Thank you, Layton Friesen, for your May 2019 article “Without the Church, You’re on Your Own.” Many years ago I asked myself, “What is the church?” and the nagging question was, “Who is the church?” What is the church generally refers to a building, denomination or organization. Are we as individuals not the church, if we believe Jesus is the Son of God, died for us, forgiving our sins and rose back to life?
WINNIPEG, Man.—Three years ago Braeside EMC began to discuss its membership model through meetings, round table discussions and sermons. We realized our “inactive” membership list was growing; in fact, it was about the same size as list of regularly attending members. Continue reading Covenant Membership, Baptism Occurs→
ROSENORT, Man.—Every church loves to celebrate! Sunday, April 29, 2018, was a day of celebration for Rosenort EMC. On that day we rejoiced as three young people were baptized and two others were received into membership.
Hearing the testimonies brought the Good News to life as each of the five shared about the transformative power of Jesus in their journey. The amazing grace of God was magnified. Many visitors were in attendance and the celebration continued over a potluck noon meal.
Each of our baptismal candidates are matched with a mentor from the church who will meet regularly with them over the course of a year to encourage and disciple them.
Count me among EMC ministers who seek to protect sheep from wolves. This affects how some of us link local church membership and denominational distinctives.
Each branch of the Church in Canada has its tradition, history, and distinctives. For instance, Nazarenes have entire sanctification, Pentecostals have the baptism in the Spirit, Baptists have immersion, and Mennonites have pacifism.
Each denomination is protective of its distinctives: “We need to stay with the Word. Our leaders suffered for these truths. We have Scripture and history on our side.”
Ministers make choices within traditions, histories, and distinctives. I do.
Distinctives, as long as they’re biblical, are to be taught. It is wise, though, not to make a hard link between some distinctives and membership for non-leaders. (This isn’t an article about teaching standards for selecting pastors, deacons, teaching elders, and Sunday School teachers.)
The Christian Church is committed to Christ and to each other. We properly require a common, wonderful confession of faith in our Triune God (1 Cor. 15:1-8, 1 Tim. 3:9, Eph. 4:5). We are to be accountable in our faith and lifestyle (1 Tim. 4:19-20).
Still, let’s not multiply difficulties. Pastors know it is insensitive and impractical to limit membership to those who agree with all of our distinctives. Was anyone ever denied local EMC membership because they didn’t affirm footwashing as an ordinance? Probably not.
Local churches need to, and often do, take a broader view of their role. In a particular location, urban or rural, there might be a single evangelical choice—perhaps Nazarene, Mennonite, Pentecostal, or Baptist. Its responsibility to believers and the Lord extends far beyond its distinctive views.
Why? Sheep are vulnerable and wolves are many (Matt. 10:16). Jesus spoke of wolves (Matt. 7:15); the apostle Paul did too (Acts 20:28-29). Paul and other apostles warned of false leaders and false teachings (Gal. 1:6-7, 2 Pet. 2:1, Jude 4).
We are to protect the flock (Acts 20:28). Sheep, by nature, are to be together, and they are more vulnerable when alone. The Shepherd still cares about the single sheep (Luke 15:3-7).
As well, ponder a wonderful reality: Christians are members of Christ’s mystical body that spans continents, centuries, and denominations (1 Cor. 12:13; Heb.11, Eph. 4:4-5). How do we reflect this awareness when deciding requirements for local church membership?
Suppose a Christian, because of a distinctive, doesn’t become a local member. What if, through limited options and understanding, they join a group that has wandered from central truths? It’s precisely because of central truths (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-8) that we are to be sensitive as pastors (Jude 22-23).
Pastors observe the movement of God’s Spirit within a person’s life; we sense their gifts and capacities. Recognizing this, local churches do well to allow “pastoral exceptions”: for a Mennonite church to accept a non-pacifist; a Baptist church, an undipped member; a Pentecostal church, someone who hasn’t spoken in tongues; a Nazarene church, a member only partly sanctified.
Does your local church do this already? Perhaps. Probably. For sheep are vulnerable and wolves are many.
Of course, if a person doesn’t recognize our Statement of Faith as the teaching standard within the local church and becomes divisive (Titus 3:9-11), that’s another matter. The sheep need protection then too.
STEINBACH, Man.—We rejoiced on Nov. 20, 2016, as we listened to the testimonies of those who had decided earlier in their lives to follow Jesus and now chose to publicly confirm this decision by taking the next step in their spiritual journey and being baptized. With joy we welcomed them as part of our church family, together with several others who transferred from other churches.
There was a special sense of joy and anticipation in the sanctuary on May 14, 2017, as we gathered, joined by many guests, for a celebration of baptism and welcoming new members as part of our covenant community. Seven young people shared their faith stories of God’s involvement in their lives and indicated their desire to be baptized as a public declaration of their commitment to follow Jesus. Another four people transferred their membership from other churches.
“Individual congregations retain full privileges of self-determination within the framework of the Conference Constitution. However, membership in the Conference implies the responsible support of resolutions and programs developed together” (The Constitution, 20). “Self-determination within the framework”—here is the dance between local autonomy and national direction.
Listening to some people talk about self-determination (autonomy), I get confused. Who decides on what it means in practice?
Churches choose their pastors. To be nationally recognized and to vote at national ministerial meetings, though, pastors are to go through the BLO’s examination process. Some churches and pastoral search committees seem unconcerned about the examination process—despite its being designed, in part, for their protection.
Other matters are footwashing, war and peace, women in ministry, baptism and membership, and fundraising. Some will be clarified through the Statement of Faith review. The General Board will guide processes where needed.
Local decisions have an impact. During a joint ministerial meeting in 1941, Prairie Rose announced that only its brethren would vote to select its ministers (Harvey Plett, Seeking to be Faithful, 149). Prairie Rose chose self-autonomy.
Dr. Plett speaks of how this “led to greater autonomy in the local church.” What isn’t mentioned is the precedent’s implication: a local church can move in a direction not yet recognized by the wider body. Other EMC congregations have since followed Prairie Rose’s example, deciding internally about various matters.
The General Board plans to look at conference structures. Perhaps this will clarify the meaning of “self-determination within the framework.”
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference