World Council of Churches

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Formation of the Laos

Presentation: Formation of the Laos by Godlind Bigalke at the May 1997 international consultation on the theme: "Towards a Common Understanding of the Theological Concepts of Laity/Laos: The People of God."

07 May 1997

Le Cénacle, Geneva, 7-10 May 1997

Formation of the Laos

by Godlind Bigalke

1. Being transformed into the image

1.1 Formation

Formation means both the process through which a group is formed and its result, a body of discernible shape or form which expresses its special identity. In the same way, formation means the mental process of an individual or a group and, as its result, a state of the personality which enables him or her or the group to deal with the world around and to develop conscious relations with him/herself and the world.

This formal description does not say more about formation than the fact that formation is needed for humanity and for society, and that it has to do with certain forms.

Formation derives from the Latin "forma", and from the Greek "morphe" - form, shape. The other Greek word is schema which means, in some Pauline letters, the (bad) shape of the world (aion).

Both can be found as roots in the verbs of Rom. 12,2: "kai me schematizesthe to aioni touto, alla metamorphousthe te anakainose, tou noos... " ("Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God".) The same word appears in 2 Cor.3,18: "emeis de pantes... metamorphoumetha... " ("all of us ... are being transformed into the same image...").

At the Oslo Conference of ETE in August 1996 (Ministerial Formation - Its Viability Today), the Working Group on "Formation of the Laos" defined formation as "the encouragement and empowerment for participation in the transformation of church and society." This should be complemented because formation, in the sense of the quoted Pauline text, is itself a process of being transformed.

Letty M. Russell, in her essay on "Education as Transformation: Feminist Perspectives...", in Ministerial Formation no.74 p.23, has it: "From a feminist perspective, theological education is transformational. Not only does it seek to transform the lives of teachers and learners, but also on its agenda is the transformation of the communities of faith and struggle they share... In such contexts what happens is not formation but transformation." I warmly recommend reading the whole essay (pp.23-30) which I discovered after I had put down my outlines of this draft. But I cannot follow her in that this should be a feminist perspective on formation, for as soon as one understands formation as a spiritual process, it becomes an act of being transformed. This transformational process affects both the individual person and the group as a whole ("all of us" in 2 Cor.3,18) which are interrelated. The form, shape, morphe into which Christians are transformed is the image of Christ himself.

Thus, Christians as persons and as a body gain their shape from the shape of Christ, the church is (trans)formed through and into this image, and vice-versa, Christ takes and accepts his shape and is seen in the poor shape of a servant, the church. The Christian community is the performance and model of what God has in mind for the whole world.

What is wrong with the bad scheme of the world? It is its schismatic character and structure. For the world tends to divide humankind into groups, in arrogant theory and cruel praxis, into poor and rich, black and white, men and women, strong and weak. This discrimination and division (which is not identical with differentiation but with denial of rights and dignity of the others) makes confidence, faith and trust - confidence in God, in others, in oneself - impossible; as long as there are others, ours are glorified, the others denied, hated, excluded, persecuted and through them God who is also in the others, and parts of oneself (the denied ones).

This was the experience of Dietrich Bonhoeffer which he put down in his Ethics (p. 78) when he was a prisoner, accused of high treason - a clear analysis of what happened in Germany at that time, but a description of a human condition as well, which a high standard of education could not prevent from breaking through.

1.2 Laos, the people of God

"But it is not so among you" (Mark 10,43). What constitutes the laos tou theou? They are known and have been chosen and called by God - and they have responded to this call. This has transformed them, given them a special identity to be recognized as different from others. They have also been - the old people of God as well as the new covenant - entrusted and endowed with a special knowledge and gift: to know his will, which means life, future and hope for themselves and for the whole world at last. This made them confident in God, in one another, and self-confident to overcome all the obstacles on their way. Their way was and still is accompanied by relapses, interruption, defeats, trial and error. They had to learn that laos is not national nor international but universal - the leaven that affects and transforms everything around.

The new people of God, transformed into the shape of Christ, received its strongest formation, expression and image in the Pauline formulation "body of Christ".

