“God saw that it was good”
As Christians, we believe Scripture clearly articulates that we have been created by God specifically for the purpose of fellowship with him and with one another. This is the pinnacle of what God’s creation is to do – to bring glory to him in all things. Article 3 of our Confession of Faith begins by relating our conviction that creation “declares God’s wisdom and power, calling all to worship Him.”1 It comes as no surprise that the first book of the Bible begins by relating that God is the creator of all that is, and that God made all things good according to his purpose.
As with all Scripture, God inspired the author of Genesis to write the creation account in terms that would have been familiar to the readers of that day. In terms of Israel’s relations with the surrounding pagan nations, the clear message was that not only is the God of Israel the supreme God; the God of Israel is the only God.
Creation itself – the sun, moon, and stars – is the work of almighty God, and not to be worshipped on its own. The heavenly bodies have no power except to do what almighty God designed them to do. Not only is God the author of all that is; everything in creation operates according to God’s wisdom and is subject to his ongoing direction, from the motion of celestial bodies to the passage of days and seasons, to the relationship of humans and animals with one another. Our world is amazingly intricate in its design.
Also important, the Genesis creation narrative describes the origin of our world, but not of God. Unlike the deities of pagan mythologies who are exalted in words but all too human in action, the God of the Bible is transcendent yet immanent, relating to creation but distinct from it. Unlike creation, the God of the Bible has no beginning and no end. God simply is. And although humankind is made in God’s image, the fullness of God’s nature is concealed from human view.
We believe that this understanding of God as sovereign Creator of the universe is foundational to everything that we are as a Christian community, but not simply because of the complexity or grandeur of creation. It undergirds our awareness of who we are and why we were created, as we recognize God’s redemptive plan at work from the very beginning and throughout human history. God’s creative work sets the stage for the unfolding of his redemptive activity in the covenant with Israel. In fact, David Ewert notes from Psalm 74 that God’s creative acts should be seen in light of God’s salvific work.2 Although we often see God’s creation of the earth as an independent doctrine in biblical revelation, the Genesis account is properly understood as part of a larger salvation story.3
Nor should we be surprised to read in Scripture that God’s work of creation did not end after God rested on the seventh day. God’s redemptive, creative work was – and is – ongoing in God’s covenantal relations with humanity. For example, the redemptive call of the nation of Israel is a creative act. It is God who has created and formed Israel, and this creation is inextricably linked to Israel’s calling and election by God.4
The same is true of believers in the present: Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:10 that “we are [God’s] workmanship.” This creation is not without purpose; we have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God’s creation did not end with Adam and Eve. God’s creative acts are ongoing, and continue in concord with his salvific plans for humanity and his created order.
God’s unfolding redemptive plan
Because creation – the universe around us which we normally mean when we refer to creation – is the setting in which God’s redemptive plan is unfolding and is the locale for its ultimate fulfillment, there are profound implications for what creation is meant to do, and also what we are called to do with it.
The Bible is clear that the created order is not to be the object of worship. (That would be idolatry.) Many Christians are wary of modern environmental movements because they fear an idolatrous view of creation underlies them. They point to the mandate given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” In this verse, they see that humans have the freedom to do whatever they choose with this world, because humans are to subdue it and have been given dominion over it.
But it would be inaccurate to discern in this verse, or anywhere else in Scripture, a mandate to exploit and abuse God’s creation.5 It’s important to remember that human action toward creation should conform to God’s intention for his creation, to declare the glory of God and proclaim his handiwork (Psalm 19:1). God has entrusted us with use and care of his creation, and will demand an accounting for our actions.
Even in its fallenness, creation still reveals some of the majesty of God, and as believers in the creator God, we have a responsibility to view and use creation in accordance with this revelation. What is more, neither humanity nor creation was so fallen that the image of the invisible God could not be incarnated in human form to redeem humanity. The coming of the Kingdom of God, though yet to be fulfilled, heralds the work of God that creates shalom even now and anticipates the renewing of God’s creation at his return. It also reminds us that God continues not only to interact with his creation, but also to intervene. A Christian understanding of creation must consider God’s supernatural actions in salvation history.
Less concerned with the “how”
While Scripture tells us a great deal about who created the universe and why, it is less concerned with the question of “how,”6 other than to describe the world as having its genesis in the creative power of God’s word (Psalm 33:6). There has been significant debate on this topic in recent years, but it’s important not to allow questions regarding the “how” of creation to overshadow the more important revelation regarding the “who” and the “why.”
In the context of Genesis 1–2, we believe that the foundational message – that God is the sovereign creator of everything that is – comes through clearly. We believe that this is the message God inspired the author to convey, and we believe that God’s word correctly imparts that foundational message for all times.
The Genesis account reveals a number of important details regarding creation, including that God created the world from the formless void (historically, we have interpreted this as meaning creation ex nihilo – out of nothing). We learn that God created the heavens and the earth, including all life on earth, that God created humanity in the image of God, and also that God created humans to serve as stewards of creation. But God does not reveal much through Genesis that gives insight into the way in which he created the world.
This last insight is not without significance, and we as Mennonite Brethren have chosen not to make a particular view regarding the method of creation a test of fellowship. We recognize that brothers and sisters in Christ who share a deep and real faith in Jesus Christ may not share a common conviction regarding how God created the world, but as Christians we choose to live and work together in love and mutual respect.
As believers, and especially as Mennonite Brethren committed to the foundational authority of the Bible, we affirm Scripture’s depiction of the God of Israel as the only sovereign creator of the world and all that is in it. On this, Scripture is abundantly clear.
We believe that all Mennonite Brethren believers can affirm together the glorious sovereignty of our creator God, and that we share not only fellowship but also mission in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This missional fellowship, our participation in God’s redemptive work, is greater than our differences in other areas of theology, and in fact provides the basis for conversation and loving mutual respect among believers.
We trust that we can share such a ministry together as Mennonite Brethren, and that as God’s creation, we will fully reflect his glory.
–Brian Cooper and the Board of Faith and Life (Brian Cooper is pastor of family ministries at Northside Community Church, Mission, B.C., adjunct professor at MBBS-ACTS, Langley, B.C., and vice chair of the Canadian conference board of faith and life).
1. Confession of Faith: Commentary and Pastoral Application (Winnipeg, Kindred Productions, 2000), 35.
2. David Ewert, “Creation from a Biblical Perspective: Part 1 – Perspectives for an Interpretation of the Creation Account of Genesis,” (resource for US MB Study Conference, 1966), 3.
3. Ewert, 4.
4. Ewert, 3.
5. Confession of Faith, 42–43.
6. Elmer Martens, “Perspectives on Creation,” (unpublished MBBS statement, 1983), 2.
* All Bible quotations in this article are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.