What direction will Mennonite Church Canada and its area churches be going into the future after the assembly in Saskatoon? Will we become a more faithful church?
Crucial to our future and our faithfulness will be our understanding of, and commitment to, the unity of the church, specifically to the unity of our denomination.
The letters to the seven churches in Asia, as dictated by Jesus in a vision to John and sent to the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 1-3), model the pursuit of unity among Christian churches and may be instructive for us as individuals, congregations, area churches, and MC Canada as a whole.
In the individual letters from Jesus, some churches are lauded and others admonished. Nevertheless, they all share in God’s grace and salvation. The same greeting and blessing of peace and grace from Jesus Christ is extended to all (1:4-5). All are reminded of the one “who loves us and freed us from our sins, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving God” (1:5-6). John describes himself as one “who shares with you in Jesus the persecution, and the kingdom and the patient endurance” (1:9).
The letters are open letters, accessible to all the other churches whether they are critical or laudatory. The flaws and failings, the strengths and gifts of each are known to Jesus and are disclosed to the other churches. Each church receives a unique encouragement, and each receives a special promise if it conquers in faith.
Finally, every letter concludes with the same challenge: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” It’s noteworthy that it is the Spirit who is to be heeded—not a text; that what the Spirit is saying—not has said—is to be attended to; and that what the Spirit is saying to the churches—not only one church—is to be listened for. Are we willing to listen in the same way as we face divisive and complex issues, whether ethical or structural?
What if John would write a letter to MC Canada at this troubled moment in our history. The greeting and blessing could well be the same, we would be reminded of God’s saving acts in Jesus Christ, and the messenger would still declare that he shares in the kingdom with us. The letter to our church would be open for all other churches to read.
And what would Jesus tell us that he knows about our church? What admonitions and commendations would he include for us? These are sobering and humbling questions to ponder together.
However, we would also receive a promise conditional upon conquering our sins of disunity and infidelity. Let’s claim that promise and strive toward it with love. And let Jesus’ letters to the churches of Asia shape our attitudes to one another as a church, and thereby shape our future direction towards becoming a more faithful church.
Peter Rempel is the moderator of Mennonite Church Manitoba.