By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
If you worshipped with us the other day, you may have noticed that I have a slight affinity for Reformation Sunday. I love the way that we can recognize the continuity of the church, the Body of Christ, through the centuries. While the world today looks drastically different from the world then, some of the truths they expounded continue to resonate. Some don’t any longer, but the good thing about our tradition is that it recognizes the importance of context in understanding God, scripture, and faith.
The Book of Confessions is part one of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). It’s a big book with a bunch of documents that provide a snapshot of the church in that time, while also giving us a chance to learn from those who came before us.
With that in mind today’s blog post is going to be my favorite part of each confession. This is subject to change at my whims, so if I tell you something different next week it doesn’t mean I was lying, it just means I changed my mind.
The Nicene Creed (381 CE)
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
The Apostle’s Creed (180 CE, Final Form in the eighth century)
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth (it’s a short one, I like the first line)
The Scots Confession (1560)
When controversy arises about the right understanding of any passage or sentence of Scripture, or for the reformation of any abuse within the Kirk of God, we ought not so much to ask what men have said or done before us, as what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded.
The Heidelberg Catechism (1562)
Q: How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us? A: We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love. For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.
The Second Helvetic Confession (1561, published 1566)
These same works ought not to be done in order that we may earn eternal life by them, for, as the apostle says, eternal life is the gift of God. Nor are they to be done for ostentation which the Lord rejects in Matt., ch. 6, nor for gain which he also rejects in Matt., ch. 23, but for the glory of God, to adorn our calling, to show gratitude to God, and for the profit of the neighbor.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)
All saints being united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as to conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.
The Westminster Catechism (1647)
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
The Theological Declaration of Barmen (1934)
As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.
The Confession of 1967 (1967, obviously)
The members of the church are emissaries of peace and seek the good of man in cooperation with powers and authorities in politics, culture, and economics. But they have to fight against pretensions and injustices when these same powers endanger human welfare. Their strength is in their confidence that God’s purpose rather than man’s schemes will finally prevail.
A Brief Statement of Faith (1983)
In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
The Belhar Confession (1986)
that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);
that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23)
I pull these passages out not to say that they are the only parts worth reading (though Westminster is punishingly long), but so you can hear the wisdom through the ages. If you have time today, or sometime in the near future, I would especially encourage you to read the confessions from the 20th century. They’re quick reads, but the history and theology behind them is an absolute triumph. You can download it for free here: https://www.pcusa.org/resource/book-confessions/
It doesn’t have Belhar (it’s an older version), so click this link to read that: https://www.rca.org/about/theology/creeds-and-confessions/the-belhar-confession/
Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline