord give us strength to be truly faithful to that which we already know and have known for centuries. May we lead a new generation into a less complex and clearer following of Christ, who has promised to use us for the faithful building of his church.

WORK CITED

  • Bender, Harold S. 1944. The anabaptist vision. Scottdale, PA: Herald.
Jon Pritchard graduated from Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas, with a B.A. in General Agriculture. He received his M.Div. in World Mission from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California. Jon has served with Mennonite Brethren Missions and Services International in Mexico for eight of the past ten years.

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