Anabaptism Sunday School Curriculum for Youth
This curriculum was designed to be used with high school youth in a local church setting. It was created by Jo-Ann Brant (United States and Canada) and originally appeared at https://people.goshen.edu/~joannab/MYF/anabaptism.html. She has given her permission for these resources to be shared here. There is also a Czech translation of the curriculum available here:
What is Anabaptism?
In this unit, we covered the foundational convictions or practices of Anabaptism through the use of a curriculum that uses the framework of a board game. I have not included a complete telling of the Anabaptist story in this curriculum. The youth in my group had all recently seen the film "The Radicals." If your group does not know the story of the beginnings of Anabaptism, you might wish to add a session between session one and two in which you watch selected clips from "The Radicals" or have a good story teller tell the story.
Session One: How do I fit into the picture of Anabaptism?
To help students recognize that basing their convictions upon membership by birth into a tradition is a solid basis for faith. Our culture places great demands upon the individual to define his or her own identity without reference to the past or the family into which he or she was born. While youth should examine and understand the convictions that lead their parents or ancestors to choose a particular expression of faith, in this case Anabaptism, they also need affirmation that the faith they receive is a gift to be welcomed or an invitation rather than an ideology that is imposed. This lesson's activities allow the youth to acknowledge that they, with very few exceptions, are sitting at the table because of a family member's decision. The activities give them an opportunity to openly acknowledge that they enjoy or appreciate some consequences of this decision more than others. The activities also allow the youth to identify what they take to be the central affirmations and distinctive markers of Anabaptism. The activity then lays down a framework for the remaining sessions in the unit.
Depending upon your group and/or congregation and time, you might begin with the following questions or jump to activity two.
Activity One: Reflect on Confession of Faith
Read all or part of the confession of faith statement on peace, appended below. (If the youth are keeping Sunday School journals, encourage them to glue it into their journal if they wish to affirm it at this time.) Ask the youth to imagine standing before a judge or a tribunal to defend their refusal to participate in military service. Ask them if they would feel comfortable beginning with the following statement?
- I belong to a tradition, that of the Mennonites, a historic peace church.
- My parents were Mennonites etc.
What does it mean to begin explaining yourself this way? If the youth cannot answer this question, explain that by beginning with the statement that you have been raised in a tradition is to claim that you cannot separate who you are from what is "bred on the bone." These are convictions that you cannot just set aside like a hobby or a piece of clothing. To affirm that your convictions are part of a faith tradition is to affirm that they are not personal whims or something that one has created to suit one's purposes on a particular occasion. These convictions have been held and examined by many people who hold each other accountable both to understand and to keep their faith.
Activity Two: Make conceptual map of what it means to be Anabaptist
Materials: A large sheet of white paper, large enough to cover the table and enough felt pens for each youth. Draw a large circle on the sheet leaving at least a foot of paper space between the edge of the paper and the circle. (When you are done with the conceptual map, I suggest that you either hang it on a wall or leave it on the table for the remainder of the unit as the surface upon which do the various activities.) You will also need two large bags of candy pieces: one sweet and one sour. Skittles work well for the sour candy. I used M&Ms for the sweet candy. If you have a large group, pour some into bowls to have at points close enough that each student can reach them. Keep the sweet and sour candies separate.
Begin to draw a big conceptual web of what it means to be Anabaptist. See the steps for constructing this conceptual map below. The map answers the following questions: What are our core convictions? What do these mean to each of us personally?
Teacher: Tell the story of how you connect to the Mennonite story either through a personal choice or through family. [I chose to join the Mennonite Church when I was pregnant with my son Jacob. I wanted to gift him with a sense of belonging to that faith tradition. Jacob's father came from an "ethnic Mennonite" family. I emphasize that while I am a new comer to the Mennonite tradition that I feel that the early Anabaptists are no less my ancestors. I have been adopted into their story as a full heir.]
- Step One
- At the center of the map write the word Mennonite and then a line (with the words “part of” connecting to the phrase “The Anabaptist Tradition.” (Sample Black and White Map: Anabaptism Conceptual Web) that I have provided. Youth should feel free to write in a variety of colors.
