Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Profession or Confession

In the various congregations I have served, a phrase is used to confirm the one essential ingredient for membership in the Body of Christ: “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that He is Lord and Savior of the world.” What has differed in these congregations is whether or not that phrase was referred to as a “profession” of faith or a “confession” of faith. Dr. Joe R. Jones, Professor Emeritus at Christian Theological Seminary, has compiled his lectures in theology throughout his career in a two-volume book called Grammar of Faith. In it, he articulates that the words we use to describe the faith ultimately influence what we believe, and consequently, how we act. Many have written on this topic. From the venerable Disciple Dr. Jones to Luke Timothy Johnson, a Roman Catholic monk and professor at Emory University, we are now seeing how those two words, “profession” and “confession,” have radically influenced what the Church believes and how it lives into that belief. “Profession” means simply, “I agree with that statement.” “Confession” means, “I not only agree with that statement, but incorporate myself into all the ways that statement will affect my life.” As Christians, we affirm not just that Jesus is the Messiah, but that we are followers of that same Jesus and will conform our lives into what Jesus calls us to be and do. In the Bible in Basic English, a translation done in the 1940’s by Professor S.H. Hooke of the University of London, we read in Mathew 5:48, “Be then complete in righteousness, even as your Father in heaven is complete.”

One of the results of contemporary American Christianity is a rampant freedom of intellectual pursuit in matters of faith. Sunday School classes give considerable time to the discussion of what a particular passage of Scripture “means to me.” The various understandings are typically offered from a personal, experiential perspective. For many, little concern is given to the ultimate results of such a process. Minimal consideration of how the Church has understood the text in its 2,000 year history or a delineation of an orthodox understanding is offered for fear of violating the cultural entitlement to freedom of thought. I’m not so sure that the “yoke of Christ” is synonymous with “my right to believe as I choose to believe.” Does the “profession” mean anything, if there is no change in conduct or practice? Can one believe that Jesus is the Christ but not submit to the lordship of Christ? So you profess the faith. So what? What difference has it made in your life? Have you professed that great statement of faith? Wonderful. Now, let us confess it. In addition to the disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and worship participation, “be complete in righteousness.” Live, love, work and preach as one who is in Christ. Conform to the image of Christ as Christ is the image of the Father.

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