Previous | Next

Fall 2019 · Vol. 48 No. 2 · pp. 161–177 

Keeping the Faith in Changing Times: Statements of Faith at Steinbach Bible College

Terry G. Hiebert

A survey of the history of statements of faith at Steinbach Bible College (SBC) reveals how three generations of educators understood their calling to Christian education. From the “Glaubensgrundlage” of the Russian Mennonite founders to the consensus evangelical Anabaptist statement now in effect for over fifty years, each articulated a vision of what faith of God entailed and, hence, of what it meant to keep the faith.

The college is at another moment of transition where a deep review of the statement of faith would be beneficial.

In the past twenty years, the current statement of faith has periodically been invoked, questioned, and reviewed, yet it has not been revised. New board members, faculty, and staff are expected to indicate their agreement with it, and this normally happens without incident. But the recent restructuring (the formal separation of Steinbach Bible College and Steinbach Christian School) provides an opportunity for a deep review of the college in all aspects, including its statement of faith. On July 1, 2019, Steinbach Bible College Inc. became a legal entity, and it is appropriate to ask, how does a college keep the faith while changing its statement of faith? {162}

With that question in mind, this article will review SBC statements of faith as they developed over three generations. I also chose to interview former SBC academic deans to gain their perspectives on SBC’s faith statements. Since academic deans are responsible for seeing that statements of faith are integrated with the curriculum, they are more sensitive to the implications of such statements and forced to reflect on them more deeply than others might. 1 But I also interviewed current faculty and students to learn what they thought of the present statement and how it impacts their teaching and learning experience. The history and interviews will provide the context for concluding reflections on what it means to change a statement of faith while keeping the faith intact.


How have statements of faith developed and functioned in the work of the school? Steinbach Bibelschule was established in Steinbach’s Mennonite Brethren Church on November 16, 1931. Jacob W. Reimer (1860–1948), popular Russian Mennonite Brethren preacher and avid teacher of pre-millennialism, taught the first classes at the school. 2 Its first principal, John G. Baerg, a Winkler Bible Institute alumnus, organized the Bible School Association in September 1938, whose charter members were from nearby Mennonite churches. 3

The school’s first evangelical statement of faith, “Die Glaubensgrundlage” (the doctrinal foundation), was adopted a year earlier, in December of 1937. 4 The statement declared that “The Steinbach Bible School sits on the foundation of the Holy Scriptures, which it recognizes as the sole rule and standard of faith.” 5 It was a Trinitarian statement, acknowledging God the Father, focusing on the life and work of Christ the Son, and affirming the power of the Holy Spirit while guarding against charismatic misunderstandings. And it declared that sinfulness was humankind’s central problem, that Jesus atoned for sin by his vicarious death, and that the destiny of believers was eternal life in heaven while followers of the devil would join him forever in hell. No mention was made of the Anabaptist-Mennonite doctrine of nonresistance. 6


Principal Ben D. Reimer, an evangelist and graduate of Winnipeg Bible Institute, 7 expanded the school’s program with increasing emphasis on preparing workers for church ministry both at home and abroad. His colleague Archie Penner, a theologian and graduate of fundamentalist, Anabaptist, and evangelical institutions during this era, joined him in 1945. 8 As the school morphed into “Steinbach Bible Academy” in 1947 {163} and then into “Steinbach Bible Institute” (SBI) in 1953, the growing number of mission-minded students required a new building, which was completed on the present site in October 1955. The SBI Board of Representatives briefly contemplated a one-denominational school in 1960–62 but once again approved a multi-denominational model, that is, multi-Mennonite. 9

This era of dramatic change saw the German statement of faith translated into English as “Doctrinal Basis,” which now declared that “Steinbach Bible School stands on an interdenominational basis,” a position supported by Ephesian 4:3, “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The statement adapted Russian Mennonite theology to English culture by borrowing themes and emphases from American fundamentalism and Anabaptism. It reflected dispensational pre-millennial views and went through several revisions in the next decade. The 1946–47 statement was enlarged to twelve articles from the original seven and used fundamentalist terms like inerrant, born again, substitutionary sacrifice, personal return of Christ. At the same time, it added Anabaptist-Mennonite calls for separation from the world and for nonresistance. 10 The 1947–48 catalog replaced inerrancy with infallibility, and the concepts of judgment and eternal blessedness and punishment were expanded. 11 The 1953–54 statement removed articles on the devil and nonresistance but included an Anabaptist injunction to “abstain from all carnal strife.” 12 Revisions in the 1954–55 catalog intensified the “everlasting joy and bliss” of saints and “the everlasting conscious torment” of the lost. Possibly influenced by the missionary movement and evangelist Billy Graham, the statement culminated in a call for “the complete evangelization of this generation.” 13 At the end of this second generation, the school’s statement of faith reflected a strong fundamentalist influence in ten of its statements while a distinctly Mennonite emphasis—a holiness ethic—was recognizable only in one. 14


