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Article 6: The Nature of the Church

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What does Mennonite Brethren theology have in common with that of other Christian denominations? And what are the distinctive emphases of Mennonite Brethren theology? Our Confession of Faith is a short document, informed by Scripture, that names the perspectives through which we read God’s Word in order to live as Christ’s followers. This is the sixth article in a series by the Board of Faith and Life exploring the 18 articles of this formative document.

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15–16).

Have you ever heard the fable of the scorpion and the frog? The tiny creatures find themselves at the riverbank, both waiting to cross over.

The scorpion – who cannot swim – asks the frog to carry him across.

The frog, fearful of the scorpion’s deadly sting, declines the request.

The scorpion argues that such an action would drown them both and coaxes the frog to comply. However, midway across, the scorpion stings his amphibious helper causing both to slip below the river’s current.

Gasping for air, the frog asks why.

“I’m sorry,” the scorpion replies. “It is simply in my nature to do so.”

There is a common belief that some behaviours are deeply embedded: innate behaviours define an individual’s character or nature. Outsiders perceive the purpose and disposition of individuals and organizations based on observed actions.

The church (both as the body of Christ and as a people set apart) is not immune to this scrutiny: the nature of the church is constantly under observation. Inherited from Christ (our head), the behaviour of the church should mirror what is prescribed in God’s Word.

External influences are also at work: some so powerful that they can change the behaviours of an individual or organization. The church suffers the influence of outside forces trying to change its nature. The question for us is: what of the church is inherited behaviours, representing our heavenly Father’s DNA, and what has been distorted by other forces?

Article 6 of the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith describes the elements that make up the nature of the church: “We believe the church is the covenant community called by God through Jesus Christ to live a life of discipleship and witness as empowered by the Holy Spirit. The local church gathers regularly for worship, fellowship, and accountability and to discern, develop, and exercise gifts for ministry.”

Let’s examine several of these elements:

1. Covenant:

We do more than choose to be part of the church; we firmly agree to a way of living and to be accountable to each other.

2. Community:

As an individual, I am the temple of Holy Spirit, but it is only in community that the church is revealed.

3. Calling:

This occurs not of our volition, but through a sanctification (separation) process. This is important because we ought not to make the church about the called but always about the One who calls.

4. Discipleship:

It is in and through the church that we learn how to become more like Christ.

5. Witness:

It is in and through the church that we learn how to best present God’s story to the world.

6. Empowerment:

We the church act through the resourcing and empowering of God. Both nature and nurture are present here, an internal response enhanced by an outside power, the Holy Spirit.

7. Gathered:

In coming together, we are both blessed and a blessing. Gathering is the most visible expression of the Body
of Christ.

8. Worship:

We place ourselves in a posture of humility and revere God as the head of the church. For the church, the only person worthy of worship is the triune God.

9. Fellowship:

This profound word means a lot more than just getting along with each other. It is also responsibility for one another’s well-being.

10. Accountability:

An act of surrendering free choice in order to experience true freedom in Christ.

11. Ministry:

We give of our time, effort, and money so that others may experience healing, comfort, and growth.
Are these elements alive in our churches today? Are we responding with behaviours that express our Father’s DNA? Or have we allowed other influences to distort the nature of the church?

[Elton Da Silva is executive director of the Mennonite Brethren Church
of Manitoba.

See also

Board of Faith and Life


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