Tom with kids in Kuwait

Tom with kids in Kuwait
Tom with kids in Kuwait

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A stop along the way

We share a common commission.  We are sent into the world to proclaim the gospel.  We are messengers of good news.

Our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  We are to cast off anything that burdens us.

We are challenged to live as Paul did.  We are to run the good race and fight the good fight and keep the faith.

Our commission does not expire.  We have no excuse for not staying the course.  No issue or person or cause or calamity must get us off course.  We have a race to run.  Other Christians shouldn’t be asking us, “ Who cut you off?”

If we stop running our race, there is usually a common culprit—judging.  We should not be distracted by the speck in the eye of others when we have plenty of woodwork to do on our own.  We should not be judging another man’s servant. 

We are not placed on this earth to be a Christian Think Tank.  We are to put the words of Jesus into practice.  We are to be doers of the word.

And so it seems that we are to love God mostly by loving each other, and that includes our enemies; and from this perspective, having a grasp on theology doesn’t seem that important.  We will read our Bible and love one another.  That should cover it.  Right?

But then we sing, Holy, Holy, Holy and end up with God in three persons, blessed trinity.  OK, where did we get this trinity stuff?  Neither Isaiah nor Paul wrote a chapter on that subject, but we believe in a Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each of these godly entities is encountered many times in our biblical reading.  We say we believe that in the Apostle’s Creed, but Jesus didn’t write this creed.  How did we come up with it?

Even when we piece together 3 members of the God-head, we ask, “How can they really be 3 in 1?”  A Greek theologian named John of Damascus came up with a widely held understanding of the trinity called perichoresis.  This is essentially the community of God—a community of love for each other.  It is a community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dancing in harmony.

But not everyone buys into this explanation.  The trinity is just plain hard to explain.  There are many metaphors, all of which have one thing in common, they are incomplete.  The Confession of faith just says there is a Holy Trinity.  It doesn’t attempt to explain it.

We like to put up nativity scenes at Christmas.  They have Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus and they are normally surrounded by animals, wise men, and sometimes angels.  Usually they are in a manger, barnyard, or some other rustic setting.

But the magi probably did not arrive for the birth.  They may have arrived weeks or months, or as is the common thinking now, a couple years later.  Mary and Joseph were in a house by then.  And while there were 3 gifts, the whole idea of 3 wise men or kings once again is attributed to the Christmas or Epiphanal hymn, We Three Kings of Orient Are.

Not knowing the exact number of wise and royal emissaries from the east doesn’t make or break a theology.  In fact, this discussion is not even a part of the confession.  But what about some of the other things that we say we believe that we can’t find in verbatim form in our Bibles.  What about once saved, always saved?  The Confession of Faith doesn't used these words but does talk about the preservation of believers.

How can those in the reformed tradition differ so much for other Christians that believe you can fall in and out of salvation?  Was our salvation all from God or did we earn enough of it that we can lose it as well?  If God did it all, then can we undo what he did?

These are tough questions and Christians will give you different answers.  

Those in the reformed tradition will focus more on our response to God’s grace, to God’s favor, to God’s unmerited forgiveness.  Others prefer to focus on maintaining the “saved” status.

And since we are discussing salvation, how about the fact that only John’s gospel mentions being saved by believing in the Son of God?  What happened to those people who heard Matthew’s gospel and repented from their sin, loved the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and even loved their neighbor as they loved themselves?  What about them?  Did they not hear the gospel because they didn’t hear John 3:16 or Romans 10:9-10?

What about all of those things that people like to say God can’t do.  God can’t do anything bad; therefore, God is not responsible for hurricanes and tornadoes.  God will not cause anyone to harm another.  Yet we read that God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart.  He sent Joshua into the Promised Land with some very violent marching orders.  He used the Babylonians to lay waste to Jerusalem and deport the Hebrew people.

We really end up on a slippery slope when we start defining what God can and can’t do.  We face questions that we can’t answer well.  God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways.  If God is subject to his own law, is he still a sovereign God?  If he is above his own law, is he a just God.  If he punished an innocent man—even his own Son—is he still a holy God?

We sing, “Jesus love me, this I know for the Bible tells me so,” but there is some stuff in the Bible that is hard to explain, difficult to reconcile with other parts of the Bible, and some of it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to us today.
It is no wonder that sometimes we either throw up our hands and give up on understanding theology or cherry pick some of the parts of the Bible that we like and ignore the rest.  Most people just want to know the truth without having to decipher it themselves.  They want to know that there are people to trust who will make sense of it all.

And so we come to the Confession of Faith for Cumberland Presbyterians.  But why should we accept this theology?  Do we need to understand Calvin’s TULIP and where we as a denomination are on it?

