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.