Under the presidency of Harvey Plett (1965–82), who himself had two degrees when he was hired and would earn other before he resigned, 15 rising academic expectations were met with improvements to academic standards and arrangements for the transfer of credits to other Bible colleges. Ben Hoeppner was dean of the Bible school from 1966 to 1978, followed by Arden Thiessen who served as its first academic dean from 1978 to 1983. It was during this Plett-Thiessen era that the school’s name was changed to Steinbach Bible College (1979), and some years later it obtained applicant status with the Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges (AABC). {164}

At the beginning of this third generation, the 1954–55 statement of faith was revised in the 1966–67 catalog to reflect a maturing evangelical Anabaptism. 16 Plett and Hoeppner both had degrees from Goshen College where Harold Bender taught church history and wrote his highly influential essay, “The Anabaptist Vision.” 17 Hoeppner also had an advanced degree from Wheaton Graduate School, whose mother school, Wheaton College, was attended by Billy Graham. 18 So it is hardly surprising that the latest version of SBI’s statement of faith included both Anabaptist and evangelical features. The statement significantly expanded the Anabaptist emphasis with statements on “a way of life . . . taught by Christ and the Scriptures,” a Christ-centered ethic, discipleship, nonconformity with the world, nonresistance, and a clear abandonment of violence, including warfare. Evangelical influences, in turn, are discernible in the intensification of the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Christ, while everlasting conscious torment of the lost was replaced with punishment. With obvious debts to Goshen and Wheaton, this statement remains the school’s consensus to this day.

Ben Eidse, a missionary with extensive experience in the Congo, became the college president in 1983. During his nine-year tenure, he expanded the college curriculum to include general studies in addition to Bible-theology and professional studies. It was Jack Heppner, academic dean at this time (1987–91; 1993–97), who guided the college through the process of getting AABC applicant status in 1987 and then full accreditation in 1991.

As it happened, the AABC application process encouraged SBC to review its existing statement of faith because the association required the college to be in agreement with a clearly evangelical statement of faith. 19 Ultimately, only minor changes to SBC’s statement were needed, but a preamble was added in 1989: the current statement of faith was in fact a “summary of biblical doctrine, which is consonant with evangelical Christianity, while expressing a commitment to the historic Anabaptist interpretation of the faith.” 20 Updated with gender-inclusive language, the statement was deemed by AABC to be acceptable. 21

Nearing the end of SBC’s third generation, Stan Plett served as president from 1993 to 2000. He assumed the leadership of an institution facing identity questions at a time when the Manitoba Christian higher education landscape was shifting dramatically. 22 Don Thiessen was hired as academic dean in 1997, near the end of Plett’s term in office, just as a new, explicitly evangelical Anabaptist mission statement was being drafted for the 1996–97 catalog: “The mission of Steinbach Bible College is to educate college students by nurturing faith formation . . . from an evangelical Anabaptist perspective.” 23 In 2002–2003, this mission {165} statement was revised with the addition of a list of evangelical Anabaptist core values—Bible, discipleship, community, and mission. 24 The 1966–67 statement of faith, however, was left untouched.

It is noteworthy that Stan Plett and Don Thiessen represent a shift at the end of the third generation toward earning academic credentials at Canadian schools rather than American ones. Earlier administrators and instructors—Archie Penner, Harvey Plett, Ben Hoeppner, Arden Thiessen, Ben Eidse, and Jack Heppner—all imbibed either the Anabaptism of Goshen or Eastern Mennonite University or the evangelicalism of Wheaton, and in some cases both. 25 By contrast, Stan Plett, who himself had a BA from Goshen College, earned his other three degrees in Canada—a BEd from the University of Manitoba, an MA from Winnipeg Theological Seminary, and an MDiv from Regent College in Vancouver. Don Thiessen also received three of his four degrees from Canadian universities—Brandon University (BMus and BEd), the University of Western Ontario (MMus)—before moving on to the University of Minnesota for his PhD.


The fourth generation of college administrators and faculty do not consistently continue the trend toward preferring Canadian academic credentials. President Abe Bergen (2001–2006) was squarely in that camp, being the first president since Ben D. Reimer to have received his degrees exclusively at Canadian evangelical institutions: Briercrest Bible College in Saskatchewan (BRE) and Providence Seminary in Manitoba (MDiv). SBC faculty member Gord Penner likewise has no US credentials. His two bachelor’s degrees are from SBC and the University of Manitoba, and his advanced degrees—an MDiv and a ThM—are from Winnipeg Theological Seminary and Regent College in Vancouver, respectively. Current academic dean Terry Hiebert, however, bucked the trend by getting his higher degrees from Denver Seminary (MA) and from Baylor University (PhD), although not before graduating from Winkler Bible Institute in Manitoba and from Winnipeg Bible College with a BA. President Rob Reimer likewise obtained a diploma from Winkler Bible Institute and a BA from the University of Winnipeg before earning an MDiv at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California, and a DMin from Fuller Seminary in Pasedena.

While the full effect of such educational diversity on the theology of the college remains to be seen, continuity with past affirmations is already evident in the revised mission statement of 2016. The 2008 mission statement, sharpening the mission statements of 1996–97 and {166} 2002–2003, had asserted that “SBC is an evangelical Anabaptist college equipping servant leaders for Church ministry.” The 2016 revision used more forceful language and enlarged the scope of the school’s mission but maintained its evangelical Anabaptist identity: “SBC is an evangelical Anabaptist college empowering servant leaders to follow Jesus, serve the church, and engage the world.”

The sense of an enlarged mission correlates with a student body that has become more denominationally and internationally diverse in recent years and with college offerings that now include online education, a four-year Ministry Leadership degree, and the Pursuit discipleship program. The college’s support base has also grown with the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba coming on board as a partner in 2016. But the 1966–67 statement of faith still remains the doctrinal foundation of the school, even now that Steinbach Bible College and Steinbach Christian School are independent from each other.


If college boards approve a statement of faith and presidents represent it, then academic deans implement the statement of faith. Ralph Enlow calls the academic dean the “chief educational philosopher” of the college, the one who synergizes with the president, hires mission-fit faculty, develops curriculum, and allocates and aligns resources. 26 Interviews with former SBC academic deans reveal a variety of views on the function of statements of faith in college academics.

Harvey Plett, former president and academic dean from 1983 to 1987, was hired when churches were transitioning from dispensational to evangelical Anabaptist theology. 27 Plett shared that his education at Goshen College and Seminary undoubtedly deepened his Anabaptist-Mennonite views. During his time as dean, all SBC faculty were required to sign off on the statement of faith, but there was latitude for personal opinions. Plett himself challenged several theological views held by college leaders. However, he was most concerned about teaching what he believed the Bible taught. In cases of disagreement, Plett advised faculty to keep lines of communication open with their academic dean. Faculty could share their non-traditional explorations with their classes, but they were to make it clear that these were new and tentative expressions of biblical understanding.

Plett thinks a statement of faith in a confessional college functions both as descriptive of what the college believes and, to an extent, as prescriptive of what the college teaches. To that end, a statement of faith needs review every ten years to ensure that it still says what the college believes. The initiative for changing the statement should come from persons inside the college who work daily under its guidance. {167}

Arden Thiessen indicated that faculty agreed to the statement of faith on the basis of trust. He said he was never asked to sign a statement since he had attended trustworthy institutions. On one occasion, concerns were raised by pastors and churches about the theological opinions of one SBC instructor. The board met to determine what to do. When they realized that the instructor’s views had deep roots in Christian tradition, they agreed that his position was within the orbit of orthodox Christian teaching. Thiessen observed that churches held personal ethics in higher regard than correct theology. Churches and conferences were most concerned that SBC teachers would practice a lifestyle shaped by conservative Mennonite morals. 28

Thiessen noted further that SBC was expected to be a theological leader, but also a servant inculcating students with the churches’ values. Occasionally the board would use the terms of the statement of faith to screen potential faculty hires. Thiessen once brought the board a resume submitted by a candidate from a different denominational tradition, and the board rejected that candidate. A statement of faith provides the context in which a faculty member works and communicates the perspective from which the college teaches. Still, Thiessen believes that faculty should be given the freedom to challenge the statement of faith, as long as they do so with respect.

