Teaching Position or Conversation Starter?

The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective and the New Mennonites of Southern California

JEFF WRIGHT*

     Abstract: The Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference expanded rapidly through a strategy of leadership-based church planting in Southern California throughout the latter half of the 1990s. Nearly all of the new and emerging church planters, evangelists and pastors had not been previously associated with the Mennonite family. This paper explores how the use of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective helped shape a more common Anabaptist-Mennonite identity within the leadership of the new, mostly immigrant congregations of the Southern California region of the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, deepening a missional vitality within these congregations.

THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MENNONITE CHURCH AND ITS ISSUES

     Mennonites have had worshipping congregations in Southern California since 1903. However, of the congregations with membership in the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference[1]  in Southern California, twenty-eight have been founded since 1980, and fifteen of those have been founded since the creation of the conference in July 1994 (with thirteen new congregations and seven church plants added since 1999). The result is a conference unlike any other within Mennonite Church USA; from the beginning, the conference has felt the distance between itself and the traditional population and power centers of the denomination.[2]  Consider the following statistics:

? Approximately 95 percent of the membership in Southern California are new to the Mennonite church.

? Approximately 92 percent of the membership in Southern California can be defined by the term ?people of color.?

? Approximately 87 percent of the membership in Southern California was born outside the United States.

? Approximately 80 percent of the membership in Southern California has an affinity for a more Charismatic-Pentecostal expression of the Christian faith.

? Approximately 65 percent of the membership in Southern California has never known themselves as solely ?Mennonite Church? or ?General Conference??they have always been dual-conference congregations or members of a dual-denominational conference.

? Approximately 50 percent of the membership in Southern California locates their conversion to the Christian faith in a Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference congregation or ministry.

     ? Approximately 25 percent of the membership in Southern California has been ?out of status? with the U.S. Office of Immigration and Citizenship Services at some point in the past three years.[3] 

Within this context, the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference has identified at least four critical issues its congregations are facing:[4]  (1) the rapid urbanization of the world and the accelerating globalization of the city; (2) the challenge of being an immigrant church and the allure of the ?California Dream? of education, economic opportunity and personal political freedom; (3) the transformation required when one lays down the sword and takes up the cross, and embraces the gospel of peace in the face of militant Islam; and (4) the opportunity to find convergence between historic Pentecostalism and Anabaptism.

     Since all of these forces?global urbanization, immigration, the challenge of peacemaking and Pentecostalism?are a starting point in the Christian faith for many within the Southern California Mennonite community, the formation of a common theological identity inevitably becomes a high priority. Moreover, conference leaders share the conviction that identity and mission are inextricably linked. Without a clear identity, the mission of the church will inevitably become vague, devolve into marketing for the sake of numerical growth, and hold very little critical appreciation for the historic Anabaptist movement. Even more important, without a clear identity, the church cannot possibly discern her unique missionary call from God, align herself by the power of the Holy Spirit with the direction of that call, or incarnate the love of Christ, which crosses all barriers in the form of a servant.[5]  Without a clear identity, mission is truncated; and without a missionary impulse, the quest for identity tends to devolve into a quasi-ethnic celebration of the past. For the Mennonite Church in Southern California, there is no longer a sufficient critical mass of ?birthright? Mennonites to maintain any sort of fictional separation of identity and mission. At the same time, the missionary impulse present among the new Mennonites of Southern California needs further formation into an identity that could be shared with the rest of the Mennonite Church USA family. The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective became the basis for such an identity to be generated.[6] 

A PROCESS DEMANDING CONFESSIONAL REFLECTION

     Recognizing that the Confession needed to become the basis for a common identity, the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference?s Pastoral Leadership Committee decided in 1997 to require candidates for ordination to show that they had taken and passed a college-level course in ?Anabaptist History and Theology.? The Pastoral Leadership Committee, assigned by the conference to work at identity formation through ministerial credentialing, then asked the Center for Anabaptist Leadership (CAL)?an urban mission training, coaching and consulting ministry based in Southern California?to develop such a course. This action prompted Hesston College to endorse the local initiative to create the School for Urban Mission, a collaboration between Hesston, Shalom Ministries and the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference that had been in process for over twenty years. Under the leadership of Joseph Manickam, the School for Urban Mission became a pastoral ministries extension program, and developed a course, ?The Anabaptist Witness,? to be offered to emerging Mennonite church leaders in Southern California.

