The Theology of Christian Experience (Mennonite Church, 1957)
The Theology of Christian Experience (Mennonite Church, 1957)
The Theology of Christian Experience
A Statement Adopted by Mennonite General Conference, August 27, 1957
1. State Before Conversion. After the age of accountability arrives, and before conversion, the "natural" man is lost spiritually, being self-centered and sinful, and not in fellowship with God. He can be converted only by yielding to Christ as Savior and Lord. Although he has freedom of the will, he will not turn to Christ in repentance and faith unless convicted by the Holy Spirit.
2. The New Birth. When a convicted sinner yields to Christ in repentance and faith, he is born again by the Holy Spirit, is made a child of God and a partaker of the divine nature, and becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus. The initial experience of the Holy Spirit is in Scripture referred to as baptism with the Spirit, and it is this which unites the believer to Christ and incorporates him into the church. Water baptism is the symbol of this experience.
3. Sanctification. At conversion the Holy Spirit sanctifies the believer, setting him apart as God's holy possession. Thereafter the Spirit progressively transforms him into the spiritual image of Christ and enables him to have victory over temptation. The Spirit makes possible growth in moral discernment and in holiness of life. To be filled with the Spirit is to be fully yielded to Christ, and this is the privilege and obligation of every believer. The Spirit seeks to lead the believer to a deeper state of yieldedness and obedience, and He may employ crisis experiences to aid in accomplishing this end. But the believer retains the inner hazard to spirituality, called in the New Testament the "flesh," as long as he lives. The flesh can be overcome only by the indwelling Holy Spirit, but this life of victory must be appropriated by faith in Christ. Being filled with the Spirit causes the believer to abound in the "fruit of the Spirit" and to commit his life to the purpose of Christ for the salvation of lost people and for the edification of the church. As long as the believer lives he stands in need of the forgiveness, cleansing, and grace of Christ.
4. Christian Assurance. It is the privilege of every believer to know that be has eternal life, although assurance is not a test of being saved. The Spirit witnesses to the Christian through the Word and the church. The believer should have the confidence that the same Christ who saved him will also keep him until the end. Christian assurance is always an assurance of faith, not a matter of moods or feelings, It can be genuine only if the individual is living a life of holiness and obedience, and if he humbly repents and confesses his weaknesses and mistakes to a forgiving Father in heaven.
5. Christian Discipleship. God desires His children to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, earnest followers of the Lord in faith, holiness, love, and obedience. Christ seeks to lead every believer to take up his cross and follow Him. The ethical demands of the New Testament must be accepted; redemption must bear fruit in daily life. The believer must be willing to pay any price to follow his Lord in true holiness, but without fanaticism and irrational enthusiasm. Above all, the Spirit seeks to transform every Christian into a winsome witness for Christ and His Gospel, and to enable him to communicate effectively the Word to the unsaved, and to lead the lost to repentance and faith.
6. Divine Healing. Christianity has value both for physical and mental health, but in the plan of God the redemption of the physical body does not take place until the resurrection of the saints at Christ's glorious return. Neither physical nor mental illness is necessarily the result of personal sin, nor is it wrong to employ medicine and surgery. The atonement of Christ does not afford exemption from illness, nor does Christian faith guarantee recovery from sickness. God does answer prayer for healing and recovery, and we have the assurance that if it be His will He is able to restore health to the sick. He has made provision in His Word for a symbolic anointing to accompany the prayer of faith for the healing of the sick.
7. Church Membership. A major concern of the Holy Spirit is the building up of the church, the body of Christ, which is composed of the saints of God. The Holy Spirit is constantly using the church to call sinners to repentance and faith in Christ, and is leading them to unite with a local congregation of believers. In the church, believers and their children find a spiritual home. There they experience the joy of Christian fellowship. And there they find opportunities to witness and to serve their fellow men in the name of Christ. It is in the church that believers keep the Lord's ordinances and learn to know and do His will. The church is God's institution through which He works for the conversion, nurture, witness, and service of His sons and daughters in Christ.
Context of this Statement
This statement, approved by the delegates to the Mennonite Church's General Conference in 1957, resulted from a "Study Conference on the Theology of Christian Experience" held at Laurelville Church Camp in Pennsylvania on 26-27 September 1956. It was sponsored by the Mennonite Commission for Christian Education together with the General Council of the Mennonite Church.
The papers addressed the intersection of Mennonite theology with "holiness" theology, and included papers on the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer (Myron Augsburger), the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian experience (Grant Stoltzfus), and the psychology of Christian experience (Paul M. Miller) among others. Lingering concerns about "eternal security" doctrine and faith healing are evident in the summary statement. The findings of this conference were brought to the 1957 delegate conference and accepted as statement of the denomination.
The Mennonite Commission for Christian Education was a standing committee of the Mennonite Church from 1937 until 1971 when the Mennonite Church restructured and a Board of Congregational Ministries assumed some of the tasks formerly charged to this Commission. This Commission superseded a General Sunday School Committee that had been formed in 1915. During the time this statement was prepared, the committee was composed of twelve members with no Canadian members. The General Council (after the 1971 restructuring called the General Board) included four Canadians, who would have participated in the Laurelville Conference. These were Roy S. Koch, Jesse B. Martin, Henry Yantzi, and Clarence J. Ramer.
The Theology of Christian Experience: Papers Read at a Study Conference on the Theology of Christian Experience held at Laurelville, Pennsylvania, September 26, 27, 1956. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Commission for Christian Education, 1956.
Thirtieth Mennonite General Conference, Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg, Virginia, August 25-27, 1957. Scottdale, PA : Mennonite Publishing House, 1957: 10, 19-20.