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Reasoning and Believing in this Sorrowful Season

In the last "President's Word," I suggested that we were in the midst of a sorrowful season. We have had to weather the situation in Hong Kong while persisting in our worship of God at the seminary and church. We know that we are the "belt" of our Master; therefore, we have to stay adherent to God: listen to Him, seek Him, and pray to Him. Accordingly, we, both teachers and students, are doing theology together.

Worshipping God amidst this Sorrowful Season

Amidst this season of sorrow, we should worship God with pure hearts. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. in the morning, students come together and worship God at the seminary chapel. Apart from teachers' proclamations, sometimes students from graduating classes are also responsible for preaching in the meeting. When I see them proclaiming God's Word so diligently, I am always delighted and receive the divine Word attentively.

Students who participate in Worship Practicum, as part of the course requirement, also lead worship in chapel services. They design various ways of guiding us to worship God intently. Usually, music and hymns are used; sometimes, Bible verses and prayers are integrated in the services; occasionally, there is even dancing and drama. I truly enjoyed these worship services and felt thankful for these future ministers, because they participated in the services wholeheartedly, leading us to worship God together with pure hearts.

Questioning and Answering

Apart from proclamation and worship, our chapel service also includes a ten- to fifteen-minute "President's Time" every Tuesday. As President, I chat with teachers and students, and discuss issues pertinent to our society, church and seminary, trying to make theological reflections together.

Recently, I brought up the method of "correlation" in the "President's Time." It is one of the various approaches of theological thinking. It consists of two aspects: "Questioning" (Q) and "Answering" (A). "Q" includes the analysis of human reality and society through philosophical, economic, sociological, cultural and political studies. "A" stands for providing theological answers via scripture and doctrine.

I pointed out that, for the moment, many people have done a lot of work on "Q," namely problem analysis. They yearn to seek comprehensive knowledge through understanding the meaning of culture and the form of social politics, and how these two aspects are related. They hope that with this knowledge, they will be able to cope with the current situation intelligently and effectively. For this reason, a lot of people strive to analyze the political and economic status in Hong Kong. The conclusions that result vary widely, however, and we have to do a lot of "fact checks" before we could be sure of just a bit of the truth. Analyses in this aspect are not easy tasks. Nevertheless, I still have to say that for most of the time, our thoughts halt at the level of "Q" and seldom consider the "A" aspect; in particular, we fail to respond to various current issues with scripture and theology. Perhaps, this is because we have not cultivated the habit of thinking theologically; or we are incapable of doing so; or we actually do not believe that theological thinking is important.

A Direction for Theological Thinking

Theological thinking, however, is essential. One of the main concerns of modern theologians relates to the question of methodology: Can religious thoughts and language be justified rationally? It is assumed that the pursuit of rationality and validity in religious thinking is the starting point of any theological work. What concerns theological workers, nevertheless, is more than academic respectability. They are above all called to explain how Christian beliefs can become part of the questions' solution, and to bring significant messages in matters of life and death. Thus, theological workers have to reconfigure Christian beliefs and symbols in order to meet today's challenges.

In other words, theological workers should emphasize the practical character of theology. Their suggestions should be feasible; the solutions they propose should be able to satisfy the basic needs of human life and be capable of answering some urgent problems we face. For instance, how can the system of Christian symbols address the current dilemma in Hong Kong? How can it foster a more compassionate and righteous way of living for us? To rethink the Christian claims and to reconfigure the meanings of these claims for human life, we must consider whether our emphasis should be placed on the biblical world and Christian tradition alone, and whether we also have to make use of history in a broader sense so that we can construct a theology with imaginative and extensional power. This kind of theology is not tracing the ancient stories of Christianity, looking for some imitable exemplars, but utilizing history as an abundant resource, enriching our vision. This is a potential direction that we should explore.

The Church and the World

On September 3, we began our first "Theology Salon" in the chapel service. On that day, Prof. Andres Tang and I talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer's ecclesiology. In the "Theology Salon" on November 19, I also discussed the ecclesiology in the Ephesians with Dr. Jonathan Lo. Let me share some of my views on ecclesiology here.

Contemporary ecclesiology often focuses on either the church or the world, as if they are incompatible. The former insists that the church should observe a form of discipleship by living in seclusion, and the latter gives priority to how the church should be assimilated and integrated into the reality of the world. As a result, the former is a spiritual community which differs from the world, existing in an ostensible alternative culture; the latter is a sin-sick and a-religious community which is involved in politics, showing compassionate care for the wellness of the marginalized and the poor.

