Partnering as one national family is important as we…discern together what the Bible teaches
By Brad Bonnett
As culture begins to emerge from a drunken stupor of independence, the church is seeing a resurgence of interest in its unique love-driven interdependence. Whereas the church was once viewed as an institution that produces top-down indoctrination, it is increasingly being seen as a place of grace-filled guidance.
This desire and tension is not new, as those who follow Christ can attest. We have in our history the record of a church that was likewise in this tension-filled dialogue. The question at hand dealt specifically with how followers of Jesus are to live. How must their lives change because of their allegiance to Christ? What is essential to follow Christ and what is nonessential?
As this church struggled with this question, they looked beyond themselves for guidance. They sought direction from those who were in positions of church leadership. This led to one of the first recorded gatherings of church leaders, now referred to as the Council at Jerusalem. Read Acts 15 for more about this gathering.
As Christ-followers who gather under the Mennonite Brethren family label, we follow the examples of those before us. Organized as an identified portion of the kingdom, the Mennonite Brethren denomination strives to live out our faith in the context of a greater gathering of accountability. This means living out our commitment to one another to strive, arm-in-arm, to corporately follow Christ in a faithful biblical manner.
Guided by our Confession of Faith, every church united by this common quest seeks after dynamic orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice). First century Christ-followers needed guidance in changing cultural times as they carried an unchanging message. Is that not at least equally as true for Christ-followers today?
As the globe encounters rapid change that knows no geographical or cultural boundaries, the body of Christ continues to be charged with carrying the unchanging message of the good news. Immense change once again meets foundational truth. It is partially for this reason that as Mennonite Brethren we have resurged in our valuation of the U.S. Conference Leadership Board to plot a course.
It seems that at no other time in history has the potential magnitude of impact been as great for the Word of God. The church of Christ is spread throughout this world, encountering questions of biblical interpretation daily. This tension-filled truth is seen in every mission-focused church, both foreign and domestic. What is essential to the Way/Truth/Life, and what is non-essential?
Our quest, therefore, is fraught with great potentials along with great threats. How might the direction of the church been changed had the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) decided to follow the legalism (a need for circumcision to follow Christ) dictated to them by a powerful Pharisee force? Rather than encouragement to preach the freedom found in Christ, the message could have become diverted with religiously cultural burdens. Simple focus prevailed. They were able to focus on “one mission,” which we Mennonite Brethren subsequently rally around.
Is the Mennonite Brethren denomination any different? Is there not continued and perhaps a greater need for groups of believers to be spurred on and encouraged as they navigate change? Great potential or great threat exists. The method of sharing the freedom in Christ yet challenges the message of freedom in Christ.
The proverbial winsome tie (i.e. shirt and tie) threatens the towel (i.e. the basin and towel that Christ bore). Cultural burdens both within and without the church walls should daily cause us to examine what is essential to transformation in Christ and what is nonessential. As I listen to the band Coldplay, eat lunch at the local bar & grill, spend time kneeling in prayer and talk with friends who are considering divorce, I am constantly navigating an unchanging message in perpetually changing times.
Followers of Christ have the unworldly gift of not walking alone. As Christ desires “transformation of individuals, families, and communities” through us, we have the potential of reflecting the same experience of that local church as recorded not so long ago in Acts. May we, by God’s grace, echo their response: “There was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message” (Acts 15:31 NLT).
Brad Bonnett is the pastor of Community Bible Church in Mountain Lake, Minn. He and his wife, Sharon, have three children. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist.