What we affirm

What we affirm
Michael Kinnamon

Last month, we examined the Statement of Identity produced by the Disciples Vision Team: “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” In this article, I want us to think about the first of the Vision Team’s 12 marks of identity: “We confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world, requiring nothing more — and nothing less — as a basis of our life together.”

This simple confession speaks volumes about what we reject and what we affirm.

Disciples are often called a non-creedal church. This is a bit misleading in that no church that seeks and celebrates the unity of Christians can simply dismiss the ways the church has confessed its faith through the centuries. Some Disciples congregations use historic creeds at least occasionally in worship, and many Disciples participate without reservation in ecumenical worship in which the Nicene and Apostles creeds are recited.

What Disciples reject is any suggestion that these creeds, these summaries of Christian belief, have an authority in the church in any way comparable to that of scripture. Creeds are human attempts, composed in particular times and places, to set forth central biblical motifs. They are not revealed truth and therefore should not be made tests of fellowship.

So, when a person becomes part of the fellowship of the church within the Disciples tradition, we ask him or her only to make Peter’s “good confession” — “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) — and require nothing more.

But it's not enough to say what we reject. We are not just a people who don’t make creeds tests of fellowship. We are a people who make the Good Confession the basis of our life together. And this has enormous implications.

To confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is to affirm that in him we see revealed the very nature and purpose of the One he called Father. If someone tells us that God helps those who help themselves, we point to Christ’s unconditional love and say, “God is like that.” If someone tells us that God demands vengeance, we point to the cross and say, “God is like that.”

To proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord is the ultimate challenge to idolatry. As early Christians knew, to say that Jesus is Lord is to say that Caesar is not. We will not bow down to lesser things. Of course, we humans constantly look to lesser things — money, power, status, nation — to give meaning and security to our lives. But to proclaim that Jesus is Lord is to confess that God alone is worthy of our allegiance and worship.

To proclaim that Jesus Christ is Savior is to affirm that in him God has acted to heal the broken relationship between us and God, between us and our neighbors, within our own selves. One of the recent controversies in our church is whether we should also affirm that Jesus is the only savior, or whether people of other faiths can also be in right relationship with God. Personally, I think Disciples have been at our best when we have echoed a long-standing ecumenical principle: “We cannot point to any other way of salvation than Jesus Christ; at the same time, we cannot set limits to the saving power of God.” We testify to what we have known — Jesus Christ is savior of the world — and leave the question of whether others are saved to the wise mercy of God.

No 13-year-old understands all of this when she or he makes the Good Confession and is baptized. And that’s the point. We are not just stating what we believe; we are identifying the One in whom we trust. The Good Confession is the beginning of life-long growth in Christian faith — which is why Disciples have insisted that Christian education is crucial to the life of the church.

What we reject and what we affirm. Disciples are a church that makes the Good Confession and requires nothing more and nothing less. Thanks be to God!

DisciplesWorld has asked Michael Kinnamon to explore a new Disciples Identity Statement in this column. The statement is a work in progress from the 21st Century Vision Team, an advisory group to General Minister and President Sharon E. Watkins.