The Core Convictions: A Study Guide

Soon after the Anabaptist Network was formed in 1991 some of those involved began to formulate our core convictions. Why were we both inspired and challenged by the Anabaptist tradition? What issues did it help us to see more clearly? On what aspects of Christian discipleship did this tradition have distinctive perspectives?

Anabaptists have often been suspicious of ‘statements of faith’, especially where these are regarded as definitive and are used to exclude others or as a grid that allows only certain interpretations of Scripture. Anabaptists have preferred to frame ‘confessions’ that are:

* Not comprehensive but focus on key issues
* Not final but open to revision and development
* Not only about belief but also about practice
* Not composed by one individual but emerging from communal reflection

A very early example – only two years after the first believers’ baptisms in Zurich – is the Schleitheim Confession (1527). In this, representatives of Anabaptist communities in Switzerland recorded their agreement on seven convictions that helped to shape and define the emerging movement. This confession did not contain everything the Swiss Brethren believed, but it spelled out their current understanding of controversial and pressing issues of discipleship.

The core convictions of the Anabaptist Network should be understood in a similar way. They highlight particular issues, priorities and commitments. They address a particular social and ecclesial context. They comprise a community document that is open to improvement and correction. They encourage action rather than mere assent. And the fact that there are seven core convictions (like the Schleitheim Confession) is coincidental!

Between 1992 and 2004 the Anabaptist Network produced a journal, Anabaptism Today, which carried articles and book reviews. A series of seven articles explored the meaning and implications of the second version of the core convictions. These articles are no more definitive than the convictions themselves but are attempts to interpret their significance and encourage interaction.

The current text is the third version. At our residential conference in 2005 we spent 48 hours reflecting on the convictions, exploring their implications through Bible studies, seminars, drama and role play. We invited everyone there to propose alterations and additions, some of which were incorporated into the current version. Our intention is to live with this version for a while, but we are already gathering comments from our regional groups and others that will inform the next revision.

Over the past few years several of our regional groups have used the core convictions as a basis for conversation – especially in the early meetings of a new group. Some have used the articles from Anabaptism Today as a resource; others have developed their own resources and study material. One or two recently have asked for study material to help them engage with the convictions. What follows is a response to this request.

There are eight sessions in this study guide – designed for group study but amenable also to personal study. Sessions 2-8 explore each of the core convictions in turn. The first session is an optional extra for those interested in some historical perspective.

Session 1

1. Compare the Schleitheim Confession with one of the historic creeds of the church – such as the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed – or with a contemporary statement of faith – such as the Evangelical Alliance’s statement or a denominational statement of faith.

  • What differences do you notice in scope, language and intention?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?
  • Is the Scheitheim Confession compatible with the creeds?
  • 2. The Schleitheim Confession addressed issues Anabaptists were facing in the early sixteenth century. It reflected their political, social, economic and ecclesial context as well as their theological convictions – a movement of mainly poor and powerless people who were liable to persecution.

  • Which of the issues it addresses still seem important?
  • Which no longer seem so relevant – or are hard even to identify?
  • In what ways does the content of the Confession reflect its context?
  • How much does its tone and use of Scripture reflect its context?
  • Might its attitude towards government be different in a democracy?
  • 3. Creeds tend to give the impression that they are timeless but, like confessions, they reflect the political, social and economic context of the generation in which they were written and the concerns of those who framed them.

  • In what ways does the historic or contemporary creed you have looked at reflect its context and the priorities of those who framed it?
  • What issues still seem important and what issues are missing that are really important today?
  • Is the language more or less helpful than that of the Confession?
  • 4. Although they accepted the historic creeds, Anabaptists have been wary of creeds in principle for several reasons:

  • They can act as grids that force biblical interpretation in certain directions and in practice exercise greater authority than Scripture.
  • They can function as definitive and final statements that discourage and inhibit theological reflection.
  • They can give the impression that correct belief is more important than faithful behaviour.
  • They can be used to exclude people rather than inviting conversation.
  • How legitimate do you think these concerns are?

    5. Anabaptist confessions are:

  • Not comprehensive but focus on key issues
  • Not final but open to revision and development
  • Not only about belief but also about practice
  • Not composed by one individual but emerging from communal reflection
  • How significant are these features?

    6. Read through the core convictions of the Anabaptist Network.

  • Is this a creed or confession – or something else?
  • How do these convictions reflect their context (Britain in the 1990s)?
  • How do these convictions reflect the concerns of those who framed them?
  • What is missing from these convictions, and why?
  • How does this document differ from the Schleitheim Confession?
  • Session 2

    Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.

    1. Reflect quietly on this conviction and then (if you can) share with one or two others your response to any of these questions:

  • How (if at all) does this differ from what you have known and believed before?
  • Who do you know who lives out this conviction and commitment?
  • How does this conviction inspire your imagination?
  • How does this conviction challenge or empower your faith?
  • How might this conviction impact the way you live?
  • 2. Read the article from Anabaptism Today that explores this conviction:

  • What questions does this article raise for you?
  • What aspects of the core conviction does it not address?
  • Are there elements of the article or the conviction with which you disagree?
  • Are there elements that you strongly affirm?
  • 3. Check whether there is any difference between the current version of this core conviction and the earlier version on which this article was based. If there is:

  • Why do you think a change was made?
  • Which version do you prefer?
  • Are there further changes you would propose?
  • 4. What evidence is there – in your life or your church – that the teaching of Jesus has been taken seriously rather than being marginalised?

    5. Verna Dozier has written: ‘When the church chose to worship Jesus rather than follow Him, we lost much that was threateningly radical about this disturbing person.’ How do you react to this claim?

    6. How can those who want to follow the example of Jesus avoid legalism and counter the charge that this is ‘salvation by works’?

    7. Does the question ‘what would Jesus do?’ help or hinder those who want to follow Jesus?

    8. If you endorse this conviction and the commitment it contains, in what fresh way will you follow it through in the next month?

    9. What liturgical resources – songs, prayers, poetry, icons, rituals, etc. – do you know that might enable you or your church to express and celebrate this core conviction and renew this commitment?

    Session 3

    Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.

    1. Reflect quietly on this conviction and then (if you can) share with one or two others your response to any of these questions:

  • How (if at all) does this differ from what you have known and believed before?
  • Who do you know who lives out this conviction and commitment?
  • How does this conviction inspire your imagination?
  • How does this conviction challenge or empower your faith?
  • How might this conviction impact the way you live?
  • 2. Read the article from Anabaptism Today that explores this conviction:

  • What questions does this article raise for you?
  • What aspects of the core conviction does it not address?
  • Are there elements of the article or the conviction with which you disagree?
  • Are there elements that you strongly affirm?
  • 3. Check whether there is any difference between the current version of this core conviction and the earlier version on which this article was based. If there is:

  • Why do you think a change was made?
  • Which version do you prefer?
  • Are there further changes you would propose?
  • 4. Choose one of the following subjects and test out the claim that starting with Jesus rather than fitting his teaching in to the rest of Scripture makes a difference:

  • Leadership and authority
  • The role of women in the church
  • Tithing and giving
  • Responding to hostility
  • 5. If we encourage community Bible studies or interactive alternatives to sermons, how can we avoid these being no more than a ‘pooling of ignorance’?

    6. What is the role in our churches of those who have received theological education? How can we value them without allowing them to disempower others?

    7. If Jesus is the ‘focal point of God’s revelation’, how should we read and apply the Old Testament? How can we avoid marginalising either the Old Testament or Jesus?

    8. What practical steps can you take to ensure biblical interpretation is not divorced from application?

    9. What liturgical resources – songs, prayers, poetry, icons, rituals, etc. – do you know that might enable you or your church to express and celebrate this core conviction and renew this commitment?

