WHAT PRESBYTERIANS BELIEVE
The cosmic significance of reconciliation
by Joseph L. Morrow | Campus engagement manager for Interfaith Youth Core
Reconciliation is a word frequently invoked but seldom understood. Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians beautifully capture a defining aspect of reconciliation: its cosmic significance. In Christ, “there is a new creation” because “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:17–19). Reconciliation is part of who we are as Christ’s church.
Reconciliation is God-centered
Scripture reminds us of the ultimate purpose of reconciliation and opens our eyes to the many ways in which reconciliation is predicated upon the initiative of God, rather than human beings. God acts in Word and Spirit to repair divisions, restore dignity, renew relationships, and redeem tragic circumstances. Humanity is called to participate in God’s reconciling mission. In Scripture the end point of that mission is given many names: a just kingdom, a welcoming banquet, a heavenly city, the new creation. But the mission is founded on the grace of Jesus, who prioritizes the place of the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized.
Reconciliation is liturgical
Reconciliation for Presbyterians is written not only into the biblical text, but also into the very life of our covenant communities. Each time Christians gather in worship to confess sin and belief, to receive God’s forgiveness, and to extend it to one another, we live into the promise of ultimate reconciliation offered in Christ. Through such acts, we name sin and accept responsibility so that what has been wounded might heal.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s most recently adopted confession, the Belhar Confession, reflects the power of contrition when it declares, “Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another.” We are called to confess boldly.
Reconciliation is public
If reconciliation involves the whole world, it must go public rather than be confined to the sanctuary.
Deep divisions of race, gender, economics, and even religion breed suspicion and hostility. And yet Reformed theology insists that because God is present in and cares for society’s relationships and institutions, we cannot abandon the public sphere. Indeed, if public life is characterized by the multiplicity of relationships that bind us politically, economically, and socially, then it becomes a necessary and powerful place to witness to God’s reconciling community. To do so requires Presbyterians to examine their power and to reposition their relationships to the marginalized and vulnerable. We do this each time we individually and corporately repent of misused power and live justly with our neighbors.
Reconciliation is embodied
Whether interpersonal or institutional, reconciliation cannot succeed on the weight of words alone. Confession of sin and resolution to do justice must take on flesh. They must be embodied in practices that communicate solidarity over isolation, faithfulness over idolatry, and integrity over duplicity. In other words, for Presbyterians the call to reconciliation must impact our material lives, from where we live to how we spend our time and money. There is no better example for us than the bread and cup at the Lord’s Table, where Christians encounter the sacrifice and provision of God made real and efficacious. The table prompts Jesus’ invitation: How will you who are nourished by my feast share your lives with one another?
Sometimes we confuse reconciliation with the restoration of things past or with the forceful prevailing of our own customs and desires.
However, reconciliation is not a return to presumed glory days of the 1950s or even the 1650s, where unity was often achieved by shutting out the unwanted. Nor is it unity enforced by a soul-crushing uniformity. The destination of reconciliation for Presbyterians is God’s promised future, a place the book of Revelation aptly describes as a city (Rev. 21–22). Perhaps there’s no more fitting image than an urban space to characterize the public and visceral aspect of reconciliation and to capture the Presbyterian imagination to seek a place where healing is available for nations and whose gates remain open to those who wish to join God’s reconciling community.
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