The problem of knowing what to do with our confessions

When we confess our redemption through Jesus Christ we commit ourselves to a concrete social embodiment of the gospel. Nonconformity is therefore the hallmark of the Christian faith – although nonconformity must be carefully distinguished from non-participation. Nonconformity implies difference but not distance; exclusion yet embrace. I emphasise this matter because I se a discrepancy between what we confess and how we live. For example, we confess belief in non-resistance – although I think ‘peace-making’ would be a better word (Mennonite Brethren Confession, Article 13). Yet a growing number of Mennonites do not believe in peacemaking (let alone non-resistance) in any way that is different from other contemporary enlightened North Americans, who manage to make this conviction consistent with going to war when their nation calls them to do so. Unless our statements of faith help us with what it means practically to be peacemakers as Jesus’ disciples, this cannot be a credible confession.

We confess that our allegiance is to Christ’s kingdom and not to the state (Article 12), but it is primarily our state and not the church that is taking care of our medical needs, our education needs, and our security needs. Again, unless we can answer concretely what we mean when we say our security is not with the state, when in fact it is, we are not confessing properly.

We confess that churches are accountable to each other and the larger church (Article 6) but I suspect that we seldom seek or give counsel in this manner, partly because there are few structures that make this possible. We speak of discipleship (Article 10) and list what disciples do and do not do as if, once we know these things, we will be able to do or not do them. Yet our moral failures are less rooted in a lack of knowledge than in a failure of habituating proper behaviour. We need to be initiated into habit-forming behaviour so that we can learn to live spirit-filled lives.

The point here is not that we are just bad people and do not have the power of our own convictions; [it is] rather that we do not know what to do with our confessions because this has not been the focus of attention when we talk about faith. Unless we are able to do what we say we believe, we will not long believe it. The temptation will be too strong simply to ‘spiritualise’ our faith. Here our church confessions need to help us. – H. Huebner, Echoes of the Word, 55-56

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