In the last half of the twentieth century many churches have drawn new confession or symbols of faith. As early as the Nicean Creed (worked on for over a hundred years between 325 and 451 A.D.), confessions were seen as symbols of the unity of the church. They were a practice of reconciliation between differing opinions portrayed by new images or sketches for churches to share with eachother. They were the historical equivalents of Christian Hutus and Christian Tutsis agreeing to draw together a new sketch of what they believed the faith-from-the-future taught through the texts-of-the-past called them to do-that-day. They were Jim Wallis, Jesse Jackson, and Beth Moore asking for God to equip them to live today by drawing upon the Spirit’s inspiration of their experiences of scripture to compare the historical work of God “and” the promises from God of what is to come. So you can only imagine how long process must take.
Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth’s biographer, has written an article reviewing these new confessions made for the most part by two-thirds world churches. Busch’s article appears at the very end of a book of articles, Toward the Future of Reformed Theology. I probably picked this article up because of my own personal encounters with Dr. Busch at Columbia Seminary, where he taught a semester seminar on Barth and joined us afterwards for beers and pipes. He and Shirlie Guthrie were the reason I kept after the class and began to take seriously the reading and writing of theology. I can remember his eyes lighting up as we’d make comments and motioning us with his hands to “keep-rolling” when, as young students, we grew uncertain of our arguments. He was my first German friend.
Unfortunately Dr. Busch grew ill and could not return to Columbia a year later as he had planned. I had heard the stroke rendered his speaking and reasoning incapable of teaching. Somehow I had put together the news that he had passed away. And then two years ago I was on Columbia’s campus and saw him again. It was the first time in my life that I thought I saw a ghost. I didn’t know how exactly to say, “I thought you were dead” so I just said I was glad to see him, told him a bit about the work I was doing with emergent and in the inner-city and that was that.
In reading this article last night it seems to me that he is just as surprised to discover confessing churches. As if meeting a ghost he meets churches that “confess not because they hold to a specials Calvinistic tradition, nor because they wish to define what ‘Reformed’ actually means. They confess because they (alone as Reformed, or with other denominations in the frequently occurring case of a merger of churches) find themselves called to confess their identity in the church of God and of Jesus Christ.” In contrast, over the last two centuries, Busch writes, there emerged “in the place of the freedom at times to confess and at other times to enact one’s confession… a freedom to do nothing, a freedom from confession… At the root of this lay a problematic conception of God, in which God’s freedom was thought of as a despotic regime which did not tolerate human freedom.”
In Atlanta in 2006 there exists a similar domesticated image of God as one contained to the scriptures and the confessions and the buildings of churches. God has gotten trapped in sacred space consequentially loosing humanity into a spiral of capricious relationship with God. Because we don’t know for sure, and because we assume that ordained folks like Troy might know better than us, we resign ourselves to a life of conscription or contradiction. We’ve lost the ability to see God in action and ourselves in action. We’ve lost the confidence to say “and.”
When faced with this dilemma, the church historically has landed on confessing (witnessing or stating, not simply apologizing or saying confession). On drawing a new “and” a kind of creed, a new testimony. The church does this as one congregation in its place and time but with universal intent, a belief that they are not an exception-to-the-rule but a specific location of God’s active spirit. They speak as “the church.” And they do this with an unique art. The art of “and” is learned through contemplation upon the incarnation of Christ both human and divine. Like Calvin, the church today practices that “that which the one Word of God has communicated to us by pure grace in the one mediator, Christ, we cannot say in one word but always rather in two.” The following is a list of such twos drawn from historical and emerging confessions. Busch describes these as the “characteristic doubling of assertions, in which throughout both are united yet remain unmixed; both are differentiated yet remain undivided, let alone made into opposite.”
God’s majesty and God’s abasement
the glory of God and the salvation of humanity
Christ as truly divine and truly human
Word and Spirit
gospel and law
eternal life and ordering of temporal existence
justification and sanctification
faith and obedience
Old and New Testaments
witness to the “norm” of faith and of life
God in love and justice
in grace and power
Jesus Christ as crucified reconciler and victorious Lord and Judge
thus justification occurs by:
grace alone, excluding all self redemption,
and it is nevertheless inseparable from human sanctification, renewal, and discipleship
The church must be determined both
by gathering and by sending,
by preservation of its identity
and by engaged openness to the world around it
by the calling of Christians to serve and through the ministerial office
thus in the sacraments:
both God’s grace and human response are manifested
thus regarding the relationship to state and society:
both loyal cooperation and obedience to God more than human
the law of God:
reveals to us sinners our inability to redeem ourselves and shows those freed by Christ concretely the shape of our freedom
Do you get the point? Incase you don’t, allow me to illustrate through visual metaphors. Trevor Hart (Begbie, Beholding the Glory) does this in his description of mixing paint. When you add yellow to red you do not get a “compromise.” You make something that did not before exist, some sort of orange. But it is made on purpose and with things that did previously exist. When God was made flesh, we did not only experience one being as the Other, but an Other-possibility came into existence: the incarnation-idea. The created “and.” And yet, with out a paintbrush of “divinity” at our disposal we can only learn and watch this new phenomena. The concepts of redemption are redefined, Paul sees new, that the old is gone-forever. A material world once filled with divine interruptions is now a material world redefined by the existence of “orange” incarnate interruptions. “The word of God made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory. Out if his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (NIV for “grace upon grace”), now all this material is assumed, brought into the divine revelation of Christ and through the cross and resurrection- forever changed.
But if it weren’t enough to see orange for the first time and look toward the horizon with hope that a deeper orange would arrive. The Son of God made flesh breaths the Holy Spirit on his disciples and paints the vision of their becoming orangeness, “as the father sends me, so I send you.” The Spirit of God ushers in an new day, an 8th day of creation, when more and more of creation will not only be given eyes to see and ears to hear such an orange but hands to paint, feet to carry, and imaginations and swords and plowshares and tongues to create (or crucify) orange again and again. John places this at the end of that upperoom account, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Now if my metaphor hasn’t gotten us in enough trouble I want to clarify what I am saying. There are some of you (if you have been patient enough to keep plodding through this post) who’s yellow flags have gone up. “If we make orange, you are forgetting the left side of one of the above “Ands”: excluding all self redemption.” To this I propose we do not make green, but always orange. Here is where my metaphor breaks down and it begins to look like all we do as ambassadors of reconciliation is paint until the world looks like a 1970s TV with the color knob askew- monochromatic. So I will work on some more elaboration but I’d love some of you own input.
How is the church to continue confessing with universal intent but to do so in a changing world where the gospel is suddenly informing us to believe differently than before. How do we think about this difference in light of the one incarnation and not confuse ourselves as the “inventors” of orange or of the “new orange.” How are we like John the Baptist who "himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light" while "the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” And how do we handle that the true light that “was coming” has come and yet is still not completely here in fullness? I think we would find some help in rethinking “and”…