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 second 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your participation in this project.
CCMBC National Faith & Life Director
“Introduction to the MB Confession of Faith (2023)” Selected FAQs
1. How Should the MB Confession of Faith function for us as an MB family?
The Confession of Faith rightfully functions in several ways within Mennonite Brethren churches. First, it expresses what we believe the Bible teaches regarding our core theological and ethical convictions. As such, the Confession defines our shared MB theological identity that conveys our commitment to live under the authority of Jesus, who is made known to us in the Scriptures, as we seek to be led by the Spirit of God. The Confession provides an interpretive guide for applying the teaching of the Bible to the relevant questions and issues facing the church.
Second, the Confession expresses our vision for faithful discipleship as Jesus’ followers through who we are and what we say and do. The Confession calls our MB family to integrate what they believe with what they practice and how they worship. The Confession introduces new believers to the core teachings of the Bible and invites new leaders and churches to covenant together with our larger MB family. The Confession guides us in the process of mutual accountability within our covenant community.
Third, the Confession publicly proclaims our witness to the gospel story – God’s redeeming, reconciling, and transforming work through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit. The Confession serves as our testimony both of who we are, as a family of churches, and who we are called to be, as we seek to follow Jesus faithfully in this world. The Confession offers shared convictions that can facilitate our participation together with other Christians in God’s mission and partner with them as members of Christ’s body.
3. Is the MB Confession of Faith descriptive of prescriptive?
In reference to the MB Confession, we use the language of “descriptive” and “prescriptive” in specific ways. Because the Confession expresses our shared theological and ethical convictions based on our understanding of the Scriptures, we refer to the Confession as being “descriptive” of what we believe the Bible teaches. Because the Confession articulates our shared convictions that have been discerned together, it does not simply describe the result of a survey of what the majority of Mennonite Brethren might believe at a given time. The point of reference for the Confession is the Scriptures. The Confession points beyond itself and is authoritative to the extent that it accurately describes what the Bible teaches.
The MB family “accept[s] the Bible as the infallible Word of God and the authoritative guide for faith and practice” (Article 2). If the Confession faithfully describes what the Bible teaches, then the Confession can be referred to as “prescriptive” for teaching, ministry, discipleship, and biblical accountability within MB churches. Affirmation of the Confession entails a covenant commitment both to the local congregation and to the larger MB family. Departure from the Confession constitutes a serious violation of these covenant relationships. Individuals and churches are not free to disregard or teach convictions that are not in agreement with the Confession. These convictions are “prescriptive” and “normative” for each and every local MB church and each and every MB leader (credentialed and non-credentialed) because we hold these convictions to be faithful to what God is telling us through Scripture.
In this specific way, we can refer to the MB Confession of Faith as both descriptive and prescriptive. Our 1987 Resolution on the Confession states: “Since the Confession of Faith represents our best understanding of what God’s Word teaches, we consider it binding for the life and teaching of the church.”
5. What are the foundational expectations for MB churches, MB leaders (credentialed and non-credentialed), and MB local church members in relation to the MB Confession of Faith?
Because the MB Confession of Faith expresses our biblically based theological and ethical convictions, it is an expectation that all MB churches and leaders (credentialed and non-credentialed) “affirm” the 18 articles of the MB Confession of faith. To affirm our Confession means to embrace, teach, and live in alignment with the 18 articles. To affirm involves actively demonstrating support for the convictions expressed in our Confession of Faith. Demonstrating support requires more than just not publicly speaking or teaching against components of the Confession. Demonstrating support is a voluntary embrace of these convictions because of a willingness to join and live in a covenant relationship with the larger MB community that has agreed together to embrace these convictions. Affirming and supporting shared convictions is an act of the will on the part of leaders and local churches.
To affirm the Confession of Faith and actively demonstrate support for the Confession of Faith does not mean that a leader (or a church corporately) has no reservations or questions about how a particular line in the Confession is worded, or about how that conviction should be lived out in complex situations in our world. Affirming the MB Confession of Faith is about leaders being willing to embrace and support our shared MB Confessional convictions both personally and publicly, and about local MB churches living out an active embrace and support of these convictions in policy, teaching, and practice.
