Fans of just about every sports team these days like to call themselves a Nation. They’re saying: We are many, we are passionate. The claim of nationhood suggests their team commands the allegiance of a large region or has a zealous following nationwide.
Red Sox Nation? Sure, there are die-hard fans all over New England and beyond. Tampa Bay Rays Nation? That seems like a stretch.
How about Anabaptist Nation? Does our stream of Christian faith range widely enough and stir feelings deep enough to earn the label of nationhood?
Our geographic credentials seem solid: In 83 countries, we can claim 1.77 million baptized members, according to a 2012 Mennonite World Conference census.
As for the passion and loyalty of Anabaptist Nation, there will be no better time and place to experience it than July 21-26 in Harrisburg, Pa., at the MWC assembly. This once-every-six-years event offers a glimpse of the heavenly vision in Revelation 7 of people from every tribe and language praising God together.
Hosting an MWC assembly is a rare privilege. The most recent one in North America was at Winnipeg, Man., in 1990. The last global assembly in the United States was at Wichita, Kan., in 1978. Anyone who is able to spend a week or even a day experiencing global Anabaptism’s cultural diversity should not miss the opportunity.
Every Nation worth its capital N wants and needs to get together. It’s at the game, the concert or the convention that enthusiasts of the team, band or hobby cement their bond and celebrate their identity. When the tribe is as far-flung as the global church, the importance of each infrequent chance to build identity and strengthen unity is magnified.
“Nation” is usually a political word, but it works for sports fans too, and also for the church. Its Christian use is as old as Scripture; 1 Peter 2:9 identifies followers of Christ as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”
The nation Peter spoke of was a radically new concept: one based on a shared faith in Jesus Christ. This nation was multicultural and multiethnic. No longer were Jews the only chosen people. No longer did the holy nation come from just one culture. The common language and blood lines that had defined the historic faith did not matter any more.
The kingdom of God — today we might say the nation of God — was much bigger than previously imagined. The cultural markers that hold human tribes together were to become less important than a new primary identity as followers of Jesus: “You are no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens with God’s people” (Eph. 2:19).
While on Earth, Jesus Christ inaugurated the nation of God, a theocracy that overrules all other powers. Within God’s nation, Anabaptist Nation is a small but vibrant part. Our citizenship in it should shape who we are more than any political or cultural influence. Experiencing Anabaptist Nation at the MWC assembly in Pennsylvania this month will help us put the nation of God above all others.