an exercise of fellowship with the saints

Assumed audience: Theologically-orthodox Christians, or folks interested in things that theologically-orthodox Christians think.

Theology is… an exercise of fellowship with the saints. As it does its work in the commonwealth of God’s people, theology renders its assistance to the community to which it belongs. Its particular ministry is to help in the edification of the Church, building up the Church’s common life and so serving the confession of the gospel. Theology does this, very simply, by giving an account of the substance of the gospel as that to which all speech, thought and action in the Church must conform. In the work of holy reason, the communion of saints submits its life to the gospel’s appraisal, testing its apprehensions of God by judging them against the one norm of all truth, God’s revelatory presence as holy Word. As it does its theology, the Church inquires whether it really speaks, thinks and acts as the communion of saints; whether the gospel has been truly, repentantly and fully heard; whether the promises and commands of the gospel have been acknowledged in all their authority and grace; whether in their confession of the gospel the elect of God are truly holy and blameless before him. Crucially, however, theology does not perform this task as the Church’s Lord or judge. How could it? The Church has only one Lord and judge, the Holy One himself, whose office theology may not arrogate to itself. Rather, theology’s critical work is undertaken by exemplary submission to the gospel — by theology itself standing beneath the Word of God which assembles the community, by governing its own speech and thought by the given truth of the gospel, above all, by looking to God, acknowledging that, like all things in the life of the Church, theology is impossible unless God makes it possible. Only in this way — humbly and without pretence — can holy reason stand in fellowship with the saints of God and serve their confession.

 — John Webster, Holiness, pp. 26 – 27