- Invite students write along the edge of the circle how they became part of this tradition with phrases like
- “My family’s tradition”
- “A church that my family has joined”
- “The church I go to”
- “ A tradition that I am getting to know”
- Step Two
- Have students contribute words or ideas to the map by asking them what is sweet about being part of this tradition or what is bitter/sweet or just down right bitter. Begin by having them take turns, but as the ideas begin to flow, you may want them to brainstorm. The important thing is to get the words written down somewhere on the paper, but if you can get the youth to think about putting new words that seem related to words that have already been written down close together, you will make step three easier. To help motivate them have sweet candies and sour candies. For each contribution, they get the appropriate candy. Help students expand upon ideas by asking prompt questions. What is purity? Not drinking, not smoking, not having premarital sex etc. What sorts of activities do we do as a congregation? Remind them about pot-lucks, service projects, Bible School and other such activities if necessary.
- Step Three
- Have them draw lines between connected ideas. Lines should cross and interconnect.
- Step Four
- Ask, "What are the core Anabaptist convictions?" Are they on our map? The following curriculum is structured around four principles of Anabaptism identified by Joe Springer, Curator of the Mennonite Historical Library. Write these phrases down on each side of your paper and then have students draw the lines from what they have written to the key idea. If your youth identify other principles, try very hard to relate them to these four principles. If you have trouble doing this, I encourage you to find a piece of relevant curriculum to add to the unit or assure them that the principle will be or has been covered in another unit.
- Free Church
- Adult Baptism
- Nonviolent resistance
- Lived scripture (discipleship+hospitality+service+”purity”)
- Note how everything can be tied to one or more of these key principles in some way or another.
Discuss how faith is not a personal accomplishment but something handed on from generation to generation. What do we owe the past? Do we feel connected to the past? If you did not do the first activity, I suggest that you end by acknowledging that we cannot separate who you are from what is "bred on the bone." These are convictions that you cannot just set aside like a hobby or a piece of clothing. To affirm that your convictions are part of a faith tradition is to affirm that they are not personal whims or something that one has created to suit one's purposes on a particular occasion. These convictions have been held and examined by many people who hold each other accountable both to understand and to keep their faith. The next four weeks are designed to help the youth understand themselves better and to help them recognize in what ways they identify with this tradition.
Article 22 from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective:
- We believe that peace is the will of God. God created the world in peace, and God's peace is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, who is our peace and the peace of the whole world. Led by the Holy Spirit, we follow Christ in the way of peace, doing justice, bringing reconciliation, and practicing nonresistance even in the face of violence and warfare.
- Although God created a peaceable world, humanity chose the way of unrighteousness and violence. The spirit of revenge increased, and violence multiplied, yet the original vision of peace and justice did not die. Prophets and other messengers of God continued to point the people of Israel toward trust in God rather than in weapons and military force.
- The peace God intends for humanity and creation was revealed most fully in Jesus Christ. A joyous song of peace announced Jesus' birth. Jesus taught love of enemies, forgave wrongdoers, and called for right relationships. When threatened, he chose not to resist, but gave his life freely. By his death and resurrection, he has removed the dominion of death and given us peace with God. Thus he has reconciled us to God and has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.
- As followers of Jesus, we participate in his ministry of peace and justice. He has called us to find our blessing in making peace and seeking justice. We do so in a spirit of gentleness, willing to be persecuted for righteousness' sake. As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service. The same Spirit that empowered Jesus also empowers us to love enemies, to forgive rather than to seek revenge, to practice right relationships, to rely on the community of faith to settle disputes, and to resist evil without violence.
- Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of children and women, violence between men and women, abortion, and capital punishment.
- We give our ultimate loyalty to the God of grace and peace, who guides the church daily in overcoming evil with good, who empowers us to do justice, and who sustains us in the glorious hope of the peaceable reign of God.
Session Two: Free Church
Review what students know about the history of Christianity and Anabaptism regarding the relationship between Church and State.
Be sure that students have some notion of the following essential points:
- Jesus taught "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and what is God’s to God" (Matt 22:21): When you answer the question, "What belongs to God?," what is left for Caesar?
