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Spring 2007 · Vol. 36 No. 1 · pp. 5–19 

Anabaptist Liturgy: An Oxymoron?

Michelle Ferguson

Six months in an Episcopal church was all it took to get me hooked on liturgy. Episcopal priest and Old Testament professor Anthony Petrotta said in class, “Liturgy is storytelling.” Having only attended “nonliturgical” churches in the past, I had been taught to think that “liturgy” equaled boring, mechanical, and meaningless. I was reminded of how I used to think about liturgy when a friend of mine recently attended an Episcopal service and said on the car ride home, “There is no room for the Spirit.” He made a connection between “scripted” and “empty.” I used to think similarly.

I am a hopeful storyteller on the way toward an Anabaptist liturgy.

As I evaluate that thought I realize that it has come more from an American cultural belief in individuality, originality, and impulsiveness than it has come from a biblical conviction. Freedom of expression is prized in our culture, and the church service is one place where I have been taught we come to express ourselves to God. Communication with God happens spontaneously or not at all; planning something as personal as prayer feels artificial. My Protestant background and its anti-Catholicism also played into my prejudice against liturgy: what Catholics do is dead ritual; Luther and his contemporaries freed us from that prison. Evangelicalism added to my developing suspicion of liturgy: faith and salvation are very personal matters that I must feel if they are to be genuine; liturgy pays no attention to how I feel.

ASSESSING MY EXPERIENCE WITH CHURCH

The ironic part of my years in nonliturgical churches and my arrogance in thinking I was doing it “right” is that liturgy was, unbeknownst to me, very much a part of my experience of church. Dr. Petrotta also said in class, “Give me two weeks in your church and I’ll tell you what your order of service is, when and how your pastor will pray, and what the people are supposed to do.” The churches I have attended typically do the same thing every week; in fact, church members tend to get quite upset or uncomfortable when something gets changed.

Author and speaker Lauren Winner writes about this kind of liturgy: “Even my friend Meg, who left the too-liturgical Episcopal Church for a praise-song-singing, spontaneous-prayer-praying charismatic church, will, I suspect, discover that she is doing liturgy: After enough time, the rhythms of the praise songs and the (seemingly) spontaneous prayers will become familiar and even routine, a liturgy of its own.” 1

One of the things my friend specified when he critiqued the Episcopal church we attended was that the prayers were written. He did not feel like we were praying because the prayer belonged to someone else and was written out. How do you know what you want or need to pray if you try to write it out ahead of time? I have heard this man pray over a meal dozens of times, and, strangely enough, every prayer is almost identical: he begins and ends the same, and though the content may come out in a different order, all the same parts are present. It is no surprise what he will pray when he closes his eyes and bows his head before a meal. I expect this example represents much of our nonliturgical prayer lives; it also represents much of our nonliturgical church experience.

In my church, and in most of the churches I have attended, the nonliturgical nature of the service tends to result in a dilemma of direction. What is the service for? It is clear in the Episcopal church that the liturgy guides the participant toward the Eucharist: the people are gathered to tell and live the story of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The Southern Baptist church of my youth had a traditional Baptist preacher who gave an altar call after every sermon each Sunday: those services culminated in the decision of committing or recommitting one’s life to the Lord. How do these churches promote maturation? If every service culminates in such a narrow evangelistic message, where does the church practice discipleship? How do those who have walked down the aisle and accepted Christ grow? Is there a real concept of growth?

The churches I attended while in college (nondenominational and Evangelical Free) introduced me to new language for church: they identified their gatherings as “worship services.” This title informed people right away what the service was for and how it would go: music took center stage; personal (individual) experience was emphasized. Often these services were driven thematically, intentional about content rather than form. We gathered to feel something in worship and to hear something encouraging from the pulpit. In this case, one’s feelings determined whether or not it was a “good” worship service. The purpose of church tended to be self-centered. The service did not give much direction beyond turning inward.

How do churches like these keep from being narcissistic? How do these services move people outside of themselves and into the world? Does discipleship in these settings become about cultivating feelings and experience instead of sacrifice and service? What happens when feelings do not cooperate, such as in the case of people suffering from depression?

