Tag Archives: theology

we believe…

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Part of our theological tradition as Reformed Christians, particularly those who are part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), is an entire book of confessions of faith (that link is to a PDF of the whole thing!)–statements that seek to shine the light of our theological heritage on the present. No one statement of faith says everything or captures the fullness of God–the 11 that are in the Book of Confessions don’t even do that when considered all together! But they do give us insight not only into our history but also into the movement of the Spirit through God’s people in different times, places, and contexts. They do give us a window through which to look when we are considering what God is doing, who God is, and what our place in God’s creation might be.

The most recent of these statements of faith, The Brief Statement, was written after the northern and southern Presbyterian churches reunited in 1983. It was added to the Book of Confessions in 1991, and is designed to be used in worship as well as study. While it’s a little too long for regular inclusion in worship, it’s the perfect length for education and discussion!

So Mondays on the blog will be a “this we believe?” column. We will go through the Brief Statement, one paragraph each week, and discuss what it says (and doesn’t say) and what WE believe…and how that fits with other parts of our theological tradition.  Join us in this online theology class each Monday!

The Brief Statement of Faith (1991)

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.

We trust in Jesus Christ,
Fully human, fully God.
Jesus proclaimed the reign of God:
preaching good news to the poor
and release to the captives,
teaching by word and deed
and blessing the children,
healing the sick
and binding up the brokenhearted,
eating with outcasts,
forgiving sinners,
and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,
Jesus was crucified,
suffering the depths of human pain
and giving his life for the sins of the world.
God raised Jesus from the dead,
vindicating his sinless life,
breaking the power of sin and evil,
delivering us from death to life eternal.

We trust in God,
whom Jesus called Abba, Father.
In sovereign love God created the world good
and makes everyone equally in God’s image
male and female, of every race and people,
to live as one community.
But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator.
Ignoring God’s commandments,
we violate the image of God in others and ourselves,
accept lies as truth,
exploit neighbor and nature,
and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.
We deserve God’s condemnation.
Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation.
In everlasting love,
the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people
to bless all families of the earth.
Hearing their cry,
God delivered the children of Israel
from the house of bondage.
Loving us still,
God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant.
Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child,
like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home,
God is faithful still.

We trust in God the Holy Spirit,
everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,
sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,
and binds us together with all believers
in the one body of Christ, the Church.
The same Spirit
who inspired the prophets and apostles
rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,
engages us through the Word proclaimed,
claims us in the waters of baptism,
feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
and calls women and men to all ministries of the church.
In a broken and fearful world
the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,
we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks
and to live holy and joyful lives,
even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth,
praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

With believers in every time and place,
we rejoice that nothing in life or in death
can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.*

*Instead of saying this line, congregations may wish to sing a version of the Gloria

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WEAVE-ings “Beyond Calvin” — Zwingli

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Zwingli was born January 1, 1484, just weeks after Luther. Unlike Luther, he went to the university and studied humanities (philosophy, languages, etc) and then became a priest in 1506 (Luther became a monk in 1505).

In 1516, Zwingli began to cease holding church teaching at the same level as Scripture–he decided to study only Scripture and, if necessary, the ancient church fathers and the first few creeds (Apostles, Nicene). In 1519 he abandoned the lectionary and began preaching straight through books of the Bible, beginning with Matthew, then Acts, then all the epistles, then the Old Testament. In the process, he preached against such church traditions as fasting (and he held a big sausage dinner during Lent!), clergy celibacy (and he secretly married in 1522), images (such as icons, which he removed from his church building), music in worship (and he threw the organ pipes out the window!), and indulgences (he ordered an indulgence seller out of town before he even had a chance to hawk a single piece of paper).

Zwingli argued that anything NOT explicitly in scripture should be prohibited. This is different from Luther, who believed that anything not prohibited in Scripture should be allowed. I have heard this described using this analogy: Luther went through the drawers and removed things he didn’t like…Zwingli dumped out all the drawers and only put back what was in the Bible.

Zwingli’s five main issues were:

  • Idolatry (we put trust in created things rather than in the Creator)
  • Providence (not chance!)–this is where predestination comes in, and Zwingli believed that God elected who God wills, including people who have never heard the gospel or who lived before Jesus…
  • Scripture is the only authority, not church tradition or other human inventions
  • “True Religion” as opposed to ceremonial piety–in other words, pray to Christ, not to saints or Mary; focus on the Word not on the sensory experiences around you (therefore no art or music in worship)
  • External Kingdom, not privatized morality–everything in the world is God’s, including the political sphere, home, work, economy, culture, social trends, etc. “No dimension of human existence can be excluded from the claims and promises of the gospel.” He was very into morality, but did not believe Christianity could be boiled down to something private.

RE communion, Zwingli said that the Mass was an abomination and a distraction. The Lord’s Supper should be partaken of by all, and should be treated as a memorial and not as a ceremony full of reverence for bread. The bread and wine, according to Zwingli, help us remember Christ and to become a part of the Body of Christ–they are not the physical body of Christ (transubstantiation–the Roman church’s teaching). Zwingli and Luther were unable to reconcile their disagreement in this area (Luther said that the physical presence of Christ was in-with-and-under the bread and wine, that they were clothed in it, and Christ was “really” (physically) present in the bread and wine. Zwingli says that when we participate in the Supper we remember, and re-member, Christ who is physically present at the right hand of God, not in bread.).

Zwingli also worked with (or took over, depending on your point of view) the political figures in Zurich to reform the city according to the word of God. This was a whole-life reformation, not just a theological dispute inside the walls of the church. Unfortunately, this also meant that when it came to people disagreeing with him (as some of his early students, who came to believe that he did not go far enough or fast enough in his reforms, did)…he was not inclined to speak out on their behalf. Former students of his who believed he did not reform the sacraments or ecclesiology enough became Anabaptists–people who believed in adult rather than infant baptism–and this heresy was not tolerated in Zurich…these Anabaptists were often executed by drowning in mock-baptisms as Zwingli and his colleagues looked on silently.

In 1531, Zwingli went out to battle (over his theological ideas!) and was killed. When the Catholic opponent discovered his body, they quartered him, then burned him, then mixed the ashes with dung so there was no chance of keeping them as a relic. Talk about a memorable death!

Do you see anything in Zwingli’s thought (or life) that is particularly thought provoking? anything that seems familiar? Zwingli is one of our major Reformed ancestors–the first of the Swiss reformers who helped form our theological tradition. We obviously don’t agree with all his ideas (umm, death by drowning for your opponents? really?), but some probably resonate. What resonates for you? What questions do you still have?

Join us next Wednesday for another glimpse into the less-well-known characters that helped form our tradition during the Reformation period!