Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Who Do You Say That I Am?

As a greenhorn seminarian, I remember sitting in a stuffy auditorium style classroom on a crisp Fort Wayne winter morning preparing for the first lecture of Dr. Weinrich's early church class. The man has probably forgotten more than I'll ever remember about the early church. But I remember his words of introduction to the class ever since.

"The entire work of the early church and the creeds of Christianity are an answer to this simple question of Jesus: 'Who do you say that I am? Who do you say that the Christ is?'"

We then spent the remainder of that day and that quarter learning, memorizing, preparing oral examinations, and written tests all so that we as students might answer that same question. It wasn't just a question for Peter and the disciples - but for all who bear the crucified name of Christ, engraved in water and blood upon their brows. Our foreheads and hearts are a human canvas for the work of the Holy Spirit in water and word. And our words have now become our painter's pallet, our mouths and lips have become our brushes; and the world's ears have become our canvas. We confess the same thing Peter did through the same means Peter did. Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but our Father who art in heaven. This is a question for the Church to answer in every age and every day: who do you say that I am?  The answer to this question is always a confession. Everything after "I believe" is a confession. Who will we confess?

The creeds, as Dorothy Sayers writes in The Greatest Drama Ever Staged, give the words the Church uses to teach about who Christ is. What do the Creeds say about Christ? Simply what the Scriptures confess about Christ. O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth will declare your praise.

What does the Church think of Christ? The Church's answer is categorical and uncompromising, and it is this: that Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the God "by whom all things were made." His body and brain were those of a common man; his personality was the personality of God, so far as that personality can be expressed in human terms. He was not the kind of demon pretending to be human; he was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be "like God" - he was God.

Now, this is not just pious commonplace; it is not commonplace at all...Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself hone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death.

...One thing is certain: if he were God and nothing else, his immortality means nothing to us; if he was man and no more, his death is no more important than yours or mine. But if he really was both God and man, then when the man Jesus died, God died too; and when the God Jesus rose from the dead, man rose too, because they were one and the same person.

Dorothy Sayers, The Greatest Drama Ever Staged, Letters to a Diminished Church, Nelson Publishers, 2004, p. 2, 5.

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