Article 1: God
What does Mennonite Brethren theology have in common with that of other Christian denominations? And what are the distinctive emphases of Mennonite Brethren theology? Our Confession of Faith is a short document, informed by Scripture, that names the perspectives through which we read God’s Word in order to live as Christ’s followers. This is the first article in a series by the Board of Faith and Life exploring the 18 articles of this formative document.
Thirty years ago, Robert Fulghum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten became a worldwide bestseller. Its premise is that the elemental truths of life are far more basic and understandable than sophisticated adults are inclined to admit.
There is an elegant truth in Rev. Fulghum’s advice that parallels the start of the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith. Despite life’s complexities, there are elemental truths that ground and orient us, enabling us to live with hope and power in a world full of despair. The Confession begins with an article summarizing our convictions about the God we serve. It is short and uncomplicated. But it forms the basis of everything else that we believe.
Unlike many statements of faith, the Mennonite Brethren Confession begins not with the Bible, but with God. The foundation of our faith is the living God of heaven and earth. Scripture reveals God, but is secondary to God. The Bible is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. That is why we talk about God first.
Our commitment to knowing God in light of God’s self-revelation is seen in the biblical language used to describe Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe the best starting point for talking about God is to refer to the terms and metaphors that God has inspired. We talk about God first the way God talks about himself.
In the article about God, we see profound truths that inform and direct our lives.
We read that God is the source of all that is, all life and all of reality. We are reminded that God does not simply fit into reality; God defines reality. No matter how chaotic life seems in light of political and other events, God is still the sovereign who rules over all things. We have unshakeable hope because of who God is. Do our lives demonstrate this hope?
We read that God’s disposition toward the humans God has created is loving, nurturing and disciplining. God’s desire for close relationship with us is evident in his actions in human history because God loves us. What, ultimately, does God’s love look like? What, tangibly, is God like? The answer is simple: God looks like Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. Because of Jesus, we can know what Good News looks like, and show others. Do others see Jesus in us?
Jesus is the pattern for us to follow as we live our lives. We are called to be like Jesus. Our Confession describes, in elemental terms, what that means. Jesus shows us what true worship is, what Christian mission looks like and how to live lives of true love by living for others. Jesus reminds us through the cross that worship involves self-sacrifice. But Jesus also demonstrates that suffering yields the promise of glory. A bit is revealed now, but we will see far more in eternity in God’s immediate presence.
All of this is relatively easy to understand, but hard to put into practice. Our Confession reminds us that it is the Holy Spirit, God in us, that enables us to do the things we know we should do – the things we want to do, but cannot on our own. We are not left to our own power or wisdom to live our Christian faith. God provides all that we need – the transformation, the enabling and the direction.
We can be who we are called to be because of who God is, and what God has done and revealed in Jesus Christ. The basis for all we believe – and the reason we are motivated to say and do more – rests on these elemental truths.
[Brian Cooper is the BFL representative from the B.C. provincial conference. He has recently resumed the spiritual practice of bodily discipline on his cross-country ski machine, and he longs for the resurrection.