How did people fare long ago that had the gospel read aloud to them?  What’s wrong with hearing God’s word and listening to preaching and teaching by the clergy?  Do I really need to read the Confession of Faith?  Shouldn't I be able to reach my own conclusions about things so important?  Shouldn't I be able to just read the Bible to get my answers?

The answer is yes, but will you give it the time and study required to understand God’s message in time to put it to use in this lifetime?

How will you segregate God’s truth from the flavor of the month wisdom in your own mind?  The mind likes to use patterns to organize its thoughts and knowledge.  How does it not put the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom right next to I do not like green eggs and ham.  I do not like them Sam I Am?

Maybe we should take notes in life.  Many of you write notes in the margins of your Bible and you end up with notes all over your Bible, but how do you find the notes on what you believe about a certain topic.  Concordances help, but sometimes our notes don’t match up with the original text and so the concordance is only partially helpful.

Wouldn't it be great if we had something that would incorporate much of what the Bible reveals to us, but would do it topically?

The Confession of Faith is such a document.    It addresses what we believe topically yet maintains great fidelity to telling the story of the Bible in the way that the Bible tells it.

The Confession of Faith relies upon the scriptures and previous confessions, but it is presented in the context of the church universal so as not to be presented in a narrow or sectarian manner.  The Confession of Faith does not attempt to claim a proprietary faith or discount other traditions and beliefs of those who call Jesus Lord and Savior.

The Confession of Faith does not replace the Bible.  It helps us to understand the Bible.  It helps us to understand and affirm our faith more effectively.  It helps us to bear witness to God’s saving activity in such a way that those who have not be saved, redeemed, or reconciled might believe in Jesus Christ and experience salvation.

The Confession of Faith is an affirmation of ancient truth in contemporary language.

The Confession of Faith is an affirmation of ancient truth in contemporary language.

But somebody had to stop running their race and write it down.

Somebody had to put into words what they had put into practice.

Someone had to comprehend the entirety of God’s message to us and put it into words that we could understand subject by subject.  Actually, there were many that fall under the category of somebody.

Imagine if you went to school and just had school.  Your day began at 8:00 a.m. but you didn’t go to any particular classroom.  You just went to school.  There were no divisions in the day to study English or Spanish.  There were no set times to study algebra or geometry.  There was no art class.  There was no science class.  There was no lab set aside to dissect frogs.  If you needed to dissect a frog, you could do it while studying math or science, during basketball practice—which by the way would be a come whenever you want sort of affair, or during lunch which would also be at whatever time the cooks decided to prepare it and you decided to come eat.

We might enjoy this sort of school for a while, but eventually we might prefer a classroom with a teacher that was a subject matter expert.  We might want a class schedule so everyone in a classroom at one time would be studying the same subject.  We might call these math class, and English class, and science class.  Now every once in a while, we might want to go back to just studying whatever, whenever we wanted to, but mostly we like the class and classroom system.

So too we gain advantage by studying God’s word topically.  What does that translate to?  Let’s try these topics.

1.00 God Speaks to the Human Family
 The Human Family Breaks Relationship with God
 God Acts Through Jesus Christ to Reconcile the World
4.00 God Acts Through the Holy Spirit
5.00 God Creates the Church for Mission
6.00 Christians Live and Witness in the World
7.00 God Consummates All Life and History

Those are the topic headings for the Confession of Faith.

Have you ever studied a topic or theme or promise or other thread from the Bible.  I mean have you really studied one of these?

If you have then you know that for a time everything else in the world is tuned out.  Your entire lifetime of experience is brought into the study but the day to day issues are sometimes left unattended.  If you are blessed with a supportive family and good neighbors, someone may cut your grass, feed the dog, and occasionally bring you a meal while you are immersed in study.

And at the end of a month, or year, or decade, you might just have a handle on salvation or justification or atonement and be confident that you have read and internalized and synthesized and evaluated and assembled a coherent understanding of a single topic or theme or thread contained in God’s word.

But to do this, you had to stop along the way.  You had to stop running your race and focus on this piece of theology.

When we run the race of faith, our theology might be a bit blurry.

Imagine interviewing Usain Bolt, arguably the fastest man in world, and asking him, “Did you notice the people waving at you as your ran your race?  Did you see how nicely the crowd was dressed as you were sprinting to yet another victory?  Wasn’t it a great day to grill some burgers and dogs?”

But the sprinter sees none of that.  The runner sees the point in the distance that is his goal.  The man or woman in the race doesn’t know too much about what is going on in the world.  If you need to trade stocks while you are running, you better do it the treadmill.  If you need to update that report while you workout, get a Stairmaster.  The runner is fixed on the goal.