ANABAPTIST CHURCH PRACTICE

It was not until I encountered Anabaptist theology that I began reconceptualizing church. Before I knew anything about Anabaptism or Mennonites, I yearned for church to be about newness: stepping into the new creation, learning a new way of being in the world. I found my concern echoed the concern of the sixteenth-century radicals nicknamed Anabaptists. They desired to finish what the Reformers had started; they sought the re-creation of the church envisioned by Christ and the apostles. 2 This church would be a gathering of “brethren,” men and women living lives “surrendered . . . to the doctrine of Christ by ‘Bussfertigkeit’ [repentance evidenced by fruits].” 3 This regenerated life was the Anabaptist vision.

Since being rebaptized theologically, I have been looking for a local community in which to explore and live the Anabaptist vision of church. I expected to find and join a congregation engaging its Anabaptism. After a short time of disillusionment over not finding such a place, I realized that I would have to pick a community and find ways of encouraging its reduced or forgotten Anabaptism.

In December 2005 I became a member of Shafter Mennonite Brethren Church (SMBC) and started brainstorming ways in which I could explore my Anabaptism and encourage other Anabaptist confessors in the same pursuit. My first task was academic: as a Fuller Theological Seminary student, I was able to design a directed study in Anabaptist ecclesiology. Within this academic context, I set out on a journey to explore the heretofore uncharted territory of Anabaptist liturgy.

Nancey Murphy suggested to me that a Brethren/Mennonite liturgist seemed an oxymoron. 4 I imagine this good-humored comment was made for the same reason James Bradley, in his course Christian Spirituality, 5 said that the term “Protestant spirituality” seems laughable to some Catholics. Liturgical churches look at what many Mennonites do and have good reason to say, “I don’t know what you call it, but that is not liturgy.” What we do most of the time probably looks haphazard and lazy. It may seem shallow. As one who belongs to the group I am critiquing, I conclude that what we do is a bit disordered, languid, and superficial precisely because it is not rigorously shaped by our ecclesiology.

Mennonite Brethren (MB) are struggling with identity, and it is no surprise: what we do when we come together lacks lucidity. Is this because we do not know who we are (our ecclesiology)? I have heard my pastor on several occasions describe Mennonite Brethren as three streams converging into one river that is MB: we are a conglomeration of Anabaptism, evangelicalism, and the charismatic movement. We have a smorgasbord of characteristics to choose from, but we have little idea how to identify who we are and form that identity in others who might join us. We may like to think our identity is “Christian,” but we struggle with the dualism of church and world as well as the division between Catholic and Protestant and, within Protestantism, the divisions between denominations.

As MBs, we have to negotiate this “river of three streams.” We may then turn to Scripture and say that we are people who believe in the Bible, but how do we read Scripture? 6 As Anabaptists? As evangelicals? As charismatics? Do we even know what we mean by Anabaptist, evangelical, or charismatic? And if one part of the group prefers one stream over the other, what does our river look like? How do we function? Majority rules? In the midst of our identity confusion there seems to be no orienting or unifying center, no hermeneutic with which to identify ourselves. We continue picking and choosing as we like from whatever tradition we like, and as we gain new members we tell them to do the same.

In a situation like this how do we decide what our times of gathering look like? We are back to my previous question: What is the service for? What is it we are doing together? Who are we together? In other words, what is church and how do we embody it? My query required turning to Anabaptism for vision: what is an Anabaptist conception of church (ecclesiology), and how would that church’s narration of the gospel take on flesh and blood (liturgy)? Dr. Murphy, though poking fun about “Mennonite liturgy” being an oxymoron, told me that Anabaptists need a liturgist. I agree.