- Paul taught "[O]ur citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 3:20); "[Pray] for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity" (1 Tim 2:2); "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exit have been instituted by God ... For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad... for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer" Romans 13:1-4). Note Paul's possible sarcasm in saying that a good person has nothing to fear from the state. Was Jesus not a good person? Paul is probably talking about the judicial power of the state and not military power. Moreover, he is addressing a community only recently allowed to return to Rome after it was evicted in 48 A.D. Perhaps he is telling this community to maintain a low profile. In any case, it is important to remember that most of the population of Rome were not citizens and, even for citizens, it was dangerous to disagree with the tyrannical government.
- Roman Imperial Cult: In the empire, worship of the emperors provided cohesion by binding its various peoples together in religious rites and ensuring they expressed loyalty to Rome. The Jews refused to participate, and initially many Pharisees were executed for their refusal to swear oaths of loyalty in the name of the divine emperor. Eventually, the Jews were exempt from imperial worship, but Christians who were not circumcised could not lay claim to the exempt status and were treated as disloyal to Rome when they refused to participate in the cult.
- Constantinianism - the formal alliance between Church and state: The emperor Constantine became a Christian in 312 A.D. When Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Empire, government began to use religion as an instrument with which to govern. Baptism became a form of census through which governments could maintain tax rolls. Rulers claimed that refusal to support their laws and initiatives were equivalent to disobedience to God. This view of the relationship between citizenship in the state and membership in the church was reasserted by Lutheran and Calvinist Churches.
- Anabaptists believe that there should be no coercion to be a Christian, that the Church is a voluntary gathering of believers.They believe that the church should not assert its will with the sword or any other instrument of the state. The Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites soon found that it was impossible to fulfill a life of discipleship without withdrawing from national life and the way of the world. In order to avoid mandatory conscription into the military or mandatory state education, the Anabaptists were often wandering people for much of their history. The Amish and Hutterites continue to abstain from participating in government and do not exercise their right to vote. Many Mennonites now vote, but some continue not to vote.
Jump to our contemporary context: Where do you draw the line between how one can participate in civil life without violating your solidarity with the body of Christ?
Activity: Play the Conformity/Nonconformity Game
The board has three decks of cards (Click here for card print out.): one labeled Participation in National Life, one labeled the Third Way; and one labeled Consequence.
Students take turns rolling the dice. If they roll a odd number, they draw from the Third Way deck, if they roll even, they draw from the Participation in National Life deck. The student drawing the card must decide if he or she is willing to do the act described on the card they draw. If he or she is willing to do the Participation activity, there is no consequence. If he or she is not willing to do the act, he or she draws a Consequence card. The group then discusses whether the consequence is realistic or whether the consequence is too severe.The arbitrary nature of the consequence may strike the students as silly, but it does invite serious discussion and makes room for the teachers to tell stories about situations they have experienced or know about.
If the student draws the Third Way card and decides to accept it, he or she draws a Consequence card. Again, there is a random quality to the game and the consequence may be out of proportion to the act, but this opens the way for discussion.In some cases, the cards will raise questions about what is the problem with being patriotic, swearing oaths, making the pledge of allegiance to the flag, flying a flag, etc.
Teachers may want to bone up on their basic Anabaptism by reading J. C. Wenger’s little book, What Mennonites Believe. John D. Roth, Goshen College History professor, has recently completed an updated version of this work that should be very helpful called Beliefs: Mennonite Faith and Practice (Herald Press, 2005). Try to come prepared with some anecdotes about people you know who have refrained from the items on the Participation in National Life cards and what consequences they have suffered and people who have done the things on the Third Way cards and the consequences they have suffered.
Participation in National Life cards:
- Do Jury Duty
- Serve in the Military
- Vote in an Election
- Take an Oath of Office
- Sing the National Anthem
- Pledge Allegiance to the Flag
- Register for the Draft
- Take an Oath on the Witness Stand
- Wear Red, White, and Blue
- Wear a Ribbon in Support of the Troops.
