Rowan Williams and the demands of confession

What kinds of demands are made on us when we we confess: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”?

Rowan Williams helps us explore this in his little book, Tokens of Trust (a collection of ‘talks’ he512cufo-kol__ss500_.jpg gave in Canterbury Cathedral during the week before Easter back in 2005). The importance of this book doesn’t necessarily rest on Williams’ ability to speak to everyone which, if you’ve read Williams when he’s at work, you’ll know this is a completed task in itself; rather, by calling people back to the creeds, to that particular sphere where the gospel is proclaimed, Williams reminds us that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to doing church. Instead, Williams demonstrates that by an attentive listening to the speech of the saints we not only measure what we say against the gospel, testing our speech, holding our words accountable, but as we confess we find ourselves tested by these words, put under the microscope, so to speak.

Williams writes, ‘Basic to everything here is the idea that Christian belief is really about knowing who and what to trust (viii)’. Whether we begin with the Apostles’ Creed and ‘I believe’ or the Nicene Creed and ‘We believe’ the whole point is the object of our trust. In the first section dealing with the first article, Williams asks,rowan13.jpg

why should we put our confidence in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth? Have we grounds for thinking him trustworthy?’

Williams does not appeal to reasons for the existence of God, but simply to the answer found in Ephesians 1. 1-14, a passage which,

‘culminates in the claim, that in the events around Jesus Christ, God has at last made his purpose clear; he has revealed the mystery hidden for ages past, he has shown us what his agenda is. Because of Jesus we can now see that what God has always meant to happen is…peace and praise (8).’

In the life of Christ, in both what he has accomplished and endured, we see God’s agenda in creation and for us and as a result of this loving agenda we are free to trust him. To press this point a little further, particularly when connected with the idea of being tested when we confess, it would serve us well to consider the question, ‘Is there someone or something else I find more trustworthy?‘ While Williams, in this first section, does not deal directly with the other side of the confessing coin, the idea is still present; that is, when we confess something, we are also denying something or everything else. The credimus must be followed by a damnamus, a refutation. While something as explicit as this might irk many people today, the damnamus serves our confession by giving it more specificity and clarity.

The type of questions we end up having to ask ourselves when we acknowledge something like ‘I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…’ might look something like this: Is there anyone or anything else in whom I can place my trust to make sense of this place? Can I trust God to carry out his will even if it means suffering and loss? Is it possible to confess this even when it amounts to ‘the appalling cost of letting God come near you and of trying to trust him when all the evidence seems to have gone (21)’? And finally, when I confess this first article am I prepared to refute everything else that mounts up to take God’s place and shift our trust away from our Father, whether it be the church ministries and projects we feel we can’t live without or even our cherished theologies which many of us probably rely upon too heavily?

As we voice the speech of the saints, it will be worthwhile to really see what or who holds our trust and by so doing allowing the creed to test us as it is confessed.


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