church confesses its faith when it bears a present witness to God's grace in Jesus
In every age the church has expressed its witness in words and deeds
as the need of the time required. The earliest examples of confession are found
within the Scriptures. Confessional statements have taken such varied forms as
hymns, liturgical formulas, doctrinal definitions, catechisms, theological systems
in summary, and declarations of purpose against threatening evil.
and declarations are subordinate standards in the church, subject to the authority
of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him. No one
type of confession is exclusively valid, no one statement is irreformable. Obedience
to Jesus Christ alone identifies the one universal church and supplies the continuity
of its tradition. This obedience is the ground of the church's duty and freedom
to reform itself in life and doctrine as new occasions, in God's providence, may
The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America acknowledges
itself aided in understanding the gospel by the testimony of the church from earlier
ages and from many lands. More especially it is guided by the Nicene and Apostles'
Creeds from the time of the early church; the Scots Confession, the Heidelberg
Catechism, and the Second Helvetic Confession from the era of the Reformation;
the Westminster Confession and Shorter Catechism from the seventeenth century;
and the Theological Declaration of Barmen from the twentieth century.
purpose of the Confession of 1967 is to call the church to that unity in confession
and mission which is required of disciples today. This Confession is not a "system
of doctrine," nor does it include all the traditional topics of theology.
For example, the Trinity and the Person of Christ are not redefined but are recognized
and reaffirmed as forming the basis and determining the structure of the Christian
God's reconciling work in Jesus Christ and the mission of reconciliation
to which he has called his church are the heart of the gospel in any age. Our
generation stands in peculiar need of reconciliation in Christ. Accordingly this
Confession of 1967 is built upon that theme.
In Jesus Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.
Jesus Christ is God with man. He is the eternal Son of the Father, who became
man and lived among us to fulfill the work of reconciliation. He is present in
the church by the power of the Holy Spirit to continue and complete his mission.
This work of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, isthe foundation of all confessional
statements about God, man, and the world. Therefore the church calls men to be
reconciled to God and to one another.
In Jesus of Nazareth true humanity was realized once for all. Jesus,
a Palestinian Jew, lived among his own people and shared their needs, temptations,
joys, and sorrows. He expressed the love of God in word and deed and became a
brother to all kinds of sinful men. But his complete obedience led him into conflict
with his people. His life and teaching judged their goodness, religious aspirations,
and national hopes. Many rejected him and demanded his death. In giving himself
freely for them he took upon himself the judgment under which all men stand convicted.
God raised him from the dead, vindicating him as Messiah and Lord. The victim
of sin became victor, and won the victory over sin and death for all men.
reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery which the Scriptures describe in
various ways. It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd's life given for
his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of a
debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of
evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory
in the depths of God's love for man. They reveal the gravity, cost, and sure achievement
of God's reconciling work.
The risen Christ is the savior for all men. Those
joined to him by faith are set right with God and commissioned to serve as his
reconciling community. Christ is head of this community, the church, which began
with the apostles and continues through all generations.
The same Jesus
Christ is the judge of all men. His judgment discloses the ultimate seriousness
of life and gives promise of God's final victory over the power of sin and death.
To receive life from the risen Lord is to have life eternal; to refuse life from
him is to choose the death which is separation from God. All who put their trust
in Christ face divine judgment without fear, for the judge is their redeemer.
The reconciling act of God in Jesus
Christ exposes the evil in men as sin in the sight of God. In sin men claim mastery
of their own lives, turn against God and their fellow men, and become exploiters
and despoilers of the world. They lose their humanity in futile striving and are
left in rebellion, despair, and isolation.
Wise and virtuous men through
the ages have sought the highest good in devotion to freedom, justice, peace,
truth, and beauty. Yet all human virtue, when seen in the light of God's love
in Jesus Christ, is found to be infected by self-interest and hostility. All men,
good and bad alike, are in the wrong before God and helpless without his forgiveness.
Thus all men fall under God's judgment. No one is more subject to that judgment
than the man who assumes that he is guiltless before God or morally superior to
God's love never changes. Against all who oppose him, God expresses
his love in wrath. In the same love God took on himself judgment and shameful
death in Jesus Christ, to bring men to repentance and new life.
God's sovereign love is a mystery
beyond the reach of man's mind. Human thought ascribes to God superlatives of
power, wisdom, and goodness. But God reveals his love in Jesus Christ by showing
power in the form of a servant, wisdom in the folly of the cross, and goodness
in receiving sinful men. The power of God's love in Christ to transform the world
discloses that the Redeemer is the Lord and Creator who made all things to serve
the purpose of his love.
God has created the world of space and time to
be the sphere of his dealings with men. In its beauty and vastness, sublimity
and awfulness, order and disorder, the world reflects to the eye of faith the
majesty and mystery of its Creator.
