Previous | Next

Fall 2018 · Vol. 47 No. 2 · pp. 207–228 

Fresh Air for the Good House of Menno: The Holy Spirit among Canada’s Mennonite Brethren

Andrew Dyck

The 1 good house of Menno had become practically desolate and empty and was about to collapse. . . . Through evangelical Pietism and Herrnhut [and] Pastor Wuest . . . vital air and warmth, food and drink were brought into the impoverished house. Revived and strengthened, we found the courage to renew the house according to the old plan, on the old foundation. . . . Next to God’s Word and His Spirit, Menno and Wuest have actually made the M.B. Church what it is and will be in the Church of Christ. 2

With these words, historian P. M. Friesen describes the revivalist preaching during the mid-1800s that shaped the fledgling Mennonite Brethren movement. The images of “vital air and warmth” highlight his conviction that the Mennonite Brethren church was a work of the Holy Spirit.

Mennonite Brethren can continue to claim that the spirituality of their particular “house of Menno” has been invigorated by the breath of the Holy Spirit.

More than 150 years later, Mennonite Brethren believers still emphasize the Holy Spirit’s role in their lives. Some people consider this emphasis to be an abiding charismatic trait of the Mennonite Brethren. 3 {208} However, this Mennonite Brethren emphasis on the Spirit predates the charismatic movement by many decades. Instead, this focus on the Spirit can be considered part of this denomination’s Mennonite heritage because the sixteenth-century Anabaptists put a premium on acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s role among them. Of course, Christian churches have attended to the work and presence of the Spirit ever since Pentecost. Recognizing, therefore, that churches encounter the Holy Spirit and describe those encounters in many ways, my aim in this paper is to show that Mennonite Brethren descriptions of encountering the Holy Spirit stand in continuity with the Mennonite Brethren’s Anabaptist roots. I am pursuing this aim from the perspective of Christian spirituality, which has rarely been considered in the longstanding discussions of the degree to which Mennonite Brethren have been shaped by Anabaptist sources. In fact, it was often sources from outside the Anabaptist-Mennonite orbit that helped Mennonite Brethren retain their Anabaptist attentiveness to the Spirit.


Because Christian spirituality is a relatively new field in the academy, it is not surprising that few Mennonite Brethren historians have studied the spirituality of Mennonite Brethren. P. M. Friesen focuses on personalities and events; John A. Toews focuses on the institutions of the Mennonite Brethren; and J. B. Toews downplays their experiential Pietism. 4 Two exceptions are John B. Toews and Gerry Ediger. In a host of publications, John B. Toews writes about Mennonite Brethren piety during their first half century. 5 Ediger characterizes early Mennonite Brethren spirituality as evangelical, ascetic, ordinantial (if not sacramental), and activist. 6

At its core, Christian spirituality focuses on the Holy Spirit. Those who study Christian spirituality examine people’s diverse experiences of living in a “conscious relationship with God, in Jesus Christ, through the indwelling of the Spirit and in the context of the community of believers.” 7 This centrality of the Holy Spirit is underscored by the apostle Paul’s use of the word “spiritual” throughout his epistles. In contrast to people today who use the word for something that is religious, nonmaterial, mystical, or inward, Paul uses the word pneumatikos (i.e., “spiritual”) to identify anything that is “of the Spirit.” 8 Because Christian spirituality focuses on human experiences of the Holy Spirit, an interdisciplinary methodology is needed when studying what is “of the Spirit” within those experiences. Scholars of spirituality therefore bring into conversation theology, biblical studies, history, psychology, and comparative religion. 9 {209}

In this paper, I draw on church history to show that Mennonite Brethren lived according to their Anabaptist roots when they identified their own experiences and practices as being “of the Spirit.” I will begin by outlining ways that sixteenth-century Anabaptists focused on the Holy Spirit, including the modifications introduced by Menno Simons. I will then offer a brief and representative historical survey of Mennonite Brethren experiences of the Spirit and of Mennonite Brethren language testifying to those experiences. I will focus on three periods during which Mennonite Brethren emphasized their experiences of the Holy Spirit. In the decades after 1860, Mennonite Brethren attributed their spiritual renewal to the Holy Spirit and traced that renewal back to Menno Simons. In the decades following 1960 Mennonite Brethren had widely varying responses to the charismatic movement. During the first decades of the twenty-first century, Mennonite Brethren even looked beyond Protestantism for giving attention to the Holy Spirit. Finally, I will offer conclusions about these experiences in light of early Anabaptist emphases.


As P. M. Friesen wrote, the first Mennonite Brethren considered themselves to be in continuity with the sixteenth-century Anabaptism of Menno Simons. In the secession document signed in January 1860, the first twenty-seven Mennonite Brethren householders cite Menno three times in support of their articles, and twice state that the confession of faith of the Mennonite Brethren agrees with Menno Simons. 10 Furthermore, the signatories name the Holy Spirit in conjunction with their understandings of conversion, leadership ministry, and repentance from sin.

Sixteenth-century Anabaptists were also known for emphasizing the Holy Spirit. Historian Walter Klaassen explains that although their pneumatology was orthodox, they “talked more about the Spirit than others did. They believed that they were living in the age of the Spirit, the time when every child of God would have the Spirit. They often spoke, almost naively, about being led by the Spirit, and being given divine illumination.” 11 In broad strokes, the Anabaptists emphasized the Holy Spirit’s role in transforming sinners into saints, illuminating Scripture, and comforting believers (especially in times of persecution). 12

For a summary of the ways that Anabaptists were centered on the Holy Spirit, I rely on the research of the Anabaptist historian and theologian C. Arnold Snyder. He shows that “Anabaptism of all kinds was based on a lively pneumatology, on the expectation that God’s Spirit needed to work in the hearts of human beings in order to initiate and {210} sustain the life of faith.” 13 Anabaptists emphasized the Spirit’s essential work in three arenas. 14 First, they were convinced that the Holy Spirit brings about rebirth, regeneration, and the new life that results. 15 They understood rebirth not just as a change in legal status before God—as Luther taught—but as an actual change of the person. Individuals who have been remade by the Spirit then live according to what Christ had modelled and taught. 16

Second, Anabaptists were convinced that the Bible must be read and interpreted according to the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit is still revealing God and truth. 17 The Spirit’s illumination is necessary for understanding the Scriptures correctly. 18 Granted, Anabaptists disagreed about the correct balance between letter and Spirit. The more literal ones prioritized the letter of Scripture over the Spirit (e.g., Conrad Grebel, Michael Sattler, Menno Simons); spiritualists valued the inner Word of the Spirit over the outer word of Scripture (e.g., Hans Denck); while the apocalyptically-oriented looked to the Spirit for dreams, visions, and prophecies alongside the Scripture’s witness to God’s divine secrets (e.g., Hans Hut, Melchior Hoffman, Jan Matthijsz, Ursula Jost). 19

Third, Anabaptists emphasized the Holy Spirit’s role in discipleship. Influenced by the Spirit, true believers necessarily demonstrate their new life in concrete actions—including economic sharing and generosity, being accountable to the discipline of the church community, resisting evil (inside the church with the ban, outside the church without using “the sword” 20), and leading congregations in a relatively egalitarian manner. 21 Among some Anabaptists this included the expectation that the Holy Spirit calls individuals directly into church leadership roles.