Third Way Cards:
- Withhold Taxes
- Refuse to Register for the Draft
- Harbor an Unregistered Alien
- Quit a Job
- Sign a Petition Opposing Government Policy
- Participate in a Protest
- Enter a Restricted Area to Protest
- Travel more than 100 Miles to Protest
- Publish your Dissenting View in the Newspaper
- Write a Letter of Washington
- You are labeled a traitor
- You feel like an outsider
- You are labeled a coward
- Go to Jail
- You are fired
- You are expelled from a club
- You are expelled from the country
- You are threatened with violence
- You are ridiculed
- You experience physical violence
Instructions for Cards: Use the duplex function on your photocopied and card stock paper if available. Print the "Participation in National Life" sheet back to back with the sheet that begins "Do jury duty." Print the "Third Way" sheet back to back with the sheet that begins "Withhold taxes." Print the "Consequence" sheet back to back with the sheet that begins "You are lonely." Print two copies of the consequence cards and shuffle the deck.
Session Three: Nonviolent Resistance
The objective of this session is to help students decide where they draw the line in terms of the use of physical force. You may find that you need to classes to cover all of the questions listed below. Some preliminary discussion about the teachings of the church and the language that we use may be necessary. Mennonites believe that we are called to bring fruitfulness to this world rather than death and destruction. In World War II, when many young men in the United States were drafted into non-voluntary military service, Mennonite and Amish young men did alternate voluntary service and were granted "Conscientious Objectors Status." They were known as CEOs. Following the war, when the soldiers went home, men and women doing voluntary service arrived to do the work of reconstruction. We continue this tradition today by performing voluntary service for the good of our society rather than serving our country by bearing arms. For many years, we used the language of non-resistance to refer to our refusal to use violence, but recently, many Mennonites have begun to use the language of non-violence because they choose to resist violence by alternate means. Mennonites reject lethal force, but there is no consensus about what acceptable uses of force might be. For example, many Mennonites think that it is acceptable to restrain someone who is about to do harm to his or herself or to others. The focus of the activity and possible discussion is not simply about war but about all use of force to achieve our goals or to protect ourselves.
Activity: Continuum of nonviolence
Give students several strips of green, yellow and red paper. On the green strips have them write occasions and forms of physical force that they will use. On the red strips have them write examples when they will refuse to use physical force. On the yellow strips have them write things they feel ambiguous about.
Prime the pump by sharing your own examples. These are mine: Red: Capital punishment; Green: Someone is harming a child; Yellow: Someone is fleeing from a crime
Go around the circle sharing what they have selected. Place the red down on one end of the table and the green at the other with yellow in the middle. Students will disagree about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Encourage them to share their reasons for what they have written. If there are students who strongly disagree about something written on a green sheet allow them to write it on a red strip or visa versa. Once all of the pieces are down, see if the students can agree on which items should be at the extreme ends.
Follow up Discussion Topics
There are many subtopics to this theme. I have listed a few below and recommend that you decide what to discuss based upon recent events within your own community or your own interest. You may also wish to invite a member of the congregation who has a story of alternate service or non-violent resistance to share.
When does our society sanction violence? Note: we call this law enforcement. As Mennonites, how should we use the services of the police? When would you call the police? Are the police surrogate users of violence? Can we claim to be non-violent if we allow the police to use their weapons on our behalf? I have included a summary of the just war theory below. (FYI: St. Augustine is often credited with being the architect of this theory, but he never stated that war could be just. Instead, he called it a necessary evil, which is quite a different thing than the word just suggests.)
A couple of years ago, a gang of thieves was operating in the Nappanee, Indiana (U.S.A.) area. They would attack Amish men riding bicycles alone on the way home from work on pay day and rob them. At first, the Amish community remained silent, but when the attacks became more frequent and violent, the community decided to call the police and, when the robbers were apprehended, to appear in court as witnesses against them. Why, when we as Mennonites claim to share the same convictions about non-retaliation or non-violence as the Amish, do we have less trouble using police and the criminal justice system?
