by Rev. Chuck Muether
Whenever I read of a movement within a church denomination, I ask, what is it that is perceived as missing that a movement hopes to accomplish in the life of the church?
Back in 1994, a group of 92 laity, clergy, bishops, and professors gathered to consult about the future of The United Methodist Church. The concern had been that the United Methodist Church had departed from a common confessional voice and was suffering from private versions of the faith. The call was for “all laity and all clergy, to confess the person, work, and reign of Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, the call was to encourage all to confront and repudiate “teachings and practices in The United Methodist Church that currently challenge the truth of Jesus Christ – the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of all.”
Much of the impetus behind the call for this confessing movement was about rejecting inclusiveness and tolerance, and denying the claim that congregants were “free to decide what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil.”
Similarly in 2001, the members of the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA), had begun the Confessing Church Movement because the framers had had enough of the denominational implosion into spiritual decline. When the PCUSA was looking at eliminating fidelity and chastity statements from the Book of Order, thereby permitting sessions to ordain elders who affirmed same-sex unions or heterosexuals who engaged in non-marital sex, the movement toward confessional orthodoxy had begun.
The height of irony in any local church or denomination comes when the fellowship denies that Jesus Christ alone is the way and the truth and the life. Confessional movements come when there is opposition to academicians and synodical tyrants taking jackhammers to the foundation of the church to eliminate the cornerstone.
Removing Jesus from the church causes the church to cease being the church. This was Peter’s point in Acts 4:11– “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”
But it is not enough to say simply, “We have Jesus,” and it has always been a sophomoric claim among evangelicals who argue, “no creed, but Christ”—as that is a creedal statement, albeit a poor one. All Bible-believing churches claim Jesus. The question is, what Jesus do they claim?
In this day of keystroke theological pundits, the bourgeoning blogosphere would be a better place with fewer entries about faith and practice even within the Reformed faith. And yet here we are starting a blog at Heidelberg Theological Seminary called Rugged Confessionalism. However, our task is not to share our personal thoughts, but to answer the question: what Jesus do we claim?
And we will answer that from our historic confessions that faithfully enunciate the Word of God, the only infallible, inerrant rule of faith and obedience.
Living out an orthodox confession is not a movement at Heidelberg Theological Seminary or in the Reformed Church in the United States but tantamount to our being faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. What better way to learn who we are and what we do than from that which we confess? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Rugged Confessionalism begins with the heart.
Rev. Chuck Muether is pastor of Hope Reformed Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Pella, Iowa and an alumnus of Heidelberg Theological Seminary.