In each of these three domains, Anabaptists linked inner and outer life. 22 The inward faith that the Spirit gives must be expressed outwardly through water baptism. The inner voice of the Spirit illumines the outer word of Scripture. The Spirit’s inner work of regeneration becomes visible as believers join the community of faith, practice the good works that Jesus taught, and even accept persecution.

Before long, however, Anabaptists adjusted their convictions about the Holy Spirit. Menno Simons saw the disasters evident among the spiritualist and especially apocalyptical Anabaptists during the mid-1500s. He therefore emphasized the literal texts of Scripture and denied a place to prophets. 23 In that vein, he based his teachings about baptism on the direct commands of Scripture instead of seeing baptism as a means of grace and faith as Pilgram Marpeck did. 24 While admitting to exceptional cases when the Holy Spirit calls leaders directly, Menno prescribed a church-centered approach to their calling. First there is an inner call to the individual; then the church commissions and continually tests that individual. 25 {211}

By the end of the sixteenth century, Anabaptists were no longer emphasizing the work of the Spirit to the extent they once had. 26 The church’s role in defining precisely the ethical and communal evidences of salvation took on more prominence than the Spirit’s role in transforming the hearts of individuals. These Anabaptists emphasized the letter of Scripture (albeit read Christologically, with priority given to the New Testament and especially its commands) above the Spirit’s illumination. New church leaders were selected by the existing leaders. The church also became increasingly focused on maintaining its ethical purity. In short, “ecclesiology came to contain and define pneumatology.” 27 With notable exceptions, these shifts in emphasis would characterize many Mennonites in the centuries that followed. 28


When the first Mennonite Brethren appealed to Menno in support of their spiritual life, they were thereby also appealing—even if indirectly—to Anabaptists’ developing convictions about the Holy Spirit. The Mennonite Brethren emerged in nineteenth-century south Russia (now Ukraine) among German-speaking Mennonites who experienced renewal through contributions from other Christian groups. The Lutheran Pietism represented by Eduard Wuest emphasized the importance of a personal conversion marked by deeply felt and expressed joy (i.e., assurance of salvation). Wuest’s inaugural sermon in south Russia focused on this, but also mentioned briefly that believers need to be doers of the Word and not only hearers. 29 Believers such as these are no longer people of the flesh but of the Spirit. 30 The Mennonite Brethren emphasized that this ought to be followed by living an upright godly life. Wanting to celebrate communion only with true believers who had been born again, the Mennonite Brethren seceded from their fellow Mennonites in January1860, while affirming their adherence to the teachings of Menno Simons. According to the document of secession, Mennonite Brethren would offer baptism only to people who have “a genuine, loving faith effected by the Spirit”—not merely a memorized faith. 31 The Mennonite Brethren recognized that some ministers would be chosen and sent directly by the Spirit, not only “through the instrumentality of true believers.” 32 Furthermore, only the Spirit of Christ could convict people of sin and bring about true repentance, both upon conversion and after being disciplined by the church. 33 In short, the Mennonite Brethren said that the Holy Spirit had awakened them “to a new life and a better lifestyle.” 34

Soon, the evidences of the Holy Spirit extended to worship, living uprightly, and mission. Mennonite Brethren believers expressed their joy at the Spirit’s converting work in new expressions of worship. A {212} Lutheran magistrate, after visiting the Mennonite Brethren house churches, reported that during “worship services people sing, jump, rejoice, dance, and kiss everyone (without distinction of sex). They explain these outrageous outbursts of joy as experiencing the unction of the Holy Spirit, adding that they are being especially blessed.” 35 Mennonite Brethren also professed receiving guidance through the Holy Spirit: “We believe that the Holy Spirit reveals to us what we should, and should not do, according to the Bible.” 36 A few Mennonite Brethren leaders even claimed such direct inspiration by the Holy Spirit that they would have no difficulty as self-appointed missionaries to the heathens because “whoever is born again possesses the Holy Spirit and can speak in all tongues and languages.” 37 Even without such claims, in the mid-1880s Mennonite Brethren churches began sending missionaries overseas, beginning with Abraham Friesen who went to India under the American Baptist Missionary Union. 38

Sadly, these claims and practices concerning the Holy Spirit too often coalesced problematically. Some Mennonite Brethren became arrogant towards other Mennonites. 39 In some house churches, Mennonite Brethren maintained conversion’s joy artificially by requiring exuberance in worship. 40 Leaders who interpreted the Scriptures with extreme literalism burned the very books that had helped spark the movement, unilaterally excommunicated other leaders, and taught antinomianism (reportedly leading to sexual improprieties among a few Mennonite Brethren). 41

In response, a group of Mennonite Brethren leaders in 1865 published what came to be known as the “June Reform.” Since the early 1860s, German Baptists had been teaching the Mennonite Brethren practices that offered stability to the new movement: systematic Bible training, consistent church polity, immersion baptism, and organized missionary efforts. 42 Amidst these gifts, the June Reform document identified and curtailed the excesses that had been plaguing the Mennonite Brethren. In addition to prescribing more communitarian and less individualistic ways of selecting leaders, the document addressed worship practices with reference to the Holy Spirit. Churches would curtail the use of tambourines and ceremonial dances, using only music that was lovely and inoffensive. Yet leaping for joy and shouting would still be permitted because spontaneous expressions of both joy and sadness are appropriate when “we [feel] the Spirit of the Lord moving among us.” 43 Although the framers of the reform document did not mention Menno Simons, they were following in his footsteps by reining in extremists and elevating the role of the church.

