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Article 12: Society and state

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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 twelfth article in a series by the Board of Faith and Life exploring the 18 articles of this formative document.

In another part of my life, I’m a sports writer who covers the Canadian Football League. Allegiances to professional sports teams tend to be strongly held, although, when we stop to think about it, most of us can admit we’re cheering for our favourite laundry. When the question turns to the nature of our allegiances both politically and socially, however, the conversation takes on a distinctly less jovial tone.

Politics is the language of western civilization. Most dialogue and identification is broken down into power structures and descriptions of them. When we speak to each other, describe each other, or interact with each other, we tend to do it primarily through categorizing ourselves by our political and social affiliations.

This, however, isn’t the basis of Christian affiliation, faith, or identity.

We are more than how we fit into the social structures of our culture. When Jesus came to earth with the ministry of reconciliation and the Kingdom of God, his solution was not Western liberal democracy. Instead, his was a ministry of love and forgiveness to bring reconciliation to a broken creation one changed heart and life at a time.

Our allegiance is to God through the new covenant sealed with Jesus’ body and blood. As Mennonite Brethren, we confess that we are not in fact Canadians who follow Jesus, but citizens of the Kingdom of God who live in Canada and seek to bring about his good and do his will through engaging with the culture in which we live (Philippians 3:20).

Kingdom allegiance

In Article 12 of the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith, we confess that our hope for good in the world comes through allegiance to the Kingdom of God, not any other power or society whether through oaths or associations (Matthew 5:33–37).

Regardless of our political stripe, all people agree the world has problems. The disagreement comes in how we name them or believe they should be addressed.

Followers of Jesus pledge allegiance to Jesus as Lord and dedicate their lives to lovingly and sacrificially serving him. We may well cooperate alongside other groups as our efforts align in working to defend the weak, care for the poor, and promote justice, righteousness, and truth (Psalm 82:3–4). However, our hope resides not in the means of any other group.

Our hope cannot be based on the ability of any political party, government, or special interest group to solve our problems through their finances, power, or structures. Our hope instead is in the abundance of God’s means and abilities. Where our hope lies, so lies our allegiance.

When our quest for solutions to the problems we experience lies in political power, we have lost our way. When our ability to do God’s work is dependent on means from governments, we inherently minister from poverty.

When we conflate the work of the gospel with enforcing Christian ethics on non-Christian people through legal systems, we have lost the heart of the gospel (1 Corinthians 5:9–13).

Integrity as followers

Integrity as positive representatives of God in the world is of utmost importance. Followers of Jesus are the de facto face of God to the world we live in.

If we are truly to be about our Father’s business, how we do that business is as important as the business we do. We must be credible and positive influences on our world. At all times, we must comport ourselves with the dignity and respect due to others created in the image of God – not stooping to the levels of insult and caricature that plague our political system (Philippians 1:27).

Rather, in all things, we seek to be a positive representative of Jesus – of love, mercy, and self-sacrifice – to a system bent on gaining and maintaining power at any cost.

We need not support politicians when their directions are contrary to our Kingdom confession, but we also must be careful not to indiscriminately politically ally ourselves with them when there are issues of faith and practice upon which we agree. If our faith lines up completely with what any one party offers us, we ought to question whether our faith is truly in Jesus or in the nation or party of our choosing.

We ought to be engaging with our society to bring about the good of God’s Kingdom as he calls us and empowers us to do so.

The life of the Christian is that as strangers and aliens in the world, we bear witness to the Kingdom of God, seeking for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

[Ben Kramer is a Saskatchewan representative on the Board of Faith and Life.

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Jake Janzen August 4, 2018 - 18:26

Ben. I quite feel as part of creation, not alien, I agree our hope is in being part of God’s kingdom but so are many others who live by God’s precepts so I welcome them as associates. Yes?

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PJ:L August 7, 2018 - 15:57

Well said, Ben! We are in grave danger these days (as many others before us) to think that somehow political systems and ideologies will bring about the Kingdom of God. I often ask this, “What is more noble, spiritually speaking, for a Christian to die in service of country, or to be martyred in another land (or this one) for the sake of the King of kings?” What we are willing to die for denotes our true spiritual commitment. Thanks Ben for this good articulation.

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