Here are five new year’s resolutions that are critically necessary to reverse the decline of Mennonite Church USA:
Stop saying “we’ll never all agree.” Acts 4:32 describes the possibility that disciples can be “of one heart and soul.” In fact, in 1995, members of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church mutually agreed to adopt the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.
Our Confession is the result of diligent work to find agreement between two traditions using Scripture as a foundation. In the introduction, it boldly says this perspective should be seriously considered by all people who proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In other words, we declared 20 years ago that this Confession is not only an excellent and common voice for us but is necessary for the world! If we once agreed our Confession was a sufficient beginning for our denomination, it is also sufficient to maintain the chuch today.
Identify universalism and proclaim the gospel instead. Universalism declares that all people will ultimately be saved because God is too loving to allow anyone to perish in utter darkness forever. This third-century heresy is prevalent in our day. Our Confession declares the exact opposite. “Because of sin, humanity has been given over to the enslaving powers of evil and death,” and “We receive God’s salvation when we repent of sin and accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.” MC USA needs leaders who proclaim a clear message that confesses sin and confesses Jesus as the only Savior.
Return to the personal and communal reading (and memorization) of Scripture. Michael Sattler, an early leader among the Anabaptists, gave up his life for the sake of “appealing to the Scriptures.” Had he listened to contemporary voices in the Reformation, the Mennonite denomination may have never come into being. Today, instead of only seeking new voices in theology and taking the easy route of restating the words of contemporary theologians, MC USA should actually practice what our Confession states about the Bible.
We declare Scripture is “the fully reliable and trustworthy standard for Christian faith and life. We participate in the church’s task of interpreting the Bible and of discerning what God is saying in our time by examining all things in the light of Scripture. Insights and understandings which we bring to the interpretation of the Scripture are to be tested in the faith community.”
Over the past 30 years, the underground church in China has thrived because it believes Scripture is sufficient for faith and life and expects its leaders to diligently read, memorize and dialogue through Scripture. MC USA members will find Scripture is sufficient for all matters — if we are willing to put in the work to know it well.
Stop trying to redeem the world through politics. Civil rights has grown into a sizable work among MC USA members over the past 20 years. After all, our Confession declares that believers should call “the nations (and all persons and institutions) to move toward justice, peace and compassion for all people.”
However, it also tells us how to do this work. The church is called to “seek the lost, call for repentance, announce salvation from sin, proclaim the gospel of peace, set free the oppressed, pray for righteousness and justice, serve as Jesus did and without coercion urge all people to become part of the people of God.”
Although there may be value in seeking justice by lobbying for social reform, it should not be our primary work. Our Anabaptist ancestors were distinct from Martin Luther and John Calvin because they believed participating in the political process would compromise the vision and witness of the church. Luther admitted a Christian would likely have to compromise his or her faith at some point if they sought to reform political culture.
Anabaptists are to hold a different perspective. We are to “embody Jesus’ way in its own life” and “show the world a sample of life under the lordship of Christ.” Let’s focus being a redeemed people rather than attempting to redeem a society that has no desire to submit to the Lordship of Jesus.
Ask our church leaders to practice fervent prayer and authentic mutual accountability. We know MC USA is in decline. We know the Confession of Faith is mutually ours. We know the delegate body voted to keep the Membership Guidelines unchanged until at least 2019. And we know the Executive Board and delegate body both have asked the Constituency Leaders Council to serve as “elders.”
Therefore, we need to ask our leaders, as the Confession says, to “speak in a spirit of prayerful openness, with the Scriptures as the constant guide,” “to expect not only affirmation but also correction” and to “wait patiently for a word from the Lord leading toward consensus, than to make hasty decisions.”
What would happen if the CLC met for several days, not to talk but to intercede before the Lord in prayer? What would happen if conference ministers agreed to lead their congregations in fervent prayer? What would happen if all leaders within MC USA were willing to correct one another when they stepped beyond our Confession of Faith? What would happen if we all waited patiently before the Lord?
God hasn’t given up hope for MC USA. Are we willing to do the diligent work to be the people we’ve already committed ourselves to be?
Aaron Yoder is pastor of First Mennonite Church in Morton, Ill.