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RE-THINKING… RE-IMAGINING?… CHURCH MEMBER-SHIP Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba Council of Representatives November 5, 2011 Presenter: Gerry Ediger.

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Presentation on theme: "RE-THINKING… RE-IMAGINING?… CHURCH MEMBER-SHIP Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba Council of Representatives November 5, 2011 Presenter: Gerry Ediger."— Presentation transcript:

1 RE-THINKING… RE-IMAGINING?… CHURCH MEMBER-SHIP Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba Council of Representatives November 5, 2011 Presenter: Gerry Ediger

2 This collection of slides is offered as an internet- friendly version of an informal presentation made in November, 2011, to the Council of Representatives of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba. Its intended use is as a springboard for group discussion and discernment. It is not to be regarded as a formal academic paper or as a definitive treatment of the subject matter. GCE

3 Congregations struggle to hang on to cherished convictions while keeping pace with an ever-changing religious marketplace. While the task is not without its challenges, various segments of the church are attempting to bridge the gulf between traditional religious institutions and the contemporary spiritual quest by looking to old avenues with new vision. What’s your immediate response to this quotation? Yup! … Nope! … Huh? … Yikes! … Finally! … Yea! … Hmm… Maybe… Some other response? Share your thoughts with your neighbour. Quest for Spiritual Community, Angela H. Reed, 2011, page 7.

4  If you’re interested in this topic, you probably already have some personal experience that relates to it.  What are some of the positive and/or negative memories or associations that quickly spring to mind when you think of your past experience of church membership?  What might be some core feelings, questions, and/or convictions that you might be carrying as a result of these memories or associations?  In your mind, in this moment, what is the most important thing to say about church membership? Why Re-imagine “Church Membership”?

5 The main purpose of this discussion is to help set the table for a discussion of “church membership” as it might be imagined for the mid-term future. The Main Purpose of this Discussion

6 This discussion is mainly about some observations from the Bible that relate to church membership. The second part sketches some selected historical observations that illustrate developments subsequent to the New Testament period. The wrap-up outlines a case-study for discussion. Study Components (1.1)

7  Bible Study  Two Word studies: church (Greek – ekklesia) & member (melos)  Reading three more extended passages that refer to church membership: I Cor. 12:12-31; Romans 12:1-8; Eph. 4:1-7, 11-16  Selected Historical Developments in Outline  Early post-biblical context: didache; Greco-Roman developments to 4 th century  A comment about the Middle Ages.  Anabaptist movement  Your own denominational and congregational experience  Wrap-up: A not-so-hypothetical Mennonite Brethren Church scenario. Study Components

8 Part 1: Word study on “church” Part 2: Word study on “member”-ship Part 3: Overview of three key passages Part 4: Reading I Cor. 12:12-31 Part 5: Reading Romans 12:1-8 Part 6: Eph. 4:1-7, 11-16 Part 7: Now What? Part 8: Moving on Part 9: Wrap-up: Index

9  The Greek term for “church” (ekklesia) occurs 112 times in the New Testament.  It was a common word in general use before the New Testament was written.  The noun, “church,” is linked to the verb meaning “to call out” (ekkaleo).  Those being called were the called out ones (ekkletoi) who had been summoned by a herald or messenger.  The word behind our word “church” refers to the assembly, or the gathering, of the called out ones. Word Study of “Church” (1.1) Background

10  The term was used for the assembled citizens gathered to govern their city or an army gathered to confront an enemy.  So in its original setting, “church” was not a religious term as we use the term in our English context.  In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “church” (ekklesia) occurs about 100 times, referring to the gathering of the people for war or, especially, to assembling of people in the presence of God. Word Study of “Church” (1.2) Background

11  The Greek word synagoge (or synagogue) is a parallel Old Testament Greek term but it tends to be a technical term reserved for the legally constituted/defined religious assembly or its place of assembly.  For discussion: Is it noteworthy that synagoge seems to correspond to our English usage of “church” more than does ekklesia, but the earliest believers chose ekklesia, not synagoge, to designate their communal life? Word Study of “Church” (1.3) Background

