Home Life & Faith New Introduction to the MB Confession of Faith Published: Part 3

New Introduction to the MB Confession of Faith Published: Part 3

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Preamble

The National Faith and Life Team (NFLT) is tasked with providing resources related to the MB Confession of Faith. These resources are to clarify our Confession of Faith, but the larger goal is to encourage greater spiritual health and theology in our MB family. Without a shared understanding of our MB Confession of Faith—its vision and unifying purpose—local churches and leaders could easily move in directions further and further away from our MB missional DNA. 

As part of that task, the NFLT have approved in principle a significantly revised introduction that replaces the existing “Nature and Function of the Confession of Faith” document. This new introduction responds to common questions that have emerged within our Canadian MB family that have not been addressed clearly elsewhere. 

This is the third and final part in our series looking at key sections of this new introduction here in the Herald with the hope that it will be read widely.

The full version is posted online here
If you have feedback and/or questions related to this revised “Introduction to the MB Confession of Faith,” please send them to listeningwell@mbchurches.ca 

Thank you for your participation in this project. 

Ken Esau 

CCMBC National Faith & Life Director 

“Introduction to the MB Confession of Faith (2023)” Selected FAQs

7. If all MBs are expected to affirm and actively support the Confession of Faith, how could the Confession of Faith ever change?

The MB Confession of Faith is open to occasional revision as is demonstrated by the revision of Article 8 approved in 2021. Revision to an article in the Confession of Faith can be undertaken for one or more of the following reasons:

We believe that the older language needs updating in order to clarify the original intention of an article as understood when approved in 1999/2021.

We believe that something needs to be added to a specific article in order to address a new situation facing our MB family today.

We believe that a present article does not faithfully express biblical teaching.

It is not incompatible for MB churches and/or leaders to affirm and actively support the Confession of Faith while at the same time expressing a desire for our larger MB family to explore the possible revision of an article. MB church members should express this to their own church leadership while MB churches and leaders should express this directly to their provincial Faith and Life Team.

The Canadian Conference National Faith and Life Team (NFLT) is the group that gathers feedback and suggestions that relate to the MB Confession of Faith. They are the body that initiates the review of an article of the Confession of Faith. We do recognize that our Confession is not “infallible,” so we desire to be open to God leading us toward greater faithfulness and better understanding in our convictions. This process of review and possible revision offers individuals and churches an opportunity to participate in prayer, careful biblical study, and discernment together across our national family. Any changes made must be done with “uncompromising obedience to the Word of God.” Changes to our Confession need approval through our larger national family of churches. We do not change or revise the Confession of Faith without a significant and lengthy process of prayerful discernment, biblical study, and community engagement.

8. What role does “community discernment” and/or a “community hermeneutic” play in developing and/or revising the Confession of Faith?

The MB church, as part of the larger Anabaptist tradition, intentionally practices a community approach to discerning what God is speaking to us (Matthew 18:18-20). This approach manifests itself in two ways. In cases when an individual or a local church senses a word from the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:29) or is asking God for direction in their circumstances, we call them to invite others to discern with them what God is saying. We refer to this process as community discernment when each individual and/or church prayerfully invites others to listen with them to the Holy Spirit on these questions. The goal is to clarify next steps based on the wisdom that they’ve heard. But community discernment, as helpful as it is for application questions, is NOT an adequate foundation for establishing our shared theological and ethical convictions.

When it comes to our shared theological and ethical convictions as expressed in the MB Confession of Faith, we move beyond community discernment to a process commonly referred to as a community hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the term used for the careful interpretation and application of Scripture. A community hermeneutic in relation to our MB Confession of Faith involves a group of duly recognized representatives from our MB churches across the country who turn their minds and hearts toward the careful study of Scripture in order to discern theological and ethical convictions for the larger family. While this group process involves prayer and careful discernment, a community hermeneutic is specifically focused on the study of Scripture. This community study of Scripture is designed to produce Scripturally-faithful theological and ethical convictions which are tested widely and then affirmed by delegates from the larger Canadian MB family. This is how the present MB Confession of Faith was formed. The MB Confession of Faith represents the conclusions that grew out of our community hermeneutic.

The model of the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15), where a gathered group of leaders and local believers came together to discern how the gospel should be received by Gentiles, provides a concrete example of how our larger national church family can listen to the Word and the Spirit in the face of a new theological question. This was neither a democratic process favouring the majority, nor a forced harmonizing of all views. However, in the end, it is an example of healthy consensus-building around a shared understanding of Scripture, where in order to reflect the unity of the Holy Spirit, some must have willingly chosen to affirm and support the decision even though they may not have fully agreed with the decision (Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians 3:14-16).

Since the expression of theological and ethical convictions in our MB Confession of Faith is a Canada-wide MB responsibility, our community hermeneutic is practiced necessarily by representatives from this national family. This means that the Confession of Faith is not revised simply because a local church (or even a group of local churches) has discerned together a different conviction. Because a local church is only one part of the MB family, it is inadequate to represent the fulness of a community hermeneutic when it comes to theological and ethical convictions for our whole national family. Local churches are welcome to participate in the process of Confession revision by sending delegates as part of the community hermeneutic process (see FAQ #7).

