Previous | Next

Fall 2019 · Vol. 48 No. 2 · pp. 137–148 

Putting Doctrine in its Place: Confessions of Faith, Modernism, and the Lex Vivendi

Karl Koop

In their description of the Christian life, Mennonites have generally emphasized the importance of communal worship, personal devotion, and practical living in keeping with the life and teachings of Jesus. And yet, over the centuries they have also been attentive to doctrine. Early Anabaptists were familiar with the creedal tradition of the Christian church and they produced commentaries on the Apostles Creed for the purposes of introducing the faith to new community members or to defend their views before state authorities. 1 By the end of the sixteenth century, they were producing statements of doctrine, often referred to as confessions of faith, that addressed the “common places” of Christian belief—the nature of God and creation, the human condition, the nature and work of Christ, the nature of the church and its sacraments, the life of discipleship, and teachings concerning the Last Day. From the seventeenth century onward, they continued to adopt or revise their {138} confessional statements. Likewise, in recent times, Mennonites in North America have adopted doctrinal statements, while Mennonite World Conference has drawn together its “Shared Convictions,” a doctrine-like statement that summarizes the beliefs of Anabaptist churches around the world. 2

Christians should insist that their doctrines are always provisional and incomplete, and thus require an ongoing attitude of repentance.

For many Christians, statements of this kind may be used to bring clarity and direction in a world that is complex and bewildering. Doctrinal statements may be instrumental in evangelization or in bringing together groups that wish to unite. They may be effective in facilitating ecumenical and inter-religious conversation. For others, “doctrine” is a word that conjures up images of a belief system that is rigid, doctrinaire, and authoritarian. As A. James Reimer has noted, there is some justification for resisting the term. In the early modern period, churches “developed confessional statements and then proceeded to fight each other. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) that laid waste many cities of Europe is an extreme example of this confessional intolerance.” 3 So, why bother with the term at all?

In the fifth century, Vincent of Lerins noted that doctrine had to do with “what the Christian churches believe, teach, and confess.” 4 George Lindbeck’s twentieth-century definition is similar, if more elaborate: “Church doctrines are communally authoritative teachings regarding beliefs and practices that are considered essential to the identity or welfare of the group in question. They may be formally stated or informally operative, but in any case, they indicate what constitutes faithful adherence to a community.” 5

If this is so, we must conclude that all Christian communities hold to doctrines even if certain communities claim to be creedless or primarily praxis oriented. Every Christian community—biblicist, conservative, or liberal—has its doctrines, that is, its beliefs, teachings, and shared convictions, whether explicitly stated or merely implied. 6 Perhaps the appropriate question, then, is not whether Christians hold to certain doctrines but how doctrines function in the life of the community.

In a resolution passed in 1987, the Mennonite Brethren in North America stated that its leadership and local congregations were not at liberty to disregard the teachings reflected in the denomination’s confession of faith. 7 Yet in the decades that followed, leaders and congregations challenged particular teachings of the denomination. For example, some objected to the rule that women should not take on senior pastoral positions; 8 others objected to the church’s historic peace stance. 9 There were even calls to revise the church’s confession. Such willingness to revise or innovate is not new. Over the centuries, Mennonite communities have often revised their confessional statements {139} or have produced entirely new ones. These revisions and innovations suggest that Mennonites are willing to change their views, which leads us to even more questions. For example, are our beliefs essentially fixed and timeless, or are they subject to discernment and revision? Are new formulations always better than old ones, or does change in belief suggest that a community is compromising or accommodating to societal norms? And which level of church life is responsible for doctrinal fidelity? Is it the denomination/conference, some special board or committee, or the congregation? Or some combination of the three?

In this essay, it is not my intention to address all of these questions but I am interested in thinking about a framework, a hermeneutic that may help us as we ponder questions related to the nature of doctrine and its function in the life of the Christian community. I’m also interested in avoiding certain pitfalls that have frequently frustrated Mennonite communities. In their five-hundred-year story, Mennonites have been susceptible to falling into one of two extremes. Often, they have either ignored doctrine altogether or they have placed it front and center as a kind of autonomous foundation for what counts as authentically Christian. My assumption is that while these differing attitudes may seem like polar opposites, they nevertheless share characteristically modern attitudes that signal a departure from the longer Christian tradition that has taken doctrine seriously yet always linked it to participation in the Divine Life.

