The Shape of Confession

An important element of Presbyterian and Reformed  identity is our writing of, and deference to, confessions. The Presbyterian Church in Canada has three confessions that define our faith and theology – they are the Westminster Confession, the Declaration Concerning Church and Nation, and Living Faith.

One of the things you quickly discover in looking at these documents is that their meaning is determined as much by the shape of the confession as by the content of it. What do I mean by this? Simply that the order in which ideas are presented is as important as what the confession actually says about those ideas. For example, in looking at the Westminster Confession and Living Faith we notice that Westminster begins with Scripture while Living Faith begins with God – and we might ask why this difference. Can we begin talking about God before we have said something definitive about the scriptures that reveal God? What does it say about our theology that we can begin talking about God before exploring the nature of the scriptures?

There are all kinds of questions that arise when we look at the shape of a confession. Another more important question might be, why do neither Westminster nor Living Faith begin with Jesus, who is the living Word, and the one in whom we see God fully?

With all of this in mind, in our Reformed Confessions class at The Presbyterian College, I recently assigned the students the task of re-writing the Table of Contents of Living Faith. The question for them was: What shape would you give to the church’s confession today? What would your priorities be? How would the shape of confession change our priorities as a church and our living of our faith in a changing context. This was essentially an exercise in doing contextual theology, by writing a table of contents!

For what it’s worth, here is my own alternative Table of Contents – set alongside that of Living Faith. Among other things, you will notice that I begin with our life together in community – after all, that is where the experience and living of faith begins for all of us. (Some might say that’s a rather Roman Catholic way to begin!!)  Not only this, but the first word of my alternative ‘shape of confession’ is worship – and the last word is worship, too.

What shape would you give to confession today? (Click the image to see it more clearly as a PDF.)





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