Tradition, I suspect to be the most difficult of the four components that the systematic theologian looks at in defining faith. Not simply because of the innumerable denominations in which the Christian faith has splintered; not even because of the unaccounted for number of churches that exist. I have yet to notice a four-corner Church location, but in every town in which I have lived, I can identify a ‘three corner Church’. In Nashville, one is the very glaring location of Highway 70 and Cross Timbers Dr. where on one corner is the Bellevue Church of Christ. Cross the street to the second corner to Bellevue Baptist Church. Then cross the street to the third corner to Bellevue Presbyterian Church. But— because of the multi-faceted Bible Translations held, even before transmission and interpretation.
I matriculated at the Interdenominational Theological Center during the time when Absalom Jones Seminary of the Episcopal Church was closing it’s doors in the ITC, opting for their St. Augustine location in Raleigh, NC. The constituent Seminaries then went from seven to six by the time of my graduation in 1981. In alpha order, students prepare for ministry in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Turner Theological Seminary); the Baptist Church (Morehouse School of Religion); the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (Phillips School of Theology); the Church of God In Christ (Charles H. Mason Theological Seminary); the Presbyterian Church (Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary; and the United Methodist Church (Gammon Theological Seminary). The six Church traditions study the entire theological curriculum together for a common foundation in the Christian faith with the single exception of two courses prescribed for maintaining the separate traditions: (mine United Methodist) Church History; and Church Polity. In my discussion of Experience, I credit the common foundation received at the ITC as one of the most important experiences of my life.
In Weekly Bible Life Dialogue, Facebook Live -Thursdays 6:pm @Divided We Fall-Dialogue on The Great Divides, I have identified the four components of ‘Systematic Theology’ in a new light: NOW raising thought that… “every life is an original theology!” So that now, scripture, tradition, sources and experience must be understood, not so much in historical traditional terms; but in terms of the existentialism of each individual life. New? Of course… in a world that has sought to educate the child from the age of 5 years with a ‘common knowledge base’ that takes the direction of corporal punishment where resistance is seen. The saying is real: ‘God made us all originals; man/we spend our lives making self carbon copies’!
In this short space, I am reminded of a life long member of Salem who at her passing, we were required to hold her services at the Kingdom Hall because her daughter’s church tradition became more important than her mother being buried from the Church in which she herself had chosen to live her religious life. I went to Los Angeles to participate in the funeral services for Harry McBath at Knox Presbyterian Church, I held a conversation with his nephew who was clear about his commitment to the Jehovah Witness tradition when I asked if he was allowed to be here at this Church? He replied “My Uncle Harry is far more important to me.”
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