In what follows, I briefly attend to examples of modern approaches to doctrine in the Mennonite tradition and then suggest a more ancient ordering in terms of the axiom, lex orandi, lex credendi, or as I would like to put it, lex orandi, lex vivendi. This ordering, I suggest, does not downplay the importance of doctrine nor does it place doctrine front and center as an autonomous foundation. Rather, it places what the church believes, teaches, and confesses in the context of Christian experience that is embedded in prayer, liturgy, and discipleship. This, I argue, is doctrine’s rightful place, and it is a faithful rendering of how the church is meant to believe. This ancient ordering also assumes a Christian imagination shaped by an encounter with a living God.


Recently scholars have pointed out that Mennonites living during the period of the Enlightenment were not always the “quiet in the land” who resisted the impulses of the modern period. Rather, they were also major contributors to, and active participants in, modernity. 10 This is observable in the eighteenth-century case of the well-respected Dutch Mennonite minister from Harlingen, Johannes Stinstra, who was placed {140} under a preaching ban. Several factors contributed to this disciplinary action. He was accused of holding Socinian and rationalistic Arminian views and rejecting the church’s confessions of faith. In his catechism, the Harlinger Vraagenboek of 1751, Stinstra suggested that Mennonites should read their Bibles independent of their confessional tradition and turn to contemporary theological literature as a way of figuring out their faith for themselves. 11

Stinstra was not proposing anything novel. He was a product of his time. He was a part of a larger movement among Mennonites and other Protestant groups in the Netherlands that looked to natural knowledge and natural revelation to unify all of humanity. Fearing a repeat of the great devastations of the Thirty Years War a century earlier, many persons of Stinstra’s generation concluded that focusing on the particularity of the God of Israel and the God of Jesus Christ would inevitably lead to a resurgence of religious conflict. Intellectuals at the time hoped that by embracing natural knowledge and enlightenment rationality, a new epistemological foundation could be secured for both science and religion. It was assumed that such a unifying “way of knowing” would provide a new level of objectivity and certainty that would surpass the volatile and subjective vagaries of biblical interpretation, tradition, and experience.

This rational way of knowing attracted many Mennonites who were rapidly assimilating into the modern world and seeking to find their place within Dutch society. Eventually, thousands of “enlightened” Mennonites left the parochial churches that had been committed to nonresistance, the refusal to swear oaths, and separation from “the world.” Many joined the Reformed churches believing that this would hasten their assimilation; others simply loosened their ties to traditional religion altogether, preferring instead to associate with the modern religion of reason.

The more orthodox-inclined Mennonites did not know how to react appropriately to the exodus of their church members. One response was to reissue the historic Mennonite statements of faith and recommit to the doctrines of the Anabaptist tradition, in hopes that these would stem the outflow. By the end of the eighteenth century, some one hundred printings of confessions and catechisms were in circulation with the view to counter the modernist impulse. 12 However, in bringing the historic Mennonite confessions of faith into the center of church life and elevating doctrine above experience, confessionalists were at risk of becoming modern themselves.

It is noteworthy that many Mennonite confessions of faith were initially formulated during a time period which scholars have referred {141} to as the “confessional age” or age of “confessionalization.” 13 This era followed the sixteenth-century European Reformation when the churches were attempting to define themselves over against one another and also seeking to make explicit their doctrinal distinctives. This was also an era that coincided with nation-building, which used confessional statements by both church and state to monitor and control religious life. Lutheran leaders were required to subscribe to Lutheran confessions while Reformed leaders were required to do the same within their own political and ecclesial jurisdictions. Mennonites were not wedded constitutionally to governmental authorities in the way Lutherans and the Reformed were, but the inclination in some Mennonite circles to manage theological knowledge and achieve certainty was plainly in keeping with the spirit of modern times. For example, in the 1650s a faction among the Dutch Mennonites seeking fidelity to the historic Mennonite doctrinal statements were in many ways simulating modernist expression. They demanded that their leaders express absolute loyalty to the church’s doctrinal statements. The goal was to bring about uniformity in belief and conduct, and an element of certainty in uncertain times. The mode of theological discourse was based on propositional and rational statements that left little room for alternative points of view. 14