9. Are all articles in the Confession of Faith equally important or essential?

Mennonite Brethren have rejected the idea that the MB Confession has two tiers with some articles containing “essentials” and others “non-essentials.” Nevertheless, some of the 18 articles in the Confession of Faith may be more foundational than others (compare the articles about “Salvation” and “Stewardship”) while other articles address issues that flow out of previous articles (see “Creation and Humanity” and “The Sanctity of Human Life”). However, each article expresses Mennonite Brethren convictions regarding what the Bible says about a particular topic and it is included specifically because of its importance in the Scriptures and in the life of the church. If something is included in the Confession, this is already a declaration that we understand that to be essential. We believe that both theological convictions and ethical convictions are “essential” to faithfulness to Jesus and thus to our Mennonite Brethren identity….

Isaiah 5:1-2 describes a vineyard that has all the essential foundational ingredients (viz., excellent hillside, fertile soil, choicest vines) but it “yielded only bad fruit” (v.2). That vineyard was destined for destruction (vv.5-6) not because of its lack of essential ingredients but because of the bad fruit that was produced. The ingredients and the fruit that those ingredients produced were both “essential.” We do not believe that we can separate an essential theological core (Articles 1-9; 17-18) from non-essential and non-prescriptive ethical fruit (Articles 10-16). We understand our Confession of Faith as having 18 articles deeply interconnected with each other, designed to work together to produce the healthy fruit of a faithful MB church family participating in God’s great redemption story. 

10. Why can’t we have a shorter and less specific Confession of Faith that gives space for greater diversity in our family and breaks down barriers with non-MB churches?

Canadian Mennonite Brethren believe that the combination of theological and ethical convictions represented in our MB Confession of Faith is a valuable treasure that describes the centredness that Jesus is calling us to. Our Confession is a unified whole expressing what we believe about this theological centre and what it looks like to move toward this centre in day- to-day life. Limiting our Confession of Faith to only a few general theological and ethical convictions in order to ensure that there is room for increased diversity in our family is a misunderstanding of our Anabaptist commitment that true theology must be lived out day-to-day and impact every area of our lives. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) models for us this deep connection between theology and ethics. A very diverse MB family that shares only some short universally agreed on confessional affirmations has little to guide the preaching, teaching, and mission within our MB family; little to contribute to the larger Christian family; and little to anchor us as a denominational entity. We recognize that having a detailed and prescriptive collection of theological and ethical convictions will inevitably lead to some individuals, leaders, and/or churches stepping away from and/or losing their affiliation with our MB family because they cannot actively affirm and support these shared convictions. Shortening our Confession of Faith to a few “core” items and/or changing our expectations about what affirmation and support for the Confession of Faith means would certainly make more space for diverse voices within our family. But if our MB Confession is faithful in its description of what the Bible teaches, then it provides an accurate picture and a road map about what it means to follow Jesus and be the kind of people of God we believe Jesus is calling us to be. Making more space for diversity in conflict with these convictions would be a move away from rather than closer to our understanding of this centre.

In terms of other Christian denominations, we both humbly affirm and deeply cherish the theological and ethical convictions that we believe the Holy Spirit has led us to, while respecting and valuing these other denominational families. We trust that God is working through other denominational families for God’s larger mission in the world. Without ignoring or downplaying our own convictions, we want to partner well with Christian disciples from many other denominational families as we together proclaim and live out the gospel in our communities. But we do not expect them to rewrite their convictions to include only those that we share with them. We welcome these other groups to live faithfully to their convictions as we seek to live faithfully to ours. We believe that the people of God are strengthened rather than hindered when each group shares with the larger family the insights and gifts the Holy Spirit has entrusted to them.

11. Can a local MB church create their own Confession of Faith, adopt another Confession of Faith, and/or become affiliated with some other network or organization?

Since the MB Confession is a central part of our mutual covenant of commitment in our MB church family and an expression of our shared identity, it is essential that each local MB church affirm, support, and prioritize our Confession. In practice, this means that the MB Confession should guide theological/ethical teaching and congregational practice at the local church level. The MB Confession should be utilized in the hiring of staff, selection of leaders, and welcoming of new members. A local MB church’s affiliation with the larger provincial and Canadian MB family, along with the MB Confession of Faith (Summary and Full Edition) should be highlighted and accessible on the church’s website for those seeking clarity about the fundamental convictions guiding the church.

Since the MB Confession of Faith does not clarify all theological, ethical, and/or church polity matters, local MB churches may want to express some additional commitments for themselves in particular areas. A local MB church may also want to express affiliation with another Christian network or organization. As long as these additional commitments and affiliations are not in conflict with the theological, ethical, and polity convictions articulated in the MB Confession of Faith, this is not a departure from one’s covenant with the larger MB family. However, it should be clear that the MB Confession of Faith remains the primary statement of biblical convictions for the local MB church. Local churches should avoid creating their own confessions of faith even if based on the layout of the MB Confession, since this fails to honour the shared origins and affiliation represented by the MB Confession. It would be best to express any additional local church theological, ethical, and polity commitments separately from the MB Confession of Faith.

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