By Dick Barrett
As we are early in this season of trying to discern God’s will for us together as a conference of Mennonite churches across Ohio and our neighboring states, it is very important to make sure that each of our hearts, minds and souls is prepared for the process. Even as individual Christians, discerning God’s will for our lives is not always easy. As congregations, discernment becomes exponentially more difficult, and even more so for a conference and/or denomination of churches.
Christian biblical spiritual discernment is not easy and takes commitment from all the people involved. Anabaptists and Mennonites have traditionally included all of our people in discernment processes, especially as we seek God’s will on important decisions. In order for us to discern God’s will as best we can, it is important for us to engage is spiritual disciplines. While many of us engage in specific spiritual disciplines most of the time, there are seasons in the life of a church when it is appropriate for us to engage in some spiritual disciplines together. In the current season of our congregations and conference this seems to be one of those times. At Ohio Conference’s Annual Conference Assembly on March 4-5, 2022 there were four spiritual disciplines that were recommended several times by our delegates to engage in together during our year of review: 1) Dwelling in the Word; 2) Communal Discernment; 3) Prayer; and 4) Fasting.
What if most of us in Ohio Conference were able to commit together to reading the New Testament over the course of the next six months, learning more about and engaging in communal discernment, setting a time each day/week for prayer, and fasting for one meal each week? Would we be able to see God’s will for our future together more clearly? I believe that the answer to that question is yes. Over the course of the next several months I and several others are going to be spending time through written communication and in podcasts inviting and encouraging as many people as possible from Ohio Conference to actively participate in each of these four spiritual disciplines, starting with “Dwelling in the Word.”
“Since the beginning of the Anabaptist reformation, Mennonites have sought to be a biblical people in ways that both borrowed from the Protestant reformation and differed from it. Mennonites have shared the traditional Protestant emphasis on the authority of Scripture for doctrine. In addition, Mennonites have underscored the following emphases:
- the authority of Scripture for ethics, for the relation of the church to society, and for church polity.
- the interpretation of Scripture in harmony with Jesus Christ, in the sense that his life, teachings, death and resurrection are essential to understanding the Bible as a whole.
- the congregation of believers as the place where individual understandings and interpretations of Scripture are to be tested.”
̶ Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 4
All of us are guilty at times of “proof texting” – picking certain passages of Scripture to support what we already believe or what we want to focus on. One of the ways to avoid proof texting is to read through a larger amount of scripture, allowing God to speak to us through his written word. Historically, Anabaptists have given emphasis to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7), the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the entire New Testament.
Beginning this month I am inviting all of us in Ohio Conference to read through the entire New Testament by the end of the year. For those who are currently following a Bible reading schedule, especially if it is one that your congregation is encouraging, please continue to follow that schedule. Feel free to add the six-month schedule if you so desire. Reading through the entire New Testament in less than six months requires reading only two chapters per day. On our Ohio Conference website, you can find a suggested reading schedule beginning the week of July 17, with readings Monday through Saturday, and Sunday to take off or to catch up. (See https://ohiomennoniteconference.org/resources/dwelling-in-the-word.)
Over the course of the next six months, whenever we gather together, in whatever setting it may be (conference/congregational meetings, delegate cluster meetings, Sunday school, small group, etc.) may we take some time to share how we hear God speaking to us, our church, and/or our conference through his Word.
To download a copy of the daily reading schedule, go to https://bit.ly/OCDwellingintheWord.