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    Reversing Babel

    October 20, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    Over the course of the past five or six months, we’ve been reading the book Faith of Our Fathers with some friends. Overall, I’d say that the first half of the book wasn’t quite what I expected. I expected it to focus first on the history of the Nicene Creed and why it was significant and important. Then I expected to have its meaning explained.

    The author does go through the creed phrase by phrase, but the history and magnitude came later in the book. The first half of the book felt more like a devotional reflection upon the creed. The second half is more what I expected, and I like it. We’re learning a lot.

    Chapter 15 is called One Church and it focuses on the phrase “we believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Today I thought I’d share a few quotes as it has turned out to be my favorite chapter (so far, but then again we are almost through).

    [F]ew American Protestants and fewer still evangelical Protestants would readily include a belief in the church as part of their gospel confession.

    To many Protestants, this portion of the creed seems believable, but not a vital part of their Christian confession. This way of thinking emphasizes that the gospel has to do almost exclusively with individual salvation, and the church is not essential to this individual experience.

    [snip]

    [W]e should note that such a mindset is a striking historical break with the confession of the earliest Christians and with the most ancient ecumenical creed of Nicea. Like it or not, many evangelical Protestants are at odds with the faith of our fathers at this point.

    I can speak of this personally, for I went through a small “crisis of faith,” as some might call it, during which I questioned not the faith, but the Church. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around why the Church was important at all. This is definitely a weakness peculiar not just to Protestantism, but to those of us living in lands heavily influenced by the idea of rugged individualism. To be honest, even though I have repented in my heart, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of the importance of the Church.

    The author points to the names of churches as symbolic of this decided minimization of the Church’s importance. For example, there is the “Christian Life Center” or the “Family Christian Center.”

    [T]hey act as if they are ashamed to use the word church as part of their name at all.

    We live at the edge of town, and there are a number of church plants out here. We receive mailers and flyers from these churches with great regularity. One thing I’ve noticed is that the ads are very deliberate to claim they are a church that is not like church–there are extensive, purposeful attempts to make their church distinct from the idea of church. So while the author says that certain churches are ashamed to use the word church, I’d go so far as to say that certain churches are ashamed…of being churches.

    The creed, however, confesses that the Church is holy.

    This indicates that the church is not a human institution that can be taken or left as we have need of it. The church is set apart by God.

    [snip]

    To be holy in this sense is very much to be the unique creation of God.

    [snip]

    Becoming a Christian means becoming part of the church.

    [snip]

    By virtue of our new birth, we are members of a new household and we are fellow citizens with one another.

    Salvation is covenantal and corporate.

    Anyhow, in the next portion the author discusses the idea that the Greek word ekklesia, which we translate as church, means “the called out ones.” We are called out of the world and into community with each other.

    The holy church is not tribal but universal.

    What I loved most in chapter is how he works this out by pointing to Babel, and saying that it was reversed at Pentecost:

    Indeed, the church was formed at Pentecost as the antithesis and answer to Babel.

    Acts 2 is modeled on Genesis 10-122. Like Genesis 10, Acts 2 contains a “table of nations” (v. 9-11), and like Genesis 11, Acts 2 records a miracle of language. These parallels serve of course to highlight the contrast between Babel and Pentecost. While the diversity of tongues at Babel divided and disrupted the nations, the diversity of tongues at Pentecost had the opposite effect of joining all the nations into one people. The gift of the Spirit thus implies that all tribes and tongues will confess Jesus as Lord; the outpouring of the Spirit is for the purpose of gathering the nations.*

    He ends by saying,

    The church and not our own interests are central to God’s plan for history. Is it central to yours?

    I am still pondering my answer to that. For now, the question haunts me.
    *Here he is quoting Peter Leithart.

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