Among the Mennonite Brethren were individuals who associated the working of the Holy Spirit with Christian unity. Johann Wieler became {213} converted as a young man and joined the Mennonite Brethren church. He subsequently became an evangelist and itinerant minister. In this role, he met with Mennonites, Baptists and other Russian evangelicals in hopes of forming a pan-evangelical association in Russia. 44 After various setbacks, he helped organize a conference in 1884 of Mennonites and Baptists, at which the “Union of Russian Baptists” was organized. 45 Wieler regretted the ongoing divisions among believers in Russia: “it would have been better for them to have promoted unity in the Spirit and in Christ.” 46

In the 1890s, a few Mennonite Brethren leaders began attending the trans-denominational and evangelical Blankenburg Alliance Conferences in Germany. 47 The resulting Allianz movement among Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren used the slogans “unity of the Spirit” and “communion of the saints” to promote fellowship among anyone who had experienced conversion. 48 Communion was extended to all believers, whether or not they were baptized. For most Mennonite Brethren, however, this approach was too liberal. By the early 1900s, Mennonite Brethren had committed themselves to a church made up of baptized members only, as expressed by “closed communion” (i.e., only for those baptized by immersion). The unity of the Spirit had been restricted to a small circle of congregations.

The Mennonite Brethren’s initial enthusiasm at being converted and their zeal for good deeds—both attributed to the Holy Spirit—became structured and disciplined by the community of faith. Put more starkly, P. M. Friesen comments that the Mennonite Brethren had reverted to being “puritanical in attitude, somewhat melancholic and formalistically-ascetically pious . . . rather than like the [jumpers].” 49 Too often, this attitude continued through the first half of the 1900s, until challenged by the Pentecostal and charismatic movements.


One century after the movement’s founding, with more than 14,000 Mennonite Brethren now living in Canada, many were about to again turn their attention to the Holy Spirit. 50 By and large, the Mennonite Brethren continued teaching and experiencing the Spirit as they had in the past. They acknowledged the Holy Spirit’s role in conversion and in bringing about mature Christian living. They expected the Spirit to call pastors and missionaries, maintain church unity, and guide believers. Furthermore, the church was the guide for these experiences. According to a denominational statement in 1950, for instance, an individual church member alone cannot “arrive at a clear, independent understanding of the Word through the leading of the Holy Spirit.” Instead, clear understandings of the Word are achieved through the leading of the Holy {214} Spirit when representatives of all the congregations meet together as a conference, because “the totality of Mennonite Brethren churches are God’s house in which the Lord Jesus reigns through His Spirit in the Word.” 51 Overall, the Mennonite Brethren held to orthodox, Bible-based assumptions about the Holy Spirit; but “the Holy Spirit as a conscious presence in experience was little known and emphasized.” 52

At the same time, there was a hunger for something more. In 1965, Harold Jantz, editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald, described his experience of visiting Canadian Mennonite Brethren churches: “I miss the convincing sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence that should characterize the worship and fellowship of a living church.” Lamenting a “slavish attitude to church routine,” he added, “Our services ought to be electric. . . . I’m appealing for messages and services that will illuminate our minds by giving us an insight into the Word, ourselves and the world and that will convince us of the working of the Holy Spirit in our midst. I’m appealing for meetings that will truly be a meeting with God.” 53

Once again, other Christian groups brought Mennonite Brethren into new expressions of the Holy Spirit. During the 1960s, Pentecostals and charismatics introduced teachings and experiences of the Holy Spirit to evangelicals across North America, including the Mennonite Brethren. Not all Mennonite Brethren, however, welcomed these new contributions. At least one leader considered Pentecostalism to be a cult. 54 Other Mennonite Brethren leaders, however, were profoundly “blessed” by their charismatic experiences. 55 As a result of these blessings they introduced Mennonite Brethren churches to new forms of evangelism and worship style, and more centralized church governance with authoritative leadership, at the same time that they downplayed Mennonite ethnicity and peacemaking. In response to the charismatics, a 1972 denominational “Resolution on the Charismatic Movement” enjoined openness to the Spirit’s activity, yet urged discernment for the sake of unity—because love is more important than spiritual gifts. 56 The resolution called Mennonite Brethren to desire being filled with the Spirit while maintaining humility; not to make any one experience normative because spiritual pilgrimages vary; to be biblical by not using the term “baptism of the Spirit” to refer to a crisis-experience that gives the gift of tongues (and “new liberty and power to witness”); and not to elevate the Spirit over Christ, whom the Spirit glorifies. 57 As in 1865, Mennonite Brethren were moderating the enthusiasm of some.

David Ewert, a New Testament scholar and the most prolific Mennonite Brethren writer about the Holy Spirit during these decades, argued persistently against a “second-blessing” marked by speaking in tongues. Yet he wrote in a remarkably relational way: “God’s Spirit can {215} help us establish a relationship with God so that we scarcely pass through any experience without speaking to him about it, either in supplication, or in sighing, in pouring out our woes in fervent request or in thanksgiving and adoration.” 58 Nonetheless, a few Mennonite Brethren congregations continued teaching the so-called “baptism in the Spirit.” 59 This disparity between teaching and experience was symptomatic of a general increase in diversity among Mennonite Brethren.

In response to various developments, several Mennonite Brethren teachers called churches back to their Anabaptist roots by highlighting Harold Bender’s essay, The Anabaptist Vision. 60 Bender had famously emphasized Christianity as discipleship, the church as a voluntary association of the truly converted, and an ethic of love and nonresistance in all human relationships. 61 Yet these teachers seemingly did not highlight the Anabaptist emphases on the Holy Spirit. Bender himself later recognized that the new life of discipleship “in the power of regeneration and of the Holy Spirit, with its confident hope of growth in holiness, lived by walking in the resurrection, is the true source of the powerful dynamic for holy living and discipleship in the Anabaptist movement.” 62 Ironically, it was other Christian sources that helped Mennonite Brethren reclaim this part of their Anabaptist heritage.

With the next wave of teachings about the Holy Spirit, Mennonite Brethren showed a more widespread receptivity to the Spirit. During the 1980s, the Vineyard movement emphasized the Holy Spirit’s miraculous gifts of “signs and wonders” (especially healings) and “power evangelism.” Simultaneously, the Third Wave charismatic movement emphasized “spiritual warfare” and “power encounters” against demonic forces. Formal Mennonite Brethren responses included a book, a study conference, and a resolution. In Wonders and the Word: An Examination of Issues Raised by John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement, John Schmidt’s assessment was particularly pointed: “We cannot deny [the Vineyard movement’s] existence as a genuine work of the Spirit, and so should not discredit it. We must not repeat what was done with Pentecostalism.” 63 At the 2001 Mennonite Brethren study conference “Spiritual Warfare,” the one keynote presenter to emphasize the Holy Spirit was Randy Friesen, director of Youth Mission International. He highlighted the Spirit’s power and presence during a prayer counseling encounter, and the Spirit’s “daily infilling” that followed. 64 The next year, the denomination’s Board of Faith and Life offered a theological and practical statement about spiritual warfare to the conference. Yet the statement referred only briefly to the good works of the Holy Spirit, “God’s empowering presence.” 65 The Board seemed more concerned with correcting teachings about spiritual warfare (especially how to {216} confront evil powers) and simplistic understandings of healing than with presenting practices and a robust theology of walking by the Spirit.

