Declaration of Commitment in Respect to Christian Separation and Nonconformity to the World (Mennonite Church, 1955)
Declaration of Commitment in Respect to Christian Separation and Nonconformity to the World (Mennonite Church, 1955)
A Statement Adopted by Mennonite General Conference, August 26, 1955.
- Christian Love
- Attitude toward Possessions
- Courtship and Marriage
- Dress and External Appearance
- The Clean Life
- Worldly Organizations
- Simplicity of Worship
- Adopting Resolution
- Context of this Statement
From its very inception in Switzerland (1525) and Holland (1533-34) the Mennonite Church has earnestly held to the principle of Christian separation and nonconformity to the world. The term world is here employed to designate that sphere in which Satan is obeyed, for he is recognized in Scripture as the head of a house or empire. That which conforms to Christ is His kingdom, while that which conforms to Satan is in Scripture spoken of as the world. This position of Christian nonconformity to the world is based upon the fact that God calls His children to a life of holiness, and to conformity to the character of Jesus Christ, delivering them "from this present evil world." In reference to those who do not know Christ, the divine summons is, "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." The Apostle John commands, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If my man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Peter writes, "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [conduct]; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." And Paul commands, "Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." The inspired writers of the New Testament all recognize that God has called His saints "out of darkness into his marvelous light," and therefore they ought to "shew forth the praises" of God. Galatians 1: 14; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 1 John 2:15; 1 Peter 1: 15, 16; Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 2:9.
We recognize that in human strength we cannot live a life which pleases God and glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. We are also humbly aware that neither legalism nor formalism is the answer to our need. We therefore call upon God for the quickening and sanctifying influence of His blessed Holy Spirit to renew us in heart and life, creating in us more perfectly the image of the blessed Son of God.
We believe that union with the Lord Jesus, with its ensuing nonconformity to the world, is not a matter of ecstasy or mere emotion, but that it is a devotion of love and faith which calls for a resolute discipleship in life, a holy obedience to the precepts of the Word of God, lived in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Christians are called upon by Christ to "make disciples of all nations." They are not to withdraw from all contact with society, but are to labor actively to bring all people to the obedience of the faith. It is also our understanding that a Christian separation and nonconformity to the world apply to all of life including the areas hereinafter specified.
We believe that both the letter and the spirit of the New Testament enjoin upon us a life of absolute love and nonresistance. The Savior commanded that if anyone strike the right cheek, we should turn to him the other also. Christians are to love their enemies, bless them who curse them, do good to those who despitefully use them and persecute them. They are to be perfect in love, even as their heavenly Father is perfect. The command of the apostle is, "Recompense to no man evil for evil.... Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto [Gods] wrath. for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Our Lord indicated that because His kingdom is not of this world, His servants do not fight. Paul states that although we walk in the flesh, "we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal)." "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men." Christians are not to render "evil for evil"; on the contrary they are to bless their abusers. They shall follow the Lord Jesus who in His innocent suffering did not strike back but simply committed Himself to the care of God the righteous Judge. Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:1721; John 18:36; 2 Corinthians 10:3, 4; 2 Timothy 2:24; 1 Peter 2:21-23; 1 Peter 3:8, 9; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 John 2:9; 3:10, 14, 15; 1 John 4:8, 20. (See also our statements, Peace, War, and Military Service, 1937; and A Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment, 1951, which set forth in greater detail our position as a Mennonite Church.)
We take these Biblical commands at face value and seek humbly by the help of God to apply them to every area of life, and at all times, without exception. Hence we seek to live in peace in all human relationships, avoiding strife and violence, and we reject every form of military service and military training. But we stand ready to aid the needy of the world, to build rather than to destroy, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and even at the risk of life and safety to do all in our power to show love to the helpless and suffering. And we are ready to carry on this Christian ministry and witness regardless of what it may cost us. For we understand that the Lord desires every disciple to take upon himself the cross of personal suffering for Christ's sake as God's way of overcoming evil.
Attitude Toward Possessions
We understand the Scriptures to teach that the end of life for the Christian is not the amassing of wealth but Christian service and evangelism. Our Lord gave stern warnings on the dangers of money-seeking and avarice. Furthermore, whatever may come to us through honest toil and effort is not ours, to be used selfishly, but is God's, and we are but His stewards. Therefore we invoke His sanctifying power to deliver us from the materialistic age in which we are living, and to enable us to first give our own selves to the Lord. And we call upon all members of the church to practice lives of self-denial and frugality, to live simply rather than in luxury, and to use the things of this world in the full realization that we do not really belong to this world, but are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Although it is not wrong to own property or to save money for emergencies and for old age, yet we protest against the evident wealth-seeking on the part of many professing followers of Christ. And we urge all our members to practice "graduated giving," that is, increasing the percentage returned to the Lord as the income becomes greater. Only thus will the church be able to help its pastors with Scriptural support; only thus can the church carry on its ministry of evangelism and nurture; and only thus can the Gospel be carried to all nations in obedience to the command of the Lord of the Church. Psalm 50:10-12; Luke 16:9; Acts 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 10:24; Ephesians 4:28; Matthew 6:19-21, 24; Luke 12:15; Luke 12:21-31, 33, 34; Luke 18:23-27; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 2 Corinthians 9:6, 7.
