What a gift it is to be part of a denomination that does not require assent to a single doctrinal statement! I love how John Wesley’s quadrilateral (Scripture, tradition, reason and experience) can work together as each person thinks through his or her personal theology. I talk about it like four tent pegs holding down the corners of a tent, with the cross as the central pole. Someone like C.S. Lewis had a theological tent that leaned more toward tradition and reason, while Thomas Merton’s leaned a lot more toward experience.
Recently my husband and I were talking about what reason entails and its role in theology. That prompted me to pull out the Book of Discipline and read how the section on “Our Theological Task” describes these four corners. The few paragraphs under “Sources and Criteria” are worthy of a local church group study all on their own. Highlights for me are: how Scripture is primary, read through critical reflection; the specific parts of Christian tradition that Wesley paid attention to; how reason can help us understand the Bible and wider fields of knowledge; and how Christian witness needs to be understood and appropriated through the individual’s experience.
We are called to be “stewards of the gospel.” Maybe this phrase doesn’t just mean sharing the Good News with other people, but also exploring its depths and dimensions together in thoughtful conversations.
Mark L. Vincent, lead partner in Design Group International, has continued to offer leaders in our different denominations some outstanding resources for growing generous stewards.
One of the latest is “Open Hands Open Hearts,” a private web site for congregations from the Chicago Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Church of America). It provides some of the resources for the Design Group’s six-year engagement with the synod, to help local church leaders there create and implement intentional plans to strengthen holistic stewardship in their congregations.
The six areas in which they work are: worship; formation (Christian education and discipleship); caregiving (acts of generosity within the local church); outreach (generous acts of justice and mission outside the congregation); leadership; and operations (how the local church invites, receives, supports and uses the assets given to them). Knowing these dimensions, in itself, can guide us all as we consider and form intentional Generosity Plans in our own congregations.
Design Group International works ecumenically with church leaders across the U.S. and Canada. Its consultants come from various denominational backgrounds. When it comes to growing generous-hearted stewards of the gospel, there is so much that we have in common across our denominational families.
The worship season of “Epiphany” emphasizes the ways God’s being and presence are “manifest” or revealed in our lives. We think particularly of Jesus Christ himself as showing us Who God is. But there are countless other expressions of God, as well, including the Scriptures, all of creation, and evidence of the Holy Spirit’s actions around and within us.
But even this is not all. On Epiphany Sunday a year ago, our pastor said, “The commitments we make and how we go about keeping them make God more manifest, more tangible, more real, more present in this world.”
I keep pondering his statement, knowing it has everything to do with being a steward of the Good News. God is real whether we recognize the fact or not. But whenever we see people act justly and compassionately and follow-through on caring commitments, then we are able to see God more clearly at work in the world. Who we are and what we do can be a “manifestation” or “epiphany” of God.
May who you are and what you do shine brightly with the light of God’s love!