Since August 2017, the Reverend T.J. Malinoski has written a column examining the Confession of Faith for Cumberland Presbyterians in the Cumberland Presbyterian Magazine. It has appeared almost monthly ever since. We present it here for your enjoyment and edification. This posting was made from T.J.’s manuscript and may not contain editorial changes or formatting which appeared in the printed version.
This Side of the Confession: A Post 1984 Understanding of the Confession of Faith
By Rev. T. J. Malinoski, Presbyteries of East Tennessee (CPC) and New Hopewell (CPCA)
1984 Introduction: A Declaration and Invitation for Everyone
There is a direct relationship between the church’s confession of faith and her life and witness as a people in covenant with God and with each other.
– Introduction to the 1984 Confession of Faith for Cumberland Presbyterians
The most evangelical document that we Cumberland Presbyterians have created for defining our faith and practice is our Confession of Faith. For those who may cringe at the word evangelical, do not be alarmed. It is a term that is often misused in the popular lexicon and its original meaning needs to be recaptured and recast for modern understanding.
Before getting into the internal aspects of the Confession, however, it is important to examine its intent and underpinnings. The Introduction serves as a brief statement outlining its purpose and organization. The purpose for even having a confession of faith is two-fold:
…to provide a means whereby those who have been saved, redeemed, and reconciled by God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit understand and affirm their faith and to bear witness to God’s saving activity in such a way that those who have not been saved, redeemed, and reconciled might believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and experience salvation.
In essence, then, our purpose and our evangelistic nature are extrinsically tied. The Confession is a declaration for those who have already made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and it is also an invitation for those who are seeking redemption and reconciliation in their lives through God’s saving activity.
Now, we get to review the definition of “evangelical”. In this context, it means to testify, to profess, and to affirm the good news of Jesus Christ in and through our lives. Depending on where the reader finds himself or herself in his or her faith journey, the testimony, profession, and affirmation will take a unique shape and form as diverse as God, the Creator. However, even in its diversity, a confession must have a guiding principle and certain parameters. A confession must build its testimony, profession and affirmation on some basis and source. What might they be?
The Introduction indicates all testimony to Jesus Christ must be tested by the scriptures which are the only unfailing and authoritative word for Christian faith, growth, and practice. Therefore, the Confession, and those who espouse it, have the scriptures for guidance in terms of faith, growth and practice.
Yet, the Introduction does not stop there. Scripture alone will not suffice as the foundation upon which a confession can be developed and built. The following sentence states,
All testimony to Jesus Christ is made within the context of the church universal and therefore must not be made in a narrow, sectarian [dogmatic, limited] manner or spirit.
Previous Confessions: the Westminster, the 1814, the 1883 and the confessions of the early church all serve as a guide for the development of the 1984 Confession of Faith and those who adopt it. Therefore, these two sources—the scriptures coupled with the witness of the church today and generations past—help articulate a Cumberland Presbyterian declaration and invitation to Jesus Christ.
As Cumberland Presbyterians, our life and our witness as a covenant community are entwined with the declarations of the Confession of Faith, with God and in our relationships with one another. May we study and practice the convictions set forth in our Confession of Faith which is evangelical in purpose and spirit seeking to testify to what God has done and is doing in the world to accomplish the redemption of his children.
Points to Ponder:
Read the Preface to the 1984 Confession to learn of the reasons for review and revision of the 1883 Confession. Why is it necessary for Cumberland Presbyterians to assess the language, message, and meaning of a confession of faith? Is it time to initiate another review?
Read the Introduction to the 1984 Confession. How would you define the term evangelical? Why is it important to emphasize the evangelical aspect of the Confession? In what ways are you and your church testifying, professing, and affirming the good news of Jesus Christ?
Start a study of the Confession of Faith for Cumberland Presbyterians in your Sunday school class, bible study, CPWM, youth group, or small group. Invite others who are not faith-connected and/or who are not Cumberland Presbyterian to your meetings.