Old way still applies

True to our history, disagreement causes a split

Dec 21, 2015 by

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Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s decision to withdraw from Mennonite Church USA by the end of 2017 is a major loss, and not just because Lancaster is the denomination’s largest conference. Lancaster announced the decision, by an 82 percent vote of credentialed leaders, Nov. 19.

Some have said the 2001-02 merger that created MC USA was actually a union of three entities: the General Conference Mennonite Church, the Mennonite Church and Lancaster Conference. Lancaster has a history of independence; it became part of the Mennonite Church denominational structure only 44 years ago.

Perhaps especially in the minds of former General Conference Mennonites, Lancaster symbolizes what many used to call the Old Mennonite Church — a place where women wore head coverings (which mostly disappeared decades ago) and where an all-male Board of Bishops held authority (and still does).

Lancaster has occupied a special place in MC USA’s historic experiment in Mennonite unity. More than any other conference, its presence was a powerful expression that diverse traditions had joined together and that old differences were being overcome.

But last month, Lancaster’s credentialed leaders decided to abandon the experiment. When tested by an emotionally charged question — how to relate to people with varying sexual identities, including gay and lesbian Christians — the bonds that held Lancaster to the rest of the body were not strong enough.

Now, according to Lancaster’s Shalom News, the conference will go “back to what it was for 300 years” — an independent entity that “maintained collaborative, collegial relationships with other area conferences in the Mennonite Church.”

This is the Mennonite way — to split. To say we have a good relationship, but not good enough to be in the same church. It is the easy way out — to react to a disagreement by saying, “We must draw a line between us so that your sin will stay far away from me.” Mennonites typically are comfortable in smaller, “purer” groups. We can see that this has not changed.

MC USA stands out in history as a rare example that it is possible for Mennonites to draw together rather than split apart. It is an effort to define a church more by its center — the core tenets of our faith in Jesus Christ — than by its boundaries. It is an attempt to say, “I do not have to agree with all of your interpretations of Scripture in order to accept your right to do God’s will as you see it and to stay in fellowship with you.” That posture of grace and respect is diminished each time a congregation or conference chooses purity over tolerance.

In the end, we have no choice but to accept that each of us is bound to follow our conscience. It is disappointing that once again some have decided the best way to do this is by keeping each other at a safe distance.


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  • Ken Fellenbaum

    This is what happens when denominations fixate on peripheral issues instead of major, central matters. Translation – LBGT vs Great Commission. Christians need to focus on key unifing doctrines of the Faith that we should all hold together – Eph. 4: 3-5.

    • Elaine Fehr

      Let’s not start and stop with just Ephesians 4:3-5. Let’s put it into context, starting with verse 1 – “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called…”.

      To “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” is so important within the church. What does that look like? Verses 17-32 speaks to that nicely and in those verses emerges a contrast between the old way of life and what the new way in Christ should be.

      So we can conclude that when there are people within the church who make a point of advocating for continuing in the “old way” (for example, as in verse 19 – “have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness…”), we should expect splits in the church. As Paul instructs in 2 Cor 6:14 “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?”.

      Just to be clear, I’m not saying there is no room in church for people who are seeking for Christ. I’m referring to those who profess Christianity, but steadfastly want to continue to practise a life of sin and still be considered a standing member of the body of Christ.
      (All references taken from NASB)

      • Steven Stubble

        Well put! Hits the nail on the head.

  • Berry Friesen

    Paul, for the sake of contextual accuracy, I wish your second-to-the-last paragraph referred not only to our duty to forbear with one another, but also our duty to defer to one another.

    For example, “MC USA is an attempt to say, ‘Though your reading of Scripture may seem to stifle my obedience to the Spirit, I will not act based on my own counsel alone, but will first in dialogue with you seek ways to live out my calling that honor our relationship and your sincerity.”

  • Tom Barner

    In bowling a split tends to lessen the score and lose games. Teams have fun naming their team, and a favorite is “Splits Happen.” That suggests that maybe it’s not my fault. In church splits happen because we care with unyielding passion for our understanding of the truth. Often God’s truth remains hidden until a split reveals Her truth. Count your blessings in your tradition. In mine (Presbyterian) we used to kill each other over issues.
    There is some history in which we can all rejoice. When I was a kid, growing up in Philadelphia, there were no homosexuals- none. You never even heard of such a thing. When some one was outed, as we say today, they committed suicide. There now is no longer any need for that, and in that we can all rejoice! No one wants that, do they? If God were to tell us new understandings about sex, and allow compassion and understanding of people different from ourselves, how might She be telling us that?
    Let’s have our splits in support of our passions, and maybe reconsider our understandings of the Bible and what authority means. Are we so sure of ourselves that God can tell us nothing new? In our lust for certainty do we forget that love is greater than faith?
    It’s possible to see hints of God’s future. The church will neither deny the integrity of the homosexual person, nor God’s call to extend Her love for those for whom Christ died. God is telling us something new. We see it playing out before our very eyes. It is marvelous, and church people, God love them, will recognize the hand of God and rejoice.
    Our splits are the curtains God is pulling open to give us gimps of the coming kingdom.

  • Craig and Karen Long

    Choosing purity will NEVER “diminish the posture of grace and respect.” To the contrary, both are multiplied and enhanced by the choosing of such purity of Yahshua, as we follow His leading in our lives; He always did what His Father told Him to do and obeyed His Father’s commandments, as He walked the earth fully human as a man and yet was His Father, through and through.

  • Steven Stubble

    Lancaster is following a very simple directive: “We must obey God rather than men”. Why accuse them of “holding others at a distance”? The reality is this: “progressive” Mennonites have in fact surrounded themselves with teachers who say what their ears are itching to hear, and have gone utterly astray. Lancaster is remaining faithful to the truth revealed once for all to the saints. As the Spirit says: “No doubt there must be differences among you to show who has God’s approval. “

  • Jeremy Martin

    “We must draw a line between us so that your sin will stay far away from me.” Not true. Instead it is a situation of some (Western District) saying that the homosexual act, from the beginning until recently known to be an act of rebellion against God, is not sin anymore. Instead, Western District would have us believe that the homosexual act is something to be celebrated, instead of a self destructive sin against God. In the end, belonging to the MC USA is more a hindrance than a help in fulfilling the great commission.

  • John Gingrich

    -the core tenants of our faith in Jesus Christ- as our unity in MC USA is really the riddle we keep dancing around. It’s back to the Augustinian quote “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity. The problem is the core tenants or the essentials is very different between the liberal Mennonites and the traditional Mennonites. Is the appeal of this editorial that the core tenant in MCUSA become “we accept your right to do God’s will as you see it”??

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