1.3 Body of Christ

This is a very original term: it describes the origin of the church which is found in its founder, Christ, and it is original in that it uses the image of a body. A body is a unity which, as an organism, consists of members (1 Cor. 12). The members are different, but interrelated. So the unity is not a uniformity which would mean that each member is like the others, or should be made alike by means of force and control. And a body is a real wholeness, not only the idea of it.

The structure of such a body can be defined by the relation of the members (a perfect form would, for example, be a sphere, but perfect forms lack differentiated relations).

Allelon, one another, is one of the most oft-repeated terms found in the letters of Paul (except for Philemon, but this small letter explains exactly what is meant by "for/to one another" in a special case).

As for the form, a body, the body of Christ is a unity. "Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor. 1, 13). A church which, in its creed, confesses "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church", must take care of its form and structures to avoid paying mere lip-service, and consequently this is a task for each church and congregation. (This lip-service was the case when ministers of Jewish origin were denied equal membership by the "Deutsche Christen" which led to the Barmen Confession in 1934).

Thus the form is not optional, it cannot be "anything you like". It must be determined in its type, structure and material in order to deserve some credibility, which is never achieved when the form is schismatic in one of these aspects.

1.4 Charismata, gifts by grace

Nowadays we use the term "qualifications" to describe what is required to fulfil a special task, function or position. Natural gifts, a careful education, special training in several skills as well as personal and professional experience, are said to enable an individual to carry out a function in church and world, or even to make a career for her/himself. Charismata, in their external appearance, are not different from those natural gifts and abilities. Every good gift is a gift from God, and it takes effort to achieve abilities and knowledge. Thus formation is not a useless luxury.

But what makes Charismata different and special, then? It is the way they are understood - by faith, the way they are interpreted, and lived out in faith. In a Trinitarian understanding, all gifts are given by the creator God, given for functions and tasks modelled and moulded by Christ (as author and model in one person), and given by grace as a concrete individual measure and part of the spirit for the sake of the community. Thus they are relational gifts, meant for dedication ("to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship", Rom. 12, 1), for service. Used not for one's own purposes - influence, power, status - but for one another, the charisms become a part of the whole ministry, the whole mission that the church is entrusted with, primarily in mutual service to one another ("Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received", I Pet. 4, 10).

Relational gifts largely depend on the acceptance of those who benefit from them, on their response and recognition. Like in a system where presents are exchanged, it is encouraging and empowering to see that gifts are welcome and appreciated. Recognition, in a deeper sense, means also that those gifts are acknowledged as charisms, gifts by grace, in the shape of a humble human action. What this would mean to the often self-understood contributions of women in everyday life need not be explicated separately.

2. Modern societies and the churches

The societies our churches have to deal with are very different. But they are all more or less affected by the grip of modernisation and globalisation - which does not mean anything other than the money browsing around the globe, the mass media floating around living-rooms and minds, destroying inherited patterns of life and its values.

The dictatorship of economics compels states and big institutions to cut down their expenses for the well-being (good) of the people, while big companies set thousands of their employees "free" into unemployment, society becomes divided into winners and losers -- and this is also the case between nations. Politics is running -- or rather, limping -- behind those developments, in the best case cushioning their impacts on the side of the losers.

Due to the breakdown of the old Eastern system some seven or eight years ago, a new search for identity and separation has emerged. Culture seems to become a dangerous word in this connection. Religions tend to glorify the past, resisting the concept of modernisation. Fundamentalism can be found in each religion, whether it has made acquaintance with enlightenment in history or not. And when they are trying to catch up with modernisation in questions of modem life-style (family life, sexual morals, etc), unity is at stake (cf. the question of homosexuality).