At the beginning of the twentieth century, this confessionalist strategy would also resonate with a significant number of North American Mennonites. Following the American Civil War, Mennonites and other Protestants in North America, like their co-religionists in Europe, were confronted with theories of modern thinking. In the universities, academic disciplines of every kind were becoming increasingly “subject to exacting scientific methods and analysis.” 15 The study of the Bible was also affected by this intellectual climate as various forms of “higher criticism” became popular. In response, traditionalists and conservatives believed that the fundamentals of the Christian faith were under threat, and many became “committed to the defence of an ‘inerrant and infallible’ Scripture, a phrase that was to become the fulcrum of the fundamentalist movement.” 16 The forceful and self-assured character of the movement attracted a large segment of the American Protestant population, including Mennonites residing in Canada and the United States. Offering straightforward answers to complex theological questions in a rapidly changing world, the fundamentalist message proclaimed by spokesmen such as Daniel Kauffman and George Brunk was literalist, biblicistic, and encouraged uncritical submission to the authority of church leaders. 17

In 1921 at a Mennonite conference held near Garden City Missouri, a new confession of faith, the “Christian Fundamentals,” was codified and confidently issued in propositional-truth categories. Borrowing from {142} mainstream American fundamentalism, the new statement emphasized the importance of the “plenary and verbal inspiration of the Bible” and its “inerrant” and “infallible” quality. In an era when Protestants fought and fiercely debated the merits of creationism over ideas about evolution, the “Christian Fundamentals” maintained that the creation of the human race was “an immediate act of God.” Furthermore, matters pertaining to ethics were downplayed and were added under the rubric of “restrictions,” while the ethic of nonresistance only received a passing reference. 18

Although the “Christian Fundamentals” statement of faith was clearly anti-modern in its emphasis on biblical inerrancy and specific Christian teachings, the Mennonite appropriation of the fundamentalist agenda nevertheless reflected modernist leanings. Whereas nineteenth-century Mennonites had been primarily shaped by Anabaptism and Pietism, which valued personal experience, holiness, simplicity, discipleship, community, and the importance of nonresistance, now the stress was on beliefs and convictions expressed propositionally and rationally. Moreover, doctrines were perceived to be firmly and timelessly entrenched for all time, immune to the influences of lived experience. To be sure, Mennonites of this fundamentalist era upheld the importance of prayer, worship, and a life dedicated to following Jesus. But in the main, lived and embodied experience was not really allowed to give shape and further texture to the church’s convictions. For many Mennonites of this era, the “law of belief” was perceived to stand on its own foundation, invincible and unaffected. Fundamentalist assumptions treated doctrine as if it had dropped from the sky, unadulterated and unassailable, and almost entirely removed from historical experience.

By taking doctrine seriously, these Mennonites were attempting to counter a modernist impulse. However, in separating it from the experience of the community, they were in good company with the confessionalist era of the seventeenth century and even had something in common with the “enlightened” Johannes Stinstra. Yet on the whole, they remained at some distance from the church’s ancient way of knowing and believing.


In ancient times, Christians did not view doctrinal understanding in the abstract, isolated from lived experience. Nor did the ancients push doctrine to the periphery. Doctrine was important but always connected to participation in the Divine Life. From the early Christian theologians to the scholastics of the Middle Ages to the mystics of the late medieval period, they insisted that virtue, or participation in God’s love, was a {143} precondition of all knowledge of God. 19 To be sure, there were times when the theologians of the church took doctrinal propositions seriously—it can be argued that they took these too seriously. Particularly in the fourth and fifth centuries in the face of numerous heresies, the church fathers were concerned about doctrinal clarity. Thus, many creeds of that time were produced with linguistic and syntactical precision, accompanied by anathemas and dire warnings directed at those who dared to deviate from apostolic teaching. These were times when doctrinal uniformity reigned supreme and became the litmus test of orthodoxy. To many of us, the language of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381) smacks of arrogance, and it offends.

Still, by and large, many theologians of this era did not speak apart from experience. The Christological formulations of the fourth century—that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was of the same substance as the Father—did not suddenly appear in the abstract, nor were they mischievously invented by politically motivated emperors, as Mennonites have sometimes claimed. 20 The statements that the Son of God was homoousios with the Father emerged from early Christian liturgical, soteriological, and spiritual realities. Early Christians worshipped Jesus, they believed that God had saved them through Jesus, and in times of trial they were convinced that because the Word had become flesh, God had visited them and was among them through his Spirit. For these reasons Jesus had to be of the same substance as God. This had been the experience of the church since New Testament times, and the creedal formulations simply put into words what Christians had come to experience in the context of a Hellenistic world: that God was in Christ reconciling the world. At the same time, the ancients knew that their language was found wanting and incapable of adequately expressing God’s nature and attributes. They recognized that God was beyond all human understanding, beyond all comprehension. 21 Particularly Christians in the East were adamant that true theological discourse was apophatic, that is, deeply aware that the infinite God is fundamentally unknowable by finite human minds.

