Ash Wednesday: "Liturgical"
Week 2: "catholic"
Week 3: "evangelical"
Week 4: "orthodox"
Week 5: "confessional"
Week 6: "apostolic"
Holy Thursday: "Sacramental"
Good Friday: "Cruciform"
Easter Sunday: "The One Holy Church"
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The most common use of the word "confess" is when someone publicly makes a statement about something shameful they have done, for instance Lance Armstrong's recent confession of using performance enhancing drugs through His interview with Oprah. And in the Church we tend to think of confession in the same way: confession is about sin. But we forget two things: 1) what the Catechism says that, "Confession has two parts: first that we confess our sins, and second that we receive absolution." So confession isn't about sin, it is about forgiveness. The second thing we forget is what the word Confess actually means: "to speak together". And so we as the Church are tasked with speaking together our faith to the world. Confessing with one voice who our Saviour is.
Our confession of the Christian faith isn't about us having a personal testimony because we don't confess ourselves — we confess Jesus. It starts with God's revelation of who He is and what He has done for us. St. Paul tells us the starting point of our confession is the Word.
"The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says,
"Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." (Romans 10:8-11)
That is not what this text is saying. This is meant not as a word of law, but a word of comfort. "Do you publicly confess that Jesus is Lord?" Yes? "Do you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead?" Yes? Then you will be saved. What great comfort and assurance! It isn't your act of confessing that saves you. It is the faith in Jesus that saves you. It is the Word of God that has come near to you; the Word that God has placed in your mouth and in your heart that saves you. Which is to say, it is Jesus who saves you. And not just you … but all who hold this faith in common.
When you look at the confessions of the Church, they unite Christians. The most common confessions are the creeds. The Apostles' Creed. The Nicene Creed. The Athanasian Creed. These are Confessions of the faith that go back to the earliest days of the Church. Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, and others will hold to these public confessions of the faith. You do not get to change them to suit your own whims, but you can join with the Church of all times and places to publicly proclaim the God who reveals himself in the person of Jesus, who is revealed in the Scriptures.
Now, it is easy to say, "The church is confessional." But we also must address the fact that some Christians do not want to be bound to public confessions. They want to be able to believe and interpret the Scriptures as they want. Baptists say things like, "We have no creed but the Bible." Well, isn't that a statement of what they believe right there? Do you see the irony in the statement, "We have no creed but the Bible?"
But let's give them a pass on that. It sounds good at first blush, saying, "We have no creed but the Bible." It is well intentioned. They simply want to say, "We believe what the Bible says," and that is a good thing. But the next question that has to follow is, "What is it the Bible says?" There are lots of things the Bible teaches. So what are the key teachings, the central points? As soon as you open your mouth and answer that, you will be confessing, either along with the Church, or apart from the Church depending on what you say.
There is also a movement of Christians who try to be A-confessional. They identify themselves as "non-denominational." They give the image of being the nice guys. They say things like, "it doesn't matter what you really believe, we're going to welcome you here." And it sounds nice in theory, but as soon as you start to say something that isn't what they believe, they will ask you not to say anything.
In the grand scheme of things, when you understand and accept the notion that the Church is united by the universal confessions or Creeds, but that since that time we’ve slowly broken down into groups which confess the faith together, it becomes easier to grapple with and discuss what other people actually believe. Instead of just sweeping differences under the rug, it is easier to say, "I believe this … you believe that … what does the Scripture say about this?"
TO admit our differing Confessions is to be able to dialogue and investigate the Scriptures together and seek closer unity with each other.
And that brings us to the Lutheran Confessions. We hold that the Lutheran Confessions are a faithful exposition of God's Word. We do not say that there couldn't be other faithful confessions … but that this summary of God's Word is what we hold to. Our Confessions of faith are not placed above the Bible, but are established by the teaching of God's Word. They provide a way for us to walk together with other congregations who say, "we believe the same as you." They keep us from just "doing our own thing" and protect you from false teaching.
From our Confessions we Lutherans have inherited a turn of phrase from our forefathers in the
faith: that we believe, teach and confess. With our heart, we believe what Scripture teaches. We teach it in our churches. We confess it publicly to the world.
Saints of God. The Church is confessional. It can’t help but be confessional, or else Jesus would never have come, never have done anything, and never taught us at all. The danger we face is to fail to "confess." The danger we face is to simply hide in the four walls of our churches and fail to dialogue with other Christians of the world around us. Back in November, in the Canadian Lutheran there was a statement from Allister McGrath. This Anglican professor at King's College, London encouraged us to "go back to this resource [of the Lutheran Confessions] to enrich the present day mission." These are strong words from a man who avidly debates atheists. He went on to say, "It's much easier to withdraw and not engage with anyone else, but Luther is a witness to the more uncomfortable truth that we need to be there at the intersection of Christ and culture, bearing witness to the Gospel."
That is our sin. Our sin for which we need to repent and seek forgiveness. We are not alone in this. St. John reports that after the resurrection of Lazarus, "Many … of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God." (John 12:42-43)
In the face of those who would not confess Jesus, our Lord said, "Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:44-46) Christ calls people from the darkness through the confession of the Word. And so we confess not for our sake, but for the sake of others who need to hear of Jesus. And on the last day, when Christ Jesus comes in His glory … all who see Him will be forced to confess. “For at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11).
In +Jesus' name. Amen.
---sermon originally written by Rev. Garry Heintz, edited and preached by Rev. David Haberstock