12  Primitive Xns could have chosen either “church” or “synagogue” to refer to their gatherings; they seem to have chosen the more secular “church” from the very beginning.  “Synagogue” already carried religious meaning but it was avoided. Maybe Christians wanted to avoid confusion with the already institutionalized forms of Jewish faith and life.  The word “church” tends to be concentrated in the Corinthian letters, Acts, Ephesians, Revelation. It is rare in the gospels.  Basically, “church” means (1.) to be called or gathered and (2.) the assembly or congregation resulting from being called.  For discussion: How determinative should this root meaning be for our Christian understanding of and practice of “church”? Word Study of “Church” (1.4) New Testament

13  For Paul, “church” ‘happens’, or begins, in an event – the call of God, the proclamation of Christ, the sanctification of saints, the creation of a gathering that names Jesus Christ as Lord (see I Cor. 1:1,2).  Review: Before any other consideration,  the “church” is the congregation of God (the ekklesia tou theou),  the gathered ones of Christ (the ekklesia tou christou),  and the ones gathered in Christ (ekklesia en christo).  For Xn believers, “church” is rooted in the sovereign call of God, in gospel, in what it means to be “saved” (soteriology) – and we shall see, in Christology.  For Discussion: When we speak “church member-ship” language in our congregations, to what extent do people hear God’s call, good news, saving & healing, the Lord Jesus Christ? Word Study of “Church” (1.5) Paul’s Usage

14  By the time Luke writes Acts ekklesia seems to have become the default term for the gathered Nazarenes or People of the Way.  As in Paul’s usage, “church” always refers to the visible localized gathering of Christians, the “gathering/church” of God (ekklesia tou theou), Acts 20:28 – despite variations of singular or plural or geographical context. Word Study of “Church” (1.6) Acts

15  As the geographical distribution of believers spreads, so the scope of “church” enlarges but always as visible gathered communities, networked together as it were.  Absent from the recorded usage is any sense of “church” consisting of an institutional or administrative or governance apparatus, although rudimentary polities were already being implemented.  It seems that the original secular root meaning of “church”, now understood theologically, remained primary – people called and gathered, face to face, by God, in Christ, through the Spirit. Word Study of “Church” (1.7) Acts ctd.

16  By now it is obvious that these observations seek to probe behind and underneath the institutional connotations that powerfully assert themselves when we invoke “the Church.”  You may recognize it as a radical reading of “church” (ekklesia), radical in the sense of getting at the root of the matter.  This has been the first step in sketching a biblical theology of “church” … “member-ship”: looking at the primary terms: first, “church” & and in a moment, “member-ship.”  For discussion: Is it wise to allow this examination of church/ekklesia and now, member/melos to set the direction for the rest of this study? Word Study of “Church” (1.8) Summary

17 “[God’s] beloved Son… is the head of the body, the church.” Col. 1:13 & 18. NRSV  The focus of this study is “church member-ship.” In this basic biblical theology of church member-ship, the silent link between the elements of “church” and “member” is the “body.”  In the interests of time, let’s go directly to some observations centred on “member” (Greek, melos). Word Study of “member” (2.1)

18  In classical Greek the word translated as “member” (melos) refers to a “limb,” or something that is logically necessary to something else, just as words and music are both needed for a song to exist.  But the overwhelming nature and connection of “member” is organic even in social contexts.  The idea of a social entity (city, guild, society) constituting an organism, a “body,” comprised of “members,” was widespread in Greek thought and philosophy. The basic metaphor is neither original with, nor exclusive to, Paul.  Example: In some forms of Gnosticism, the community was the “body” of the “redeemer” and “members” joining the body were lost members of the redeemer’s body being restored to it. Word Study of “member” (2.2) Background

19  In the New Testament, occurrences of the word “members” are strongly concentrated in several letters:  Instances relevant to this discussion are grouped in I Corinthians and Romans with several instances in Ephesians.  In these passages “members” outnumbers “member” 25 to 5.  The concentration of body/member language has indicated which passages to pursue in this study.  For discussion: This study assumes that it is important to allow the more extended and coherent and explicit passages using “body” & “member” to be primary in constructing a biblical theology of church member-ship. What do you think of this? Why? Word Study of “member” (2.3) New Testament

20  For Paul the language of “members” finds its meaning in association with “body” and “head” – as in Christ being the head of the body. It is a corporate organic image.  The theological freight carried by this language cluster outweighs that being contained in “church”. In the relevant passages, “church” almost drops out of sight.  This does not mean that the meaning of “church” is irrelevant to understanding and practicing “church member- ship.”  “Church” denotes the primary social unit while “body” & “member” infuse that unit with its DNA. Word Study of “member” (2.4) Paul’s Usage

21  One more very important introductory note…  It may be a mistake to regard this language of body/member/head as “mere” metaphor, or as just one among many other NT metaphors for “believers-in-community.”  The Truth/Wisdom Paul offers in these images are not only profound homiletic analogies or rhetorical devices.  These images are substantive – perhaps determinative – in and of themselves. Word Study of “member” (2.5) Paul’s Usage

22  There is an almost visceral incarnational tangibility to the Reality that Paul attests to in this language.  The most striking example is I Cor. 6: Our bodies are the members of Christ and if we consort with a [temple?] prostitute, in that act of intercourse we physically ‘join’ Christ and the prostitute and what that [temple?] prostitute represents. Paul expects our guts to recoil in reading this.  It is not a mere literary or homiletical device we deal with in these contexts. It is an existential reality…  …A defining Reality also of the Vine and the branches (John 15), and the living!! Cornerstone and the living!! Stones (I Peter 2).  For discussion: Why do you think that head-body-member is the primary NT metaphor for the church? Do you think that it is the DNA of the church, guiding our reading of the other metaphors? Word Study of “member” (2.6) Paul’s Usage

23  What follows is not a comprehensive exegesis of selected passages.  Rather, these passages are surveyed for observations relevant to a basic discussion of church member-ship in biblical context.  An important challenge is that there don’t seem to be any extended Scriptures that directly address the conception and practice of church membership as such.  This presents the daunting task of discerning inferences from passages that address themes relevant to church membership even while they encompass a much broader range of concerns. Overview of Three Key Passages (3.1) I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4

24  If this assertion is correct, then the following discussion is best conducted as non-dogmatic consultation among Christian believers in search of biblical wisdom for their contemporary understanding and practice of church membership.  These are primitive texts from the first century that address crucial concerns of identity and self definition in the rapidly coalescing – emerging!! - ‘Christian’ movement.  What they may offer is a microscope “slide” of the DNA of the early Christian movement.  For later discussion: What are the implications if Christians really do hold in their hands, in these passages,the DNA of their life together in Christ? Overview of Three Key Passages (3.2) I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4

25  Read the passage aloud.  Notes about the larger context:  Prior context, 11:17-12:11:  The spirit of the text is deeply communal:  note the classic – and earliest – passage offering instruction on the Lord’s Supper;  Note the exposition on spiritual gifts, affirming the diversity of gifts but repeatedly insisting on the centrality of the Spirit, the Lord, and God (note trinitarian emphasis) in the assignment and “activation” of the gifts.  Subsequent context, ch. 13:  This is an exposition of agape love; the rendition is steeped in humility; it is a profound plea for peace.  Both before and after, the language of human power, assertion and agency are absent. I Corinthians 12:12-31 (4.1)

26  General notes about language:  “Church” (ekklesia) appears once in the passage (v. 28) but remember I Cor. 1:2: “To the church (ekklesia) of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints….”  The ecclesiological import of the passage is shared by the language of “body” (singular throughout) and “members” (overwhelmingly plural). I Corinthians 12:12-31 (4.2)

27  More detailed observations:  Vv. 12-14: Members are incorporated into the body through baptism, in the Spirit. Member-ship is effected, or created, by the Spirit in baptism.  V. 18: God places or arranges the members in the body, each one of them, as he chooses.  V. 24: God has so “put the body together” (NIV) or “blended into a single organism” (Greek, sunekerasen, active voice) the body… that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. I Corinthians 12:12-31 (4.3)

28  V. 27: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  V. 31: There is only one instance of an imperative verb: “strive for the greater gifts” – which leads forward to ch. 13.  So…? I Corinthians 12:12-31 (4.4)

29  So… it seems that:  God makes us members of Christ in baptism by the Spirit. This is a God-centred ecclesiology.  God places, arranges, each member, individually, in the body according to God’s choice.  God blends – incorporates? – the body so that the members relate to one another in unity and mutual care.  For discussion: How do these Godly initiatives shed light on God’s ways of summoning and gathering His ekklesia, His “church”? I Corinthians 12:12-31 (4.5)