Jack Heppner said that he does not remember directly addressing the statement of faith when he was hired as academic dean. 29 There was an understanding that the college was evangelical Anabaptist, and this was the context within which faculty members taught. Heppner raised the question whether statements of faith are living or final documents. Earlier in the 1900s, Bible schools were centers for indoctrination and bulwarks against liberalism, so statements were more prescriptive. But what happens when statements need to address current issues that were not considered thirty or forty years ago? The dynamic nature of education means that colleges must be continually engaging the world and wrestling with issues that people are now facing. Heppner believes that statement of faith sounds too permanent and prefers confession. For him, theological reflection is more like a journey than a destination.

Heppner cautions that faculty who are changing theologically will face a natural tension after growing for twenty to thirty years while the college’s statement of faith remains the same. He cited the case of Archie Penner, a theologian who challenged accepted views and modeled the way colleges might become places where difficult questions are heard and discussed. But what happens when students’ parents and college donors complain about the views of college instructors? There is a tension between what instructors think and what churches or parents {168} expect them to say. Regardless of the position, when a paycheck depends on what you do or don’t say, you will feel that your academic freedom is limited. Heppner wonders if there is more benefit in making statements of faith minimalist, to give faculty the freedom to thoughtfully explore difficult questions.

Don Thiessen recalled that during his time as academic dean (1997 to 2006) the statement of faith was mostly in the background. 30 Administrators and faculty, he said, assumed a lot of things about each other. The statement of faith was of less concern than questions of college identity, the mission statement, and core values. Thiessen said he had no concerns that faculty were going off track—he trusted them. Faculty were hired because they had a denominational track record and showed good potential for adherence to the statement of faith. When faculty did conflict with the statement, it was less about their theological views and more about their personality or responses from the constituency.

Thiessen added that the SBC Lifestyle Standards were likely more important to supporters than the statement of faith. He observed that there is a tension when board members, staff, and students are all required to adhere to a common lifestyle standard. Nevertheless, statements of faith are valuable for giving people a basic understanding of what a college teaches. He believes that colleges desiring to stay faithful to the Bible should consider adjustments to their statement of faith in conservative directions from time to time. While statements can be updated with newer language, Thiessen is more convinced now than when he served as dean that it is good to be distinct and remain faithful to the statement of faith in its more conservative forms.


The SBC Faculty/Staff Handbook explains the relationship between the statement of faith and academic instruction. The Academic Freedom Policy represents the healthy tension between college academics and the confessional commitments of the supporting conferences. The statement reads,

Academic freedom at SBC refers to the freedom of professionally qualified persons to inquire, teach, present and publish truth as they see it within their field of competence. Such freedom may be exercised within the context of the agreed upon non-negotiable confessional understanding without extrinsic compulsion or control. 31

SBC’s Academic Freedom Policy explains how conflicts can be resolved when the views of an individual faculty member continue to diverge from the statement of faith. I interviewed current faculty and {169} Bible-theology students about the function of the statement of faith in their college experience.


For over two decades, SBC has hired faculty with backgrounds that diverge somewhat from the authors of the 1966–67 statement of faith. However, in recent months faculty have re-engaged the statement, as evidenced by my recent interview with them, summarized below. 32

Faculty agreed that from a college standpoint the statement of faith defines what we look like and the kind of students we get. As a result, changes to the statement reflect on the identity and integrity of the college. Although there is agreement that statements are revised as language and culture change, faculty observed that people may fear that changing the statement of faith will weaken it. However, some articles in the statement offer answers to questions that are no longer asked. The relevance of the statement is important. As a senior SBC faculty member said, if learning made students useless in the church then we would need to reconsider what or how we are teaching them.

Faculty indicated that the statement of faith does influence their teaching. However, they agreed with the Academic Freedom Policy that instruction is not about simply confirming the statement of faith—it’s about truth. They appreciated that the current statement allowed for exploring a diversity of opinion on theological and ethical issues in class. But the statement can make instructors fearful that they might ask the wrong kinds of questions or give answers that do not conform to the position of the college. Still, faculty expressed that they felt free enough under the statement of faith to share their opinions. While exposing students to the culture in which they will live and work is uncomfortable, the way of Jesus means teaching students to come with open hands and humility to learn. Educators aware of how student faith develops will wisely choose the appropriate time to raise difficult issues.

