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Faithful response, remarkable document

   
 


Delegates to Assembly 2011 discuss Being a Faithful Church.

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July 12, 2012
-Deborah Froese

Winnipeg, MAN. —  Last fall, the tables were turned and it became your turn to teach. Mennonite Church Canada leadership invited you—congregations, church groups and individuals—to share how you approach issues of discernment with scripture.

By taking part in the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) process using the discernment and feedback tool provided, your responses generated more than 100 pages of thought-provoking, insightful and often inspiring comments and reflections.  Together, these findings explore perspectives and on-the-ground experiences from groups ranging in age from young adult to senior citizen. The responses have been summarized and presented in the BFC 4 document.

 “It is a remarkable document,” says Robert J. Suderman, past General Secretary (Executive Director) of Mennonite Church Canada and a member of the BFC Task Force. “It is the fruit of the diversity of experience of the “priesthood of believers” that is part of our church. It is not created by a small group of scholars or authorized leaders. In this sense, it is remarkable and, I think, it is also something that is new. I’m not aware that we’ve used this kind of grassroots process before to create some semblance of a common framework for interpreting the Bible. That, I think, is noteworthy.”

A second primary source of responses to the discernment and feedback tool was gleaned through an online discussion for Bible scholars and teachers set up by the Faith and Life Committee.

The BFC Task Force, consisting of Willard Metzger, Mennonite Church Canada Executive Director, Suderman, Andrew Reesor-McDowell, Moderator, Donita Wiebe Neufeld, General Board Member at Large,,and Rudy Baergen, Chair, Faith and Life Committee, received and reviewed all of the responses. The task was given to Suderman to compile the material. He carefully poured through the results several times to develop a grid that would accurately and fairly reflect the information received.   He then had several retired pastors read the initial responses and evaluate the grid for accuracy and objectivity.

The idea, Suderman says, was to keep the focus on what the “priesthood of believers” (the respondents) discerned. The gathered input formed the basis of a summary report for discussion and approval at Assembly 2012— “Being a Faithful Church 4.”

“It’s important to emphasize that this is not an interpretive framework generated by Jack [Suderman] or by the task force, but a framework generated by those who chose to have their voices heard,” says Baergen. “Although not complete, in the sense that there may be things missing that people didn’t say and not all congregations submitted responses, we feel confident that it reflects accurately what we received. It is truly a remarkable snapshot of what congregations and individuals across our denomination believe about scripture and its healthy use.”

The discernment and feedback tool prompting the responses examined the key features of II Timothy 3:14-17 as an example of a passage to guide discernment. It offered an outline that leaders could use to encourage discussion and reflection. Participants explored the Timothy passage, shared stories of their own experiences with scripture, examined the Confession of Faith, and talked about what they learned.

This tool is one more step in the BFC process which is designed to strengthen the church’s capacity for biblical discernment on issues of life and faith in this current age. And it’s a challenging age. Some of the issues or themes identified for discernment over the past few years include unity and diversity in the life of the church, being a peace church, confessing and witnessing to Jesus Christ as Lord in a religiously pluralistic context, human sexuality in the life of the church, and ecological concerns from a perspective of faith. 

These issues can evoke anxiety because perspectives about them often differ within the church body—even when observed through a biblical lens and guided by the same Holy Spirit. Is there a clear “right” and “wrong”? How do we remain the church in the midst of disagreement?

Suderman was at the helm of Mennonite Church Canada when the BFC process began in 2007. From the beginning he acknowledged its complexity. “The primary issue is not what exactly we will decide about the challenges that face us; the primary issue is whether we can be the church in doing so. It is very important not to lose sight of this fundamental focus.”

Metzger says it has been a learning process for him. “It is interesting to note that most congregations processed the material with a smaller group such as Sunday school class, or a meeting with interested people or leadership team. It helped me realize that there is little, if any platform, that engages the whole congregation in dialogue. With our Anabaptist emphasis on the community for discernment, this is something we may need to address.”

Suderman says the document “… is understandable and profound and deserves attention.”

Metzger and Baergen will presented the BFC 4 document to Assembly 2012 delegates on Thursday, July 12.

See complete coverage of Assembly 2012