A New Pentecost

This article was recently published in the Community of Concern Newsletter. Due to an error, only half of the article was printed. Here is the full text:
 
We find it remarkable, astonishing and heartening that one morning, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit filled His church with power from on high. It is certainly exciting that there was an audible rush of wind, that tongues of flame danced upon each disciple's head, and that they were empowered to declare salvation in the name of Christ to Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem speaking every kind of language. But what is really spectacular is that in that one day over 3000 people were brought from darkness into light, and received Jesus and the eternal life he procured on the cross. The community of believers, the church of Christ went from 500 eyewitnesses to their risen Lord to a movement that would shake every empire in history.

Read more: A New Pentecost

A God Not Made with Hands

(recently published in the Concern newsletter)

At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of God as we remember Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary. The testimony to the virgin birth in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and in the prophecy of Isaiah, though often dismissed by modern skeptics  are nevertheless part of a  consistent and essential witness to the fact that in Jesus Christ God the Father presents us with the eternal Son of God. This is not Joseph's creation nor the ideological love-child of some mystic religious community. John identifies him as the pre-existent Logos, the Word of God, by which the Father spoke into being the heavens, the earth and every created thing.  The apostle Paul quotes the earliest praise of the church when he declares, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created:  things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Col 1:15-19 NIV) God the Father declared "THIS is my Son, with whom I am well pleased," and God confirmed this truth as only God can do by raising Jesus from the dead, after he had made atonement on the cross for the sins of the world.

Read more: A God Not Made with Hands

Words of Faith: What is a Doctrinal Statement?

I am delighted to reprint a letter written by Gary Badcock, Peache Professor of Divinity Huron University College, in response to the question,Why do some people say that "A Song of Faith" and "A New Creed" are not doctrinal statements? What makes a doctrinal statement?  Gary's Response is careful, thorough, and precise. It may be a little difficult in some places, for those not familiar with serious Christian Theology, but please take the time to wrestle through to the clearer parts. Some contemporary references that may help you get the gist of what he is saying: Gary refers to "Byron" several times, meaning Byron United church in London, Ontario, which has produced a response to the United Church Remits on Doctrine. He also refers to "Words of Faith" by which he means the "official" United Church study document which promotes the three doctrinal changes. Gary's response to Greg's question follows:

 

Greg,

Thank you for this. It is a fair and important question that has come up a couple of times, so I will try to respond in a useful fashion. These are, of course, my thoughts as a Reformed, broadly Barthian, deeply Trinitarian and small "c" catholic/ smaller "e" evangelical theologian. They are not presented as the views of our committee on the remit at Byron, though there might well be a couple of "Amens" said if we took the trouble to ask the wider committee's views.

 

1. The word "doctrine" means, very simply, the teaching of the church.

Read more: Words of Faith: What is a Doctrinal Statement?

Words of Faith: Varieties of Creeds

 

In another place, I argue that the United Church (and indeed any organization) is creedal. It bears noting that our beliefs are often expressed in different forms for different organizational purposes. Some creeds are deliberately liturgical, favouring brevity for use in worship. These creeds often attempt to evoke joy and praise. They teach, but their primary use is not teaching. Other creeds are doctrinal, primarily for teaching.  Catechisms and doctrinal statements fall into this category, and go into more detail than most liturgical creeds. Some creeds are constitutional, applying convictions to issues of membership, structure, governance.  Here non-negotiable tenets of faith are married to more fluid beliefs about best practices.

Choosing the right form of creed for each purpose is important. The experience of any movement has been that the grand liturgical creeds never go into enough detail to help even the best-willed people cooperate in the daily grind over the course of generations. Doctrinal and constitutional creeds do not merely add a layer of administrative rules to the eternal truths of the Scriptures. They also address emergent misunderstandings of scripture and creed that have needed more detailed explanation for the fellowship of believers to successfully engage in mission together.