    Session 4

    Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalised Jesus and has left the churches ill-equipped for mission in a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

    1. Reflect quietly on this conviction and then (if you can) share with one or two others your response to any of these questions:

  • How (if at all) does this differ from what you have known and believed before?
  • Who do you know who lives out this conviction and commitment?
  • How does this conviction inspire your imagination?
  • How does this conviction challenge or empower your faith?
  • How might this conviction impact the way you live?
  • 2. Read the article from Anabaptism Today that explores this conviction:

  • What questions does this article raise for you?
  • What aspects of the core conviction does it not address?
  • Are there elements of the article or the conviction with which you disagree?
  • Are there elements that you strongly affirm?
  • 3. Check whether there is any difference between the current version of this core conviction and the earlier version on which this article was based. If there is:

  • Why do you think a change was made?
  • Which version do you prefer?
  • Are there further changes you would propose?
  • 4. How do you regard the ‘Christendom shift’ in the fourth century – as a courageous attempt to Christianise society, as unfaithful compromise with empire, or something else?

    5. What are the gains and losses as Christendom comes to an end in western culture?

    6. Which vestiges of Christendom do you regard as inappropriate and unhelpful – in church or society – and how can they be removed?

    7. How do you answer those who ask why, if Christianity is true, so many Christians have behaved so appallingly over the centuries?

    8. Now that the church is once more on the social margins, what new opportunities do we have?

    9. What liturgical resources – songs, prayers, poetry, icons, rituals, etc. – do you know that might enable you or your church to express and celebrate this core conviction and renew this commitment?

    NB: Further resources for this session can be found at www.postchristendom.com and www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/293

    Session 5

    The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to vulnerability and to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.

    1. Reflect quietly on this conviction and then (if you can) share with one or two others your response to any of these questions:

  • How (if at all) does this differ from what you have known and believed before?
  • Who do you know who lives out this conviction and commitment?
  • How does this conviction inspire your imagination?
  • How does this conviction challenge or empower your faith?
  • How might this conviction impact the way you live?
  • 2. Read the article from Anabaptism Today that explores this conviction:

  • What questions does this article raise for you?
  • What aspects of the core conviction does it not address?
  • Are there elements of the article or the conviction with which you disagree?
  • Are there elements that you strongly affirm?
  • 3. Check whether there is any difference between the current version of this core conviction and the earlier version on which this article was based. If there is:

  • Why do you think a change was made?
  • Which version do you prefer?
  • Are there further changes you would propose?
  • 4. Which damages the church’s witness most – its association with status, with wealth or with the use of force?

    5. In what ways is the principle of ‘religious liberty’ different from a liberal secular doctrine of ‘toleration’?

    6. What does it mean to be committed to vulnerability in contemporary culture?

    7. Persecution is the experience of numerous Christians in other parts of the world, but rarely in the West. How do you interpret 2 Timothy 3:12: ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’. What kind of discipleship might provoke persecution today?

    8. In what practical ways are you, or is your church ‘good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted’?

    9. What liturgical resources – songs, prayers, poetry, icons, rituals, etc. – do you know that might enable you or your church to express and celebrate this core conviction and renew this commitment?

    Session 6

    Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship. As we eat together, sharing bread and wine, we sustain hope as we seek God’s kingdom together. We are committed to nurturing and developing such churches, in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender and baptism is for believers.

    1. Reflect quietly on this conviction and then (if you can) share with one or two others your response to any of these questions:

  • How (if at all) does this differ from what you have known and believed before?
  • Who do you know who lives out this conviction and commitment?
  • How does this conviction inspire your imagination?
  • How does this conviction challenge or empower your faith?
  • How might this conviction impact the way you live?
  • 2. Read the article from Anabaptism Today that explores this conviction:

  • What questions does this article raise for you?
  • What aspects of the core conviction does it not address?
  • Are there elements of the article or the conviction with which you disagree?
  • Are there elements that you strongly affirm?
  • 3. Check whether there is any difference between the current version of this core conviction and the earlier version on which this article was based. If there is:

  • Why do you think a change was made?
  • Which version do you prefer?
  • Are there further changes you would propose?
  • 4. Is there anything distinctively Anabaptist in this conviction – either the particular aspects of church life mentioned or the combination of features?

