by Josh Meyer, Leadership Minister
I am a denominational mutt. I was born and dedicated at a Baptist church. I spent my formative teenage years in a Lutheran congregation. In college I attended a charismatic Vineyard fellowship. I’ve worshiped at an evangelical megachurch. I spent my first 5 years of ministry in a mainline United Methodist context. And for the past 7 years I’ve found my home in a Mennonite church family.
One of the benefits of this diverse ecclesial background is that it formed in me an appreciation for various expressions of faith and a deeply ecumenical understanding of the Body of Christ. We’re not all the same, and that’s okay. Paul writes about the value of this kind of diversity in 1 Corinthians 12. Though we are made up of many parts, we are one body.
I’ve commonly understood this illustration as applying to the local church congregation. God has gifted each of us in unique ways; we don’t all have the same gift, but we all have something to contribute to the Body of Christ. A person’s gift could be music or serving or administration. It may be related to budgeting and finance, or working with children, or teaching the Bible. There are many different kinds of gifts, and no one gift is more important than any other.
While this is certainly one faithful, helpful way of understanding Paul’s image, I’ve been challenged recently to think about the metaphor in terms of the larger global Church. “Many parts” can refer to individuals, but can also refer to congregations and denominations. And “one Body” can refer to a local church, but it can also refer to the global, worldwide Church.
Therefore, just like the eye can’t say to the ear, “I don’t need you,” and just like someone who’s gifted in music can’t say to someone who’s gifted in administration, “I don’t need you,” in the same way:
- Protestants can’t say to Catholics, “We don’t need you.”
- Anabaptists can’t say to Lutherans, “We don’t need you.”
- Charismatic believers can’t say to Reformed believers, “We don’t need you.”
- Conservative Mennonites can’t say to liberal Mennonites, “We don’t need you.”
- Progressives can’t say to traditionalists, “We don’t need you.”
We’re all part of the same Body: the body of Christ. There is a beauty in our diversity, and what unites us and makes us one isn’t that we’re identical, but that we all share a common commitment to Christ. This isn’t to suggest our distinctive Anabaptist beliefs don’t have value – there’s incredible value in our particular expression of faith, and there are many things we can humbly offer as gifts to the larger Church. It is important to emphasize, however, that our highest calling is not being Mennonite. Our highest calling and great privilege is being followers of Jesus.
We don’t have a monopoly on the Way of Jesus. There are good, faithful, honest, brilliant, Bible-believing, God-honoring, Jesus-loving, Spirit-filled people in other parts of the Body as well, in other churches, other conferences, other denominations. And we need them. We need them to be faithful to who God’s called them to be, and we need to be faithful to who God’s called us to be, recognizing that while we may not look the same, we’re still part of the same Body.
My hope and prayer for Franconia Conference is that we would see other churches – both those within our conference and those beyond it – not as our competition but as our partners. We’re not all the same and we don’t all agree on everything, but we’re called to love and bless and pray for and work with our sisters and brothers in Christ who are committed to the missional, intercultural, and transformational work of God in our collective midst.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2019 issue of The Mennonite.