One of the benefits of being part of a large church located next to a Mennonite College is hearing the varied stories of retired professionals.
Don Blosser is a retired pastor and college Bible teacher. He received his doctorate from St. Andrews University in Scotland. He is the author of Dictionary of the Literature of the Bible (1993), and contributor to Jesus: His Life and Times (1998). He taught at Goshen College from 1979 to 2001. He recently wrote a paper in which he presents historical events in support of change in the church. The list in his words, including his feelings in parentheses, is posted with Don’s permission:
1. Acts 15 Paul & Barnabas chose not to circumcise Gentiles as they came into Christian Faith. This put them at variance with 1200 years of Jewish religious practice. A conference was held where the church accepted their action and gave a new interpretation of scripture to support this change. Not everyone agreed with the decision, but space was made within the church for this new understanding. (I am glad Paul and Barnabas had a vision for including new persons in the faith community.)
2.The 16th C. Anabaptists chose not to baptize infants. This put them at variance with over 1000 years of church history. Church leaders tried to stop them but our religious parents stood firm, and gradually space was made within the church for this new faith practice. Now adult baptism is accepted, even by those who do not practice it. (I am glad the Anabaptists led the church to a new understanding of baptism.)
3. Around 1922-23 some leaders in the Mennonite Church were moving toward a modernist approach to faith. The church said NO to this new direction, and the Board of Education closed Goshen College. In 1924 Goshen College was re-opened with a renewed vision and leadership. Over the years space has been made in the Mennonite church for a wider interpretation of Faith. (I am pleased that the church made this original decision and also allowed the circle of faith to expand in very positive directions.)
4. In 1948 EMC admitted an African American student. This put them at variance with the culture of the church at that time. Seven years later (1955) Virginia Conference moved to integrate racially and serve communion to African American members. Not all churches agreed with this decision, but space was made to be more inclusive of persons from other racial backgrounds. (I am glad EMC took this action correcting many years of a less-than-whole understanding of personhood.)
5. Around 1960 John Mosemann, pastor at College Mennonite, publicly indicated that he had changed his mind on divorce. With this decision he was at variance with the Mennonite Church. Not all churches have incorporated that decision into their own congregational polity. But we have made space for congregations who accept divorced persons. (I am very grateful to John Moseman for leading us through this change that helped us become more inclusive of those whose life differed from our own.
6. Freeport Mennonite Church had a man marry into the congregation who had been a leader in a different church group. He believed that being rebaptized would be seen as a denial of his past faith and church leadership. The Freeport congregation chose to be at variance with the denomination on adult baptism, and accepted him upon personal confession of faith. (I am proud of Freeport church for their courage to be accepting of a person while affirming the beliefs of the church.)
7. In the 1960’s a charismatic movement developed within the Mennonite Church. Not all churches, nor church leaders, joined in this movement, yet space was made for it within the church as it flourished for two or three decades, before gradually ending in 1995. This movement was a positive influence for many people, yet the Mennonite Church never officially became charismatic. (I am glad that the church made space for this movement without condemning those whose faith differed from the majority experience.)
8. In the 1960’s some young women in our congregation stopped wearing their “coverings”. This action put them at variance with the official position of the Mennonite Church. They did not demand that other women had to change. They only asked for acceptance for themselves in how they read scripture. Today, there are still congregations where the covering is expected of most women. But space has been given for those women for whom the prayer covering is not required. (I am pleased with this step toward equality for women.}
9. In 1971 The Lombard Mennonite Church asked to ordain Emma Richards as co-pastor. This action put them at variance with the official position of the Mennonite Church. Lombard Mennonite did not insist that every church ordain a woman, they simply asked for space in living out their sense of God’s leading. Not every congregation agrees with the ordination of women. But space has been given for women in leadership by most conferences. (I am thankful for people like Emma and the Lombard church for their courage in leading us to a better and more faithful understanding of women in the life of the church.)
10. In 2013 Denver Mennonite called a member of the congregation to be their pastor. This woman’s marriage relationship is at variance with the Mennonite Church position on sexuality. The congregation processed it, and the conference accepted it. Neither the Denver congregation nor Mountain States Conference insisted that any other congregation come to the same position. All they asked was for space in the Mennonite Church for them to be faithful to their understanding of scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. (I admire the Denver church, Mountain States Conference, and Theda Good for standing together in their call for acceptance of a person’s gifts and the recognition of who we are as persons.)
In his conclusion, Blosser pleads for space in the church for those who are in variance with its official teaching positions.