by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
August, 2007Last time, we talked about traditions, especially church traditions. This time, I’d like to talk about a different portion of the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason, sometimes attributed to John Wesley himself. Three of the four were actually found in Anglican theology but Wesley added a fourth, “experience.” It’s important for our faith to be based on personal experience; it has to be our faith, not someone else’s. Still, an informed faith is grounded in a personal knowledge of Scripture.
Recently, I was sharing with a coworker and, while I don’t claim to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, I was nonetheless able to quote specific passages to back up the points I was trying to make. I don’t know how impressed my coworker was by my Biblical knowledge but I felt better knowing the Scriptures to the extent that I do. At least I wasn’t fumbling and stammering, trying to quote the right passage for a specific instance.
In the same way, the earliest apostles were able to quote Scriptures to make their points. On the day of Pentecost, Peter told the crowd, “No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:” (Acts 2:16 NRSV). Even though Peter was mistaken in assuming they were living in “the last days,” he knew his Scriptures. He also quoted what we know today as Psalm 16 and Psalm 110 in describing Jesus (Acts 2:25, 34). The results were profound: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’” (Acts 2:37 NRSV). He repeatedly quoted the prophets to show that Jesus had fulfilled their writings. “‘In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer.’” (Acts 3:18 NRSV).
Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4 NRSV). The Scriptures are there for our encouragement. They give us hope. They strengthen our faith. They also give us more. Paul told his young friend Timothy, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NRSV). The Scriptures help prepare us to serve God.
In describing “the whole armor of God,” (Eph. 6:11a, 13a NRSV), Paul told the Ephesians “the sword of the Spirit . . . is the word of God,” (Eph. 6:17b NRSV). He didn’t call the Scriptures a “shield” but a “sword.” They shouldn’t be passive but active. He told his friend Timothy that, even though he, Paul, was in prison, “chained like a criminal . . . the word of God is not chained!” (2 Tim. 2:9b NRSV). The word of God is powerful. It cannot be “chained.” The author of Hebrews wrote that
“. . . theword of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12 NRSV). Sounds like powerful stuff. Peter told his readers that “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Pet. 1:23 NRSV).
The word of God has power to transform lives, change hearts, and bring about new life. It can empower us to change the lives of those around us. In our everyday encounters with others, there will sometimes be opportunities to share our faith. The original intent of this column was to talk about “personal evangelism.” Evangelism cannot take place without the word of God. We’re engaged in a battle for people’s lives and souls, and the word is our sword.
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:14-17 NRSV.)