Home Life & Faith New to the MB Confession of Faith: Article 1 Explanatory Notes

New to the MB Confession of Faith: Article 1 Explanatory Notes

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The National Faith & Life Team (NFLT) is tasked with the provision of resources related to the MB Confession of Faith. They have taken on the task of updating the existing resources (viz., Commentary, Pastoral Application) that have been in use for over twenty years. In 2020, the NFLT began the long-term project of rewriting and updating the resources for each of the 18 articles in the MB Confession of Faith. The new resources will include Explanatory Notes and FAQ responses for each article. 

The following is an excerpt of Article 1: Explanatory Notes. For the complete document see here.

If you have feedback and/or questions related to these Article 1: Explanatory Notes, please send them to listeningwell@mbchurches.ca  Thank you for your participation in this project.

Ken Esau

CCMBC National Faith & Life Director

Article 1: God1

We believe in the one, true, living God, Creator of heaven and earth.2 God is almighty in power, perfect in wisdom, righteous in judgment, overflowing in steadfast love.3 God is the Sovereign who rules over all things visible and invisible, the Shepherd who rescues the lost and helpless.4 God is a refuge and fortress for those in need.5 God is a consuming fire, perfect in holiness, yet slow to anger and abounding in tender mercy.6 God comforts like a loving mother, trains and disciplines like a caring father, and persists in covenant love like a faithful husband.7 We confess God as eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.8

1 A.W. Tozer is well known for saying: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The MB Confession begins then with what is most important. It does not start with human beings, salvation, revelation, or the Second Coming of Jesus but simply with “God.” Article 1 presupposes that the God described in the Old and New Testaments is a true reflection of the actual God. Even with this large collection of material, we must admit that all of our human language and all of our human reason is inadequate to fully describe God. Theologians use the word “ineffable” to describe how God is beyond everything our human language is capable of describing. Article 1 uses limited human language to try to capture the magnitude of God’s beauty, majesty, character, goodness, and self-giving love that should lead every human being to bow down in joyful worship. 

Article 1 does not use philosophical and extra-biblical words like omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, immutability, impeccability, infinity, providence, or even Trinity but rather uses the language, metaphors, and descriptions of divine actions that come directly from Scripture. While there are three main sub-headings (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit), Article 1 stands as a kaleidoscope through which many rich and colourful biblical statements about God are placed side-by-side. 

In Article 1, God (Father, Son, and Spirit) is described by what the Triune God is personally doing and has done. It is clear that there is really no solid way of knowing God’s character and being apart from telling God’s story from original creation to future re-creation, from the Garden to the New Jerusalem. God is healing the brokenness that continues to rage through the biblical story: brokenness between humans and God, humans and each other, humans and creation, and even humans and their own selves. The Old Testament uses the word “shalom” in reference to the state of these healed relationships while the New Testament uses the words “Kingdom of God” (or even “eternal life”). We learn the most about God’s character, purposes, and love when we study what we could call God’s shalom restoration story or God’s Kingdom story. This is the story that reveals the triune God most fully and is the invitation to salvation and become part of his story.  

2 It is appropriate to begin with this four-part affirmation about God because everything comes from this.

God is One. This central Old Testament claim about God comes from Deuteronomy 6:4 (what Jewish folks refer to as the Shema): “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (or “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone”). This text fundamentally rules out the worship of anything (e.g., worthless idols) or anyone other than God (Exodus 20:2-6; 34:17; Leviticus 19:4; 26:1; 1 Samuel 12:21; 2 Kings 17:15; Psalms 78:58; 96:5; Isaiah 44:6-9; Jeremiah 10:8). 

God is the one true God (2 Chronicles 15:3; Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 10:10; John 17:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 John 5:20). 

Article 1 affirms orthodox monotheism. Only the biblical God revealed as the LORD (Yahweh) is God. Yahweh is the personal name for the “one true God” (Exodus 3:13-15) and the only “living God” (Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; Psalm 42:2; Matthew 16:16; Acts 14:15). Scholars have a variety of meanings for the name Yahweh (or Jehovah in the KJV). It could be the third person singular form of “I AM WHO I AM,” or “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE,” or even “I CAUSE/CREATE TO BE WHAT I CAUSE/CREATE TO BE.” 

In the ancient world, pagan gods were often considered to be in control of important areas of life like fertility, weather, or war, and these gods were given physical forms that fit that domain (e.g., bull, lion, human female, human male warrior, etc.). In addition, their names were used in incantations and rituals in order for humans to control the gods for personal benefit. 