The ancient way of knowing spiritual truths was governed by the axiom, lex orandi, lex credendi. The Latin phrase has come to mean that “the law of prayer grounds/establishes the law of belief.” 22 The adage can be traced back to Prosper of Aquitaine (ca. 390-455), a monk living in the fifth century who was secretary to Pope Leo. In his usage of the saying, Prosper was arguing against semi-pelagianism, pointing to “the church practice of praying for nonbelievers and sinners as an indication that grace is required for even the beginning of conversion.” 23 Prosper’s phrasing, however, gave birth to another important supposition: that it {144} is the church’s liturgy that gives theology its grounding, that the liturgy with its words and gestures is a primary source of theology, and that affirmations made “within the Body of Christ, assembled together in worship, ought to serve as a starting point for theological reflection.” 24 In short, the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi dictated that the church ought to teach what it prays. 25

The phrase typically resonates in Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican circles; it is not so common among Mennonites. Yet the concept is not entirely foreign to the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, particularly when the term lex orandi is expanded and understood to include the whole of the divine-human experience, the lex vivendi of the Christian community. As a number of scholars have noted, early Anabaptists understood the importance of the lived experience of obedience and discipleship in the context of the local congregation as the proper context for interpreting the Word. 26 And it is evident that Anabaptist communities have continued to value the importance of the gathered community as the place where the Bible is to be read and interpreted. 27

Relatively recent discussions regarding the phrasing lex orandi, lex credendi have sometimes focused on which of the two “laws” should be given priority. Methodist theologian Geoffrey Wainwright has noted, for instance, that on the basis of theology and Scripture, the Reformers of the sixteenth century sought to reform the medieval liturgy, thus giving priority to lex credendi. 28 In these discussions about the right ordering there is often the presumption that lex orandi refers more narrowly to the actual written prayers, words, and gestures that are enacted during the liturgical ceremony. So, in the sixteenth century, from the perspective of their newly formulated convictions, the Reformers were critical of certain prayers, words, and rituals of the medieval church’s liturgy. Yet clearly the Reformers, who were criticizing the medieval liturgy on the basis of Scripture and theology, were doing so out of their ecclesial contexts, that is, out of their experience of prayer, worship, and daily Christian experience. If we think of lex orandi within a broader ecclesial context, which includes not only corporate prayer in worship, but also the life of prayer, worship, and discipleship that takes place in all of Christian experience (lex vivendi), then we will be more inclined to see that “prayer” and “belief” are always in a reciprocal or dialectical relationship. To be sure, the church’s beliefs have an impact on the language and rituals of its worship. Nevertheless, the church’s beliefs are always embodied, always enfleshed and shaped by experience. Especially experiences borne of the Spirit in the context of prayer, worship, and discipleship will shape and give content to Christian doctrine. {145}

Several years ago, I had an encounter with a student that brought home to me the way in which belief has the potential to be shaped by prayer and communal experience. The student confided in me that the church to which she belonged was in trouble with its area church conference because it had decided to become welcoming and affirming of gay and lesbian participants—a decision that had come about after some five years of prayer and discernment. In hearing the student’s story, I did not know exactly how I should respond. At the time, my views regarding homosexuality were fairly traditional, yet I was also open to alternative perspectives, especially if these could be verified by clear biblical teachings. What I was wishing for was that my denomination would carry out some serious exegetical work and apply some rigor in its Bible study as a way of addressing this vexing issue that was clearly dividing the church. In the end, however, I found the hermeneutical process of my student’s church more compelling than any skillful exegetical argument could possibly muster. While I continued at the time to be uncertain about the church’s final resolution, I was impressed that the church had prayed about the issue for some five years, and during that time, there had been much conversation with persons who were in same sex relationships. In my own experience there had been little prayer and real engagement. Given my overall lack of participation, how could I be judgmental toward a congregation whose life of prayer and lived discernment far exceeded my own?