While charismatic groups were helping Mennonite Brethren take seriously the power of the Holy Spirit, Mennonite Brethren were at times strangely silent about the reality of a person-to-person relationship with the Holy Spirit and about the practices which nourish that relationship. This silence is evident in the Mennonite Brethren’s most recent Confession of Faith (1999), especially when compared with their 1902 and 1976 confessions. The 1999 Confession no longer mentions human fellowship with the Holy Spirit, only with God and Christ. It shifts away from personal engagement with the Spirit and gives increased emphasis to human activity and effort for Christian living. 66 Moreover, it no longer mentions the role of the Spirit when examining oneself before taking communion. Instead of saying the Spirit calls church leaders, the Confession states that the Spirit gifts and empowers all believers for service and witness. The 1999 Confession thus suggests an official reluctance to describe the relationship possible between believers and the Holy Spirit. The new emphasis on the power of the Spirit was overshadowing attentiveness to the Spirit as person (as was explicit in the 1902 Confession). 67

This silence may have represented the Mennonite Brethren church leaders’ cautionary response to charismatic excesses. At the same time, this silence was in some ways offset by the Mennonite Brethren tendency to speak instead about having a relationship with God and with Jesus Christ. Focusing on Jesus Christ is in keeping with Mennonite Brethren’s evangelical and Anabaptist roots, and may have been a response to North America’s growing religious pluralism and relativism. In short, Mennonite Brethren were not speaking with one voice about the Holy Spirit; not all were embracing the newfound experiences of the Spirit.


The first decades of the twenty-first century produced a continuation and even increase among Mennonite Brethren of charismatically-influenced encounters with the Holy Spirit, especially in worship, leadership, and prayer. Mennonite Brethren worship services changed significantly because of these trends. By the early 2000s, for instance, most Mennonite Brethren congregations had abandoned a hymnody centered on gospel songs, in favor of the “praise and worship” genre. According to Mennonite Brethren music leader Clarence Hiebert, this genre emerged from “influences of the Jesus movement, the charismatic movement, the Vineyard movement and youth songs somewhat like the gospel song refrains or choruses sung around the 1950’s.” 68 Another liturgical {217} practice learned from Pentecostals and used in various Mennonite Brethren congregations was inviting people in the congregation to come forward during or after a church service in order to pray with elders who were waiting at the front of the sanctuary. 69

As another outgrowth of charismatic teachings about the gifts of the Spirit, Mennonite Brethren spoke more frequently of the Holy Spirit providing apostles and prophets—not only pastors, evangelists, and teachers—as leaders for the denomination. This perspective was evidenced by the use of APEST inventories within MB Mission programs. 70 Isaak implies that this emphasis on apostolic and prophetic leaders signified that Mennonite Brethren were becoming open to a wider range of the Holy Spirit’s gifts for the church. 71 More to the point, Mennonite Brethren were focusing on the dramatic gifts of the Spirit.

Prayer-based experiences with the Holy Spirit were also emphasized by the two primary outreach ministries of the Mennonite Brethren: MB Mission and C2C Network. 72 Leaders and missionaries within MB Mission are encouraged to learn to listen for the Holy Spirit’s promptings in their lives by taking time for silent listening. MB Mission also employs a person whose primary ministry includes intercessory prayer, discernment, teaching prayer, and developing prayer and prophetic ministries. 73 C2C Network explicitly describes itself as a Spirit-led ministry. 74 C2C demonstrated this priority by refusing to recruit church planters or assign them to locations for ministry, instead “[relying] completely upon the Spirit of God to call planters into His harvest (Luke 10:2) [and] to lead us to the locations where He leads to establish His church.” 75

Similarly, three Mennonite Brethren authors recently wrote books offering practices for listening to the Spirit. In Hearing God’s Voice: Seven Keys to Connecting with God, Vern Heidebrecht, a longstanding pastor of Northview Community Church in British Columbia, writes about using journaling as a discipline that helps believers recognize how the Spirit speaks to them by opening the Scriptures to their hearts. 76 Steve and Evy Klassen, founders of the Mark Centre (a training center for long- and short-term missionaries with MB Mission), wrote Your Ears Will Hear: A Journal for Listening to God to help people engage with a God who speaks. 77 They point out that in addition to speaking through Scripture, God also speaks through life’s circumstances, in the hearts of individuals, during silence and solitude as well as in community. 78 Cam Stuart, a pastor, incorporates contemplative and imaginative Bible reading exercises into A Lifelong Apprenticeship: Study Guide for Growing Disciples, so that small groups can “approach the Bible as listeners.” 79 {218}

The listening practices in these books were not, however, inspired only by the charismatic tradition. The Klassens and Stuart, for instance, were also influenced by Christian sources that, until recently, Mennonite Brethren considered to be foreign—namely, Catholics, so-called “contemplatives,” and Christians from the early centuries of the church. 80 This unexpected influence from Christian traditions outside of Protestant evangelicalism was a recent development among Mennonite Brethren. 81 As with other Protestants, this development received its early impetus from Richard Foster’s landmark 1978 book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.

The three spiritual disciplines that Mennonite Brethren adopted most often from outside Protestant evangelicalism were singing Taizé songs, giving and receiving spiritual direction, and reading the Bible as lectio divina (literally, “reading from God”). 82 The Taizé Christian Community in France began during World War II as a monastic community of prayer and of reconciliation between people—especially Christians of different traditions. Since the 1960s, Taizé’s Protestant and Catholic brothers have hosted thousands of young adults annually for worship and prayer, Bible study, and conversation. Songs from Taizé appeared in the last Mennonite Brethren hymnal and were sung in congregations and post-secondary schools across the country. Columbia Bible School students, for instance, visited Taizé as part of Columbia’s worship arts program. 83 The songs from Taizé—whether reflective or joyful—are simple and repetitive so as to help singers experience communion with God in Christ. That communion is made possible by the Holy Spirit, who has come to be with every person—a key conviction of Taizé’s founder Brother Roger. 84

Across Canada, Mennonite Brethren learned to give and receive spiritual direction, which has a long history in Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions. At a 2004 retreat of pastors and spouses in British Columbia, spiritual direction was introduced as “listening and attending to God and His ways for us . . . being affirmed in who we are and how God sees us [and] offering to another [person] gentle but tenacious encouragement to open fully to Jesus’ loving presence, and to co-discern the action of the Holy Spirit.” 85 Waterloo MB Church in Ontario encouraged its people to engage the ministry of two spiritual directors within the congregation. The church’s website described spiritual direction in terms of attentiveness to God and listening to the Holy Spirit, as well as dialogue with God. With prayer as a central component, spiritual direction was also associated with personal transformation, trust, and companionship. 86 Contemporary spiritual direction is based on the conviction that the Holy Spirit is the true spiritual director. 87 The form of spiritual direction practiced by Mennonite Brethren frequently {219} took the pattern initiated by Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish reformer of the Catholic church during the sixteenth century.

