This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Return to the past?

Recent letters in MWR call for authority and accountability in the church while bemoaning the advocacy of beliefs and behaviors previously seen as sin. A look at the 1950s may shed some light on such calls: Prior to that era, Mennonite doctrine disallowed church membership for a person divorced and remarried while the ex-spouse was still living. Faithfulness to Scripture — the clear words of Jesus — required people in that circumstance to separate from the second spouse. If there were children in the second marriage, the family was devastated. Doctrinal accountability would cause the breakup of families equal to the breakup of divorce.

Some Mennonite leaders began to ask whether Jesus would want his declarations to create such familial chaos. Some came to believe that God cared more about human well-being than about rigid rules. However, others accused those leaders of ripping apart the church and wrecking the authority of Scripture.

Should we return to declaring people divorced and remarried to be living in sin? If we insist that same-gender unions are never validated in Scripture, should we likewise insist that the Bible never allows divorce and remarriage? Or should we recognize that human understanding of God’s grace should be flexible?

Ray Elvin Horst
Harrisonburg, Va.

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