Although churches are guided by many considerations, including the condition of their finances and the interests of their members, theology is generally the underlying principle that governs the kinds of programs that are considered appropriate or inappropriate.
The importance of theology is particularly evident in the following example. First Reformed Church is one of the historic landmarks in its East Coast community. Founded in the mid seventeenth century, its membership has remained constant in recent years, numbering just below two hundred. The neighborhood is rich in religious diversity. Besides Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant churches, it includes four synagogues, two mosques, two Hindu temples, and two Buddhist temples. In the past two years, First Reformed has participated in two three month long Bible study classes held jointly with a synagogue four blocks down the street. At first, about twenty five people from the church attended, and then the number grew to around forty. Each week the discussion focused on a passage from the Hebrew scriptures. The pastor and the rabbi led the discussion, but mostly the members of the two congregations just shared their impressions and opinions about the passage. The experience was so positive that the congregation has been considering repeating it and perhaps initiating a similar forum with one of the mosques in the neighborhood.
The Reverend Jon Hoekema, now in his twelfth year as pastor at First Reformed, views these interfaith activities as a natural expression of Christ's teachings. The congregation's theological orientation, he says, is firmly trinitarian, mainstream as far as the denomination (Reformed Church in America) is concerned, and conservative. He believes ...1
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