The most widely adopted “contemplative” practice among Mennonite Brethren was lectio divina. Lectio is rooted in the monastic rule of Benedict of Nursia, Italy, in the sixth century. His rule eventually established the pattern for monasticism throughout the Western church. For Benedict, lectio was not a method but a disposition for heeding Scripture—that is, for both hearing and obeying God’s word. Benedict’s communities were to read the Bible leisurely, so that the readers would become attentive not only to the text but especially to God. 88 This fits with Benedict’s opening words in his rule: “Listen . . . to the teachings of your master, and turn to them with the ear of your heart. . . . Let us listen with astonished ears to the warning of the divine voice, which daily cries out to us: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’ (Ps 94:8). And again: ‘Whoever has ears for hearing should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches’ (Rev 2:7).” 89

Only in the twelfth century did the monk Guigo II describe lectio with the four steps known today: reading Scripture, meditating on it, praying to God about it, and afterwards contemplating God’s presence. 90 Among Mennonite Brethren, lectio divina has been featured in settings as diverse as the Mark Centre, which “aims to lead people to intimate places with God where his voice can be heard”; Artisan Church in downtown Vancouver; Stuart’s resource book on discipleship for small groups; and a workshop at the annual assembly of Manitoba Mennonite Brethren churches. 91 Mennonite Brethren taught lectio in different ways—sometimes emphasizing the reader’s subjective engagement with just one word, and other times engaging God, experience, and Scripture holistically by integrating subjective awareness with studying the Bible. Yet in each case, lectio was presented as a means of listening for the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture.

Although these three practices come from sources outside of Protestant evangelicalism, they nonetheless build quite naturally on the charismatic impulses that have become widespread among Mennonite Brethren. Pastor and clinical psychologist John R. Finney highlights the close connection between the contemplative and the charismatic when he observes that contemplative prayer and speaking in tongues are unique forms of prayer in that they both require a vulnerable, undemanding, “interior surrender to the loving presence and power of God.” 92 Furthermore, spiritual disciplines such as Taizé singing, spiritual direction, and lectio divina strengthen the charismatic attentiveness to the Spirit by grounding that attentiveness in reconciliation, Scripture, and the disciplined community of faith. Thus, even after the charismatic {220} movement, sources from outside the Mennonite Brethren circle once again helped these believers strengthen their Anabaptist emphasis on the Holy Spirit—and did so in terms of having a relationship with the Spirit.


The Mennonite Brethren renovation of “the house of Menno” was built on the Anabaptist foundation of attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. 93 Even though the first Mennonite Brethren were not expressly charismatic, they attributed their regeneration—including both initial conversion and ongoing transformation—to the work of the Spirit, as had Anabaptists. 94 Like early sixteenth-century Anabaptists, the Mennonite Brethren expected the Holy Spirit to give them guidance by means of Scripture. Some Mennonite Brethren expected such revelation to be offered in a literalistic way through the Bible, while others counted on the Spirit’s direct communication to individuals, whether as prophecy, calling to ministry, or gifting for mission. A similar diversity was present among Anabaptists.

Yet the Mennonite Brethren secessionists’ appeal to Menno Simons instead of to other Anabaptists was more significant than first anticipated because, like Menno, Mennonite Brethren quickly moderated and reined in various expressions of their initial revival. Like Menno, Mennonite Brethren soon elevated the role of the church above that of individuals in calling ministers and interpreting Scripture. The idiosyncratic teachings of individual leaders were squelched. The church with its many congregations took an increasingly larger role in defining correct ethical standards by means of conference resolutions, and made explicit who could and who could not participate at the Lord’s Table. Mennonite Brethren, like Anabaptists, came to express their pneumatology by way of their ecclesiology.

In other ways, however, Mennonite Brethren focused on the Holy Spirit differently than early Anabaptists did. First, Mennonite Brethren consistently associated their singing with the Holy Spirit. From their initial exuberance in response to conversion, through gospel songs and choral singing, to today’s praise and worship genre, Mennonite Brethren have sung spiritual songs—that is, songs “of the Spirit.” 95 Second, in the early years and more recently Mennonite Brethren emphasized having a person-to-person relationship with the Holy Spirit, especially by listening to the Spirit. This focus on the communication of the Spirit was evident already in the early years by the expectation that the Spirit calls ministers and missionaries directly. Recently, that calling has been evident in the emphasis on having leaders who are gifted as apostles and prophets. Third, alongside interacting with the Holy Spirit as one person of the {221} Trinity, Mennonite Brethren have emphasized that the Holy Spirit is the power of God. Mennonite Brethren have increasingly emphasized signs, wonders, power encounters, and spiritual warfare as important evidences of the Spirit’s activity. Notably, these three recent developments have occurred at the same time that Mennonite Brethren now speak much less often about the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the regeneration of initial conversion and ongoing conversion (i.e., sanctification). It appears that Mennonite Brethren today have significantly different expectations of the Spirit for discipleship than did the Anabaptists.

Finally, Mennonite Brethren have experienced the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3) in ecumenical ways that were difficult and often impossible for the first generations of Anabaptists. Initially, Mennonite Brethren engaged Lutherans and Baptists. 96 Soon they also partnered with evangelicals in Russia and Blankenburg’s Darbyists in Germany. In North America, Mennonite Brethren entered into varying degrees of fellowship with Christian fundamentalists, evangelicals (including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada), Pentecostals, charismatics, and Catholics. Often, it was these other groups that helped Mennonite Brethren strengthen and expand their engagement with the Holy Spirit. In some cases, they were the ones who helped Mennonite Brethren recapture their Anabaptists roots. Spiritual direction, for instance, helped some Mennonite Brethren become more attentive to the Spirit’s transformative work. Similarly, lectio divina helped many Mennonite Brethren heed the Spirit’s communication through Scripture.

Mennonite Brethren can continue to claim that the spirituality of their particular “house of Menno” has been invigorated by the breath of the Holy Spirit. Often, the Mennonite Brethren encounters with the Spirit bore a striking resemblance to sixteenth-century Anabaptist encounters. This suggests that the spirituality of Mennonite Brethren had significant continuity with their Anabaptist roots. The early Anabaptists and the Mennonite Brethren did not, however, experience the Holy Spirit in identical ways; they also encountered the Spirit in evolving ways across their respective histories. This suggests that there is an ongoing dynamism in the way a group of believers interacts with God’s Spirit. They experience setbacks and blind spots, as well as renewals and discoveries—many of which are shaped by interactions with other Christian traditions. To nurture this dynamism of the Spirit, I propose that Mennonite Brethren and other Christian denominations or traditions recognize and learn from each other’s spirituality. It has been said that raising a denomination’s “flag” hinders the mission of God. 97 However, when each group raises the flag of their particular experiences with the one Holy Spirit (Eph 4:4), the multicolored wisdom of God (Eph 3:10) is revealed through the witness of Jesus Christ’s one church. {222}


  1. This article originated as a short paper presented in 2012 at the annual conference of the Society for the Study of Theology, York, England. I entitled it, “Exchanging Gifts of the Spirit: The Experience of Mennonite Brethren in Canada.” I am grateful to a reviewer who recommended additional resources, helped clarify the writing, and suggested ways of sharpening the argument.
  2. Peter M. Friesen, The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789–1910), trans. J. B. Toews, Abraham Friesen, Peter J. Klassen, Harry Loewen, 2nd ed. (Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1980), 212.
  3. Jon Isaak, “Mennonite Brethren and Charismatic Renewal Movements,” Direction 44 (Fall 2015): 202. Isaak conflates Lutheran pietism with the charismatic movement to argue that Mennonite Brethren stand on a three-legged stool consisting of Mennonite, charismatic, and Baptist theologies.
  4. John B. Toews, “The Early Mennonite Brethren and Conversion,” Journal of Mennonite Studies 11 (1993): 76; Abe J. Klassen’s introduction to John A. Toews, A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church: Pilgrims and Pioneers (Fresno, CA: The Board of Christian Literature of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1975), viii. See also John B. (J. B.) Toews, Pilgrimage of Faith: The Mennonite Brethren Church 1860–1990 (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 1993), 13–14, 17, 127, 180–81, 200, 325. Elsewhere, however, J. B. Toews describes Mennonite Brethren as an “existential” rather than “creedal” expression of Christianity. See John B. (J. B.) Toews, “The Influence of Fundamentalism on Mennonite Brethren Theology,” Direction 10, no. 3 (1981): 23. (Note: To differentiate the late John B. Toews [1906–1998], church leader and professor of theology and missions, from John B. Toews, professor of history and Anabaptist studies, I refer to the former as J. B. Toews or John B. [J.B.] Toews, and the latter as John B. Toews.)
  5. John B. Toews prefers to write about piety instead of spirituality because Mennonite Brethren were not pursuing mystical or self-enhancing religious states. See his “Patterns of Piety among the Early Brethren (1860–1900),” Journal of Mennonite Studies 12 (1994): 138.
  6. Gerald C. Ediger, “A Sketch of Early Mennonite Brethren Spirituality,” Direction 34 (Spring 2005): 25–26.
  7. Philip Sheldrake, “What Is Spirituality?” in Kenneth J. Collins, ed., Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 40 (italics mine).
  8. Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 32.
  9. Sandra M. Schneiders, “Spirituality in the Academy,” in Collins, Exploring Christian Spirituality, 260–61.
  10. Friesen, Mennonite Brotherhood, 231–32.
  11. Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources, Classics of the Radical Reformation 3 (Waterloo, ON: Herald, 1981), 72. {223}
  12. Klaassen, 73.
  13. C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 1995), 87.
  14. See Snyder, Anabaptist History, 96.
  15. Snyder, 45.
  16. This Anabaptist conviction was reinforced by an optimistic anthropology. By God’s grace, men and women are truly able to choose Christ and then resist sin by living uprightly. Sanctification begins in this life. See Snyder, 44–45.
  17. Snyder, 90.
  18. Snyder, 160.
  19. Snyder, 162–72.
  20. Not all Anabaptists held this conviction about bearing arms.
  21. With regard to women and men, however, this egalitarian impulse soon passed. See Snyder, Anabaptist History, 229–31.
  22. Snyder, 299ff.
  23. Snyder, 216, 267.
  24. Snyder, 320, 312–13.
  25. Snyder, 367–68.
  26. See Snyder, 367–73, 379–80.
  27. Snyder, 369.
  28. Jeme (Johannes) Deknatel, for instance, was a Dutch Mennonite preacher in the eighteenth century who promoted pietism among the Dutch Mennonites. His personal interactions with the Moravian Brethren (Deknatel knew Count Zinzendorf personally and once hosted in Deknatel’s home John Wesley, founder of the Methodists) led him to emphasize an experiential faith in his teachings and writings. The latter were translated into German and used in other parts of Europe and in America. See Christian Neff and Nanne van der Zijpp, “Deknatel, Jeme (Joannes) (1698–1759),” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (1955).,_Jeme_(Joannes)_(1698–1759). Deknatel’s influence was still being felt among Mennonite communities in south Russia when Wuest came there to preach. See C. Henry Smith, Smith’s Story of the Mennonites, ed. Cornelius Krahn, 5th ed. (Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1981), 277–78.

    For a study of how Mennonites engaged with the Holy Spirit after the sixteenth century, see Jamie Pitts, “Historical Anabaptist-Mennonite Pneumatology: A Review of Confessional, Catechetical, and Devotional Materials, 1525–1963,” The Conrad Grebel Review 36, no. 1 (2018). Pitts concludes that Mennonites described “the relationship between the Spirit and the Christian life . . . in communal terms,” experienced ongoing tension between Word and Spirit, and initially saw a link between the Spirit and eschatological consummation (51–52).

