Ohio Conference loses more churches

Dec 22, 2014 by and

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Two more Ohio Conference congregations have voted to leave Mennonite Church USA over concerns about the direction of the denomination and some of its conferences.

Walnut Creek Mennonite Church in Sugarcreek, Ohio, and North Clinton Mennonite Church in Wauseon, Ohio, along with churches that already withdrew or are considering withdrawal, have plans for future partnership.

Walnut Creek, where more than 300 attend regularly, voted Oct. 19. Eight-six percent were in favor of withdrawal, effective Dec. 31.

North Clinton voted to leave Nov. 30, effective Dec. 15. The congregation has almost 400 active participants.

Both churches cited increasing acceptance of same-sex relationships as a significant contributing factor.

Glenn Coblentz, pastor of North Clinton, said his church believes the conversation on sexuality is really about the authority of God’s Word.

“We view our conference as moving in a direction that is not in keeping with biblical authority,” he said. The church believes nothing significant will change in July at the next national delegate assembly in Kan­sas City.

“If we are not starting at the same place [biblical authority], we have no hope of ending at the same place,” he said. “Statements to the effect that the Bible doesn’t speak to the issues of sexuality do not bring life, nor do they call people to holiness.”

Walnut Creek leaders and elders released a statement. “After a prayerful scripturally based search and study, God’s Word was clear,” it said. “It told us to leave MC USA.”

The letter says they are leaving in order to remain true to the Confession of Faith, specifically Article 19, which states marriage is between a man and a woman. They sense that “divergent belief and practice has crept into our denomination.” They believe the church is “dangerously close” to the early church’s gnosticism.

“Throughout all this, we have discovered that we are not leaving MC USA, it is leaving us,” the statement said.

Ohio Conference minister Tom Kauffman said the conference has valued Walnut Creek’s participation, with a history dating back to the 19th century. North Clinton will be missed too.

“We are saddened by their decisions to leave the conference and denomination yet extend a blessing as they seek to be faithful to God’s call upon their corporate life,” he said.

Future partnerships

Coblentz and the Walnut Creek statement both acknowledged discussions among other Anabaptist congregations interested in being partners.

“We are now in a discovering phase of what it means for us as a congregation and others who have already or are contemplating a similar decision,” the Walnut Creek statement said. “Because we are not in this alone, we expect a new Anabaptist structure of association to arise.”

They have talked with two other Ohio Conference congregations: Hartville Mennonite Church, which voted to leave Sept. 7, and First Mennonite Church in Berne, Ind., which remains committed to Ohio Conference but recently voted to begin considering other options, according to pastor Jeff Linthi­cum.

Coblentz said many congregations across the nation are passionate about Anabaptist theology and have left their conferences or plan to leave. They are in conversation about potential partnership.

“This is more than a hope,” he said. “It is a reality.”

See also: “MC USA Churches move in 2014

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  • Bruce Leichty

    This saddens me but not because I don’t think the departing churches are faithful. Rather, what chance will conservatives have in Kansas City next summer, with all the faithful already departed? Might as well stay home and begin our own discernment process …. “Goodbye MCUSA and its institutions.” Passive leadership allowed this to happen.

    • Berry Friesen

      Bruce, I’ve been hoping the executive leaders of several of the larger district conferences will go public with a joint statement describing what they together will ask their member congregations to support via congregational delegates at KC. I can’t imagine such an approach hasn’t been discussed, They may be good reasons why nothing has been forthcoming, but your explanation is certainly a possibility.

      • John Gingrich

        I doubt the conferences that have strong conservative bases will have any expectations for Kansas City. If they wait for Kansas City they have more faith than I that they will have the large, healthy congregations around till then. I hope the conservative conferences are not telling their delegates what to support in KC, but are telling their congregations how they are going to organize in a way that allows the facilitation of the new Anabaptist structure that the Ohio churches are hoping for.

        • Berry Friesen

          John, you might be right. Mennonites generally are convinced it doesn’t work to do church when there is not a strong consensus supporting the general outline of the effort. Winning a 60/40 vote does not amount to much within the church.

          Still, some of us wish our district conference leaders would at least try to rally a strong consensus around a clear statement of direction. We imagine it exists – if only the key leaders would stand publicly together and speak.

          To be specific, I think a strong majority of the church (and maybe even a strong consensus) wants to retain and follow the existing Confession of Faith while also accommodating congregations that perceive a call to minister to gay and lesbian couples. Mountain States Mennonite Church would probably be out of the denomination under such an understanding (because of its views on credentialing gay and lesbian persons for leadership), but that would be its choice, not ours. And many of the MSMC congregations would stay, albeit as part of other district conferences.

          • Charlie Kraybill

            Berry, you’re living in some alternate reality. There are no gay persons who are interested in belonging to congregations where they would be “ministered to.” How condescending! Full acceptance, full membership, full participation. Now. Nothing less. This will probably leave out MCUSA, but that would be its choice. Not ours.

          • Berry Friesen

            Yes, Charlie, and this alternative reality is called the Kingdom of God. One place it ministers to me is at East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church, a congregation in Lancaster. As we talk about it there, being “ministered to” isn’t limited to people in certain categories; it’s available to all. I don’t experience the suggestion that this congregation has wisdom to share with me as condescending.

            As I have understood the call from gay and lesbian persons, they simply want access to this same experience.

            In Isaiah 60-62, the prophet speaks of the nations coming to the light of the Messiah. It’s a beautiful passage, but it includes a dissonant chord throughout of the nations needing to humble themselves to accomplish what they desire. So it is with us.

          • Laura Weaver

            Amen, Charlie! “Ministered to” is not acceptable at all!

            Laura Weaver

  • Jennifer Prestash

    The Churches that accept the unchanging morality given to us by the Lord in the Holy Scriptures are the ones that have endured and will endure. Those that reject Biblical morality for the morality of the world will wither and die. Look at any of the Protestant Churches that have rejected Biblical morality in the past 50+ years. Their numbers are a fraction of what they once were.

  • Elaine Fehr

    Apostasy is running rampant in not only Mennonite churches, but many others. Yesterday I was thrilled to find an article in “What we believe” on the Heritage Baptist website (in Arizona). It presents a biblical view on how to handle situations that lead to apostasy. Thought I’d share it here – what do you think?:

    “3. Ecclesiastical separation of the church from apostasy. While recognizing the unity of all believers, it is also evident that unbelief and error in many organized fellowships has developed to the point where recognized apostasy exists. We are to reprove apostates rather than recognize them, to rebuke rather than to reason with them, to reject rather than to receive or unite with them. Loyalty to Christ also demands separation from those groups who walk with or tolerate religious unbelief and apostasy (2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:11-15; 2 Tim. 4:2-4; 2 John 10-11).”

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