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.