  29. Friesen, Mennonite Brotherhood, 215, 219. In later life, Wuest gave greater emphasis to living an upright life. See Abe J. Dueck, ed., The Mennonite Brethren Church around the World: Celebrating 150 Years (Winnipeg, MB: Pandora, 2010), 17.
  30. Friesen, 221.
  31. Snyder, Anabaptist History, 231. {224}
  32. Snyder, 232.
  33. Snyder, 231–32.
  34. John B. Toews, ed., The Story of the Early Mennonite Brethren (1860–1869): Reflections of a Lutheran Churchman (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2002), 120.
  35. John B. Toews, 22.
  36. John B. Toews, 72, 97.
  37. John B. Toews, 5; also John B. Toews, “The Early Mennonite Brethren: Some Outside Views,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 58, no. 2 (1984): 111.
  38. George W. Friesen, “Friesen, Abraham (1859–1919),” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (1956).,_Abraham_(1859–1919). Alfred Neufeld argues that early Mennonite Brethren dissenters sought to recover “the essential nature of the church, the existential dimension of salvation and the transcultural mission of the Holy Spirit.” Alfred Neufeld, Recovering Mennonite Brethren Apostolic and Prophetic Origins and Identity: Revisiting the Meaning of Mennonite Brethren Dissent in 1860, ed. Abe J. Dueck, Bruce L. Guenther, and Doug Heidebrecht (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2011), 20 (italics mine).
  39. Glaubens-Bekenntnis und Verfassung der Gläubiggetauften und Vereinigten Mennoniten-Brüdergemeinde im Südlichen Russland (Einlage: 1876), 64.
  40. Friesen, Mennonite Brotherhood, 275.
  41. Friesen, 271–73, 434. See also John B. Toews, “Early Mennonite Brethren,” 100.
  42. John A. Toews, History of the Mennonite Brethren Church, 366–67, 74; J. B. Toews, Pilgrimage of Faith, 128; Friesen, Mennonite Brotherhood, 284–311.
  43. Friesen, Mennonite Brotherhood, 439–40. Before long, Mennonite Brethren congregations were singing their hymns a cappella. See John G. Rempel, “Mennonite Brethren Worship: Word and Sacrament,” Direction 10, no. 1 (1981): 13.
  44. Gregory L. Nichols, The Development of Russian Evangelical Spirituality: A Study of Ivan V. Kargel (1849–1937) (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 106, 118–20, 124–25.
  45. John A. Toews, History of the Mennonite Brethren Church, 98.
  46. Lawrence Klippenstein, “Johann Wieler (1839–1889) among Russian Evangelicals: A New Source of Mennonites and Evangelicalism in Imperial Russia,” Journal of Mennonite Studies 5 (1987): 54 (italics mine).
  47. John B. Toews, “The Calm before the Storm: Mennonite Brethren in Russia (1900–1914),” Direction 31 (Spring 2002): 76, 80; John B. Toews, “Russian Mennonites and Allianz,” Journal of Mennonite Studies 14 (1996): 59.
  48. John B. Toews, “Russian Mennonites and Allianz,” 53.
  49. Friesen, Mennonite Brotherhood, 443.
  50. Yearbook of the Fifty-First Canadian Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, Berichte und Beschluesse der Einundfünfzigsten Kanadischen Konferenz der Mennoniten-Brüdergemeinde von Nord-Amerika Abgehalten in Coaldale, Alberta vom 1. bis zum 5. Juli 1961 (Winnipeg, 1961), 191; Year Book of the 49th Session of the General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches Held in the Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute Auditorium at Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with the Winnipeg Churches {225} Serving as Hosts, August 3–7, 1963: Reports for the Years 1960–1966 with Resolutions for the Years 1963–1966 (Winnipeg, 1963), 52.
  51. “The Evangelical Freedom in the Mennonite Brethren Churches of Canada (The Board of Reference and Council—1950),” in Henry Brucks, ed., Another Look at the Mennonite Brethren (Winnipeg, MB: Board of Spiritual and Social Concerns Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1983). The statement went on to clarify that the Conference’s decisions are not infallible. “In all this we recognize that a conference also can be mistaken, and that self-correction must always take place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit until all together we reach mature manhood in Christ.”
  52. G. W. Peters, Foundations of Mennonite Brethren Missions, ed. Paul G. Hiebert (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 1984), 53. As recently as 2010, Tim Neufeld of Fresno Pacific University wrote that many Christians “do not have a functional practice to match [their] belief” that the Holy Spirit lives in every believer. Tim Neufeld, “Can Mennonite Brethren Be Missional?” Direction 39 (Spring 2010), 48.
  53. Harold Jantz, “Solemn Assemblies and the Moving of the Spirit,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, 6 August 1965, 3.
  54. Bernhard Sawatzky—a Mennonite Brethren preacher, teacher, and evangelist—softened this view in later years, perhaps because of a letter by friend and Bible scholar David Ewert who said that although Pentecostals had some unusual views they were nonetheless Christians. Personal communication with Wally Sawatzky, March 11, 2012.
  55. Andrew Dyck, “Herb Neufeld: He Opened Doors and Pushed out Walls,” in Harold Jantz, ed., Leaders Who Shaped Us: Canadian Mennonite Brethren: 1910–2010 (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2010), 260–61; Jonathan Janzen, “Nick Dyck: The Farmer Who Grew Churches,” in Jantz, Leaders Who Shaped Us, 251, 253.
  56. Abraham E. Janzen and Herbert Giesbrecht, eds., We Recommend . . .: Recommendations and Resolutions of the General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church (Parts I and II) (Fresno, CA: The Board of Christian Literature of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1978), 271.
  57. Janzen and Giesbrecht, We Recommend, 271–72.
  58. David Ewert, “A Spiritual Tune-Up,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, 14 December 1984, 7. In time, Ewert recognized that charismatics gave the Mennonite Brethren valuable teachings about spiritual gifts. David Ewert, “Theological and Ethical Issues the MB Church Faced in the Last Fifty Years,” Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia, 2006,
  59. Gordon Nickel, “Sharing in the Spirit’s Moving: Mountain-View Gospel Chapel,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, 25 April 1980, 17. Notably, the chapel’s pastor repeatedly points out the congregation’s commitment to and involvement in Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Central Committee ministries.
  60. When J. B. Toews became president of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, he deliberately steered the school’s theological orientation from American {226} fundamentalism to Anabaptism. Similarly, John A. Toews, in his history of the Mennonite Brethren, repeatedly highlighted the value of Harold Bender’s Anabaptist Vision. See his History of the Mennonite Brethren, 367; also 4, 11, 12, 343.
  61. Harold S. Bender, The Anabaptist Vision (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1944). In this work, Bender did not state his underlying assumption that this life was only possible through “the indwelling presence of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.” See Stephen F. Dintaman, “The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision,” The Conrad Grebel Review 10 (Spring 1992): 205.
  62. Harold S. Bender, “ ‘Walking in the Resurrection’: The Anabaptist Doctrine of Regeneration and Discipleship,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 35, no. 2 (1961): 97.
  63. James R. Coggins and Paul G. Hiebert, eds., Wonders and the Word: An Examination of Issues Raised by John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 1989), 78–79.
  64. Randy Friesen, “Equipping Principles for Spiritual Warfare,” Direction 29 (Fall 2000): 147.
  65. Board of Faith and Life, “Spiritual Warfare Study Conference,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, 13 September 2002, 17.
  66. The official Mennonite Brethren language about baptism and communion parallels this shift from divine to human action, moving from sacrament, to symbolism, to sign, pledge, and remembrance. See Confession of Faith of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, American edition (Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1917); Confession of Faith of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (Winnipeg, MB: Board of Christian Literature General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1976), 18; Confession of Faith of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (Winnipeg, MB: Board of Faith and Life and Board of Resource Ministries, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1999), 16.
  67. Confession (1917), 11. (The 1917 American edition is the English translation of the original 1902 confession, which was published in German.)
  68. Clarence Hiebert, “The Making of a New Mennonite Brethren Hymnal,” Direction 22, no. 2 (1993): 65.
  69. See Dyck, “Herb Neufeld,” 261.
  70. See “Trek Central Canada—Teaching Modules” (handout, Winnipeg: MB Mission, 2014), 2; Mark Huebert, Martin Pankratz, and Dave Sawatzky, “Venture Winnipeg: Missional Church-Daughtering Plan,” Fort Garry MB Church, 2013, (accessed May 9 2018). APEST, developed and promoted by missiologist Alan Hirsch, stands for Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers.
  71. Isaak, “Mennonite Brethren and Charismatic,” 205.
  72. Until 2018, when these two ministries merged, MB Mission was the missionary arm of Canadian and American Mennonite Brethren churches, while C2C was a church-planting network of Mennonite Brethren in Canada.
  73. “Support Team,” MB Mission, 2018, {227} (accessed April 12 2018); Laura Kalmar, “Mission, Ministry and Mothers in Faith . . . Many Reasons to Celebrate,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, May 2014, 4.
  74. C2C Network’s leaders consistently describe the network as gospel-centered, Spirit-led, and mission-focused. See “Values,” C2C Network, 2018, (accessed April 12 2018).
  75. C2C Network, “Values.”
  76. Werner A. Heidebrecht, Hearing God’s Voice: Eight Keys to Connecting with God (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2007), 18.
  77. Steve Klassen and Evy Klassen, Your Ears Will Hear: A Journal for Listening to God (Abbotsford, BC: Mark Centre, 2011), 152–59.
  78. Klassen and Klassen, 14–17.
  79. Cam Stuart, A Lifelong Apprenticeship: Study Guide for Growing Disciples, Description of a Growing Disciple (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2005), 7.
  80. Steve Klassen and Cam Stuart, for instance, both attended the first training program for spiritual directors offered by SoulStream from 2002–2004. I was in that same class and observed that SoulStream drew on a range of ancient and contemporary Christian traditions in its course.

