The church will prevail

February 11, 2015 | Editorial | Number 4
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

While personally rejuvenated from my four-month sabbatical, I am saddened to come back to a faith community that seems wounded and immobilized with what one of our interim editors, Barb Draper, called a “difficult debate” over sexuality.

As the conversation intensifies, we, the churches of Mennonite Church Canada/U.S.A., seem to have veered into a one-issue discussion that is taking up enormous amounts of spiritual and emotional energy, sucking the oxygen out of other important 21st-century issues the church should be addressing.

Issues such as those identified by the Future Directions Task Force: “a growing reliance on technology; the politicization of ethical discussion; growing diversity through multiculturalism and multi-faith realities; increased individualism and secularization.” Where is the vision for the life-giving exercises of prayer and meditation; caregiving to the distressed and sick within our own congregations; healing the “wounds” of the gathered faith community; and being conscious of the “least of these” in our communities, such as the homeless and jobless?

Where is the passion to reverse the effects of global warming, the concern for growing militarism and preoccupation with security in our national consciousness, the plight of the incarcerated with the governmental priorities of “law and order,” the tightening up of immigration laws to make “the stranger” less welcome in a historically “peaceful” country?

One of the things that helped keep all of this in perspective while I was relieved of my editorial/publishing duties, was to engage with a Sunday school class that re-enacted the first-century church at Corinth. Our exercises, over several weeks, were based on the Herald Press book, Creating a Scene in Corinth, by Reta Halteman Finger and George D. McClain.

It was helpful to take a break from our own struggles to simulate the discussions of those ancient first-century Christians who, with the Apostle Paul as their leader, were giving shape and form to a new church from a very diverse group of people—those who were followers of the Hellenistic-persuasive Apollos, the well-educated, upper-class scribe for Paul; those of lower social rank from the Jewish tradition (those groups belonging to Cephas); and those claiming loyalty to Christ (often former or present slaves).

Minus the class structure, there were many similarities to our present church struggles. Sexuality, as an issue, was high on the list. While same-sex attraction wasn’t the dividing issue, prostitution as we know it was. The powerful, upper-class Christians, namely those following Apollos, thought nothing wrong with having sex with their powerless slaves. And since eating meat offered to idols was also their cultural practice, they saw nothing wrong with continuing what the Jewish contingent of the new church considered idol worship.

Into this cultural chaos steps Paul with sometimes strong, scolding words, and at other times, gentle prodding. He always addressed the churches with a loving salutation: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 1:3). He always called them “saints.” In the list of conditions to hold the church together, Paul named love as the highest spiritual quality—above faith and hope (I Corinthians 13:13).

In addressing the church in Rome, Paul lays down another marker for unity, when, allowing for the tendency to judge each others’ righteousness, he says that “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

From these beginning days of struggle to survive the cultural and historical influences of the times, the early Christians, led by a discerning leader in Paul, the church managed to survive—through the Roman Constantinian era of a state-sponsored Christian church, on through the Reformation and the courageous break with the Roman Catholic Church by our Anabaptist forefathers and mothers, to the present day. The church of Jesus Christ always prevailed. It is as strong or as weak as we make it in this present age.

If we are to get “unstuck” from this decades-old, unproductive, 21st-century discussion of sexuality, we have a choice to make in this present struggle:

  • We, as congregations, can use the discernment process in Stage 6 of the Being a Faithful Church process to now focus on these scriptural pleas for unity, love and “making every effort” to live in peace.
  • Or we can continue the “difficult debate,” leading possibly to division and irreparable harm to the “body.”

It’s up to us.

—Posted Feb. 11, 2015

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