Faculty noted that students sometimes faced challenges in learning how to balance faithfulness to the statement and freedom to pursue truth. On occasion, students have an opinion on what the Bible says and then ask a librarian to assist them in locating resources that confirm the students’ pre-existing views. Faculty agree that this is not how biblical interpretation should be practiced. Students may interpret the statement of faith more narrowly, with the result that they put theological positions into air-tight boxes and then don’t know what to do when someone they respect offers ideas that won’t fit into the box. Faculty were eager to teach students greater sophistication in critical thinking and acquaint them with the nuances of opposing arguments. This focus was affirmed by a student who once complemented the SBC faculty, saying that a {170} previous school taught him what to think but SBC taught him how to think.

Faculty added that the statement of faith supported their pastoral approach to teaching. Students with minimal doctrinal foundations can find exploring a wide range of theological options confusing. But statements of faith can become anchor points from which the many facets of truth can safely be explored. This is how students learn what it means to follow Jesus. Statements are not simply check boxes to determine whether someone is orthodox or heretical. Students may enter college expecting faculty to explain the statement of faith, but soon enough they realize there is room to critically examine their convictions. Education is not a task to be completed but a journey that adds depth and color to their beliefs.


Interviews with Bible-Theology students raised immediate questions about the statement of faith. Would the college admit students who were not confessing Christians? Presently the college requires that admitted students be confessing Christians. 33 Students wondered about the implications for graduation if they changed their minds on the statement of faith. The SBC Board has ends statements 34 related to the statement of faith, and faculty have graduation requirements that can be difficult to discern. 35 Moreover, how can SBC partner with other colleges with different admission or graduation requirements? As this discussion concluded, students seemed more convinced that limiting admission to Christians was good policy.

Most students interviews appreciated that the college community agrees on a statement of faith; it creates a safe place to gather and work through their beliefs. Also, students learning within a confessional college have the support to assist peers struggling with their faith. A statement of faith can give students confidence that their core beliefs would not come in for major challenges from faculty. For students less confident in their beliefs, the statement provides a starting point for what to believe, and a baseline or even a playground in which ideas can be explored. Students felt that they could believe differently on some articles but agreed that statements of faith should express the core commitments of the college.

A positive outcome of signing the statement of faith, said students, was the consistency of the teaching. One student, who came from a Christian organization where workers did not sign a statement of faith, noted the refreshing clarity of beliefs at the college. Others pointed to the potential negative effects if faculty or students felt pressure to agree {171} with the statement even when they disagreed. Adjunct faculty with differing perspectives were not a concern since they taught few courses. Students felt they could comfortably discuss belief-related questions with regular faculty who submitted more fully to the statement of faith. 36


The theme verse for Steinbach Bible Institute when it was moved to the present campus was 2 Timothy 2:15: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15, KJV). The verse was posted on the front wall and exhorted faculty and students to correctly handle the word of truth in times of significant change. How does a confessional college keep the faith while changing their statement of faith? Insights can be gained by reflecting on such statements from the perspectives of tradition, function, and identity.

Tradition. An evangelical Anabaptist college averse to tradition can benefit from historical Catholic and Orthodox discussions of how tradition functions. The question often arises whether the historic creeds are descriptive or prescriptive. According to Alister McGrath, the Irenaean view of tradition regards the creeds as “a traditional way of interpreting scripture within the community of faith.” 37 By contrast, the Council of Trent (1545–63) was more prescriptive, so that “tradition was understood to be a separate and distinct source of revelation, in addition to Scripture.” 38

McGrath adds that radical Anabaptist and Enlightenment writers rejected tradition. 39 While this is true, it is also true that many Anabaptists accepted confessions as demonstrations of the way their communities interpreted the Bible. 40 Karl Koop observes the prescriptive-descriptive tension in early Anabaptist-Mennonite confessions. Contrasting the confessions of early Anabaptists with those of the magisterial reformers, Koop notes that “confessions of faith could not be imposed from above but needed broad based approval before being accepted.” 41 Anabaptist-Mennonite confessions had representative rather than constitutive authority, and so were not enforced by external political authority. Now, if for Anabaptists the Bible has foundational authority and confessions have representative authority, then Anabaptist colleges need to keep asking if their interpretation of the Bible represents the stakeholders of the college. 42

Function. From a “change management” perspective, keeping the statement of faith involves four functional considerations. In Reframing Organizations, Bolman and Deal discuss four frames or functions that give organizations their soul: 43 {172}

  1. The structural frame assumes that organizations function best with established goals and clear coordination and control. 44 Viewed from this frame, a statement of faith helps the college function well when it offers a sense of direction, doctrinal clarity, and theological stability.

  2. The human resource frame understands that organizations most effectively achieve their mission in a collegial environment with a shared philosophy and healthy retention by investing in learning, welcoming participation, and encouraging diversity. 45 A good statement of faith functions as a shared philosophy; it attracts the right faculty and students while inviting a healthy diversity of people and opinions.

  3. The political frame recognizes that organizations consist of various interest groups, each with different agendas, and they sometimes compete for scarce resources. Conflict resolution and power-base building may be needed to ensure the smooth functioning of the organization. 46 The statement of faith should be a negotiated set of beliefs and values that can unite a diverse group of stakeholders (churches, donors, faculty, and students) in creating a thriving educational environment.

  4. The symbolic frame addresses the importance to people of finding deep purpose and meaning in their work. Motivating visions, success stories, and public recognition of excellent performance can serve this need well and energize employees to achieve. 47 Similarly, a statement of faith can become the script for the culture of the college, a narrative that guides and motivates faculty and students in their worship, beliefs, teaching, and learning.

Identity. From an identity perspective, the statement of faith answers questions of who or what the college is called to be—what Robert Benne has called soul. 48 Benne has created a useful typology for classifying religious colleges. The orthodox college best describes SBC. Orthodox colleges teach from a point of view generally shared by everyone from the board to faculty-staff, students, and constituency. Students are accepted based on a Christian faith commitment. All courses are taught from perspectives supportive of, or at least not in opposition to, the statement of faith. The spiritual ethos of the orthodox college is Christian, and supporters are churches, denominations, and confessionally sympathetic donors. The college is governed by representatives from supporting churches. 49 {173}

While classifying a college as an orthodox college appears to clarify the function of the statement of faith as a key marker of identity, several challenges remain: 50

  • How will the college board find a diversity of perspectives and skills to face the new challenges of keeping the faith in a complex future?

  • How will the president express the beliefs of the college to increasingly diverse internal and external stakeholders?

  • How well can the academic dean align the statement of faith with the college philosophy of education, academic policies, faculty hiring, and curriculum planning?

  • How can faculty balance the tension between the statement of faith, the search for truth, and effective student learning?

  • How will changes in enrollment demographics impact a statement of faith now past fifty years old?

  • How can the college communicate the statement of faith in the nonacademic elements of the curriculum?


We return to the question, how does a confessional college keep the faith while changing their statement of faith? This historical review shows that Steinbach Bible College had three generations of statements—Russian Mennonite, dispensational Mennonite, and evangelical-Anabaptist Mennonite. These statements reflected the ways in which presidents, along with deans, faculty, and boards navigated the complexities of educating Christian young adults through linguistic, cultural, theological, and ecclesiological changes. Interviews with academic deans revealed a diversity of opinion on the value of revising statements of faith. While all deans agreed that statements needed review, they represented a spectrum of emphases: from cautious faithfulness to passionate relevance. Faculty appreciated the statement of faith for providing anchor points from which to explore further truth. Students appreciated the confidence they gained in sharing with others in a college that expressed common beliefs.

The college is at another moment of transition where a deep review of the statement of faith would be beneficial. We are beyond twenty years into the fourth generation with enough changes in the structure, personnel, students, and constituency to justify revising the 1966–67 statement. Going forward, while SBC still holds that “SBC’s statement of faith provides a summary of biblical doctrine which is consonant {174} with evangelical Christianity, while expressing a commitment to the historic Anabaptist interpretation of the faith,” what does such a commitment mean if significant changes have been made over fifty years to the statements and confessions of supporting churches and conferences? 51 And what does it mean to be a college influenced by the great evangelical and Anabaptist traditions while serving students who increasingly come from different cultural backgrounds? 52 The process starts by comparing the SBC statement of faith with the statements of the four supporting conferences and the faith affirmations of the Association for Biblical Higher Education, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the Mennonite World Conference in which we participate. The process would also consider how the statement connects with new individuals and groups desiring to be part of the mission and vision of the college. 53

In revising a statement of faith, the concept of representative authority means gathering the community of stakeholders together and passionately owning a statement that embraces new realities while respecting the biblical, evangelical, and Anabaptist traditions that have shaped the college. Essentially, a review of the statement of faith will focus on shaping the identity or soul of the college. This statement of identity would fulfill its purpose by attracting faculty and students who share its beliefs and ethical convictions, creating a culture or way of life that embodies those beliefs, and inspiring the next generation of servant leaders to follow Jesus, serve the church, and engage the world.


  1. Terry G. Hiebert, “Keeping the Faith” (unpublished manuscript, March 7, 2011), Microsoft Word file. In a conversation with Earl Davey, former vice-president academic of Canadian Mennonite University, he stated that the academic dean is the chief keeper of the statement of faith in the hiring of faculty and development of the curriculum.
  2. A brief biography of Reimer can be found at,_Jacob_Wilhelm_(1860-1948).
  3. Jerry Hildebrand, Training Servant Leaders: A History of Steinbach Bible College 1936–1996 (Steinbach, MB: Steinbach Bible College, 1997), 15–16. Founding members of the society were from the Steinbach Mennonite Brethren and Bruderthaler churches.
  4. Hildebrand, 17. Statement of faith dates refer to the dates of the catalogs in which a statement of faith appeared, not to the dates of a statement’s formal acceptance.
  5. Steinbach Bible School Prospectus 1942–1943, 3–4 (trans. Terry G. Hiebert).
  6. SBS Prospectus 1942–43, 3–4.
  7. Doreen Reimer Peters, One Who Dared: Life Story of Ben D. Reimer, {175} 1909–1994 (Altona, MB: Friesens, 2005), 61, 64.
  8. By 1945, Penner had earned a diploma from Winnipeg Bible Institute. He would go on to obtain a BA from Goshen College (1950), a BD from Goshen Biblical Seminary (1954), an MA from Wheaton Graduate School (1955), and a PhD from the University of Iowa (1971).
  9. Hildebrand, Training Servant Leaders, 24. Supporting denominations and churches included Emmanuel Mennonite Mission Church, Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Conference, and the Evangelical Mennonite Conference. Later additions included the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference (1964).
  10. Steinbach Bible School 1946–1947 Catalog, 2.
  11. Steinbach Bible Academy 1946–1947 Catalog, 4.
  12. Steinbach Bible Academy Bulletin and 1953–1954 Catalog, 4.
  13. Steinbach Bible Institute Prospectus 1954–1955, 12.
  14. Steinbach Bible Institute Prospectus 1965–1966, 19.
  15. Harvey Plett had a BA from Goshen College (1959), an MA from the University of Minnesota (1963), and an MDiv from Goshen Biblical Seminary (1970). He would later go on to earn a PhD from the University of Manitoba in 1991.
  16. Steinbach Bible Institute Prospectus 1966–67, 19.
  17. Reprinted in English and many other languages numerous times after it was published in 1944, the piece first appeared in Church History 13 (1944): 3-24 and later that year in Mennonite Quarterly Review 18 (1944): 67-88.
  18. Hoeppner received a BA from Goshen College in 1959 and an MA from Wheaton Graduate School in 1963.
  19. AABC is now The Association for Biblical Higher Education. The current ABHE Tenets of Faith are found at
  20. SBC 1989–91 Catalogue, 6.
  21. SBC 1984–86 Catalogue, 59; SBC 1994–96 Catalogue, 3.
  22. Winnipeg Bible College was renamed Providence College in 1991; Canadian Nazarene College relocated from Winnipeg to Calgary in 1995; Winkler Bible Institute was closed in 1997; Canadian Mennonite Bible College, Concord College, and Menno Simons College amalgamated to form Canadian Mennonite University in 1999.
  23. SBC 1996–97 Catalogue, 3: “The mission of Steinbach Bible College is to educate college students by nurturing faith formation and developing ministry potential and to resource the constituency from an evangelical Anabaptist perspective in order to advance the global mission of the church.”
  24. SBC 2002–03 Catalogue, 1: “The mission of Steinbach Bible College is to equip students for advancing the work of God in the world.” Evangelical Anabaptism was embedded in the core values of Bible, discipleship, community, and mission.
  25. Archie Penner’s Goshen and Wheaton degrees are listed in note 8 above. Harvey Plett earned a BA from Goshen College in 1959 and an MDiv from Goshen Biblical Seminary in 1970. Ben Hoeppner received a BA from Goshen College in 1959 and an MA from Wheaton Graduate School in 1963. Arden {176} Thiessen earned a BA at Eastern Mennonite College in 1971 and an MA at Wheaton Graduate School in 1972. Ben Eidse graduated with a BA from Goshen College in 1959 and an MA from Wheaton Graduate School in 1960. Jack Heppner received an MDiv from Eastern Mennonite Seminary in 1980.