Thinking about doctrinal issues as one lives in prayer, worship, and discipleship imagines that Christianity is more than an act of intellectual belief or cognition. It presumes that Christianity is first of all about an encounter and a relationship with a living God who became flesh in Jesus. Daniel Migliore puts it this way: “Christian faith looks to the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as attested in Scripture as the supreme revelation of God and the basis of understanding all things in relation to God.” He goes on to say that “only revelation through a person can be fully intelligible to us, who are persons, and only personal revelation can adequately disclose the reality of God, who is supremely personal.” 29

Embedding doctrine in prayer, worship, and a life of discipleship also presumes that the proper place for discernment is not among autonomous, independent individuals but rather within community, where there is mutual accountability. This follows the pattern of Christians living in the first century. According to the New Testament, the church was given a high calling to bind and to loose (Matt 18:18). Early Christians at the local level were encouraged to bring to the community a revelation or an {146} interpretation. It was expected that they would prophesy and weigh in on what was being said (1 Cor 14:26-31). Within the community, gifts were given so that “some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). 30 The Christian community could expect to be further taught by the Advocate, the Holy Spirit who would lead Christians into all truth (John 14-16).

When the Christian community prays and worships and lives in discipleship, there is no guarantee that it will reach consensus or that it will get its doctrine right. In fact we can expect that its theological reasoning will often miss the mark and even succumb to the dynamics of power in ways that silence the weak and disenchant those on the fringe. 31 For this reason, Christians should insist that their doctrines—their human attempts at understanding mystery—are always provisional, incomplete, and short of a total perspective, thus requiring an ongoing attitude of repentance. Seen from this vantage point, the church is understood as a pilgrim people on a journey, open to being challenged and reformed by the living Word and Spirit. It is within this frame of mind and heart that the church is called to address the doctrinal and ethical issues of its day.


