Blaine Detwiler is Moderator of Franconia Mennonite Conference and pastor at Lakeview Mennonite Church. This is the beginning of a series of reflections from Blaine on the Seven Core Convictions, established by Mennonite World Conference in 2006 at Pasadena, California. Blaine’s reflections are intended to stimulate discussion and offer a basis for formation as we move into a global Anabaptist future. We invite your thoughts and responses to email@example.com
Core Conviction One: God is known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Creator who seeks to restore fallen humanity by calling a people to be faithful in fellowship, worship, service and witness.
Thankfully, because light pollution hasn’t spoiled the night sky over northern Pennsylvania, it’s possible to gaze upwards and consider the full depth of creation. Looking up into the black cold, I cannot see “God with my naked eye.” Yet when an orange lollipop moon rises over the tree line against a backdrop of stars light years away, it all hints of an astonishing imagination.
We have Moses to thank for his courage to pose the question many of us have stopped asking of God since we were children, “What is your Name?” While we can be quite pleased with a name like ‘God’ as a ready handle for our discussions, God’s answer from the fiery bush, “I Am Who I Am,” comes off sounding more like a verb, a promise to “go along,” especially when the road out of Egypt will get difficult.
Sometimes I imagine my own great-something-grandparents boarding a sailing ship to leave the religions of Europe behind. Some days I try to imagine what they sensed of God as they climbed up the gangplank and looked over distant waters towards Philadelphia. What would become of their move? Was the promise of “I Am Who I Am” enough for them? Some Sunday mornings I secretly wonder if we would be wise to remember “the going along during times of great difficulty” part of God’s name, when sharing time gets stuck at reciting mountaintop highs.
It was a teacher, Anil Solanki at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, who began pushing our class to probe further into the full heart of God. Anil is a gentle soul and was the right person to begin rounding the harsh edges off Old Testament scriptures for us. It turns out the ancient Ten Commandments were not so much a giant cosmic index finger pointing a damning “or else” at the world but were instead designed to be a way of life, a compelling way for peoples of the earth to live with each other. Anil further pointed out that troubles abound when a command is ignored or at worst defied and becomes like a plague, infecting people for three or four generations or even more. But what he also invited us to consider, and what I prefer to be measured in light years, is God’s steadfast love like arms that can reach and wrap their way around a full thousand of generations.
In Genesis a sense develops that God invested a lot in the earth he created. Enough to get tired. A favorite story of mine comes from the children’s book “Does God Have a Big Toe?” where author Marc Gellman, who is Jewish, takes this to mean that God needs partners to help finish His project. The earth is not finished, not yet.
It strikes me as a surprising move when God decides His “arms of steadfast love” will belong to people. Abram was the first to be approached on this matter and then slowly His program of “blessing” begins to spread out.
In our community, in a woman named Donna Cosmello, a recent blessing took shape. With Thanksgiving Day getting close, Donna, who is single and keenly aware of how loneliness and poverty work to diminish holiday spirits, decided to “make dinner.”
Armed with her wits, her restaurant savvy, her connections, a hive of community volunteers, several churches, donations of fresh baked apple and pumpkin pies, and a small white bus to transport senior citizens Donna pulled off her Thanksgiving meal. It was an open door town gathering where people’s stomachs got full on turkey and yams and the room with chattering voices. The spirit breezed in through those open doors and rested on both servant and served. This meal could no longer be claimed as just Donna’s.
Sometimes I find the word “church” as difficult to capture in words as “God” is. We end up preferring an image like a building that has a solid foundation. Or we hold on tightly to certificates of membership we can store in our filing cabinets. But maybe the experience of Moses can instruct us. Like God, perhaps “church” becomes vital when it stops standing around like a noun but instead becomes a verb. An active verb. A people of blessing. A church defining itself as an action…like its Creator.
Lakeview Mennonite Church is by no means perfect. But I see these things as indicators of a church that defines itself as a verb: card senders and Meals-On-Wheels drivers who tackle curvy roads with little complaint; encouragers, pray-ers, healers, teachers and more than one preacher who will give God a voice; a man brooding in worship, silently rubbing his forehead as if the impatience of God were becoming his own; animal repair persons, elder care specialists and a couple of hospice workers who stay up all night; artisans working with their hands whose banners, bookshelves, cupcakes and cartoons help give God’s world a shape; on any given Sunday I hear an 87 year old singer and a singer only two just beginning to find her praise. All this is, of course, mounting evidence of an imagination at work, of a world steadily moving on towards completion.
Seven Core Convictions Mennonites Share
1. God is known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Creator who seeks to restore fallen humanity by calling a people to be faithful in fellowship, worship, service and witness.
2. Jesus is the Son of God. Through his life and teachings, his cross and resurrection, he showed us how to be faithful disciples, redeemed the world, and offers eternal life.
3. As a church, we are a community of those whom God’s Spirit calls to turn from sin, acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, receive baptism upon confession of faith, and follow Christ in life.
4. As a faith community, we accept the Bible as our authority for faith and life, interpreting it together under Holy Spirit guidance, in the light of Jesus Christ to discern God’s will for our obedience.
5. The Spirit of Jesus empowers us to trust God in all areas of life so we become peacemakers who renounce violence, love our enemies, seek justice, and share our possessions with those in need.
6. We gather regularly to worship, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and to hear the Word of God in a spirit of mutual accountability.
7. As a world-wide community of faith and life we transcend boundaries of nationality, race, class, gender and language. We seek to live in the world without conforming to the powers of evil, witnessing to God’s grace by serving others, caring for creation, and inviting all people to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
photos by Timoyer