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.