Agreeing to Disagree: Conflict in the Mennonite Church

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Written Winter of 2013
For the last few months I’ve been asking persons what it felt like to be alive during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s when Calvary Church in Souderton was formed. I’m not sure I still understand the feelings connected with persons wanting to leave the Mennonite church which at that time insisted upon plain clothing and a lack of “worldly” things, such as wedding bands and television sets. Apparently, twice a year in each congregation there was a preparatory and communion service where the bishop of Franconia Conference presided, reading rules and regulations, such as the “Position of the Franconia Mennonite Conference on Dress” (see picture above). This was a solemn time when the bishop often gave strong admonitions to abide by the rules and persons were asked to make a public confession for any infractions.

To the persons starting Calvary Church in Souderton this felt like a strong emphasis on legalism that obscured many Biblical truths. They wanted to grow in their understanding of the Word, so they felt it was crucial to have trained ministers that were able to teach in more spiritual depth. They felt like their young people were especially at risk because of their desire to sing in quartets and choruses and did not think the Bishop telling these youngsters they could not participate in communion was a good approach to the issue. Through listening to Christian radio speakers and reading the Bible these former Mennonites began to see their faith as saved by grace, which lessened the importance of rules and regulations. The bottom line is that these founders of Calvary Church felt called by God to reach out to their community through missions and the congregation that developed grew by leaps and bounds.

I still can’t figure out the mood of these events and why this was not seen as a church planting. Finland and Ambler were mission churches of the 1940s, but this church was seen very differently. It must have been in how the process was carried out. I’m guessing that there were raw emotions and judgments on both sides and it boiled down to persons not feeling accepted and others feeling like their authority was being questioned. Actually, this polarization seems like a common societal issue . . . disagreement with persons in power and the corruption of power. In a church with a history of persecution and church splintering, my hope is that we can learn from the past and not continue to make the same mistakes connected with legalism and learn to be peacemakers that participate in collaboration, both as a Mennonite church and as a corporate church body. To me, church disagreements arise out of a lack of communal prayer in seeking God’s guidance and allowing judgment to override our desire to see and hear God speaking through each other.

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