Dismantle the church?

Let God’s wrecking ball, not ours, strike first

Apr 28, 2014 by

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God is dismantling the church as we know it, some Mennonite leaders believe. They envision a church torn down and rebuilt by God. They picture old structures demolished and a fresh wind of the Spirit blowing through open doors of divine design.

It’s a dream that has a chance to happen — if the church doesn’t tear itself apart first. In Mennonite Church USA, it’s an open question whose wrecking ball will strike, God’s or ours.

If we let God knock down our walls, the Holy Spirit can build again. If we swing the hammer ourselves, we can expect to get a pile of broken pieces.

Conflict over homosexuality is forcing MC USA to ask whether the denomination can maintain unity in its current form. Will it redefine the bonds that hold it together, perhaps in a looser relationship? Or will it continue to bleed congregations, perhaps even lose a whole conference?

The stakes are higher than ever since Mountain States Mennonite Conference licensed Theda Good, a Colorado pastor in a committed same-sex relationship. This has intensified the debate beyond what we’ve seen in the conflicts over homosexuality that have occurred for decades. The prospect of a conference, rather than a congregation or a pastor, being identified as straying from church teachings is new.

With advocates lobbying hard on both sides, MC USA may be approaching a point of decision about whether it can live with the disagreement. The Lancaster Mennonite Conference Board of Bishops has raised the question most directly by calling its conference to re-evaluate its relationship to the denomination.

Lancaster moderator Keith Weaver looks at the prospect of further division and finds that one hope is clear to him.

“At my deepest core, I resist the impulse to further separate an already divided body of Christ,” he said in his State of the Conference address in March, published in Lancaster’s Shalom News. “It feels like a blatant disregard for the ministry of reconciliation which God accomplished in Christ and in which we are now called to participate.”

Weaver commends the view of Willard Metzger, executive director of Mennonite Church Canada, who believes “the Holy Spirit is dismantling the church as we now know it.” This dismantling, Weaver says, gives us a chance to reinvent the church, to correct its failures, to rededicate ourselves to God’s mission.

But Weaver warns: “If all we are capable of doing is dividing and creating more pieces of an already ineffective and declining church, then we will have failed the mission of God.”

Weaver observes that rarely is so much passion and energy stirred up in the church. He asks: “Will we leverage all this energy into something completely new, something radical and bold — a new reality the church may not otherwise have the courage to face?”

Channeling the church’s energy in a positive direction is a job for everyone. Conservatives and progressives are not of one mind, but they are of one passion: They love the church of Jesus Christ.

MC USA needs the depth of conviction both bring. For the church to be dismantled and rebuilt under God’s direction, those who don’t see eye to eye on certain issues will need to work together. The creation of MC USA was a witness for unity, and its reinvention also should be.

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Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

  • Philip Kreider

    I believe The Ministry of Reconciliation has been given to us for the benefit of all people, and not limited to only those who believe only as I do. The Ministry of Reconciliation is to be offered to those both within the church and outside the church.

  • berryfriesen

    So God is dismantling the church, the “passion and energy” set loose by the MSMC licensing decision is dividing the church, and our calling now is to reinvent the church? Wow, that clears things up!

    Since hearing Ervin Stutzman speak in early April about the unwillingness of area conferences to accept counsel from and be accountable to one another, I have thought the “reinvented” church will look less like a denomination than what we have now.

    What I’m keeping my eye on is whether this new contraption will maintain real congregational accountability to some broader group, or whether accountability will be replaced by an “affiliation” arrangement that ensures no congregation (or pastor for that matter) will ever again be forced to defend itself against accusations that it has lost its way. Since the affiliation route has so many face-saving attributes, it has got to be the odds-on favorite.

  • David Tiffany

    I was reading another article on your site about Israel. How can you, as a Christian, Bible believing denomination, say that the Israelis occupy the land of Palestine? God clearly states in Scripture that He gave the land of Israel to the Israelis as an everlasting inheritance. He brought them back there as He promised. How do you back up with Scripture that the Israelis are occupying what is not theirs?
    What we need to do as children of God, regardless of denomination, is get back to studying the Scriptures He has entrusted to us. Is this possibly what God is rebuilding?
    http://483years.blogspot.com/

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