Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective - Context
In December of 1984 a study committee representing the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church met to explore the need for a new confession of faith. The committee recommended that the two groups (the MCs and the GCs) should prepare a new confession for the two church bodies. Their recommendation was approved and implemented by the two General Boards. Now, over ten years later, that decision has yielded the proposed "Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective."
The first meeting of the Inter-Mennonite Confession of Faith Committee was held in Chicago 12-14 February 1987. The original 12-person committee consisted of MC members S. David Garber, Morris Hatton, Beulah Hostetler, Samuel Lopez, Marlin E. Miller, and Sue Clemmer Steiner, and GC members Martha Smith Good, Helmut Harder, Lawrence Hart, Gayle Gerber Koontz, Ted VanderEnde, and Jake Tilitzky. Marlin E. Miller and Helmut Harder were chosen as co-chairs. S. David Garber was appointed secretary Early in the process Lois Barrett joined the committee and served as editor.
Most of the original committee members remained for the duration of the seven years. For one reason or another, some needed to resign and others took their place. At the fifteenth and final meeting, a telephone conference on 5 November 1994, committee members present were Lois Barrett, Helmut Harder, Heinz Janzen, Jake Tilitzky, Ted VanderEnde, Ann Weber-Becker, S. David Garber, Beulah Hostetler, and Samuel Lopez. Miriam Book, who served as staff person for the committee, was also present. Absent was Marlin Miller, whose untimely death had occurred just two days before this final meeting.
Several important principles guided the work of the committee. First, there was the commitment to our biblical foundation and to the use of biblical terminology wherever possible. We sought to avoid dated words and phrases which have often polarized the church. Second, there was a commitment to an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective on matters of faith and life. Third, it was decided to follow the themes and pattern evidenced in historic Mennonite confessions, with a few exceptions. Fourth, we wanted to speak to current concerns regarding church life and societal influence. Fifth, we decided upon a formulation that would be foundational and general, with the expectation that practical aids such as church membership material, popular statements of what Mennonites believe, responsive readings, evangelistic tracts, and ethical expositions would be developed later. As examples, the committee has prepared a summary statement and two unison readings based on the Confession of Faith.
The project was a team effort. Typically, two persons were assigned to research a given theme. This work was then brought to the full committee for consideration. At a subsequent meeting the two persons presented a trial draft of this article. Again the committee discussed their work. Then the writers group, consisting of Lois Barrett, Helmut Harder, and Marlin Miller, met between committee meetings to formulate a proposed article and commentary. This was again brought back to the committee for eventual consensus. In this way the twenty-four articles and commentaries eventually took shape.
From the beginning, the committee has sought advice from the constituency. Meetings were held in various locations in North America for the purpose of consulting with church leaders. Early drafts of articles were shared at assemblies and conferences. Letters were received from congregations and individuals. The October 1993 draft was sent to all congregations along with a response form. A major revision was undertaken on the basis of feedback received. A later draft was sent to the General Boards and to regional conference leaders for response. Articles were sent to leaders in the international Mennonite community. All responses were processed in the committee or by the writers group. The Confession of Faith was translated into at least six languages besides English.
The committee received a great amount of helpful advice from respondents. While this was appreciated, obviously not all advice could be followed. Some wanted more detail on various themes and issues; others wanted a briefer document. Some called for more traditional theological language; others wanted a more contemporary style. In the end, the committee claims responsibility and accountability for the proposed Confession of Faith. We do so in thankfulness to God for the leading of the Spirit.
We are aware that the Confession of Faith has already yielded much interest and activity in the churches. It has provided the occasion and the basis for series of sermons, Sunday school discussions, study courses, radio talks, worship aids, and countless informal discussions. The committee is especially gratified to hear people say they have experienced spiritual renewal through their study of the Confession of Faith.
The "Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective" will serve its purpose well if it invites the congregations and conferences of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). As a committee we paused often to express this desire to God in prayer. - HHa
The Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church met in a joint assembly on 25-30 July 1995 in Wichita, KS. Business sessions were held separately and jointly for the various business items of each denomination.
In addition to the proposed Confession of Faith, other major items on the joint agenda at Wichita '95 included the Vision: Healing and Hope statement, a statement on "Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love," and a proposal for the two denominations to move toward "integration" [merger] of the two denominations.
All the major items were approved, but not without vigorous discussion and some dissent. For example the move toward integration was approved by 73.4% of the Mennonite Church delegates and by 92.9% of the General Conference Mennonite Church delegates.
The Confession of Faith discussion generated many requests for minor editorial changes. After initially agreeing to vote on the Confession as presented, it was finally agreed to allow the joint General Boards to "consider the counsel given and to approve a final draft of the confession for the church." This was approved with a minimal number of negative votes.
After the merger and restructuring of the two denominations was approved in 1999 (also including the Conference of Mennonites in Canada), the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective was considered the Confession for both Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA. - SJS
Harder, Helmut. "Report, Inter-Mennonite Confession of Faith Committee." Report Book of the Mennonite Church General Assembly and of the General Conference Mennonite Church Triennial Session, July 25-30, 1995, Wichita, Kansas: IM-3 - IM-4.
Mennonite Church. "Proceedings, Mennonite Church General Assembly, July 25-30, 1995." Elkhart, IN.
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MLA style: Harder, Helmut and Sam Steiner. "Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective - Context." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1995. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C6652_1995.html/C6652_1995_Context.html.
APA style: Harder, Helmut and Sam Steiner. (1995). Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective - Context. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C6652_1995.html/C6652_1995_Context.html.