A meditation by Michael Pahl on January 19, 2020, called “The Testimony of Christ.” It’s a reflection on the titles given to Jesus in the New Testament, in particular the four confessions of Jesus found in John 1:29-42.
Here is a written excerpt from the introduction:
The early church invested a great deal in the language used to describe Jesus. For the first 500 years of Christianity, a lot of careful thought and vigorous discussion went into working out how to confess Jesus well.
In the early church, if you denied certain descriptions of Jesus this indicated a deficient theology, even “heresy.” Affirming these descriptions of Jesus indicated a healthy theology, what came to be known as “orthodoxy.” For Christianity, “sound doctrine”—a theology that is healthy and whole, leading to health and wholeness for individuals and the church—is at its heart about how well we confess Jesus.
Every description of “false teaching” in the New Testament works like this: there’s a deficient understanding of Jesus, which has led to unhealthy or even harmful ways of thinking and living. In fact, you could say that the entire New Testament is really about providing a sufficient testimony of Christ, a full picture of who Jesus is, so that we can live into the salvation, the life, the wholeness that Jesus brings to us and the world.
So beware of those who cry “false teaching” every time someone disagrees with them! “False teaching,” or even “heresy,” is about having an inadequate confession of Jesus, leading to ideas and attitudes and actions that cause real harm to others. “Orthodoxy” is about having a robust understanding of Jesus, confessing Jesus fully and truly, prompting us to love in the way of Jesus.
But why is our confession of Jesus so important? Why does our understanding of Jesus hold so much theological power?
Here’s what I think is going on:
Every confession of Jesus tells two stories: a story about God and a story about ourselves. Every confession of Jesus tells a story of God with Jesus at the centre, and every confession of Jesus tells a story of us with Jesus at the centre.
And these stories shape our world: they shape our theological and moral imagination, prompting us to imagine a better world, and spurring us to live into that better world.