Theology does strange things to people. Isn’t it curious how it can liberate some people while incarcerating others? Or attract some while alienating others?
Theology literally means the “study of God” and in the vernacular refers to ones systematic view of God. How a person views God is like someone looking at the stars at night. To the casual observer it inspires a moment’s thought to the vastness and beauty of the universe. To the romantic it arouses a sustained infatuation for the mystery of both the Creator and His creation. To the astronomer it stirs a commitment to a lifelong study of its celestial secrets and its origin.
How we view God then can run the gamut from either tickling our fancy to gripping the very core of our being.
Dr. Ralph Neighbour, in his book Where Do We Go From Here, did everyone who feels theologically challenged a great service. He took the epistemological nuances of theology and simplified its understanding to a rubber-meets-the-road application when he said “theology breeds methodology.” In other words what you believe about God will dictate how you live your life. Tell me what you are believing and it will be self evident how you should be living.
The corollary of this simple statement says it even more powerfully. Methodology reveals theology. In this version we are confronted with challenge that how a person lives reveals what they really believe about God. This declaration is like a two-by-four right between the eyes for every would-be theologian.
You do not have to tell me what you believe about God and give me a lot of spiritual gobbledy gook! I can see what you believe by how you live. Ouch! How’s that for theology 101?
This inseparable linkage of theological belief with methodological practice presses every person who purports to be religious onto a slide under the same microscope.
When I first read Neighbour’s statement about theology breeding methodology it rocked my life and ministry to the core. It jarred my sensibilities as never before as I got the fact that my theology not only affected me, but it also affected others who knew me. And that is true for everyone who holds to specific views about God. But it doesn’t stop there. It is also true of churches, denominations and movements. What we believe, and how we act as a result of that, for better or for worse, greatly impacts others. It impacts their view of us, their view of our view of God and potentially their own view of God. For the outside observer methodology reveals theology, period!
Bottom line, it forced me to rethink church and the impact, both negative and positive, we are having on the world. It is no secret that church i.e. theology, can have a tendency to express itself in a number of aberrant ways that needlessly scare people off. Rather than being “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of truth,” for which Jesus became the chief cornerstone it has become a misrepresentation of Him. And so some people perceive church as a courthouse, a guardhouse or even a prison house rather than a guest house.
No one but a judge, jury or prosecuting attorney can ever really feel welcome and at home in a courthouse. For many people church is perceived as a courthouse. They view it basically as an institution that is there only to certify a marriage, a burial or record for posterity some important action.
And for others, churches and theology are like guardhouses which are viewed as necessary nuisances for access control. Outsiders in particular can think of them as security checkpoints that are concerned only with scrutinizing for right doctrine and proper religious credentials.
The worst, and legalistic churches and ultra conservative sects can fall into this category, are theologies that confine people to a prison house. This is a belief system that draws doctrinal boundaries between those who are in and those who are out, and isolates those who are in from relating to those who are out. Jesus did not mince words when it came to dealing with such legalistic systems. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15)
As I grappled with Neighbour’s statement about theology breeding methodology I began to see the church as never before as a guest house. Several things that Jesus said clearly informed this theological conviction. “I did not come to condemn the world but to save it.” (John 12:47) “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick, I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’” (Matthew 11:28)
Based on this reformulated belief about the nature of God and Jesus’ mission, I rededicated my life and ministry to creating a church where methodology faithfully represents a guest house theology. Bridgewood Community Church where I have been these past eighteen years is that church become reality. We are by no means perfect, nor have we arrived, but continue to this day to strive to walk our talk and be-living what we believe.
The guest house theology also serves us well in relating to other expressions of the Christian faith. We view all who hold to the basic tenets of Christianity as expressed in the Apostles Creed as our brothers and sisters. Rather than being a courthouse that judges, or a prison house that confines, our theology allows for house to house visits where we can sample the best each expression of the greater body of Christ has to offer and find common ground for fellowship
What effect has your theology been having upon you? What about its effect on outsiders? Is it liberating you or has it incarcerated you? Is it attracting people or repelling them?
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