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“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

September, 2017

About a month ago, I was involved in a discussion about the nature of scripture on the web site www.ministrymatters.com, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. At one point, someone had this to say to me:

“You do not know anything. You are a problem if you are in the church. YOU do not believe God thus you need to remove yourself from any church you are a part of. God wrote the Bible not humans
“You are a false teacher”

The reason for this response is that I wrote that I don’t believe God simply sat down and wrote the Bible. Instead, I believe people, human beings, wrote what they believed. Sometimes the Holy Spirit moved and inspired them and other times they simply wrote statements of faith. That doesn’t make the Bible any less valuable or detract from the truth it contains. But no, I don’t believe Adam or Noah were real people. I do, however, believe their stories have things to teach us: The story of Adam teaches us that, even though we have sinned, we are made in God’s image and God values us. The story of Noah teaches us that God is faithful and will deliver those God loves. I’m simply not a “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” kind of Christian. I ask questions, I look beneath the surface; I don’t take Bible stories at “face value.” I believe God gave us brains for a reason and that God expects us to use them. The biblical word for that is “discernment.” In the Old Testament, Solomon was renowned for his wisdom from God (1 Kings 4:29-34) so God must place value on it.

Pastor Kim has recently started a sermon series on the “book” of Genesis, the one that contains the stories of Adam, Noah, and many others. As Kim pointed out, large portions of what we know today as the Bible started out as oral traditions, repeated through the generations. During the period known as “the exile,” the people of Israel were exposed to a very different culture and a different narrative of how things came to be. To preserve their identity as God’s people, they wrote down the stories that had been passed from generation to generation previously. It became important for God’s people to remind themselves that God had placed God’s image in them, in us.  It became important for God’s people to remember that their God had spoken life into chaos.

The founder of what became the Methodist movement, John Wesley, developed what is sometimes called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/wesleyan-quadrilateral). But Wesley didn’t invent it; he simply incorporated experience into the Anglican tradition with which he was familiar. What this means is that we view scripture through the lenses of tradition, reason and experience. We don’t simply read it and understand it, we have to interpret it or sometimes have it interpreted for us (Acts 8:30-31). Jesus began his earthly ministry by interpreting the words of the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21). During the sermon on the mount, he reinterpreted scripture, saying said again and again, “You have heard that it was said . . . But I say to you . . .” (Matt. 5: 21, 22, 27, 28, 33, 34, 38, 39, 43, 44).

In the end, it matters far less what we claim to believe than what we do about it. James wrote, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (Jas. 3:13 ESV). If we believe God’s nature is love, we will demonstrate love (1 John 4:7-21). If we believe God’s nature is forgiveness, we will forgive (Matt. 6:14, Eph. 4:32). Acting out our faith means doing what we believe. Others will see what we truly believe when they see how we put our faith into practice.

“Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.”
(“Take My Life and Let It Be,” vs. 4, Frances Ridley Havergal)

Copyright © 2017 by David Phelps