30  What results from these actions of God is the body of Christ. This is an incarnational ecclesiology.  And… it is an organic ecclesiology. The markers that identify and centre the “church” are washing, death, resurrection (baptism) and eating (Lord’s supper) – cf. ch. 11.  Moreover, it is an ecclesiology rooted in primary, face to face relationship with no mention of formal institutional apparatus. I Corinthians 12:12-31 (5.6)

31  Summary:  “Member-ship” seems God-initiated, God-managed, Christ-centred, Spirit-endowed.  No apparent language of human agency or covenant or commitment.  No language of responsibility outside the intimation of humbly accepting and exercising one’s giftedness within the body.  The role of humans is to exercise their gifts within the body as God has ordained… to accept the member-ship as God has arranged it.  And all of this leads forward to the way of agape love.  For discussion: What are the implications for church member-ship from this passage? I Corinthians 12:12-31 (4.7)

32  Read the passage aloud.  Notes about the context:  This passage is placed at the top of Paul’s agenda for the so-called “applied” segment of his epistle.  The passage leads directly into a section of exhortation head-lined with “Let love be genuine” (12:9).  The passage begins with body language. Romans 12:1-8 (5.1)

33  Some comparative observations:  The theme of an embodied ecclesiology continues.  If I Corinthians emphasizes God’s primary agency in forming and arranging the body of Christ, here the other side – the active, voluntary response of yielding our bodies to God – is invoked. Member-ship is not invested via a commitment to the ekklesia but is inherent in the prior individual engagement with God.  For discussion: What do you think of this suggestion? Romans 12:1-8 (6.2)

34  More observations:  Anticipating the individual members being “one body in Christ” (v. 5), the theme of nonconformity to the world is invoked. Yielding our bodies to God and conformity to the world are mutually exclusive.  This is consistent with members being “called” and “gathered” into the church (the ekklesia) – and now we see that the gathering is out of the world.  Note also: The appeal and the exhortations are offered in the spirit of mercy (v. 1) and grace (v. 3). The whole theme of membership continues to be handled tenderly and humbly.  The importance of humility that is intimated in Corinthians is explicit here (v. 3). Romans 12:1-8 (5.3)

35  God’s activity in apportioning faith and gifts is again clear (vv. 3 & 6).  The embodied connection of the members to Christ, the head, and to one another is again explicit (vv. 5, 6).  Formation language is introduced, v. 2: “Be transformed….”  Mood & voice: There are 2 imperatives – v. 2: Negative - “Do not be conformed to this world”; positive – “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  So…  Romans 12 seems consistent with I Corinthians 12: Still no intimation of member-ship covenant or commitment or institutional apparatus for the granting of “member-ship.”  There is introduced in this passage the notion of members being in a process of formation. Romans 12:1-8 (5.4)

36  Read the passage aloud.  Context:  Prior passage (3:14-21) is the classic exposition of “the love of Christ” linked to the formation of the believer in Christ.  The text moves from an emphatic statement of the ‘inter- bondedness’ of the body of Christ (4:1-6, 15-16) – a centred set image – to subsequent passage – an equally emphatic description of the difference between the body of Christ and the “Gentiles” (4:17-24) - a bounded set image.  Leads to 5:1: “Live in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16 (6.1)

37  Observations:  Vv. 1, 4: The call language (kaleo) “call” resonates with ekklesia.  Vv. 2, 3: The many-sided theme of humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity and peace is very strong & mutually reinforcing.  V. 11ff.:  Gifts of ministry appear to be concentrated in the leadership for the edification and maturing of the body – compared to the lack of such a distinction in earlier two texts. Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16 (6.2)

38  Observations ctd.:  Corporeal language of body, head, parts (echoing member- ship language) is very strong, again leading to love (4:16).  Vv. 12, 15, 16: Language of formation is more developed and focused – both corporeal (the body) and individual growth/maturation are in view. Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16 (6.3)

39  This text was probably written after the other two texts – some date it as late as 100 – but even with date in late 50s it is the latter of the three.  Still… Despite a possible intimation of institutional development (4:11-13) and an insistence on clear boundaries with the world, the corporeal, organic, ecclesiology, centred on Christ the head, and bathed in the exercise of agape, persists. Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16 (6.4)

