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We believe that the church of Jesus Christ
is one body with many members, ordered in such a way that, through the
one Spirit, believers may be built together spiritually into a dwelling
place for God.1
As God's people, the church is a holy temple,2
a spiritual house,3
founded upon the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the
order is needed to maintain unity on important matters of faith and life5
so that each may serve and be served, and the body of Christ may be built
up in love.6 Love
and unity in the church are a witness to the world of God's love.7
In making decisions, whether to choose leaders or resolve issues, members
of the church listen and speak in a spirit of prayerful openness, with
the Scriptures as the constant guide. Persons shall expect not only affirmation,
but also correction. In a process of discernment, it is better to wait
patiently for a word from the Lord leading toward consensus, than to make
The church is a variety of assemblies which meet regularly, including
local congregations and larger conferences. This diversity in unity evokes
gratitude to God and appreciation for one another. According to the example
of the apostolic church, the local congregation seeks the counsel of the
wider church in important matters relating to faith and life, and they
work together in their common mission.8
Decisions made at larger assemblies and conferences are confirmed by constituent
groups,9 and local
ministries are encouraged and supported by the wider gatherings. Authority
and responsibility are delegated by common and voluntary agreement, so
that the churches hold each other accountable to Christ and to one another
on all levels of church life.
Scripture does not prescribe one specific church polity, or government.
At the same time, guidelines can be gleaned from both the Old and
New Testaments. The priesthood and the temple in Israel's religious
life are reminders of the importance of order and also of the concern
for visible worship that upholds justice, kindness, and humility (Leviticus
8-10; 1 Kings 6). The apostle Paul asked the church to do all things
decently and in order to build up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians
14:26, 40). The New Testament stresses that the church be organized
in a way that encourages participation of all members and the use
of their spiritual gifts--for worship, for decision making, for teaching
and learning, for mutual care, and for furthering God's mission in
the world. The Spirit of Christ leads the church in adapting its organization
to the needs of its time and place.
Decision making by consensus is a way of coming to unity in the
church (see Acts 15:22). Consensus means that the church has together
sought for the unity of the Spirit. The church listens carefully to
all voices, majority and minority. Consensus is reached when the church
has come to one mind on the matter, or when those who dissent have
indicated that they do not wish to stand in the way of a group decision.
Consensus does not necessarily mean complete unanimity.
The church is the assembly of the people of God. The local congregation
which meets frequently is the church. Larger conference groups which
assemble less often are also the church (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Peter
1:1). Church membership involves commitment to a local congregation
as well as to a larger church family which may have more than one
level of conference affiliation. More broadly, we are united through
our common Lord to the universal church, which includes believers
in every place and time. We appreciate this wider family of believers
and seek to nurture appropriate relationships with them.
Mennonite church structures have upheld the centrality of the church
as a community of believers. Some have emphasized the local congregation
as the primary unit of the church. Others have seen the wider church
(the conference) as the primary unit. The first case reflects a congregation-to-conference
polity, where the local congregation determines the extent of its
accountability to the larger church. The second has resulted in a
conference-to-congregation polity, where the larger church carries
more authority. Neither of our Mennonite bodies is clearly on one
side or the other. One tendency has been to promote the congregation
as the primary unit. This emphasis encourages local initiative, but
it can detract from the church's wider mission and from broader church
cooperation. The church should be viewed as one seamless garment,
extending from the smallest unit ("where two or three are gathered,"
Matthew 18:20) to the worldwide church. Accountability and responsibility
apply to every level of church.
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- Ephesians 2:21-22.
- 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.
- 1 Peter 2:5.
- Ephesians 2:20.
- Psalms 133:1; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Ephesians 4:3.
- Ephesians 4:7, 12-16.
- John 17:20-24.
- Acts 15:1-21.
- Acts 11:18.