Yahweh’s name in itself is saying: “I am not like these other gods.” Yahweh is not limited to any one area of the created order but his throne is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:21). No form or image is adequate to express Yahweh’s character and purposes (until of course, God becomes incarnated in Jesus [Colossians 1:15]). Yahweh’s great name remains elusive and cannot be manipulated by humans for their benefit. 

God is the living God (Jeremiah 10:10; Psalm 42:2; 84:2; Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26; 2 Kings 19:4; Matthew 16:16; Romans 9:26). Yahweh is truly alive and active in the world. He is not asleep or absent. He is not an idol perched in a temple. Yahweh is able to live with and walk among his people who are called the “temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16).

God is the Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 1-2; 14:19,22; Isaiah 40:28; 42:5; 45:18; Romans 1:25). All heaven and earth owe God worship and service because God is the Creator (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 148). But it is also clear that God did not create humanity “as if he needed anything” since “he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25).

3 While it is of great significance that the Triune God is the one, true, and living God who is Creator of all, this does not yet tell us much about the character of this God. Will this God be capricious and selfish, imposing slavery upon humanity for God’s own benefit? We are now told that God is almighty in power (Exodus 15:2-3; Isaiah 6:3-5; 37:16; 44:16; 47:4) which explains how God is the powerful Creator, Redeemer, and King.

God is perfect in wisdom (Daniel 2:20; Job 12:13; Psalm 104:24; 139; Isaiah 28:29; 55:8-9; Jeremiah 10:12; Romans 11:33), righteous in judgment (Psalm 4:1; 7:11; Isaiah 5:16; Romans 2:5), and overflowing in steadfast (covenantal or hesed) love (Exodus 34:6-7; Psalms 136; Deuteronomy 7:9-12; 23:5; 2 Chronicles 6:14; Nehemiah 9:17). The New Testament word agape carries this meaning (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; 1 John 4:8-10). Covenantal love involves kindness, affection, forgiveness, sacrifice, self-giving, and faithfulness. In reference to God, his unconditional, sacrificial, and tenacious love overflows beyond the obligations of relationship. As 1 John 3:1 says: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

The wonderful news is that God’s almighty power is displayed (past, present, and future) in a way consistent with perfect wisdom, righteous judgment, and steadfast love. Worship of this God is to be a response not simply from obligation but from joyful volition because of God’s beautiful character which will be actively lived out for the ultimate well-being of all creation. God’s character is part of the good news! 

4 rticle 1 is describing a key element in the nature of God. God is not only a transcendent (“way above us”) Sovereign/King ruling high above with power and authority (1 Samuel 12:12; Psalm 5:2; 44:4; 47:7; 57:5; 95:3; Isaiah 6:5; 37:16; 44:6; Jeremiah 10:10; 1 Timothy 6:15-16) but also is an immanent (“close by us”) Shepherd (Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11-16; Zechariah 9:16; John 10:11-14; Revelation 7:17).

The Old Testament combines the images of King and Shepherd first in reference to God (Genesis 49:24-25; Psalm 23:1; 28:9; 80:1). To “shepherd” Israel is king or leader language (Numbers 27:17; 2 Samuel 5:2; 7:7; 1 Kings 22:17). In terms of an Old Testament king, this language is combined most clearly in King David whose occupation as a shepherd of sheep was perfect preparation for his role of being a shepherd/King of Israel (2 Samuel 24:17; Psalm 78:72). In the New Testament, Jesus is the “good shepherd” (John 10:10-18), the “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2; 27:11,37), and ultimately the “King of kings” (Revelation 19:16).

God is the almighty King who rules like a shepherd. God “will search for the lost and bring back the strays. [God] will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…. [God] will shepherd the flock with justice” (Ezekiel 34:16). This is why words like love, affection, and deep loyalty are appropriate responses to this unusual sort of King. 

 5 God is our “refuge” (Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 9:9; 46:1), and “fortress” for those in need (Psalm 18:2; 144:2; Jeremiah 16:19). Refuge and fortress language speaks of safety and protection in the midst of danger, threat, and need. 

6 All of these qualities of God are reflections and products of God’s “covenantal,” hesed, or agape love. We must resist any attempt to separate these qualities from our foundational understanding that God is abounding in covenantal love because “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). 

