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THE CATEGORY “LEGAL THEOLOGY” AND THE STUDY OF CHRISTIAN LAWS

  • Norman Doe (a1)
Abstract

Theology, the study of God, consists of a network of subdisciplines: biblical theology, moral theology, ecumenical theology, and so on. Each branch of theology has its own distinctive object of study, methods, and purposes. For example, pneumatology studies the Holy Spirit, practical theology uses the pastoral cycle, and liberation theology seeks to transform unjust societal structures that oppress the marginalized. Each branch of theology has its own distinctive community of scholars. It is a common view (though perhaps a contested one, as between the different church traditions) that the main purpose of Christian theology is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. The branches of theology, in turn, are vehicles for each of this core purpose. Legal theology could become a branch of theology with its own distinctive objects of study, methods, and purposes. What follows explores these themes, how the subdiscipline of legal theology might be defined and developed in the context of the study of the systems of law, order, and polity, of churches across the Christian traditions that deal with, for example, forms of regulation, ministry (lay or ordained), governance (institutions and functions), discipline, doctrine, worship, rites, property, and external relations. It does so as to the following. (1) The object of study: legal theology should at its core be about the relationship between theology and church law—more particularly, the relationship between church law and each of the other branches of theology. (2) The method of study: legal theology may involve the theological study of church law and/or the legal study of theology using standard juristic methods (such as text and context, critical, historical, analytical) as well as methods used in the other branches of theology (3) The purpose of study: the development of a community of scholars collaborating with a view to its impact on ecclesial practice. Theology is indispensable to a full understanding of the place of law in the life of the church; and law provides evidence to test the propositions of theology in the practical life of the church as this is translated through norms to action.

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References
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1 See Doe Norman, Christian Law: Contemporary Principles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

2 See, for example, Dulles Avery, Models of the Church, 2nd ed. (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1987).

3 For a Roman Catholic perspective, see, for example, Ombres Robert, “Canon Law and Theology,” Ecclesiastical Law Journal 14, no. 2 (2014), 164–94.

4 Charter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (2003), art. 2.

5 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Constitution and Foundational Texts (2003), chapters 1–4, 8.73.

6 See, for example, Barth Karl, Church Dogmatics: A Selection (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994).

7 Deed of Union,” in The Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church, vol. 2 (London: Methodist Publishing, 2016), section 2, paras. 4–5, pp. 213–24.

8 See, for example, Smart James D., The Past, Present and Future of Biblical Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979).

9 Lutheran Church of Australia Inc., Constitution (2015), art. 2.1; see also ibid., art. 4.1, citing 1 Corinthians 6.

10 The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Constitution (2010), art. 7; The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, By-laws (2010), para. 1.7.

11 See, for example, Tillich Paul, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951–1963).

12 Doe, Christian Law.

13 See, for example, Young Frances M., Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

14 Code of Canon Law (1983), canon 17.

15 Principles of Canon Law Common to the Church of the Anglican Communion (London: Anglican Communion Office, 2008), principle 8.1-4.

16 Constitution of the Methodist Church in Ireland (1927), section 5.

17 Moral theology, or Christian ethics, is also pertinent here.

18 The Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God: Report of the Third Phase of the International Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (1998–2005) (2007), para. 140.

19 See Doe Norman, ed., Christianity and Natural Law: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

20 See, for example, Newbigin Lesslie, The Open Secret: Sketches for a Missionary Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1978).

21 The Constitution of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (1961), art. 4.2; see also The Statutes for the Organisation and Functioning of the Romanian Orthodox Church, art. 106.

22 Statutes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America (2015), art. 7.12.

23 See, for example, Gutierrez Gustavo, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books 1973).

24 Constitution of the Baptist World Alliance (2016), art. 2.

25 Constitution of the Baptist Union of Southern Africa (1933, subsequently amended), art. 5.3.

26 Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Model Constitution [for a member church], art. 4.2.6.

27 Statement of Beliefs of the North American Baptists (1982, amended 2009), para. 8 (citing, for example, Matthew 5:13–16, Hebrews 13.5, Luke 9.23, Titus 2.12), https://nabconference.org/about-us/our-beliefs.

28 By-Laws of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. (2012), prologue.

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Journal of Law and Religion
  • ISSN: 0748-0814
  • EISSN: 2163-3088
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-law-and-religion
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