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of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 1995
Article 16. Church Order and Unity
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. 
As God's people, the
church is a holy temple,  a spiritual
house,  founded upon the apostles and
prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  Church order is needed to maintain unity
on important matters of faith and life 
so that each may serve and be served, and the body of Christ may be
built up in love.  Love and unity in
the church are a witness to the world of God's love. 
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 hasty decisions.
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.  Decisions made
at larger assemblies and conferences are confirmed by constituent
groups,  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.
(1) Eph. 2:21-22.
(2) 1 Cor. 3:16-17.
(3) 1 Pet. 2:5.
(4) Eph. 2:20.
(5) Ps. 133:1; 1 Cor. 14:33; Eph. 4:3.
(6) Eph. 4:7, 12-16.
(7) John 17:20-24.
(8) Acts 15:1-21.
(9) Acts 11:18.
1. 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 (Lev. 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
Cor. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 Thess. 1:1; 1 Pet. 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.
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," Matt. 18:20) to the worldwide church. Accountability and
responsibility apply to every level of church.
the delegates of Mennonite Church General Assembly, and of the General
Conference Mennonite Church Tricentennial Session, July 28, 1995,
Wichita, Kansas. Copyright © 1995 by Herald Press Scottdale PA
15683. Used by permission. Order print copies of Confession of
Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, and Summary Statement,
Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, From Herald Press, Scottdale,
Pa. Worship resources
based on this confession, and translations
are also available.
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