As we spend the next few weeks thinking about the theme of reconciliation, I am going to take us on a journey through the Confession of 1967. The confession is one of the greatest works on reconciliation in modern Christendom. Born in a time when the church was at it strength and the Presbyterian Church was very active in social witness, the confession of 1967 looked back to the time of World War 2 and asked the questions, how did that happen, and how do we prevent it from happening again.
In a very real way, the idea and discussion of reconciliation was a deep and profound reordering of how the Presbyterian church engaged the greater community and world and has set the direction for mission, ministry and social witness from that day forward. Unfortunately, like many of our confessions, many in the church only know parts or slight references to it without really understanding the fundamental change in individual life and corporate worship that the confession calls for.
What all scholars and theologians know about faith is that over time it begins to fall into a pattern where the faithful discussions turn to practical concerns. When this happens the church opens its doors to a myriad of abuses. This was evident for the minds that wrote this confession, including Karl Barth, many who studied under him and others who were shaped by how the Nazi regime used religion as a tool for their evil pursuits.
So following the preamble, it should be no surprise to see that the confession starts with Sin. In fact, if you have ever listened to one of my classes on theology, I always start there. Why? Because sin is the great equalizer in the human experience. We are all sinners, and while some might say that one sin is greater than another, all sin separates us from God.
This is why whenever we study or debate issues, we are called to do so with open hearts and minds so that we might see where we fall short. I like to say, I know I am wrong, but this is what I think. I also know that when I do fall on the wrong side of a particular issue, there is a truth that I know that helps create a greater understanding and often a better proposal.
It is funny as I read the outside comments about the General Assembly. My dad received a letter concerning abortion. Actually, unless you were paying VERY close attention you would not think that there was a single overture about the issue. It asked for a study that would look into the current churches stance. (Click here for the denominations stance) The interesting thing is that the report took the leap that by voting no on the overture, which took a lot of discerning to even realize it had anything to do with abortion, to mean that we supported late term abortions, which our denomination does not.
But that is the nature of the times we live in to take a story and make it work for our needs, not necessarily God’s. There is no doubt in my mind that the people who wrote the derogatory article my dad sent me are well-meaning Christians, but they take and make the fundamental mistake instead of seeking the deeper truth they relied their version. Instead of seeking understanding, they furthered their position.
It is only when we admit to our sinful nature, when we admit that we can be wrong, that we can begin to be reconciled and grow in our faith.
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen