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The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston

The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston is senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, NY.

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Presbyterian Church (USA)

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Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, NY


Dr. Scott Black Johnston: Changed Your Mind Lately?

February 24, 2011

Every few years, The Christian Century, one of the key "trade" magazines for clergy types, runs a series of articles entitled, "How My Mind Has Changed." Basically, the editors get a notable theologian or two to write a few pages about how, over the course of their lives, their beliefs have changed.

It is a fascinating series.

Admittedly, some people find the whole concept to be a bit scandalous. "Changed? Beliefs don't change. Do they?"

Well, of course they do. In our heart of hearts, we know this to be true.

Still, some find it threatening when a believer, much less a famous theologian, comes right out and says, "What I believe right now - about who God is and what God wants from us - might not be the same thing I believe two years from now. Or even tomorrow!"

I mention all this because this weekend members of our confirmation class are putting the finishing touches on their statements of faith. They have thought about and written down what they believe about God and Jesus, the Church and the world. Next Tuesday night, they will read these statements at the Session meeting. They will stand in front of parents, pastors and elders of the church to profess their faith.

This is what our confirmands do every year. And this is what Presbyterians do all the time. We write and read creeds. We make statements of faith; not because we think that we can capture the fullness of God in any one document, and not because we are certain that we have figured it all out, and we can chisel everything in stone, because our beliefs will never change. No. Not that.

We do this because we believe that God continues to speak, continues to act, continues to engage the world.

The first part of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church, The Book of Confessions, is a collection of our favorite creeds. This volume contains a splendid variety of confessions of faith, beginning with the Apostles' Creed (4th century) and extending all the way to A Brief Statement of Faith (1991).

And here's the thing: The Book of Confessions is not closed. We keep adding to it.

Right now, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is considering a new creed for inclusion in our ever-expanding collection. The new creed is the Belhar Confession, written in South Africa in 1982 by people who felt convinced that God was calling racially divided groups of Christians to come together in unity.  If approved, it would be the first creed in our Book to come from a Christian community in the Southern Hemisphere.

I find all of this creed writing - by apostles and confirmands and the faithful in South Africa - to be powerful. Powerful, because both the Belhar Confession and the work of our youth point to a something larger: to a God who is still active in the world, calling people to courageous acts of faithfulness, calling people to declare and act on their beliefs.

[Taken with permission from the blog of the Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston, originally posted 2/18/2011]


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