And we for the most part are runners.  We trust that we know what we need to know about our faith and we put it into practice.  We become doers of the word.  We become God’s love in action.

And we might not be great theologians.  We might not be able to keep up in a conversation with Calvin or Luther or Zwingli.  But we can run our race.
And we can run it knowing that from time to time in the history of God’s relationship with humankind; our Creator has put some of theological leanings into a person or persons, at a place and during a time to manifest their unique understanding with the rest of us.

And from time to time, those thoughts have been compiled in what we as Cumberland Presbyterians call a Confession of Faith.

Can we be saved without having such a document?
Can we love God without such topical organization?
Can we love our neighbor without such a written prescription?

Yes.  Absolutely, yes!

But there comes a time in the life of a Christian when they want to know more than you are saved, now love God and love each other.  There comes a time when people just want to know, well how does that work?  Do we grow in grace?  Is there a judgment?  Is there a hell?  What are sacraments and why do we have them?

Some of these inquisitive men and women will be called to stop along the way and ascertain these things for themselves.  Some will walk away saying, “That’s too much of an investment for me to make.”  Most will be thankful that the Confession of Faith provides exceptional insight into what God has revealed to us and it is packaged for our understanding.  And some will be called to write and refine these doctrinal beliefs.

For while God is constant; the word of God is living and active.  God’s word lives.  God’s message is timeless but ever timely.  It speaks to us of ancient truth in contemporary language.

Most of us are called to run the race of faith.  We are running with our eyes fixed on Jesus and are seldom wrapped up in theology.  We have learned to just trust God, resist the urge to figure out every detail of every matter, obey God, and know that he will put us on the path that we need to be on.

My guidance to those that have entered the world of biblical teaching—mostly our Sunday school leaders—is to teach from the center. God is love, God loves us and will keep on loving us, God loved us so much that he became flesh and dwelt among us, and in so becoming man he took the sin of humankind upon himself.  God desires an eternal relationship with us.  We are to love God and love others.  Jesus is Lord.  There’s a decade’s worth of curriculum in just teaching and learning from the center without too much focus on disputable matters.

Let’s put it another way.  When we played football, we were usually content just to memorize and run the plays.  Every once in a while we might dream up a special play, but mostly we just wanted knock somebody on their back side, score the touchdown, or kick that 43 yard field goal.  Most of the time, we didn’t have the desire to write the playbook, then refine it for the next season, then work in a whole new system for the offense a few years down the road.   We just wanted to be in the game playing our position as best we could.

And so too with our faith, most of the time we just want to live a life of love.  We want to love God and love one another.  For most of us are not called to an extended stop in our race to refine what we have discerned for the benefit of others.

But some have been.  And we should be thankful for ready access to this theology enables us to understand our holy, righteous, merciful, and loving God even more.  It helps us to understand who God made us to be.

When Jesus sent his disciples into the world, he said go, make disciples, baptize, and teach.  He didn't add, and don’t forget your Confession of Faith.  But as the church came to life in the world, people had questions.  Much of the New Testament is filled with Paul, Peter, and James trying to answer questions and explain this new faith.

And the church would prevail for a millennia and a half without what today we would call a confession of faith

When people come to profess their faith, we ask them simple questions.
1. Do you repent of your sin and believe Jesus Christ to be your Savior and the Lord of your life?
2. Do you believe the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired word of God, the source of authority for faith and practice, and will you read and study them for guidance in living the Christian life?
3. Do you promise to be a faithful member of this church by participating in worship, sharing in its ministry of witness and service, supporting the government of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church/Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, and loving your brothers and sisters in Christ?
4. Will you strive to overcome temptation and weakness, grow in knowledge and grace, and practice love in all relationships, being strengthened in your personal discipleship by your life in the community of faith?
5. Do you promise to be a good steward of the life, talents, time, and money which God has entrusted to you, giving of these gifts to the church?

And when people answer in the affirmative to all of these we welcome them to the Body of Christ.  We welcome them to the family of faith.  We welcome them to the Covenant Community.

But some of these who profess their faith will be hungry for more.  Prayer and biblical study sometimes satisfy that hunger, but some will hunger for even more.

The Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith describes John 3:16 as the gospel in miniature. 

For some, this gospel in miniature is enough.  For some, the Confession of Faith is enough.

Some, however, will be called to stop along the way as they run the race of faith.  They will be called to bring ancient truth into modern language once again.  They will be called to take the living and active word of God and present it in such a way as to bring life to the church in today’s world.

