Christian faith and social transformation : John Howard Yoder's social ethics as lens for revisioning the ecclesiological identity of the South Central Synod (SCS) of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria (The PCN)
Thesis (DTh (Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology))—Stellenbosch University, 2008.
The premise for this research is that Yoder’s restorative vision for an ecclesial theology holds great potential for a more adequate involvement of the South Central Synod (SCS) of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria (The PCN) with the public. Significant resources from Yoder’s Christocentric vision for restoring ecclesial reflections and practices can assist the church to revision its distorted ecclesiology. Contemporary challenges within the Nigerian socio-cultural context question the meaningfulness of the Enlightenment-based and Constantinian-Doceticfaced ecclesiology of the SCS to its host religio-cultures. This ecclesiology is in conflict with the Reformed tradition which the SCS upholds, and which does not have a timeless, a-historical ecclesiology. The study adopted a systematic-theological approach focusing on historical, Christological and ecclesiological perspectives. With its theological lens, the historical perspective is used to retrace the dilemma of the SCS to some distressing legacies of the Enlightenment-based projects in Nigeria. These perplexing bequests do not spare the growing mission and projects of Nigerian churches, particularly The PCN which, gave birth to the SCS. Truism, universalism, abstract and competitive ideologies of the Reformation era often characterize the Enlightenment-based violent ethics. Local resources and contexts have less significant respect in their witnesses. Often, their competing ideologies becloud the embodied proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ by the churches. In other words, the social ethics of the SCS compromises the figure of Christ in its theological witnesses. Thus, Yoder’s reflection on Christology is suggested as a restorative vision. Yoder’s reflection on Christology is an ecumenical vision. It is grounded in the historical life and works which the biblical Jesus Christ demonstrated in concrete ommunities. Yoder’s Christological vision is scripturally rooted in the catholicity of the pre-Constantinian church traditions. It is Barthian in its foundation and orientations; albeit from a nonviolent-resistant Diaspora perspective. It also reflects on historical Christology as a nonviolentnon-violentresistant ministry for renewing society. Fundamentally, Yoder’s vision also seeks the restoration of shalom in the community. Yoder’s visionary project takes local resources and contexts seriously in its ethical witness. Above all, it expects believers to adopt a Christocentric witnessto the political (non-violent-resistant) ethics of Jesus as their life responsibility. Yoder’s reflection on Christology envisions an ecclesial witness that is defined and sustained by the merits of the gracious Christ-event. Yoder’s vision for ecclesiology replays the Barthian rhythm: ecclesiology is the Church’s affirmation of the lordship of Jesus Christ over its polity and politics. It envisions a Christocentric corporate and embodied witness of the Kingdom vision as an historical reality. Yoder’s vision for the ecumenical ministry of the Church re-presents believers’ corporate (Christocentric) Kingdom realization as a Christological mandate to the empirical Church in concrete contexts. His vision for ecclesiology re-interprets and appropriates a Christocentric ministry of the whole people of God as a more significant practice of ‘the rule of Christ’ within historical contexts. It is a Christological ecclesiology. For Yoder, ecclesiology is ethics. Yoder’s restorative vision for social ethics is tied to his reflection on Christology. It bespeaks the believers’ embodiment of a Christocentric jesulogical ethics as body politics. His social reflection suggests a multidimensional, exploratory, experimental, often spontaneous and ad hoc practice of trans-community embodiment of the fulness of Christ as a Christocentric social Gospel within historical contexts. It is concerned with the burning issue of restoring and reconstituting human dignity. Yoder’s restorative vision seeks a Christocentric approach to nation building, social transformation and development. His Christocentric vision relocates mission and development to historical Christology. Consequently, the SCS can learn from Yoder’s social vision that historical Christology is a ministry to church renewal; that Christological ecclesiology is an ethical proclamation of Christ’s lordship above the polity and politics of the Church and; that jesulogical social ethics is the historic kerygma of the revolutionary Gospel of Jesus Christ among the nations. His restorative vision for renewal can present the SCS with a more substantive reflection on a reforming church in a reforming society that is in dire need of a reforming economy.