When it comes to members at the local MB church level, the ideal is that all members would affirm the MB Confession of Faith, but because we welcome new members at very different stages of their discipleship journey with Jesus, we are aware that the 18 articles could be overwhelming for some. While we do not expect every new member to have gone line by line through our Confession of Faith prior to joining the local family, local churches will face significant challenges if large numbers of their members are later surprised by our shared convictions and fundamentally disagree with them. Churches will have a difficult time walking together in discipleship, corporate witness, and active mission if significant groups of the church membership never embrace these shared convictions. We recommend that all prospective members receive a basic and winsome introduction to the MB Confession of Faith (and God’s Kingdom story that it reflects) in the hope that they can move toward affirmation and support of the convictions contained there.
6. What happens when an MB church and/or leader moves away from affirming/supporting the Confession of Faith?
For leaders, moving away from affirming the Confession of Faith involves no longer being able to actively support the convictions expressed in the MB Confession of Faith personally and/or publicly. This movement away from the Confession can show up in many ways. For example, moving away could involve living in conflict with our shared ethical convictions about what Christian discipleship looks like (and/or encouraging other followers of Jesus in this direction), and being uninterested in moving back toward the active support of the Confession of Faith. Moving away could also involve teaching, preaching, or declaring personal views that are in opposition to the Confession of Faith. Moving away could involve demonstrating a lack of respect for the larger MB community which has discerned these fundamental convictions together. (See Question #7 for how MB churches, leaders, and members can express their desire for possible revision of our Confession of Faith. This does not constitute “moving away” from our Confession.)
For churches, moving away from affirming the Confession of Faith could involve any action or group of actions that demonstrate that these convictions are actively opposed and/or are not valued in the overall functioning and ministry of the congregation. Encouraging and promoting activities and/ or teaching in conflict with the convictions in the MB Confession of Faith gives the impression of a lack of affirmation and support of our convictions. Hiring leaders who are unable or unwilling to become credentialed through the local provincial leadership would be another indication of lack of affirmation and support.
For MB leaders and churches, deliberate departure from to be a violation of their covenant relationship to both the local congregation and the larger MB family—which involves our shared obligations and promises to each other. Active support for the convictions of the MB Confession of Faith is part of the family covenant that MB leaders and churches enter when they choose to identify with the MB family. The language of “MB church family” is intended to express that our local churches should operate with the kind of mutual care, accountability, support, and love that we would expect in a healthy biological or adopted family unit. That kind of mutual relationship should also exist as much as possible between all our MB entities Canada-wide and even beyond (e.g., our local MB churches, our provincial organizations, our national organization, and our related agencies world-wide). Departure from affirmation and support of the Confession of Faith harms these mutual relationships, undermines trust, and puts at risk our shared ability to work well together.
If an MB church leader cannot affirm and actively support the convictions expressed in the MB Confession with integrity, they should reconsider whether the MB family is a good fit for them. This should involve an honest and forthright conversation with whomever that leader is accountable to in an effort to seek a positive resolution. It may be that the leader has misunderstood the conviction, and integrity can be restored through further clarification. But it is also possible that integrity will require one to leave a leadership role and, for credentialed leaders, offer to surrender one’s credential status.
Being part of covenant relationships involves mutual accountability. For Mennonite Brethren, we believe that while our ultimate accountability is to Jesus, leadership in the way of Jesus is best practiced in the context of accountability to others. This means that all MB leaders, credentialed and non-credentialed, are to be held accountable for their covenant commitments expressed when they became leaders. If a local non-credentialed leader cannot affirm and support the shared MB convictions, local church leaders are the accountability group to seek a resolution. If a credentialed leader is in this situation, the local church and provincial leaders are responsible to go through a three-step process (e.g., discovery of what is true; conversation/intervention; and accountability steps). While intervention and accountability steps may produce positive and hopeful results that allow for continued leadership and ministry, ongoing credential status for MB leaders is predicated upon the credentialed leader affirming and supporting the MB Confession. If affirmation and support are not evident, removal of the credential, while a last resort, may be a necessary accountability step in the resolution. These sorts of difficult accountability steps are not in conflict with living in the way of Jesus (Matthew 18:15-17; cf. 2 Timothy 2:24-26).
If a local MB church cannot with integrity affirm and support our shared convictions expressed in the MB Confession of Faith, they should consider whether this is the best fit for them. Local MB churches are in an accountability relationship with their provincial leadership and provincial church family. Again, while it is hoped that all intervention and accountability steps would produce a return to an embrace of our shared convictions, this may not be possible in certain situations and the church’s affiliation with the provincial MB family may need to end.