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What is the church?

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What we believe

What do Mennonite Brethren believe? Does our theology have any emphases that are different from the theology of other Christian denominations? We continue our series looking at our new Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith, approved at the last North American MB Conference convention in 1999, and what it means for the average church member. Writer for the series is Reuben Pauls, pastor of River of Life Community Church in Sorrento, B.C., and former Canadian MB Conference executive minister.

Article 6: Nature of the church

MB Confession of Faith

There are vast differences of interpretation today about what the church really is. Which is more important-the church universal or the local church? In many of our churches across Canada, it is this question which lurks behind the “membership” issue. People ask, “If I am a member of the global church, having entered it at conversion, why does this denomination require that I take up membership in a local congregation?”

Article 6 addresses this question by referring to both the local and the universal aspects of the church. The Article begins by defining the church as “the people called by God” (the church universal), but then expands on this by saying, “People … are united with the local congregation by … baptism.” It might be better if we called membership “belonging to a local congregation” rather than “church membership”. On the other hand, as we continue reading this Article it becomes clear that the body in which we have significance and service opportunities is the local church, and if we do not have a ministry there, we will not have a ministry in the universal church either.

Why? Because accountability and testing naturally take place in the local congregation. Our understanding of church recognizes both the local arid universal aspects of the church. However, the question of emphasis remains: Do we have a part in the local church because we are part of the global church, or does our part in the local church give rise to ministry opportunities in the larger church? It is my sense that the latter has a more “biblical feel”, and this is also theologically defensible. Consider the ever-expanding circle of influence in Acts 1:8.

Perhaps the greatest area of challenge as a local church grows larger is its sense of interdependence with the wider faith community. Why should a local church consult with the larger church when it has sufficient resources available on its own? And why consult the denomination when there are resources from agencies such as Willow Creek and Saddleback, with on-line connections? It may well be time to re-ask the question, “What does it mean to belong to a denomination?” and “If we belong, why not live like we do?” Agreement on our Confession of Faith serves as a wonderful “glue to hold us together”.

Accountability is as important for a congregation within a denomination as it is for a member within a congregation. The Article goes on to deal with the issues of worship, fellowship and accountability, and ministry gifts. Regarding worship, we appear to think of it as something that happens in a “church service”, when the believing community is gathered together. Worship as lifestyle or obedience may be behind the language, but is not stated directly.

The Article does recognize that one aspect of worship is proclamation, specifically through the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but proclamation of the good news of salvation is broader than that. Teaching, making disciples, fellowship and evangelism are all included, but it is striking that we have not included the word “preaching” in the text of our Confession, given that preaching has been so highly value among us. This is probably a simple oversight. In any case, we will not stop preaching simply because one word has not found its way into our Confession.

As a denomination, we have placed a strong emphasis on fellowship and accountability. A “covenant community” – a family of people joined together as a response to God’s covenants is the ideal expression of the visible presence of God in the world.

True community is attractive. It fills a significant void in our society, which is plagued by broken relationships.

The Article concludes with a section on gifts and ministry. Highly visible in this section is the use gf the word “leaders”. What is also obvious is the accountability connected to the leadership task. This balance between leadership and accountability is one of the strengths of Mennonite Brethren theology. The church needs leaders, but not runaway leaders. When these two are kept in balance, the effectiveness of the church increases.


Nature of the Church

Called by God

We believe the church is the people called by God through Jesus Christ. People who respond in faith are united with the local congregation by the public confession of baptism. Church members commit themselves to follow Christ in a life of discipleship and witness as empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Body of Christ

The church is one body of believers, male and female, from every nation, race and class. The head of this body is Christ. The church, united by the one Spirit, makes Christ visible in the world. The church exists as local bodies of believers and as a worldwide community of faith.


The church is nourished and renewed as God’s people gather regularly to glorify God. The early church gathered on the first day of the week to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The worshipping community celebrates God’s faithfulness and grace, reaffirms its faithfulness to God, builds up the members of the body, and seeks God’s will for its life and mission. As the church observes baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, it proclaims the good news of salvation.

Fellowship and Accountability

The church is a covenant community in which members are mutually accountable in matters of faith and life. They love, care, and pray for each other, share each other’s joys and burdens, admonish and correct one another. They share material resources as there is need. Local congregations follow the New Testament example by seeking the counsel of the wider church on matters that affect its common witness and mission. Congregations work together in a spirit of love, mutual submission, and interdependence.

The New Testament guides the practice of redemptive church discipline.

The church is responsible to correct members who continue to sin. Congregations forgive and restore those who repent, but formally exclude those who disregard discipline.

Gifts for Ministry

Through the Holy Spirit God gives gifts to each member for the wellbeing of the whole body. These gifts are to be exercised in God’s service to build up the church and to minister in the world.

God calls people to equip the church for ministry. Leaders are to model Christ in their personal, family, and church life. The church is to discern leaders prayerfully, and to affirm, support, and correct them in a spirit of love.

Matthew 16:13-20; Matthew 18:15-20; John 13:1-20; John 17:1-26; Acts 1:8; Acts 2:1-4; Acts 37-47; Acts 11:1-18; Acts 15:1-35; Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 5:1-8; I Corinthians 12-14; II Corinthians 2:5-11; Galatians 3:26-28; Galatians 6:1-5; Ephesians 1:18-23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Ephesians 4:4-6; Ephesians 11-16; I Thessalonians 5:22-23; I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9; I Peter 2:9-12; I Peter 5:1-4

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