Adventist-Mennonite Conversation Allows Candid Exchange

Talks focused on "Living the Christian Life in Today's World"

 

Seventh-day Adventists and Mennonites who took part in a four-day series of conversations at the Adventist Church World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, describe their encounter as “friendly,” “open,” and “informative.” The talks, held June 28 to July 1, were the first-ever of their kind between the two communions, and provided an opportunity for each group to explain its history and mission, and to share perspectives on some common challenges.

Dr. William Johnsson, director of Interfaith Relations for the Adventist Church, led the Adventist delegation and said later that “The conversations with the Mennonite leaders were among the most fruitful in which I have been involved. Mennonites and Adventists share many aspects of doctrine and practice, and we quickly established close Christian fellowship.”

Representatives from each church presented papers focused on the theme of “Living the Christian Life in Today’s World,” and covered topics including peace, non-violence and military service; discipleship and non-conformity; health, healing and ecology; and the nature and mission of the church.

According to a joint statement released by the group, the conversations also provided an opportunity for “honest and candid sharing of challenges facing both churches in the areas of non-conformity to the world” and the struggles of witnessing within a culture where “individualism and a declining awareness of the traditional teachings and practices of Christianity dominate.”

“The goal of conversations such as these could simply be described as ‘getting to know each other,’” says Dr. John Graz, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the world church, whose department organized the event. “By sitting down and talking with those of other faiths, we gain a deeper understanding of who they are. And, at the same time, we have the opportunity to share, first-hand, Adventist values and perspectives, and to dispel misunderstandings. There is great practical value in this, and also in exploring areas of cooperation for promoting and defending religious freedom, health ministry, and working for peace and reconciliation.”

Reverend Danisa Ndlovu, president of the Mennonite World Conference, expressed his thanks to the Adventist Church for hosting the conversation. “When you see people from a distance you can’t say that you know them,” said Rev. Ndlovu, who also serves as Bishop of the Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe. “But it is different when you sit down with someone and exchange ideas—now we can say ‘We know you.’” 

The Mennonite World Conference represents some 99 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ national churches worldwide, with a combined membership of some 1.5 million. Mennonites, who trace their roots to the Anabaptist branch of the sixteenth century Reformation, are today widely recognized for their emphasis on peacemaking, their stand as conscientious objectors, and their involvement in dispute resolution, both at local and international levels.

Although a date for a future conversation has not yet been set, Dr. Johnsson says that representatives of both groups saw value in meeting again to explore different topics such as Sabbath and worship, eschatology, and interpretation of Scripture.

Below is a joint statement drafted by the participants in the conversation. [Bettina Krause/PARL]

 

Statement

 

Representatives of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and the Mennonite World Conference held their first conversation June 28 to July 1, 2011 at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.  For four days representatives of both communions exchanged ideas and perspectives centering on the theme of “Living the Christian Life in Today’s World.”  After each group presented an overview of the history of their communion, papers were also presented by each group on the topics of peace, non-violence and military service; discipleship and non-conformity; health, healing and ecology; and the nature and mission of the church.

Participants in the conversation quickly realized that they share much in common.  They come from diverse historical backgrounds—Mennonites from the Anabaptist branch of the Reformation in the sixteenth century and Adventists from the Second Great Awakening in the United States in the nineteenth century.  They share a desire to recover the authenticity and passion of the New Testament church, a similar understanding of Christian history, and a strong commitment to be followers of Jesus in their personal lives and in their corporate witness to the world.  Each communion brought to this conversation a deep experience of what it means to live the Christian faith often as a minority voice in the world and stressed the importance of discipleship and the practical living out of the Christian life.  Together they understand that Christians live “in the world” but are not “of the world.”

The discussion went beyond the exploration of perspectives held in common, to honest and candid sharing of challenges facing both churches in the areas of non-conformity with the world, peace-making and military service, health and healing and the respect for the environment.  Each in its own way struggles with the realities of the world in which they are called to witness, where individualism and a declining awareness of the traditional teachings and practices of Christianity dominate the culture.  Both communions thus face a challenge in maintaining the importance of historic practices and beliefs.  Adventists and Mennonites left with an appreciation of the diversity of the gifts they each bring and contribute to the Body of Christ.

Another conversation is planned to explore further subjects, such as interpretation of Scripture, eschatology, Sabbath and worship, and areas of common witness and mission.