To the Point . . .
New Affiliation of Anabaptist Congregations Planned
Meeting in the same room where the original "Smoketown Consultation" was held more than twenty years ago, a group of Mennonite leaders agreed to take steps to form "a new affiliation of evangelical Anabaptist congregations."
The Mill Stream Country Inn in Smoketown, PA, was the setting, on Saturday, February 12, 2000, for a meeting attended by forty-seven Mennonite pastors and church leaders from four states. The meeting was organized by the Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship, an international network of Anabaptist evangelicals headquartered in Harrisonburg, VA. Participants represented at least twenty-four congregations from six Mennonite Church conferences and the Eastern District of the General Conference Mennonite Church.
"The idea for the meeting didn't originate with us," said Eric Kouns, EAF Executive Secretary, who also chaired the meeting. "Several MC pastors asked EAF to facilitate a meeting like this. Our board considered their request and agreed to do that."
The purpose for the meeting was to consider alternatives to the new Mennonite Church USA as a context for fellowship, mutual accountability, credentialing, and cooperation in mission. "This was not a group of renegades," Kouns noted. "These were men and women who have served the church faithfully for many years. They are committed to Anabaptist/Mennonite distinctives, but they have become increasingly disillusioned with the MC-GC merger process and the theological direction being taken by the leaders of the new Mennonite Church USA. The action they took caused many of them great pain. It was not taken lightly."
Following three hours of lively discussion, participants voted on a motion, offered by Ernie Mummau from Quarryville, PA, and seconded by Stan Shirk from Harrisonburg, VA. The motion stated that, "in light of the formation of the new Mennonite Church USA and its departure from Biblical orthodoxy, we believe God is calling us to form a new affiliation of evangelical Anabaptist congregations." After a period of prayer, participants voted 42-0 to approve the motion. Five persons abstained.
Participants then authorized the EAF Board of Directors to appoint a steering committee from among those present to consider the implications of the group's action and to recommend appropriate next steps.
As the meeting began, participants were reminded of the historical significance of their meeting place. On July 10-11, 1979, a group of twenty Mennonite leaders met in the same room to discuss issues that troubled them in their respective denominations. All but one represented either the Mennonite Church or the General Conference Mennonite Church. Their discussion resulted in the release of the "Smoketown statement," a six-part declaration of their concerns which they presented for circulation among the congregations of the two denominations. The concerns expressed by the Smoketown statement included the need for "a reaffirmation of the authority of scripture, a reexamination of priorities with emphasis on the saving power of the gospel, and a clear call for renewed emphasis on evangelism."
The original Smoketown meeting was followed, in March 1981, by a much larger gathering at the First Mennonite Church (GC) of Berne, IN. Here again, discussion focused on the authority of scripture and how it is to be interpreted. Also at the Berne meeting, several participants expressed concern over what was being taught in the denominations' colleges and seminaries.
The Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship, which organized the recent Smoketown meeting, was established in 1992 and is a network of persons from at least six Anabaptist denominations who identify themselves as Evangelical Christians and who believe that contemporary Anabaptism, like its historical counterpart, should rest on the solid foundation of evangelical orthodoxy. EAF members come from at least 30 states and several Canadian provinces. "EAF is not and never will be a new conference or denomination," said Eric Kouns. "But we recognize a growing restlessness among many Mennonites who believe the emerging Mennonite Church USA has largely abandoned its historical and theological traditions. EAF has never counseled nor encouraged a congregation to break its existing denominational ties, and we never will. However, when we are consulted regarding such a move, and when we are asked to outline the possibilities open to seeking congregations, we will do whatever we can to be helpful and supportive."
Eric Kouns -- Harrisonburg, Virginia
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