Occupying the middle: A question of identity
May 1, 2013
Q. What is true faith?
A. True faith is
not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true
all that God has revealed to us in Scripture;
it is also a wholehearted trust,
which the Holy Spirit creates in me by the gospel,
that God has freely granted,
not only to others but to me also,
forgiveness of sins,
These are gifts of sheer grace,
granted solely by Christ’s merit.
–Q/A 21 from the proposed new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism
Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Homebuilders—in the midst of a project—continually consult the blueprint to be sure that their intended plans are being followed towards the desired end. Similarly driving for hours between home and an intended destination becomes a journey of asking, “Where are we going?”
The church occupies just such a middle position, finding itself between Pentecost and the Parousia, the promised return of Christ and the consummation of the kingdom of God. Although the physical presence of Jesus Christ provided a measure of certainty for the first disciples, the gift of the Holy Spirit introduced—and represents—a dynamic interplay of that certainty mixed with ambiguity. The certainty is found in the sure promises of the triune God and the God who promises. The ambiguity lies in how—and in what forms—those promises take shape in the unfolding history of our lives and the complexity of the world. In this grand middle, where difficulty lies at so many twists and turns, the gospel provides the compass.
The Moderator’s first Colloquium on Ecclesiology has just concluded. You will find all of the written presentations on our website; the associated recordings are also online. The colloquium catalyzes consideration of what the church is about: who are we, why is the church here, what’s our purpose. In other words, the nature of the church’s identity.
We find that the church is continually shaped and formed towards God’s kingdom vision of love and reconciliation whenever we gather around the Word: the Word in Scripture, sermon, and the Sacraments. The Holy Spirit then sends the church to live out Sunday through Saturday the encoded vision in the world, and to point to all the ways God is at work in the world.
The catechism speaks of true faith consisting in sure knowledge and wholehearted trust: knowing the God who has revealed and given God’s self to us through the testimony of Scripture, and trusting that that self-revelation and self-giving of God are right, true, and sure. And not only that, but that they are right, true, and sure for me. This requires trust. It’s not mere believing. It’s “wholehearted trust.” It’s a trust on which you are able and willing to hang your whole life, your whole past-present-future. Such wholehearted trust comes as a “gift of sheer grace” as the Holy Spirit creates the trust by the gospel.
The gospel is the key. The Holy Spirit is the force that turns the key into the door of God’s own heart.
Thus it is in this middle place that we find ourselves, between Pentecost and the Parousia. In the space of difficulty, anxiety, ambiguity, and uncertainty, the Holy Spirit calls us to reclaim our identity as bearers and witnesses of the great news of God. The good news that the triune God—through Jesus Christ—has freed the world from sin, evil, and death, in his life, death, and resurrection. All of this comes by sheer grace, as does the wholehearted trust that the Holy Spirit forms in us to testify to what we have seen, heard, and tasted. It’s all a gift to be received. It’s a gift to be used for its intended purpose. Thanks be to God!