THE ECCLESIOLOGY OF ANABAPTISM

Mennonite pastor Walfred Fahrer contends that “the heart of Mennonite identity is a common biblical understanding of being church.” 7 Fahrer and Mennonite historian Harold Bender understand the Anabaptist/Mennonite vision of church in three parts: Fahrer outlines “church” as a “common sense of belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ” (community), “a genuine alternative to other societies” (alternative/distinctive), and “a high level of mutual commitment and loyalty—a commitment even stronger than to one’s biological family” (primary). Bender outlines the Anabaptist vision as “a new conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship” (following), “a new conception of the church as a brotherhood” (community of equals), and “a new ethic of love and nonresistance” (noncoercive). 8 If we put these two sets of ideas together, Anabaptist-Mennonite ecclesiology can be defined as follows: the church is a community of brothers and sisters in faith who have voluntarily committed themselves wholly to a radical life of discipleship. 9

The most recent MB Confession of Faith defines the nature of the church (article 6) and draws implications for worship, fellowship and ministry. 10 The church is called by God and constitutes the body of Christ, i.e., makes Christ visible in the world. The church is a covenant community practicing interdependence and mutuality and does worship which, according to the confession, means gathering for the purpose of (1) nourishment, (2) glorifying God, (3) celebrating the resurrection, (4) celebrating God’s faithfulness and grace, (5) reaffirming one’s faith, (6) edifying the body, (7) seeking God’s will, and (8) observing baptism and communion as proclamation of the gospel. These eight things are what we say should happen when we come together in order that the church may be the church.

What we do together should be shaped by and centered on the story of the Word of God. 11 Sixteenth-century Anabaptists were concerned to take Jesus and his teachings seriously. For that reason the New Testament was primary: the story of Jesus’ life is the hermeneutic for understanding the whole of Scripture, and it contains a vision and model for being church. In order to celebrate the resurrection and God’s faithfulness and grace, the church must intimately know the biblical story. Like the psalmists who recount God’s specific acts of faithfulness to Israel in order to praise him, the church must glorify God not abstractly but concretely as the God who has been-there. 12

Each time the church gathers and encounters God’s story, by its continuing act of gathering and by its retelling of the story it confesses anew, thus reaffirming its faith. 13 Discerning how God has been-there and entering the biblical story, the church is able to explore its place in the continued unfolding of the story. Telling and retelling the biblical story happens in word and deed: the story is spoken and embodied; baptism and the Lord’s Supper are deeds of embodied storytelling, enacted dramas. This kind of gathering knits together and nourishes the community.

If we are to be serious and faithful storytellers as the gathered community, liturgy must find a welcome place among us. In the same way that family stories told again and again pass a sense of identity from generation to generation, liturgy shapes who we are and positions us for who we will become. As people who follow the Word, we must learn to speak words well, to masterfully craft the story we tell/confess. Sermons are not the only places where we speak the word. We must get over our narrow idea that speech is only what comes out of our mouths. We speak with our lives. Of course we give some attention to this fact with the adage “Actions speak louder than words,” but we often fail to understand the difference between specific actions and a way of acting. We follow Jesus not in an elaborate shadow game, but by walking his way, in the manner he walked.

The Christian life penetrates a superficial mimicking and transforms us into a people able to live deeply the vision revealed in Scripture. We not only speak the Word, we embody it. Liturgy takes human beings seriously as embodied persons by containing our spoken words within a drama in which we participate. 14 Liturgy gives form to the way of the Word and it shapes us way-ishly.

A LITURGY FOR ANABAPTIST ECCLESIOLOGY

Crafting liturgy appropriate for the Anabaptist vision of church necessitates an exploration of how to embody the story we want to tell as Anabaptists. What physical actions are appropriate to be agents shaping us as Anabaptist visionaries? What images would help us enter the story we confess? What way of gathering would draw us into an enactment of our understanding of church?

On March 19, 2006, at SMBC I set out on such an exploration with a four-week Lenten series of services titled “Confession: The Word We Speak.” Each Sunday evening about twenty people gathered in the fellowship hall. I tried to capture who we are as church in the physical elements of the service while choosing words (Scripture, prayer, sermon) that recast the biblical text as a story we enter by way of confession. I was mindful of three elements as I designed these services: the Lenten season, a believers church ecclesiology, and orienting the biblical story around the theme of the Kingdom of God.

Lent

This project was approved as Lent began, and I chose to call attention to the season by calling my services a Lenten series for two reasons. In order to get people who feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar with “liturgy” moving toward exploring its power, reintroducing the rhythm of the church calendar is important. Our church typically calls attention to the calendar only during Advent and on Christmas and Easter. We do not mark our personal rhythm of life with that of the story of Christ. Shaping our time according to the church calendar would teach us to orient life around our faith story rather than around ourselves—how we feel or what we happen to be doing. We learn to fit our lives into the life of Christ instead of the other way around.

