Friday, May 04, 2018

The church's greatest need

I stumbled across a website the other day which proclaimed that the greatest need of the church today is a recovery of the historic creeds and confessions - I imagine meaning here primarily the Westminster Confession (it being a Presbyterian source).

Can I just go on record as saying that this is incorrect?

I am a great fan of creeds and confessions.  I have pushed to see the catholic creeds especially reintroduced into church life.  I think that there is much that the present day church can learn from the sixteenth and seventeenth century confessions of faith.  I am excited by a growing emphasis in certain streams at least of evangelicalism on historical theology.  So this is not the cry of a 'no-creed-but-the-bible' sort of person.

But really, greatest need?

The greatest need of the church today, just like the greatest need of the church yesterday, is to hear the living voice of God.  That is to say, what the church really needs is for Christ to be preached from the Scriptures in the power of the Spirit, such that in God's grace the church finds herself addressed, unmistakably, in the here and now, by the eternal God.  The greatest need of the church is to hear the voice of her Lord.

When we read creeds and confessions, we are encountering the church's record of what she thinks she has heard God saying to her.  That is valuable.  It is valuable because the church is made up of sinners, and one thing that sinners consistently do is exalt other voices - and not least the voice of their own hearts! - into the place of God's voice.  Listening carefully to the report of yesterday's church about she heard from God can help today's church to be discerning about whether the voice she is hearing today is really that of the Lord.  It is valuable also because every age tends to absolutise the questions and the concepts and the forms of thinking of that age - and it is a good reminder that God is beyond these things, for has he not spoken to the church of yesterday, with other questions and concepts and forms?

But listening to the report of yesterday's church is not listening to the living voice of God.  And in fact, where it is substituted for that - where study of the Confession takes the place of study of the Scriptures - there we are in danger of elevating the voice of the church to the place of the divine voice.

What the eternal God says is always the same, because his Word is Christ Jesus.  The creeds and confessions help us to evaluate whether we are truly hearing that same Word.  But they can't take the place of that Word.  Because what the eternal God says is also always absolutely new, the Word we can never take for granted, or imagine we have heard sufficiently, or be content to hear second-hand  We need Christ, Christ preached and Christ present.

That is the greatest need of the church.

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