(Appeared first in Mennonite Mission Network’s Beyond Ourselves, February 2013. Shared with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
I’ve been a follower of Jesus in the Anabaptist tradition for many years. I instinctively follow the rhythms and routines that express my core beliefs about Christian discipleship. When I was a teenager, we sought renewal in the attempt to “recover” the Anabaptist vision. We viewed the heart of Anabaptism as discipleship. And we understood the church to be a voluntary fellowship of believers who embraced an ethic of love and nonviolence, mutual aid, and bold evangelism, and who engaged in moral discernment as led by the Holy Spirit.
I’ve come to believe that only by the power of the Spirit is it possible to carry out that vision of the church. I agree with Norman Kraus that the church is a community of the Spirit, a concrete expression of God’s ongoing work in the world. And with him, I believe that this community “is not created by sacramental consecration, theological announcement, ecstatic experience, or moralistic achievement.” It simply cannot come about through human achievement.
Again, as Kraus says, the community of the Spirit is “an assembly of persons who share a common Spirit, Lord, conviction, and mission. A common loyalty is signified in baptism and a shared life.” The Holy Spirit is the “glue” that holds the community of disciples together. As shown in the book of Acts, the Spirit empowers the community of believers, and causes it to grow, and grants the powers of discernment.
This same Spirit calls and sends forth people into God’s mission in the world. And by its very nature, the community of disciples itself bears witness to God’s grace. The empowering and transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the community calls people to faith (1 Corinthians 14:25; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10; 1 Peter 2:9). Further, the Holy Spirit grants gifts to each member for the mutual building up of the community and for ministry to the world (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-31; Ephesians 4:11-13). And the Holy Spirit enables our community of faith to discern the will of God as we gather around the word of God. Our Mennonite Church USA vision statement says it well:
God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.