June 19, 2008
June 21-22, 2008, weekend

June 20, 2008


Speaking of belief, as I will be below, what's your experience, if any, with the more sensational Christian evangelists? How about Todd Bentley? This story recounts part of his story. Would you be willing to listen to him? Attend one of his revivals? And should the story have made so much of the fact that he has tatoos?

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Throughout much of the history of religions, people have created statements containing the beliefs they most cherish, the theological stances on which, in many cases, they are willing to bet their lives and which they hope will inspire others to join them.


For instance, in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), we have, as part of our constitution, the Book of Confessions, containing statements of faith starting with the Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed and working through the Reformation to the most recent statement adopted in the early 1980s.

For quite a helpful and comprehensive list of confessions from various Christian traditions, click here.

Different circumstances call out different statements. For instance, one of those contained in our Book of Confessions is called the Theological Declaration of Barmen, and was written by leaders (mostly Karl Barth) of the so-called Confessing Church in Germany in the 1930s as a way to stand against at least some of what the Hitler regime was doing to co-opt the church.

The other day I ran across a new document called the Albany Confession 2008, which has emerged from various Presbyterian pastors in the Albany, N.Y., region. The focus of the group that has drafted the confession (confession here does not so much mean to own up to one's sins but, rather, to state the core of one's beliefs) is peacemaking, social justice, environmental protection, political activism and human rights.

What I invite you to think about today is whether any particular statement of faith, whether a historical writing, such as the Nicene Creed, or something your own congregation or you yourself have drafted, is somehow vital to your understanding of your faith today. What purpose do such confessions serve?

I find myself returning to them time and again for both clarity and perspective -- and especially to remember that sometimes the people who wrote some of the confessions contained in the Presbyterian Book of Confessions got things wrong, at least from my perspective and, sometimes, the perspective of later church leaders.

When I served on a committee that oversaw area Presbyterian seminary students, we required them to draft a new statement of faith each year as a way of seeing where their theological thinking was going. I found it a useful tool, and I think the students did, too. Maybe you'd find that exercise useful as well.

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P.S.: If I'm slow publishing your comments the next few days, hang in there. I'll get to them. Thanks. Bill.

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (When is it appropriate to leave a congregation? That's what my column tomorrow will discuss.)


Joe Barone

I've always seen creeds (confessions of faith) as historical documents which reflect the beliefs of a particular group at a particular time. Those folks, of course, are wanting us all to buy in, but it seldom happens.

I like your Albany Confession.

Joe Barone

To answer your question, for me personally, the best statement of principles for my faith in embodied in The Center for Progressive Christianity's eight points. They are listed on their web site at tcpc.org.

Just Thinking

It is fun to view time-lapse snapshots of belief systems, and the patch jobs that are required when they go off track. Original sin is one of those errors that has caused mountains of bizarre fixes. Suddenly infants were held responsible for 'sin' that they never actually committed. This should have been a tip-off, but people persisted with this new, strange notion that violated common sense and impugned God's character.

But bad 'genius' ideas have a way of lingering, and original sin did just that. What would be the fix? I know ... infant Baptism! The original practice of Christian Baptism was immersion for professing believers only. Suddenly, the infants that were held responsible for 'sin' they didn't commit, could be 'saved' by what they were not even aware of! No more immersion, though, because fully dunking newborns wouldn't be a good idea. Phew! What a relief that the infants could be 'saved'. 'Genius' idea saved!

But now the official story must be that mindless acts of Baptism performed on unconscious beings will save them. They knew better, but it was their only patch job for their 'original sin.' If they really thought this, then why wouldn't they just set up dunking booths for unsuspecting passers-by?

Uh, oh, new problem: what about infants who died in the womb? Answer: Purgatory! There'll be this place where loved ones here on earth can pray people out, or maybe BUY them out. :) The infants won't end up in true Heaven, because only Baptism saves under this twisted system. New story: the infants will not be entitled to 'the full vision of God,' but they'll never know the difference anyway. :) Huh?

When you find yourself in a hole, sometimes it pays to stop digging. Not every 'genius' idea is worthy.

Dolores Lear

Why do Humans need Confession Creeds to prove their Faith in a religious God? Did the Humans that started these religions, make Creeds for their Members? For how their Religion believes in God? Or, to Keep Members Faithful to their beliefs?

Is there a God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims, plus the Gods before the Jews, of all the other ancient religions? Are these Gods Spirits, or Humans, or Humans in Spirit Form? What is a Spirit? What is the Holy Spirit/Ghost?

All religions are made by Humans, not GOD. GOD made the Elements that make Life as we Know it. GOD is not Human. Is GOD a Spirit, that makes the Elements Universes and Life as we Know it? Will Humans ever Know this GOD?

With a High Tech Science Translation of Man-made religion writings, beliefs, and Creeds, we can Know the religious 'Gods' of Planet Earth, that Created/Colonized a Balanced Eco System, and all Species of Life.

Humans in their Image, were put in Charge of this Life as Caretakers. God did not Create Killer Humans. Humans Created Killers by Heterosexual Body Birth. The Big Question is Why?

The past mysteries of these Gods of Earth, not the GOD of the Universes, can be Known, with our High Tech Knowledge of Colonizing a planet and Reproducing a Human in the Lab, without the Heterosexual sex act.

Until we use our High Tech Science, to accept these two Truths, we will continue Killing All Life on our Home Planet. High Tech Science and Religion, are both about Life on Earth After Birth, not about Life After Death, in 'Heaven'.

God did not inspire Humans to make weapons of mass destruction to their Creation/Colonization Work, nor to make Nuclear Bombs. God 'said', "Thou shalt not Kill".

All the Confession Creeds on Earth, will not change these True Facts about Eternal Human Life on Earths, and in Spaceships.


I agree that the creeds and confessions can be quite helpful in thinking about our faith. As individuals or communities of faith, trying to write clearly what we believe can be instructive and useful. But we can get into trouble if we forget that creeds and confessions are documents that refect a particular time in history and a particular culture. While we hope the confessions contain "truth" we need to be careful not to give the confessions more authority than they warrant.
That said, I would commend the Theological Declaration of Barmen and the history surrounding its origins to those not familiar with it. As election year rhetoric heats up and the relationship between faith, religion and public policy is discussed ( I'm using the term "discussed" loosely, I know), "Barmen" gives us some interesting things to ponder.


JT, You are right that historically there have been some, shall we say, interesting interpretations of the doctrine of original sin and the sacrament of baptism.
Perhaps sometime we will have the opportunity here to discuss a theology of baptism (and original sin) that moves beyond what you have described today.


These sorts of confessions of faith sound very western to me. These creeds always try to define pretty narrowly what we believe in. They are usually trying to remove ambiguity and create nice borders of belief.

In the Orthodox Church we just have the Nicene Creed. After that, heresies arose, and we said we don't believe in those. These are generally negative statements. For example, believing that Christ has two separate natures is heresy.

As a result, borders to belief have been set up, with quite a bit of wiggle room in the middle. I found that this allows for a lot of shades of disagreement in the unity of the Church. I think this is good, though I could see why one would want to have belief defined more precisely.

Dave Miller

Joe, thanks for reference to the tcpc.org website. It looks interesting!

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