40  The sense of the body consisting in/of those called of God also persists but with less explicit emphasis.  Imperative mood is absent.  So…  There does not seem to be anything in this text that calls into question the ecclesiological themes apparent in the two earlier texts.  This text offers a stronger emphasis on members and the body being in the process of formation in connection to the head.  Member-ship, then, begins in an event and continues in a process – again, as does an organism. Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16 (6.5)

41  Maybe now is a good time to ask a few questions:  Is this reading of the language of church membership and these three texts valid? Why? Why not?  Are there other crucial texts that would invalidate or significantly qualify the findings presented here?  For example, should John 15 have also been included in the study? What blind spots have not been acknowledged? Now What? (7.1)

42  Another – multi-part – question for discussion:  What kind of biblical warrant does one/should one seek to support church membership practices?  Is it necessary to have chapter and verse support for the practice of conducting covenanting ceremonies wherein a person’s status is changed from not being a “church member” to being a “church member”?  Is it necessary to have chapter and verse support for the obligations, responsibilities and privileges that define the transactional commitment that makes one a church member in good standing?  If so, what are the passages that narrate covenanting ceremonies or membership covenants?  If they cannot be found, what are the implications of this fact? Now What? (7.2)

43  Now…  If in fact there is little or no explicit biblical support for some – most? – current membership practices, that doesn’t, in itself, mean that such practices are not valid or wise.  It just means that current practices may flow from other sources and they may or may not be compatible with what can be ascertained from Scripture itself.  For discussion: If these two assertions are both valid, what do they say about claiming absolute biblical authority for these membership practices or about imposing them on others? Now What? (7.3)

44  A dictum often attributed to John Wesley (but probably not original with him), is:  “In essentials, unity;  in nonessentials, liberty;  in all things, charity.”  What aspects of current membership practices are:  Among the essentials?  Among the nonessentials?  How can leaders and congregations hold to and practice church member-ship with charity? Now What? (7.4)

45  Maybe though… this material does convey to us some essential principles for practicing church member- ship. Consider the following:  Church membership belongs to God and is created by God.  Member-ship is practiced by the more excellent way.  Being a “member” or “not-a-member” is a matter of “calling” & “connection.”  Church membership is dynamic and organic.  Leaders cultivate and nurture church member-ship. Now What? (7.5)

46 1. CHURCH MEMBERSHIP BELONGS TO GOD AND IS CREATED BY GOD.  God calls. Individuals respond.  God gathers them together under the headship of Christ and blends them into an organic, living, face to face body of members.  The body does not perpetuate itself; it does not create members. Rather, it recognizes, welcomes and celebrates the members that God calls and gathers to it.  Membership is practiced by the church but membership is not owned or initiated or defined or managed by the church.  Expressed more immediately, when one appears among us or comes to us whom we recognize as being in Christ, that person is already a member with us. Whatever we do that touches “church member-ship” flows from this confidence. Now What? (7.6)

47 2. MEMBER-SHIP IS PRACTISED BY THE MORE EXCELLENT WAY.  Whatever is done among the gathered ones that touches members and/or their member-ship is done exercising the “more excellent way” of I Cor. 12:31 and following… that is, it is done in love, humility, sacrifice, etc. – and as much as possible, face to face.  This is because when we ‘touch’ another member, we touch Christ.  Together we embody Christ; we are Christ. Now What? (7.7)

48 3. BEING A “MEMBER” OR “NOT-A-MEMBER” IS A MATTER OF “CALLING” AND “CONNECTION”  Is the person among the ekkletoi, the called out ones?  Is the person a present, potentially functional melos, a member connected to Christ the Head and connected to fellow members?  Expressed more immediately: When I repudiate my calling of God, in Christ, by the Spirit, and/or when I am no longer present to and with the local, visible body, I have effectively removed myself from church member-ship. Now What? (7.8)

49 4. CHURCH MEMBERSHIP IS DYNAMIC & ORGANIC.  Member-ship is carried in process and narrative more than as status or static identity; the matrix of Head, member, body is organic.  What we discern in the Spirit trumps institutional formulae.  The health and growth of member-ship are maintained in sharing gifts of ministry for the formation of the parts and the whole more than in the creation and maintenance of formal commitments or covenants. Now What? (8.9)

50 5. LEADERS CULTIVATE & NURTURE MEMBER-SHIP.  The tone and mood of the primary scriptural member-ship discussions are overwhelmingly descriptive, narrative, didactic and pastoral.  Imperatives are rare; power language is absent.  Leaders cultivate and nurture in themselves a posture towards members that embodies the posture of Christ toward His members. Now What? (8.10)

