In life and in death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
whom alone we worship and serve.
What a great opening for a statement of faith, eh? It sort of sums it up, right up front.
It also contains some words that may not always make sense, or that we may not always put together in our everyday lives.
In life and in death we belong to God–this is a throwback, or a pulling forward, of a much much older confession of faith. The Heidelberg Catechism, written in Germany in the mid-1500s, at the height of the Reformation on the European continent, was meant to explain the faith clearly and soundly. It has over 300 questions and answers, and the very first one is “what is your only comfort, in life and in death? That I belong–body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself, but to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.” To draw on this well in the first line of a new statement of faith is to remind all of us that we do not belong to ourselves, we belong to the One who created and is creating, who redeemed and is redeeming, who loves and loves more. This is the meaning of grace, after all.
In many churches, for many generations, the next few lines have been the benediction people have heard every week. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit go with you, and remain with you, this day and forevermore.” While this is not the benediction we hear each week, it certainly makes appearances in our life together. What’s interesting about this statement is that it is not a benediction, exactly: it’s a statement that says “THROUGH” the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust.
In other words: we do not come to faith on our own–it is a gift of the triune God. Through God’s grace, love, and companionship we come to know and follow, we come to believe and trust, we come to live and rest. This faith is not something we grow in ourselves, something we create out of nothing…God plants it in us, and while we may nurture it or not, still it is pure gift. In fact, when you read about the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, you’ll notice that faith is one of the gifts the Spirit gives, nestled in among all those other gifts like preaching, teaching, and tongues. Interesting!
You may wonder why we have to specify that the triune God is the Holy One of Israel. There have been lots of people who have claimed that the God of the New Testament is different than the God of the Old Testament. This statement is an attempt to correct that notion–we have one God, who is experienced in different ways, but is One nonetheless. The same God Jesus and his companions knew from the Torah, the history, the writings, the prophets, the wisdom literature is the God we see in Jesus and in the writings of the New Testament. What has changed is how we come to know God–not God. God is Holy and One, just as our faith ancestors have affirmed for centuries.
Whom alone we worship and serve–again, a “throwback,” this time to the Scots confession, the very first line of which says, “We confess and acknowledge one God alone, to whom alone we must cleave, whom alone we must serve, whom only we must worship, and whom alone we put our trust.” The Scots confession was the charter document of the Church of Scotland, and was written in the mid 1500s. It, together with the Heidelberg Catechism, Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, and the Second Helvetic Confession (written in 1566) formed the backbone of Presbyterian theology for over 100 years, and was the background to the Westminster Confession which was ultimately adopted in the mid 1600’s.
The statement that we worship and serve no one, and nothing, else is a hard one. It’s easy to say, but much much harder to do. But this statement of faith affirms that we try to do this, and that it is only through the grace, love, and companionship of the triune God that we are able to make any progress on this front at all.
What do you believe? About how we are to live, what we are to do, and how we come to faith? What does it mean to you to worship and serve only the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel? What do you think about the God in the Old/New Testament? What does it mean to you to belong to God?
What questions do you have about what we believe?