Consultation on the Nature of Scripture a practice in communal discernment

A group of 38 leaders from across BIC U.S. met at Carlisle (Pa.) BIC Church on February 5 and 6, for a Consultation on the Nature of Scripture.

Beginning in the 1960s, consultations have been held on various topics, such as the nature of the Church, sanctification, and, most recently, marriage. Consisting of study, prayer, and discussion, consultations are convened with the goal of communal discernment on a particular issue, typically resulting in a position statement. The Core Values of the BIC Church are the result of a similar consultation held in the late 1990s.

The Consultation on the Nature of Scripture was deemed necessary, explains planning team chair John Arthur Brubaker, by questions about biblical interpretation arising both in the BIC Church and across the broader cultural landscape: “In a culture being impacted by post-modernistic ways of thinking, and in the light of significant shifts in biblical interpretation that are gaining credence in Evangelical circles, the time had come for BIC U.S. to clarify its understanding of the nature of Scripture.” In particular, he notes, the Consultation looked at the statement concerning Revelation and Scripture, Section 1 in the Articles of Faith and Doctrine.

Participants in this Consultation were chosen from a list compiled by the planning team. The list included pastors, biblical scholars, and other representative voices in the Church, as well as members of the Leadership Council and the Commission on Ministry and Doctrine (CMD). Attention was given to geographic, ethnic, age, and gender diversity, and then the list was submitted to the bishops for approval.

Blaine Lougheed, pastor of Hollowell BIC (Waynesboro, Pa.), was one of the participants. “I have always enjoyed the communal nature of the BIC, but this exercise in discernment reinforced the attitude of humility with which the leadership of our denomination approaches faith and practice,” says Lougheed. “Rather than simply making a bold pronouncement from a committee or speaking ex-cathedra, we undertook to hear what God was saying to us and through us, and then to discern what seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit.”

Participants were asked to prepare for the Consultation with prayer and by reading How to Read the Bible in Changing Times by Mark Strauss, Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright, three papers written specifically for the Consultation, and a series of papers on the Brethren in Christ and biblical interpretation.

“Participating in the Consultation was a blessing,” reflects Zach Spidel, pastor of The Shepherd’s Table (Dayton, Ohio). “Our conversation was always seasoned with grace, even when there were disagreements among us. There were no testy or acrimonious exchanges, despite the diversity of opinions and the passion of all of us there on this topic.”

In addition to large- and small-group discussions, there were presentations by BIC leaders, as well as by biblical scholar Mark Strauss, professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary (San Diego, Calif.). Strauss was invited to present at the Consultation, notes Brubaker, because of the important role his books have played in the CMD’s Equipping for Ministry curriculum and the belief that his approach to biblical interpretation to be a good fit for the Brethren in Christ.

The sessions with Mark Strauss, as well as the introduction and presentation of the three papers were live-streamed, marking the first time the denomination has made an event like this more widely accessible through online viewing. It is anticipated that videos of these sessions will also be available for viewing online by early March.

The conclusions on biblical interpretation drawn from the Consultation will be communicated in a formal statement. A second draft of the statement was reached during the two-day summit. Now, the statement is undergoing a revision process under the leadership of Perry Engle, bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Conferences. Together with a team of Consultation participants from California, Engle will form a third draft, to be offered to Leadership Council for review and feedback throughout the month of March. A fourth draft will be prepared for the joint meeting of Leadership Council and the Commission on Ministry and Doctrine in May, and it is anticipated that a final version of the statement will be ready for the General Church in June 2013.

Engle emphasizes that “We are not so much intending to change our statement on Scripture, as much as we desire to make sure that it is unambiguous about the primacy that the Bible holds in our lives. If we can do this, then we have achieved the goal we set for ourselves in gathering the brothers and sisters together for this consultation.”

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