It’s no secret. Throughout church history, the unchurched have watched Christians closely, ready to assess, evaluate and judge how God’s people act and respond to the world around them. Christians judge each other, too, a simple and easy response when disagreements flare up.
At this summer’s Mennonite Church Canada assembly, we will read, discuss and debate Part 3 of a very important document and process we have engaged in since 2009: “How to be a faithful church in times of doubt and disagreement.”
In Part 1, assembly participants proposed that the church can either repeat what it has said before, change what it has said before, or say something new. In Part 2, we put Part 1 to the test with discussion and discernment on being a pacifist church, recognizing that we are not all of one mind about pursuing peace exclusively through nonviolent, non-militaristic means.
Part 3 proposes a plan and process to discuss and discern a risky and challenging conversation on human sexuality. In MC Canada, our leadership, through deep Scripture study and prayer, has discerned that it is, in fact, the job of the church to walk towards risky and challenging matters with joy and confidence. Assured of God’s Spirit in our midst, discerning difficult topics is the responsibility of the church.
The document we will engage this summer, titled in part “A Plan to Discern Faithfulness on Matters of Sexuality,” proposes a four-year study on matters of human sexuality. More importantly, though, it carefully and wisely asks us to consider these questions:
- Will we understand the need for such a process as an unwelcome burden imposed on Christ’s body?
- Or will we understand the potential witness to others that this process offers?
- Will we engage each other with the joy of our vocation, which is to “discern the times [kairos]” (Luke 12:54-56), “test the spirits” (I John 4:1), “be worthy of our calling” (Ephesians 4:1), “live our life in a manner worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27), and be a “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) to a watching world?
Church leaders are keenly aware that others are watching closely: young people and young adults within and beyond our denomination; our sister Anabaptist denominations in Canada; our sister denominations in the U.S.; the leadership, and beyond, of Mennonite World Conference members; the ecumenical worlds we move in, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Council of Churches; the interfaith world we are connected to; disenchanted Mennonites and others who are no longer active in church life; the media, and so on.
Will we discern only with a pre-determined outcome in mind? Or will we be open to a path that has not yet been imagined and cannot be clearly defined?
May those who watch us see a people in discernment who are confident of God’s presence. Such a joyful posture will be watched closely.
Willard Metzger is general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada.