Nov8WedNovember 8, 2017
Last week, the Global Protestant Church celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It began on Oct 31st, 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in Wittenberg, Germany. Since then, every Protestant denomination (including Mennonites) have been influenced by Luther’s leadership.
Every Mennonite believer has also been influenced by a lesser known leader named Michael Sattler. Four years after leaving his position as a Roman Catholic monk in 1523, he presided at an Anabaptist conference in Schleitheim, Germany. A seven part ‘confession of faith’ was formed and brought unity among many Anabaptist circles in Switzerland and Germany. This confession became instrumental during organization of Mennonites in the 16th and 17th centuries and influenced our current Confession of Faith.
But Sattler had his opponents, even within Anabaptist circles. In Germany, he met a leader named Hans Denck. Hans believed that the inner revelation of God was more important than the written word of God. He de-emphasized the sacrifice of Jesus for sin and only emphasized the example of Jesus’ life. He placed little value on church sacraments and taught that all people would eventually be saved.
In contrast, Michael clung to the authority of Scripture. He believed that people needed to confess our sins, believe in Jesus’ sacrifice and follow His example. He believed that believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper were crucial to a healthy church. To put it simply, Michael Sattler appealed to the authority of the Scriptures and Hans Denck appealed to the authority of his own rationale and experience.
I am revisiting this historical moment because the same spiritual tension exists in our MC USA denomination right now – specifically driven by the lingering topic of same-sex attraction. In recent months, the Executive Board has given permission for Area Conferences to determine for themselves (according to ‘the spirit’) whether or not God blesses same-sex marriages [source]. After the Orlando 2017 convention, the ‘Journey Forward’ document gave an invitation to all congregations to ‘renew our commitment to being together in our differences’ - regardless of our confessional statements which emphasize the authority of Scripture and the Biblical definition of marriage [source]. Likewise, on September 30th, the Executive Board appointed of a man in a committed same-sex marriage to the Leadership Discernment Committee – which appoints leaders among various MC USA agencies [source]. MC USA leaders are currently appealing to the authority of human rationale and experience rather than the authority of Scripture.
The tension in MC USA is not unique. The same spiritual tension is occurring in most (if not all) mainline US denominations. Yet, since we are Mennonite, the question before us at First Mennonite is, ‘How should we respond’?
Here are my personal convictions.
1) I believe that our denominational leadership have been consistently setting themselves against the authority of Scripture.
2) I believe that FMC is called to be Mennonite according to our Confession of Faith.
3) I believe that it is un-Biblical and un-healthy for a congregation to be ‘independent.’
Therefore, I believe that our Illinois Mennonite Conference ought to re-affirm the authority of Scripture, just as Michael Sattler did.
However, FMC is our church, not just mine. Therefore, I invite you to learn more about our denomination, Confession of Faith, and recent denominational developments. Pray. Learn. Search the Scriptures. And pray some more. Feel free to direct any questions to myself or your Elders. We are reaching a critical moment in our Mennonite history and I want you to be involved.