     The course drew heavily on three primary sources. First, Harold S. Bender?s The Anabaptist Vision provided a general, if admittedly incomplete, frame of reference.[7]  While the historiography employed by Bender has come in for scholarly critique over the past number of years[8]  the core values of discipleship, community and nonresistance seemed to translate well into the program?s christological-shaped core values: Jesus-centered discipleship; the church as a Jesus-led community; and the Jesus-shaped mission of reconciliation. These core values serve as the primary understanding of Anabaptist identity communicated to new church planters and emerging immigrant pastors.[9] 

     A second source for the Anabaptist course was a confessionally-based understanding of Mennonite theology.[10]  Theological confessions reveal the identity of a people and the unique mission to which God had called them. In this respect the confessional history of the Anabaptist movement?beginning with the Schleitheim Confession (1527)[11]  and continuing up to, and including, the ?Shared Convictions of Global Anabaptists? (2006)[12] ?serve as important instructional tools.

     The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995) served as the third source. In 1997-1998, when the course was being first developed, the Confession was still a relatively new document and did not seem to be burdened with the expectation that it would be the final arbiter of all things Mennonite. Rather, the Confession seemed to be more of a conversation starter?a way to engage the biblical text in a quest for ?faith seeking understanding.? Indeed, given the Confession?s self-description as an ?updated interpretation of belief and practice in the midst of changing times,?[13]  coupled with a tradition of the Mennonite church writing a new confession of faith every generation or so in the twentieth century?The Mennonite Church Christian Fundamentals (1921)[14] ; the General Conference Mennonite Church Articles of Faith (1933)[15] ; and Statement of Faith (1941)[16] ; the Mennonite Church Mennonite Confession of Faith (1963)[17] ; and the jointly adopted Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995)?it seemed perfectly reasonable to use the Confession as a tool to launch into biblical reflection involving a Western instructor and emerging pastors and church planters from Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Burundi, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Guatemala and Germany, as well U.S. students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds from Los Angeles and San Diego.[18] 

TEACHING THE CONFESSION

In a church finding convergence between Pentecostal and Anabaptist perspectives, and working within the context of globalization, urbanization, immigration and peacemaking, what have been the joys and challenges of teaching from the Confession?

     One basic and inevitable challenge is addressing the overwhelming Eurocentrism inherent in historical Anabaptism. The Anabaptist movement, after all, emerged in the center of Europe. Given these European origins, it stands to reason that some knowledge of the nuances of the early-sixteenth-century European socioeconomic and political context is necessary to understand the forces driving the Radical Reformation. These themes, however, are often not a major topic of study for persons coming from the global South.

     Thus, one of the challenges of the teaching about the Anabaptism in general, and the Confession in particular, is to connect the Anabaptist story and the confessional experience of North American Mennonites to the real world experience of a mostly immigrant people from the global South. The instructional design of ?The Anabaptist Witness? sought to address this concern by embracing three key themes.

     First, the course approaches the history of the church from the perspective of movements of renewal, reform and radical revitalization, rather than from a perspective of command, control and the exercise of political and religious power.[19]  Second, the course emphasizes the role of Constantinianism as a defining moment in the transformation of the church from a Spirit-led missional movement to a self-serving socio-economic and political institution, with all the attendant missiological significance of such a change.[20]  Finally, wherever possible the course integrates the mission history of the Mennonite movement into the syllabus. By stressing the Anabaptist-Mennonite experience as a missionary movement?a continuing wave of renewing and radicalizing movements seeking to undo the implications of Constantinianism and restore the church to the New Testament vision?the Confession is more likely to become a living, breathing expression of the church as the Body of Christ (article 9) in mission to the world (article 10).

