For the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on Oct. 31, 2017, blogger Elwood Yoder developed 95 “Middle Way theses.” We have published a sampling of them here. You can read the full list at his blog: http://blog.mennonitearchivesofvirginia.net/.
What follows are 95 theses about faith and practice in Mennonite Church USA. Each one comes from my own experience as I’ve pondered what appears to be a shrinking moderate voice in the denomination.
As a high school history teacher for over 30 years, I’ve been pondering the meaning of the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, and some months ago I began jotting down my own ideas, which eventually led to the following list. I suppose these theses are something only an offbeat world history teacher who cares enormously about the church would take time to attempt. At school, on October 31, I will dress as Luther, carry his theses and speak in chapel about the momentous anniversary.
I write from a moderate’s point of view. I am hopeful for the future of the denomination, yet I am also realistic about the nature of church institutions at the end of the Reformation age. Perhaps posting these suggestions, musings and observations on the internet door of our age can help our community discussions. At least that is my hope, so here I stand.
- Think before you speak, because attacking a friend causes pain, loss of confidence and sleepless nights.
- Affirm a brother or sister 10 times for good things they’ve done, and by then, your theological differences may seem less significant. But if not, at least you will have built a strong foundation for conversation.
- Hold to the central historic Christian beliefs of the Creeds and the Councils, recognizing that while these change over time, the core of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is central.
- Hesitate trying out the latest novel ideas about faith and new theological discoveries you’ve come up with just for fun: test them against timeless interpretations of Scripture in the Believers Church tradition.
- Welcome the ideas of young people as, together, we seek to faithfully follow Christ, apply Scripture and interpret the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.
- Learn to live with the tensions that come when two Assembly Resolutions appear to be irreconcilable, since that’s pretty much the way life goes, with un-resolvable contradictions that dog us throughout life.
- Confess salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, as outlined in Romans 1:17, and add a Latin word in the margin of your Bible: Sola, or “alone.”
- Avoid looking to political views or governmental policies for Kingdom ethics, moorings, or instruction for living—look instead to the way your community interprets Scripture.
- Come together with bread and wine in Communion at the foot of the cross, accepting the elements with brothers and sisters who are different than you are.
- Confess sins when conviction touches your heart, especially in community during worship, and accept cleansing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Talk about theological and lifestyle differences in reasonable, rational and calm tones, with truth, candor and honesty, but without rancor, high-mindedness or self-righteousness.
- Forgive one another. Love and engage brothers and sisters who are different so that we do not create even one more denomination, since the 45,000 denominations in the world are enough already.
- Work hard to maintain church unity, because anything worth keeping or building is difficult. Roll up your sleeves and dig in.
- Cook the best food you can for the next potluck at church, since the kitchen at church is a great place to work at unity while flipping pancakes, plugging in crockpots, washing dishes and laughing with one another.
- Respect the central administrative and faith bodies of your Conference, as those groups have highly committed men and women who are seeking to find a middle way between the polarizations of the day.
- Challenge the central administrative faith body in your Conference. Ask them to become more transparent, and to decide key faith issues of doctrine and practice more out in the open.
Read the full list of 95 theses at Elwood’s blog: http://blog.mennonitearchivesofvirginia.net/.
Elwood Yoder teaches history in Harrisonburg, Virginia, at Eastern Mennonite High School. Elwood has written seven books, including congregational histories and historical novels and is editor of Shenandoah Mennonite Historian.