JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 26, 2011 – Confessional commitments play an important role in creating a vibrant Christian community that can engage with the great thinkers of the Christian intellectual tradition, Union University President David S. Dockery said Aug. 26.
“To be part of this Christian community does not just take us back to 1823, to the founding of Union University but it connects us with the earliest followers of Jesus Christ and with other believers over the past 2,000 years,” Dockery said. “Participating in this confession – to say, ‘We believe – provides a powerful sense of history and perspective regarding our identity, our mission and our confessional foundation.”
Dockery addressed the university during the annual fall convocation and used Augustine and his famed “City of God” book to demonstrate the necessity of a strong community in the life of a Christian higher education institution.
Prior to his address, the Union community recited the Apostles’ Creed together. Dockery said that such creeds, and the longer Union statement of faith, though not substitutes for one’s personal faith, give substance to that faith and help to avoid inadequate versions of faith.
“To begin this new academic year with this confession of our belief in and dependence upon the Trinitarian God who has revealed himself to humankind affirms that we believe there is really such a thing as truth, which makes the pursuit of truth at Union more than an academic slogan,” Dockery said. “This morning, we have confessed that certain things are true, and that the one true and living God is the source of all that is true.”
Such an affirmation of faith in the one God who made heaven and earth “means that we believe in this one God, who has not remained silent or inactive, for we believe in God who has made himself known to us, one who has spoken and acted, and has done so ultimately in Jesus Christ,” Dockery said.
In addition to summarizing and affirming the key components of the Christian faith, Dockery said such confessional statements also provide an important sense of identity and establish needed boundaries – not to serve as barriers, but to function as connectors and markers to provide definition in the larger context of the academy and society.
“This identity grants to us a vision of reality to see the world in its fallenness and its need for redemption, calling into question those cultural and intellectual forces that deny God’s presence and power,” he said.
Dockery specifically referenced the Apostles’ Creed’s affirmation of the “communion of saints,” which he said points to the basic meaning of sharing. Christians share together their confessional commitments, identity, values, insights, thoughts, teaching, exploration, research, celebration, joys and sorrows, not only with those in the present, but also with those saints from the past.
“This community is wide and long, stretching not only across denominational, racial and social lines, but stretching across geographical and temporal ones,” Dockery said. “It is in this way that we can relate to and participate in what we often call the Christian intellectual tradition.”
Dockery suggested that the work of Christian higher education should be carried out in service to the church. He stressed that Union is not a church and shouldn’t be mistaken for a church, but as a Christ-centered university is part of the academic arm of God’s kingdom. Demonstrating that mission, Dockery used Augustine “to find guidance regarding the relationship of our confession to our shared participation in this community.”
For Protestants, Augustine is the dominant figure in the history of Christian thought between the apostles and the Reformation in the 16th century. His lengthy “City of God” is not only a defense of Christian ideas and beliefs, Dockery said, but a defense of Christian community.
“The most characteristic feature of this community is that it worships the one true God, even as we have gathered together to do this morning,” the Union president said. “The work of Jesus Christ, in providing redemption for his people, has joined us in a more enduring communion than the institutions or organizations of civil society are able to provide.”
The difference between this Christian community and other communities is in the ultimate end, or purpose, to their work, Dockery said.
“Thus the academic community at Union University is not just another one among 4,000 other academic institutions in this country, who see their task as preparing students to get a job,” he said. “Our mission calls for a different end or goal for our work.”
That goal, and one of the greatest gifts Union University can give to the larger academic world, “is a glimpse, however fleeting, of another city where, as Augustine claimed, the angels keep eternal festival before the face of God,” Dockery said.