     A challenge in teaching the Confession has been addressing the perception that its treatment of the Holy Spirit is relatively weak. Many new and emerging immigrant pastors receiving grassroots training in Southern California have had some level of exposure to and affinity for Pentecostalism. Pentecostals and Anabaptists share a restorationist view of the faith, though they differ somewhat in their understanding of the nature of that restoration: whereas Anabaptists seek to restore a visible, radically communitarian approach to experiencing Christian faith, Pentecostals tend to emphasize the restoration of a visible expression of the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Although the Confession offers a very clear expression of the communitarian vision for the church (e.g., article 9), language regarding a visible expression of the Holy Spirit is harder to parse from the statement. Indeed, the Confession is mostly silent with respect to the classical ?sign gifts? (e.g., the gifts of tongues and healing) often associated with the practice of historic Pentecostalism.[21] 

     This is not to suggest that Anabaptists need to adopt classical Pentecostal practices aimed at restoring the church to something approaching the experience recorded in the Book of Acts. But the Confession?s relative silence on such expressions limits its ultimate usefulness within communities like those of the new immigrants to Southern California, who have had previous contacts with more Pentecostal expressions of the Christian way as practiced in the global South.[22]  As the 2006 meeting of the Mennonite World Conference Faith and Life Council suggested, there is much that Anabaptists and Pentecostals can and should learn from each other.[23] 

     One way in which the Confession helps to articulate a more complete understanding of the Holy Spirit is its tendency to embed references to the presence and activity of Holy Spirit in various places throughout the text. Thus, fully one-half of the articles of the Confession make specific reference to the ongoing presence and activity of the Holy Spirit using language such as ?filled with the Spirit,? ?empowered by the Spirit? or ?led by the Spirit.?[24]  While this integration of the Holy Spirit?s work in articles throughout the Confession does contribute to meaningful conversation in the Southern California environment, a separate article on the Holy Spirit that engaged the themes of classic Pentecostalism more explicitly would have been helpful.

     A third joy and challenge in teaching the Confession is its clear invitation to embrace a new understanding of reconciliation, restorative justice and nonviolence in the face of evil as central components of Christian ethics. New and emerging Mennonite leaders in the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference have an intuitive sense of the value of the historic ?peace position? of the Mennonite Church in relation to the violence occasionally experienced in urban Southern California. The bigger challenge for many is making sense of the ?peace position? in light of the perception of a growing militant, organized and violently anti-Christian Islam.

     Many new immigrant Mennonite pastors come from places where the confrontation between Islam and Christianity seems to be the ?hottest??places like Indonesia and Nigeria. Walking with these leaders toward an appreciation for a nonviolent stance toward the Muslim ?enemy? is not an easy task. Persons studying the Confession will often recount personal stories of violence suffered because of their faith; and frequently their descriptions of the conflict between Christians and Muslims in their home communities take on an almost apocalyptic tone.

     These stories dare not be glossed over, especially by Christians in the West who have generally forgotten what it means to experience persecution. The challenge in presenting the ?peace position? in a winsome manner is fourfold. First, the presentation must begin by unpacking the totality of the biblical text.[25]  The Mennonite peace theology grows out of a biblical hermeneutic grounded in orthodox Christology. Mennonites are not pacifists because they happen to be nice people, but because they believe that all Scripture?and especially the teachings of Jesus?command Christians to embrace such an ethic in order to be faithful to his call and to participate in God?s mission to the world. Second, peace theology must be presented as an ethic that grows out of a theology of the suffering cross and a radical faith in the Holy Spirit to work wonders. Pacifism cannot be painted as a form of ?Godly masochism?; it must also be communicated as an opportunity to bear witness to the transforming and miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. Here, it is important to remind emerging leaders that, prior to World War I, much of the early Pentecostal movement was pacifist.[26]  Third, presenting the peace position means interpreting Mennonite history in ways that highlight the choice for nonconformity in the past and the present. Fourth, teaching the Gospel of peace must be done with the sober confession that the Mennonite Church of North America and Europe cannot claim a moral high ground on this position. Paul?s axiom that ?all have sinned and come short of the glory of God? (Rom. 3:23) also applies to Mennonite efforts to live out their theology of peace.

