2 Being a Faithful Church 4 Testing the spirits in the Midst of Hermeneutical Ferment: Using the Bible in Helpful and Unhelpful Ways
3 The first paper (BFC 1, 2009) laid down the foundation for this work. We committed ourselves to strengthen ourselves in our capacity to discern together. BFC 2 (2010) applied some of these principles of discernment to one of the important themes in our spiritual history, that of being a Peace Church.
4 The next document, BFC 3 (2011) set out a process and timeline for discernment around questions of sexuality. That guideline called us to recommend a criteria for biblical interpretation in the July 2012 Assembly.
6 While a few respondents suggested that the Bible should be set aside because it is no longer life-giving for our community, the vast majority affirmed the life-giving nurture that Scripture offers, in spite of its complexities.
7 One scholar used a helpful image by suggesting that biblical interpretation is like a communal hike on which we try to “stay on the paths and avoid the ditches”. So what are the paths that we want to stay on?
8 1.The life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus are central. 2.Context makes a difference in how Scripture is to be interpreted and applied for faith and life. 3.Scripture already interprets Scripture and this gives us essential clues.
9 4.Jesus also interprets Scripture and we can learn much from him. 5.It is important to value the entire canon of Scripture as our base of operations for healthy hermeneutics. 6.Scripture persistently hopes that the letters of its words will become a living Word.
10 7.The Holy Spirit guides the interpretive community in faithfulness, and in faithfully understanding Scripture in our lives. Without this, “the text is just black marks on the paper.” 8.Scripture calls us to remember that we are a part of a larger story of “God’s love affair with the world.” 9.“Knowing” is inseparable from “doing,” “hearing” is inseparable from “acting,” and “praxis [practice] is indispensable for gnosis [knowledge].”
11 10.Scripture is a “delight” that serves also for devotional refreshment and daily inspiration. 11.We need to see our interpretive community as larger than the people currently on the trail with us. 12.Jesus is portrayed as “consistently interpreting Scripture in reference to, and with regard for the needs/realities of "the least" - the most needy and vulnerable.
12 Besides the pathways that we want to stay on to enable faithful use of Scripture there are ditches that we can slip into.
13 Disconnect Jesus from his own Scriptural roots and social/political context. Isolate the Old Testament and consider it irrelevant. Proof-text, that is, support or reject a position without giving sufficient attention to the meaning and function of the text in its historical and literary setting in the Bible.
14 Over-generalize without immersing ourselves in particular texts, the opposite of proof- texting. Assume that our own context is unchanging or normative when interpreting the Bible. Assume that our own context is either static or normative when interpreting the Bible. Try to subject God to our own ideology. Scripture may well challenge rather than support our preferences.
15 We are struck by the remarkable promise that this process of feedback from congregations, individuals and biblical scholars has given to us. We believe that there are many benefits for accepting this framework:
16 Agreeing on such a framework gives us a common ground upon which to discuss, disagree and discern. Our assumptions become transparent and we can better explain the basis upon which we arrive at our interpretations. Our communication and discussion will connect rather than pass each other like “ships passing in the night”.
17 We can better hold each other accountable to consistent interpretation even while we may not agree. We value and affirm the church as a body of believers which takes seriously the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The framework laid out can become a teaching tool within the Church and allow us to grow in our understanding of our vocation as a body of discernment.
18 Finally, Scripture itself invites the Body of Christ to use Scripture well. The Letter to the Ephesians challenges us to speak the truth in love and grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
19 We recommend acceptance of the following statements of affirmation and action: 1. We acknowledge with gratitude the counsel received from congregations, groups, scholars, and individuals of our Body. We receive this summary report as a sign of the Holy Spirit’s work among us, and will use this emerging framework in future efforts to interpret Scripture together for our faith and life.
20 2. We recommend that in the next 12 months (July/2012 – July/2013) each Area Church of Mennonite Church Canada organize opportunities to explore, deepen, and strengthen our understandings of each of the “paths and ditches” identified in this summary report. We further suggest that some common resources generated and/or identified by Mennonite Church Canada be used.
21 3. We recommend that congregations process this document (BFC 4) carefully. We further recommend that congregations highlight particular questions or issues they are facing that could benefit by using this framework of scriptural discernment.