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.
Sin and Evil
“When a man really tells the truth, the first truth he tells is that he himself is a liar,” wrote Catholic public intellectual G.K. Chesterton. The truth about the human problem, according to the Bible, is the sin that resides within each of us.
This message is a hard sell. Some religions treat sin and evil simply as part of our experience of life. Secular worldviews reject sin since there is no ultimate meaning or accountability in a universe without God.
In popular language, “sin” describes what we desire but know is not really good for us, e.g., “sinfully” delicious chocolate. Because of this changing language, theologian Michael Bird suggests we replace “sin” with “evil.”
We still try to distance ourselves from “evil” by assigning the term to the Robert Picktons and Adolf Hitlers of history, but we recognize it exists. Jesus identified the source of evil in Mark 7:20–23: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Honesty with our own sinful hearts shows us our own deep need for a saviour and helps protect us from the all-too-common tendency to blame someone else.
One of the terms in the Bible translated as “sin,” means “to miss the mark.” The mark in this case is God’s perfect, just and good character Since we have been made in the image of this God, sin is any deviation from his character. Our sins distort his image in us, deprive us of his blessings and rob God of the glory he deserves. Sin corrupts our relationships with God, with each other and with creation.
The state of our depravity requires an intervention by God. God accomplished this rescue through Jesus “even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:5).
This marvelous salvation is so desperately needed. Sin and evil not only destroy the lives of individuals and families, but also corrupt whole societies and political structures through war, anarchy, slavery and oppression of all kinds. Redeemed by Jesus, we carry a message (the gospel) and an ethic (Kingdom values) able to free people from the domination of personal sins and transform and heal societies from systems that enslave.
The Confession of Faith with commentary and pastoral application offers practical suggestions on each article. In Article 4, it encourages us to invite the Holy Spirit to search and purify our hearts at communion.
When we humbly quiet our hearts before the symbols of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, we have opportunity to repent of our sins and to restore broken relationships. In this way, we are preparing our hearts to receive his grace. Recently, while serving communion at my church, I realized a certain parishioner – with whom I had some inner attitude issues – would certainly come to me to receive the elements. I thanked the Lord for mercy toward me and this individual and determined again to walk in love toward them.
In the Confession, the article on sin and evil precedes the one on God’s glorious work of salvation. Why put such decidedly bad news ahead of the good news of God’s grace and mercy? Because we cannot appreciate or even comprehend the meaning of Christ’s suffering on the cross if we are ignorant of, or in denial about, the darkness of sin within each of us. As Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City, often says, the bad news about us and our sin is worse than we imagined but the good news of Christ’s salvation is better than we could possibly have dreamed.
[Rob Thiessen is BCMB conference minister.