Sunday, 21 October 2012

Theological Definitions

Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God is a foundational concept in Christianity. The Greek term Basileia tou Theou is used in all four canonical gospels and by Paul. Matthew also used the term Basileia tōn Ouranōn or Kingdom of Heaven when writing to Jews.

Three major doctrines are affirmed. The first is the belief in the parousia (appearance/coming) in which Jesus will return to the earth. The second is that on this return Christ will establish or completely manifest God’s rule and reign of love and justice. The third is that God will create or renovate this creation into a new heaven and new earth that will endure forever. While all Christians agree that resurrected and redeemed humans will live with God, and he with them, there is disagreement as to whether this will be an entirely new creation or one that is continuous with the current creation. Our ultimate hope is because of ‘who is coming to this world’, rather than what the world is coming to.

Jesus believed in both a current heavenly rule and reign of God, and an eschatological consummation and manifestation of that reign. This can be seen in the Disciples prayer where he taught them to pray ‘Your kingdom [will] come’.[1] Paul also referred to this now/already but not yet paradox in 1 Cor 15:24-28.

Imago Dei (Image of God)
Human beings, both male and female, are created in the image and likeness of God. No other creatures were created this way. In the New Testament the words eikon (image) and homoiosis (likeness) are used to describe both Christ and humans as being in the image of God. This is not a bodily likeness, or likeness of countenance, but rather a multifaceted, diverse collection of Godlike qualities in humanity that together may be called personhood, defined by our relations with God and others. The identity of human beings can be seen as a gift from God, intrinsic to their very being.  God is creative, creation-sharing and relational, and will be faithful to that way of relating to those created in the divine image. As part of reflecting this image, humanity was given three tasks: the God-given ability to multiply; to have dominion over the creation in terms of care-giving and nurturing; and to subdue the earth by bringing order out of disorder, drawing what is already good to its fullest possible creational potential.

Christianity has always viewed humanity as having a paradoxical but not contradictory nature – humans are both animal and spiritual; they are God’s special creatures who possess the gift of God’s own image and likeness; but are damaged goods, being both corrupt and condemned. We are only fulfilled through God’s saving grace.

The Church
For Paul and the apostles the early church was seen as the corporate community of God's people, and although made up of many individuals, is united, with Christ forming the cornerstone.[2] The Nicene Creed refined these beliefs, declaring the church one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The Christian consensus is that of a divinely-instituted community where Christ is present by his spirit, which cannot be divided. The critical and essential ideas of this unity with Christ are those of one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism. It is the ‘indispensible vehicle of Christian spiritual life, the locus of Christ’s special presence and the Spirit’s power.’[3] While there are different interpretations between Roman Catholics, and Protestants, both have a have a strong belief in the church as a sacred means of grace.

Sectarianism is one of two main alternatives to the Christian consensus, where the unity of the church is unimportant and the practice of sacraments or ordinances are rejected. Sectarianism can be seen in latter day prophets and self-proclaimed messiahs such as Heaven’s Gate and David Koresh. The second alternative is the rejection of water baptism and the Lord’s Supper by groups such as the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Salvation Army also go against the consensus of the Great Tradition. Olson describes this as ‘a heresy of neglect’.[4]

By dying on the cross and rising, Jesus reconciled us to God so we can live forever in unbroken, creative fellowship with him in the Kingdom of God. As creatures made in the image of God, we can already begin to experience the new creation, even while we wait for the complete renewal.[5] There is a fundamental missional calling on the church as a whole, and every individual member to fulfil God's mission right where we are, and in the global mission field.

[1] Matthew 6, Luke 11
[2] 1 Corinthians 12:27.
[3] Roger E. Olson. The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois; Apollos, Nottingham, England. 2002.
Olson. 289-290.
[4] Ibid., 294.
[5] 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

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