The second reason I designed Lenten services pertains to the significance of Lent itself. Anabaptism understands the church to be a suffering church; communities faithful to the way of Jesus will experience conflict and suffering as did Jesus. In the North American church, suffering has largely taken on a symbolic nature. Mennonites who no longer experienced persecution after their immigration to the United States shifted the emphasis from suffering to humility. 15 Lent provides the opportunity to experience physical loss (food, or some substitute) in conjunction with the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness; moreover, the period of fasting serves as an anticipatory action preparing us to journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, the cross, and finally resurrection (Easter).

Fasting is not a spiritual exercise of asceticism just as suffering is not understood by Mennonites to be good in and of itself; suffering is the result of faithfulness to God in a world that opposes God, and it serves to prepare the believer and believing community to endure until the end. Lent reminds us of why we experience suffering by connecting our physical participation of fasting to the story of Jesus’ temptation and preparation for ministry. In this way Lent becomes a season much like Advent: in it we eagerly anticipate the coming of our Lord in his historical resurrection and in the resurrection we will experience with his return.

Though we participate in Lent as a joining with Jesus’ fast and preparation in the wilderness, we also walk through Lent as a time of penitence. On each of the four Sundays, my sermons included this theme. We repent from concrete sins, from ways in which we have tried to live our lives and fulfill our “mission” in our own ways instead of in the way of Jesus. 16 Repentance during Lent need not be only a general feeling or attitude. It can also be a time when we evaluate and discern specific ways in which we have not followed Jesus’ way so that we can commit ourselves to the path we see him walking from the wilderness toward Jerusalem. Part of preparing for Easter is dealing with our sinfulness—our waywardness. Lent gives us an uncomfortably long period of time in which to wrestle with our own hearts in light of the story of Christ’s faithfulness. This is good; we need to look long enough so that we might search ourselves deeply. 17

Designing a service appropriate for Lent required slowing things down and providing space for silence. In a normal church service at SMBC, the pace is fairly fast; we are on a strict schedule. The services feel hurried, especially when attention is drawn to “not keeping people late.” Since I began attending SMBC, the only time we paused for silence was when the pastor’s sermon dealt with the theme of worship and silence. He paused during his sermon and we sat in silence for a little over a minute. Otherwise, any kind of pause is seen as an interruption, waiting for whatever is not working properly to get fixed. I knew that if we were going to seriously discern our need for repentance, our time together during these four services would have to be marked by a slower pace and include longer stretches of time for silence and prayer.

As I put this into practice I realized that I myself would need to learn to slow down. I went into each service wanting it to be unhurried, but I had been so conditioned by the pace of regular Sunday services that it would take time to change my own pace. I also realized that I needed to teach others to slow down and observe silence. Specific instruction was necessary; I could not expect the participants to automatically move toward stillness and silence. I needed to include intentional and specified space in the service so that we all could learn a different pace.

Each week I tried different ways of doing this: primarily I used music to help ease us into silence. For example, in the first service after reading Scripture we listened to two songs. This act of listening tutored us in stillness and paying attention. The next week I asked a participant to play and sing us a song. I indicated that the rest of us would listen and respond to the call issued in the lyrics by standing; the physical act of standing spoke “yes.”

The third week I invited participants to remain after the service for a time of meditation and prayer. I selected music for the background to help us focus on the message we had heard. The last service included a completely silent prayer time. Those who had participated in all four services seemed much more comfortable in the stillness and silence than those who attended for the first time that night. In a culture that shapes us to be people unable to give sustained attention or to be quiet, churches and their services will have to guide participants in becoming listeners and people at rest.

Believers Church

An Anabaptist liturgy is going to have to capture in form what it believes about the church:

For the Anabaptist, the church was neither an institution (Catholicism), nor the instrument of God for the proclamation of the divine Word (Lutheranism), nor a resource group for individual piety (Pietism). It was a brotherhood of love in which the fullness of the Christian life ideal is to be expressed. 18

What we do when we gather together is about living together as brothers and sisters in Christ in a common discipleship.

