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)
The Living God 1.01-1.03: God Speaks. God Invites. We Respond.
All who respond with trust and commitment to God’s invitation find the promise sure and rejoice in being members of God’s people, the covenant community.
– 1.03 Confession of Faith of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church
From the mid 1980’s until the last handful of years, I have often heard the Confession of Faith (COF) referred to as “that little red book”. I am certain prior to 1984 the 1883 COF (and all of its revisions) had its own pet phrase. Thankfully, I have not heard the phrase “that little blue book”.
My inward reaction to the phrase has been both endearing and depreciative. I find it endearing because the phrase sounds charming and quaint in a similar way in which you would describe an item that you like or admire. However, I also find the phrase depreciative because it implies only a surface identification without an awareness or acknowledgement of its inward contents.
How we identify the Confession of Faith can be very revealing of its true impact in our lives as Cumberland Presbyterians. If it is seen as just a little book buried underneath magazines on the coffee table, a gift given to new church members or as a weapon to assert authority over another than we are missing the meaning and purpose of a beautiful document created by Cumberland Presbyterians for declaring and inviting others into relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Perhaps the opening three points of the Confession of Faith could simply be described as a nexus; connecting and linking us to God by briefly characterizing who God is, what God does, how God communicates to us and how we can respond.
Who is God?
The Confession of Faith 1.01 depicts God using descriptive words and phrases like living, holy love, eternal, unchangeable in being, wisdom, power, holiness justice, goodness and truth. These words, written almost in poetic fashion, portray a personage that goes beyond time, space and comprehension. At the same time, there is something inviting and attractive that can create a desire to know more of God and to be in relationship with God. 1.01 is more than just descriptive words attempting to characterize God. The opening words of 1.01 begin with, We believe. As Cumberland Presbyterians, we believe that God is all of these things and confession them through this document and through our living.
How Does God Communicate With Us?
A relationship is only as strong as its communication. Section 1.02 outlines the multiple ways that God relates to humanity: God speaks through the holy scriptures, the events of nature and history, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, but uniquely in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. We are provided with numerous means in which we can be attuned to God. According to the Confession of Faith, God speaks through the written word, nature, the past, and individuals to experience and know the holy love, wisdom, power, justice and more of God’s presence. However, the most unique way God communicates with us is in Jesus Christ.
What is God Offering?
In the description of God and in the outline of how God communicates with us, there is both an invitation and a promise. 1.03 states, By word and action God invites persons into a covenant relationship. The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines covenant relationship as:
a relationship between God and persons or groups of persons marked either by God unilateral promises or by mutual agreements, and marked especially by human promises for obedience to God’s will
God is inviting us into a relationship of promise. According to 1.03, this relationship is a promise God is making to be faithful to humanity and to the earth. As the Confession of Faith unfolds in subsequent sections, God’s promise to be faithful comes more into focus.
How Do We Respond?
Section 1.03 states that with God’s invitation, we can respond with trust and commitment. In our trust and commitment we are filled with rejoicing by being members of God’s people and being part of the covenant community. We might think this is an oversimplified acknowledgement, however, trust and commitment are two activities that are ongoing. Our trust and commitment is continuing activity. Our rejoicing is found in God’s promises to be faithful to us regardless of our past, our gender, our age, our accomplishments. Who wouldn’t desire to be in that kind of relationship?
Points to Ponder:
Read section 1.01 of the Confession of Faith. Why is it important that the opening words begin with, We believe…? What words would you use that are not in the Confession of Faith section 1.01 to describe God?
Read sections 1.02-1.03 of the Confession of Faith. In your own words, describe what a covenant relationship means to you. How do you know if someone is part of the covenant community? In what ways are you responding in trust and commitment to God’s invitation?
Confession of Faith and Government of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church/Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America. Cordova, TN: The Office of the General Assembly, 2015.
McKim, Donald. Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.