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Spring 1998 · Vol. 27 No. 1 · pp. 53–56 

Making the “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective”

Helmut Harder

In July of 1995 the delegate assemblies of the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) and the Mennonite Church (MC), meeting side by side in Wichita, Kansas, each accepted the same statement of faith by an overwhelming majority of about ninety-eight percent. The statement carried the title, “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective” (CFMP). This decision culminated a process of about fifteen years of development. It began with a five-year period of exploration in which the two church groups tested the questions of whether to develop a new confession, and whether to do so together. Once these had been decided, the process continued for a ten-year period under the direction of a joint Confession of Faith Committee appointed by the respective General Boards of the two groups.

The CFMP is offered as a resource to others of what the Mennonite church considers to be essential to a faithful interpretation of the Scriptures.


While the decision to enter into the process and to do so jointly was not made lightly, it was not difficult to agree on the initiative. Several reasons can be cited. Each of the groups had sensed the need, for some time, for a new statement of faith. The last church-wide effort to formulate a GC statement of faith dated back to 1941 when the GC delegate body agreed on a confessional basis for a new seminary initiative begun in Wadsworth, Ohio. While the history of the General Conference {54} reveals a hesitation to engage vigorously in confessional developments, there was significant interest in developing a comprehensive statement of faith, given the post-1960s quest for a more affirmative set of beliefs. On the MC side, the most recent statement was the Mennonite Confession of Faith of 1963. Since that time perspectives had changed significantly, in matters of theology as well as practice.

How was it possible to decide upon a joint venture between the GCs and the MCs? The decision was greatly facilitated by several decades of cooperative ministry, most notably in seminary education and in church curriculum development. A significant degree of mutual trust had developed in matters of faith, particularly among church leaders. Indeed, the decision to develop a joint confessional statement paralleled the growing talk of integrating the two denominations into one, a movement which had already begun at the congregational level with the growing number of dual membership congregations, particularly in urban contexts. While there were obvious and subtle differences between the two groups, the willingness to put confessional unity to the test overshadowed any reservations.


A committee of twelve persons began its work in the fall of 1986. The group included older and younger persons, women and men, pastors and lay persons, racial/ethnic persons, historians and theologians, and a range of theological perspectives. Cochairs were chosen, one from the GC side and one from the MC side. The cochairs and a third person formed the “writers group” which met in the interim between the half-yearly committee meetings to formulate proposed articles. The entire committee became a working group.

Once potential themes for articles were chosen, each theme was assigned to two committee members. Their thematic research included biblical study, a summary of traditional confessional statements on the theme, developments in church history, as well as reflection on contemporary theology and life relative to the topic. These findings were brought to the committee for consideration. With committee response in hand, the two were then assigned to bring a rough draft of an article to the next meeting. The “writers group” then worked on subsequent drafts. In this way the committee worked through the entire project. This method of working contributed greatly to a communal spirit within the committee.

One matter of some debate at the beginning of the process was the question whether to follow the traditional systematic style of formulating the Confession or to develop our own creative style. What resulted is a {55} leaning toward the traditional, particularly evident in the use of a thematic outline as such. At the same time there is divergence from the tradition, not only in terms of new themes, but also in such features as the addition of a commentary for each article and the introductory summary paragraph within the articles.

The outline of CFMP, including the titles, sequence of articles, and the number of articles, emerged gradually. A particular feature of the Confession that resulted over time is its arrangement into four sets. The first eight articles deal with themes common to the faith of the wider Christian church. The second set, articles 9-16, deals with the church and its practices. The third set, articles 17-23, focuses on aspects of discipleship. And the final article, comprising the fourth set, concerns the reign of God.


Perhaps the most significant divergence from the traditional Mennonite approach is indicated in the title itself. To offer a Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective implies that our work is being offered not only for nurture in the Mennonite church, but as a resource to all who would want to consider the perspective that Mennonites have to offer to the wider community of faith. In that sense, the committee saw the CFMP not simply as a self-definition of the faith, but also as a witness and resource to others of what the Mennonite church considers to be essential to a faithful interpretation of the Scriptures for faith and life at this time.

From the beginning, the committee sought to involve the constituency in its work. Committee meetings were held in congregational contexts, in area conference settings, and with theological faculties. These encounters provided opportunity for information and feedback. The progress of work was regularly reported at church assemblies, with accompanying drafts of emerging work. Information was disseminated in church papers, with request for feedback. Response was also solicited and received from the international Mennonite community. At a latter stage in the process, a first draft of the Confession was printed and distributed throughout the church together with a response instrument. This resulted in a mass of helpful feedback, much of which was generated in congregational study groups. The committee’s final draft was shaped significantly by this church-wide response.


Constituency response to the first draft was spread over the entire {56} Confession. However, three articles evoked the most vigorous response.

(1) Article 8, on “Salvation,” was perceived by some not to emphasize grace adequately. Also, some were critical of the article’s widened understanding of atonement. Mennonite confessions have tended to focus almost exclusively on the substitutionary theory of atonement and have tended to miss the richer breadth and depth of the biblical understanding of salvation. The Committee chose to increase the emphasis on God’s grace, but retained its understanding of salvation.

(2) Article 4, on “Scripture,” had begun with the statement, “The Bible is the inspired book of the church.” There was considerable objection among constituents to beginning in this way. The Committee reconsidered their draft, and decided to begin the article with a more traditional approach to the Bible’s inspiration. The previously initial sentence (with “inspired book” changed to “essential book”) was moved to begin the last paragraph of the article.

(3) Article 15, on “Ministry and Leadership,” attracted some anticipated criticism, with its statement that “the church calls, trains, and appoints gifted men and women,” and continues with the statement that “these may include such offices as pastor, deacon, and elder, as well as evangelists, missionaries, teachers, conference ministers, and overseers.” Some respondents interpreted the statement to imply that they would now need to ordain women to congregational leadership. The Committee pointed out that in using the word “may,” the Confession was being permissive and not prescriptive on this matter.

All in all, the Confession has received strong affirmation. This was indicated not only in the delegate vote in 1995, but in subsequent response as well. Currently there are over thirty thousand copies in print. Translations of the entire Confession, and in some cases of the articles only, have been prepared in a variety of languages, including German, Spanish, Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong, and French. Two study guides, one for youth and one for adults, are available. The Confession is widely used as a resource in preparing persons for baptism and church membership, for sermon series, for church study groups, and for individual reading as encouragement for personal faith and life. It appears that God is blessing this instrument in the Mennonite church and beyond.


  • The General Board of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church General Board. Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1995.
Helmut Harder is General Secretary of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada (GC). He taught theology at Canadian Mennonite Bible College from 1962 to 1990. With the late Marlin E. Miller, Helmut was cochair of the committee which gave oversight to the new Mennonite Confession.

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