Fall 2019 · Vol. 48 No. 2 · pp. 88–89 

From the Editor: Faith in Words

Vic Froese

The title of this issue refers, obliquely, to confessions, specifically to confessions of faith. Mennonite Brethren have almost never been without one, even though those statements mostly remain at the edges of our consciousness. We become more aware of confessions when a tough church issue arises; then we turn to them to help us address it. This means we recognize that some kind of authority resides in our confessions. But we also know that they’re not Scripture, so we can and do change them. We do that cautiously, however. Not long ago, US MBs took four years to revise a single article of their confession. Canadian MBs have been reviewing their own for even longer, with the goal of refining and enhancing some of its central articles. Someone had the bright idea to devote an issue of Direction to these shifting verbal declarations of faith in God. The hope was that articles written from different perspectives might contribute insights into, and engender appreciation for, confessions of faith and the important work they do in aiding our collective discernment. We think our hope will be realized.

Brad Sumner, a pastor and keen advocate of the MB Confession of Faith, shares his experience as someone who’s come from a Baptist background where confessions are regarded with a deep sense of their permanence. His article examines the use and functions of the confession in the BC MB conference as well as in MB churches. He argues that far from being obsolete, a clear and concise confession of faith is more important now than ever.

In 2014, the US Mennonite Brethren, somewhat less happy with parts of their own confession, approved a revised Article 13, formerly known as the “nonresistance article.” Gerrit Wiebe examines the wider historical and cultural context of that discussion, details the extensive consultation process that led to the revision, and offers a quite positive evaluation of the final product.

MB pastor Michael VandenEnden raises the provocative question of the MB Confession’s relationship with the ancient Christian church. From that tradition came key doctrines such as the Trinity, which our confession unambiguously affirms. But the orthodoxy of this fourth-century teaching belies the common Protestant assumption that the Holy Spirit left the church early in that century, reappearing only in the sixteenth. VandenEnden argues that our confessional integrity demands a re-evaluation of our relationship to the larger Christian tradition to which we owe so much.

Karl Koop asks another critical question: Are our confessions too much shaped by the rationalism of the early modern period in which they {89} first surfaced? He makes a good case that they are. He further suggests that a premodern understanding of doctrine—that it properly arises from prayerful reflection on worship, discipleship, and Scripture rather than from unengaged theologizing—better fits an Anabaptist understanding of the relationship of beliefs to following Christ.

Doug Heidebrecht looks at the confession of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) and expresses appreciation for the efforts to hammer out a faith statement that can be embraced by MBs globally. He also points out deficits, a few of them puzzling. Still, he is certain that with a bit more work, this confession will provide MB conferences around the world with a model for developing confessions that any of them could endorse.

The role of the statement of faith in one particular Christian college is explored by Terry Hiebert, academic dean at Steinbach Bible College. His survey of the history of SBC touches on the roles played by administrators, student anxieties, parental expectations, and the requirements of accrediting bodies on the development of a college’s statement. Of course, external and internal theological convictions are also always at play. Revision of SBC’s present statement is overdue, says Hiebert, and he offers suggestions on how that sensitive work should proceed.

We also include in this issue the introduction to the Confession of Faith of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. “Nature and Function of the Confession” explains what a confession is and isn’t, and describes three important functions it serves. Among the latter is its role as an aid to biblical interpretation. A few commonly asked questions about the Confession of Faith are also clearly addressed.

Lastly, we have reviews of eight books that will interest our readers: a commentary on Chronicles, a collection of essays on Mennonite higher education, a history of the Mennonite Brethren struggle with women in ministry leadership, an argument for recovering premodern biblical interpretation, a history of the Reformation debate concerning faith and toleration, a collection of essays from a Canadian Mennonite theologian, another collection on the WCC’s “pilgrimage of justice and peace,” and a Christian introduction to world religions.

We trust you will be rewarded as you read.

Vic Froese
General Editor