What a week.
I devoted two whole days this week (Monday and Tuesday) to ordination paperwork, and I am happy to say that I got a lot done. I’m still not completely finished, but I’m a lot further along than I was. I posted a couple of my answers below. I’d love your comments. More to come!
Theology and Doctrine:
4. The United Methodist church holds that Scripture, tradition, experience and reason are sources and norms for belief and practice but that the Bible is primary among them. What is your understanding of this theological position of the Church?
The four sources for Christian belief and practice are a metaphorical jazz combo, with Scripture as the solo instrument and tradition, reason, and experience as the rhythm section. To the tune of this combo, the church seeks to undertake our theological task, which the Book of Discipline indicates is “the testing, renewal, elaboration, and application of our doctrinal perspective in carrying out our calling ‘to spread scriptural holiness over these lands’” (¶ 104). The melody is played by the soloist, and is the recognizable essence of the tune, just as the Word of God is contained in Scripture as the primary resource for understanding God’s salvific mission in the world. The piano, bass, and drums that comprise the rhythm section are vital to the overall performance, and give an accompanying harmonic and rhythmic structure, or “groove,” for the soloist, just as tradition, experience, and reason provide the groove upon which our Biblical interpretation is done.
Specifically, the tradition of the church is a historical measuring system for testing the authenticity of our faith. This does not mean that we do it this way because we have always done it this way, but rather that we acknowledge the debt we owe to generations of faithful witnesses before us whose work for the sake of God’s mission has afforded us the opportunity to be where we are. But even a scriptural faith tested by the tradition may still be a dead faith if not enlivened by our own experience. In other words, faith has to be relevant, to make a real perceived difference in people’s lives. And finally, it has to make sense in a reasonable way. This does not discount the supernatural by any means; surely God is capable of working miracles in every moment. But there must be a kind of common sense rationality to the faith that is confirmed in its interaction with other spheres of the human endeavor.
6. Describe the nature and mission of the Church. What are its primary tasks today?
The church is a community called together by God to be an embodiment of God’s reign on earth and a herald of the good news of Christ Jesus. The church’s mission is to participate in God’s mission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ by proclaiming the gospel and living out the commandments to love God and neighbor, toward the end of realizing the reign of God on earth. The primary task of the church today is translation, namely, translation of the message of the gospel into a language that can be heard and understood by new generations of Christians. Of course, this has been the primary task of the church in every generation, but the sociological and cultural changes of the twentieth century have been more drastic than ever in history, including radical shifts in communication, transportation, and technological innovation, and these changes require hard work on the part of the church in order for it to continue to be relevant. Relevance is not important for its own sake, but for the sake of the gospel itself. Simply put, if the gospel of Jesus Christ is not translated into a language that is relevant, that people understand, then the church fails its mission.
Relevance is needed at all stages of church participation, which includes invitation, formation, and sending. As the church reaches out to engage and invite people into the community, it must do so in a way that will encourage participation and be enjoyable. As the church nurtures the spiritual formation of the congregation, people must experience real growth and transformation that impacts them tangibly. And as people are sent into the world to serve God by working for justice and peace, they ought to be making a real difference in the lives of the people they serve. One way to say this is that the church, in all it does, must “keep it real.” A healthy doctrine of incarnation means that a retreat into mystical, ephemeral, other-worldliness is incompatible with who God calls the church to be. The church is in the world, rolling up her sleeves and getting to work, digging into the messiness of real life.