Romans 13:1-7 and Capital Punishment
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God's servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them--taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
Paul is using the sword as metonymy (a part standing for the whole) for all punishment but, of course, it signifies the power of the state to take a life. What purpose does capital punishment serve in our community? What do family members of murder victims hope to gain with the execution of a murderer? Ask the youth if they are the same person today that they were five or ten years ago. Then share the fact that most who die by capital punishment live on death row for a decade. What sense does it make to execute a person who is no longer the same person who committed the crime.
You might show a clip from the Shawshank Redemption, the scene when a 60 year old named Red appears before the parole board for the last time:
RED: Not a day goes by I don't feel regret, and not because I'm in here or because you think I should. I look back on myself the way I was...stupid kid who did that terrible crime...wish I could talk sense to him. Tell him how things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone, this old man is all that's left, and I have to live with that.
If there is a recent capital punishment case with which the youth are familiar, you might discuss aspects of it. The Timothy McVeigh execution is no longer part of recent memory, but it provides an excellent example, for my part, of why execution is not God's will. God's will is that we repent and turn to Him. Timothy McVeigh wanted a speedy execution because he wanted to die convinced that he had done the right thing. The state denied him the opportunity to regret and repent and to become reconciled with God and the world.
Discuss the following biblical passages and how we live by them in our own lives.
Matthew 5:38-39 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other. [Please note: if you are familiar with the Walter Wink interpretation of this passage, reflect upon the possibility that it is not a good interpretation of Matthew or Jesus before you share it with the youth. It makes no sense in the context of Jesus' discussion of exceeding righteousness. In my experience, shaming another person only escalates violence rather than disarming it.]
Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteousness.
Luke 6:27-36 But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those how hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Matthew 26:52 Jesus’ words at his arrest: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Romans 12:14, 17-21 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. … Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought of what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will replay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Just War Theory
What are the common justifications for war? According to the common version of the "Just War Theory," war is just when:
- It is an act of self defense
- It the goal of war is to secure just peace for all who are involved
- All negotiations and compromises have been tried and failed
- When there has been a formal declaration of war
- When the goal is not the destruction of another nations economic or political sovereignty
- When the weapons and force used are no greater than what is needed to achieve peace.
- When people not actively involved in the conflict are immune from attack.
In the abstract, these arguments seem compelling, but is there ever a war in which there is no "collateral damage?" Discuss the problem with achieving these conditions. How many of these conditions were satisfied by the most recent war in which the United States engaged?
Session Four: Adult Baptism
In the Anabaptist tradition, membership in the Church should not be coerced. The early Anabaptists rejected infant baptism for many reasons. In the 16th century, baptism was a way for the state to keep track of people. When a baby was baptized, he or she was recognized as belonging to the state. We often use the language of citizenship, but in the 16th century this did not mean what it means to us. The child did not then have the right to belong to the society and benefit from the privileges or rights or that society. At baptism a child's name would be entered onto the tax roll. In some traditions such as the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, children are baptized because they believe that there is no salvation unless you are baptized into the Church. You can see why both the Roman Catholic Church and the state persecuted the Anabaptists.
Anabaptists do not believe that God will condemn a child for not being baptized. Menno Simons coined the term "complex innocence" to explain how children may do and say things that are wrong, because they do not really understand the consequences or the full nature of their acts, but still be part of God's kingdom through the grace offered through Christ. Because they are not cognitively or morally mature enough to commit themselves to and follow a life of discipleship, they are not ready for baptism. Baptism is not just a right of passage, it is a commitment that may require all sorts of personal sacrifices that we would not require of a child or teenager.
Different congregations identify different ages as sufficiently mature to qualify for adult baptism. Some baptize members as young as eleven years of age. Some want individuals to wait until their early twenties. The Amish do not baptize their members until shortly before they marry, usually in their early to mid-twenties. Even the early Anabaptists had trouble deciding when one was an adult, with some arguing that the beginning of puberty marked the beginning of adulthood and others saying that one should be in one's early thirties. Note: Jesus was baptized in his early thirties. You might want to have a conversation with your youth about what age they consider appropriate for baptism.
Review and discuss Article 11 from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective:
We believe that the baptism of believers with water is a sign of their cleansing from sin. Baptism is also a pledge before the church of their covenant with God to walk in the way of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Believers are baptized into Christ and his body by the Spirit, water, and blood. Baptism is a testimony to God's gift of the Holy Spirit and the continuing work of the Spirit in the lives of believers. Through the Spirit we repent and turn toward God in faith. The baptism of the Holy Spirit enables believers to walk in newness of life, to live in community with Christ and the church, to offer Christ's healing and forgiveness to those in need, to witness boldly to the good news of Christ, and to hope in the sharing of Christ's future glory. Baptism by water is a sign that a person has repented, received forgiveness, renounced evil, and died to sin, through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Thus cleansed, believers are incorporated into Christ's body on earth, the church. Baptism by water is also a pledge to serve Christ and to minister as a member of his body according to the gifts given to each one. Jesus himself requested water baptism at the beginning of his ministry and sent his followers to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Baptism is done in obedience to Jesus' command and as a public commitment to identify with Jesus Christ, not only in his baptism by water, but in his life in the Spirit and in his death in suffering love. The baptism of blood, or baptism of suffering, is the offering of one's life, even to death. Jesus understood the giving of his life through the shedding of his blood for others as a baptism. He also spoke about his disciples' suffering and death as a baptism. Those who accept water baptism commit themselves to follow Jesus in giving their lives for others, in loving their enemies, and in renouncing violence, even when it means their own suffering or death. Christian baptism is for those who confess their sins, repent, accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and commit themselves to follow Christ in obedience as members of his body, both giving and receiving care and counsel in the church. Baptism is for those who are of the age of accountability and who freely request baptism on the basis of their response to Jesus Christ in faith.
We believe that the church is the assembly of those who have accepted God's offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The church is the new community of disciples sent into the world to proclaim the reign of God and to provide a foretaste of the church's glorious hope. The church is the new society established and sustained by the Holy Spirit. The church, the body of Christ, is called to become ever more like Jesus Christ, its head, in its worship, ministry, witness, mutual love and care, and the ordering of its common life.
We acknowledge the church as the society of believers from many nations, anointed for witness by the Holy Spirit. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, divisions between nations, races, classes, and genders are being healed as persons from every human grouping are reconciled and united in the church. In times of suffering as well as tranquility, the church depends on the Spirit's presence and power, rather than on the power or benevolence of government, for its preservation and mission.
The church is the assembly of those who voluntarily commit themselves to follow Christ in life and to be accountable to one another and to God, while recognizing that the church is imperfect and thus in constant need of repentance. The church's identity as God's people of faith is sustained and renewed as members gather regularly for worship. Here the church celebrates God's boundless grace, reaffirms its loyalty to God above all else, and seeks to discern God's will. The church is the household, or family, of God. Commitment to one another is shown in loving one another as God loves, in sharing material and spiritual resources, in exercising mutual care and discipline, and in showing hospitality to all. The church welcomes all people who join themselves to Christ to become part of the family of God.
We believe that the church as the body of Christ is the visible manifestation of Jesus Christ. The church is called to live and minister as Christ lived and ministered in the world. As many members belong to one body, so all believers have been baptized in one Spirit into the one body of Christ. There are varieties of gifts and ministries in the church, all given for the common good. Believers are to love each other and to grow toward the likeness of Christ, who is the head of the church. The church exists as a community of believers in the local congregation, as a community of congregations, and as the worldwide community of faith.
Activity and Discussion Two:
What should the church look like? What does it mean to cross the line?
Use a fresh piece of large paper. Draw a large circle. Inside the circle write, "The Church." and outside the circle is "the World."
Provide youth with squares or circles of colored paper upon which students identify the following:
- Things that need to be confessed to be in the circle (eg. Jesus died for our sins, Jesus is the son of God, Jesus was resurrected, Jesus is my Lord)
- Things that one must do to be in the circle (eg. Lord's Supper, Foot washing, Tithing, Service)
- Behaviors or activities that belong inside the circle (eg. drinking, smoking, gambling, dancing??? ...)
