Guidelines for building faithful relationships in the church (Conference of Mennonites in Canada, 1998)
Guidelines for Building Faithful Relationships in the Church (CMC, 1998)
The General Board of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada (CMC) presents the following as its position statement, and commends the statement to all within the CMC as a basis for processing issues that arise within the CMC constituency from time to time. Delegates to CMC Stratford '98 are invited to offer counsel on the statement.
- In recent years the CMC has made significant changes in structure, especially in relation to area conferences. These changes have implications for how we process issues and make decisions that arise concerning our common faith and life. Relationships between congregations, area conferences and the CMC continue to evolve as we engage in the process of integration.
- Because of our commitment to engage in ministry together, we do well to seek agreement on guidelines for polity. In this quest, questions such as the following arise: On what basis and by what process do we discuss issues and agree on guidelines for faith and life? On what basis and by what process do we resolve differences when they occur among us? On what basis and by what process do we re-examine issues around former agreements?
- While the Bible is the basis for faith and life, our answers to questions of faith and life are also informed by various statements we have agreed upon. These include: 1) "Vision: Healing and Hope;" 2) Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective; 3) the constitutions and bylaws of congregations, of area conference, of the CMC, the General Conference, and the Mennonite Church; 4) the statement, "Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love;" and 5) the CMC Mission Statement (1990). It is understood that these statements often develop over time and undergo change from time to time.
- Our history has demonstrated that proper procedures are important servants of our mutual accountability. The following assumptions and procedures are set forth to provide a framework for fostering wholesome relationships, and for processing issues among us, to the end that we may become and be a faithful part of the church of Jesus Christ.
- We accept the authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and life, and we continue, in the context of the community of faith, to study the teachings of Scripture and to submit to its instructions.
- We uphold our Confession of Faith and the statements accepted at delegate sessions of the church.
- We seek consensus on a polity and procedure to guide us in processing issues.
- The constitutions of the CMC, of area conferences, and of congregations within the CMC imply that the congregation assumes the primary responsibility for its affairs. At the same time, our constitutions assume that matters of faith and order are developed together and are supported on a church-wide basis.
- Even in the midst of a diversity of interpretations of understanding and expressions of ministry, we pray and strive for a spirit of Christian unity in the Body of Christ. We differentiate between unity in essentials and diversity in nonessentials. The CMC Mission Statement (1990) states: "The CMC is a united and uniting body of Mennonite congregations."
- We covenant together as church entities (congregations, area conferences, Conference of Mennonites in Canada, General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Church) to respect one another as Christians and as members of the body of Christ as we discern together how the Spirit of God is guiding us and working among us.
- When a point of disagreement arises among congregations or conferences, the first obligation is for the concerned parties to engage in loving dialogue in a spirit of mutual accountability. In the process of dialogue we come to understand one another's motivations, assumptions, and interpretations. The goal of dialogue is to gain forgiveness and reconciliation (Matthew 18:15), and to seek the mutual good of the church (Hebrews 10:24).
- Issues may be noted and dialogue may be initiated by congregations, by the area conference, or by the CMC.
- When an issue or a disagreement involves congregations in one area conference, dialogue is usually facilitated by the leadership of the area conference in which the congregation is a member. The CMC stands ready to assist and to participate in these processes.
- When disagreement involves congregations in more than one area conference, each area conference confers with its respective congregation(s), and the area conferences involved confer with one another. CMC leadership stands ready to facilitate such conversation. Correspondence and reports are shared with all congregations and conferences named and involved in the process.
- Only as a last recourse of action, and when all attempts to resolve differences and find reconciliation have failed, would separation of congregations and conferences be considered. See Matthew 18:17 and the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, on "Church Discipline" (Art. 14).
- The CMC General Board, which includes area conference representatives, assumes responsibility for developing procedures and statements to deal with matters of disagreement that arise among us from time to time.
Context of the Statement
The General Board of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada established this statement while "transformation" of the Mennonite Church in North America was well under way. The merger of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church, completed in 1999, and the subsequent creation of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada resulted during this process. Mennonite Church Canada descended from the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, and sought a transformed identity within the historical legacy and framework of that body.
This denominational transformation also brought significant changes in Canada to the relationships between congregations and the national body. Mennonite Church Canada placed much greater emphasis on the mutual accountability of congregations, area conferences and the national church body. This was a change, particularly for congregations and area conferences that historically related to the General Conference Mennonite Church/Conference of Mennonites in Canada. The merger process, both in the United States and Canada was also clouded during these years by controversy over the appropriate response of the church to persons in homosexual relationships.
These guidelines attempted to encourage acceptance and understanding of mutual accountability, and to establish procedures to follow when congregations or area conferences came into conflict.
CMC report 1998, July 8-12, 1998, Stratford, Ontario. Winnipeg, Man. : Conference of Mennonites in Canada, 1998: 9-10.
Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Mennonite Church/General Conference Mennonite Church, 1995)
Vision: Healing & hope (1995)