Not a few voices today have called into question the creeds and confessions as the formative element of our faith. Very few have offered anything as a genuinely useful alternative. Again, we can all sit down after our own Bible study and theological alertness, lay out the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedon Definition and then a confession from our own branch of the church … and then what? Will agreement on these doctrines draw us into a fellowship? (Intellectually based?) Many would say the creeds and confessions are not enough to draw us into fellowship; they can unite us in mind but will they pull us into the circle of fellowship?
One group who has attempted to form a faith rooted in fellowship is the Bruderhof. Thanks to Peter Mommsen, a Bruderhof brother (I don’t know that he has an “office” or a “title” but I suspect not), I received a copy of their new and beautiful Foundations of our Faith and Calling. It was a delightful read, the kind of book that slows you down because you sense a text drawn from decades of experience and wisdom and discussion. What I learned most from this book is what faith looks like when it emerges, not from theological discussions and debates and settled conclusions, but from a community and a fellowship. Some observations:
Opening: “Our life together is founded on Jesus, the Christ, and son of God. We desire to love him, to follow him, to obey his commandments, and to testify in word and deed to that coming of his kingdom here on earth.” In addition — they speak to the Bible, the teachings and examples of the early Christians as well as the creeds, and their commitment to the Anabaptist tradition.
I’ve not seen any statement like this that had a better emphasis on love for one another and the neighbor. The emphasis on the poor, while important, could be expanded by seeing love as directed toward all, poor or not.
Divisions of this commitment: our calling (kingdom, church community, way of peace, justice, works of mercy, proclaiming the gospel), Heritage (founding, forerunners, guides), Church order (member, vows, responsibilities, varieties of gifts, pastoral leadership, making decisions, no law but love), Church actions (baptism, Lord’s supper, laying on of hands, church discipline and forgiveness, marriage), and Life in community (prayer, community of goods, common work, mutual care, children and the family, education, individual in community, the common table for meals). The stuff on work was a highlight for me.
Notice what happens here: the life in fellowship shapes topics as the topics, or message, has given rise to the kind of fellowship they have.
Our “doctrinal statements” are intellectual and theological but they are not shaped by how we live as a fellowship. Our life in fellowship does not shape our doctrinal statements sufficiently.
The whole statement is intimidating because its first layer — its threshold — is a kind of commitment to live in fellowship and love one another at a serious level.
There is not sufficient emphasis on mission, or a missional theology, but there is some details about gospeling others in this world and embodying the kingdom vision of Jesus as a form of witnessing to the realities of the kingdom. The eucharist section (meal of remembrance, communion with Christ, unity) lacked one theme in the early Anabaptists — the breaking of bread evokes the sacrifice of one another for others, that is, the ecclesial manifestation of eucharist in sacrificial life and love.