It became obvious in the 1960s and ’70s that not only did our historic confessions say some things about other Christians that we would no longer want to say, we also had to appoint study committees and adopt lengthy declarations on issues not covered in the confessions. Our world had changed! Secular humanism was now common, but it was unthinkable when the confessions were written.
Groundbreaking studies on worship (1968), church and film arts (1966), racism, the authority of Scripture, war, world hunger, and more changed our worldview. Requests came to synod to write a new confession for our time (as other churches were doing), so in 1971 synod appointed a committee, of which I was part, to study whether we were ready for a new confession.
We discovered that some CRC members wanted a new one, but that far more were scared of what would happen if we replaced our three historic Reformed confessions.
While we studied how other churches confess the faith in our time, we learned that Korean Presbyterian churches would issue a “testimony” to the faith every decade or so. Our committee recommended, and synod agreed, that we should make this modest beginning at a new confession—a Contemporary Testimony—without the expectation that it would replace our historic confessions.
We then appointed a second committee to determine what issues needed attention, and a third committee to write the testimony (I reported for all three).
For our main theme we settled on the gospel of God’s kingdom, enthusiastically approving the title “Our World Belongs to God.” We followed the Belgic Confession’s creation-fall-redemption/renewal pattern. And we decided that a confession’s task to praise God and to teach, witness to, and defend the faith needed a simple free-verse format that could be used in worship. (We also added a series of more complex essays on many subjects treated in the Contemporary Testimony.)
After our congregations road-tested a draft for a year, the CRC adopted the “Contemporary Testimony: Our World Belongs to God” in 1988. The testimony made its way into the then-new gray Psalter Hymnal. Some of its language became engrained quickly—the opening paragraph, for example:
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world— which some seek to control, and others view with despair— we declare with joy and trust: Our world belongs to God!
Or phrases like “we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in the world” and “The Spirit’s gifts are here to stay in rich variety.”
Twenty years passed, bringing with them great changes, such as a greater presence of other religions on the world stage and home front, embryonic stem-cell research, end-of-life issues, terrorism, the Internet, and more. We asked whether it was time to update our no-longer-so-contemporary testimony.
Synod appointed a small revision committee, which met for two years, consulting the churches and using the Internet to send out a draft of the revisions.
The revisions were not major, but we recognized that the tone of the testimony needed to be different after 9-11. And we needed to address new issues, polish some language, and give more attention to God’s grace, worship, and our openness to the poor.
The CRC adopted the revised Contemporary Testimony in 2008. Printed copies are available from Faith Alive Christian Resources (www.faithaliveresources.org; 1-800-333-8300), or you can download the document from the CRC’s website (crcna.org). I hope we will use the revised Contemporary Testimony as widely as we did the original.Excerpts Where Did “He” Go?
One crucial decision for the timeliness of the Contemporary Testimony was made early in our meetings when a committee member from UCLA placed the school’s inclusive-language policy on the table and moved that we stick to it. We did, and avoided sounding outdated within a decade. Nonetheless, the revision committee still found a number of male pronouns that eluded capture the first time around.Discussion Questions:
- The author says we got the idea of a testimony from Korean Presbyterian churches that issue one every decade or so. Do you think such testimonies are a good idea? What would be the advantages and disadvantages?
- How have you or your congregation used the Contemporary Testimony?
- Some say that the church has no business addressing contemporary issues like stem-cell research, terrorism, or war because it lacks the expertise to do so. What do you think?
- Here’s a stanza from the revised testimony that has been extensively rewritten. Analyze and discuss it in the light of the above questions:
44. Life is a gift from God’s hand, who created all things. Receiving this gift thankfully, with reverence for the Creator, we protest and resist all that harms, abuses, or diminishes the gift of life, whether by abortion, pollution, gluttony, addiction, or foolish risks. Because it is a sacred trust, we treat all life with awe and respect,