Third Article Theology: Bifocals for the Church

The North American church has found itself in new territory. It is living in the midst of a post-Christian society. Though such a setting is certainly nothing new to the history of the Holy Christian Church, as past posts have noted it is proving difficult for the North American church of the 21st century. Postmodern cultural influences are distinct in their general oppression of the Gospel message and have made inroads into the practices and theology of the North American church.

In many cases, the resulting effect has been to muddle clear Gospel proclamation and disorient (as well as disorder) the North American church from the historic mission of the Holy Christian Church. Consequently, there is ample cause to reexamine the historic doctrine and practice of the church in light of the cultural changes and worldviews pressing upon the people of North America.

Such a reexamination, I suggest, invites a new lens for viewing and dialoging. But by this I do not mean to claim some newly discovered biblical insights never before considered, asserting that they will revolutionize the mission field. Rather, like the optometrist who provides bifocals to those entering a different age so that they can see old things anew, I want to put on some historic bifocals with which to view our different “postmodern age,” (and whatever is coming after it), so that we can see some old truths anew, and therefore provide a common unifying framework in which to see the doctrine and practice of the Holy Christian Church, as well as its very real mission and very real ministry, among the very real people of North America, all of whom God “desires to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4).

These bifocals, I contend, are set within the lenses of the Apostles’ Creed, where the Third Article of the Creed—I believe in the Holy Spirit, The Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting—and its accompanying explanation set out in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, serve as the actual bifocals. Since it is the mission of “Holy Christian Church” that we are dealing with, it only seems natural that the Third Article and its Small Catechism explanation would provide such lenses in which to view the doctrine and life of the North American church:

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins – mine and those of all believers. On the Last Day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.

In short, Luther’s explanation has a compact but deeply profound manner of describing what the “Holy Christian Church” is and what it does. Looking at the depth of the “Holy Christian Church” through the Third Article will not only radically celebrate the centrality of the Gospel in the life of the church, but I contend it will provide a renewed clarity for the mission of the North American church.

My hope is to unpack this and dialogue about it with readers in more detail over the next number of posts. Thus, as always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments and reactions.


Rev. Woodford


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