Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Peace Unity and Purity -- Some initial observations

As promised in a previous post, here are some thoughts on section I of the Peace Unity and Purity report of the Presbyterian Church USA.

But before I do -- check out this really good commentary from another blogger at Politickal (I like this guy's stuff -- I'm subscribing to his blog with bloglines)

This section contains the theological grounding of the report. The Task force makes clear "The following theological reflections are an account of conclusions we have drawn from our studies and basic conviction that we recognize as significant. They do not include every topic of theological importance or full development of the themes we lift up." (footnote 3). Even with these qualifications, the Task Force makes some pretty astounding statements (considering that the Task Force was supposed to represent a broad spectrum of theological liberals and conservatives)

First, note the strong statements about Christ:
Christ's death and bodily resurrection are real and central to the faith: "Our faith is in the God of Israel who raised Jesus Christ bodily from the dead. This is the one fiath confessed by the people of God" (lines 55-6) or again "We worship and serve a covenant-making God, the God of Israel, whose unbreakable covenant with Abraham, Sarah, and their progeny is not, by the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead, extended to the Gentiles" (lines 89-91). "What is our hope? That while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). And our hope is alive through the power of Christ's resurrection." (lines 148-149).

Back in the 1920's, the fundamentalist/modernist controversy called into question certain essentials of the faith (like the virgin birth, the inerrancy of scripture, and the bodily resurrection of Christ), there have been those who have claimed that the bodily resurrection was unimportant. This report silences those claims. While the Task force is not proposing a new "essential" here, they are reaffirming the basic truth -- "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith...If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." (I Corinthians 15:14,18). There is no encouragement here for those who claim that Jesus was a mere prophet who died tragically and was lost to history. We cannot avoid the bodily resurrection.

The full humanity and divinity of Christ: "He was fully human and fully divine, shared the exposed and vulnerable condition of all humankind, and gave himself, once and for all, to redeem us from sin and restore us to rightouesness." (lines 163-165). Again, this flies in the face of attestations by contemporary theologians who claim that Jesus was merely human. We cannot escape claiming Jesus full divinity. Again, this is a pretty astounding agreement for a collection of thinkers who claim to have theological liberals among their number.

Christ alone is the savior: This is perhaps the most encouraging statement -- in a denomination in which we heard a thinker opine "What's the big deal about Jesus?". When we have forces pushing us toward an uncritical pluralism, it is refreshing to see the task force affirm: "...in addressing questions of pluralism, truth and salvation, we must emphasize both the necessity and sufficiency of the grace by which God is for and with the world in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. With confidence in this divine grace, we affirm: '[Jesus] is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him]' (John 14:6, emphasis added) and 'There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other nume under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved' (Acts 4:12). At the same time, as Reformed Christians, we must remind ourselves and others that salvation rests not in any merit of our own but in the sovereign love of God that has been made known to us in Jesus Christ." (lines 78-85).

Now I'm well aware that there's lots of room in that language to allow a vague inclusivism -- but please pay close attention to the language -- Jesus is the exclusive means of salvation. Implicitly -- other faiths do not save -- only Christ saves. That is a huge admission. Of course, I would have been much more comfortable with an explicit statement about faith alone being the means God applies redemption. Even so, there is an encouraging statement later: "We confess the faith of the Protestant reformation, including the doctrine of justification by grace through faith, 'so that no one may boast) (Eph 2:8-9). From this doctrine, we know that all things, including peace, unity, and purity, are gifts that the church receives by faith in the saving work of Christ's life, death, and resurrection." (lines 167-170) Again, if we take these lines at face value, this is a tremendous evangelical statement -- an admission that explicit faith in Christ, of some sort, is necessary for salvation and for sanctification.

We could also talk about the sections on the power of the Holy Spirit to personally transform lives and behaviors, but I'm honestly running out of steam tonight.

Now, I don't offer these thoughts as an enthusiastic endorsement of the document (as said before, I have some reservations, that I'll share in a future post). Rather, I'm amazed at the orthodoxy of the language (realizing of course there is also vagueness; some might claim that there's enough gaps for a division of Panzers to drive through -- a lot of that depends on whether we can in good faith take the words at face value or not.)

Again, these are preliminary musings -- I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Soli Deo Gloria