Courtship and Marriage
In contrast with people of the world the children of God are to be pure and holy in life. The Word of God calls particular attention to this in connection with the securing of a life companion. Christians shall keep their bodies unstained by sin so that they may be fit tabernacles for the Holy Spirit. The child of God shall in holiness and honor obtain a life companion, "not in the lust of concupiscence." The apostle also calls upon Christians to follow the Golden Rule of love and not to take advantage of a brother in this matter, "because that the Lord is the avenger of all such" (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).
So beautiful in God's sight is the loving union of husband and wife, that it is made in the New Testament the symbol of the relationship which obtains between Christ and the church. The home God meant is a home of love, of kindness and gentleness, of much joy and happiness, of comradeship, of prayer and devotion to the Lord. It is a home which has family worship. It is a home where husbands love their wives, and where wives love and cooperate fully with their husbands. Marriage is intended by God to be the lifelong union of one man and one woman in the Lord. Christians shall enter into this relationship only with those of like precious faith. No one shall put away his companion except for unfaithfulness which is unrepented of. If a couple separates for incompatibility they shall either be reconciled or remain unmarried. As a church we call upon all Christians to make their homes Christian, and to resist the current blight of broken homes, divorces, and remarriages. Where remarried people find Christ the local ministry and congregation shall give them the full Biblical teaching on marriage and divorce, and seek to deal redemptively with them. Matthew 5:31, 32; Matthew 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:2, 3; 1 Corinthians 7; Ephesians 5:22-31; Colossians 3:18, 19; Titus 2:4, 5; 1 Peter 3:1-7.
Dress and External Appearance
The Lord Jesus taught His followers not to be worried and anxious about food and clothing, for God cares for His own. The New Testament writers recognize that the heart of Christianity lies not in externals but in the new birth, union with Christ, and Holy Spirit sanctification. But because Christians have been delivered from the world and its sin they cannot any longer follow the fashions and dictates of a sensuous and sensate culture. Christians are not to fashion themselves after this wicked world, but are to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. The apparel of the Christian should therefore be simple, modest, neat, and becoming for those professing godliness. The Apostle Peter calls upon Christian women not to conform to current fashions by occupying themselves in the preparation of elaborate coiffures, nor shall they wear rings or bracelets of gold. For their real "beauty" is that of the heart and spirit, not in external conformity to the worldly forms of adornment. Similarly Paul entreats Christian women to wear clothing which is expressive of their genuine modesty, with proper reserve and Christian discretion. The hair should be worn long, and not arranged according to the current fashions. No jewelry ought to be worn, either of gold or pearls. Neither should there be a display of wealth by the purchase of expensive clothing. Rather let the "adornment" consist of those good works which characterize those who truly are filled with the love of God.
We therefore feel that we are on Scriptural ground when we appeal to all Christian women to dress simply and plainly, avoiding all forms of rings and jewelry, short hair and fashionable coiffures, immodest dresses, and anything which would violate the principles of Christian holiness, purity, modesty, and economy. Likewise Christian men should dress simply and plainly, wearing no rings or jewelry, and scrupulously avoid conforming to worldly fashions. It is not consistent with a profession of faith and holiness to wear flashy or costly clothing, and jewelry. Matthew 6:28-34; Galatians 6:15; Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 3:1-6; 1 Timothy 2:9, 10.
The Clean Life
Since the body of the Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit, it is sinful and wrong to do anything to the body which would weaken or damage it. Christians are to make their bodily members "instruments of righteousness" in the service of a holy God. It is a violation of Scriptural principles for a Christian to become a slave to anything. The inspired Apostle Paul declared that food has its place, but he would not be brought under the power of anything.
Inasmuch as both the tobacco and drink habits enslave those who have them, and inasmuch as alcohol and tobacco are both costly and injurious to the body, and inasmuch as their use gives an unworthy testimony on the part of men and women of God, we appeal to all Christians "by the mercies of God" to voluntarily adopt the "clean life" by making no use of tobacco in any form and by a complete abstention from the use of beverage alcohol. If this is done out of love for Christ and His cause, and in awareness of the dangers which are involved in the use of alcohol and tobacco, and in consideration of the principle of Christian stewardship, we see no reason to fear the charge of legalism or meritorious asceticism. We also protest the production, manufacture, and sale of both alcohol and tobacco. 1 Corinthians 6:12, 19; Romans 6:13, 19; Romans 12:1, 2; 1 Corinthians 8: 13; Romans 14:21; 1 Corinthians 10:31.