When these joys and challenges?Anabaptist Eurocentrism; a lack of a more complete confessional understanding of the Holy Spirit; and the challenges to peacemaking created out of confrontation with Islam?are met with careful teaching and mentoring strategies that engage emerging immigrant leaders where they are, and point them, with confidence in Scripture and the Holy Spirit, toward new theological possibilities that expand rather than replace their worldview, then transformation can take place and leaders are empowered to embrace Mennonite identity defined in terms of common values that drive a common mission?to be the Body of Christ in mission to the world.

LIVING WITH QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CONFESSION

     Teaching the Confession in an environment full of emerging Mennonite leaders, many of whom are new immigrants to the U.S., is a wonderful gift of grace from God. But the Confession does present three critical challenges in its application within the church in Southern California.

     First, it has been difficult to move education about the Confession past the credentialed ministers of the church to the laity or to see in the members of new congregations a growing appreciation of Anabaptist-Mennonite themes. This is being addressed in two ways. First, ?The Anabaptist Witness? course requirements are being retooled to encourage leaders to use the Confession in preaching and Bible study in the congregation. Second, the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference has asked the Center for Anabaptist Leadership to develop a condensed version of the course for use as a congregational workshop.[27]  This workshop version was field-tested in the spring of 2006 with twenty-five people from Family Mennonite Church in Los Angeles who were participating in a new program of the Center for Anabaptist Leadership called LEAD (Leaders Elders And Deacons) Academy.

     Second, new and emerging leaders in Southern California have sometimes found it difficult to square their newfound appreciation for the Confession with their experience of theological directions within the larger Mennonite Church. For the new immigrant Mennonite churches of Southern California, the Confession has served, especially among leaders, as a means of creating a culture of shared values. Yet, just as these new leaders have become convinced that the witness of the Scriptures and the Spirit is pointing them toward the distinctive teachings of the Confession, they encounter a wider Mennonite Church USA that seems to be somewhat ambivalent about much of the Confession. This ambivalence is, of course, not expressed in official publications and scholarly articles. But it does find expression in congregational life and witness that seem to suggest that being ?Mennonite? somehow obstructs participation in God?s mission. The problem of ?owning? the Confession as a document that both defines and shapes Mennonite practices, theology, ethics and values seems to be a greater issue for the traditional population and power centers of the Mennonite Church USA than it is for those newer congregations on the periphery of the denomination. Somehow, the question of what binds us together as Mennonite Christians needs resolution. Does the Confession paint the picture of our values as Mennonite Church USA? Or is it more likely that the values of the dominant American culture or the traditions of our particular stream of ethnic history (e.g., Swiss-German or Dutch-Russian) define who we are?

     Third, it seems to be increasingly difficult to know precisely how the Confession is intended to function within the emerging Mennonite Church USA. Put bluntly, is the Confession to be a starting point for conversations about shared biblical identity and common imagination for mission among Mennonites in North America, or is the Confession the final arbiter?the umpire, as it were?of our self-definition as a denomination? This should not be understood as an argument against an authoritative role for the Confession in the life and witness of the church. But could that role actually be strengthened if the emphasis was on the Confession?s usefulness as a common conversational center? Among the emergent leadership in Southern California, the Confession is seen as a primary window through which one looks at Scripture; but it is the Scriptures that are ultimately authoritative. To think in terms of an analogy: Jesus serves as the foundation for the household of faith, providing stability and coherence; the Scriptures serve as framework for the household of faith, providing definition and demarcation; the Confession serves as the fa‡ade for the household of faith known as Mennonite Church USA.

