Winter 2003
Volume 7 Number 2
 

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A Living Confession introduction| Page 2 | Page 3 | Drafting the Confession of 1967
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Continued

Standing with the Tradition

 Drafting the Confession of 1967
 

 Charles West, PTS professor emeritus of Christian ethics, reflects on the drafting process:

1) Production
“Our committee was a very interesting group, and we learned a great deal from each other, theologically and practically, over the years.... Our task was to write a new confession, but one person left the committee because he didn’t agree with our formulation of that task. He said, ‘Our job is to define a Presbyterian theologically’ and the rest of us said, ‘No! Our job is to ask how we are to confess Jesus Christ in the 20th century.’ Then we asked, ‘What does that mean?’ We decided that the theme would be reconciliation, and we went ahead with that.”

2) Circulation
“With three pastors and some professors on the committee, we knew, of course, what issues would come up in local church discussions, and they did. But for one year, we who were members of the committee went out among the churches and presented the draft to the members to study. It was the most effective theological education of the church that I ever participated in. People who had always thought, ‘Oh, theology, that’s a subject for the experts,’ suddenly realized that they were theologians, that theology really was an issue every time they talked about the Christian faith. I mean, the light I saw in people’s eyes when they suddenly realized theology mattered!”

3) Presentation
“We gave the General Assembly a draft in 1965; they commended it for the study of the church and commissioned another committee to revise it in light of the discussion. They sat in one room and we sat in another. They ran across the hall and said, ‘How about making this change?’ We said, ‘Okay,’ and they ran back across the hall to make it. This is a church document, and not just our opinion.... But we tried to be specific enough, sharp enough, so that we would confront some people, including ourselves.”

4) Adoption
“The confession took its final form in 1966 and was adopted by the General Assembly, but in order for it to be constitutionally adopted, a majority of the presbyteries had to approve it. So it went out again for discussion, and there were some who were rigid, who wanted things said in a certain way. But I wasn’t surprised when it was overwhelmingly approved.”

While the confessions may never be able to speak specifically to every issue in our changing world, they continue to invite readers into identification with the historical community of faith and challenge them to understand what that means today.

“I very much see that what I am to do Sunday in and Sunday out is to proclaim the gospel with a cloud of witnesses around me,” Jarvis says. “Back when I was ordained, I kind of blithely promised to be guided by the confessions. Then during the past 30 years of ministry, they have become very important to the work I do, and to me.… The incredible thing about being in a tradition like this is to know that you are not alone, not the first one to go through this—trying to figure out where to stand. You are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Though you might not stand right where they did, they do help you figure out the ground on which you need to stand.”

And this seems like solid ground: in a sanctuary, as part of a congregation that, with congregations around the world, announces through its recitation of both ancient and new words, “These things we hold to be true.”

A Living Confession introduction| Page 2 | Page 3 | Drafting the Confession of 1967
ā¯ Download .pdf version of this article*

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