Response to ‘From belief to belonging’


July 18, 2018 | Viewpoints | Volume 22 Issue 15
John D. Rempel |

Update: In October 2020, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada announced the termination of the ministerial credentials of John D. Rempel, on the basis of ministerial sexual misconduct. To learn more, see ‘Credentials terminated for theologian-academic-pastor.’

In her article “From belief to belonging” (July 2, 2018, page 4), Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe describes how open communion is on the rise in Mennonite Church Canada congregations due to a concern for inclusivity and welcome. If her survey is representative, then most MC Canada congregations have given up on baptism as the door to communion.

From my viewpoint, there is confusion today about which ordinance is actually the ritual of inclusion. It is not the Lord’s Supper but baptism. Is it not really open baptism that congregations concerned with inclusion should be seeking? We invite everyone who is drawn to Christ and the church to be initiated into it. The candidate confesses faith in Jesus Christ and is made a member of his body.

We have erred in the past when we expected mature faith and discipleship of candidates who have only recently come to an owned faith. What candidates confess is that Christ has made a claim on their life and by his grace they intend to live out this claim in the company of other believers. More of the instruction and formation that are necessary for spiritual and moral growth can happen after baptism.

For a community to thrive it needs both a spirit of vulnerability and unequivocal gestures. By the former I mean an attitude of humility and receptivity to God and neighbour. By the latter I mean that in the midst of life’s many ambiguities there needs to be room for an unreserved “yes” to Christ and the body of Christ. For example, a wedding is such a gesture: two partners give each other a clear-cut “yes.” For the Anabaptist tradition, conversion and baptism is the biggest “yes” of our lives—from God to us, and then, from us to God. Is part of the problem that we think baptismal candidates need to make that affirmation in their own strength, pulling themselves into the church by their own bootstraps?

Here is my question to the people who want to include everyone in the Lord’s Supper on the basis of their own determination. Is such a church one in which the loyalty of each participant to Christ and his reign can be expected and counted on in times when faithfulness to the Gospel demands dissent?

Our confession of faith teaches that the Lord’s Supper is the renewal of the covenant first made in baptism. On the basis of the article on “From belief to belonging” it would seem that most of our congregations have given up that commitment. (This is not the case in the Niagara region and I wonder if that might be so elsewhere.) In my judgment, those congregations that have given up tying communion to baptism are in danger of giving up a covenantal church.

To separate baptism and the Lord’s Supper goes against the grain of the Anabaptist understanding of the church and against the practice of the New Testament and post-apostolic church. Separating communion from baptism feels like the final act of MC Mennonite assimilation into liberal Protestantism. It feels like another nail in the coffin of historic Mennonite identity.

John D. Rempel is a senior fellow at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre.

See also “Bread, acceptance and covenant.”

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I'd suggest that the gap is not in assimilation or a rejection of Mennonite identity as such, or even ultimately about inclusion, but sits a bit deeper. The author writes that greater inclusion should be centred in baptism since "We invite everyone who is drawn to Christ and the church to be initiated into it." I think if you ask most young (or even not that young) Mennonites today, they'll say that it's easy to find people who are drawn to Christ, but not the church. Instead, many find the church comes with a lot of baggage - how does decades of bitter squabbling over sexuality reflect the promise of unity in Christ? When the church no longer represents our hope and understanding of belonging to the body of Christ, things are going to change.

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