In the complex world in which we are living there are a number of factors which the nonconformed Christian must take into account when facing the question of uniting with various organizations which bid for membership and support. One consideration is that Kingdom concerns fill much of life, leaving too little time and energy for other legitimate concerns at the best. One must therefore seek to invest time and energy only in the best projects. The rearing of a family in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is also a major consideration. One dare not be away from one's family unnecessarily if one takes his obligations seriously as a parent. Another consideration is the "unequal yoke" of 2 Corinthians 6. As earnest disciples of Jesus we want to remain aloof from any organizational connection which would handicap us in giving a Christian witness or which would make us unwilling participants in an activity or program which we feel is sub-Christian or worldly. Finally, we must raise the question of the propriety of "strangers and pilgrims" entering too deeply into the organizations of our society when many members of those organizations are hostile to the radical type of Christian discipleship for which we as a church stand.
It is not proposed in this Declaration to make an exhaustive list of all organizations, dividing them into the legitimate and the inadvisable. But we do wish to call attention to our 1941 statement, Industrial Relations, which points out that we can take no part in any social or industrial strife between classes such as labor and capital. We therefore urge all our members to seek employment in such places of labor as do not require labor union membership or who honor church membership cards on the basis of contracts as between unions and our Committee on Social and Economic Relations. In any case, those members employed in institutions having labor unions and no agreement with our church shall register with the union a statement that they are nonresistant Christians and as such will take no part in strife or other activities unbecoming for a nonresistant Christian.
We also reaffirm our agelong opposition to secret and oath-bound fraternities and lodges, holding that the principle of organized secrecy is wrong in itself, that the swearing of oaths is prohibited the Christian by the plain word of our Lord, that the hierarchical titles of the lodge are unbecoming to a humble follower of Christ, that Christians ought, not be unequally yoked with non-Christians, and that in many cases lodges erroneously offer salvation to their members on other grounds than the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Lodge membership is therefore a test of membership in the Mennonite Church. John 18:20; Matthew 5:33-37; James 5:12; Matthew 23:8-12; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; John 14:6; Acts 4:12.
We recognize that man is so constituted by God that he needs rest and refreshment. We are not unaware of the improvement in health, the correction of physical handicaps, and the enhancement of physical and mental efficiency which can come only through a proper use of recreation and leisure time. But we are gravely concerned at the overemphasis on sports in our culture, and at the ruination of wholesome recreation by commercialization, and by a professionalism which makes central in the lives of a few persons what ought to be peripheral in the lives of many. Again, we want to have no part in any activity which would becloud the Christian testimony and witness of those who are "strangers and pilgrims" in this world. We therefore give our testimony against playing cards, pool, the dance theater attendance, mixed bathing, the reading of filthy literature, and the like. We urge that Christian people seek refreshment of body and mind only through wholesome activities, clean games, good reading, retirement to God's great out-of-doors, good music, and other forms of recreation which give no questionable witness, which do not spoil one's taste for God's Word and prayer, and which truly build people up rather than weaken them. We protest against the evil influences of many radio and television programs, and call attention to the fact that television can bring many of the undesirable aspects of the theater into the home. 1 Thessalonians 5:22; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 2:11; Romans 14:21; 1 Corinthians 8:13; 1 Corinthians 6:12.
Simplicity of Worship
Although the Christian church was initially a spiritual body of genuine saints, possessing a lively awareness of their separation unto God and their nonconformity to the world, it was but a few centuries until the church became a respectable institution in the world, and ultimately a worldly institution lacking its original faith and power. Along with its new wealth and prestige the church lost its real character. In the Middle Ages the worship of the church was strongly ritualistic, the ministers of the Gospel were transformed into "priests" to intercede with God for the "laity," and the houses of worship lost every vestige of simplicity. The triumph of the world over the church was well-nigh complete.
Our Mennonite brotherhood has sought to return to the type of apostolic church faith and life which are reflected in the Acts and Epistles of the New Testament. We have, therefore, conceived of the church basically as a brotherhood rather than as a hierarchy of clergy and laity. We have conceived of the house of worship as a plain meetinghouse rather than as a costly and ornate edifice of worship, We have had a quiet type of piety in our worship services rather than a demonstrative meeting. We have sung a cappella hymns rather than to employ either organ or piano. Our ministers have been preachers who have proclaimed God's Word in simplicity and clarity.
We encourage our district conferences and congregations to take steps to maintain the simplicity of the apostolic
church and to try to regain it in so far its it has been lost. We reaffirm our desire to be it body of redeemed and regenerated pilgrims whose houses of worship, service, preaching, singing, and piety are all made to conform to the spirit and letter of the New Testament. We therefore call upon God to guide us as it church, to sanctify us in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to give us grace and wisdom to resist every effort to conform to a Christendom which has been partially secularized. We request our members to earnestly seek to maintain our Biblical heritage by rejecting every tendency toward worldliness, legalism, or other aberration. We encourage our schools to continue to regain and perpetuate and propagate the "Anabaptist Vision." And we humbly ask God for forgiveness and healing in respect to the carnality, materialism, and worldliness with which our congregations are now struggling. Matthew 23:8; 1 Corinthians 14; Colossians 2:16-23; Hebrews 11: 13, 14, 16; 1 Peter 2:5, 9, 11; 1 John 2:15, 16.
Inasmuch as speech is recognized in God's Word as being the index to the "abundance of the heart," we are concerned that our people may truly be Christian in their use of the tongue. We understand Christianity to involve absolute truthfulness, the avoidance of all flattery, an insistence on holiness and purity of language, the use of the lips to edify the saints and warn sinners, the propriety of praising God, the elimination of all gossip on the part of Christians, the avoidance of oaths as well as such "minced oaths" as are but substitutes for holy names and words, and the like. Since Americans are known abroad as not being as restrained in speech as is proper, we caution our members to be on their guard against conforming more or less unintentionally to the modes of speech in our land. We urge all Christian people to give earnest heed to the plain teaching of the Scriptures on the type of speech which ought to characterize the saints of God. Special warning ought to be given in reference to the sinful way in which people often ruin the good name of others by careless gossip. We plead for intercessory prayer and brotherly admonition to completely displace gossip within the fold of the body of Christ. Matthew 12:34; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9, 10; Revelation 22:14, 15; Psalm 12:2, 3; Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 5:4; Proverbs 25:11; Matthew 18:15; 1 Peter 4:11; Hebrews 2:12; 1 Peter 4:15; Matthew 5:34-37; Matthew 23:16-22; James 1:19; Titus 3:2; James 4:11.
We, the Mennonite General Conference, assembled at Hesston, Kansas, this 25th [i.e. 26th] day of August, 1955, do hereby adopt this Declaration of Commitment in Respect to Christian Separation and Nonconformity to the World. We urge our ministers to teach these doctrines and to keep our members aware of the issues which face nonconformed Christians as they seek to live a holy life in this era. We implore God for His renewing grace to cleanse our brotherhood of all sin and worldliness. We call upon all our members to be satisfied with nothing less than a vital union with the Lord Jesus Christ. We dedicate ourselves afresh to the preaching of the Gospel of Christ and the whole counsel of God. We humbly call the attention of all Christians to those areas of this statement which we regard as neglected Bible truths in our day. May the Holy Spirit sanctify us wholly so that we may not be ashamed before our Lord at His coming.
Context of this Statement
This statement, approved by the delegates to the Mennonite Church's General Conference in 1955, was developed by the General Problems Committee of the Mennonite Church. The statement was a late attempt within the Mennonite Church to maintain longstanding symbols of separation from the world, including uncut hair for women and avoidance of wearing wedding rings. The statement continued rejection of musical instruments in public worship, expressed caution about joining labor unions, urged total abstinence from tobacco and alcohol, and said that persons divorced from their spouses should not remarry. The position of the Mennonite Church on most of these issues shifted by the 1970s, sometimes resulting in painful divisions within area conferences. Such a division took place in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in 1960, resulting in the formation of the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario.
The General Problems Committee was a standing committee of the Mennonite Church from 1929 until 1961 when its name was changed to Church Welfare Committee and its mandate was modified. The Committee was established in 1929 when the Mennonite Church General Conference approved a new constitution. The General Problems Committee was to "acquaint itself with conditions of every institution under the general boards," to represent the church "in the investigation and solution of any general problem for irregularity which may arise affecting the peace, unity, and spiritual welfare of the church," and to work with the relevant boards or institutions when such issues arose.
During the time this statement was prepared, the committee was composed of five members with two Canadian members. Truman H. Brunk chaired the committee, and J. C. Wenger served as secretary. The two Canadian members were Jesse B. Martin (Waterloo, Ontario) and Clarence J. Ramer (Duchess, Alberta).
Context written 1999 by Sam Steiner
Twenty-ninth Mennonite General Conference, Hesston College, Hesston, Kansas, August 23-26, 1955. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1955: 26-32, 86-91.
"Constitution of the Mennonite General Conference." Mennonite General Conference held near Goshen, Indiana, August 28-30, 1929. Scottdale, Pa.?: The Conference, 1929: 27-31.
Thirty-second Mennonite General Conference, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, August 22-25, 1961. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1961: 11, 16.