    5. What is the role of food in building Christian community and in mission?

    6. Believers’ baptism was a ‘crunch issue’ in the sixteenth century, signalling a shift from territorial churches to believers’ churches. Is it still such a crucial issue in post-Christendom?

    7. How can we develop practices of mutual accountability that are liberating and life-enhancing rather than intrusive and oppressive?

    8. What practical steps can your church take to enable young and old to value each other, learn from each other and engage in mission together?

    9. What liturgical resources – songs, prayers, poetry, icons, rituals, etc. – do you know that might enable you or your church to express and celebrate this core conviction and renew this commitment?

    NB: Further resources for this session can be found at www.anabaptistnetwork.com/anabaptistpractices

    Session 7

    Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation and working for justice.

    1. Reflect quietly on this conviction and then (if you can) share with one or two others your response to any of these questions:

  • How (if at all) does this differ from what you have known and believed before?
  • Who do you know who lives out this conviction and commitment?
  • How does this conviction inspire your imagination?
  • How does this conviction challenge or empower your faith?
  • How might this conviction impact the way you live?
  • 2. Read the article from Anabaptism Today that explores this conviction:

  • What questions does this article raise for you?
  • What aspects of the core conviction does it not address?
  • Are there elements of the article or the conviction with which you disagree?
  • Are there elements that you strongly affirm?
  • 3. Check whether there is any difference between the current version of this core conviction and the earlier version on which this article was based. If there is:

  • Why do you think a change was made?
  • Which version do you prefer?
  • Are there further changes you would propose?
  • 4. What are the marks of contentment, and in what ways can contented individuals and communities offer a counter-cultural witness today?

    5. Is anything less than ‘having all things in common’ radical enough to enable us to resist individualism and consumerism?

    6. In what practical ways can your church demonstrate care for creation and model simple living?

    7. Investigate the biblical model of Jubilee (especially Leviticus 25 and Isaiah 61). How might your church apply the principles of jubilee?

    8. ‘Working for justice’ in society was difficult for the persecuted Anabaptists in the sixteenth century. Many Anabaptists today are passionate about social justice. Some are involved in various initiatives in wider society, while others believe modelling an alternative community is the priority. What do you think?

    9. What liturgical resources – songs, prayers, poetry, icons, rituals, etc. – do you know that might enable you or your church to express and celebrate this core conviction and renew this commitment?

    Session 8

    Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society and between nations.

    1. Reflect quietly on this conviction and then (if you can) share with one or two others your response to any of these questions:

  • How (if at all) does this differ from what you have known and believed before?
  • Who do you know who lives out this conviction and commitment?
  • How does this conviction inspire your imagination?
  • How does this conviction challenge or empower your faith?
  • How might this conviction impact the way you live?
  • 2. Read the article from Anabaptism Today that explores this conviction:

  • What questions does this article raise for you?
  • What aspects of the core conviction does it not address?
  • Are there elements of the article or the conviction with which you disagree?
  • Are there elements that you strongly affirm?
  • 3. Check whether there is any difference between the current version of this core conviction and the earlier version on which this article was based. If there is:

  • Why do you think a change was made?
  • Which version do you prefer?
  • Are there further changes you would propose?
  • 4. Which is less realistic – a commitment to non-violence in all circumstances or the conviction that violent means can achieve just and peaceful outcomes?

    5. What should Christians who are committed to peace do when innocent people are being victimised or whole nations are being eradicated?

    6. What biblical support is there for the claim that ‘peace is at the heart of the gospel’?

    7. What resources, processes, practices or disciplines has your church embraced for dealing creatively with conflict?

    8. What might you do personally to ‘learn how to make peace’?

    NB: Further resources for this session can be found at www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/231

    9. What liturgical resources – songs, prayers, poetry, icons, rituals, etc. – do you know that might enable you or your church to express and celebrate this core conviction and renew this commitment?