This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Confession of Faith roundtable: Creation and the Calling of Human Beings

Photo: A view from Whidbey Island, Washington. Photo from Creative Commons. 

The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective was developed in 1995, and is the most recent systematic statement of belief for Mennonite Church USA. In its introduction, the writers identify six ways that confessions of faith serve the church, including: providing guidelines for interpretation of Scripture; providing guidance for belief and practice; build a foundation for unity within and among churches; offer outlines for instruction new church members or faith “inquirers”; give an updated interpretation of belief and practice “in the midst of changing times”: and help with discussing Mennonite belief and practice with other Christians or people from other faith traditions. 

Over the course of the next several months, we will be releasing “roundtable posts”, featuring two to three members of Mennonite Church USA congregations reflecting on an article from the Confession of Faith and how it impacts their ministry, congregational life and theology. We’ll move through the articles in numerical order. 

Today’s authors are reflecting on Article 6: Creation and the Calling of Human Beings. Writers appear in alphabetical order. 

RaquelRaquel Esteves-Joyce works at Haverford College as a faculty affiliate of the Writing Center and a learning specialist at the Office of Academic Resources. She attends Oxford Circle Mennonite Church.

We believe that human beings were created good, in the image of God.

I recently read an article about a four-year-old abused child who thought her name was “idiot” because that was how she had always been referred to by her family. How many of us walk around not knowing who we are because we have been misidentified, mistreated and misunderstood? How often have we looked at ourselves through the short-sighted gaze of others instead of through God’s gracious and loving eyes? To those, like me, who have struggled with not knowing their worth, may we know and own our true identity as one created in the image of God, whom he declared good.

As creatures according to the divine likeness, we have been made stewards to subdue and to care for creation out of reverence and honor for the Creator.

In being made stewards to care for creation, we have been given a gift, similar to a parent being entrusted with children (an example that sticks with me as I am pregnant with my third child). Gifts can bring us enjoyment and fulfillment, but there are also many lessons to be learned as we care for them. We grow by learning how to take of something/someone else and in that caring we find purpose. We are affirmed, challenged, fulfilled and taught lessons of great consequence. If we shirk our responsibility by neglecting and/or abusing what has been entrusted to us, we will reap accordingly to what we have sown and this can have dire consequences. Seeds that we fail to protect and whose growth are stunted because they cannot grow freely are seeds that do not survive (Matt. 13:3-8).

With such lack of care, we cheat ourselves from the experience of tending to God’s creation, as well as what he wanted to do for us through his creation.  However, if we become caring stewards, we are more likely to bear good fruit in abundance (Matt. 3:8)

As creatures made in the divine image, we have been blessed with the abilities to respond faithfully to God, to live in harmony with other human beings, and to engage in meaningful work and rest. Because both Adam and Eve were equally and wonderfully made in the divine image, God’s will from the beginning has been for women and men to live in loving and mutually helpful relationships with each other.

To truly believe that we are equally and wonderfully made and that we are equipped with the ability to live in harmony with one another, we would be challenged to live differently. We would treat each other lovingly, justly, and compassionately. We would choose to live outside of the existing hierarchies. In fact, I believe we would work to dismantle these hierarchies.

This is more challenging than we may realize, because it may be easier to fight for equality when we feel we are at the bottom of a system built against us. However, when we find ourselves moving up this hierarchy, we don’t always choose to dismantle what is benefiting us. To live in harmony, to ensure justice and equality, we have to be willing to give up and share some of the privileges and power that we hold. Unfortunately, for many of us, when we have had a taste of what has been denied us, we may want more for ourselves, to ensure our new position.

But Christ challenges those self-preservation desires through his example: “(He) didn’t think so much of Himself that He had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what…when the time came, He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human” (Phil. 2:5-8). If we truly want to be Christians that live like Christ, we must be willing to let go of our status and the privileges that come with it for the sake of others (Matt. 20:24-28).

We are grateful that God patiently preserves humanity and faithfully remains with us even through death.

I am an introvert. I tend to prefer to be by myself than with large groups of people. However, even though I seek out solitude, there are moments when it overwhelms me and I feel a deep sense of loneliness. I am grateful that in those moments, and in the bad moments, the unsure ones, the painful ones and the uncertain ones, I am not alone. He is with me, loving me in it all and through it all.

God has made provision for the salvation of humanity and the redemption of creation.

During moments of great despair, when things seem hopeless, we have hope in Christ. We sometimes erroneously believe that we are waiting on God; anxiously awaiting something that never seems to come quick enough. As I approach my last trimester of my pregnancy and my body feels the weight and pain of this last stage, I find myself thinking of the final month, wishing for its speedy arrival. But what I miss now, and every time I anxiously await the end at the expense of the present, is that there is a process going on even when I don’t see it, feel it or understand it.

If I’m being honest with myself, part of my frustration comes from the fact that I can’t control things. I begin to realize that my hope cannot be placed in my power, because in these situations, I am powerless. I am a mother awaiting the work within me to come to completion, but there is not much I can do to expedite that work except to nurture what is within. My hope needs to come from the creator of that work and the belief that his work is always good, redemptive and will be brought to completion (Phil. 1:6).

We believe that the image of God in all its fullness has been revealed and restored in Jesus Christ, in whom we find our true humanity.

We started out by saying that we were made in the image of God, and yet we do not know what this really means because we have not seen God. It’s probably why it’s so hard to see ourselves as good even though he affirms us as such. Jesus helps us in this dilemma. He allows us to see a clear example of who God the father is through the life he led on earth. By viewing God through his son, we begin to see ourselves the way God intended: not as something incomplete, fractured, or unlovable, but as something fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We finally begin to see ourselves as good.

Luke-informal-2013-smLuke Gascho is Director of Goshen (Indiana) College’s Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center.

What stands out to you in this article?

Multiple concepts found in this article-as well as statements about creation in other parts of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective-inspired me to pursue the formation of the Mennonite Creation Care Network in 2004. The third sentence jumped off the page for me as it named my/our responsibility to “take care of the rest of creation.” Not only am I to be in relationship with God and with other people, I am also to have a strong partnership with all of creation. Practicing creation care personally, at my workplace, and with MCCN is my vocation.  Caring for God’s creation is also a great calling for the whole church.

In designing/forming/creating humans, God created us with amazing abilities to be stewards of the earth. As the Old English word for steward implies, we are to be “keepers of the house.” We are declared good, which also is true of all parts of creation. Therefore our roles should be that of keeping things in healthy, holistic balance and also putting things that have been broken/damaged into right order. I appreciate the concept of being “creation companions” that Noel Moules articulates so well. As followers of Christ, we are called to use our unique gifts to be partners with Christ in redemption and restoration of all creation.

How does this article resonate with your understandings and your congregation?

I am grateful that my home congregation, Waterford Mennonite Church, has embraced Article 6 by forming a Creation Care Ministry Team. Under the leadership of this group, the church has led worship experiences, provided Sunday School sessions, reduced our energy consumption, installed solar panels, planted native landscaping and maintained trails on the property. Practicing creation care has become a part of what it means for us to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The congregation has intentionally provided many ways for people to be active with the concepts of this article rather than turning it into a polarizing issue. We do not get hung up on the word “created” in the first sentence of Article 6 with conflict-ridden discussions about origins. To do so quickly detracts from the points about calling and responsibility. Acting faithfully as individuals and as a corporate body has fostered a healthy community dynamic.

What questions or other thoughts come to mind as you read this?

There is a theological danger of overemphasizing “special dignity” category for human beings. It is easy to allow this status to quickly migrate into a role of domination over the rest of creation. God has created us as special beings and we need to recognize the dignity of all.

A parallel challenge is the use of the word “subdue” as a responsibility. Western Christianity has mistakenly taken this as license to treat creation as a set of resources to be used up.  While this word is used in Genesis 1:28, its meaning has been distorted to one of supremacy and degradation. The concept would be better understood as the responsibility for humans to learn to know the intricacies of ecosystems and global systems in order to be constructive keepers of creation.

Jesus is the model. Christ is the creator, sustainer and reconciler. It is powerful to know that we are called join in the reconciling and restoring work.

Mike MetzlerJ. Michael Metzler is Pastor at Zion Mennonite Church in Broadway, Virginia.

The world is full of beautiful places that take our breath away. Whidbey Island is one of them. I traveled there as a college student to study Environmental Science through Au Sable Institute. The beauty of God’s creation wowed me like never before: pods of orca whales in the Puget Sound, a golden eagle soaring in the Olympic mountains and the northern lights pulsing with brilliant colors in the night sky.

Sixteen years later, I continue to ponder and live into my role in caring for God’s awesome creation. What does it mean to be made in God’s image? What are the privileges and responsibilities for North American Christians at this particular time and place? How is God calling us to live today so that our children can enjoy the beauty and wonder of creation tomorrow?

Article 6 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, “The Creation and Calling of Human Begins,” begins to unpack answers to these essential questions. No, we are not God. Yet, we are made in the divine image.  This identity as children of God comes with unique privileges and responsibilities among God’s good creation.

One striking image that summarizes for me our calling as human beings over creation is that of a viceroy. These were governors set in place by kings who would rule as their representatives. As human beings, God is calling us to be viceroys who steward and care for creation. How are we doing?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that July 2016 was the hottest month on record for the globe. This was the 15th month in a row to break a monthly heat record. Pope Francis’s encyclical on ecology highlights that climate change is “mainly a result of human activity” and an urgent problem staring us all in the face. He accurately describes how addressing climate change cares not only for the earth but also for the poor. The vulnerable are most often those in harm’s way.

Though the problems facing us today are massive, our day-to-day decisions matter. My prayer is that the Church will confess our careless living and imagine new ways of being in God’s creation, ways that allow all of God’s creatures to flourish. I want future generations to thank us for taking God’s call to serve as viceroys seriously so that they too can discover places of beauty like Whidbey Island.


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