A Brief Statement of Faith: Intro

Taking a cue from my friend Aric, I thought I’d go through some of the documents found in the Book of Confessions, beginning with the end. I think the Book of Confessions ends with a bang, the Brief Statement of Faith, which marked the reunion of the two largest Presbyterian denominations in 1983. I’ll be going through the document bit by bit, and will then continue on. (I’ve also got some truly geeky things to post about my thoughts on Tolkien and theology, which will come as I find the time.)

It begins like this:

In life and death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
whom alone we worship and serve.

Let me say first off that there are some ways to worship and serve God alone which are inappropriate. To be honest, I think it is very possible that the God that a Hindu prays to is the exact same God that we pray to. If we accept that God is infinite, and unknowable in God’s entirety, then we have to be open to the possibility that God is present in other places and in other times in ways we may not recognize. I think not to accept this possibility is an act of audacious arrogance that I just can’t sign on to. One doesn’t even have to affirm the above as true, just allow a tiny bit of room for the other four and a half billion human beings on Earth to maybe, just maybe, have something true about God in their own traditions.

On the other hand, I’m not necessarily suggesting that we take all expressions of faith in God to be of identical value. That’s possibly the most common misinterpretation of relativism – that it means that nothing has value, or that everything has the same value and there are no distinctions. If this were the case, it would be impossible to make decisions of any kind. Rather, at the very least, I think our limited understanding and cognition mean that we exist in relativity necessarily – if there is absolute truth, it is incomprehensible, or it is inexpressible, or it is incredibly unapparent for some other reason. As long as rational, reasonable, intelligent people disagree, I have to say that relativism is probably where we are.

But enough of that for now. I like this opening to the Brief Statement of Faith because it has the sound of a benediction. It is worship-language, and I think that worship is the best home for theological reflection. The further you move from grounding in action, the more absurd your theology will tend to become. Also, as worship-language, this opening brings to mind a communal setting. It speaks in the plural. You can easily imagine this being read in unison.

One interesting note: the statement refers to “the one triune God” and “the Holy One of Israel”, which I find curious because the people of Israel didn’t think of God as a trinity or write about God as a trinity. The trinity is a Christian innovation through and through. We can still use both kinds of language, however, because of our heritage. Part of Reformed theology, in my opinion, is taking the witness of the Hebrew Scriptures seriously, remembering that we are a vine grafted to the roots of Judaism; that the new covenant doesn’t necessarily nullify the old.

I might actually say, “through the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, the grace of God…” because for me God’s grace is demonstrated in Jesus Christ’s love (not to mention resurrection), but really these are probably interchangeable in the realm of worship-language. Grace and love, love and grace; either way, I’ll take it.

7 thoughts on “A Brief Statement of Faith: Intro

  1. On the matter of God being infinite and unknowable in His entirety, I wouldn’t put it exactly thus. To say that God is infinite is not to say that He is everything. To say that He is unknowable in His entirety is not to say that nothing about Him can be known. God creates things which are not Himself. God creates creatures. God takes definite action. God does one thing and not another. Therefore, while God may be infinite, it is an infinite positive structure (and not a infinite negative diffusion). I suppose then that the statement of the pantheist that “God is everything” is not so much a lie as it is hopelessly behind the times. It was true, once. But God created. God did one thing and not another.

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  2. Brief is good. I am so rarely good in that way.No, I just meant that to say that to say God is infinite is to say that God is unknowable in God’s entirety. (The question of whether God is separate from what God creates I leave for another time. That may be part of a subject-object distinction that is a useful shorthand in our everyday life but which has less ontological meaning than we attribute to it.)

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  3. Aaah, nod.In any case, I agree that there are some ways of worship that are just not appropriate. I seriously doubt that such displays as the one you linked are things that God would approve of.Wasn’t there a passage in the Bible along the lines of, “But the religion which God accepts as pure and good is to look after orphans, and to take care of widows in their distress?” It’s amazing just how far removed people can get in their pursuit of God from what God actually commands. Where exactly is ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ in that sort of display?

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  4. Isaiah 58 comes to mind – its a favorite of mine. It talks about the fast that God intends, but it does mention all of that liberal garbage.Everyone knows that God wants us to worship the flag and to fight wars. Otherwise, why would God have given us a flag and all of these guns? I mean, seriously.

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  5. brief? Your talking about the PCUSA brief statement? It’s freakin’ long. Short is something like < HREF="http://www.disciples.org/discover/believe/" REL="nofollow">ours<> which is:I believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. I believe that all person’s are God’s children.anyways…we can bicker all we want about something like length. I just prefer something you can put to memory.

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