Thus the church cannot stay out of - but is rather seriously affected by -- (post)modern developments. Some of its own members question the doctrine and praxis of the church, whereas others ask for pastoral care, or expect clear advice, or even public declarations to state and society. As in other big institutions, members of the church no longer stick to their membership just because of tradition. They ask what it costs to stay in, and how they can benefit from it. They prefer to commit themselves to concrete projects, not for long-lasting functions. Many of those people join small alternative groups working for betterment in a particular area. They challenge the churches to get involved in politics, human rights, ecology alongside themselves, and try to get more influence within the churches (Kirchenvolksbegehren). Sometimes the churches respond to this request, for example the Roman Catholic Church in my country, with many rectories vacant, enjoys an active laity, well-trained lay theologians and highly devoted women, but in questions of the diaconate of women or the marriage of priests they stick to their old principles and mean what they say.

In any case, the reality of modern thinking and living challenges calls the churches not to look away, but to realise that the laity has come of age and ceased simply to receive their blessings on their knees. In this new situation, the churches have to scrutinise their dealing with the laity and to rethink and review both ministerial formation and the formation of the laity to become a body, a formation consisting of a mature laos.

3. Laos - clergy and laity together

After so many complaints by lay people about the discriminatory meaning of "lay" as "non-expert", - whilst they are experts in worldly things as well as, in many cases, in theology and in bringing together their daily lives with faith - happily, the term laos was found. At last it could also bridge that gap between clergy and laity for the sake of a better understanding of the mission of the church.

But one should not under-estimate or deliberately cover up the asymmetric relation between the ordained and the non-ordained, the minister and the congregation. In spite of all the theories and theologies of the laity which were developed between 1937 and the late 1960s, the high esteem of baptism as being the fundamental and general ordination of each baptised Christian, the special function and status of the ordained ministry have never diminished in the larger churches. In the "Volkskirchen" (the people's churches, majority churches in Europe), particularly in the Lutheran churches with their close links to their respective nation-state and their structures established accordingly, the laity have become accustomed to being served by well-paid professionals of the church, especially by their ministers. Martin Luther had formulated the "Magna Charta" of the priesthood of all believers (in: De Captivitate), - in those days it was a polemic against his church, the Roman Catholic Church, which would not follow his ideas about renewal. Ironically, once the new church, named after him, had been institutionalised and protected by the princes, it showed the old shape and followed the old pattern. Its "new" theology immediately became ossified.

3.1 Clergy

The role that a minister has to play is not exactly defined; it is a very diffuse one. His status in the congregation, his function and his personal identity, are confused in a role of undefined shape. He is "special", different, in that he has to act and speak separately from others, and to them he is like an actor on the stage. This is what Ernst Large once described when he spoke of a tragedian who performs a drama by Ionesco in front of a public which is expecting to watch popular action theatre.

The late Prof Henning Luther compared the minister with a clown, a term also used by Harvey Cox and Dorothée Sölle to describe Christ himself. This image of a clown, however, with his bizarre disguise, leads us to an important topos of pastoral theology - to the old symbol of the mask. Our word "person" derives from Persona, the Greek prosopon: the mask of the Attic tragedy through which a god's voice can be heard and crucial questions are uttered about the character of men, life, etc. This phenomenon is known to us from various cultures, particularly in the courts, where the masks, wigs and robes of the judges show that the judgement is given in the name of someone else.

The meaning of "person" (and "parson"; in Old French "persone", which indicates the minister) has changed from "mask" through "mask wearer" to "personal identity". The internal dialectic of mask and identity, of human life and play, world and theatre/stage has its origin in the dialectic of the mask itself, it "hides and shows" (Elias Canetti, Masse und Macht, 1982, p.431). The performance needs a carefully prepared "mask". The more precisely the mask is formed, the more freedom is given to the actor. The mask gives the free space and distance which is needed in order to act. Thus the mask (= the role one has to play, here: the minister) protects its wearer and allows him/her to keep his/her face behind it.

What is behind the transparent mask will be transformed when the mask wearer keeps his/her distance, then its ministry and structures can be transformed. For the congregation, once aware of the mask their minister has to wear, they can reach that balanced equilibrium of clergy and laity required for a dynamic relationship of "mutual compensation and support" which constitutes a vivid church/congregation, as F. D. E. Schleiermacher has put it (Kurze Darstellung des Theologischen Studiums).

