Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Bible, The UCC, and Bethel...

From Pastor Sylvia

Someone asked me yesterday about the Bible, the UCC, and Bethel. They wanted to know how to answer when asked whether or not we are a "Bible-based" church. Under many circumstances,  if the answer to that question is "yes!", it ends up giving an impression of a conservative, fundamentalist, "old-fashioned", sometimes even exclusionary church. Those terms have come to be equated with so-called Christians who discriminate and practice hateful things in the name of religion. You know what I mean - one of those churches that has folks standing on street corners holding up huge signs proclaiming that unless you practice your faith in exactly the same way they do, you are going to hell in a handbasket, fast. And that's sad. Because being "Bible-based" should not automatically mean that. In many ways, I want to make certain that people know that I am NOT that type of so-called "Christian". I am a follower, a disciple of Christ.  And I know that following Christ means loving God, and loving my neighbor. 
So, instead of a short simple answer, I ended up providing a long answer, and decided that this is one of things that is very important. Here it is:
First of all, I came across something which one of my colleagues said beautifully, and I will share that with you: 
 "While we are people grounded in a faith that is 2000 years old, we are always searching for new ways of understanding and interpreting scripture in light of 21st century experience and knowledge." (this comes from the website of First UCC Riverside, where Jane Quandt is the Senior Pastor)
And now, a bit more of my answer:
In our tradition, we take the Bible so seriously that we take the time to study the social and historical context in which it was written. So you will hear us talk about the history of the Jewish and Christian people, as well as the work of modern scholars. We believe that God intentionally planted the word in the middle of history and culture, and therefore that background is part of the story we need to learn. We believe that the Bible is God’s own holy word passed down to us through fallible human beings.
We believe in the Bible so much that we think it deserves our best questions. We believe that the Bible is the opening of a conversation in which God is still speaking. We do not think the Bible will shrivel up and die because we dare to question why it says what it does. We believe that the Bible has withstood similar questions for thousands of years and that in asking the questions together, in communities of faith, over time, we are part of a life-changing conversation that will go on forever.
We honor the word so highly that we do not take one phrase out of context and fling it around. We do not use phrases as stand-alone weapons to prove our point or to injure another person. Rather, we read the phrase as it has been nested in the text. We read the story around it.
We are not even afraid to notice and point out places where scripture disagrees with itself, or at least seems to! We know that we are not the first generation to notice these things. Those who carefully put the Bible together over the early centuries wrestled to decide which books should be included and which left out. In their wisdom, they left us a collection of holy words that offer a rich variety of descriptions of God.
It is our task and our joy to study, and to listen for the Still-Speaking voice of God. That voice is for everyone.
No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome at Bethel Congregational UCC, and you are loved by God.

Come visit - we would love to welcome you. Bethel Congregational Church, UCC. 536 N Euclid Ave, Ontario, CA 91762.