A theology of denomination
There are lots of reasons – probably most of them fairly inward focused – why not to be part of a denomination. But Rob Thiessen thinks a biblical perspective makes a good case for us to participate in such a framework for partnership and mutual accountability.
Thiessen sees reasons to expect a different future than today. Churches have moved from a position of legal protection to that of outsider, he says. They will lose their privileges and Christians may face job loss or at least persecution for their commitments.
“Am I alarmist?” he asks. “No, it’s here,” he answers.
The irony is that the church has always believed in separation of church and state, so this coming reality may better reflect a more appropriate relationship.
MB Seminary professor Bruce Guenther is known to say “You can’t be a Christian without being a particular kind of Christian.”
Denominations are one of the places we gather “with our kind” in an attempt to emulate the community we see demonstrated through our triune God.
Jesus was committed to community.
And heaven will be a place of community.
So, the church, too, is a place of community – a koinonia – where we learn to follow Christ from each other, says Thiessen.
Denomination is the wider community where gifted leaders equip the churches for effective mission, where, like guess in formation, the stronger support the weaker, and the group is stronger together.
Our denomination, the Mennonite Brethren, is built on Anabaptist principles like the value of the community hermeneutic. (“Respect and value what we’ve been given,” says Thiessen. “Anabaptist history is actually interesting.”)
An early Anabaptist famously said, “No one truly knows Christ unless he follows him daily in life.” In a denomination, we strengthen each other to do that together.
“We understand evangelical faith has to live, has to work,” Thiessen says.
In the uncertain days ahead, full of change, and opportunity, as we partner up and collaborate more, the church needs to train people for lives of committed discipleship. The denomination is a place for the partnerships that will help equip people to be faithful.
Thiessen recommends four action points:
- Show up
- Respect and values what you’ve been given
- Engage your gifts with others
- Embrace responsibility for your brothers and sisters.
So “Take courage. Speak the truth. Let’s not let fear motivate our commitments,” says Thiessen.