Every Sunday as we begin worship our welcome includes a description of our congregation as “seekers, doubters, and believers.” Clearly, we do not all believe the same things. Our spiritual journeys have shaped us in different ways. But these are some points on which many of us might agree.
Who is God?
When we ask the question that way it might seem like God is a person, but that is much too limited a concept.
There are no words that can adequately convey who God is. God transcends every category of thought and every attempt at definition. God is high above and deep within; transcendent and immanent.
The great poem of creation at the very beginning of the Bible compares the Spirit of God to a wind sweeping across the chaos and bringing forth an ordered universe. We may speak of God as the Creator and the Ground of our Being. God is being itself and the Ultimate Reality in our lives. The Bible speaks of God with majestic poetry and psalms, with narratives and stories, with philosophical reflections, and with rich symbolism.
We understand God best in our experience of his presence through the Bible, in nature and art, and through human relationships.
Who is Jesus?
We know that the historical Jesus was born in Israel around 4 B.C.E (Before the Common Era), and that he was crucified by the Romans near 29 C.E. We know that he was a devout Jew and we know that he worshiped regularly in the synagogue. We know that he was Rabbi, a prophet, and a wise teacher. And we know that he was executed for treason.
We know that his followers called him Lord, Savior, and Son of God, and we know that all of these titles had previously been applied to Caesar. Jesus announced that God’s Kingdom was a present reality in the world and that in contrast to the Roman Empire (or any empire), it was a place of non-violence, of justice and peace.
When his followers declared that “Jesus is Lord,” they were pronouncing the first affirmation of faith. And when they affirmed that Jesus was Lord, they were also declaring that Caesar was not their Lord.
Jesus promised that when we live into God’s Kingdom by loving God and our neighbors we will have fellowship with God now and forever. The Apostle Paul, who was the first Christian theologian. wrote that “God was in Christ, reconciling thee world to himself” (II Corinthians 5:19). Through the faithfulness of Jesus, the whole world has been brought into fellowship with God. This is God’s gift of grace, made visible in the life and teachings of Jesus.
What we believe about the Bible
The Bible is a library of sixty-six books, thirty-nine in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and twenty-seven in the New Testament. These books were written over a one-thousand-year period in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), and Greek.
The books are of different lengths and different literary styles. In the Bible we find legends, histories, liturgies for community worship, songs, proverbs, sermons, Gospels, letters, an apocalypse (Revelation), and a poetic drama (Job). Taken together, the books tell the story of the experience of the people of God.
Adapted from United Methodist Member's Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 80-81.
The Bible is Sacred Scripture.
Over many generations, as the books were read and studied by faithful people and their merits were weighed, the community of faith gave them special authority. They became sacred.
The Bible is inspired by God.
The books were written by human beings who were inspired to tell what they had experienced to the best of their knowledge. They were not writing history or science, but they were writing about the meaning of life. As the Holy Spirit inspired the writers, we believe that the Spirit also inspires us as we read the ancient texts and apply them to the realities of life in our time.
The Bible's authority is not magical.
For example, we do not open the text at random to discover God's will. The authority of Scripture derives from the movement of God's Spirit in times past and in our reading of it today.
The Bible is a guide to faith and life.
In congregational worship we read from the Bible. Through preaching, we interpret its message for our lives. It forms the background of most of our hymns. It's the foundation of our church school curriculum. Many of us use it in our individual devotional lives, praying through its implications day by day. Some parts of the Bible are decidedly time-bound. They are the result of an ancient world-view. Other parts are eternal. As we read the Bible we need to think and pray as we search for those truths which are eternal.