What does Mennonite Brethren theology have in common with that of other Christian denominations? And what are the distinctive emphases of Mennonite Brethren theology? Informed by Scripture, our Confession of Faith names the perspectives through which we read God’s Word in order to live as Christ’s followers. This series by the Board of Faith and Life explores the 18 articles of this formative document.
Christianity and Other Faiths
A reflection on Christianity and Other Faiths in the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith rightly begins with an emphasis on the God whom Christians worship.
Such an emphasis highlights who God is and what God has done in and for this created world.
Called to bear witness
God’s provision of sovereign grace in Jesus Christ, the divine work of reconciliation, the gift of witness given to all the world, the offering of the kind of love and judgment that are expressions of God’s ‘being,’ along with an eternal commitment to communicating all of these perfections (and more, of course) – it is this to which Christians are called to bear witness to a waiting world.
This call might also be understood as an invitation to participate in the work of the triune God who is already at work in the world, breaking down the walls of hostility (Ephesians 2), healing broken relationships, and bearing witness to what Jesus Christ has accomplished by his incarnation, life, teachings, death, resurrection, ascension, and his eternal presence in his body, the church.
Everything Jesus has done for the world in the power of the Holy Spirit is available to all, asserts Article 17, and therefore the Christian is called to make known this good news, trusting that God will continue to communicate that news “in ways that are beyond human comprehension.” It is important to acknowledge that latter kind of communication is for Christians too: we need those messages from God as much as, or more than, anyone else.
A marginalized faith
The society in which we participate in God’s work today does not readily find the Christian message plausible.
In past times, Western society functioned as a Christian society, by which I do not mean that everyone believed the gospel; rather, as Robert Jenson puts it, “the gospel was what one believed if he or she believed anything at all.”
However, living in a pluralistic society as a marginalized faith is nothing new for Christians – at least the first couple hundred years of our existence was like that. The implications for us then are that we ought to work hard to resist postures of triumphalism, superiority, distorted exclusiveness, or the flattening of all faiths into one amorphous category that leaves them all as generic versions of all the others.
Rather, our faith in God, our dependence on the work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, motivates us in a multi-faith context to pursue the mission of our calling with humility, trust, and joy.
The model of Jesus
We rely on the model of Jesus to shape our incarnational mission of loving God, being friends with our neighbours (recognizing that our conventional understanding of who is our neighbour is itself shaped by Jesus’s teaching; see Luke 10:25–37, for example), loving our enemies, pursuing inter-faith dialogue – as Christians, because we are Christians – working in solidarity with other faiths for the common good, as we seek the peace of the city in which we find ourselves (see Jeremiah 29).
Article 17 – the three subtitles of which confess that Jesus is the only way, that God expresses a universal witness, and that God is sovereign – is not a call for Christians to sort out and draw conclusions about the eternal destinies of specific individuals or groups of people.
To affirm that Jesus is the only way is inextricably linked to the belief that God has not left anyone without God’s own witness and all of this is in God’s hands.
Joyous Christian freedom
To confess these truths is to open up a joyous Christian freedom – freedom that begins its expression in worship, carries forward its mission in declaring God’s love for the world, and lives in that world. We live in joyous Christian freedom as a witness to the love, peace, and reconciliation always being offered to us as God’s gracious gift, for which we give thanks.
The Liturgical Readings for Article 17, which accompany the MB Confession of Faith, includes the following lines, which serve as a prayer for our conference of churches:
Open our ears, that we might listen and learn
from all the human family.
In the same way, open our mouths,
that we also might humbly share
what we have seen and heard and touched.
[Paul Doerksen is associate professor of theology and Anabaptist studies at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg.
Resources used: Confession of Faith; Liturgical Resources; Pastoral Application; Robert Jenson, Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live?; and material from CMU colleague Harry Huebner’s ongoing work with Mennonite/Muslim Dialogues