2022 National Assembly

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2022 National Faith & Life Team Report

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:

 

  • In a world where we can’t seem to agree about anything—our conflicting responses to the pandemic is a case in point—what does it mean for us to agree together on these 18 Articles?
  • Should we expect our leaders and churches to affirm “all” of the 18 Articles or only those that are “most important”? Who gets to decide which are the “most important” ones?
  • If we have agreed together that our present Confession of Faith is not the final word and we are open to occasional revision, does this mean that any leader or local congregation can freely claim that they have studied some question together listening to the Holy Spirit, and they’ve arrived at some truth in conflict with our present Confession? Does their disagreement with our Confession mean that this is a “disputable matter” and we should “agree to disagree” while maintaining our unity in line with John 17?
  • Can the same Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of truth (John 16:13) somehow lead groups in our MB family to diametrically opposing truths in areas of theology and ethics that we have understood as being clear both in Scripture and thus in our Confession?
  • Do we revise the articles in our Confession of Faith when we discover that some percentage of our leaders/churches raise questions about them—or do we revise articles when we together believe that they are not faithfully representing God’s truth communicated through Scripture? Who is the “authority” to decide whether something is no longer faithful to Scripture?
  • What role do other sources of authority have when we discuss our Confession of Faith? When people in our churches describe their experiences of pain and suffering, how does this interact with our understanding of biblical teachings? When people in our churches report new discoveries, presumably not known by the ancient biblical writers, what authority do these new discoveries have?

 

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:

  • We produced resources for the 2022 CCMBC Week of Prayer.
  • We have updated what had been called the “Brief Edition” or “Digest Edition” of our Confession of Faith and renamed it the “Summary Edition.” As part of this, we have retired what was referred to as the “Sidewalk Version” since we believe it is inadequate to express our rich MB theological identity.
  • We have distributed (via our Provincial Conference leaders) a Resource Document entitled: “Vaccinations & Living Well for Jesus.” This document was created to assist leaders and churches as they discuss and discern how we can walk together faithfully in this very divisive moment.
  • We have approved an expanded “Code of Personal and Ministry Ethics” for each Provincial Conference to use for its credentialed leaders. This code of ethics clarifies expected positive ministry commitments and priorities, as well as describes behaviors that are contrary to our shared convictions. We also have created a version of this for non-credentialed leaders specifically for local churches to use for pastors prior to credentialing and for local church leaders for whom credentialing is not required.
  • We have participated in offering two Pastoral Credentialing Orientations (PCO), one in-person in Ontario and one online based in BC. We anticipate offering an in-person event in Spring 2023.
  • We also hosted a “Virtual EQUIP-Mini” (November 2021) with Dr. David Fitch around the topic of “Engaging Healthy Conversations.” We are planning an in-person event based in BC in November 2022 with provincial in-person gatherings coordinated with the in-person event.
  • We have also continued to revise several documents related to clarifying our biblical theological commitments around sexuality and faithful discipleship (“Loving Well our LGB Neighbours, Friends, and Family” and “MB Welcome to LGBQT+”). We are also finalizing a resource entitled “Living Faithfully for Jesus in Light of Bill C-4.”
  • We have created and implemented a Review Procedure Policy for when leaders have disputes with their provincial faith and life teams related specifically to credentialing decisions. The Review Procedure Policy explores questions of process specifically in terms of fairness, openness, and shared understanding, with the hope that disputes can be resolved well.

 

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.

 

 

– Ken Esau, Interim National Faith & Life Director

 

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