     To label the Confession a fa‡ade should not be construed as minimizing its important function. The Confession offers a means of projecting to the world a unique identity as nonconforming, post-Constantinian Christians. By contrast, the process that led to the formation of Mennonite Church USA seems to have promoted a concept of the Confession as the ?teaching position? of Mennonite Church USA. Indeed, the membership guidelines of the Mennonite Church USA explicitly cite the Confession as the ?teaching position? of the new denomination. [28]  Yet this is a claim that the Confession does not make for itself. While it is true that the Confession does claim to be the ?statement of faith for teaching and nurture in the life of the church,?[29]  the way in which the statement of faith is to be used?and the limits of this use?are actually outlined earlier in the Confession.[30]  The Confession describes itself as hermeneutical guideline;[31]  support for belief and practice;[32]  a foundation for common life within the church;[33]  a catechetical resource;[34]  a barometer of cultural change;[35]  a starting point for ecumenical and interfaith discussion;[36]  and an evangelistic tract.[37]  What the Confession does not claim for itself, in the midst of that rather exhaustive list, is the role of boundary keeper or the final expression of Mennonite orthodoxy, both of which are suggested by the phrase ?teaching position.?

     If the Confession is the final yardstick by which Mennonite identity, practice and orthodoxy must be measured, three serious problems arise. First, the term ?teaching position? is vague at best; at worst, the phrase seems to close the door to further understanding. Did the Confession, or any other confessional statement among the Anabaptist family, ever seek to establish the final demarcation between orthodoxy and heresy? Must one subscribe fully and completely without reservation to the Confession in its entirety, without addition or subtraction, to be considered ?Mennonite?? Can there be no additional streams from which Mennonites in North America frame their practices and beliefs? In short, if the Confession is the ?teaching position? of Mennonite Church USA, does the relative absence of dialogue by Mennonites with other restorative movements in the history of the church constitute in some way an abandonment of the other churches that might find themselves on the margins?

     Second, the experience of many Mennonites in Southern California (and across the Pacific Southwest) lies somewhat outside the ?teaching position? delineated by the Confession on issues like the role and nature of the Holy Spirit in personal experience, the Holy Spirit?s contribution to the formation of the church or the Holy Spirit?s leadership in the church?s mission to the world. And there would be other examples of serious failings to abide by several of the standards set forth in other articles as well. Should one conclude, then, that the Mennonite experience in Southern California is deficient and less than the Mennonite experience of other parts of the church?

     Third, and perhaps most important, by characterizing the Confession as ?the teaching position,? does the Mennonite Church USA actually place the Confession in a role that should properly be played by the Scriptures? Is this not a form of what one might call ?hermeneutical idolatry?? These questions raise the issue of inclusion that has been part of the church since the book of Acts. What must one do to become ?Mennonite?? Does the failure of the Mennonite church in Southern California to embrace completely every aspect of the Confession relegate them to second-class status within the denomination? Or might there be another threshold?one of relationality, hospitality, friendship, study, missional vocation and common vision?that leads to the expression, not of a magisterium, but of a common theological core grounded in a community that reads Scripture under the Lordship of Jesus, and in the power of the Spirit, and expresses those insights through a commonly affirmed (if not totally agreed upon) Confession?

     At stake in all this is the question of the Confession?s authority. Was the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective envisioned by the church in 1995 to function in an authoritative role to define the parameters of the church? Or, was the Confession formed to have an advisory role for the church as it continues to read Scripture and seeks to follow Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit? Does the Confession represent the boundaries of what it means to be Mennonite Church USA, and therefore to adjudicate who belongs? Or does the Confession represent the core of what is good and vibrant about the Mennonite historical approaches to faith and life, and thus serve to shed light on what it means within this tradition to follow Christ?[38] 

     If one understands the church in the language of the Confession as ?the assembly of those who have accepted God?s offer of salvation?[39] ?and rejects magisterial and sacramental paradigms for understanding the church[40] ?and if one accepts the premise that ?in making decisions . . . members of the church listen and speak in a spirit of prayerful openness, with the Scriptures as the constant guide,?[41]  then it should follow that confessional authority is not found in the formation of boundaries. Rather, the authority of a confessional statement lies in its identifying a core set of values around which, ultimately, all people are in relationship. As an example consider the missional story of the new church in Acts 15 where three of the four conditions (or ?confessions?) set forth as the ?teaching position? for the new, Gentile church (cf. Acts 15:23b-29) are later abandoned by Paul as he works pastorally with the Christian community in Corinth.[42]  By what authority did Paul ignore the confessional statement of the church in Jerusalem? He did so precisely because the Jerusalem letter was meant to express a larger core value?namely, that Gentiles could enter the church of Jesus without converting first to Judaism.