This short reflection on the mask (taken from: Albrecht Grözinger, Praktische Theologie und Ästhetik, 1987, p,259-270) emphasises one aspect of pastoral theology: the person who has to lead the service must, for the sake of the community, play his role of speaking in the name of God to the community, and in the name of the assembly to God, in a balance of order and freedom.

In this role, he or she is set apart from the others and is responsible for his or her words, even if he or she shares the role with some others in a given situation.

This is not a claim for perfect performances but for a thorough preparation and reflection together with those involved, a common learning process which could lead to formation and transformation of the community.

3.2 Laity

With the considerations about laos set out and at last agreed upon, it looks like a relapse when we treat the question of the laity separately. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile, not for the sake of separation but of distinction, to go back to the old term of "laity" for a while.

It is a platitude, commonplace, truism, that priests/ministers cannot do everything alone in their congregations, but that they should not do and determine everything is a theological insight: the whole ministry belongs to the church or congregation as a whole. There are varieties of gifts, services and activities, but the same Spirit, Lord and God (1 Cor. 12, 4-6), in the community called church.

Thus it cannot be explained by means of theology that the laity became discouraged and disempowered. The reason is rather to be found in historical developments finding their expressions in customs and laws. Who is to blame when theology (theory), laws and life do not fit together? What should be adapted?

After 1945, the laity was considered as those people who could (and should) witness to their faith in their daily life in the world: at home, on duty, in societal, political and cultural life. Although some did not agree, it was agreed at Evanston in 1954 that the laity were those who did not earn their living from the church. The reason was firstly to overcome the gap between the ordained and the non-ordained; and secondly, to describe the place - the world - where Christians had to prove their calling. (It was assumed that those working in the church would become one-eyed church internals, whether they were ordained or not.) This aspect was stressed for the purpose of the transformation of society. It was widely recognised that the mission of God was meant not only for the church but also for the world. Consequently, through concentration on their internal affairs, the churches would miss their calling and limit their outlook if there was not an active laity to secure a vivid exchange between church and world.

The idea emerged that the laity should be equipped and trained to fulfil this special task in and for the world. For this purpose, academies and lay centres were created - Bad Boll in 1945, with others following in due course all around the western world. What cannot escape one's notice is the anti-communist thrust of this laity movement, which placed conferences at Bad Boll in 1951 and in Buffalo in 1952 during the cold war. All the same, the laity was encouraged to carry out the mission of the church in the world.

Nevertheless, independently of their respective theologies of the ministry, the old pattern that made a strong distinction between ordained and non-ordained survived within the churches. It was only out of sheer necessity where no minister could be found, or in a few situations like the diaspora, that lay people would take over and lead the services. They then made use of what they had learned from their grandmothers - a very important group of lay missionaries. In richer churches, lay education with theological elements was developed and offered for special tasks in the congregations; thus, volunteers responsible for pastoral and social care, and for the religious education of the children, as well as non-theologian professionals, took advantage of this possibility.

Meanwhile, money has become an important issue to talk about. In the West, the economic recession and the resignation of well-educated young people who leave the church have caused a financial crisis for the traditional mainline churches. Thus these churches cannot afford any longer to employ as many professionals as they used to. They have started to think about encouraging volunteers to take over those functions. They even talk about "ordination without employment".

On the other side, the laity has become more self-confident. Due to their better education (in the arts, pedagogics, administration, etc.), they want to be entrusted with more responsibility in the churches. What is needed here is not primarily empowerment but entitlement. But the churches are still somehow hesitating. Do these lay people, the women's groups, ecology groups, etc. know enough about theology to do it correctly? All these new theologies, for example, feminist theology, ecotheology, are suspected of being a kind of new paganism. But the times are over when a laity inside the churches just carried out what they were told to do.

However, the church and the world - these two working areas of the laity - have never been brought together, either in the area of theological consideration or in the practical conceptions or actions of the church.

