Denominations. Do they still have purpose? Although technically USMB is a conference of churches and not necessarily a denomination, the question still pertains to us.
Some will say that denominations are unnecessary and actually hinder the commission of Christ. I submit that although denominations are not perfect, their existence is very important to the complete fulfillment of the commission of Christ.
Church history is filled with divisions stemming from the way we see Jesus and how we determine the way we are to live out what he has told us to do. For followers of Menno Simons, that came to the forefront in the years of the Radical Reformation. What we know as Mennonite Brethren is that there are ways of following Jesus that others have minimized but we see as primary.
This includes being true disciples who are people of the Word, believer’s baptism, the importance of community and being people who promote peace. These are just some of the things that drew my wife and me to join an MB church in the late 1970s.
As Mennonite Brethren, we disagree with those who are convinced that baptism brings conversion (through regeneration) as a means of grace and regularly baptize infants. That’s a significant difference. I have Presbyterian brothers and sisters who are convinced that baptizing infants is necessary in their covenant theology. I disagree wholeheartedly and would not be able to celebrate with them in their practice of the sacrament of infant baptism.
It’s not just baptism either, as we have historically disagreed over church polity and ecclesiology, eschatology, soteriology, covenant theology and a ton of other “ologies.” Not only is church history littered with theological arguments, but the practice and fulfillment of each position are huge points of contention as well. We disagree about things like evangelism methods, worship, church discipline, church planting, missions, etc.
In the big picture, we are sinners saved by faith in Jesus through the grace of God, but we still live in a fallen world and are still prone to sin. And we tend to disagree on a lot of things.
It must be our foundation to understand that our faith is collective as well as individualistic in nature. The Great Commission was given to the church, and we’ll likely fail when we try to accomplish it all on our own. We need the unity of the Mennonite Brethren body to reach people with the gospel, not only here but around the world.
We have biblical convictions that should be derived solely from our understanding of Scripture, but we also should come to grips with the fact that some of our brothers and sisters will disagree with us. So, in order to keep our peace, it is necessary to gather with like-minded believers. We need our MB family in order to abide in that way.
That said, there are times when we can do things inter-denominationally, especially with those who are close to us in core theological positions. We can pray for one another as we seek to reach people who don’t yet know Jesus. That is a very good thing when believers can lay aside their differences to accomplish a bigger purpose—as Jesus builds his church. I respect what other denominations can bring to the table with their passion to reach the lost.
Though all believers are ultimately founded upon the work of Christ and his Word—and that’s pretty solid standing ground—we still need our tribe. We truly do need local churches that share our convictions and practices, strive to remain biblical and consistent and together plug into the work of the kingdom. That’s where unity can be found and that is a very good thing—and worth it.