Sunday, September 11, 2005

First Principles (2)

From what I've posted here already about the foundations of New Testament Christianity, it seems that Christadelphians have generally either glossed over the fundamentals, ignored them completely, or got the emphasis wrong. In their place Christadelphians have a systematic theology called "first principles". Just how important are these first principles?

Going back to the building analogy, I said there are five foundation principles in the New Testament. On these foundations Jesus and the apostles taught kingdom-ethics and kingdom-dynamics - principles for living a victorious Christian life, proclaiming the Gospel, and advancing the kingdom.

As part of building this "Temple" - the house of God - there is a great deal of information in the Bible which provide helpful tools. The Word of God is full of stories, illustrations and accounts of lives which provide positive and negative examples for living under God's authority. To make sense of this wealth of information we need to put it all in its historical and social contexts. The more we understand about the cultures, beliefs and practices of the people in the Bible, the more benefits we will gain from reading and studying their stories. Just having this information is not in itself life-saving or transforming. The accumulation of facts and information will not necessarily make any difference in our lives. But once we are converted all this information begins to provide tools and resources which will aid us in our Christian life.

As part of sorting this information so that it makes sense to us later in history and in different social and cultural contexts, and speaking different languages, we will inevitably want to arrange the information into a kind of "framework". That's where systematic theology can be helpful (arranging doctrinal facts in a systematic way). Creeds and statements of faith are a way of summarising systematic theology. However, we must remember that these facts are part of the framework. To use our building analogy again, much of this is scaffolding. It is useful, even important, when erecting a building - but it is not in itself the building. Eventually the scaffolding will have no relevance or usefulness and will be taken down. We need to realise that a lot of the things which we may now consider to be important are only valuable for now in helping to erect the building, and one day will be discarded.

In my opinion many Christadelphians have placed too much emphasis on the "scaffolding" - the arrangement of facts and information about how God works - and the "tools", and have neglected laying a good foundation. Too much effort has gone into the scaffolding and not enough into the building. It's important to have the tools well maintained and in good repair, but only if they are going to be used in doing something constructive. And too much effort has gone into tearing down the work of other men rather than contributing to the building - the tools have even been turned into weapons.

Paul uses this analogy in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames."

One day the scaffolding will be torn down and destroyed and only the Temple will remain. By God's grace I hope most Christadelphians will themselves be saved, but it's possible that a lot of their efforts will be lost because they have focussed too much on the scaffolding and the tools and not enough on the building.

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