3.3 Laos

If the laos were at stake, clergy and laity together, this would be expressed both inside the church - in its shape and way of working - and in the way the church turns towards the world. This is a call and a claim for the transformation of church and society. When the church asks or challenges the political world for improvements, such as democratization, etc., it has to accept questioning about its own structures (or meanwhile reshape them on its own initiative). It has to face up to its actions in the past and the consequences of these actions in order to be able to understand the present situation, and get a grasp of what has to be done in the future. A glorious transfiguration of the past will not help with the transformation, let alone the formation of the laos as the people of God.

In the past, too many of the laos were simply under-estimated, disheartened or excluded. They also tended to be considered as useful "idiots", to use a medieval term for the laity. The term "idiota" used to be a harmless description of the majority of the people, like "layman" - both of which only meant that the man concerned was not ordained. Because of its meaning of "non- expert" the word acquired an unfortunate connotation. And this was even more the case in relation to the word "idiota". This is a proof of the discrimination they suffered, which cannot be explained by the division of labour and professionalism. Nobody can refer to godly law or the divine ministry following Christ as its author, in order to justify that tear in the fabric of laos.

4. Formation of the Laos

The word "formation" in German ("Formation") makes me think of an army, or the migration of birds. It implies a strictly organised group with a purpose, a task, a plan and a leader. I have to remind myself of the translation "Bildung" which stresses personal growth. "Bildung" enjoyed a high value in the philosophical idealism of the 19th century which, with some delay, came to an end after the First World War in 1918. (However, in Germany, due to a relapse and the catastrophe in 1933, it only ended in 1945, after persistent private lessons given by the allied forces). Up to then, "Bildung" was something which had to do with your personality and your status in society; while the world outside, - politics, economics - was something else. Thus those who ran the concentration camps could play Beethoven on the piano, listen to his music by candlelight or read classical literature over a cup of tea served at a table covered in a white cloth. The dirty job, or "duty", was one thing; culture was something totally different, lived out in the private sphere. Of course this is a caricature but one that happened in reality.

After a period of empirical pedagogics, curriculum research and reform, "Bildung" is being rediscovered. The task of formation is not done with trained skills and abilities, certificates and high-standard examinations. The new search for values, orientation, ethics and their embodiment could be interpreted as a sign of a lack that modernisation with its pluralistic and individualistic disorientations as well as globalisation with its economic and value-destroying impacts, have highlighted in all societies around the world. The European Union sponsors programmes such as "Giving a Soul to Europe", for it is the soul of societies that cannot catch up with developments. Individuals, families and small groups have to drink what others have brewed badly.

Thus there is a longing for a soul, for values and orientation. Is the church able to respond to it? A study done by the renowned McKinsey Company for the Lutheran Church of Munich concluded that the product of the church is excellent and absolutely necessary but that its marketing is not good enough - the inability of the church to sell its product is thereby affirmed. Apart from its commercial terms, the McKinsey study contains something special: it points out that it is not sufficient to decide on what to produce, a decision is needed as to how to do it.

There are various reasons why this should be taken into consideration:

  • "Entertainment"
    People are spoilt by the often amusing and enjoyable presentations on TV or by advertisements;

  • "Self-acting", "self-expression"
    People need and demand entertainment, particularly those who have grown accustomed to sitting, watching, listening; there is a need to be taken seriously, valued, accepted; people want to be asked about their experience and opinions;

  • "Togetherness"
    The experience of achieving transformation together, of finding a way out of self-isolation; the joy of doing and achieving something together strengthens the sense of belonging.

On a deeper level, the question is: how can the church meet the needs of the people? or, in particular, how can the message of God's love for everyone, of reconciliation and remission of sins, reach the people? There is a gap between people's needs and the mission and message of the church. This missed connection can hardly be overcome by a one-way formation - by preaching and teaching. On the contrary, the church has to learn how the people think and feel about their situation in the church and in society. Furthermore, the church must listen carefully to those concerned about developments in politics and economics, to those involved in the process of social transformation and of protecting nature. There are still some Christians among them who should not be left isolated.

In addition, the churches should analyse and look thoroughly at their own traditions to find out what these elements claiming "freedom of a Christian" could offer in terms of a fruitful dialogue. The Protestant tradition encouraged individuals to be steadfast, bound by conscience, in face of the claims of group interests. This created a tension between individual-ism and community. And this tension will never be solved - and should not be. Similarly, it is found in modern societies (as well as in those on the inevitable way towards modernisation). After the breakdown of community-based eastern systems, individual egoism is expected to be the victor all over the world. Here the churches can be asked whether they are willing to accept these developments - if not actively, then by looking away - or whether they have something better to offer their members. Not only individual believers, victims and victors, but also communities.

The earlier concept of "responsible society" dating from the 50s and 60s is not yet outmoded. The movements for social justice, organised by and in favour of women, refugees and marginalised groups, for peace-making (mediating), could become partners in dialogue in this process of coming up with new solutions to problems caused by global, national and local developments. NB: these movements are not to be identified with the church, but they have common concerns and are dealing with the same questions.

Through such dialogue, the churches could re-establish their relationship to the world, regain some influence and recognition, and contribute to the process of social transformation. This could also reform the churches. They would leave their former outmoded and useless position of being unreformable institutions with authoritarian structures producing authoritarian characters and proclaiming such theories. This then would be an excellent alternative to the increasing fundamentalism emerging both inside and outside the churches, as well as to their role of helpless and hopeless co-equal with this world.

The laos, the church as a people living in the world, cannot stay out of the world. If this schizophrenic situation, which divides individuals and communities, is to be overcome, religion has to help by analysing, explaining and understanding the situation they live in and motivating a transformation (not only possibly transcending it).

Formation of the laos must aim at "trust building": embodiment of faith in God, trust in others and confidence in oneself, and in community building. Trust building and community building are inextricably connected.

  • The church has, in the image of Christ into which we are to be transformed, the personal model of trust - to trust in him to be in God and in one another;

  • The church has, in the shape of the Christian community as a body, the structure of trust, the new reality of inter-relatedness to overcome the schismatic structures of this world;

  • The church has, in the shape of advice and orientation, the material for trust building, for building communities of trust, love, service, solidarity and peace. (Cf. Reiner Strunk, Vertrauen, 1985, p. 109-ff.)

The church is actually well equipped for such a (trans)formation. On the local level it is embodied in congregations and in (meeting and training) centres which allow for:

  • getting to know one another, worshipping, communicating, and sharing (parts of) one's life with others;

  • opening the doors for ecumenical cooperation with Christians and groups to discuss and act together and learn from each other.

The church has a universal character and understanding. Churches worldwide are connected through a network on all levels - local, provincial, national, global. The churches have extended exchange programmes and partnerships. The ecumenical movement offers a crucial opportunity for "trust building" to overcome schismatic structures, cherishing reciprocity and mutual listening.

There is a theoretical construction that fits well into the central aim of trust building (mentioned above). If the church is not to betray the gospel of God's love but to turn to the world with its mission, it has to turn to the world in such a way that defines its own role in this act of interference. For this purpose, the church could, for example, define itself as a learning and intermediary institution.

As a learning institution, the church could invite various groups to meet inside its walls or offer groups space in which to meet. These groups could be simply Christians or mixed groups or those not defining themselves as Christians but who are concerned about the future. The borderline should not be drawn too narrowly. Further, through ordained or non-ordained representatives, professional or lay theologians, the church could offer its special gifts of understanding God's will, of hope and trust, and friendly hospitality. Moreover, the church has primarily to listen to the groups in order to learn how they think and discuss, how they live, and why they live in that way. This would open the eyes of officials to the needs of the people and transform their attitude. As a consequence, their theological practice would be affected as would their approach to their own people and the world.

As an intermediary institution, the church could invite groups and initiatives of civil society to come together and to share their concerns, ideas and ways of working. Through listening to one another, those groups could create networks to overcome their isolation and eventually to speak with one voice. As part of civil society, the voice of the church would then become one of them.

