9/28/90

ON HOW TO USE (AND NOT USE) THE BIBLE

IN UNDERSTANDING GOD'S WILL, AND

ON GOD'S WILL TODAY

To use the bible correctly, one must understand its origins, and avoid certain contemporary misunderstandings.

1. The bible is not in itself the direct revelation of God. The bible is the written record of how people of far-distant times understood the revelation that they had experienced. (Nonetheless, many people today experience revelation when reading the bible, or hearing it read.) The bible is the record of what they understood.

2. The church is not the product of the bible: the bible is the product of the church. The bible was written by many people, and the versions of their writings which were included in the bible were chosen by church councils which were comparable in general concept to the General Convention.

3. Since the church is not infallible, its product, the bible, is not infallible.

4. While the bible is not infallible, it is very, very good.

5. When the bible is interpreted literally, it is most likely to be fallible in areas where the cultural conditioning of its authors kept them from seeing how God's love applied to their social institutions and norms.

6. When we look to the bible for moral guidance, we should see if its literal message is consistent with its basic principles. If the literal message is not consistent with the basic principles, then the basic principles are to be taken as more authoritative than the specific literal message.

7. God's will today is to be interpreted in accordance with four underlying guideposts:

   a. the bible, interpreted according to the above principles

     b. the traditional understanding of the church

     c. experience, and

     d. reason.

8.  a. As an illustration of Items 6 and 7, consider that in past centuries it was held by some that the bible approved of slavery. It also appears that in some historical periods the church did not actively disapprove of slavery. Today, however, we are confident that slavery is against God's will.

       b. This state of affairs can be explained as follows: in some passages, the biblical writers assumed the existence of slavery, and the writers did not at every reference to slavery challenge the morality of its existence. On the basis of reason and experience, and applying what we believe to be the underlying principles of the bible and of church tradition, we arrive at our current strong anti-slavery position, even though this position is not consistent with every biblical passage or with every historical church utterance.

      c. We believe that our current understanding of God's will in this matter to be the result of God the Holy Spirit having been at work in the world. Put differently, God has not stopped revealing his will to his people, and God's people have not yet arrived at a perfect understanding of God's will.

9. In a similar fashion, we understand the canonical eligibility of women for ordination and consecration to be the result of the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

10. In a similar fashion, we now also understand the lifelong commitment to each other in a manner similar to marriage, of two persons of the same sex, to be a union suitable to be blessed by the church, and otherwise to be treated as comparable to marriage. (In some periods of history, such unions have been so recognized both by the church and by secular society.) We believe this new understanding also to be the result of the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the world.