Letter to the editor

Why the name "Mennonite Brethren" mattters

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Photo: Getty Images
Why are we “Mennonite Brethren” so afraid or ashamed of our denominational name? Is there something traumatic or otherwise negative about “Mennonite”? This name issue started many years ago when, as a kid, I recall my parents and their friends and relatives talking about MB churches changing their names to “Bible” or “Community” church. The question being discussed was if they should be kicked out of the conference.
Those churches still carry those names some six or seven decades later, with fewer members now than then; others gone from the scene, somewhat defeating the theory that it is our name that damages our image and makes growth difficult. Now, churches retaining “Mennonite Brethren” in their local church name are in the minority within the conference and now our conference related agencies also feel the need to get on the bandwagon.
Some years ago, Mennonite Brethren Homes where I now reside became Palm Village. Mennonite Mutual Aid later became “Everence,” a word that my computer spell check still indicates as being misspelled. Recently MB Mission felt it was time again for yet another name change, this time, completely eliminating denominational identity from its new name, “Multiply”.  There is discussion in the political world about “identity politics” while we “Mennonite Brethren” work diligently to eliminate our identity.
There’s nothing sacrosanct about the words “Mennonite” or “Brethren” but the words “Everence” and “Multiply” also have no “sacred” definition. Are these Mennonite/Mennonite Brethren agency name changes an indication that we are headed for a denominational name change? Several of our “sister” conferences have already taken this kind of action. Evangelical Mennonite Brethren became Evangelical Bible Church; Mennonite Brethren in Christ became Missionary Church. Are we next? Do we care? Will it make us better in what we’re about?
It seems we are spending much of our time and effort trying to think of the most eye catching or unique sounding names for our churches and conference ministries and what roles men and/or women can, cannot and/or should or should not play, instead of concentrating our time and effort on what God has actually called us to be about.
Jim Enns
Reedley, California
CL Staff
This article has been posted by CL staff.

1 COMMENT

  1. While none of the “names” that are mentioned in this letter are, as Jim Enns says, sacrosanct, there is something that is sacred…the call of God to be on mission in our world, winning people to Christ and living out the principles and life of the kingdom of God while we are on earth. In many persons’ minds, that sacred call is the underlying reason for changing the name. I am comfortable with Mennonite Brethren as our denomination’s name and a name that is attached to our churches in the US. But as a long-ago stranger to this denomination, I remember my mother asking, “What is ‘Mennonite Brethren’?” when I was invited to the church for a 5th grade friend’s birthday party. She was a bit uncertain whether I should go or not based on the name and not being familiar with what the belief’s were.

    Later, after becoming a believer, marrying a Baptist young lady, and growing in my faith, God called us to check out the local MB church. I will be honest, I still didn’t know what “Mennonite Brethren” were about and was a bit uncertain whether we should even attend…because of the name! Thankfully, God’s nudging was stronger than my uncertainty and Donna and I started attending and discovered our primary faith family. But if my uncertainty had been any stronger, we may never have overcome the name to enter the doors. There are thousands of others who have also been able to overcome that hurdle. But there are those in our communities who won’t, if for no other reason than because the name gets in the way.

    I have heard other stories of people who have been reluctant to visit the church because the name got in the way. People don’t know what “Mennonite” or even “Brethren” means, or why it isn’t a cult or fringe group. For me, if a name change is in order, it is all about mission…the need to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    I know many of our churches where the name has been changed and “community” or “Bible” has replaced “Mennonite Brethren.” Many of those churches are vibrant, growing, mission-focused churches that are willing to do whatever it takes to win some for Christ and his kingdom.

    May we be people who will lay any and everything aside for the sake of God’s call to be on mission, whether that is to retain the name our forefathers and foremothers in the faith were given by the denomination they left to seek a more faithful representation of Christ’s church, or if we choose to change our name so we can be as faithful as we can to the calling God has given us through Christ to be on mission in this world.

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