Date of Award

Spring 2022

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD

Program

School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Grace Yia-Hei Kao

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Philip Clayton

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Kevin Wolfe

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2022 Matthew W Bussell

Abstract

Within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the creeds and confessions collected in the Book of Confessions articulate not only the doctrines of the church, but also the identity and purpose of the denomination. The Book of Confessions contains twelve documents from different periods in the history of the church, each of them addressing the experience of the church in their unique contexts. As the church looks to move into the future following God’s calling, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is called to rearticulate its faith, identity, and purpose through the writing of a confession with an inclusive anthropology and missional ecclesiology. This new confession would build on the previous creeds and confessions of the church, particularly the Belhar Confession and the Brief Statement of Faith. In exploring this calling to write a new confession in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), it is necessary to understand how the creeds and confessions function within the life of the church. When ministers, elders, and deacons are ordained and installed by the church they promise to be guided and instructed by the creeds and confessions of the church and that they affirm the “essential tenets” therein. This language of essential tenets has been carefully crafted by the church to ensure that its leaders share the same core faith while allowing differences of interpretation on non-essential doctrines. In June of 2022 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be tasked with discerning whether or not the church is called to write a new confession. As the General Assembly goes about this work of discernment, it is helpful to understand why the church has been called to write other confessions. A close study of the four confessional documents in the Book of Confessions from the twentieth century (The Theological Declaration of Barmen, The Confession of 1967, The Belhar Confession, and A Brief Statement of Faith), reveals that the church has chosen to write new confessions to confront contemporary heresies and to shape the identity of the church in the present and future. As we look at the present situation of the church, it is clear that the church is called to write a new confession for both of the reasons new confessions were written in the twentieth century. Contemporary heresies of racism, heterosexism, and sexism deny the full humanity of people in the world today, distorting not only our understanding of humanity but of the God who created all people in God’s image. Additionally, the contemporary heresy of Christian nationalism intertwines faith in God and devotion to nation, making an idol of the nation. These heresies distort and corrupt the gospel. As the church moves into the future it is called to counter these theological distortions by articulating an inclusive anthropology in a new confession. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) also needs a new confession to clarify its identity and purpose. The church is in a period of transition as it continues to decline numerically and as it navigates the rapidly evolving world in which we live. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted the life of the church but has also led the church to adapt in unprecedented ways. The writing of a new confession would enable the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to articulate its identity and purpose in a missional ecclesiology which focuses the life of the church outward into the community and world. There is a fear, though, that the writing of a new confession with an inclusive anthropology and missional ecclesiology will cause division in the church. While well intended, the call for unity above all else in the church can be used to maintain unjust systems and structures which benefit those in power. Unity cannot become an idol for the church. The writing of a new confession would not seek to divide the church but build unity amidst the diversity of the church. Within the creeds and confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) there is an explicit acknowledgement that new confessions will be needed by the church in the future. Neither the church nor the world are static and the church is called to speak to the world in which it exists. The writing of a new confession would see the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) living into the Reformed moto ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda: Reformed and always reforming.

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