Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Formation, and Evangelism Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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A couple of weeks ago I was at the “Equipping the Saints” event for John Calvin Presbytery, meeting in Springfield, Missouri. (The picture below shows a mosaic from the sanctuary of First and Calvary church, where the event was held.) It was great to have the opportunity to preach for the ruling and teaching elders who came that day, and to lead two workshops on the Confessional church. That workshop discussed why we have these statements of faith that make up the Book of Confessions, how they guide our faith, and the breadth of contexts from which they come. We also spent some time digging into the Nicene Creed, the earliest of the confessions included in our book.
This statement of faith is also the most widely affirmed creed throughout world Christianity. The Protestant, Roman Catholic, and the Orthodox (eastern) churches all embrace the creed as a guide that helps us understand the three persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). It was written in the early 300s, as a response to a controversy between Alexander (a bishop in the early church) and Arius (a very popular presbyter). The former held that Jesus was eternally present from before the beginning of time, while the latter believed that Jesus was the first of everything that the Creator God made. As hard as we may find it to believe, people stormed the streets and rioted, arguing for or against Alexander’s and Arius’ positions.
Emperor Constantine tired of the controversy and held a council in Nicea which came out with the confession called (not surprisingly) the Nicene Creed. While my favorite part of this council was when St. Nicholas (of Santa Claus fame) slapped Arius and called him a heretic (which landed jolly old St. Nick in jail for a night), the statement of faith was even more important, because it established that Jesus was co-eternal with the Father—that Jesus (the second person of the Trinity) was already present at creation. Jesus was not simply human; Jesus was/is in the mystery of God, both human and divine.
One of the reasons why this is important came out during our conversation. One of the pastors present had invited a singing group from another Christian tradition to give a concert at her church. She was singing along to the first verse before she realized what it was saying. She paraphrased it like this: “God was searching around heaven, trying to find the most perfect sacrifice to take care of our sins; luckily eventually God found Jesus, after discarding lots of other options.”
She was (and other close listeners ought to be) horrified by what she heard. In this song’s lyrics, Jesus is not participating with God the Creator as a way to reconcile us. Best case, Jesus is an afterthought whom eventually God found. Worst case, Jesus is an unwilling participant against whom God the Father commits child abuse.
But the Nicene picture of the Triune God paints another picture. From before eternity God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer, and the Spirit the Sustainer had a plan—together—of one mind. They knew their mission was and is to redeem, transform, and save the world. God the Father was not painted into a corner, not knowing what to do because (surprise!) humanity sinned. No, the Trinity has known and embraced its mission from all eternity.
This is only one brief example of how the Confessions help to shape and guard our faith. What others can you think of?