Intermediary institution means, secondly, that in litigant questions, the church could function as a fair moderator between movements and groups of civil society and official institutions (of the state, etc.), between those "above" and those "down there". Such a mediating process, also known as "de-escalation talks", could help those who have the first shot (sometimes in reality) to learn and understand the reasons of their counterparts and to take into consideration their needs and wants. Experience shows that, once people with different views and functions have met and got to know each other personally, peaceful communication replaces encounters that would otherwise offend. It is to be expected that Christians - even members of the same church and/or congregation - can be found on both sides of the table. Every conversation about concrete political, economic questions, about strategies, implies ethical aspects and should therefore become an ethical process.

Moreover, this could become a means of strengthening the voices of those who have never been heard. It might also be perceived as a learning process by means of and in relation to the power of communication. If anything, it is communication that makes the church an outstanding and irreplaceable part of society. Preaching, teaching and praying are all ways of communication. And formation?

This communicative way of opening doors and learning from others could cause conflicts. Both inside and outside the church, some could take exception to a church involved in processes of democratisation and other worldly things. They may claim that the church should concentrate on spirituality, Sunday worship and moral preaching, and complain about a lack of theology.

Spirituality however is not preserved for Sunday worship: the "reasonable worship" takes place in everyday life. As for moral preaching, something new could be discovered when we read the Ten Commandments as directed primarily to those in power -- to the moral leaders.

The lack of theology is a danger indeed. It is the danger of blind action without reflection on the goals, issues, methods and results related to central theological conceptions. The church is often tempted to omit this necessary connection in its everyday actions.

The theology which is done in the universities has left the churches alone in the important task of reflecting the praxis of the church. When we blame this theology for being a product of an ivory tower, we should blame the theology of the church as well, when it is done behind the shielding walls of dominant traditions which never risk being transformed. What is left out in particular is the dialogue between theology and other sciences. "Theology for theologians" risks standing aloof and becoming an irrelevant hobby of specialists. All this in a time when a widespread call is heard for ethical orientation, for example, in the jungle of new scientific developments (biotechnology). In addition to this, the relationship between church and politics, economics and society, has to be queried theologically. These difficult dialogues depend on the competence of theologians and scholars of other sciences, as well as of practitioners and experts. The voices of the consumers of their brew should be included in their reflections.

If theology is truly this discourse of experience with the living God, then it should acknowledge the whole experience of the people - lay and clergy, female and male. It is therefore the responsibility of the church to acknowledge and enable all the laos to be involved, and responsible for, the doing of theology together.

This statement by the Working Group on Formation of the Laos (ETE Oslo Conference 1996) puts the emphasis on experience as being the main material which theology has to deal with. This secures the fact that life and thoughts will not be separated and that each member of the laos is to participate in the process of doing theology.

However, this statement does not mention the source from which theology takes its material. It is against my German background of 1934 that I must insist on Jesus Christ as the one word of God to whom we must primarily refer. If this is not done, then doors and gates are wide open for non-Christian influences pretending to be as important as Jesus Christ, or even more so. The reference to the bible as the original document of human knowledge of, and trust in, God and Jesus Christ as the way to see the Father must not be omitted.

For a common understanding and for the sake of communication, it is absolutely essential to describe the methods, means and ways used to interpret the given text. It is not only a privilege but also a duty for professional theologians to explain their methodology and hermeneutics. They must not only show their results to those they are teaching and training, or to those arguing for or against something in different contexts. This is their single advantage for which they have been educated, and what they owe to the community.


The whole community of the church is entrusted with ministry and service. Different functions and gifts are meant for serving one another in reciprocity. The laity is privileged to contribute their expertise in worldly things, the theologians to give an account of their methodology, in order to do theology together in a new and better way.

The renewal of the church as the people of God can be expected through a new partnership of clergy and laity together, in a relationship of trust, where each member is recognised as being a carrier of faith and hope.

Formation of the laos as a whole is affected by and affects the transformation of the church as well as its own transformation. This dialectical tension between formation and transformation reflects the dialectic of individual and community/society, of faith and trust. In order to become a "self" or a "whole", one cannot do without the other.