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October 1975 · Vol. 4 No. 4 · pp. 381–82 

Mennonite Brethren on the Move . . .

Helmut T. Huebert

The 53rd session of the General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches of North America demonstrated the brotherhood on the move—in certain areas. It also illustrated the paradox inherent in a body where frail human beings caught up in a world of flux and change deal with matters of eternal value.

The “spanking new” facilities of the Winnipeg Convention Centre in which the major devotional sessions were held, the roving radio-microphones, the efficient duplicating equipment, the audiovisual presentations demonstrated that we are in this world and in some ways have to move with the times. The discussion showed that aspects of the faith are meant to stand firm and unchangeable.

The Confession of Faith has been studied for many years. The seventh revised draft was presented to the delegates by the Board of Reference and Counsel. It was presented as “an expression of the biblical ideals of the brotherhood, revised from time to time, reflecting the faith which such a fellowship believes and preaches.” The “biblical ideal” is unequivocal. The Mennonite Brethren Church “has throughout its history emphasized biblical authority in all matters of faith and practice.” Sometimes, however, it has been difficult for the brotherhood to recognize exactly which aspects of faith and practice are changeable and which are not. A small variation in wording will illustrate how our day to day understanding of problems may affect what we read into Scripture.

1969 Fourth Draft—“. . . we should also pay taxes, vote, respect those in authority . . .”

1975 Seventh Draft—“. . . we should . . . pay taxes and obey all laws. . . .”

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Apparently voting can now be taken completely for granted.

By now that is hardly an issue. But the position of female leadership in the church was also discussed. A motion was received that women would help in the work of the church but should not be ordained to leadership positions. The majority of the delegates considered that this kind of specific item need not be mentioned in a confession of faith. There is no doubt, however, that there is considerable variation of opinion on the exact role women should play in the church, much of it firmly based on “biblical principles.”

It is to be hoped that the Confession of Faith is not to be an empty promise which, once made, is filed away in a dusty folder. In the hothouse of close conference fellowship, decisions may be made which cool rapidly in the strong winds of the outside world. It was {382} resolved that “instead of participating in military action we encourage believers to perform alternate service.” How many members are veering from this position, caught up in the feeling that “national interest” may be more vital than “bearing witness to the love of Christ”?

Not all change is for the worse. Change also permits us to “take back” earlier decisions. The 1969 General Conference in Vancouver recommended “that studies and/or negotiations for a unified approach to higher theological education be discontinued for the time being.” Nonetheless, men with vision (persistence?) continued to work to that end. In Winnipeg, the General Conference Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary became a reality.

The Mennonite Brethren have always been interested in missions. Up to this time the Board of Missions and Services has concentrated mainly on establishing Mennonite Brethren believers’ churches, and the Board continued this tradition, proposing the expansion of this type of work into Spain and new parts of Africa. But what about aid to non-Mennonite Brethren evangelical churches? And what about additional help in Bible training requested by non-evangelical churches? Feeling that we have a message to bring and good news to share, the conference accepted these recommendations.

In brief, the work was hard; some of the decisions were important; the fellowship was exhilarating. (Perhaps the fellowship which this gathering affords is more important than any of the resolutions passed.) I trust that Jesus Christ himself was the foundation stone on which the work of the conference was built.

Dr. Huebert, M.D. is an orthopaedic surgeon in Winnipeg. He is a member of the General Conference Board of Christian Literature.