Are You Ready to Offer Some Hope?

January 3, 2013

Yesterday, I suggested that denominational life is likely to become more difficult for evangelicals as we move through 2013. My predictions of trends are discouraging, I know, but today I want to give a word of encouragement. A difficult life, in and of itself, is not a sign that Jesus has left us orphans, nor is it an excuse to give up and give in to the worldly influences surrounding us. Rather, a difficult life calls us to depend on our Savior all the more and to hold fast to what we have been given. We have our testimony of faith, which is not ours alone but that of the whole Church of Jesus Christ. We have the Communion of Saints cheering us on toward the finish line, and we have a great confessional heritage that has stated eloquently and fervently the hope of our calling. To these things we must cling as we walk the path our Lord has set for us.

God through his Scriptures offers us examples and exhortations for witness-bearing. From Matthew’s gospel, we have the account of that check-in conversation between Jesus and his disciples. After a round of significant public meetings, Jesus took them aside and asked them what the people out there were saying about him. “And they said, ‘Some say [you are] John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. . .’”  (Matthew 16:14-18). Our Catholic friends understand “the rock” to be Peter, and express this by building the church around the papacy through “apostolic succession.” Protestants like us take this verse to mean “the rock” is Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus, and the church is built upon a steadfast witness to Christ’s Lordship. Good arguments support both views, but for today’s purposes I would like to expand on the Protestant view.

When Peter got it and recognized Jesus’ true identity on this occasion, he gave a clear statement of doctrine and faith. Central to the life of the Church is this awareness that Jesus Christ’s identity as Son of God and Messiah is the Church’s defining belief. The Apostle Paul later spoke of passing on to his readers the gospel entrusted to him, “as of first importance,” that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters . . . and finally also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).

Later, Peter himself exhorted those he was teaching: “…but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

As we face difficult times within the PC(USA), we are reminded once again that we are here for Jesus Christ, to serve him alone, to promote his gospel only, to hold fast to what he taught us, and to do as he commanded. Period. We must teach this and model obedience, understanding that we are torch-bearers in a long-standing relay race of Christian testimony.

To that end, it behooves us to know the Story. For most of my adult life, this has meant becoming intimately acquainted with the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. But as I get older I want to be sure I am passing the Story along to my children and the next generation, with deeper appreciation for the faithful witness of the saints who have gone before me. As a Presbyterian, I have access to nine creeds, confessions, and catechisms (among others to be sure), which set forth the essentials of Reformed faith and Christian doctrine. These confessional documents organize our beliefs in teachable, transferable form, and they are a gift to the church. If we learn them well, we are equipped for that conversational moment, that debate moment, that ordination examination moment—all those “teachable moments” in the life of the church—to give the reason for the hope that lies within us.

If the PC(USA) really does descend into doctrinal chaos, it won’t be too long before people previously sucked in by the world’s bad ideas are going to be looking for hope. We may be the very ones to provide it, through the testimony to God’s gracious and truthful revelation in Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, and his Word transmitted through the generations to our time and place. So let us learn the creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Let us read, study, and internalize the Scriptures. Let us practice speaking out loud what we believe in our hearts. And then, let us be bold to add our own testimony to that of the saints through Christian history, so that this generation can place its hope in the only One who can save us, Jesus Christ the Lord.





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