(Appeared first in August 2011, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.—Romans 15:13 (TNIV)
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.—Vision: Healing and Hope
I’ve been pondering what it might look like to “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” I wish it could always be said of me and all the members of Mennonite Church USA, but I fear that would be stretching the truth. In reality, we sometimes wallow in despair. From long experience, I am convinced that only the power of the Spirit can bring about a high level of joy and peace in our lives. Both the passage in Romans 15 and our statement of vision make that clear.
Admitting to God that we need more of the Spirit is an investment in hope. As we admit our need for God’s empowerment in our lives, we open ourselves anew to the grace, joy and peace that God alone can bring into our lives. An optimistic personality or reliance on human strength is not the same as overflowing with hope by the power of the Spirit. The power of the Spirit is far more effective in bringing healing and hope to others. All of this points to the need for a greater emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
John Howard Yoder once said that “Pentecostalism is in our century the closest parallel to what Anabaptism was in the 16th: expanding so vigorously that it burst the bonds of its own thinking about church order, living from multiple gifts of the Spirit in the total church while holding leaders in great respect, unembarrassed by the language of the layman and the aesthetic tastes of the poor, mobile, zealously single-minded.”
Other historians like Arnold Snyder have also found close parallels between the Pentecostal movement and our Mennonite faith heritage.
Snyder believes that the most important trait of early Anabaptists was their emphasis on the new birth, brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is one of the reasons we are engaging in conversations with our Pentecostal brothers and sisters, not only in our neighborhoods but in Mennonite churches around the world. Many of the fastest-growing churches in Mennonite World Conference have embraced a Pentecostal approach to the spiritual life. Conrad Kanagy, author of Road Signs for the Journey, is documenting this in a new study based on research among churches in the global south. Like the early Anabaptists, these congregations approach the Scriptures with the expectation that the power of the Spirit will produce the same kinds of signs and wonders in our day that the early church experienced in theirs.
I believe we Mennonites have much to learn from Pentecostals about the Holy Spirit, just as we have much to learn from Mennonites in the global south. And I believe we have things to share with these other groups as well. We invest in hope as we give and receive counsel with other groups of Christians in a spirit of humility.
Mennonite Church USA is embarking on a Purposeful Plan designed to guide our church toward a fulfillment of God’s call. We will only be able to meet the lofty goals in that plan if the Holy Wind of God fills our sails and carries us to God’s chosen destination. Perhaps the Spirit can yet lead us to overflow with hope, so that God’s healing spills over to others. I pray that it may be so.