Why do Mennonite Brethren hold study conferences? It is because Christians are called to be united. This unity comes from our rootedness in Christ. The work of the Board of Faith and Life (BFL) is to provide theological and pastoral resources to serve a theological and missional purpose. This is why we hold study conferences.
Incarnating a coherently biblical response to diverse opinions and practices about sexuality is a pressing issue for this generation of God’s church. Such a response not only has profound implications for our approach to dominant cultural values, but also impacts the nature of our like-mindedness and purpose as a church.
The recent study conference “God, Sex & Church: A Theology of Healthy Sexuality” was intended to help individuals and churches frame pastoral responses as part of witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. The feedback received to date is that this goal has been accomplished in many respects. Feedback received from participants identifies content that has helped frame practical counsel taken away and in some cases has already begun to be implemented. For this we rejoice.
The BFL continues to affirm its commitment to the Confession of Faith as embodying faithful biblical teaching.
The BFL’s intent for the study conference was never to cast doubt regarding the Confession, but the perception remains among some participants that there is doubt.
The BFL’s pre-conference study guide laid out the purpose and theological starting point for the gathering. The study conference was intended to build “on the outcomes of the 2013 Study Conference.” It would “focus on pastoral responses to matters of human sexuality and set out a God-honouring expression of human sexuality, as informed by Scripture and the MB Confession of Faith.”
The first two indicators of success for the study conference, as written in the conference’s event book, are that participants “seek the inspiration of Scripture to gain a clearer vision of God’s design for human sexuality,” and be “challenged by a vision of the role of God’s church as a redeeming community in bearing witness to that vision.”
The BFL observed a variety of responses to study conference discussions. We recognize that for some participants, presentation of content may have prompted questions about the ongoing denominational commitment to the Confession of Faith. The BFL expected speakers and workshop leaders to ground their contributions in the Confession, but unexpected views were presented in unexpected ways nonetheless. A plenary respondent asked whether same-sex marriage might be supported by an appeal to Scripture. This question was asked not to suggest an expected answer, but to frame a question that is relevant to current discussion of same-sex practice and to orient it around a biblical text. Even though it was well-intended, the question was raised in a way that ran counter to the BFL’s expectations for how the discussion ought to be conducted.
Another statement caused some participants to question if a commitment to community might necessitate a relinquishment of truth. Again, this perception was real, even if not the intent of the speaker. Further, though there were individuals present who welcomed some of the tension created by parts of the conversation, we recognize that this has also created a perception that the BFL is sacrificing confessional commitments for good theological discussion. The BFL’s intention was to produce greater clarity about pastoral approaches in relation to human sexuality and apologizes for the confusion these comments and questions may have caused. The BFL is committed to having clear and redemptive conversations that are in keeping with the theological commitments of the denomination.
The members of the BFL of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches reiterate their commitment to the following theological affirmations, and call all members of Mennonite Brethren churches to continue doing the same. God has blessed our denomination, in part because its forebears sought to be wholly faithful to the teaching of Scripture. The BFL calls members of Mennonite Brethren churches to remain faithful to this teaching on human sexuality in order to be godly witnesses of the truth of Jesus Christ in a world that needs to be reconciled to him.
1. We believe that marriage and the family are instituted by God. The church blesses both marriage and singleness and encourages families to grow in love. Marriage is a covenant relationship intended to unite a man and a woman for life. At creation, God designed marriage for companionship, sexual union and the birth and nurture of children. Sexual intimacy rightfully takes place only within marriage. Marriage is to be characterized by mutual love, faithfulness and submission. Singleness is honoured equally with marriage, sometimes even preferred. The church is to bless, respect and fully include those who are single.
2. We believe that the entire Bible was inspired by God through the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit guides the community of faith in the interpretation of Scripture. The person, teaching and life of Jesus Christ bring continuity and clarity to both the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament bears witness to Christ, and Christ is the One whom the New Testament proclaims. We accept the Bible as the infallible Word of God and the authoritative guide for faith and practice.
3. The church is a covenant community in which members are mutually accountable in matters of faith and life. They love, care and pray for each other, share each other’s joys and burdens, admonish and correct one another. They share material resources as there is need. Local congregations follow the New Testament example by seeking the counsel of the wider church on matters that affect its common witness and mission. Congregations work together in a spirit of love, mutual submission and interdependence.
—The Board of Faith and Life of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren churches provides spiritual guidance and direction to our churches in matters of faith, theology, ethics and Christian living, and upholds biblical and ethical integrity through our Confession of Faith as well as resources and events.
See also the MB Herald report on study conference: “Single, together and rooted in Scripture” and Special General Meeting report
Good to hear that the Board of Faith and Life is staying strong on its view of marriage. The BFL may not have intended to cast doubt on the confession. But various articles and letters published in the MB Herald have certainly raised some alarm bells. For one example:
It is sad to hear that the engagement of questions is feared by the MB conference. It seems that the confession of faith is being treated as a credal document these days without the ability to constantly question and challenge it. This is a sad change. I suggest that it may be time that MB’s do what so many have wished for and remove Mennonite from their name.
I too felt the fear in this report. Perhaps I’d hoped for a summary of the practical pastoral clarifications that the conference produced. Perhaps I’d hoped for a more pastoral tone. This felt magisterial, but also defensive somehow. I wondered whether LGBTQ persons and those who know and love them wouldn’t read this and notice the willingness (however subtle) to shame those who diverge in any way. I wonder if they, who have already known fear far greater than most people ever experience, wouldn’t shrink back into the closet or simply leave the church. The most wonderfully pastoral “word,” which re-appears throughout Scripture, is “Fear not.” (Karla Braun stated this beautifully in the December editorial.)
Those who are afraid of the questions that exist in the church around human sexuality will not be able to pastor effectively, in my opinion, until they have sunk their own anxiety deeply into the “Fear not” of the eternal Christ. The questions and challenges will continue. It is fine to say we have a current Confession on the matter, but we must acknowledge that there are many Christians with an equally high view of Scripture who have reached differing conclusions on aspects of human sexuality. Let’s not be afraid of one another, of the questions, and most of all, of our beloved LGBTQ neighbors, children, friends.
Thank you for acknowledging and affirming that God’s Word is the final authority in this. We need never fear what God has created and called good, but we should ever fear the consequences of straying from the truth. Jesus Christ was the agent of creation, and although man has fallen into sin, His plan for marriage and the family has not changed.
Besides what was stated here, importantly, the marriage union is a picture of Christ (the head) and the church (His bride), which is why it must be carefully guarded. When we tamper with the picture which Christ Himself gave us, we are playing with fire.
The desire for physical/sexual intimacy was created by God, but can never be a replacement for a higher intimacy, without which we cannot live and for which we were ultimately created, spiritual intimacy with God. This must ever be kept in mind, not only for those who are single, but also those who are married, for even marriage will be lonely and unsatisfying for those who place all of their hope, faith and trust in another human being who will never be able to satisfy all of their needs. A return to simple prayer and Bible reading is a must. A daily reading from the Psalms is very beneficial.
As for the questions of same-sex attraction, I believe the feelings are very complicated for the people involved and do have to be dealt with. People living in sin are living according to their feelings, which have become confused (the heart is deceitful), and not by faith in what God’s Wod teaches. Scripture teaches that sex outside of marriage is sin, that the sexual union is to be between a man and a woman, and that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, although unorthodox and aberrant interpretations have been around for along time in cults and apostate groups, and have even been recorded in Scripture among sinning saints of old, with dire consequences. Athough a culture is in serious moral decline does not mean the church should cave in and follow suit just because family members they love are living in sin, difficult as this may be for them. I am sorry for those in this position, and these families must be loved and upheld in prayer. Those in sin must, in love, be told they have a Savior who loves them, who died for them and rose again, and humbly come to the foot of the cross. They need to repent (change their mind) about their sin and about who Christ is and His rightful place in their lives, then have their mind transformed and renewed by God’s Word. That is the only solution to this problem. When Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, He didn’t just leave her to continue in her sin, He told her to “go and sin no more”. It was His desire for her to live not only in the joy of His forgiveness, but also in freedom from sin.
There will ever only be true fulfillment found in a living, growing relationship with God the Father through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, when we are born again by the Spirit of God, and walk daily in step with the Holy Spirit according to God’s Word, whether celibate and single, or married.