I don’t think we realize how much influence that Fundamentalism has had on Conservative Mennonites. If you look at the older confessions of faith, you will see that all of them start out with a statement about God. Ever since 1920, however, most of our confessions of faith have started with a statement about the Bible. Here’s how that strikes me…
The older Anabaptist approach was to emphasize our relationship with God. The fundamentalists changed this – they emphasized the Bible instead, using it like a formula for spiritual success. If you think about this for a little, I think you will see that this makes for some subtle differences.
The Anabaptists didn’t belittle the scriptures. But they viewed them as one way, along with others, that God used to speak to people. They read the Bible because of a consuming desire to understand the mind of Christ rather to find a formula for pleasing God. To them a relationship with Christ was everything, and they read the Bible to understand Christ better.
The fundamentalists changed that. They held their relationship with the Bible above their relationship with Christ. In many cases this led to people having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.
Conservative Mennonites have adopted this approach but taken it to another level. They build a layer of church “standards” and rules on top of the Bible. That tends to remove them another step from Christ, because often the typical member is more worried about pleasing other members than he is about pleasing Christ.
We tend to take the fundamentalist approach by default (after all, it sounds so good). We start with Guidelines, as a way to shore up what the Bible says and make sure that we aren’t disobeying any of its principles. We assume that this is because we want to glorify Christ. But in reality, we don’t spend a lot of time in glorifying Christ. Instead we try to put together a formula that will do it for us.
I think we should reverse our priorities rather than taking the Fundamentalist approach. We need to come to Christ first and emphasize building a relationship with Him. To maintain this, and strengthen it, we will read the Bible to learn more about the mind of Christ. As we do this our relationship with Him will prompt us to follow His direction.
This approach will also lead us to brotherhood with other Christians. Together, we will try to weed out the things in our lives that would destroy our relationship with Christ. This will probably mean that we will draw up some interpretations and guidelines. But somehow, I still feel that if we get the first two in place the latter won’t be needed nearly as much.
I know that isn’t very popular thinking among conservatives. Depending on your background, it probably sounds rather dangerous to you. But give it some serious thought before you just brush it aside….