This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Barmen 1.



We have elected some new elders in our congregation.  As part of their orientation, I offer an introduction to the Constitution of the PCUSA.  It is not systematic, but my idiosyncratic take on it.  I start with the first thesis of the Theological Declaration of Barmen.

It goes like this:

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

1.  The only Jesus Christ we have is the one “attested for us in Holy Scripture.”  There is no other or new Jesus Christ that someone has identified through any other means: mystical, theological, scientific, or artistic.  Non-scriptural presentations of Jesus Christ are valid for disciples only in so far as they reflect, depict, and shed light on the Jesus Christ we know in Scripture.  It is the height of arrogance, hubris, presumption, and cynicism for anyone to imagine that they have a truer picture of Jesus than the one we receive in the gospels, based on accounts of people who knew him personally.  The gospel portrayals are diverse and even contradictory, which only verifies their authenticity.   

2.  There is no division between Jesus and Christ; that is, there is no “historical Jesus” who is somehow distinct from the “Christ of faith.”  They are identical and inseparable.  Jesus is always and only the Messiah of the Jews, the Savior and Redeemer promised in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Incarnate Son of God, who rose from the dead.  Christ is always and only the Human One, born of Mary, who was executed by the Romans “for blasphemy and sedition” (Brief Statement of Faith, 10.2).  Christ is not a layer of misinterpretation imposed by the later church; in the Scriptures Jesus clearly understands himself to be the Messiah.  To separate them is to do violence to the text and concoct two different and imaginary figures, a project that must serve some end other than witnessing to God’s love. 

3.  Jesus Christ is himself the Word of God.  So while the Scriptures attest to him, he attests to the Scriptures.  The Scriptures get their authority from him.  “The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written” (Confession of 1967, 9.27).  The Scriptures are the word of God because and when they witness to the Word of God, Jesus Christ.  They are never accurately understood when they are heard to say something in contradiction to Jesus Christ.

4.  Our response is to hear, trust, and obey Jesus Christ.  It is not to hear only, and then do as we please.  It is not even to “believe,” if by that we mean merely to have an intellectual opinion about him.  It is to demonstrate our whole-hearted trust in him by our obedience to his commandments, as individuals and as a community. 

5.  Our trust in Jesus Christ extends throughout this mortal life even unto our death.  Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ. 

6.  What are some “other events and powers, figures and truths,” that some might  acknowledge as “a source of the church’s proclamation”?  In other words, what forces and influences do we find within the church today that somehow manage to be considered when we are making decisions?  These are the other “principalities and powers” that demand allegiance, loyalty, and obedience.  Among these are nation, race, class, culture, political ideology, tradition, personality, economic system, philosophy, and religion.  If we are acknowledging any of these, even in a subordinate or marginal way, as factors influencing the character of our trust in and obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are not loving God with our whole being or our neighbors as ourselves.        

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