The paths and ditches of Biblical interpretation

Part 5 of a series

At the July 2012 Mennonite Church Canada Assembly, delegates approved Being a Faithful Church 4 for study. These articles are to stimulate further thought and discussion. For more information, visit and follow the “Being a Faithful Church” links.

December 11, 2012 | God at work in the Church | Number 24

Path # 8: We are part of a larger story of “God’s love affair with the world.”

By Willard Metzger, Being a Faithful Church Task Force member

“Scripture calls us to remember that we are a part of a larger story of ‘God’s love affair with the world.’ The Gospel’s command to go and baptize and the invitation to remember the Lord’s Supper are prime examples of when we ‘do not forget’ how God has accompanied us. The yearning to know God is inseparably connected to ‘remembering’ the story of God, a story that we now acknowledge as our own.”

This is a path that is particularly missional in focus. The missional church discerns the activity of God and then aligns itself to that activity. Although the church is God’s premier vehicle for restoration and reconciliation, God’s activity is not limited to the church. God’s passion to restore a world in need of healing and hope is always active.

Scripture describes how God has been active in the past—from the creation narrative in Genesis to God’s redemptive initiative in the Gospels. Jesus also promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to help the community of faith remain active in God’s redemptive activity.

It is exciting to be reminded that we are part of God’s larger intent. When our efforts are aligned to God’s activity we become an integral ingredient of God’s responsive recipe. From the wellbeing of the earth to the health of our relationship with God and one another, we become active participants of the continuing story of God’s love. Scripture invites us not only to experience God’s love for ourselves but also to be an expression of God’s love for the world.

Path # 9: Knowing is inseparable from doing

By Willard Metzger, Being a Faithful Church Task Force member

“Knowing” is inseparable from “doing,” “hearing” is inseparable from “acting,” and “praxis [practice] is indispensible for gnosis [knowledge].” Jesus’ hermeneutic also repeatedly indicates this critical connection between “works [erga] and faith [pistis].” In other words, on a hike we need to walk and not just sit on the path and contemplate the map.

Discernment can be intellectually active but remain practically passive. We can determine what a correct course of action may be, but until we act on it there will be no practical impact. It is important to actively display the impact of our discernment.

This summer I witnessed the ceremony of the first woman to be ordained within the fellowship of the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Congo (CEM). In conversation with CEM President Benjamin Mubenga, I applauded this historical event. He reminded me that the decision to ordain women had been processed several years earlier, however this was the first woman to actualize an earlier decision. It could be argued that the decision had not become real until this ordination.

Discernment can also be participatory. As we exercise our pursuit of faithfulness we may acquire a better understanding of what God requires of us. The understanding of faith for many in Scripture was not fully understood until it was accompanied by action. The disciples expressed and experienced faith as they began to pass out the small portions of food to feed the thousands (Matt. 14). They did not understand how the crowd of people would be fed until they began to distribute the food.

We too are invited to be transformed by faith as we proceed in faithful obedience. The full understanding of how God will work may not be fully comprehended until we are in the process of acting on that which is discerned to be faithful activity.

Path # 10: Scripture is a delight

By Willard Metzger, Being a Faithful Church Task Force member

“Scripture is a delight that serves also for devotional refreshment and daily inspiration. The delight of Scripture is even greater when we can hike together rather than going out on a lone trek.”

When reading a letter from a lover or a beloved friend, the experience is more than an intellectual exercise of reading words. The letter contains deep relational meaning. It ignites emotions of endearment—both towards the author of the letter and from the author of the letter. Because of this, such a letter is often reread several times.

God’s people are especially nurtured by Scripture. Like a cherished letter, reading Scripture is a relational experience. It contains words of the One we love and cherish. It describes sacrificial love for us. Reading and studying Scripture is more than an intellectual exercise. It is a deep communication of the soul. Because of this, any process that draws us to study Scripture is welcomed by God’s People. The psalmist reflects this engagement well in Psalm 119, especially verses 97-104.

One of the benefits of a letter from a lover or a beloved friend is that is reminds us we are not alone. We are cherished and valued by another. The community of God’s people also supplies this. It counters the loneliness of isolation and provides a context of mutual support. It is often through the embrace of others that we more fully understand the embrace of God.

To study Scripture together as a community of faith provides the fullest experience of what God intended. First, we hear and reflect on the words expressing God’s affection and love. Secondly, we experience God’s love through one another. This provides a much fuller experience of the relational character of Scripture than reading it in isolation.

--Posted Dec. 11, 2012

Others in the series:

Part 1- Being a faithful church: The paths and ditches of biblical interpretation (Oct. 15, 2012 issue)

Part 2- The paths and ditches of biblical interpretation (Oct. 29, 2012 issue)

Part 3- The paths and ditches of biblical interpretation (Nov. 12, 2012 issue)

Part 4- The paths and ditches of biblical interpretation (Nov. 26, 2012 issue)

Part 6- The paths and ditches of biblical interpretation (Jan. 7, 20, 2013)

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