03 February 2007

Religious symbols as aid to developing local theology

Joey Dela Paz writes (Missions and Theology: Religious symbols as aid to developing local theology)
I’m reading illiam Dyrness’ book entitle Invitation to Cross-Cultural Theology. Here, Dyrness did five case studies of the way ordinary Christians, in a variety of settings, think about and live out their Christian faith. He points out that Academic theology have a lot to learn about theologies of the people that are done outside the bounds of Western academic setting and from written sources.


That is one of the reasons why I find the African Independent Churches (AICs) so interesting, especially the Zionists. One of the things that I have been thinking about recently, because of a book I am working on, is the use of holy water in healing.

Martin West, in his book Bishops and prophets in a black city (Cape Town, David Philip, 1975), writes:
The administering of holy water appears to be fairly uniform. Sufficient water (either from tap water or a spring) is put in a large container and then prayed for by a prophet, or by all the prophets and other senior officials of the church. In some cases the blessing of water may include stirring with a holy stick. The water is then given to the congregation members to drink, usually in small glasses, at a particular time in the service. In the Full Gospel church, for example, drinking of holy water often takes place at the same time as members are treated at the Holy Place. During the dancing they may come to the table which has the holy water on it, be given a glass to drink, and then receive a blessing and laying on of hands by a prophet. This is a rather informal approach, but in other churches the drinking of holy water may be much more formal.

What strikes me about this is that the description is almost identical with the celebration of the Great Blessing of the Waters that takes place in Orthodox Churches at Theophany (Epiphany). When the water has been blessed, members of the congregation come forward, and are sprinkled with holy water (the priest dips a sprig of basil into the vessel containing it, and uses that to sprinkle it) while drinking the water from glasses. At the end of the service members of the congregation bring bottles and other containers to take the holy water to their homes (usually the plastic bottles in which one buys bottled water in shops). They drink this when they feel ill, or use it for sprinkling it on objects they want to bless, or if somethuing bad has happened.

I very much doubt that the Zionists learned to do this from the Orthodox Church (which has done it for centuries), and yet the fact that the ceremonies are almost identical seems to point to something in human nature that needs to worship in this way, or the Zionists rediscovering something that their Protestant predecessors had dropped -- premodern religion emerging from the veneer of modernity, perhaps?

The AICs usually have very little "systematic theology", and missiologists have referred to the "enacted theology" of the AICs. Actually something similar happens when Western theologians write about Orthodox theology. They usually base what they write on written works by Orthodox Christians, but Orthodoxy does not have a systematic theology, but rather a holistic theology. Written theology must be read in conjunction with the enacted theology, and cannot be understood apart from the Divine Liturgy and the other services of the church. Orthodoxy cannot be understood apart from orthopraxy.

I referred to something similar in relation to holy water in an article Sundkler deconstructed: Bethesda AICs and syncretism, which I also cited in the December synchoblog on syncretism.

2 comments:

Matt Stone said...

I also find the AIC's very interesting so thanks for these observtions from closer to the field.

PS. You're comments got through on my blog. I modified the settings recently to make them less restrictive given all the problems you've experienced so fingers crossed. Hopefully I wont get massively spammed in the process.

joey said...

Thanks for the plug-in and the link. Your posts never stop to fascinate me and they are very informative as well.

I agree that theologians can help the local people to develop local theology through enacted theology. Theologizing done this way would be more acceptable.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails