Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Theology And Confession

With thanks, as always, to Ben Myers for letting the world know about the best theological writers out there on the internet, this post at The Divine Wedgie (what an awesome blog name) got me thinking about something.

What if we in the Church were far more concerned about how we confess the faith than how we profess the faith? What if we recalled that the first confession of faith, as recorded in the Bible, consisted of three words yet contained all any Christian needed to say about who God is, who Jesus is, what God in Christ has done for the world, and what it means for us and the world? Jesus is Lord. That's all any Christian really needs to affirm. Each word, individually, is so loaded with meaning the Universe wouldn't be large enough for what they contain. Taken together, in pieces and in total - Jesus is; is Lord; Jesus is Lord - says all that needs to be said.

Obviously, we aren't satisfied with this kind of simplicity. We prefer to put all sorts of stumbling blocks on the road of faith, insisting believers navigate the maze of our own construction in order to pass the test of belief we have set up. It's a ridiculous, haughty exercise of human sinfulness to insist that it is profession that is as important as confession. Confession is the mark of the Christian; profession is the source of far too much human-engineered confusion and strife.

The various mutual denunciations of Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, Anglican, Wesleyan, and Evangelical professions of faith are testimony to the all too human willingness to dismiss large groups as unworthy of God's love and care. Add to that the many and varied and contradictory theological schools, the disputes that range from the denunciation of St. Paul's mission to the Gentiles through the disputes between St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure to the Reformation and its radical off-shoots, to the explosion in theological exploration of the past two to three centuries, we have been far more likely to insist those with whom we disagree are not just wrong, but dangerously so, than we are willing to lend an ear to something new, to be open to the Spirit blowing from a direction of its own choosing.

The modern Christian churches have been, it seems to me, far more concerned with theological conformity than confessional simplicity. Theologians as different as Friedrich Schleiermacher, G. W. F. Hegel, Adolf Harnack, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Gustavo Gutierrez and more have been denounced by one or another individual or group for the ultimate sin of heresy. Yet, isn't heresy little more than the insistence that, sometimes, what passes for orthodoxy might have missed something important? While it certainly is the case that heresiarcs tend to be far more "dogmatic" than the orthodox, it is often the case that such errors as they make - whether the members of the Corinthian congregation who insisted there was no resurrection of the dead or the panoply of contemporary folks who insist on a "personal relationship with Jesus" as a mark of salvation - are those rooted in love.

There continue to be people who insist that Jesus' claim that the Way is narrow makes them Divinely appointed engineers, marking off the boundaries of acceptable profession of faith. That's OK, I suppose; everyone needs to feel needed. All the same, even if one or another detail may not jibe completely, it seems to me Christian unity should rely far more on our mutual confession, Jesus is Lord. Everything else is negotiable.

Virtual Tin Cup

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