CONFESSION 2025

     If a confessional statement of belief is fundamentally provisional and open to further light from our ever deepening understandings of Scripture, then it is important to see what confessional challenges lie ahead. Therefore, one might imagine that when Mennonite Church USA celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the current Confession by adopting a new confessional statement at the churchwide gathering in July 2025, three contemporary concerns might be addressed by that generation of confessors.

     First, the next confessional statement should more fully understand and embrace the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Mennonite church in Southern California does not wish to capitulate to Pentecostalism; but they recognize that the Anabaptist vision of a Jesus-centered discipleship, a Jesus-led church and a Jesus-shaped nonresistance all require a greater recognition of the Holy Spirit?s supernatural power in order to speak to the increasingly re-evangelizing,[43]  postmodern, post-Constantinian world of 2025. Such confessional openness might demonstrate itself through a more explicit dialogue with historical Pentecostal-charismatic themes, particularly in ?yield[ing] ourselves (Gelassenheit) to God, letting the Holy Spirit mold us into the image of Christ.?[44]  Anabaptist-Mennonites and charismatic Pentecostals share a remarkable common element: neither tradition has developed a pneumatology that fits its experience.[45]  Perhaps, however, Anabaptist-Mennonites have much to learn from charismatic-Pentecostal ?pneumapraxis,?[46]  even as Charismatic-Pentecostals might have something to learn from what Anabaptist-Mennonites might refer to as ?Christopraxis.?

     Second, the next confessional statement should offer a more explicit embrace of biblical nonconformity.[47]  Physical separation from the world is no longer a real option in an urbanizing, ever-shrinking world. For the members of Mennonite Church USA, physical separation must be replaced with ethical separation?nonconformity to the dominant culture and discipleship under the Reign of God?if the church in 2025 is to be sustained as a missionary community. Perhaps it is the nonconformity of the Anabaptist-Mennonite praxis?through seeking, for example, economic simplicity in the face of materialism,[48]  relational fidelity in the face of brokenness[49]  and political reconciliation in the face of violence[50] ?that represents the most missional of behaviors. Many proposals for the renewal of the church in the global North assume that if surface-level hostility toward religion can be overcome, contemporary people will remain basically friendly to the Christian witness. Thus, mission in the global North is often understood as a matter of highly effective marketing rather than a profound spiritual transformation reflected in a shift of worldview from one that conforms to the dominant culture to one that conforms to the radical character of Christ.[51]  By attending more deliberately to nonconformity, perhaps Mennonite Church USA will yet become authentically a missional movement.

     Third, the next confessional statement should make every effort to articulate a theology of restorative justice and a spirituality of Shalom that will be more accessible to the immigrant community of 2007 and their children and grandchildren in 2025. To do this, the next confessional statement will need to be more discerning and sophisticated in regard to its understanding of power. It will need to focus less on a critique of Constantinian abuses of power, and more on the powerful potential of a nonconforming, Holy Spirit-led, community of peacemakers who follow Jesus. Such a theology will take a constructive view of power in a relational context to engage in the necessary work of living out and witnessing to Shalom.[52]  To say, as the Schleitheim Confession does, that ?the sword is an ordering of God and outside the perfection of Christ?[53] ?to truly understand and implement this claim in the life of the church?is to integrate a worldview that is neither socially anarchic nor politically coercive.[54]  Rather, it announces a third way: Life lived in ?the faithfulness that God desires from humans as a freely given response to God?s saving and reconciling acts.?[55] 

     In the final analysis, the Mennonite experience in Southern California for the past ten years has been an exercise in discovery. Is being Mennonite a project of seeking to understand and confess a common set of core values that grows from an intense study of Scripture under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit within the community known as the Body of Christ? The new Mennonites in Southern California have attempted to embrace this framework. Their ultimate success will be measured in 2025 by the presence of a continuing conversation in Southern California among, within and by the church about what it means to follow Christ daily in life. The Confession, in the future as in the present, will serve to launch, but not artificially limit, that conversation, propelling it into biblical reflection and identifying common values for being the church of Jesus Christ in mission to the world.


[*] Jeff Wright is president of Shalom Ministries, the mission agency of the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, pastor of the Riverside Brethren in Christ Church and adjunct professor in the School for Urban Mission operated by Shalom Ministries Center for Anabaptist Leadership in association with the Hesston College Pastoral Ministries Program. 1. The Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference (P.S.M.C.) defines its Southern California region as those churches within the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego and Imperial in the State of California, plus Clark County, Nev. (Las Vegas metropolitan area). As of May 15, 2006, the P.S.M.C. had thirty-two member congregations and seven emerging congregations within this region. Return to Text

[2] . The Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference was created on July 1, 1994, out of a merger between the southern half of the former Pacific District of the General Conference Mennonite Church, and the former Southwest Mennonite Conference. With its sister conference, the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference, the formation of West Coast dual-denominational conferences predate the formation of Mennonite Church USA. For more on the recent history of the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, see Jeff Wright, Urban and Anabaptist: The Remarkable Story of Rapid Growth Among Mennonites in Southern California, Mission Insight #22 (Elkhart, Ind.: Mennonite Board of Missions, 2001). Return to Text

[3] . These and other Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference statistics are estimates developed by and maintained in the conference office in Pasadena. They are based on information gleaned in interviews and estimates of church attendance as reported in conference files, and in, J. Ron Byler, ed., Mennonite Church USA 2005 Directory, Faith & Life Resources, 2005, pp. 95-98. Return to Text

[4] . See, for example, the minutes of the conference?s Pastoral Leadership Committee meeting of March 11, 2006, available on the conference Web site, www.pacificsouth-west.org. Return to Text

[5] . This definition of mission is drawn from David J. Bosch, Witness to the World (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1980), 248. Return to Text

[6] . Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1995). Return to Text

[7] . Harold S. Bender, The Anabaptist Vision (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1944). Return to Text

[8] . See, for example, J. Denny Weaver, Becoming Anabaptist (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1987; rev. ed., 2005). Return to Text

[9] . Along with Bender, the work of the Anabaptist Network in Great Britain and their statement of convictions have helped to shape the current core values taught in ?The Anabaptist Witness.? See www.anabaptistnetwork.com/coreconvictions. Return to Text

[10] . Howard John Loewen, One Lord, One Church, One Hope, and One God: Mennonite Confessions of Faith (Elkhart, Ind.: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1985). Return to Text

[11] . John Howard Yoder, trans. and ed., The Schleitheim Confession (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1973, 1977). Return to Text

[12] . Mennonite World Conference, ?Shared Convictions of Global Anabaptists,? statement adopted by the MWC General Council, March 2006. See http://www.mwc-cmm.org/MWC/Councils/2006SharedCon-victionsENG.pdf. Return to Text

[13] . Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 8. Return to Text

[14] . Loewen, One Lord, One Church, One Hope, and One God, 71-72. Return to Text

[15] . Ibid., 107-111. Return to Text

[16] . Ibid., 112. Return to Text

[17] . Ibid., 73-78. Return to Text

[18] . No precise total exists of how many persons have taken ?The Anabaptist Witness? since it was first presented in 1999, but at least seventy-five students are estimated to have participated in the course from 1999-2006. Return to Text

[19] . John Driver, Radical Faith: An Alternative History of the Christian Church (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 1999). Return to Text

[20] . Alan Kreider, The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press, 1999). Return to Text

