The last four articles in the church newsletter all focused on a wonderful statement found in the Discipline. Much more to say and difficult trying to discuss deep topics in so few words, but here they are for reference and pondering.
How we approach Scripture matters. On Oct. 30th in worship, I drew from Martin Luther’s story to show how his love of Scripture helped challenge tradition gone awry and gave him the confidence to stand in the face of intense pressure, even excommunication, for what he believed. But depending solely on Scripture (and particularly solely on our own understanding of Scripture) can also go awry. For
example, in all the debate and acrimony about sexual orientation, based largely on passages like Genesis 19:1-14 and Romans 1:26-27, how often have you heard Ezekiel 16:49 mentioned? Look them up… I’ll wait here…. interesting, huh?
Then consider what conventional Christian wisdom has thought the Genesis story was about. See, even when we think we’re relying solely on Scripture, aspects of tradition
slip in. We “know” what Scripture says and so we stop taking it seriously enough to challenge and shape us and instead take it “literally.” Scripture isn’t about “gotcha” verses or simple instruction – yes, there are good guides for life there – but its more
about the interaction with the text and community, about hearing and seeing what the authors of these texts heard, saw and experienced. Its about opening ourselves to a growing relationship with the God that inspired then, and inspires now – if we’re willing to listen, dwell, pray and hope. There is a wonderful sentence in the United Methodist discipline that summarizes our approach to Scripture. “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.” As we enter into the season of Thanksgiving and the Advent preparation for Christmas, I invite you to mull that statement over
Happy Advent! In the last Logos, I left you with this statement from the United Methodist Discipline ““Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.” I hope you’ve had a chance to ponder this statement a bit and that you will continue to do so. It really addresses the core of what we are as United Methodist Christians. During this time of year, it’s easy to reflect on tradition. My wife’s family has a longstanding Thanksgiving tradition of holding an extended family reunion potluck – people come in from several states and the noodles are worth it. My father-in-law being a Cowboy’s fan, there’s also a tradition of making sure we get home from the meal to see the game. Come Christmas, my wife has 2 traditions – the kids must open presents at home Christmas morning – and she must be at her folks house Christmas Day. Now that I work Christmas Eve, maintaining both has been a challenge. When we talk of tradition in the church, it’s somewhat similar. Practices that arose out of specific circumstances form, collectively, the Christian tradition. Increasingly we’re aware of the diversity of these traditions and how each matters and contributes to our whole.
Tradition also has a deeper sense though, “the continuing activity of God’s Spirit transforming human life.” So in this understanding, tradition is not merely the way we do things, but an invitation to continually renew and revitalize how we do things, that we might better and more fully experience and share the continuous reality of God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ. Blessings on your Advent journey!
As I continue to explore the statement ““Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.” this entry will focus on Experience. This can be understood as relating to the individual in much the same way tradition relates to denominations or congregations. Note that it can also be easily misunderstood. Experience as a source of spiritual knowledge is not merely things that happen or how we perceive things – each to their own. Rather, experience in Wesley’s understanding referred to “a vital experience of God’s grace, one affirmed within the broader Christian community… and which is accountable to the Gospel.” So it is not merely a relativistic individual thing, but our personal encounter with God rooted in the larger community. It may be a sense of assurance and a “changed heart” – it may be a time of wandering in the wilderness. We may experience a call to prophetic critique or great compassion towards others. This experiential dimension of our faith is really about God’s love and our response to that love. How have you experienced and responded to that love in your journey? Who has shared it for you most profoundly, and who have you shared it with? (Credit, much of this entry adapted from work by Dr. Elaine Robinson who taught at Brite Divinity School when she wrote and became the VP at SPST-OCU while I was a student at SPST-KC).
This entry wraps up a short exploration of the statement ““Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.” Too often being religious is thought to involve checking one’s brain at the door. Somehow we’re supposed to live life in the midst of the ongoing scientific revolution of our age without having that growth in knowledge lead to any questions when it comes to faith. United Methodist reject this division. We recognize the mere act of reading requires the use of our God given reason and intellect, we recognize that questions are part of an engaged faith (picture a school classroom where “any questions?” meets with no response – is that because everything is clear… or that no one is paying attention? As people of faith we are called to pay attention, be participate, to be engaged and as humans that means having, asking and pondering questions! United Methodist embrace science and all avenues of human knowledge, recognizing that “all truth is from God” and that better understanding the wonder and mechanisms of creation lead us closer to God. Scripture is primary because it is about our human encounter with God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, but all four ways of knowing work together, not separately and not in competition. If they seem to conflict it means we have either misused, misunderstood, or both – and thus we continue to question, grow, and encounter the divine mystery.