It seems like the question of what holds us together as a Canadian MB family is becoming more urgent than ever. The new introduction to our Confession of faith describes how we are bonded together because of “shared convictions, shared relationships, and shared mission.” These three are like the legs of a three-legged stool. We need all three to have any stable place to sit—and even then, sitting on a three-legged stool requires constant awareness of its unstable nature.
There is no question that all three legs of this stool are profoundly being challenged across our larger MB family here in Canada. With fewer opportunities to meet together face-to-face, our relational trust and confidence are more easily threatened when we hear disconcerting things about churches and/or individuals in some other part of the country. With fewer opportunities to join together in mission, we feel less connected and therefore tempted just to do our own thing locally. With significant questions about the nature and function of our shared MB Confession of Faith, we wonder what it actually looks like to agree with it and affirm it together. But without these three legs of the stool equally strong, we will teeter off balance and constantly be in danger of falling to the ground.
The National Faith and Life Team “exists to articulate and safeguard Mennonite Brethren theological convictions, produce theological and pastoral resources, and provide discernment and guidance on current issues. The National Faith and Life Team stewards the Confession of Faith on behalf of the Conference.” Our goal is not to safeguard and steward some dead document and impose it with heavy-handedness upon our family—as if that were even possible in our very individualistic environment. Instead, we believe our Confession of Faith is a living treasure representing our shared convictions about what our amazing God, the only Creator, Redeemer, and King, has communicated through Scripture. It is worth affirming not because we have to, but because it is rich, beautiful, and faithful to Scripture. We see ourselves as safeguarding and stewarding a treasure—and encouraging us all to live in a way that fits with it.
Our Confession is, then, sort of like a treasured recipe that we believe will produce a faithful family of churches in the evangelical Anabaptist tradition. Sometimes this recipe has quite specific instructions similar to adding 1 cup of chocolate chips to cookie dough, while other times it expresses a flexibility similar to adding a pinch or two of salt. But the Confession does not have a few essential ingredients and then a bunch of optional ingredients. It is a combination of elements that all work together to express our understanding of God, the gospel, mission, discipleship, a faithful church community, and the Kingdom of God present and future. Do we trust the recipe to produce a God-honouring faithful church? Our default stance as an NFLT is a posture of trust that this recipe is faithful to Jesus. This grounds us together as a team.
Therefore, as an NFLT, we are creating resources related to the Confession of Faith because we believe it is a biblically based foundation piece for our family that will allow us to travel together. To change the metaphor from a treasured recipe to a faithful map, without significant agreement and clarity about the map, especially with weakened relational trust and fewer opportunities for shared mission, it is difficult for us to travel in the same direction together (cf. Amos 3:3). Without our MB family embracing significant shared convictions about God, the gospel, mission, discipleship, a faithful church community, and the Kingdom of God present and future, our MB family will at best be a loose connection of churches limping around in different directions. But without a shared understanding about the nature and meaning of our Confession of Faith, we will be in constant danger of fighting and fracturing—locally, provincially, and nationally.
We stand at a key point in our history. We could try to ignore the situation and pretend it will go away—but it seems that that day has passed. It is for this reason that the NFLT is jumping into this discussion. While for some, this discussion centres on questions of sexuality and discipleship, those questions are only the catalyst for us as we explore together bigger questions that will impact all of us going forward. Here are a few of the key questions we are wrestling with:
As you can see, these are complex but important questions that we must address and clarify with a level of urgency, or they will just keep popping up year after year. The NFLT is tasked with the work of safeguarding and stewarding our shared convictions. But without shared relationships and shared mission, we will fall to the ground. We all have a part to play in the three-legged stool that is fundamental to our unity as a church family.
Besides the above, here is a summary of what the NFLT has been working on since our last National Assembly gathering:
May God be glorified in everything we do as a larger church family; may God’s Kingdom values and character be reflected in all we do; and may we be faithful to the huge mission God has called us to! Please pray for the National Faith and Life Team—for Holy Spirit wisdom, courage, and creativity to carry out the task of assisting our MB family as we seek to be more faithful to Jesus’ mission in the world.
This Assembly marks the end of service for several of our NFLT members. We want to recognize their significant contributions to our team. Andrew Dyck (MB Seminary/MBCM—9 years), Robyn Serez (ONMB—4 years), and Adam Greeley (Atlantic Canada—2 years) are finishing up their work with us. We want to express our thanks to them for their faithful service. Please pass on thanks to them personally when you get the chance.