Which one come first, theology or practice? Or is there an integration between the two. By that I mean they go hand in hand, they are not separate entities but treated as one.
In the context of churches now, I’m reflecting locally here, it seems to be that practice seems to dominate the way we think. Anything goes, as in, whatever is the new thing, that is what works in the now. Many fall into this trap, where practice informs our theology and in that manner directs our way of thinking.
On the other hand there is another pendulum swing. There are some that value theology so much that it dominates how they think about application, or rather practice. In that sense there is a hollow rigidness that pervades the very essence of what it think is it’s strength. The Pharisees (to some degree) and the religious police stand on this corner and propose another unhealthy extreme.
So, is there a redeeming stance that we can work on that blends the two together; theology and practice?
Take the story of Peter in Acts where while he was fasting God gave him a vision while he fell into a trance. And in that vision were unclean animals and there was God’s voice that told him, “Kill and eat.” Being a Jew Peter denied what God had told him.
Unbeknown to Peter some men coming from Cornelius’ house response to this dream pertaining Peter who will share to him the message of salvation. Again God told Peter about the men who came and told him to follow them. And the rest of the story goes, as Peter was speaking to them the Spirit fell on the people and that was the beginning of the revelation that there were no more barriers, God accepted all people.
In the story above is the depiction of theology and practice converging together. Peter had his own set of preset ideas leaned from his Jewish background said no to the vision he received on eating the unclean animals. But none the less followed God’s direction in following his visitors. His action to follow along paved way for his theology to be shaped as he witnessed God moving among the Gentiles as well. Peter’s rigid theology was being shaped in response to a new revelation (or rather enlightened) and in his going shaped his understanding. (Just to note, the ideas I shared are not mine but gleaned from what I hear in a lecture, so this is not an original idea, just how I remember them)
Although I agree with theology and practice being overlapping in how we do things there is always a danger of focusing our energies to one extreme. We can be theologically rigid or we could either be profoundly pragmatic. But either way theology has to inform practice and practice has to stretch theology. Without these strains that constantly challenge our thinking and what we do, we are likely to be stagnant workers who make no progress for the benefit of the kingdom.