Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Theology, the importance of

You can be honest, reader, I won’t berate you.  You can tell me that theology is boring, or stuffy, or gets in the way of real faith, or is best left to those in seminaries or academia.  Besides, it isn’t something that Jesus spent a whole lot of time on, so why should we? 

Aside from that last assumption, to which I will return to at the close of this series, I want to say that if you hold these opinions, I think you’ve fallen under a popular line of thought that tells us, among other things, that religion is a waste of time, that truth-claims are invasive and offend, that we should focus on our personal relationship with Jesus or serve to exhaustion rather than selfishly spend time examining our ideas about God.
I offer, in counter, this:

If you don’t know the God with whom you claim to have a relationship,
how can you love Him?  How can you serve Him?  How can you glorify Him?

The oft-quoted A. W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  And I agree; because it is what we know, what we believe, what we think about God that drives us.  Our beliefs feed who we are, they inform how we live, and they compel us to act and think and speak the way we do.  An atheist or an agnostic both have a theology.  The atheist thinks God doesn’t exist, and lives his or her life out of this belief.  The agnostic isn’t sure, and lives his or her life out of this questioning.  The Christian believes God and Jesus Christ exist; and he or she and lives thusly.  It is what the Christian believes about God that informs his or her choices.  The idea of an angry, vengeful God spawns angry and wrathful followers.  The theology of a God that is only love breeds tolerance that would make the Corinthians blush.      
Thus theology is not merely the laborious task of systemizing  dogma and doctrine, best left to those fuddy-duddies in academia; theology, rather, is what we think about God.  And it is how we live our lives.  Our theology makes each one of us who we are.  Therefore, theological exploration isn’t just for the seeker, the new believer, or the apologist.  It is necessary for every believer. 

Consider the fact that (if you attend church), you are subjecting yourself to the theology of a certain denomination or teacher.  And you are experiencing their theology as it is lived out before you.  If you do not have a solid grasp on who God is, how will you know if your church’s teachings or practices are representing to you and others the God of the Bible?  Because your pastor says so?  Because you feel good when you’re worshipping?  Or, because you’ve examined the scriptures alongside the stated beliefs and practices of your church and they line up?  A grounding in good theology is the responsibility of every believer, should be the practice of every church body, and the foundation for a life lived in Christ.    

Have you, dear reader, ever looked at your church’s statement of belief?  In our increasingly electronic age, most churches have one somewhere on their web page.  Bear in mind a statement of faith is not the same as a mission statement.  A mission or vision statement is action-oriented and presumes the tenents of a doctrinal/belief/faith statement.  Last year, my family and I went to a local mega-church that does not list their beliefs online, merely their mission.  When we attended the church, we went to the newcomer’s desk and asked for a copy of their beliefs (this was part of an assignment for a class).  In response to our request, we were told, “We believe in the Bible.”  To which the Officer replied, “So do Mormons.”  Our thus flummoxed hostess encouraged us to speak to the lead pastor.  We did.  Sadly, he was equally helpful in directing us back to their mission statement.[1]  What does it say about a church whose senior pastor cannot articulate what his or her flock believes?  How can this pastor, the elders, or even the congregants be sure that they are staying within the bounds scripture, or that they are not creating a god in the image that suits their congregation and ideas best?  How can we know that we are worshiping and serving the One True God, if we can’t even say what we believe about Him?  These are questions with which I will wrestle in the coming weeks – what does it look like when we engage theology fully?        
I encourage you this week, even if you have done so in the past, look at your church’s statement of faith.  If they don’t have one online, shoot your pastor an e-mail requesting one (you can tell him or her to thank me for this).  Once you’re read it thoroughly and carefully, ask yourself if what they say they believe mirrors scripture.  Does what they preach follow scripture and their statement of faith?  Does how they behave? 

Consider for a moment a church that, in their statement of faith, says:

We believe that the gifts of evangelist, pastor and teacher are for the perfecting of the saints today to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up. God supernaturally and graciously grants spiritual gifts to every believer for the purpose of serving the body of Christ.[2]

Sounds good.  Lines up with scripture.  Gives each member of the church a view of communal service and a hope that he or she may be used by God for His works.  Now, what if that church does not allow women to teach, nor to administer communion or collect offering?  Does this practice align with their stated belief?  Or, are they contradicting themselves with the subtle belief that the gifts God gives to women are not for the full body of Christ?         
As evidenced above, thoughtful examination of one’s theology and that of one’s church is vital to ensuring harmony in one’s living out the gospel of Jesus Christ and glorifying our Heavenly Father.  Thus, for the next eight weeks, I want to spend time examining scripture, and thinking deeply, in regard to a few key elements of Christian Theology.  And I want you to join me.   Don’t worry, this will not be practiced without proper guidance (I have at my disposal numerous mentors, both living and paper); and I’ll have some examples of what “bad” theology is and where is can lead.  As always, I’m open to questions and debate, so long as they are thoughtful and constructive.     

I look forward to diving into theology with you, dear reader.  I pray it draws each of us to a deeper understand of who our amazing and glorious God truly is.


[1] I use this personal narrative to provide anecdotal evidence for what goes on in some churches, NOT to tear down any particular group of believers or denomination.  While visiting this congregation (which I did over the course of a few months), they taught sound doctrine and appeared to live it out as well.  Thus, not every church that does not have a statement of faith on hand is bad.  This simply means that as a Christ-follower, you have the duty to pay extra attention to what is taught and practiced so that you are aware – frankly, it makes for more work on the individual’s part, but can be done.

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