Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 12:30 and Philippians 4:4-9
I am a cradle United Methodist. I have grown up in this church and love it deeply for its hands have been extensions of God’s hands in crafting me into the servant leader God calls me to be. So many of my passions in life are in line with passions of The United Methodist Church: honoring and celebrating the ministry of all believers, creating and extending the beloved community, promoting and enacting social justice, solidly grounding our faith in Scripture and then interpreting Scripture through the lenses of church tradition, personal experience, and reason.
I understand our governing principles as United Methodists, our Book of Discipline, as a “living human document,” a concept introduced by Anton T. Boisen, the founder of Clinical Pastoral Education. I believe our governing principles are crafted by human hands as extensions of God’s hands and firmly rooted in our denominational history and doctrine. This polity governs our church as we seek to faithfully respond to the present concerns that face our church while celebrating and learning from the legacy of our denomination. United Methodist polity is not rigid; it is the product of dutiful holy conferencing – of people prayerfully and intentionally gathering around tables seeking God’s will and discernment for the future of this church in God’s world. The next opportunity for such conferencing will convene in April 2016. This holy conferencing shapes The United Methodist Church in our unique way of being Christ’s body for the transformation of the world.
A popular Christian slogan is “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” This saying expresses an individual’s confidence in Scripture; there is no other reason for inquiry. What I appreciate about the United Methodist’s hermeneutic – or means of interpretation – of Scripture is that we believe Scripture is authoritative and true and we believe that by interpreting Scripture through the lenses of tradition, personal experience, and reason we can encounter the revelation God has prepared for us in this certain time and in this certain place. United Methodists call this hermeneutic The Quadrilateral. This means of interpreting Scripture invites persons to employ their minds – their reasoning faculty – to their study of God’s word, which informs their understanding of their relationship with God and shapes how they live as God’s people in the world.
I find moments in my life where I have a child-like faith. I read something in Scripture and I ascribe to “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” And then there are other moments where I read something in Scripture and I become unsettled. I push back against what I read. I want to ask clarifying questions. At times I even want to object. It is in these moments that I find myself working my way through The Quadrilateral. What does church tradition – the church universal or my specific context of The United Methodist Church – have to say on the subject? What has been my personal experience with this subject? And then with those three in conversation – Scripture, tradition, and personal experience – I apply my reason to make sense of (or try to make sense) of it all.
At times I come to a definite resolution. At others I am left with more questions. Where I find peace is that God is with me in the process. God honors my questions. God respects the thoughtful engagement. God invites the dialogue. Working through The Quadrilateral is a form of holy conferencing – conferencing with the one who created me. I believe it is one way that I can love God with my whole mind. Through The Quadrilateral, through this holy conferencing, I enter humbly and openly into dialogue with God and create the space – invite the moment – for God to reveal something new.
What Scriptures do you accept with a child-like faith? What Scriptures do you push back against or what Scriptures spur questions inside you? How do you engage in dialogue with God about these questions? How do you love God with your mind?
Prayer: “Whether the Word be preached or read, no saving benefit I gain from empty sounds or letters dead; unprofitable all and vain, unless by faith thy word I hear and see its heavenly character. Unmixed with faith, the Scripture gives no comfort, life, or light to see, but me in darker darkness leaves, implunged in deeper misery, overwhelmed with nature’s sorest ills. The Spirit saves, the letter kills. If God enlighten through his Word, I shall my kind Enlightener bless; but void and naked of my Lord, what are all verbal promises? Nothing to me, till faith divine, inspire, inspeak, and make them mine. Jesus, the appropriating grace ’tis thine on sinners to bestow. Open mine eyes to see thy face, open my heart thyself to know. And then I through thy Word obtain sure present, and eternal gain.”* Amen.
*”Whether the Word Be Preached or Read,” The United Methodist Hymnal 595.