Thursday, October 26, 2006

Covenant Presbyterians Propose a Single Essential for Faith

In their latest "Covenant Connection" newsletter the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, in an article by Cynthia Campbell, President of McCormick Theological Seminary, suggest that,
"When you come right down to it, there is only one Christian essential: that Jesus Christ is Lord and through him, we believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All the rest of doctrine is commentary."
I agree. But I also suggest that the "commentary" is what puts flesh and blood onto an otherwise string of empty words devoid of any meaning in and of themselves.

So what if someone cries, "Lord! Lord!"? Jesus himself declares that saying the words does not gain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven for anyone. (Matthew 7:21) The words of the traditional Christian confession of faith that "Jesus Christ is Lord" is not the "essential" at all, but a brief, summary, short-hand version of the real essential which is, in its fulness, revealed in the holy Word of God.

The scriptural context of the confessional statement makes it clear that the essential efficacy of that confession rests not just in the confession itself, but in repentance (in accordance with the moral law revealed by God) and in authentic faith in the One (Jesus Christ) through whom God has brought salvation to the world.

For two thousand years the Church, the new covenant people of God, has asserted that this moral law precludes and forbids the normalization of sexual relations between members of the same sex.

It is this interpretation and similar interpretations of many other declarations and revelations from scripture that give teeth and substance to the Christian confession of faith.

The essence of the Christian faith is not and never has been subject to the eccentric whims or "scruples" of any one Christian believer. That which the Church considers to be "essential" is the faith which has been "once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3) (Note that the world "saints" is in the plural!)

The obvious fact that "faith" and moral behavior are inseparable is made clear in the "Historic Principals of Church Order" found in the first chapter of the PCUSA Book of Order. Here we read,
That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior's rule, "By their fruits ye shall know them." And that no opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd that that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man's opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otheriwse, it would be of no consequnce either to discover truth or to embrace it." (G-1.0304)
Jesus added that, "Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' . . . For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. all these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'" (Mark 7:15,21-22)

Just as a Sacrament is a sign that something far greater in substance and meaning in present, so also is the Christian confession, "Jesus is Lord," a symbolic representation of the essential substance and meaning of faith as found in its full context in scripture.

For those of us who adhere to the Reformed Faith, it is scripture itself that forms the only authoritative "commentary" on our confession of faith. It is here, in the living, Spirit-breathed Word of God that the true essentials of our faith are to be found.

These truths are, by the Holy Spirit, discerned, affirmed and articulated by the voice of the Church. In the end it is the Church as a whole who decides what is or what is not to be considered to be "essential" for its members.

When the Church adopts a principal of biblical faith or moral order and affirms it with a "shall" or "must" then such a principal of faith & life cannot be reasonably considered to be anything less than "essential" to the faith and life of the Church.

It would be nice, of course, if the "essential tenets of the Reformed Faith" could be reduced to a single sentence or two. But, then again, it would also be very foolish.