For the words that we confess and profess speak directly to our witness as a people in covenant with God and with each other.

May God bless these words that we have confessed to him and to each other that we may be a blessing to the world.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3: 16). This is "the gospel in miniature." It is true testimony to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of the world. It has been the testimony of Cumberland Presbyterians from the outset of their origin. It is the statement of the purpose of this confession of faith and its organizing principle.
The purpose of a confession of faith is two-fold: (1) to provide a means whereby those who have been saved, redeemed, and reconciled by God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit understand and affirm their faith; and (2) to bear witness to God's saving activity in such a way that those who have not been saved, redeemed, and reconciled might believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and experience salvation. To this end a confession of faith is an affirmation of ancient truth in contemporary language. Hence, it should begin with that which is ancient and proceed to speak in language which is natural for those who seek to make witness to God's mighty acts of judgment and redemption in their own time.
The ancient truth which guides this confession of faith is of two sources: (1) the scriptures; and (2) the previous confessions of both Cumberland Presbyterian churches and the previous confessions of the church in its universal expression. All testimony to Jesus Christ must be tested by the scriptures which are the only unfailing and authoritative word for Christian faith, growth, and practice. All testimony to Jesus Christ is made within the context of the church universal and therefore must not be made in a narrow, sectarian manner or spirit.
A confession of faith which is evangelical in purpose and spirit seeks to testify to what God has done and is doing in the world to accomplish the redemption of his children. The scriptures themselves are the best example of how to do this in an organized way. Therefore, the organizing principle of this confession of faith is to tell the story the Bible tells in the way the Bible tells it. We are greatly indebted to the Confession of Faith of 1883, the Confession of Faith of 1814, and the Westminster Confession of Faith out of which the other two arose. We revere these confessions and have drawn from them in writing this confession. The outline of this confession, however, is drawn from the scriptures and is roughly that of the biblical outline found in John 3:16, the topics being as follows: (1) God Speaks to the Human Family; (2) The Human Family Breaks Relationship with God; (3) God Acts Through Jesus Christ to Reconcile the World; (4) God Acts Through The Holy Spirit; (5) God Creates the Church for Mission; (6) Christians Live and Witness in the World, and (7) God Consummates All Life and History.
There is a direct relationship between the church's confession of faith and her life and witness as a people in covenant with God and with each other. The faith of the church orders and shapes the life of the people of God--their mission, their government, their worship, and the orderly conduct of the church's affairs. Believing this, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America adopt the following as their testimony to Jesus Christ and as their system of internal government, consisting of: (1) the Confession of Faith; (2) the Constitution; (3) Rules of Discipline; (4) the Directory for Worship, and (5) the Rules of Order.

For more information, please follow this link.

The Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith (COF) begins with the gospel in miniature, that is, with John 3:16.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

The Confession of Faith is a statement of what Cumberland Presbyterians believe.  Most people that attend Cumberland Presbyterian worship have probably not read the Confession of Faith—at least not start to finish.  Classes on the COF seldom draw a crowd.

What to do?

How about a homiletic rendering of the Confession of Faith? 

Without a line for line review of the COF, this sermon series hits the essence of each topical section of the basic theology of Cumberland Presbyterians.    Each article offers a chance for comments and discussion.

FIRST THINGS FIRST!  The first thing that you will want to do is bookmark this page so you may come back to whenever you want to.







A stop along the way

Read the entire Confession of Faith.


What is the purpose of the Confession of Faith?
It has a stated two-fold purpose.  First, it is to provide a means whereby those who have been saved, redeemed, and reconciled by God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit understand and affirm their faith.
Next, it is to bear witness to God’s saving activity in such a way that those who have not been saved, redeemed, and reconciled might believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and experience salvation.
That’s mighty fancy language.  Can you put it another way?
The Confession of Faith is an affirmation of ancient truth in contemporary language.
Does the COF have an organizing principle?
Yes.  It is to testify to what God has done and is doing in the world to accomplish the redemption of his children by telling the story that the Bible tells the way the Bible tells it.
Does the COF have any impact on God’s people or the church?
There is a direct relationship between the church’s confession of faith and her life and witness as a people in covenant with God and each other.  The faith of the church orders and shapes the life of the people of God—their mission, their government, their worship, and the orderly conduct of the church’s affairs.
Do Cumberland Presbyterians worship the COF?
No.  We worship God.
Does the COF replace the Bible?
No.  The COF should clarify many biblical accounts and make the reader hungry to read and understand more of God’s word.
Do all denominations have a Confession of Faith?
No.  Different denominations observe different traditions in professing what they believe.

No comments:

Post a Comment