We believe that the church is the assembly of those who have accepted God’s offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The church is the new community of disciples sent into the world to proclaim the reign of God and to provide a foretaste of the church’s glorious hope. The church is the new society established and sustained by the Holy Spirit. The church, the body of Christ, is called to become ever more like Jesus Christ, its head, in its worship, ministry, witness, mutual love and care, and the ordering of its common life.1
We acknowledge the church as the society of believers from many nations, anointed for witness by the Holy Spirit.2 Through the work of the Holy Spirit, divisions between nations, races, classes, and genders are being healed as persons from every human grouping are reconciled and united in the church.3 In times of suffering as well as tranquillity, the church depends on the Spirit’s presence and power, rather than on the power or benevolence of government, for its preservation and mission.
The church is the assembly of those who voluntarily commit themselves to follow Christ in life and to be accountable to one another and to God, while recognizing that the church is imperfect and thus in constant need of repentance. The church’s identity as God’s people of faith is sustained and renewed as members gather regularly for worship. Here the church celebrates God’s boundless grace, reaffirms its loyalty to God above all else, and seeks to discern God’s will.
The church is the household, or family, of God.4 Commitment to one another is shown in loving one another as God loves, in sharing material and spiritual resources, in exercising mutual care and discipline, and in showing hospitality to all.5 The church welcomes all people who join themselves to Christ to become part of the family of God.6
We believe that the church as the body of Christ is the visible manifestation of Jesus Christ. The church is called to live and minister as Christ lived and ministered in the world. As many members belong to one body, so all believers have been baptized in one Spirit into the one body of Christ. There are varieties of gifts and ministries in the church, all given for the common good. Believers are to love each other and to grow toward the likeness of Christ, who is the head of the church.
The church exists as a community of believers in the local congregation, as a community of congregations, and as the worldwide community of faith.
Eph. 4:13, 15.
Acts 1:8; 2:1-11.
Acts 11:1-18; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Gal. 3:26-28.
Mark 3:33-35; Eph. 2:19.
Deut. 10:19; Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2.
John 20:21; Matt. 28:18-20; Matt. 57.
- New Testament references to the church as God’s people (1 Pet. 2:10) show that the early church depended on the Old Testament for much of its self-understanding (Exod. 7:6; 2 Sam. 7:24). As in Old Testament times, the New Testament people of God see themselves as a covenant community, relying on God’s promise of steadfast love and sustaining mercy. They are “a chosen race, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pet. 2:9; see Exod. 19:6). The word church is most often a translation of the Hebrew qahal or the Greek ekklesia, meaning “assembly.” But the church is a new kind of assembly. Its identity is not rooted in a common biological heritage or tied to one geographical location. The church is made up of people from many nations and ethnic backgrounds. Thus the church is a new social and political reality, described in this article with terms like “society,” “assembly,” “household of God,” and “community of disciples.”
- Mennonite emphasis on voluntary church membership, together with the modern focus on human potential, may tempt us to regard the church merely as a product of human effort. But the church is more than a human organization. The church depends on God for its very being and life (Eph. 3:20-21). Its foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). It relies constantly on the Holy Spirit.
- One of the Anabaptists’ favorite images for the church was the “body of Christ.” Participation in church life is a participation in Christ. Following Christ in life, a response of faithfulness to the baptismal covenant and to communal loyalty, is a way of knowing Christ. Works of love and service are an extension of Christ’s ministry in and through his body, the church. Joining in corporate worship regularly (Heb. 10:25) and sharing in the Lord’s Supper are ways of participating in the life of Christ and encouraging each other.
- The articles that follow give more detail concerning the church: its mission (Article 10); its practices of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and foot washing (Articles 11-13); discipline, ministry, and order and unity (Articles 14-16). Later articles (17-24) discuss the church in the world and the relation between the church and the reign of God.