The Faculty Centenary Theme is ‘Gateway to the …’: ‘Oopmaak van die hekke …’. ‘Gateway’, consists of two words: gate and way. In the Christian Bible, each of these words has its own semantic domain and we find a variety of words meaning ‘gate’ and ‘way’. The Christian faith community in the first century was known as ‘the Way’. A way is open. This implies that a future awaits. A gate can be closed, which eliminates the future. There can only be a future if the gate is opened.
The road can only become a ‘gateway’ once the gate has been opened. This is the golden thread in the story of the early church, as told in Lukeand Acts. In a sense, this is the oldest story in our church history.
It begins with the story of Lazarus lying in front of a closed gate. Behind the gate is a rich man who opens the gate just to throw out waste. He does not see the poor Lazarus who has no food. Lazarus is the only character in Jesus' stories who has a name, which is derived from the Hebrew word Eliezer, meaning ‘God [alone] helps’.
The story of Lazarus lying outside the closed door hints at the prophetic criticism, especially of Amos. Amos says that the gates of Jerusalem are closed. The poor are outside the gates and the members of the protected elite do not give bread to the poor as they ought to.
It is only once the gate is opened that people are able to see each other and follow in the way of God. This idea is explained in the early church history: the story of Peter behind the closed gate of the prison. Here prison equals death. God, through the angel, opened the gate for Peter so that he could escape death. However, before Peter could go on his way, he once again faced a closed door: the door of the faith community. A slave opened the door for Peter, thus enabling him to enter the way with joy. This is the story of how Christian theology reached Europe.
Paul came to the border of Asia at Troas and did not want to cross the sea to Europe. God opened the door to Europe for him. On his way, he soon faced rejection. The story ends with the realisation that if he continued on the way, he would end up in prison. Again God opened a door for him to a way that led to Rome, the centre of power. In Rome he preached the message despite fierce rejection. There he was killed. Yet Paul’s legacy lived on through the voice of many theologians, incuding Clement and Augustine form Africa.
The Faculty of Theology of the University of Pretoria has the mission to present theology in a way that will ensure that the love of God reaches all. In the past, the gates were closed to the marginalised because of ideologies such as nationalism, racism and homophobia. The gates were also closed to people of other faiths. God opened the gate. In many instances theologians at the University of Pretoria were the instigators of change. At times, when it seemed that the gates might once again be shut, the prophets’ protest was heard. The challenge is to recognise that God will always open the gate and that, despite resistance, the message will continue on the way of radical inclusivity.
Emeritus Professor Andries van Aarde