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God's Intentions: Substance and Style

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Psalms 127

Psalm 127 NET
A song of ascents, by Solomon. If the Lord does not build a house, then those who build it work in vain. If the Lord does not guard a city, then the watchman stands guard in vain. It is vain for you to rise early, come home late, and work so hard for your food. Yes, he can provide for those whom he loves even when they sleep. Yes, sons are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Sons born during one’s youth are like arrows in a warrior’s hand. How blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! They will not be put to shame when they confront enemies at the city gate.

Our Theology

THEOLOGY theā̈lʹ-ə-Jē[ < théos-‘god’ + lógos-‘word’]. “Theology” etymologically means “a word about God” (the term does not occur in the RSV, AV, or NEB). The God of Christian theology is the OT God, the Father of Jesus Christ, and the word is the divine Word which became flesh in Jesus Christ. Jesus, as witnessed to in the Holy Scriptures, is the revelation of all God’s ways and works with humanity. Christian theology, therefore, is concerned not with human words and thoughts about a god, but with all God’s creative and redemptive ways and works with humanity in Jesus Christ.

A first principle of Christian theology is that God alone can speak His own word about Himself. Consequently, the first and continuing task of Christian theology is to listen to and then reflect upon what it hears. When this is faithfully done, Christian theology is the reflective and obedient response of the church to the Word that God speaks about Himself in Jesus Christ.

But theology is also concerned with human response to this Word spoken by God alone. The necessity for this concern is grounded in the nature of the Word of revelation.

God speaks His word in history, and thus His Word is a historical Word. Because it was spoken in the history of Israel, in the history of the primitive Church, and with ultimate finality in the historical person Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God is always also a human word. The authentic humanity and the concrete historicity of Jesus Christ demand this. Thus the Word of God in both the Holy Scriptures and in Jesus Christ is, though on different levels, both a divine and a human word. Were this not so, the Bible would not call its contents the “faith” once for all delivered to the saints, and theology as the church’s reflection upon its faith would not be possible.

Because the Church in obedience has listened to the many forms in which the Word of God has been spoken in history, theology has taken many forms in understanding and shaping these manifold forms of revelation. First, because God’s Word about His ways and works with the nation of Israel, and through Israel with all humanity, came to expression in the history of the OT, theology took the form of OT theology. Second, because this ancient Word of God came to a new and full announcement in the person of Jesus Christ and in the apostolic interpretation of Him, a theology of the arose. Third, because the Word of God is inextricably incarnated with both the human mind and human actions, both in Jesus Christ and in His Body, the Church, theology in its reflections on the Word of God took the shape both of systematic theology and of practical theology. In practical theology the Church concerns itself with its own life, holding before itself the scriptural norm, seeking both its amendment of life to this norm, and the best pastoral means to fashion the life of the Church increasingly in accordance with the demands of its Shepherd and Lord. During the Church’s life the concern of practical theology has developed into special concerns, e.g., theologies of missions, ethics, preaching, counseling, social ethics, and others.

In the early Church, and until quite late in the Middle Ages, theology was less a science to make truth clear to the human mind than a hymn of praise and a meditation on the glories and mysteries of the Christian faith. In the later Middle Ages theology more and more resembled a science in which the truths of faith were synthetically structured into a coherent and systematic whole; theology increasingly came to be regarded as almost synonymous with systematic theology.

Systematic theology subsequently declined into an abstract, deductivistic scholasticism by conceding too much to rationalistic demands, and ceasing to pursue its task within the limits of faith and within the actual life and work of the Church. It had an inordinate interest in system and ignored the elusive aspect of the divine Word that transcends any total capture, containment, and possession by a human system, as it does any human mind. Thus systematic theology became increasingly divorced from the living faith and life of the Church and from pastoral theology. As a result it lost the passion and praise that informed the theology of antiquity as it informs the theology of the Scriptures. To the degree that systematic theology separated itself from the life of the Church and surrendered to the law of logic and metaphysics, it ceased to be a liberating theology of God’s grace and truth.

Few modern theologians have great interest in systematic theology, and even fewer attempt to construct one. Systematic theology declined under the weight of its sterile, metaphysical, and rational interests, and under the impact of the modern awareness of history, which indirectly created a new awareness that the biblical revelation is grounded in history. Theologians of the systematic tradition almost overlooked the fact that Christian truth is not a metaphysically necessary truth, but rather the free and gracious decision of a God who freely chose to create and redeem people in Jesus Christ. They forgot that Christian truth is true because it happened, and thus is essentially historical and therefore not wholly reducible to a rational, systematic framework that ignores its temporal and historical ingredients.

Contemporary theology is dominated by the claims of the historical and is preoccupied with the problems of faith and history. Because of its low view of Scripture contemporary theology is largely hermeneutics, which is defined as the task of understanding how a historical Jesus can be the eternal Word of God, or, as some would see it, how a historical truth can be universally valid and significant for all people and all times.

Theology in any of its legitimate forms, and systematic theology in particular, will not flourish until the Church attempts the more modest and yet more difficult task of constructing a systematic, rational presentation of the Word of God, which in its very nature is a historical disclosure of the truth about God’s ways and works with people, since it not only came through history but is history. Christian truth is not irrational because it is historical. As historical, however, it no more coincides with any human system or human mind than does faith wholly coincide with reason.

This inherent historicity of Christian truth and the consequent necessity of faith for its apprehension determine that theology in none of its forms is a private individual pursuit. A committee cannot write theology, but neither can an individual standing outside the Church. Theology is the mind of the Church, which in faith reflects upon that faith once for all delivered to the saints. It can be pursued successfully, therefore, only by people of faith who stand within the Church’s life, work, and long history of theological tradition. The theological work of the church is never done, for no theology is absolutely definitive. Each generation must do theology anew, but always with an ear to tradition, which carries into the present what the Church has done in the past, and with an eye to the future, knowing that what has been done will have to be done anew and afresh in the future.

Theology can accomplish a liberating service for the Church only if it resists the temptation to absolutize itself by identifying itself with the Word of God. True theology is the Church’s word about God, which responds to and is controlled by the Word that God Himself has spoken in His self-revelation.

Our Polity

politics. The organized conduct of and various attempts to regulate relationships that exist within any form of human community. Politics, however, is generally used in the narrower sense of denoting the science and art of governing human society or the citizens of any human community or nation. The word politics originates from the Latin politicus and the Greek politikos, both of which mean “a resident of a city” or “a citizen.” Politics not only embraces governance but is also used to refer to the tactics, methods and schemes (sometimes unethical) used in governing.

public policy. The decisions of a government regarding or affecting the relationships or interactions among the persons and institutions under its jurisdiction; the social goals that a particular government officially advocates or seeks to foster. Public policy encompasses both procedural and regulatory decisions, as well as decisions of substance. Political ethicists debate the extent to which the promotion of morality is a legitimate function of government and hence ought to be an aspect of public policy. The movement in recent decades in most Western nations has been to reduce the involvement of government in areas deemed either to belong to the realm of private morality or to represent the moral perspective of one religious tradition (e.g., blue laws, Sunday laws), while retaining an interest in matters deemed to pertain to the public welfare.

Our Families

FAMILY (Heb. bayiṯ “house,” mišpāḥâ; Gk. oíkos).† The basic social unit, comprised of persons related by kinship and sharing a common residence. The Israelite family was an extended family known as the “father’s house” or “household” (Heb. bêṯ-˒āḇ), consisting of two or more nuclear families (i.e., a married couple and their children) or composite families (an individual with multiple spouses and their offspring). It was both patrilineal and patrilocal, headed by the father or patriarch and consisting of his wife (or wives), married sons and their wives, unmarried children, and grandchildren—all of whom shared the patriarchal residence; other kin (including grandparents), servants, concubines, and sojourners might also be reckoned part of the household (cf. Gen. 46:5–7, 26). The patriarch was the oldest living male, at whose death authority passed to the eldest son and property was divided among all sons.

See also HOUSEHOLD.

Israelites were encouraged to have large families (cf. Gen. 1:28; 9:1), not only to strengthen the base for production but also to guarantee survival of the people of Israel as a community of faith. The land, which ultimately belonged only to God, was allocated as inalienable to the stewardship of families and could be transferred only through inheritance. Thus, great importance was placed on maintaining the solidarity of families (cf. 1 Tim. 5:4, 8), as evident in the practices of levirate marriage to ensure descendants, blood vengeance, mutual defense (cf. Neh. 4:14), and redemption from debt slavery (Lev. 25:47–49).

Heb. mišpāḥâ, generally translated “family” or “clan,” represents an association of two or more extended families which occupied the same or adjacent towns. These clusters provided mutual economic and military assistance for the constituent families, particularly prior to the establishment of the Israelite Monarchy. Regular religious festivals were observed within the mišpāḥâ (cf. 1 Sam. 20:6, 28–29), perhaps including celebration of local religious traditions.

The concept of family is viewed in a broader sense with regard to the universal fatherhood of God, which encompasses “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3; 28:14; cf. Eph. 3:15). Relationships between God and his people, and similarly between Christ and the Church, are frequently portrayed in terms of human relationships (e.g., Jer. 2:1; 3:14; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 21:2).

family. In contemporary Western society, a group of persons forming a household, especially in that they are legally related to each other as spouses and perhaps as parents and children (and possibly including members of the extended group of persons related by blood or legal adoption). In most societies, at least historically, the family has served as the basic unit of society. In this role, the family has been the context for bearing and caring for children (and possibly subsequent descendants). It has also functioned as a unit within the wider economy of the society. Viewed from the ethical perspective, the family also provides the context for basic moral formation and expression. In the modern era, the nuclear family—consisting of father, mother and children—together with the understanding of marriage as a covenant between spouses and the context for the procreation and rearing of children, has provided the most widely held model of family. Today, however, a crucial debate focuses on what precisely constitutes a family, a question that is related to the issue of the proper parameters for the expression of human sexuality. Both marriage and family are used in the Bible as metaphors or pictures of spiritual truths

Our Churches

The English word ‘church’ is derived from the Gk. adjective kyriakos as used in some such phrase as kyriakon dōma or kyriakē oikia, meaning ‘the Lord’s house’, i.e. a Christian place of worship.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised I. Pre-Christian History of the Term

Although Gk. ekklēsía became a distinctively Christian word, it has both a Greek and an OT history. In the Greek world it was used of a public assembly summoned by a herald (< ek, “out,” and kaleín, “to call”; cf. Acts 19:32, 39f). In the LXX it was used for the Heb. qāhāl, which denotes the congregation or people of Israel, especially as gathered before the Lord (cf. Acts 7:38). It is of interest that behind the NT term stand both Greek democracy and Hebrew theocracy, the two being brought together in a theocratic democracy or democratic theocracy.

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