  1. See, for instance, Leonhard Schiemer’s commentary on the Apostles’ Creed in Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, translated and edited by Cornelius J. Dyck (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1995), 27–40; Peter Riedemann’s extrapolation in Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith, trans. and ed. John J. Friesen (Waterloo, ON: Herald, 1999), 57–83; and Jorg Maler’s Confession of Faith in Confessions of Faith in the Anabaptist Tradition 1527-1660, ed. Karl Koop (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 2006), 35–44.
  2. For anthologies that include the historic confessions of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, see Koop, Confessions of Faith in the Anabaptist Tradition, and Howard John Loewen, One Lord, One Church, One Hope, and One God: Mennonite Confessions of Faith (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1985). For recent Mennonite confessions of faith, see, for instance, Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1995), and Confession of Faith: Commentary and Pastoral Application (Winnipeg, MB: Board of Faith and Life and Kindred Publications, 2000). The “Shared Convictions” of Mennonite World Conference that were produced in 2006 can be found at, accessed August 31, 2019.
  3. A. James Reimer, Mennonites and Classical Theology: Dogmatic Foundations for Christian Ethics (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 2001), 356–57.
  4. Margaret Miles, The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 3.
  5. George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a {147} Postliberal Age (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1984), 74.
  6. This follows closely James Wm. McClendon Jr.’s understanding of doctrine when he states that “Doctrine is teaching,” and Christian doctrine means “a church teaching as she must teach if she is to be the church here and now” (italics in the original). See his Systematic Theology, vol. 2, Doctrine (Nashville, KY: Abingdon, 1994), 24.
  7. “Resolution on Confession of Faith,” in 1987 Yearbook, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (Abbotsford, August 7–11, 1987), 69.
  8. For a history of this discussion, see Doug Heidebrecht, Women in Ministry Leadership: The Journey of the Mennonite Brethren, 1954-2010 (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2019).
  9. For background discussion to the US Mennonite Brethren revision to their confession regarding peace and nonviolence, see Tim Huber, “Confession Change Aims to Get MBs Talking,” Mennonite World Review (April 20, 2015),, accessed September 11, 2019. [See also Gerrit Wiebe’s article in this issue of Direction.—Ed.]
  10. One of the first scholars to suggest this was Michael Driedger. See his article, “An Article Missing from the Mennonite Encyclopedia,” in Commoners and Community: Essays in Honour of Werner O. Packull, ed. C. Arnold Snyder (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 2002), 101–20. For more recent contributions to this discussion, see, for instance, August den Hollander, et al., Religious Minorities and Cultural Diversity in the Dutch Republic: Studies Presented to Piet Visser on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2014), and Mark Jantzen and Mary S. Sprunger, eds., European Mennonites and the Challenge of Modernity over Five Centuries: Contributors, Detractors, and Adapters (North Newton, KS: Bethel College, 2016).
  11. Sjouke Voolstra, “Mennonite Faith in the Netherlands: A Mirror of Assimilation,” Conrad Grebel Review 9, no. 3 (Fall 1991): 287–88. A helpful introduction to Stinstra’s thought can be found in John Stinstra, A Pastoral Letter Against Fanaticism, Addressed to the Mennonists of Friesland, translated from the Dutch by Henry Rimius (London: 1753).
  12. Michael Driedger, Obedient Heretics: Mennonite Identities in Lutheran Hamburg and Altona during the Confessional Age (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2002), 51.
  13. Ernst Walter Zeeden was one of the first scholars to pay significant attention to the process of confessionalism, which he referred to as “Konfessionsbildung.” See his Die Entstehung der Konfessionen: Grundlagen und Formen der Konfessionsbildung in Zeitalter der Glaubenskämpfe (München/Wien, 1965).
  14. There are numerous accounts of this episode in Mennonite history. For a relatively recent summary, see Driedger, Obedient Heretics, 49–60.
  15. Frank H. Epp, Mennonites in Canada, 1920-1940: A People’s Struggle for Survival (Toronto, ON: Macmillan of Canada, 1982), 53. For another account of this era, see Leonard Gross, “The Doctrinal Era of the Mennonite Church,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 60, no. 1 (January 1986): 83–103.
  16. Epp, 53.
  17. Epp, 56–58.
  18. See “Christian Fundamentals” in Loewen, One Lord, 71–72. The General {148} Conference also included confessional statements consonant with fundamentalist presuppositions. See the “Articles of Faith” of 1933 and the “Statement of Faith” of 1941 in Loewen, 105–11.
  19. Miles, Word Made Flesh, 25, 33, 142, 194.
  20. For a discussion and rebuttal of Mennonite perspectives on the possible “Constantinian” influence on the Creed, see Reimer, Mennonites and Classical Theology, 247–71.
  21. Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), 1; also 115.
  22. Kevin W. Irwin, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi—Origins and Meaning: State of the Question,” Liturgical Ministry 11 (Spring 2002): 58.
  23. Daniel Donovan, “Lex Orandi: The Christology of the Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite,” Toronto Journal of Theology 16, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 69. Prosper’s statement reads as follows: “The rites of the priestly supplications, which transmitted by the apostles, are celebrated in the same manner in the entire world and in the catholic church, in such a way that the order of supplication [lex . . . supplicandi] determines the rule of faith [legem credenda].” Translation by Paul De Clerck, “ ‘Lex orandi, lex credendi’: The Original Sense and Historical Avatars of an Equivocal Adage,” Studia Liturgica 24 (1994): 181.
  24. Charles R. Hohenstein, “ ‘Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi’: Cautionary Notes,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 32, no. 2 (Fall 1997): 141. See also Irwin, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi,” 61.
  25. Hohenstein, 141.
  26. See especially the essays by Walter Klaassen, John H. Yoder, C. J. Dyck, and Ben C. Ollenburger in Essays on Biblical Interpretation: Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspectives, ed. Willard Swartley (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1984), 5–61. See also Lydia Neufeld Harder who notes a number of ways in which the “hermeneutic community” is central for contemporary Anabaptist Mennonite thought in “Hermeneutic Community: A Study of the Contemporary Relevance of an Anabaptist-Mennonite Approach to Biblical Interpretation” (Master of Theology thesis, Newman Theological College, 1984), 7–11.
  27. See Neufeld Harder’s summary in “Hermeneutic Community,” 11–16.
  28. Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine and Life: A Systematic Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980). For the broader theological context and discussion, see Irwin, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi,” 57–69.
  29. Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 36.
  30. For a further extrapolation of the importance of community in the New Testament, see Lydia Neufeld Harder, The Challenge is in the Naming: A Theological Journey (Winnipeg, MB: CMU Press, 2018), 50–54.
  31. This was the shadow side of the creedal formulations at Nicea and Constantinople that led to anathemas and acts of intolerance, often supported by political coercion. But the contemporary peace churches are also susceptible to mistreating those who are weak or on the fringe. Lydia Neufeld Harder attends to the problem of the hermeneutic community that ignores issues of power and domination. See, for example, “Hermeneutic Community,” 46–107, 139–54.
Karl Koop is Professor of History and Theology at Canadian Mennonite University, where he has taught since 2002. He is the author of Anabaptist-Mennonite Confessions of Faith: The Development of a Tradition (Pandora Press, 2004) and has contributed to or co-edited numerous other academic books and journals. He and his wife Kathy attend First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg where Kathy is the leading minister.

Previous | Next