Guidelines for Membership in the New Mennonite Church (Mennonite Church Canada, 1999)

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Guidelines for Membership in the New Mennonite Church (Mennonite Church Canada, 1999)


Contents

Proposed Guidelines for Membership in the New Mennonite Church

I. Basis for membership

The new integrated Mennonite Church desires to be a people of God characterized by a commitment to biblical foundations and to Anabaptist perspectives. While the integrating churches are of various backgrounds and formations, we believe the Holy Spirit has called the new Mennonite Church to unite in faith and in mission (Acts 1-2).

Membership signifies a mutual commitment to build on the true foundation, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11); to become "a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22); to be "salt of the earth" and "light of the world" (Matthew 5:13,14).

Covenant

Membership is a voluntary covenant between and among four inter-related communities of faith: congregations, area conferences, country church bodies, and international fellowships.

Congregations are formed of individual members; area conferences are constituted by member congregations; area conferences and their constituent congregations join together to form country church bodies; country church bodies join for international affiliations. Once made, a covenant of membership is nurtured in a spirit of mutual commitment to Jesus Christ and to the body of Christ, the church.

Accountability

Membership assumes accountability before God and toward one another. Accountability has an inward and an outward dimension, with a biblical commission supporting both aspects. Looking inward, the church is commissioned to be a `binding and loosing' fellowship (Matthew 16:13-20; Matthew 18:15-20; John 20:23; Ephesians 4:15-16).

The joyful obligation of membership includes the calling to build up the body of Christ through mutual discernment of the will of God. Looking outward, the church is commissioned to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 10; Acts 1:8). Membership includes the invitation to become a community engaged in mission and service.

Unity

Members are called to unity in Spirit, "so that the world may believe that [the Father] has sent [the Son]" (John 17:21; see also Ephesians 2:14-22). The church is called to practice humility, gentleness, patience, and love, as it strives to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-6).

As witness to God who is one, and to Jesus Christ who was sent to reveal the will of God, the new Mennonite Church desires that members give faithful expression to their unity as the body of Christ. The Mennonite churches have heard this call to unity ever more clearly in recent years.

Diversity

Within the context of unity, the new Mennonite Church welcomes diversity among its constituent entities (Ephesians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 12). The church is an interdependent and diverse body of believers who together form the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:25-29; Colossians 3:11; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

This body includes people "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages" (Revelation 7:9), creating a colorful multicultural family of God.

"No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11).


II. Policy and practice of membership

  1. Our vision for the Mennonite Church includes the invitation to Christian church bodies of common faith and mission to affiliate, with the Mennonite Church in order to support and strengthen the fellowship and mission of an Anabaptist witness in North America and around the world.
  2. Based upon the decision made at Wichita '95 to integrate, the congregations and conferences that are currently members of the Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM), the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, and/or of an area conference of one of these three bodies, are welcomed and received into the membership of the new Mennonite Church. (An `Attachment" to these Guidelines addresses the current dilemma of congregations that have been disciplined by one area conference and are no longer members of that conference, but continue to hold membership in another area conference.)
  3. Members of the Mennonite Church are expected to give faithful attention to the Scriptures, to accept the "Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective," and to uphold statements of Christian faith and life made by the Mennonite church from time to time. They are also expected to participate in the church's life and mission through the generous contributions of time and personal resources, all given in commitment to Jesus Christ, in response to the grace of God, and in loving service to the church in which the Holy Spirit lives and works.
  4. Congregations have the authority to determine the criteria and the responsibility to implement the process for membership of persons joining their congregation. They do so in consultation with their area conference and in consideration of expectations for membership in the Mennonite Church. We retain congregational decision making regarding members as part of the legacy of congregational polity.
  5. Conferences have the authority to determine the criteria and the responsibility to implement the process for membership of congregations within their area conference. They do so in consultation with their country church body and in consideration of expectations for membership in the Mennonite Church. We retain conference decision making regarding member congregations as part of the legacy of conference polity.
  6. Country church bodies (Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church US.) are formed as area conferences and their congregations join together. Country church bodies have the authority to determine the criteria and the responsibility to implement the process whereby conferences become members of the Mennonite Church US. or the Mennonite Church Canada. They do so in consideration of the expectations for membership in the Mennonite Church. We retain church-wide decision making regarding member conferences as part of the legacy of denominational polity.
  7. Congregations attain membership in the Mennonite Church through their membership in an area conference. Congregations that currently are members only of the Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church, or the Conference of Mennonites in Canada but not of an area conference need to take steps to join an area conference. They shall do so within two years of the adoption of these guidelines. Also, congregations that are presently members of an area conference only but not of the Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church, or the Conference of Mennonites in Canada will become members of the country church bodies of the Mennonite Church through their membership in their area conference.
  8. Congregations will hold membership in only one area conference. Where dual affiliation of a congregation with more than one area conference already exists and is perceived to serve the best interests of the congregation and their conferences at this time, dual conference membership may be retained for a period not to exceed five years. We also recognize that certain congregations will find it beneficial to maintain ties to other conferences and/or church bodies.
  9. We recognize the possibility that from time to time a congregation may seek a new area conference relationship. Out of mutual respect for one another, no congregation shall separate or be separated from one conference nor subsequently be accepted by another conference without consultation among the conferences and congregations concerned.
  10. In recognition of the differences in how conferences process issues, we offer the option of provisional membership (non-voting participation) to conferences that are not ready for full membership. This permits participation as such conferences continue to evaluate their membership status. A five year limit is placed on provisional membership.
  11. A congregation or conference that is currently a member of one of the integrating church bodies, but is hesitant about becoming a member of the Mennonite Church, should process its concerns with the church body in which it presently holds membership. Given the voluntary nature of the Mennonite Church, conferences and congregations that choose not to join the Mennonite Church are free to sever their current connections and unite with a church body of their choice. It is hoped this would take place in a cordial spirit, by mutual agreement of the groups involved, and only as a last resort.

Attachment to the Guidelines for Membership

On the dilemma concerning former dual-member congregations

A. Introduction

The Membership Committee has deliberated prayerfully concerning the situation of the four congregations that were formerly dual members of conferences, but have now been disciplined by one of the conferences while retaining membership in the other. Implicitly, the issue at hand concerns not only these four congregations. In various and significant ways, it touches other congregations and area conferences as well as the entire church.

The Membership Committee has sought clarity on the issue before us, and has concluded that a resolution to the dilemma needs to be found. The resolution needs to answer the following question: What guidance can the Mennonite Church offer to area conferences that find themselves in divergent relations to formerly dual-membership congregations when these area conferences become members of the one integrated Mennonite Church?


B. Proposals

The Membership Committee offers the following observations and guidelines on this specific issue.
  1. We begin with the observation, based on the Guidelines for Membership, that membership of congregations in the integrated Mennonite Church is determined by the area conferences to which congregations belong. Thus we propose that a solution to the dilemma created by the dualmembership situation needs to be sought at the area conference level. This becomes necessary if and when an area conference perceives the continuing membership (of a formerly dual-membership congregation) in one of the area conferences of the integrated Mennonite Church to be problematic.
  2. We affirm the "Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective" and the relevant statements of the church, such as the Saskatoon (1986) and Purdue (1987) statements, as well as "Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love" (Wichita, 1995), as the common basis for discernment. We also note that there was significant agreement at the Consultation on Membership (Kansas City, March 1999) on the stance that "extending the invitation of membership to persons in same-sex relationships is not in keeping with the faith statements of the Mennonite Church." As well, at the Consultation there was also considerable caution against moving to expel congregations that accept persons who are in same-sex relationships. This grew out of a strong desire to find other ways short of expulsion to note variance in practice and to retain the opportunity to minister to such persons and congregations.
  3. The Guidelines for Membership propose there be consultation between conferences before separation from membership occurs. While this is the way for the future, it is also a commentary upon the recent past. We recognize that in some cases such consultation was attempted, while in other cases it was not. Nonetheless, the current dilemma could be a sign of `unfinished business' among conferences and congregations. Thus it may be necessary to revisit the issue, difficult as that may seem. A resolution requires that both conferences, of which the respective congregation was formerly a member, should work together with the congregation in question to find a resolution to the dilemma. Because of the accomplishment of integration, we are called in a renewed way to exercise our accountability as the church of Christ. We recognize that the initiative outlined here may not need to be undertaken if the conferences involved do not see the formerly dual-membership congregation's current membership status as problematic.
  4. We offer the following counsel as guidance in proceeding toward a resolution:
    • heed the Biblical injunction to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15)
    • accept the "Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective"
    • uphold the church-wide statements agreed upon by the church
    • follow the principles as stated in the joint commitment, "Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love"
    • seek the support and counsel of the wider Mennonite Church
    • decide upon a time (perhaps several years) for bringing closure to the dilemma
    • consider the help of facilitators
    • seek counsel from neighboring congregations and conferences
  5. We warmly invite conferences to become members of the Mennonite Church (in U.S. and in Canada) as outlined in the Guidelines for Membership, and in this way express their commitment to pursue accountability among members of the Mennonite Church.

Context of the Statement

In St. Louis, Missouri in July 1999 at a joint convention of the Mennonite Church (MC), General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM)and Conference of Mennonites in Canada, the delegates approved transforming the three denominational/conference structures into two country structures -- Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada -- within a new Mennonite Church denomination. The delegates also approved the composition of new governing boards and delegate composition for the new country structures. This action followed the 1995 decision taken by the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church to integrate the two denominations into one body. The Conference of Mennonites in Canada, a country-wide conference affiliated with the General Conference Mennonite Church, subsequently became part of the negotiations.

Because a number of congregations in the United States were under discipline by the former Mennonite Church, and because these congregations were "dual-conference" congregations -- that is, members both of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church -- it was necessary to formulate guidelines for determining whether these congregations were members of the "new" Mennonite Church.

These "Membership Guidelines" proposed by a special Membership Committee and by the Joint General Boards of the three denominations were approved by the new Mennonite Church Canada (which did not have any congregations under discipline at that time). However, they were not approved by the delegates of the new Mennonite Church U.S., requiring further study and work until the next delegate sessions scheduled for Nashville, Tennessee in 2001.

The failure to approve membership guidelines created serious difficulties for Mennonite Church USA because new organizational structures had been put into place without clarity on which congregations were members of the new body. Modified Membership Guidelines were approved at the Mennonite Church USA Nashville 2001 assembly. They were similar to the MC Canada guidelines except for the addition of an additional section on III, "Clarification on Some Issues Related to Homosexuality and Membership."

Context written March 2000 by Sam Steiner

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