The Confessional Church
Some Christian churches say, “We have no creed but Christ.” I heartily endorse the thought that, in the end, it all comes down to the grace of God in Jesus. On the other hand, in this complex world, our church benefits from a commitment to submit to the Worldwide Creeds and Reformed Confessions that are our best attempt to summarize the teachings of Scripture. The act of humbly submitting to the creeds and confessions is what defines us as “confessional” and keeps us together with many other like-minded sisters and brothers in Christ.
In last week’s sermon, I highlighted the following statement, approved by Synod 2022 of our denomination, the Christian Reformed Church in North America:
“‘Unchastity’ in the Heidelberg Catechism Q. and A. 108 encompasses adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, sexual violence within and outside of covenantal marriage, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex, all of which violate the Seventh Commandment.”
This statement now has “confessional status” within our denomination, but what does that even mean? Does it mean that each and every “unchaste” behaving person is now unwelcome? Does it mean there will be regular questionnaires for members to fill out about their sexual conduct? Does it mean we should tell our teens and young adults that anyone who is attracted to–or engaged in–any of these behaviors isn’t loved or wanted at Elmhurst CRC?
God forbid! There would be no one left in the church according to Jesus’ standard in Matthew 5.
Please note that what is confessional is the teaching that unchaste behaviors are sinful. This impacts pastors, elders, and deacons, in particular, who are responsible for the teaching ministries of the church. But when it comes to the discipline and instruction of members who are not office bearers in regard to the teaching, there will be a wide latitude of responses (from gentle to heavy) from congregations in a denomination like ours that spans from coast to coast, from urban to rural, and spans across international borders. There is no cookie-cutter, compelled response.
This standard of “chaste living” is meant FOR THE CHURCH and especially for those who are called and ordained to be leaders in the church. As followers of Jesus, we are a minority movement called to flavor and brighten culture, not called to dominate or proscribe the laws of any land. The chain of authority that we voluntarily submit to in the Christian Reformed Church in North America is as follows: (thanks to Kathy Folkerts, Clerk of the Elders, for this:)
The Creeds of the holy catholic Church
(Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian)
(Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession,and the Canons of Dort)
Synodical interpretations of the Confessions for the CRC denomination
While each of these categories has weight and authority, there is a significant step down in gravity from top to bottom. The Bible is infallible insofar as we understand what it intends to teach. Synodical interpretations are open for debate, disagreement, and even protestation.
What is not up for debate is the continued call for Jesus’s church to offer radical hospitality to all persons who come seeking the Lord. And–with time and God’s grace on our side–we are continually called to the high and holy standard of radical obedience to the example and teachings of Jesus.
I’m grateful to live in an age that necessitates we embrace both radical hospitality and radical obedience.
I’m committed to doing my utmost to shepherd our congregation directly, simultaneously, into both radical hospitality and radical obedience.
Jesus perfectly modeled a life of radical hospitality toward all people and radical obedience to the will of God for himself. I’m confident that his way is best.