God has created man in a personal relation
with himself that man may respond to the love of the Creator. He has created male
and female and given them a life which proceeds from birth to death in a succession
of generations and in a wide complex of social relations. He hwas endowed man
with capacities to make the world serve his needs and to enjoy its good things.
Life is a gift to be received with gratitude and a task to be pursued with courage.
Man is free to seek his life within the purpose of God: to develop and protect
the resources of nature for the common welfare, to work for justice and peace
in society, and in other ways to use his creative powers for the fulfillment of
God expressed his love for all mankind through Israel, whom
he chose to be his covenant people to serve him in love and faithfulness. When
Israel was unfaithful, he disciplined the nation with his judgments and maintained
his cause through the prophets, priests, teachers, and true believers. These witnesses
called all Israelites to a destiny in which they would serve God faithfully and
become a light to the nations. The same witnesses proclaimed the coming of a new
age, and a true servant of God in whom God's purpose for Israel and for mankind
would be realized.
Out of Israel God in due time raised up Jesus. His faith
and obedience were the response of the perfect child of God. He was the fulfillment
of God's promise to Israel, the beginning of the new creation, and the pioneer
of the new humanity. He gave history its meaning and direction and called the
church to be his servant for the reconciliation of the world.
God the Holy
Spirit fulfills the work of reconciliation in man. The Holy Spirit creates and
renews the church as the community in which men are reconciled to God and to one
another. He enables them to receive forgiveness as they forgive one another and
to enjoy the peace of God as they make peace among themselves. In spite of their
sin, he gives them power to become representatives of Jesus Christ and his gospel
of reconciliation to all men.
The reconciling work of Jesus was the supreme crisis in the
life of mankind. His cross and resurrection become personal crisis and present
hope for men when the gospel is proclaimed and believed. In this experience the
Spirit brings God's forgiveness to men, moves them to respond in faith, repentance,
and obedience, and initiates the new life in Christ.
The new life takes
shape in a community in which men know that God loves and accepts them in spite
of what they are. They therefore accept themselves and love others, knowing that
no man has any ground on which to stand except God's grace.
The new life
does not release a man from conflict with unbelief, pride, lust, fear. He still
has to struggle with disheartening difficulties and problems. Nevertheless, as
he matures in love and faithfulness in his life with Christ, he lives in freedom
and good cheer, bearing witness on good days and evil days, confident that the
new life is pleasing to God and helpful to others.
The new life finds its
direction in the life of Jesus, his deeds and words, his struggles against temptation,
his compassion, his anger, and his willingness to suffer death. The teaching of
apostles and prophets guides men in living this life, and the Christian community
nurtures and equips them for their ministries.
The members of the church
are emissaries of peace and seek the good of man in cooperation with powers and
authorities in politics, culture, and economics. But they have to fight against
pretensions and injustices when these same powers endanger human welfare. Their
strength is in their confidence that God's purpose rather than man's schemes will
Life in Christ is life eternal. The resurrection of Jesus
is God's sign that he will consummate his work of creation and reconciliation
beyond death and bring to fulfillment the new life begun in Christ.
The one sufficient revelation of God is
Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique
and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and
obeyed as the word of God written. The Scriptures are not a witness among others,
but the witness without parallel. The church has received the books of the Old
and New Testaments as prophetic and apostolic testimony in which it hears the
word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated.
New Testament is the recorded testimony of apostles to the coming of the Messiah,
Jesus of Nazareth, and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Old Testament
bears witness to God's faithfulness in his covenant with Israel and points the
way to the fulfillment of his purpose in Christ. The Old Testament is indispensible
to understanding the New, and is not itself fully understood without the New.
Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God's work of reconciliation
in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless
the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions
of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life,
history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an
obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding.
As God has spoken his word in diverse cultural situations, the church is confident
that he will continue to speak through the Scriptures in a changing world and
in every form of human culture.
God's word is spoken to his church today
where the Scriptures are faithfully preached and attentively read in dependence
on the illumination of the Holy Spirit and with readiness to receive their truth
To be reconciled
to God is to be sent into the world as his reconciling community. This community,
the church universal, is entrusted with God's message of reconciliation and shares
his labor of healing the enmities which separate men from God and from each other.
Christ has called the church to this mission and given it the gift of the Holy
Spirit. The church maintains continuity with the apostles and with Israel by faithful
obedience to his call.
The life, death, resurrection, and promised coming
of Jesus Christ has set the patern for the church's mission. His life as man involves
the church in the common life of men. His service to men commits the church to
work for every form of human well-being. His suffering makes the church sensitive
to all the sufferings of mankind so that it sees the face of Christ in the faces
of men in every kind of need. His crucifixion discloses to the church God's judgment
on man's inhumanity to man and the awful consequences of its own complicity in
injustice. In the power of the risen Christ and the hope of his coming the church
sees the promise of God's renewal of man's life in society and of God's victory
over all wrong.
The church follows this pattern in the form of its life
and in the method of its action. So to live and serve is to confess Christ as
The institutions of the people of God change and vary as
their mission requires in different times and places. The unity of the church
is compatible with a wide variety of forms, but it is hidden and distorted when
variant forms are allowed to harden into sectarian divisions, exclusive denominations,
and rival factions.
Wherever the church exists, its members are both gathered
in corporate life and dispersed in society for the sake of mission in the world.
church gathers to praise God, to hear his word for mankind, to baptize and to
join in the Lord's Supper, to pray for and present the world to him in worship,
to enjoy fellowship, to receive instruction, strength, and comfort, to order and
organize its own corporate life, to be tested, renewed, and reformed, and to speak
and act in the world's affairs as may be appropriate to the needs of the time.
church disperses to serve God wherever its members are, at work or play, in private
life or in the life of society. Their prayer and Bible Study are part of the church's
worship and theological reflection. Their witness is the church's evangelism.
Their daily action in the world is the church in mission to the world. The quality
of their relation with other persons is the measure of the church's fidelity.
member is the church in the world, endowed by the Spirit with some gift of ministry
and is responsible for the integrity of his witness in his own particular situation.
He is entitled to the guidance and support of the Christian community and is subject
to its advice and correction. He in turn, in his own competence, helps to guide
In recognition of special gifts of the Spirit and for the ordering
of its life as a community, the church calls, trains, and authorizes certain members
for leadership and oversight. The persons qualified for these duties in accordance
with the polity of the church are set apart by ordination or other appropriate
act and thus made responsible for their special ministries.
The church thus
orders its life as an institution with a constitution, government, officers, and
administrative rules. These are instruments of mission, not ends in themselves.
Different orders have served the gospel, and none can claim exclusive validity.
A presbyterian polity recognizes the responsibility of all members for ministry
and maintains the organic relation of all congregations in the church. It seeks
to protect the church from exploitation by ecclesiastical or secular power and
ambition. Every church order must be open to such reformation as may be required
to make it a more effective instrument of the mission of reconciliation.
The church in its mission
encounters the religions of men and in that encounter becomes conscious of its
own human character as a religion. God's revelation to Israel, expressed within
Semitic culture, gave rise to the religon of the Hebrew people. God's revelation
in Jesus Christ called forth the response of Jews and Greeks and came to expression
within Judaism and Hellenism as the Christian religion. The Christian religion,
as distinct from God's revelation of himself, has been shaped throughout its history
by the cultural forms of its environment.
The Christian finds parallels
between other religons and his own and must approach all religions with openness
and respect. Repeatedly God has used the insight of non-Christians to challenge
the church to renewal. But the reconciling word of the gospel is God's judgment
upon all forms of religion, including the Christian. The gift of God in Christ
is for all men. The church, therefore, is commissioned to carry the gospel to
all men whatever their religion may be and even when they profess none.
In each time and place
there are particular problems and crises through which God calls the church to
act. The church, guided by the Spirit, humbled by its own complicity and instructed
by all attainable knoweldge, seeks to discern the will of God and learn how to
obey in these concrete situations. The following are particularly urgent at the
a. God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal
family. In his reconciling love he overcomes the barriers between brothers and
breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference,
real or imaginary. The church is called to bring all men to receive and uphold
one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education,
leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights. Therefore
the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers
to those injured by it. Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians who
exclude, dominate, or patronize their fellowmen, however subtly, resist the Spirit
of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess.
b. God's reconciliation
in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace, justice, and freedom among nations
which all powers of government are called to serve and defend. The church, in
its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend
to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This
search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across
every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas of
strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation anong nations
becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological
weapons, diverting their manpower and resources from constructive uses and risking
the annihilation of mankind. Although nations may serve God's purposes in history,
the church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of
life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its calling.
The reconciliation of man through Jesus Christ makes it plain that enslaving poverty
in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God's good creation. Because
Jesus identified himself with the needy and exploited, the cause of the world's
poor is the cause of his disciples. The church cannot condone poverty, whether
it is the product of unjust social structures, exploitation of the defenseless,
lack of national resources, absence of technological understanding, or rapid expansion
of populations. The church calls every man to use his abilities, his possessions,
and the fruits of technology as gifts entrusted to him by God for the maintenance
of his family and the advancement of the common welfare. It encourages those forces
in human society that raise men's hopes for better conditions and provide them
with the opportunity for a decent living. A church that is indifferent to poverty,
or evades responsibility in economic affairs, or is open to one social class only,
or expects gratitude for its beneficence makes a mockery of reconciliation and
offers no acceptable worship to God.
d. The relationship between man and
woman exemplifies in a basic way God's ordering of the interpersonal life for
which he created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man's
alienation from God, his neighbor, and himself. Man's perennial confusion about
the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day by the availability of new means
for birth control and the treatment of infection, by the pressures of urbanization,
by the exploitation of sexual symbols in mass communication, and by world overpopulation.