Note: some of the things that they identify will be things that other denominations tolerate within the church. Have a few items prepared that the youth may not consider such as tithing or serving on Church commissions or as Sunday School teachers or in some other capacity on a regular basis. I think this is a good time to encourage youth to begin tithing. At this point in their lives, it may be difficult to determine what 10% is, and at some points when they are going to school or paying back student loans, it may be difficult to tithe the full 10%. I suggest to my college aged students that they begin by tithing 10% of their weekly pocket money that they spend on entertainment, clothes and gasoline. When they begin working, I suggest that they tithe 10% of their net income after taxes and loan payments. Plan to begin paying 10% of gross income even when paying a mortgage. Simply deduct 10% from your gross income before you calculate how much you can afford to be paying in monthly installments for a car and house mortgage. Invite them to be extravagantly generous as they grow older in how they determine what 10% of their income is. When I married my husband, we were each giving 10%. We decided that 10 + 10 = 20%. We haven't quite hit that target yet, but each year as our income increases, we work closer to it.
You might want to spend some time negotiating with the entire group, which items absolutely must be inside the circle and which ones must be outside the circle. Place the things that they find debatable on the line. You might find that the group wants to discuss the two most controversial questions in the contemporary Mennonite Church: whether people who are in committed homosexual relationships should be allowed membership or whether women should be allowed to preach.
Have the youth discuss in pairs which things that they would have trouble forsaking and the things inside the circle that they would have trouble accepting. Are there things on either side of the line that cause them to hesitate to be baptized. Have each pair identify the one thing that is the greatest obstacle to share with the whole group.
Discuss the different struggles or questions that students have about crossing the line. Perhaps differentiate between activities and beliefs. Those students who are baptized should be encouraged to share why the things on their list are not ultimate obstacles but struggles they are willing to live with in order to be in the Church. Regarding beliefs that are difficult to accept, have students acknowledge the diversity of belief in the church regarding the particularities of confessional statements and the difference between faith (translate as trust) rather than certainty. This is an opportunity to help youth distinguish between the impossible ideal of having all convictions worked out for all time, and the possible ideal of committing oneself to a life of Christian discipleship.
Session Five: Lived Scripture
Begin by sharing the following passage from scripture and the teaching about scripture from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.
2 Timothy 3:14-17 Paul's instructions to Timothy, a young servant of the Church:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
Confession: We believe that all Scripture is inspired by God through the Holy Spirit for instruction in salvation and training in righteousness. We accept the Scriptures as the Word of God and as the fully reliable and trustworthy standard for Christian faith and life. We seek to understand and interpret Scripture in harmony with Jesus Christ as we are led by the Holy Spirit in the church.
Ask the youth the various ways that they have heard people appeal to the authority of scripture. I suspect that for most of them, this suggests a form of biblical literalism that causes division in the church. The objective of this session is to come to a richer or more compelling notion of biblical authority.
Spend a little bit of time noting the difference between the Anabaptist view of the authority of scripture and the sort of fundamentalism that reads every passage as having equal weight. Discuss the visible evidence of this conviction at various times and by various Anabaptist groups. Youth may be familiar with the visible markers but may not know the biblical teachings to which they are connected? Collect stories from members of your own adult small groups in anticipation of this about past disputes that caused tension in the church. Tell stories about how the church changed its position, not by rejecting scripture, but by searching the scripture for direction.
Examples of visible "lived scripture" in the Anabaptist tradition:
- Turn the other check Matthew 5:38-42
- Blessed are the peace makers Matthew 5:9
- Head covering 1 Cor 11:2-16
- Hutterites: all things in common Acts 4:32
- Church discipline [the ban]: Matt 18:13-20
- Exclusion of Women from the Pastorate 1 Cor 14:34-36; 1 Timothy 2:11-12
- What are our earliest memories? What were the occasions when learning Bible stories was exciting or rewarding? Christmas pageants, Palm Sunday, Sunday School..? What stories do you remember learning first? [I found that when I asked these questions, the mood in the class changed dramatically, so I invited the youth to seek to recapture the enthusiasm of childhood.]
- What place does the Bible have in your home? Is this the same place as the home in which your parents and grandparents grew up?
- What is your relationship with the Bible?
- What are the difficult questions? Has the Bible become a stumbling block for some or foolishness for others? [I shared the fact that the core of the Gospel was not an easy idea for people to accept when they first heard it. Paul writes “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” 1 Cor 1:23.]
- What do we hope about our own lives and what the story of our journey with scripture will be?
Depending upon the amount of time that you have and whether you wish to extend this session over a couple of weeks, you may wish to do some or all of the following activities.
Activity 1: Favorite Bible passages
Share with the youth the book of the Bible from which you find direction or is "bred on the bone." Invite them to read all of it or part of it and to select one passage that they find inspiring or meaningful. Have them read the passages out loud or write them on a piece of paper to put in their wallets or purse where they will see them on a regular basis. Remind them that most of the Bible is written to comfort people who are suffering or being persecuted or are in bondage. My personal choices include Habakkuk and Philippians. Habakkuk seems to be written for times like these. Injustice, war and destruction prevail and Habakkuk calls out to God for an explanation. Even though one is not forthcoming, Habakkuk ends with a powerful testimony to his faithfulness. Paul writes the letter to the Philippians from prison. He finds an occasion, in what the world considers a humiliation, to find joy and an inspiring call to imitate Christ (2:6-11).
Activity 2: Ongoing biblical narrative
Part of the notion of lived scripture is that we are living out the ongoing narrative of the Bible. Give the youth the abbreviated version of this narrative:
The story begins with God's call to Abraham and the promise that "through his seed all the nations of the world will be blessed." God first introduces himself to the Israelites after delivering them from bondage in Egypt and the enters into a covenant with them. They will be his people and he will be their God. The Israelites are to be a "light to the nations" making God's justice and love visible. With the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, this covenant relationship is extending to all the nations. Before his ascension to heaven, Jesus' tells his followers to go and make disciples of all peoples (Matthew 28:19).
Ask the youth how we use light as a symbol in the Church. Do they have favorite hymns that include this image? I suspect someone will bring up the song "This little light of mine." Explain that this hymn is a Negro spiritual. Invite the youth to think of their faith and convictions as a light that is passed on from one generation to the next? Ask them who, in particular, has passed on their light to them. Invite the youth to share how each one seeks to let his or her light shine in a way that makes God's righteousness and love visible to the world?
Activity 3: Memorizing scripture
Memorizing scripture has passed out of favor in the education and, unfortunately, churches seem to have followed the lead of the school system. I believe that scripture is a gift from God that gives us language when words fail us. If in times of extreme emotion -- ranging from joy or grief -- if we speak through scripture, we will not loose our faith. I use the activity of memorizing scripture in the unit on spiritual disciplines, but some lessons bear repeating, and I believe this is one of them. In that unit, I use a clip from the movie X-Men II in which the character Night Crawler begins to recite Psalm 23 at the death of a friend. Those around him are so stricken with grief that all they can do is cry. His words bring comfort but they also help make meaning of their friends death by commemorating it as an act of love, her death becomes an act of faithfulness to God and their grief becomes a witness to God. Words of scripture can sustain our faith in times when we might forget God or think that God does not exist or care. Invite the youth to select a short verse from scripture that they can memorize in a short period of time. Break into pairs and have them recite the verse to each other. Invite them to put the verse in a place where they will see it. Attach it to their bathroom mirror or to the door of the fridge. You might have them write it on a 1" by 2" card with a hole punched in the top left hand corner to attach to their key ring. As a follow up, you might have them recite the verse to each other or in pairs the next week. To facilitate the activity, you might pre-select a list of possible verses. Here are a few of my personal picks:
- [T]he Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for word. romans 8:26
- All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. 1 Cor 10:23
- If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Cor 13:1
- For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. No I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Cor 13:12
- For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. 2 Cor 4:11-12
- So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 2 Cor 5:17
- All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 2 Cor 5:18-19
- There is no long Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ. Gal 3:28
- [W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
- See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples,and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. Revelation 21:3-4
The Martyrs Mirror. Is there one story with which you identity? That makes you think, "If I were in that position, I hope that I would have the courage or the qualities of character to act that way"?
Have students place an entry in their journal were they affirm their desire to identify with this character.