Exit the detour

Apr 27, 2015 by

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In the early church, authority resided in the congregation. The believers at Antioch received the letter from the Jerusalem conference not as a rule but “rejoiced at the exhortation” (Acts 15:31, NRSV). The Anabaptists continued congregational polity. Leaders of Mennonite conferences in America would gather to get counsel about matters in their congregation and then go back and work things out as best they could. During the last part of the 1800s some strong leaders in the Mennonite Church were influenced by the rules of the holiness movement: no attendance at county fairs, no lightning rods, no life insurance, etc. They encouraged conferences to adopt these rules. Conference polity took authority away from congregations. During the 1930s to the 1950s, MC members gained more education. Some entered professions or started businesses. Many became employed off the farm. The old rules made little sense, and soon conferences could no longer enforce them. Conference discipline largely disappeared, but conference authority remains. It is time for Mennonite Church USA to reclaim its heritage of congregational polity and end the detour of conference polity.

Harold Bauman
Goshen, Ind.

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