To examine the United Church of Christ Statement of Faith is not so much to examine a creed which binds all members and determines who is in and out of the community. Rather it is to examine a testimony of faith. In that, this statement invites us to consider our own faith and gives us a language and categories to do so. It is in that spirit that I have put together this blog post.
We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit,
To say that I believe in God is to say I believe there is a reality at work in the world which makes for love, for connection, for the building up of persons, for transformation, and for the upholding of life.
To use the term God, for this reality, is to say that this reality is worthy of worship, adoration, and ultimate commitment. Such a reality claims this ultimacy because it is what I must relate to if I am to be saved, if I am to live a life well lived, and if I am to hope for life in a shared world.
To say that such a reality is spirit is to say that it cannot simply be based on what is, the world as it is currently configured. Rather it also encompasses those possibilities of a new world to come. To say it is eternal is to say nothing is lost to God. No life, no effort, in the past and in the future, will fail to contribute to that world to come.
who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify:
The God we meet is met in concrete realities, including people and the stories we tell. The Christian story is the story of how we came to meet God in the person of Jesus. That is, if we want to know what God’s character is like, look at the person of Jesus. It is the story we tell as a church, it is the story we must live by if we hope to make God more visible in our world. To say that Jesus is our brother is to say that he is fully human. That we are in a position to be like him. We testify to his deeds by word and action.
God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image,
This is both a cosmic and personal statement. The God of the universe, that which creates and under girds the whole of reality, creates us, our social worlds and our very person hood.
The divine image, being held by every human, means that if I want to encounter God, I will do so in my neighbor. I will do so, in every human being I meet. I will even do so in myself. But I would expand this to include other animals and forms of life besides humans, from the working of cells to insects to those animals that grace our lives, which we treasure.
and sets before us the ways of life and death.
If we acted on the idea of the imago dei, a revolution of values would have to take place, one which honored that of God in all people. That every person is a unique personal universe of experience, a unique source of value to God.
Our failure to reckon with this fact, our ability to depersonalize others, both humans and animals, creates a cycle of death, whether that be from war, deprivation and a failure to meet the basic needs of all, destruction of our environment, racism, gendered discrimination, and national and religious hatreds.
Our ability to respond appropriately to our neighbor as a divine image bearer would be to tackle those isms and any system that did not allow all to live into their fullest potentiality, counting the result as a gift the world and to God. Such gifts would be transformative of our society, in ways that cannot be imagined.
God seeks in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
God is that reality which saves and transforms people so that we can live in right relation with each other, our planet, and thus our God. In that, meaning is to be found. It is also found in that every moment we approximate this aim, we contribute to each other, our world, and to God. This can never be taken away, nor rewritten, nor lost in time. Our contribution is permanent and thus matters.
God judges all humanity and all nations by that will of righteousness declared through prophets and apostles.
To talk of God’s judgment may seem foreign to our ears. If I replaced this with, the judgement of history, it may be more familiar. We honor the abolitionists not the slave holders. We honor the suffragists, not those who made arguments for the second place status of women. We honor the anti fascists not the fascists.
We honor them because they recognized and fought for the full rights and person hood of others. And for those who have resisted this recognition, there is a judgment placed upon them. A judgment of later generations. One hopes a judgment in the conscious of a few who regretted their participation in those efforts that sought to deny the person hood of others and thus changed their ways.
When we recognize that God is love, the idea of judgment will seem harsh. But sometimes judgment and then repentance is necessary if we are to act in love to others. Thus God, shows God’s love for us, in our ability to transform towards the better and the voice of conscious which calls us to account when we fail to recognize the full person hood of others.
This responsive love towards others, is not a new revelation in Jesus. It is a consistent feature of God’s character and finds expression throughout history, including those of the prophets and the Hebrew Scriptures. God’s fundamental character never changes. The means by which we come to apprehend that character and the call it places on us is dependent on our individual histories and the respective religious traditions that inform us.
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord God has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death
To conquer death, as I understand it, is not to deny our mortality. It is to deny the power of death. The power of death is the way it is seen as robbing our lives of meaning and value. Thus there are some who are engaged in a frantic effort to deny aging, to build themselves memorials and to rewrite histories to make them seem significant. And it’s all for naught. In the end, few of us will be remembered by others.
The only genuine contribution we can make that, the kind that is our permanent contribution to God are those actions that indicate a life filled with love, with a fullness of life given to others. It is not the crucifixion and resurrection that shows me how Jesus defeated death. It was his life, how he related to others, the revolution of values he set off in his followers and the early church.
reconciling the whole creation to its Creator.
I would stress the “ing”. God is reconciling, not God has reconciled. Because it’s clear in our daily experience that this is an ongoing process and it continues today. If we had thought racism was defeated, homophobia vanquished, ethnic and religious hatred a relic of the past, we have been reminded over the last few years that they have come back with a vengeance. So the work of reconciliation continues. But we know that it is happening, God is at work in the world. From the clergy who stood down hate in Charlottesville to Black Lives Matters to interfaith movements in communities all over this country.
God bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.
It is the spirit that hovers over creation as it unfolds, drives Jesus into the wilderness before he inaugurates his public ministry, and gives birth to the church. The Spirit as the creative ground of what is, creates us, and helps form the unique gifts we have and are to the world. God through the Spirit creates the church.
The Spirit is behind every form of identity formation that allows a person to be who they can be in service to the world. In that, God’s spirit is busy building communities and individuals all over the world. The language of “faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.” captures the global sense, of the church and of the human family.
God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil,
This captures the call of God: “to be servants in the service of the whole human family.” To do so will mean that we resist anything that depersonalizes others. It means we take on the “the cost and joy” of this service. Sometimes that looks like activism, sometimes this is the personal care we offer to family and neighbor, for some it will be integrity in the workplace, for others it will mean taking a public stand for justice. But in whatever context we find ourselves in, we can in fact be the Gospel, the Good news of God for others. There you will find the Church.
to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table,to join him in his passion and victory.
God uses the physical, the concrete to meet us. Waters of life, a shared bread and cup. They indicate what sustains us. They also indicate the world to come, where all are welcome to the table, all has more than enough, and there is no hierarchy of value and worth to be found. They model the life of Jesus and provides us a visual of what a shared life can look like. They do not prove a final victory but they do give us glimpses of what God would have for the whole world.
God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace,the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.
This ends up being a favorite story of mine:
“In 1936, Lillian Hellman’s stage play The Children’s Hour, a critical and financial success on Broadway, was headed to Boston but was banned by the city’s public censor because of ‘lesbian content.’ The ACLU helped the play’s producer challenge the ban in federal court. While they did not prevail, the public outcry that followed the court ruling led to the first serious limitations on the public censor.”
To take on a legal case on for LGBT rights in 1936 is astonishing. There had been no legal cases before, no precedents to rely on, and no national LGBT organizations. To be openly gay could mean the insane asylum or imprisonment, certainly humiliation, loss of family and work. You could not take on this case because you thought you would win. You took on this case because it was the right thing to do.
And you took on this case because you trusted, that even if you would never see the result, somehow this action would be carried forward into history in a way that would open up space for LGBT folks in the future. That somehow your small contribution mattered in the long run. That is what I understand as faith. Faith in eternity, faith in God despite the world as it is. The faith that gives us the courage to act on behalf of one another.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto God. Amen.
The final line indicates our commitment, our allegiance, to the source of good and meaning in our world. It is a prayer, that it prevails in our world, and a call for our response to make it so.
Dwight Welch is a UCC/Disciples pastor who teaches religion and philosophy at Oklahoma City Community College.