[21] . One caveat is in order. The commentary for article 3 does mention prophecy as a gift.?Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 20. This gift exists, according to the text of article 3, to empower persons to ?speak the word of God with boldness.??Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 18. No other classically Pentecostal ?sign gifts? are referenced in the Confession. Return to Text

[22] . Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: University Press, 2002), 7-8. Return to Text

[23] . See J. Lorne Peachey, ?Symposium Concludes Anabaptists and Pentecostals Can Help Each Other? (Mennonite World Conference Press Release, Mar. 28, 2006). Available at www.mwc-cmm.org/news/MWC/060328rls1.html. Return to Text

[24] . See articles 3 (Holy Spirit), 4 (Scripture), 8 (Salvation), 9 (The Church of Jesus Christ), 10 (The Church in Mission), 11 (Baptism), 14 (Discipline in the Church), 15 (Ministry and Leadership), 16 (Church Order and Unity), 17 (Discipleship and the Christian Life), 18 (Christian Spirituality) and 22 (Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance). Return to Text

[25] . In fact, when many persons who have completed ?The Anabaptist Witness? fill out their ministerial leadership information forms for licensing toward ordination in the conference, their comment, when asked about perspectives on the Confession, is to remark at how they see nothing in the Confession that contradicts the Bible. Return to Text

[26] . Jay Beaman, Pentecostal Pacifism (Hillsboro, Kan.: Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1989). Return to Text

[27] . See ?On the Road to San Jose,? the Long Range Plan of the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, 2005-2007. Available at www.pacificsouthwest.org. Return to Text

[28] . See Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines, available online at www.mennoniteusa.org/doc_files/membership_guidelines/membershipguidelines.pdf. Return to Text

[29] . Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 9. Return to Text

[30] . Ibid., 8. Return to Text

[31] . Ibid. Return to Text

[32] . Ibid. Return to Text

[33] . Ibid. Return to Text

[34] . Ibid. Return to Text

[35] . Ibid. Return to Text

[36] . Ibid. Return to Text

[37] . Confession, 9 ?. . . [the Confession] is commended to all Christian churches and to those of other faiths or no faith, that they may seriously consider the claims of the gospel.? Return to Text

[38] . A discussion of boundary maintenance identity and core values identity can be found in Paul G. Hiebert, ?The Category Christian in the Mission Task,? in Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1994), 107-136. Return to Text

[39] . Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 39. Return to Text

[40] . See Walfred J. Fahrer, Building on the Rock (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1995), 19-24. Return to Text

[41] . Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 62. Return to Text

[42] . Of the four conditions set forth in the Acts 15 letter, three have to do with food regulations and one has to do with sexual fidelity. In 1 Corinthians 8, the conditions related to food are largely abandoned by Paul. Return to Text

[43] . The discussion in Jenkins, The Next Christendom (pp. 204-209) suggests that the new immigrant community of the global South now relocating northward will be an important force for the reevangelization of North America and especially Europe. Return to Text

[44] . Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 69-70. Return to Text

[45] . For a discussion of how Pentecostalism lacks a pneumatology that fits its experience, see Walter J. Hollenweger, Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 218ff. Return to Text

[46] . Ibid. Return to Text

[47] . E.g., see article 17 in Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 65-68. Return to Text

[48] . Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 65. Return to Text

[49] . Ibid,. 66. Return to Text

[50] . Ibid., 65. Return to Text

[51] . See David Smith, Mission After Christendom (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2003), 123. Return to Text

[52] . For an example of a more nuanced theology of power, see Robert C. Linthicum, Transforming Power (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), esp., 17-130. Return to Text

[53] . As quoted in Gerald Biesecker-Mast, Separation and Sword in Anabaptist Persuasion (Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing House, 2006), 239. Return to Text

[54] . Biesecker-Mast, Separation and Sword in Anabaptist Persuasion, 239. Return to Text

[55] . Ibid. ?? ?? ?? ?? 442 The Mennonite Quarterly Review 441 Teaching Position or Conversation Starter? 427 MQR 81 (July 2007)