51 Are these some potential ‘essentials’ that that could be incorporated into a practice church member-ship?  Church member-ship belongs to God & is created by God.  Member-ship is practiced by the more excellent way.  Being a “member” or “not-a-member” is a matter of “calling” & “connection.”  Church member-ship is dynamic and organic.  Leaders cultivate and nurture church member-ship. What’s your immediate gut response? Yup! … Nope! … Huh? … Yikes! … Finally! … Yea! … Hmm… Maybe… Other? Now What? (7.11)

52  So far this presentation has engaged the primitive, apostolic church as it is discerned in the canonical Scriptures.  Now we have to move on.  A glance at the Didache, an early 2 nd -century Greek document that captures something of the immediate sub-apostolic period.  Didache (the Teaching): Is essentially a manual of church order with explicit instructions for baptism, fasting, the Eucharist or Communion, Sunday worship, etc. Moving On (8.1)

53  Observations on the Didache that are relevant to this discussion:  There is no language of “membership” present but it is clear that baptism is the rite of initiation into the gathering of the church.  The language of “church” is explicit in the eucharistic prayers, repeatedly asking God to gather His church from the ends of the earth or from the four winds.  Baptism is only granted upon extended, detailed instruction in the way of life and the way of death, understood as a long list of do’s and don’ts. A legalistic tone pervades the document: it contains 49 prohibitions & 23 admonitions. The imperative mood dominates.  The process of institutionalization is already underway. Moving On (8.2)

54  Second Century  The institutionalization of church membership became well established in the 2 nd century as the church became ever more boundary conscious.  Would-be members were given the formal title of “catechumens” and participated in church life but left worship when the church celebrated Eucharist – presence at the Lord’s Supper was restricted to baptized Christians.  Catechumens were given a mentor and were instructed using documents such as the Didache – a testing period for two years. Moving On (8.3)

55  Second Century ctd.  Completion of the two-year mentorship and being deemed worthy of membership led to an elaborate liturgy of baptism, including fasting and exorcism, whereupon the catechumen received first communion and became a member of the church.  It is clear that the church guarded its membership and its Table rigorously and use of the Didache implies a very detailed membership covenant. One-on-one attention to spiritual formation seems evident. Moving On (8.4)

56  Third Century  By mid-3 rd century the church was subject to sporadic but intense persecution.  This created a problem: Long periods of peace and Christian complacency were punctuated by times of widespread persecution.  Lax Christians easily compromised to escape suffering but when persecution ended they wanted back into the church, creating a major controversy that finally split the church.  The issue of boundary maintenance produced a schism. Moving On (8.5)

57  Third Century ctd.  This was the setting in which Cyprian of Carthage (North Africa) enunciated the doctrine, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”  Now the main stream church owned and managed baptism, membership, communion – and salvation! Moving On (8.6)

58  Third Century ctd.  The primitive Christian DNA – God at work calling, gathering and gifting members joined to Christ, joined to one another in face to face community and bonded in love – had mutated.  The organic movement had become a legal institution. Moving On (8.7)

59  Fourth Century  With Constantine and his successors Church membership and the threat of excommunication increasingly became a political tool of control and a weapon against the enemies of the state and the mainstream church.  The stage was set for the Middle Ages and Christendom. Moving On (8.8)

60  Middle Ages & Christendom  In a sense, the practice of ‘voluntary’ membership passed from the main stream Church to the monastic movement with an extended novitiate, clear vows of covenant, detailed rules of practice, hierarchical structure of authority, etc.  Cycles of renewal periodically emerged, hearkening back to the primitive church and often from within monasteries. Moving On (8.9)

61  Reformation, the Anabaptists  Donald Durnbaugh, 1964 article, “Membership in the Body of Christ as Interpreted by the Radical Reformation,” Brethren Life & Thought.  Four different understandings of the church:  Gathered congregation/brotherhood of baptized believers, disciplined, separated from the world, cf. Michael Sattler & Menno Simons.  Hutterian Brethren: Similar to Menno/Sattler but with the community of good a requirement of membership.  The church as eschatological kingdom, Thomas Müntzer, violent restorationist.  The inward, invisible, universal, spiritual, ungathered, without external sacraments/ordinances or worship. Moving On (8.10)