Yet, are the two stances indeed opposite and contradictory to each other? My preliminary thought is: No, they are not—the church exists for the world. Simply put, the task of the church is to discern the true meaning of discipleship and how to obey the Word here and now with all her congregation members. Both God and the church have the same single direction and purpose: let humankind and the world be blessed. Notwithstanding, when the church lives out her Christian identity, she often finds herself in a turbulent world. The boundaries of the church are "perforated," with aspects of "flowing" and "penetrating." Sometimes, values and claims outside the church are brought into the church (and possibly and similarly, claims and values of the church are brought outside occasionally). From the perspectives of history and theology, Christian identity is mainly relational. The identity of a church member is not determined by her definition of boundaries, but depends on how her members interact with diverse communities and cultures. In fact, the church has no transcultural essence. The church continues to reconstruct her concrete identity and role across time. In the process, the church inevitably adapts some of the surrounding cultural resources. Of course, the church's usage is unique. Christian identity, therefore, is not understood entirely through Christian practice; we must place Christian practice within a broader culture with discretion.

Then, is there any difference between the church and the world? The difference between the church and the world lies in the former entity having a new kind of relation. This relation is based on having an orientation toward the new standards and values, not on the Christian community per se. The community witnesses this new relation, and embodies God's grace of freedom in Christ. The identity of church is associated with the orientation this grace of freedom denotes. The grace of freedom is an imperative; among all creature, the church is God's disciples but not disciples whom God has to witness.

The church, therefore, is not isolated from the world. She does not overprotect herself from the world, does not limit God's freedom, nor substitute divine grace with communal consensus. In historical retrospect, indeed, the church being isolated from the world created a real danger for herself: the abuse of power; this is an ecclesiology that power governs. Such an ecclesiology ensures the advantage of Christianity when she interacts with the others. And the purpose of doing this is to subsume everything in the world into the world of Christianity. As a result, the church indulges herself in self-admiration, wandering between its arrogance and shield. The church herself is turned into an idol.

The God-centred Church

Distinct from idol worship, the church is God-centred; she accents the incarnated grace of freedom and resists forces that reject and defy God's gift of freedom. In doing so, the church is in the cycle of grace. Dwelling in the life of the Triune God, members of the church are both blessings to others and themselves being blessed, delivering grace without differentiation in the economy of God.

A church like this is not apolitical. Church herself is a "special political" community. Nevertheless, the politics of church is paradigmatic, for the church is an alternative community. The church is called to be the eschatological form in the world. This form is the body of Christ, God's will for humanity.

A Kingdom of Peace

Since Christ is non-violent, this kind of church is also non-violent. Jesus Christ is the Lord who was crucified and then resurrected. The politics of church must then follow Jesus's non-violent politics, "being crucified and then resurrected." Jesus undeniably refuses violence. Thus, the norm of non-violence does not only apply to certain members in the church, but also covers the whole community. It is because making peace is not a prophetic duty for some individuals only; it is the bounden duty of every member in the body of Christ. A peaceable life thus can be understood as an aspect of the life of Jesus Christ's disciples. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Mt 5:9) A peaceable life implies the peace between man and God, and the reconciliation between men is also originated from the reconciliation between God and humanity.

Therefore, as the people of God, we must remember that apart from seeking peaceful interpersonal relationship via various ways, what we need, above all, is the peace of God. If we do not participate in the peace given by God and do not have peace through worshipping God, staying adherent to Him and listening to Him; then, our efforts in making social peace may even bring further emptiness. We have to know that "peace" relates to human-God and human-human relationships. Ephesians 2:13-18 clearly states the meaning of this kind of peace:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

This kind of peace originates from Jesus Christ. Jesus is peace. Jesus is our peace and the peace of the world. Jesus came to the world, and destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between humans and God, and between humans so that true peace can exist in human relationships. Thus, "peacemakers" are those who have experienced God's shalom and became God's peacemaking practitioners in the world.

Therefore, the church must become a kingdom of peace. Peace is a significant attribute of God, and the church is called to imitate this attribute. In the face of such a world that advocates violence, the church has to call for peace, confronting the false peace present in the world which rests on power instead of truth. If what humanity pursues is power and force, society will consequentially become a place loaded with violence. Hence, one of the church's tasks is to assist the world to rediscover the nature of peace; at the same time, she has to witness the nature of non-violence through her own life example. The church's practice of peace in non-violence and her other practices should become an exemplar for other communities, inspiring them to follow and imitate. This witness of the church may become yeast in society and thus a way of spreading the gospel.

Conclusion

All in all, the mission of the church is for the wellness of the world, and she is to be a blessing to humanity and the world. To conform to the image of Jesus Christ, the church (as a community of sinners) needs to regenerate her own image constantly. This process of conformity persists until the eschaton. In the course of this, the church is a community that forgoes her privileges and any coercive means. The church is being shaped in a continuous, non-violent negotiation; whether within herself or through interactions with others, the church is at peace. The church is the pioneer and model of the Kingdom of God, a foretaste of the Kingdom, and the place where the Kingdom comes and enters the world. The Kingdom of God is the reign of God; it is what the church witnesses and the reason why the church exists. Christ, therefore, invites the church to guard this world with Him in her missions, and to guard the Heavenly Kingdom through her witnesses.

I, thus, believe that the church is a community of peace in the world. The church does not have to fight against the world in order to safeguard her identity. Whenever the church is Christo-centric, she turns to the world and blesses the world in His grace.


Feb 2020


 
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