You might not make it home without one

The United Methodist Church’s Confession of Faith has this to say about the Bible:

We believe the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation. It is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice. Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation.

So what, given this and the language in the Articles of Religion, is the proper way for United Methodists to read the Bible?

It is a “rule and guide” for us.

A rule suggests a ruler, a measuring stick. If I read the word etymology correctly, the Latin ancestry of the word is for a straight stick of bar. I think of the plumb line in the prophetic literature. Here is a straight line by which we can tell how close we come to God’s standard.

The word also calls to mind the writings of William J. Abraham who has tried to recover the concept of canon as a means of grace. Scripture is the measuring stick that confronts us and challenges us and helps us to mark our growth in grace — like marks on the door frame that used to measure our height.

The word “guide” connects back to old Germanic words meaning “to see,” which reminds me that a guide is often a person who helps you navigate through unfamiliar territory. Perhaps, the Bible  is the guidebook kept in the backpack of the Holy Spirit. A Rough Guide for sojourners on the Earth. Or maybe it is more like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy bearing the reassuring label “Don’t Panic.”

Maybe it is because I am such a book nerd, an English major and all. But I find it impossible to imagine answers to any of the great challenges facing us in the church that do not draw us back to Scripture. I don’t mean Scripture as a simplistic set of dictation notes. But I do mean Scripture soaked in and dealt with in all its particularity.


7 thoughts on “You might not make it home without one

  1. I think a lot of the issue you’re describing (disregard for Scripture) may result from the Bible being sanitized by mainline churches. Just listen to the difference between an evangelical reading the daily Scripture lesson versus a Methodist or Lutheran. We’ve forgotten how untamed, alive, and even frightening the Scripture can be. One of my chaplains preached on social justice a couple of weeks ago and said that we’re SUPPOSED to be frustrated to the point of discussion and action when we read the Bible. Yet you wouldn’t know it in a lot of mainline churches, which makes the Scripture seem rather un-unique(?) and irrelevant in the world.

    1. You make a good point. We often do file off the rough edges. Many churches that get labeled as “evangelical” today do the same just in different ways. What strikes them as “rough” edges are different. But I take your meaning as using the word “evangelical” in a slightly different sense.

  2. The lectionary that many churches use has some merit, but it also has flaws. After preaching through it several times, I realized that the texts are chosen to strengthen the institutional church (not a bad goal). However, I became intrigued by the texts the lectionary ignores. It is quite challenging to intentionally shift to preaching some of these ignored texts–and often these texts are VERY relevant.

  3. I agree that Methodists often sanitize the Bible.

    I very seldom hear Methodists talking about how women should keep their mouths shut in church and obey their husbands. Or preach about how slaves should obey their masters. Even less about the prohibitions against mixing fibers and eating shellfish.

    For me, the key phrase in the Confession involves the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    1. I agree that the Holy Spirit is of central importance in the way we read Scripture.

      If you are unfamiliar with the way Methodists engage with questions about women’s ordination and slavery and fiber, I’d be happy to point you to some resources.

  4. Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation.

    So it must be true:

    Whatever is revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures IS to be made articles of faith and IS to be taught as essentials to salvation.

    The problem with many is there are two many spirits telling too many people the exact opposite things to do and way to go and they all think they are rightly led.
    Many a person has committed terrible acts thinking they where spirit led.
    Do Jim Jones and David Koresh come to mind?

    1. Little known fact. Jim Jones wanted to be ordained by the UMC in Indiana. We turned him down, much to our credit.

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