T HOSE WERE IDYLLIC DAYS. No laptops. No tablets, instead typewriters and carbon copies. No cell phones. No texting or social media. Telephones attached to the wall — and without answering machines. No traveling team sports, just tossing a football around or pickup games of baseball or shooting hoops in the yard.
No video games, just Monopoly and Scrabble and Risk. No Netflix or satellite TV, just three network channels and maybe PBS. Those were the days of Ed Sullivan and Walter Cronkite, and “Leave It to Beaver.”
That was my childhood in the ’60s. I get nostalgic for those days.
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BUT THEN there was also:
■ the Cuban missile crisis, and the duck-and-cover drills we did at school.
■ the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy.
■ the Civil Rights movement. The marches, killings, fire hoses, Selma, the assassination of Martin Luther King.
■ the Vietnam War — the Tet Offensive, protests and sit-ins.
■ the riots — Watts, Detroit, Chicago.
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I’M NOT SO NOSTALGIC for those days when we thought the world was falling apart. The fear, the anxiety, and anger. In a sense, things have not changed so much. The names have changed, but sometimes it seems the world is falling apart.
■ Then it was the Civil Rights movement — now it is Black Lives Matter.
■ Then it was the War on Poverty — now it’s $15 minimum wage protests.
■ Then it was the Sexual Revolution — now it is LGBTQ rights.
■ Then it was DDT and Silent Spring — now it is climate change.
■ Then it was women’s lib — now it is #metoo.
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THEN, AS NOW, does the church have anything to say about all this, or should it? How does faith lead us through times like these? Where is God in all this? Where is our hope?
In the 1960s the Presbyterian Church found a word to say about hope, and it took the form of the Confession of 1967 (C67). Over the years it has helped folks see faith as a source of strength and courage when so much seems to be coming apart.
In 1958 two branches of the Presbyterian Church came together to form the United Presbyterian Church. At first they were going to revise the Westminster Catechism written in the 1600s. The Westminster Confession with Larger and Shorter Catechisms were the only confessional statements for Presbyterians. Some of you had to memorize the shorter catechism answers as your confirmation class.
Anyway, they struggled with revising that until someone suggested writing something completely new — something contemporary, something that spoke to the moment. It took eight years to write, and during that time the nation went from idyllic bliss to divided and angry. It seemed important to speak faith to the chaos and fear.
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THE CONFESSION OF ’67 spoke of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the end of the estrangement, caused by sin, between God and humanity. That’s the primary word of the confession. Two reasons: reconciliation is always at the heart of the Gospel, and (2) “our generation stands in particular need of reconciliation in Christ.” (9.06)
The term “reconciliation” may best state for the 1960s, and for us today, the full meaning of God’s forgiveness. God is a God of grace alone, who promises to forgive us our sin. Forgiveness is not just a matter of words; rather, it opens us to a new way of life.
The confession speaks of our reconciliation through Jesus Christ and the church’s call — our call — to continue Christ’s reconciling work. The work of bringing separated people together. Extending forgiveness and hope to others. Forgiveness is not just a legal transaction between God and you. It is restoration of community between God and you. But also restores community among individuals and groups who have been alienated from one another. The ministry of reconciliation is a joyful response to God’s gracious activity in Jesus Christ.
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C67 IS BASED on Paul’s words Jessica read a few minutes ago from 2 Corinthians, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to God’s self.” We live in a broken world, and we cannot fix it through our own efforts and good will. But in God’s mercy, Christ came into the world to heal the brokenness. How did he do that?
■ In his life, Jesus welcomed outsiders, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and spoke of the kingdom of God.
■ In his death, he who committed no sin “took on sin” for our sake, so we would be reconciled to God.
■ In his resurrection, Jesus overcame the power of sin and death that we cannot overcome, and gave us the promise and hope of new life.
■ As the confession proclaims, our “strength is in [our] confidence that God’s purpose rather than [human] schemes will finally prevail.” [C67 — 9.25]
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OUR JOYFUL RESPONSE is to be reconciled to God and to each other. Our work is to carry, to live, to share, to extend this message of reconciliation that has been entrusted to us. Separation is no more. Division is no more. Estrangement is no more. The confession doesn’t tell us how to do this. But it does lift up examples from that day and time — like racial discrimination, nationalistic arrogance, family brokenness and class conflict. That list shows we still have a long way to go.
Not surprisingly, the Confession of ’67 was controversial, and still is. Some folks believe the church should stay out of social issues entirely. The church should be a refuge from the tensions outside our doors. The church should be a place of safety where we can escape and find comfort.
The writers of C67 believed that keeping the church going for its own sake isn’t serving the purpose of Christ’s kingdom. Christ came to save the world, not the church. The confession calls us to be courageous in the world in which we live.
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CHRIST CAME INTO THE WORLD to heal the brokenness. The church is to follow Christ. Let me remind you once again of what Christ did. Jesus welcomed outsiders, healed the sick, fed the hungry. Those are social issues. Theological issues. We, as Christians, cannot escape our call to follow Jesus in these important, life-giving ways.
Fifty years ago, the world seemed like a pretty crazy place. It seemed like families and cities and country were coming apart. Sometimes it feels like that again. Makes me wonder if C67 is still relevant for us — if reconciliation is still our life’s work. Maybe it is still the church’s calling. Reaching across the walls that divide us. Seeking relationships with those who are different. Bridging the chasms that may even seem insurmountable.
The Confession of ’67 urges us to hold onto hope that it’s possible — not because we know more, or are better people, or live in a more advanced time — but because hope is the heart of the Gospel.
— Keith Cardwell