Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The German Baptist "Rechenschaft vom Glauben" (confession of faith)

Baptist congregations and the regional, national, and international associations to which they belong have issued confessions of faith throughout the 400 years of Baptist existence. These confessions have often served two purposes: first, to communicate to other Christians who Baptists are, both in terms of what Baptists share in common with the rest of the Christian tradition and in terms of the convictions and practices that distinguish Baptists from other Christians; and second, to educate members of Baptist congregations about these matters. The first purpose was especially important during the early years of the Baptist tradition, for Baptists needed to show to their detractors in the established churches--which were sometimes involved in the denial of religious liberty to Baptists--that they, too, shared the historic Christian faith with them, yet also that their distinctive convictions required that they maintain a form of ecclesial life in keeping with those convictions, even if that meant having a separate ecclesial existence from the established churches.

Baptist confessions thus have often been drafted with ecumenical concerns in mind. One more recent Baptist confession that does this well in the context of modern ecumenical relations, in my opinion, is the "Rechenschaft vom Glauben" ("Confession of Faith," or literally, "An Account of the Faith"; the German word "Rechenschaft" echoes the language of 1 Peter 3:15) issued in 1978 by the Bund Evangelisch-Freikirchlicher Gemeinden in Deutschland (The Union of Evangelical-Free Church Communities in Germany, or German Baptist Union). The German text of this confession is available online in PDF; an English translation by the late Baptist historical theologian John Steely is included in G. Keith Parker, Baptists in Europe: History & Confessions of Faith (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1982), pp. 57-76.

This confession functions as an ecumenically situated statement of Baptist faith in that it first articulates the historic faith Baptists share with other Christian traditions via the full text of the Apostles' Creed.

The confession is also noteworthy in terms of implications for inter-religious dialogue in that an article on “God’s Old and New Covenants” (I.5) explicitly repudiates a supercessionist understanding of the relationship between Israel and the church.

For what it's worth, this is also the only Baptist confession issued to date that explicitly references the humanity of the Scriptures in connection with an affirmation of the compatibility of historical-critical investigation with belief in their divine inspiration. A selection from I.6, “God’s Word—The Bible,” par. 4 appears below in Steely's English translation:

The Bible is God’s word in human language. Therefore its books bear the signs of the times in which they originated. Their language, their patterns of thought, and their literary forms are bound to the times and places whence they come. Therefore the historical understanding of Holy Scripture is an obligation of the Christian church and its theology, in their listening to the word of God. The historical interpretation of Scripture takes into account the working of the Holy Spirit, both in originating and expounding the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The Bible lives, because God speaks through it. (Parker, Baptists in Europe, pp. 63-64)

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