The church, as the household of God, is called to lead men out of this alienation
into the responsible freedom of the new life in Christ. Reconciled to God, each
person has joy in and respect for his own humanity and that of other persons;
a man and woman are enabled to marry, to commit themselves to a mutually shared
life, and to respond to each other in sensitive and lifelong concern; parents
receive the grace to care for children in love and to nurture their individuality.
The church comes under the judgment of God and invites rejection by man when it
fails to lead men and women into the full meaning of life together, or withholds
the compassion of Christ from those caught in the moral confusion of our time.
Jesus Christ has
given the church preaching and teaching, praise and prayer, and Baptism and the
Lord's Supper as means of fulfilling its service of God among men. These gifts
remain, but the church is obliged to change the forms of its service in ways appropriate
to different generations and cultures.
God instructs his church
and equips it for mission through preaching and teaching. By these, when they
are carried on in fidelity to the Scriptures and dependence upon the Holy Spirit,
the people hear the word of God and accept and follow Christ. The message is addressed
to men in particular situations. Therefore effective preaching, teaching, and
personal witness require disciplined study of both the Bible and the contemporary
world. All acts of public worship should be conducive to men's hearing of the
gospel in a particular time and place and responding with fitting obedience.
The church responds to the message
of reconciliation in praise and prayer. In that response it commits itself afresh
to its mission, experiences a deepening of faith and obedience, and bears open
testimony to the gospel. Adoration of God is acknowledgment of the Creator by
the creation. Confession of sin is admission of all men's guilt before God and
of their need for his forgiveness. Thanksgiving is rejoicing in God's goodness
to all men and in giving for the needs of others. Petitions and intercessions
are addressed to God for the continuation of his goodness, the healing of men's
ills, and their deliverance from every form of oppression. The arts, especially
music and architecture, contribute to the praise and prayer of a Christian congregation
when they help men to look beyond themselves to God and to the world which is
the object of his love.
By humble submission to John's baptism
Christ joined himself to men in their need and entered upon his ministry of reconciliation
in the power of the Spirit. Christian baptism marks the receiving of the same
Spirit by all his people. Baptism with water represents not only cleansing brom
sin but a dying with Christ and a joyful rising with him to new life. It commits
all Christians to die each day to sin and to live for righteousness. In baptism
the church celebrates the renewal of the covenant with which God has bound his
people to himself. By baptism individuals are publicly received into the church
to share in its life and ministry, and the church becomes responsible for their
training and support in Christian discipleship. When those baptized are infants
the congregation, as well as the parents, has a special obligation to nurture
them in the Christian life, leading them to make, by a public profession, a personal
response to the love of God shown forth in their baptism.
The Lord's Supper is a celebration
of the reconciliation of men with God and with one another, in which they joyfully
eat and drink together at the table of their Savior. Jesus Christ gave his church
this remembrance of his dying for sinful men so that by participation in it they
have communion with him and with all who shall be gathered to him. Partaking in
him as they eat the bread and drink the wine in accordance with Christ's appointment,
they receive from the risen and living Lord the benefits of his death and resurrection.
They rejoice in the foretast of the kingdom which he will bring to consumation
at his promised coming, and go out from the Lord's Table with courage and hope
for the service to which he has called them.
God's reeeming work in Jesus Christ embraces the
whole of man's life; social and cultural, economic and political, scientific and
technological, individual and corporate. It includes man's natural environment
as explointed and despoiled by sin. It is the will of God that his purpose for
human life shall be fulfilled under the rule of Christ and all evil be banished
from his creation.
Biblical visions and images of the rule of Christ such
as a heavenly city, a father's house, a new heaven and earth, a marriage feast,
and an unending day culminate in the image of the kingdom. The kingdom represents
the triumph of God over all that resists his will and disrupts his creation. Already
God's reign is present as a ferment in the world, stirring hope in men and preparing
the world to receive its ultimate judgment and redemption.
With an urgency
born of this hope the church applies itself to present tasks and strives for a
better world. It does not identify limited progress with the kingdom of God on
earth, nor does it despair in the face of disappointment and defeat. In steadfast
hope the church looks beyond all partial achievement to the final triumph of God.
to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than
all we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all
generations, forever and ever. Amen."
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.