Do You Believe…?
This past week I headed over to the mainland for my credentialing interview at the MB Conference centre in Abbotsford. The purpose of this meeting (and the twenty or so odd page document I had to produce beforehand) was to determine if I was fit to become a pastor in the BC Mennonite Brethren Conference—to see if I would be admitted into the “pastors guild” as it were. There was a touch of anxiety on Tuesday afternoon, but all in all it was a very affirming and encouraging experience for Naomi and I. To top it off, I passed, so I suppose that’s the main thing.
Over the last few days I’ve been reflecting on the experiences of writing the document, answering the questions, going through the interview process, and what these things are meant to accomplish. I’m obviously familiar with having to meet academic standards in order to progress to different levels but it was an odd kind of a thing to be scrutinized to determine if I was “pastor material.”
Particularly interesting, from my perspective, was the second-to-last question I had to answer in my document: “Do you subscribe to the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith in all its aspects?” On the one hand, there is nothing particularly strange about checking out a potential pastor’s doctrine—indeed, it is crucial in order to detect crazy theologies or dangerous personalities. In this sense, a question like this is a vital one from a conference perspective and I had no problem answering it.
On the other hand, the question seemed a strange one to me. How is it possible for any one person to come to precisely the same conclusions as any one denomination on important theological issues such as the nature of God, the doctrine of creation, the scope of salvation, not to mention thorny questions such as those related to gender roles and sexual orientation? Was the conference expecting me to say that I had come to an irreversible, unqualified, and fixed position on every matter of doctrine and Christian practice and to say that in every case my views exactly matched their own?
Well, not exactly. One of the things that I came to deeply appreciate over the course of my preparing for and going through this credentialing process was the latitude of the MB Confession of faith—their willingness to speak confidently where Scripture speaks confidently and to not be dogmatic when Scripture is not as clear. Consequently, the conference has not made the question of women’s place in ministry a confessional issue, nor have they declared a single position on, say, the mechanism or time-frame of creation. It was good not to feel this intense pressure to have everything sorted out (or worse, have to give assent to something that I strongly disagreed with) at the outset of entering the BC Conference and I welcomed the implicit freedom to learn and grow that this communicated to me.
It still felt strange to say that I agreed with the entire MB Confession of Faith because I don’t know if any two people think about faith and doctrine in precisely the same way, much less every pastor in one little denomination. However, I appreciate the MB approach to Scripture and their reticence in requiring rigid doctrinal precision in every conceivable matter. We are dealing with mysteries and deep questions here, and doing so with fallen and finite minds. Humility—epistemological, spiritual, or otherwise—is rarely a bad thing, and I am happy to be part of a conference that recognizes and honours this.