Rev. Park Jong Wha


Scripture Text: Mark 8:27-33

The passage from Mark 8:27-33 is the famous account of Peter’s confession of Christ where Peter confesses his Lord as Christ. The question Jesus asked was, "Who do you say that I am?" That question could be extended to "Who do people say that I am?", and of ourselves, "Who do you say that Christ is?", "Who do we say that Christ is?"

This passage has often been quoted by theologians in their writings and by pastors in their sermons. I have a booklet written by a German systematic theologian named Horst Georg Pohlman. The book is entitled "Who was Jesus of Nazareth?" In his book he introduces five types of interpretations of Jesus.

1. Jesus is a pious Jew. He is a Jew because he was born a Jew. To the Jewish people, he is the model of a truly pious Jew. This is the Jewish understanding of Jesus.

2. Jesus is a great man, a great human being. To the humanists, Jesus seems to be a great model of a human being.

3. Jesus is a social revolutionary. To the adherents of Marxism, of Socialism, and of Activism, Jesus seems so be a great model of a social revolutionary.

4. Jesus is a representative of a counter-culture. For example, to the people of the Hippies generation, or the Beatles generation, Jesus would represent one who is against all existing hierarchy. He would be seen as an anti-citizen of this existing world, because he tries to create another culture according to the will of God and not according to our will. He is the model of a new citizen representing a counter-culture. The new culture that Christ represents is God’s culture, a culture based on the values of the Kingdom of God.

5. Jesus is truly man and God and Saviour. Horst Georg Pohlman being a German systematic theologian naturally has to draw a conclusion. He is typically orthodox and represents Western theology.

I have no objections about his theology but I wonder whether his five types of understanding of Jesus are enough for us to work with the people in our own living situations. In the field of theology, the development of an understanding of Christ is called Christology. Christology is the main area of Systematic Theology. Some people are of the opinion that beside Christology we should also develop "Jesusology". Jesus of Nazareth on the one side, and the Risen Christ on the other. Some people develop their theology from the point of the Risen Christ and others from the point of Jesus’ life on earth, but both are confessing Christ, the Messiah -Christology and Jesusology.

I attended an ecumenical meeting in Budapest, Hungary ten years ago. The topic of discussion was "Faith and Ideology". An ideologist of the Communist Party was there to explain the situation of the Church-State relations in Hungary. I asked him the question, "Who is Jesus to you?" His reply was "I believe Jesus is a socialist revolutionary because our socialist Communist Party is trying to revolutionize our situation." In other words, he sees no difference between the church and state and thus experiences no conflict in confessing Christ as a social revolutionary. Whereas in the Church we believe that Christ is the Judge and Saviour of the world.

My next question to him was, "Do you think that people in Socialist countries can also consider Karl Marx as a judge and saviour of Marxists?" His answer was "No". His reason was that Marx is only one of the many Marxists, and Marxists in Hungary do not like to revere him as God. At most he is a godlike man. Being an orthodox Marxist, he believed that each Marxist has the full authority to decide which way his life should go. He said that Jesus and Marx are different in terms of authority and in terms of the salvific action.

Many theologians have tried in vain to find a noun or a term to describe Jesus the Christ. Many, like Pholman, say Jesus is God, he is truly man, a pious Jew, a great human being, a social revolutionary, a representative of a counter-culture, and so on. But none have been able to capture the person of Christ with just a word or a phrase.

We come here from different denominations, from different theological backgrounds, not because our life is different or that our living situations are different but because we confess Christ in different ways. This was how denominationalism began. Nothing can be rejected. We are talking about unity in diversity, whether it be doctrinal diversity or confessional diversity. The whole theological discussion is based on "Who do you say that I am?" "Who is Jesus?" Today, at the end of the 20th century, in a meeting like this, the question still remains, "Who do you say that I am?" "Who do we say that Jesus is?"

Some people say Jesus is Elijah, others say he is John the Baptist. URM talks about people and works with people. Who do these people say that Jesus is? Who are we who confess him as Christ our Saviour? Have we thought about this? These are questions of our Christian identity. Who are you who confess that Jesus is the Saviour? This is not just the questions of Jesus himself but of the questioner and the one who answers. When a poor man confesses Christ as his Saviour he needs also to be liberated from his poverty. Salvation for him will have a different meaning from that of the rich man.

When the Minjung (People) confess Christ as Saviour, what will it mean to them? It is not enough for us to just confess Christ as our Saviour, we will need to live with the Minjung as a people of God.

That question should be raised and answered by us and by our fellow Christians as well as by the people of other faiths. We have spent too much time thinking about who Jesus is and who Christ is, but not enough time to think about who we are.

We confess Christ to people from concrete living situations. We cannot be neutral to the ongoing socio-econcomic political events in our living situations. We are called to decide one way or the other. We have to take sides. Neutrality is just a word. The question is "for whom shall we decide?". Decision-making is an important factor in our own life of faith, in our Christian life. Otherwise we are just paying lip service to Christ. Our work will only be words across a table rather than be in the midst of the people. Our work is a mission of God, Missio-Dei. Where is God? He is with us - Emmanuel. He is with the people - Emmanuel.

Confessing Christ as Saviour is an act. It involves decision-making and acting. We need to live out our faith in concrete situations. People are not merely objects of our mission or of our service. They are the subjects of God’s kingdom. Mission is the movement of life toward the Kingdom of God which is to be realized on earth as it is in heaven.

Traditional Western theology has dealt with the Christological issues which is one side of the coin. In the Asian context, we need to deal with the human side of Jesus which is the other side of the same coin in Christology. I am not suggesting that we replace traditional theologies with new ones but rather that we develop new theologies beginning from the human question in order that we might develop a more wholesome and realistic theology. To do this, we will need to work very hard in each of our own living situations in Asia. Although our situations are different, it does not matter, because Christ is the Saviour of us all. He walks with us in different ways but we are all required to act concretely on the side of the people with whom we live and work. This is what it means to confess Christ as our Saviour, just as Peter did.

[This Bible Study was presented at the 21st URM Committee Meeting held in Seoul, Korea from 24-26 February 1990]