“Well done” to the board of faith and life (BFL) for inviting Mennonite Brethren speakers to address the conference! There is profound wisdom and learning within our Canadian family, and it was wonderful to learn from some long-time MB teachers (Pierre Gilbert and Erwin Penner), as well as some newer ones (Paul Cumin and Brian Cooper).
The times of Bible study were rich and encouraging. Attendees appreciated the longer times of study, as well as the many opportunities to give feedback at the mic. The conversation was passionate, but not angry or tense (which some feared it might be around such an emotional – and often personal – topic).
Who was there? A good representation from most provinces, regions, and viewpoints. Who wasn’t there? A larger contingent of Asian and African brothers and sisters. I appreciated Abbotsford pastor Sherman Lau’s challenge to the BFL: “I encourage you to take some steps toward diversity, rather than just having good intentions.”
Canadian MBs were ushered into a new era, with executive director Willy Reimer’s bold and directional leadership style. He not only pushed us toward repentance for our judgmental attitudes, he urged us to proclaim (not just embody – through justice ministries or environmental activism, for example) a strong gospel message to our neighbours. “I hope we don’t just go home from here having thought better,” he said.
He also admitted that he “leans heavily on the penal substitutionary model. Our separation from God and impending judgment is real.” Spoken out of his heart for unsaved Calgarian neighbours, it was a call away from seeing God as our “buddy,” toward action and evangelism.
Reimer also called us to define our theological centre. We’ve always borrowed our theological language from many traditions – Baptist, Pietist, Lutheran – and our confession of faith reflects that. We all agree that “Christ is our substitute,” but we don’t all flesh it out in the same way. In other words, our theology is broad. The variety of language around Bible study tables reflected that: some wanted to talk about God’s wrath, others wanted to talk about God’s victory over evil, and others wanted to talk about reconciliation.
With the range of views heard at the study conference, I wonder if a centre will be so easy to define. It’s still a bit of a mystery.
Changes are coming to the function and future of the BFL. “The two boards aren’t speaking into each other’s work enough,” said Reimer. “We need to formalize lines of communication. Structurally, the roles will stay the same. But we’re building a stronger functional connection to enhance ministry effectiveness.”
What implications does this have for the autonomy and “authority” of the BFL in the future? And what does it mean for the executive board? There’s a sense that EB members will be expected to be more involved in spiritual matters of the conference – more like church elders.
Overall, many things are the same. We still view the Bible as our source of truth. We still greet old friends with hugs and handshakes. We still eat together (whether it’s perogies or – at this event – Indian curry). But certainly much will change as we move ahead as a denomination.
Why does everybody talk as if the only 2 options are “penal substitution” or “God is my buddy?” Are we really that ignorant of church history and atonement theories that the only choices are a violent angry God demanding bloody appeasement or a “happy grandfather in the sky?” This is a false and popular dichotomy that really needs to be intelligently addressed with more thought rather than oversimplified cliches that demonize those who do not hold to this view of the work of Jesus and the Father.