Saturday 1st August 2020 Basis of Union 18
The United Reformed Church, under the authority of Holy Scripture and in corporate responsibility to Jesus Christ its ever living head, acknowledges its duty to be open at all times to the leading of the Holy Spirit and therefore affirms its right to make such new declarations of its faith and for such purposes as may from time to time be required by obedience to the same Spirit. At the same time the United Reformed Church accepts with thanksgiving the witness borne to the catholic faith by the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. It recognises as its own particular heritage the formulations and declarations of faith which have been valued by Congregationalists, Presbyterians and members of Churches of Christ as stating the Gospel and seeking to make its implications clear. (18)
Words and their meaning change over time. For instance, in the late 14th century, the French word flus (meaning ‘a heavy flow’) and the Latin fluxus (which generally meant ‘a little loose or slack’) were the roots for the English word flux, coined to describe a certain unpleasant condition that kept people hovering near their village cesspit. Fast forward 300 years in 1620 ‘flux’ was recorded as meaning‘a continuous change’, the definition we are familiar with today.
The same kinds of change are true in the way that we use language to speak of God. The Basis of Union contains a Statement of Faith drafted in the late 1960s, based upon a similar statement agreed by the Presbyterian Church of England in 1956. By the 1990s deficiencies were obvious, such as using “men” when we meant “people”. The first General Assembly that I attended in 1996 began the process of agreeing a new Statement of Faith, not so much changing the theology but changing the language used to speak of God in ways that were more easily understood by more people.
For some of us today, the ancient Creeds of the Church universal (of which we were a part for the fifteen centuries before the Reformation), and the Confessions that our Reformed ancestors wrote in the seventeenth century clearly speak of God, while others find it much harder to discern God through them. This is why each generation requires, or at least demands, its own ways to speak of God, almost to borrow a phrase from the preface of the Congregational Hymnary (1916).
What language do you need to borrow to speak of God today?
God, may your Spirit speak to me in language my heart can embrace,
in language my mind can understand,
and in the language of silence that sinks deep into my soul.
God, may your Spirit speak to me
words of transformation,
words of empowerment,
words of grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.