    I am using the word “contemplative” in its broad sense of being attentive to God in all of life, rather than as a form of silent mental prayer focused intently on Jesus. See Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 2709–19, 2724, and William H. Shannon, “Contemplation, Contemplative Prayer,” in The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, ed. Michael Downey (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993), 209.

  81. Likewise, Len Hjalmarson appeals to the Benedictine monastic tradition for developing missionally oriented Mennonite Brethren churches that experience life-transforming, relational intimacy with God. Hjalmarson, “Ancient Monasticism and the Anabaptist Future: A Tale of Two Reformers,” Direction 39 (Spring 2010).
  82. Terrence G. Kardong, Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996), 384.
  83. Renee Evashkevich, “DSCM256 Faith, Culture and the Current Church—Global Semester: Course Syllabus” (Abbotsford, BC: Columbia Bible College, 2011).
  84. See Brother Roger, A Path of Hope: Last Writings of Brother Roger, trans. Taizé Christian Community (London: Continuum, 2006), 109. Brother Roger went further, saying that the Spirit is within every person, even those who are not Christians—a teaching that resonates with Acts 2:17a, but is at odds with Mennonite Brethren teachings. See Brother Roger, God is Love Alone, trans. Taizé (London: Continuum, 2003), 10–12; Confession (1999), 2, 7, 16.
  85. Kathleen Klassen, “Pastors and Spouses Meet,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, 11 June 2004, 16 (italics mine).
  86. “Spiritual Direction,” (accessed June 3 2015).
  87. “Spiritual Direction,” in New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality.
  88. See chapter 48 of the Rule, and Kardong, Benedict’s Rule, 382–83.
  89. Kardong, Benedict’s Rule, 3 (italics mine). {228}
  90. Guigues (Guigo II) du Chastel, “Letter of Dom Guigo the Carthusian to Brother Gervase About the Contemplative Life,” Fish Eaters, (accessed August 4 2016).
  91. Mary Reimer, “Praying the Scriptures” (Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba), Audio Recording, (accessed August 10, 2015).
  92. John R. (Jack) Finney, “Contemplative Prayer through Back Roads,” Conversations: A Forum for Authentic Transformation (Fall 2006), 38.
  93. Based on Pitts, “Historical Anabaptist-Mennonite Pneumatology.” Mennonite Brethren have been attentive to the Holy Spirit in ways that also echo the experiences of Mennonites after the sixteenth century.
  94. Even the Mennonite Brethren exuberance movement “was not an extreme charismatic manifestation. There was no focus on the work and role of the Holy Spirit nor any stated desire for a special filling of the Spirit.” In John B. Toews, Perilous Journey: The Mennonite Brethren in Russia 1860–1910 (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 1988), 43.
  95. Granted, very little is known about the Anabaptists’ worship practices (or initial conversion experiences), although they did write hundreds of songs. See Snyder, Anabaptist History, 372.
  96. Although rarely noted, Reformed, Moravian, Roman Catholic, and Quaker Christians also shaped Mennonite Brethren spirituality in Russia. See Hans Kasdorf, “Pietist Roots of Early Mennonite Brethren Spirituality,” Direction 13, no. 3 (1984): 44–47, and Harold Jantz, “Pietism’s Gift to Russian Mennonites,” Direction 36 (Spring 2007): 62.
  97. See the “prophetic word” given to the Mennonite Brethren churches of Canada by Terry Mochar, “Ministry Effectiveness Project: Four Messages from the Heart of God to the Churches in the CCMBC” (unpublished manuscript, 2012; Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches), 4. See also Laura Kalmar, “Hearing from the Lord at Gathering 2012: Delegates Respond to Prophetic Word, Ask BFL to Step In,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, September 2012, 12–13.
Andrew Dyck is assistant professor of Christian spirituality and pastoral ministry for MB Seminary at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg. He and his wife Martha fellowship at Westwood Community Church and Winnipeg’s Imago Dei group.

Previous | Next