As brothers and sisters we come together as equals. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. It is difficult for community members to act as equal participants when there is such a separation between “ministers” and “lay people” in the church building. When “those who serve” are on a stage as they are in my church, it shapes us as “those in the pews, the attendees” to act as if our only part is to show up.

One of the things I initially learned about Anabaptist communities that I thought particularly faithful to Scripture was its charis-matic quality: every member of the group has been gifted by the Holy Spirit for the edification of the community. In theory, Anabaptist communities have no head but Jesus Christ; each member may have different gifts, but that diversity is not delineated hierarchically. In practice, Anabaptist-Mennonite communities function hierarchically, though not to the degree of “high church” traditions. When the community practices this hierarchy, authority goes with the position a person holds, not with the giftedness of a person. This lends itself to structuring a community more like a business than a family defined by friendship. 19 The beauty of the believers church model is that everyone has an equally valuable and necessary position within the community: no one can be a spectator; no one can dominate another.

To orient us physically to this model of church, I arranged the chairs in a circle. The center was a small empty space; there was no pulpit. This arrangement put us all on the same level: there was no front or back, no head or foot. Sitting in a circle also made us look at each other. Our gatheredness was unavoidable. Many people remarked that they enjoyed being able to see each other. They felt the intimacy of being together. They also liked the absence of the stage and the feeling of church services being a performance.

Participation was of utmost importance to exploring our interdependence and mutuality. I invited several people each week to serve. In addition to handing out the order of service and greeting people when they walked in the door, I asked people to read Scripture. In regular Sunday services the practice is for one person to read a passage; I wanted several people to read. During the second Lenten service I distributed a “Praying the Psalms” handout. Everyone received a copy and my instructions were simple: we will pray this arrangement of psalms as one long prayer; please read a section as you feel led.

This exercise in reading Scripture was a bit different because it was not assigned to specific people; anyone had the opportunity to pray part of the psalm arrangement at any time during this section of the service. Almost everyone participated. A handful of people told me after the service that they felt that the “prayer” was powerful and that they appreciated the chance to sense the movement of the Holy Spirit and respond by reading a section. That many people read to form one prayer was also a way we expressed our particular understanding of church.

The fourth service contained the Lord’s Supper. In order to physically tell the story of the Anabaptist vision of church as we participated in communion, I planned for us to leave our seats to be served and for the supper to feel like table fellowship. If Mennonite communities are going to practice an Anabaptist discipleship where faith produces a flesh-and-blood life, there will have to be a reunion of body and spirit. The physical response of leaving one’s seat parallels the response of faith one makes when eating the bread and drinking from the cup. 20

To maintain our circle arrangement yet allow space for people to come and be served, I enlarged the circle and placed a round table in the center. I set the table with a Chanukah tablecloth to remind us of the meal’s Jewish history. 21 I used a two-candle candlestick holder for the centerpiece, representing the Jewish Sabbath practice of lighting two candles at the beginning of the meal to usher in Shabbat. 22 Two other pillar candles provided enough light so that we could see each other’s faces while we sat at the table. Matzo bread and a single chalice with grape juice were also on the table. The table looked like a place where an intimate meal could be shared. 23

It was important for me to explain communion differently than what we are used to hearing, because communion is the key practice for me in an Anabaptist liturgy. I wanted it to feel foreign enough so that the participants knew I meant something different by what we were doing, and hopefully would be open to experiencing something new. My sermon that night was titled “At the Table with Jesus: Past and Future Meet the Present.” On the Sundays when we have the Lord’s Supper in my church, the sermon does not connect with the supper. Our pastor is a fan of extended series, and when it comes time for us to have communion, he does not shift his sermon schedule to accommodate. This adds to my feeling that communion is something we squeeze into a service; the only talking we do about communion is the brief explanation while the elements are being distributed and possibly someone will read 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. 24

What I tried to do was storytell: I told the stories of the Exodus Passover, the subsequent practice of Passover meals, the Last Supper, and the coming messianic banquet. By telling all these stories I hoped to show how the biblical story is one story—a connected narrative. By doing this our practice of communion as a remembrance of the Last Supper can be infused with the meaning of the stories that echo in that particular New Testament event.

