Archive for Theology

Synods: On a journey together.

These next two days a few friends of mine and I will be blogging from the general assembly of the Eastern Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. A Synod for those who do not know this term, as I said, is a bigger general assembly of spiritual leaders (ministers/reverends and elders) of congregations, in this case of the denomination of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, and specifically its Eastern Transvaal Province. The word Synod is derived from the Greek noun σύνοδος (Lust, Eynikel & Hauspie) and can refer to an assembly, a meeting or even a conspiracy.
What is probably more noteworthy is that in the New Testament two derivatives of this noun is used:
1. συνοδία is a noun referring to a group of people traveling together, a caravan (Louw & Nida).
2. συνοδεύω is a verb referring to the process of travelling together (Louw & Nida).
Maybe one should combine these three concepts when one refers to a Synod. Is a Synod not more than just an assembly? Should it not be viewed as a group of people coming together on a common journey, rather than a sitting of people doing just that, sitting together.
It is the difference at times between Christians staying at one station in life versus moving forward together. It is a caravan of people moving to new destinations, like the nomads we are in this world. We find places to put up our tents in this world. The difference would be that as a caravan we do not journey only to the Oases of rest and rejuvenation, where we find rest. But we also travel to the dessert, where we are to become an Oasis, where other can find rest in the bubbling fountain of life (John 4:14).
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Imitators not followers (1)

When people talk about parenthood they often talk about parents telling kids not to do as they do, but to do as they say. We also know that this is never successful. It is simply not an effective way of teaching behaviour. Kids tend to FOLLOW the examples of their parents. Parents have to model new behaviour, which is taught by words and deeds.

But this post is not about parenthood. It is about imitating and following someone, usually a significant person like a parent or philosopher. When you think of the word follow what comes to mind?

  1. Someone literally walking behind someone else to where-ever they go.
  2. Someone following the teaching/wisdom of someone else.
  3. Someone following another person’s way of life- to imitate.

I must be honest that for me nr. 3 never came to mind. It was mostly nr. 2 and sometimes I unconsciuosly practised nr. 3.  I would characterise nr. 3 with the word imitate. When I think of the word follow however, imitation does not come to mind, though in Merriam Webster’s English Dictionary imitate is a category  of follow. For me imitation is however more descriptive of nr. 3 than simply to follow. Follow has a multitude of interpretations, while imitate is limited in its interpretation, and thus more specific in how we should understand a call to imitate vs. a call to follow. Do kids follow their parents or imitate them? Sometimes they do all 3 above mentioned options and it is fine to say follow. Other times they imitate and we should specify it as such, especially when referring to following someone’s actions.

People follow many people today and even imitate some. We have a culture of people following the actions of movie stars and singers. Some follow superficially by reading publications like People Magazine and watching Entertainment News. Some like what they hear stars say and might even structure their philosophy of life in accordance to this, some of it good and some bad. Some will follow these stars and be indicted as Peeping Toms. And how about those Elvis impersonators. Now that’s imitation. Such a pity that they can’t sell albums like Elvis did.

I read that the sales of Portuguese Water dogs are up in the UK due to Barack Obama and his family having one. Soccer fans in South-East Asia will have a David Becham haircut. Indian Cricket supporters will worship Sachin Tendulkar as a Hindu god due to his special cricketing abilities. However some follow, others imitate.

Recently I read John Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Thessalonians 1:6. John Chrysostom is probably one of the best known fathers of the Greek church living at the turn of the 4th century AD. His name actually means “John with the golden mouth”, which was a nickname he received due to his prowess in preaching. Apparently he had a way with words. Now it has to be said that I read an English translation of this homily by Philipp Schaff (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers).

But the translation tickled me since I could not remember reading this translation of 1 Thess 1:6 before. It was not part of my memory’s RAM or ROM. So I looked up 1 Thess 1:6 in the original Greek text (NA27/UBS4), and compared this to a few translations. Some translations said something like: “You are followers of us and of the Lord“. The NCV read: “And you became like us and like the Lord“. However the greek plural noun μιμηταὶ (mimētai) used here means “Imitators“. The original stem of the noun is the same as that of mime. According to Paul people are called not only to follow Jesus’ teachings, but to imitate Jesus, and others like Paul, who also imitated Jesus. Imitation is an action, not a concept (as sometimes intended by follow).

This in my opinion is a much richer understanding of Jesus’ call to people to follow Him. Next time I will continue to look at how/in what things it is that people are called to imitate Crist, but feel free to lay an egg or two.