God is a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). This kind of fire “eats,” “consumes,” or “devours” what is in its path. Because God cares deeply about his created world, he is a “consuming fire” opposing evil and burning up what is contrary to his Kingdom purposes (e.g., injustice, idolatry, unrighteousness). This metaphor should be heard as good news in a world where evil often seems to reign unchecked.

God is “perfect [or majestic] in holiness” (Exodus 15:11; 1 Chronicles 16:29: Psalm 29:2; Leviticus 11:44; Isaiah 6:3). Holiness can simply mean set apart or unique but when used in relation to God, the Almighty Creator and King, God’s holiness has an implication of incredible power that burns up (hence the “consuming fire”) every unholy (or “impure”) element that gets close. Holiness is both an indication of this power and, in reference to Yahweh, a word that embodies God’s moral qualities of righteousness, perfect wisdom, and justice. 

While God is a holy and consuming fire, we can be comforted that God is “slow to anger and abounding in tender mercy” (Psalm 86:15; 145:8; Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17: Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). The Bible does not pretend that God never gets angry about all that “steals, kills, and destroys” (John 10:10; Nahum 1:3). A Shepherd King who is “abounding in tender mercy [hesed or agape  love]” would not be truly loving without acting in the face of evil, injustice, and unrighteousness. God’s anger is not a denial of his boundless love but a demonstration of it (see Isaiah 57:15-19). 

7 The primary relationship metaphor in the Bible is God’s loving covenant with his people (Genesis 12,15; Exodus 20; 1 Samuel 7; Jeremiah 31; Luke 22:20). Covenant relationships are based on mutual self-giving love, kindness, affection, loyalty and commitment. The analogies of King/people, parent/child, and husband/wife are all found in the Bible to help us understand God’s hesed love to his people. God’s love “endures forever” (Psalm 136; Lamentations 3:22). Since King/people is a metaphor that for most of us today does not carry a clear understanding of deep mutual affection displayed through self-giving actions, our closest understanding of the sacrificial and unconditional nature of covenant love is that displayed in families. The Bible draws on these comparisons in order to help us understand something of God’s immense and abounding covenant love towards us. 

God’s actions are like those of a “loving mother” (Isaiah 66:12-13; Hosea 11:3-4), a “caring father” (Psalm 103:13; 68:5; Isaiah 63:16; Hosea 11:1-4; Luke 11:2-4, 13; Romans 8:15; Hebrews 12:7-11), and a “faithful husband” (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Deuteronomy 7:6-9). 

8 Article 1 follows the New Testament witness of being both monotheistic and trinitarian without any attempt to explain or resolve this tension. This short statement that God is “eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” has profound implications for all 17 confessional articles that are to follow. 

The New Testament provides clarity that this one, true, living God eternally exists as three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Paul affirms the Shema (God is One) but remarkably includes Jesus within this affirmation of oneness when he says: “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6). Paul then affirms how the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from the Father and from Jesus: “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Peter in his confrontation of Ananias, uses the Holy Spirit interchangeably with the word God (Acts 5:3-4). Although the word “Trinity” is not used in the New Testament, its fundamental reality is undeniable (cf. Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Peter 1:2).

The New Testament takes the earlier affirmations about the character and actions of God and connects them with Jesus. For example, while God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1-2:3; Psalm 33:6; Isaiah 40:28; 42:5), the New Testament declares that Jesus was there, actively involved as God’s agent of creation (Romans 1:25; Colossians 1:15-16). 

There are significant and very practical theological and ethical implications concerning our conviction that God is eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

God is “eternal” and for all eternity has existed and continues to exist as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even though this truth was not revealed to the Old Testament people of God, it is an eternal truth. 

God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit means that in a way beyond our understanding, these three have been in “relationship” eternally. God did not suddenly become relational after the creation of humanity, but God has always been in relationship within the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Relationship is fundamental to God. 

Human beings are created in God’s image (commonly referred to with the Latin expression imago dei) which means humans are also fundamentally relational beings. To be human is to be relational: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). 

God is one in purpose, character, authority, and mission. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all share the same love, holiness, justice, authority, and mission. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all share in the creation, redemption, and final new creation. They are not in conflict with each other at any point. 

God is one in discipleship expectations for the people of God. Thus, obedience to the Son, for example, cannot be in conflict with obedience to the Father and/or the Holy Spirit. Discipleship language of “imitating God” (Ephesians 5:1), being “transformed into [Christ’s] image” (2 Corinthians 3:18), and reflecting the “fruit of the Spirit” are all ways of describing the same goal.

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