Confessions, Oedipus Rex, and Dust in the Wind
Of all the advantages of creeds and confessions, the most neglected and yet one of the most important is the element of protest. Forgive me indulging my Bannermania once again, but The Ecclesiologist puts it this way:
‘In its office to those that are without its pale, it is the duty of the Church, as the witness and protest for truth against the error and unbelief of the world, to frame and exhibit a public confession of its faith.’ (Church of Christ, 317)
Typically, we think of confessions as internal documents, with primary reference to believers. Yet Bannerman rightly sees them also as being matters of external consequence. Not only do they identify the church in the public sphere, confessions also give precise and clear expression to the nature of the protest which the Church makes against the beliefs and practices of the wider world.
This is a point we do well to internalize at this moment in time. As Todd Pruitt indicated last week, there are those even within the Church who always seem to think the real problem is the church. That is so often a lazy response, right-on and cool, full of sound and fury but really signifiying nothing. Long ago, Camille Paglia pointed to the perennial tendency of Christians to read everything, especially the sexual revolution, through a comfy, middle-class lens and to fail to appreciate the radical nature of what drives the overthrow of traditional Christian moral norms. The naivete of such approaches belies their superficial sophistication, is no respecter of whether you live in the suburbs or the city, and is as foolishly paternalistic and patronizing as ever. But it is scarcely surprising. The tendency to assume the basic integrity of non-Christians while selectively hammering the Christian church, has for many generations been the stock-in-trade of a certain kind of Christian who combines a knowledge of all the answers to our problems today with an Oedipus Complex about the fathers in the faith.
It is not surprising that to such the idea of confessions is problematic, for to them the idea of protest on any terms other than those which the world sets is also problematic. And, of course, to protest on such terms is not really to protest at all. It is at best to position oneself above the fray, at worst to join the world in its opposition to the church.
The revival of interest in confessions over the last decade seems to have been preparing us for the times in which we now live. Those who are not protesting will not be distinctive and will vanish into the cultural fog. Those who have no confession robust enough to provide an ecclesiastical foundation for a protest rooted in the whole counsel of God will not stand. Those who have not the institutional fortitude to hold fast to their confessions will be, to quote the famous words of those great American theologians, Kansas, 'dust in the wind.'