62  Reformation, the Anabaptists ctd.  Four-fold diversity highlights the following:  Anabaptists & Mennonites might do well to beware of doctrinaire formulations of church membership;  The alignment of most contemporary Anabaptists and Mennonites with the first option is (probably) clarified.  Contemporary Anabaptists and Mennonites may be more vulnerable to the spiritualist option in an incipient form than is imagined. Moving On (8.11)

63  Reformation, the Anabaptists ctd.  Paul Peachy:  For the sixteenth century Anabaptists, salvation is of necessity corporate. But when one raises the question of polity, or form, one is struck by the general indifference, and even occasional hostility toward, the question of polity. Quoted by Durnbaugh. Moving On (8.12)

64  Reformation, the Anabaptists ctd.  Samuel Cramer:  Most of the brothers and sisters were simply thankful for the security which the pious circle gave their souls, without breaking their heads over questions of church order. Quoted by Durnbaugh. Moving On (8.13)

65  Reformation, the Anabaptists ctd.  C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ: The Anabaptist Tradition (2004).  Evangelical Anabaptists insisted on the holistic unity of inner spiritual life, outer signs of obedience and outer witness. Moving On (8.14)

66  Reformation, the Anabaptists ctd.  C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ: The Anabaptist Tradition (2004).  “The one Body of Christ [was] formed by members who had given themselves over to the one Spirit, and would be identifiable by the marks of a Christ-like life and obedience to Christ’s explicit commands” (p.86):  believe and be baptized;  practice fraternal admonition;  celebrate the Supper of remembrance;  Obey Christ’s command & example to wash one another’s feet. Moving On (8.15)

67  Reformation, the Anabaptists ctd.  C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ: The Anabaptist Tradition (2004).  “[Evangelical Anabaptists] were convinced that when the living Spirit of God in believers worked to bring them together by the outward signs and ceremonies of their unity (as ordained by Christ), the result would be the establishment of the very body of Christ in the world, visibly working through his members” (p. 109). Moving On (8.15)

68  Reformation, the Anabaptists ctd.  So…  While there may not be complete correspondence, Snyder’s findings regarding the Anabaptist practice of “church” point to a measure of congruence between Evangelical Anabaptist ecclesiology and the five potential essentials drawn from the scriptural portion of this study. Moving On (8.15)

69  It may be that Mennonite Brethren congregations are already on the path to new practices of church membership.  If what one intend to foster through member-ship practices is inclusion and intentional participation there already are multiple signs of inclusion that communicate to those becoming in Mennonite Brethren congregations that they are “members.”  At their best, the practices of baptism and the Lord’s Supper powerfully incarnate welcome and hospitality in addition to their rich biblical and theological significance.  But among those native to Mennonite Brethren congregations as well as those migrating to these congregations are “members” who find welcome and hospitality through other practices.  Consider the following not-so-hypothetical scenario in closing: Wrap Up (9.1)

70  A couple, one spouse baptized upon confession of faith, the other baptized as an infant and confirmed, are drawn to a Mennonite Brethren congregation for the sake of their children’s spiritual formation.  The spouse baptized as an infant is not admissible as a member without re-baptism and the other spouse declines membership in solidarity.  They soon realize, however, that they are invited to the communion Table nevertheless.  They are befriended by another couple and invited to join a small group fellowship. Wrap Up (9.2)

71  They begin to support the ministry of the church financially.  This leads to someone noticing that they don’t have a mail box and soon they have one.  When the congregational telephone and email directory is renewed, they are included with no distinguishing marking.  They are invited to attend and participate in congregational meetings discussing the business and ministries of the church. Voting is rare and when there is a vote, it is not always clear whether only members have the vote or members as well as adherents. Wrap Up (9.3)

72  A vacancy on the working group preparing the elements for the Lord’s Supper occurs and their friends suggest this couple to the working group coordinator to fill the vacancy.  The coordinator, being told that they are not “members,” consults with the pastor and gets the green light to invite them to join the work.  They gladly agree and begin to serve. Wrap Up (9.4)

73 Now, what do you think? Are they “church members”? What’s your response? Yup! Nope! Huh? Yikes! Finally! Yea! Hmm… / Maybe… Other? Wrap Up (9.5)

74 Wrap Up


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