  26. Ralph Enlow, “Chief Academic Officer: Essential Roles and Responsibilities,” presented at ABHE Chief Academic Officer Leadership Conference, Orlando, FL, November 4, 2019. Enlow describes the role of the CAO philosopher as thinking about the meaning of church, theology, students, teaching/learning, and the role of the Bible in Christian higher education.
  27. Harvey Plett, interview by the author, Steinbach, MB, October 10, 2019.
  28. Arden Thiessen, interview by the author, Steinbach, MB, October 10, 2019.
  29. Jack Heppner, interview by the author, Steinbach, MB, October 9, 2019.
  30. Don Thiessen, interview by the author, Steinbach, MB, October 9, 2019.
  31. SBC Faculty-Staff Handbook, STF-3–97.
  32. SBC Faculty, interview by the author, Steinbach, MB, October 2, 2019.
  33. SBC 2019–20 Catalogue, 36. “Applicants for admission to SBC should be professing Christians, willing to grow in discipleship in line with SBC’s mission.”
  34. SBC Cabinet (Board) Ends Statements (Oct 25, 2016). The SBC Cabinet Ends Statements: “ES-2 Evangelical Anabaptist 1. Graduates with an appreciation for Evangelical Anabaptist theology and values as measured by Statement of Faith for all students and learners. 2. Graduates with conviction of Evangelical Anabaptist theology and values as measured by Statement of Faith for students and learners from affiliate conferences.”
  35. SBC 2019–20 Catalogue, 36. Graduates will “be of approved Christian character and have the recommendation of the faculty.”
  36. SBC students, interview by the author, Steinbach, MB, October 9, 2019.
  37. Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2011), 140.
  38. McGrath, 140.
  39. McGrath, 141.
  40. Christian Neff, John C. Wenger, Harold S. Bender, and Howard John Loewen, “Confessions, Doctrinal,” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, last modified December 31, 2018, 14:00,,_Doctrinal&oldid=162884.
  41. Karl Koop, Anabaptist-Mennonite Confessions of Faith: The Development of a Tradition (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 2004), 75–76.
  42. This representative authority is reflected in the SBC Statement of Faith, voluntarily signed each year by the board, faculty, and staff.
  43. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 19.
  44. Bolman and Deal, 45.
  45. Bolman and Deal, 140.
  46. Bolman and Deal, 188–89.
  47. Bolman and Deal, 248–49.
  48. Robert Benne, Quality with Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, {177} 2001), 206. Benne talks about persons, ethos, and vision as the soul of a college.
  49. Benne, 49.
  50. Paraphrasing Benne’s questions in Quality with Soul, 183–93.
  51. Since 1966, the Chortitzer Mennonite Conference (now Christian Mennonite Conference) has joined SBC; the Evangelical Mennonite Conference statement of faith has been updated (2017); the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Church has updated their confession of faith (2001); and the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba (operating under the Mennonite Brethren confession of faith of 2000) has become a partner with SBC (2016).
  52. The SBC Vision Statement reflects emerging realities for the college: it envisions “Multicultural graduates in meaningful vocations and making followers of Jesus.”
  53. The likeliest candidates for revision are these: statement 2, adding a comment on the character of God; statement 4, adding a comment on creation; statement 5, review of atonement language; statements 7 and 8 on salvation/church, adding comments on ordinances; statement 9 on discipleship, comments that reflect current evangelical Anabaptist ethical concerns; and statement 11, on the complete evangelization of this generation, which could be enhanced to “making disciples in partnership with the global church.” A separate statement on the Holy Spirit could be added.
Terry Hiebert (PhD, Baylor) has served at Steinbach Bible College since 1995 as professor, registrar, and currently as academic dean. He teaches theology and ethics, serves as chair of the EMMC Theology Committee, and as church board chair at Gospel Fellowship Church (Evangelical Mennonite Mission Church) in Steinbach, Manitoba.

Previous | Next