Participating in the Lord’s Supper was the culmination of all four services for me. In order to bring the people present to a place of responding to all that they had seen, heard, and done in the previous weeks, I treated communion as an invitation to radical discipleship, to living into the kingdom.

Kingdom of God

Instead of viewing Scripture as a book of principles or rules to guide our life, we must reconceptualize the Bible as telling a cohesive story and so gain a larger vision from Scripture about what the church is and how we are to be the church in our gatherings and in the world. If we are to read Scripture as story, we need a main plotline to follow. As Anabaptists we must select that plotline from within Christ’s teachings: I chose the Kingdom of God because of its power to revitalize, through the overarching story of Scripture from creation to eschaton, an Anabaptist discipleship. Confession, the title theme of the four-week series I designed, is the way in which we follow Christ on a journey into the Kingdom.

Each of my sermons told part of the story of what the Kingdom is and what it means for discipleship. My first sermon, “The ‘Bath Qol’ and the Beginning of the Story,” explored Mark’s opening scene to deepen our understanding of the biblical narrative by looking at Jesus’ story in terms of his identity as Messiah and the kingdom he brings. The second Sunday I preached, “Wrestling with the Story: Peter’s Confession.” I put us (the listeners) in the shoes of the disciples as we watched Peter struggle with Jesus’ definition of Messiah. As were the disciples, we too are often confused about who Jesus is and the implications his identity has on what it means to follow him. Peter’s interaction with Jesus reminds us of our inability to grasp Jesus’ message according to our normal (human) way of thinking. 25 Faced with a new way of reading the story of Jesus we may struggle, but confession brings us from confusion to faith, entrance into the story.

The third sermon, “Thy Kingdom Come,” focused on a familiar prayer—the Lord’s Prayer—and reimagined what it means to pray for the kingdom to come in light of what we had been learning the first two weeks. Finally, our communion service necessitated a eucharistic sermon. I placed the story of the Lord’s Supper into the story of the kingdom and highlighted the echoes present in that text with other stories of past (Exodus/Passover) and future (messianic banquet/wedding feast of the Lamb). Reimagining communion provided a model for continued thinking that deepens every part of our spirituality with the biblical story. “At the Table with Jesus: Past and Future Meet the Present,” more than any other sermon, was a call for response, a call to hear Jesus’ words anew: Come, pick up your cross and follow me (Matt. 16:24, et al.).

The four services I designed as an exploration toward an Anabaptist liturgy were meant to move us toward a life lived into the kingdom. The phrase “into the kingdom” should define our discipleship: as we live out the reign of God in our individual lives and as a community, the kingdom breaks into this world and we enter into the kingdom. This kind of discipleship should bear the fruits of the kingdom: peace and reconciliation, shared dominion, life and wholeness—all Anabaptist-Mennonite emphases.

FURTHER EXPLORATION

Since the Lenten series last year, I have set out on other explorations, continuing to probe the question of Anabaptist liturgy. While my project yielded more questions than answers, I am confident that investing in developing uniquely Anabaptist ways of telling the biblical story will produce rich fruit that will strengthen Mennonites for the questions that face us: Who are we? How are we to live out that identity? How are we to invite others into giving voice to the story we have to confess?

“Anabaptist liturgist” may be too grand a title to claim for myself at this point, but I can confidently say I am a hopeful storyteller on the way toward an Anabaptist liturgy.

This essay is a revised version of part of a paper written for Dr. Libby Vincent in the course “Anabaptist Ecclesiology” at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, winter-spring 2006.

NOTES

  1. Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath (Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2003), 64.
  2. Harold S. Bender, The Anabaptist Vision (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1944), 16.
  3. Ibid. 16.
  4. Dr. Murphy, professor of Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary, belongs to the Brethren in Christ Church, an Anabaptist family member.
  5. Fuller Theological Seminary, Individualized Distance Learning course.
  6. It seems that evangelicalism (I’ll put MBs here) tends to reduce Christianity to the lowest common denominator (e.g., personal faith in Christ, Bible-believing, etc.) without considering that each denominator is also greatly reduced (e.g., what do we mean by “Bible-believing”?). This great reduction/thinning happens in order to make Christianity accessible to common people; however, there does not seem to be a later thickening where people build on the “basics” to form a more complex faith. So, turning to “I am a Bible-believing Christian” as a common denominator leaves out the fact that reading the Bible is not a matter of knowing dictionary definitions of words on a page. Interpretation—how we read and understand—determines what kind of Bible-believing Christian one is. In the end, “Bible-believing” is not the common ground we think it is when we use it so tritely.
  7. Walfred J. Fahrer, Building on the Rock: A Biblical Vision of Being Church Together from an Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspective (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1995), 12.
  8. Ibid., 14-15; Bender, 20.
  9. I do not really like the word alternative because of its contemporary meaning of “just another option.” I choose radical for several reasons: sixteenth-century Anabaptists are known to have been called radicals; the Latin radix points us to our roots in the New Testament; radical is a synonym for extreme in the sense of “uncompromising”; and radical implies that what one is doing is a protest of something else (an idea I think alternative does not quite capture). I am not completely satisfied with this word, and even though I could use subversive or prophetic, I will stick with radical. Walter Brueggemann teases out the term subversive regarding Scripture in his Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope: Contested Truth in a Post-Christian World (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).
  10. Confession of Faith: Commentary and Pastoral Application (Winnipeg, MB, and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 2000), 66.
  11. Marva Dawn calls this keeping God as subject and object. See her Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995.
  12. Everett Fox translates the name of God in Exod. 3:14 as “I will be-there howsoever I will be-there” (The Five Books of Moses). Knowing God is the process of experiencing his presence in history; the biblical drama is the story of God’s being-there.
  13. Confession means being same-worded (homologia) or one-storied with God. It means knowing the truth of the Word (ultimately revealed in Jesus) and taking it (him) on as one’s story (Lord).
  14. Thus it truly becomes liturgy—the work of the people.
  15. This shift is explored further in my “How Mennonite Will We Be?” (unpublished paper, 2004). Also see Richard K. MacMaster, Land, Piety, Peoplehood: The Establishment of Mennonite Communities in America 1683-1790; The Mennonite Experience in America, vol. 1 (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1985), 180.
  16. Parallels a reading of the temptation text that sees Satan trying to tempt Jesus to being Messiah another way, on Satan’s terms.
  17. Our penitence must be communal as well as individual. Sin has to be understood on individual and systemic levels.
  18. Bender, 33-34.
  19. Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel argues that Jesus established a new kind of family that was not defined patriarchally but in terms of friendship, a relationship shared by equals, in Rediscovering Friendship: Awakening to the Promise and Power of Women’s Friendships (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001), 79.
  20. Eating and drinking are also physical responses, but we somehow seem to miss that our bodies are involved.
  21. An ivory tablecloth embroidered with leaves and stars of David.
  22. I am very interested in the parallels between the Jewish Sabbath meal and the Christian Lord’s Supper. I understand the connection between Pesach and communion, but I also would like to explore the weekly practice of Shabbat meals and the significance of Jewish religious practice centering in the home after the destruction of the Temple. I think that practice could infuse our practice of communion with more meaning, reconnect it with its Jewishness, and show us the importance of practicing communion more regularly. Currently my church serves the Lord’s Supper either once a quarter or once every other month. I believe this is the standard Mennonite practice. I think this empties meaning from the Supper; we practice it so little, and when we do practice it, it seems as if we are just trying to fit it into our normal service because we are supposed to (it is an ordinance—commanded). As a result, we lose what this meal meant for Jesus, his disciples, and the early Christian communities. I talk more about this below.
  23. It is interesting that though the table was set for six, all but two people came alone. How might we teach our congregations the communal nature of our faith and faith responses?
  24. Unless I have missed it every time, we never read verse 26—For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes—a great verse for considering the Anabaptist conception of discipleship as following in the footsteps of a suffering Messiah. Neither do we read verses 27-34 and spend time examining ourselves and our relationships, another Anabaptist emphasis.
  25. See Matt. 16:17, 23, which echo Isa. 55:8-9.
Michelle Ferguson received her B.A. from Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, California, and her M.A. in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. She currently serves as an adjunct faculty at Fresno Pacific.

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