Here is the introduction to the Bible study led by Dr. Paul Hammer—retired professor of biblical interpretation at Colgate-Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, N.Y.—at the 2000 Dunkirk Colloquy.
Where shall we begin Bible study? In one way, it is quite unbiblical to begin with the Bible. Biblical writers generally do not begin with an exegesis of texts, but with the reality of their situations. Then they tap into their traditions and texts to help them meet the situations they face in their faith communities and in their worlds.
As a former colleague of mine says, "The word became flesh, not text." ANd when it comes to texts, we know that no interpretation of a text can ever be absolutized, for the only Absolute is neither the Bible nor the Church but the living God.
One of my favorite stories about biblical interpretation is about two boys whose mothers were ministers. They were arguing about whose mother was the better preacher. Said the one, "My mother can take the same text and preach a different sermon each Sunday." "That's nothing," said the other. "My mother can take a different text and preach the same sermon each Sunday."
Perhaps there is a bit of truth in both. No text is ever exhausted by any one sermon. And every text finally points to the saving love of God for everyone in God's beloved world.
Bible's unity is enriched by its diversity
What I would like to do is to offer what I see as the interpretive or hermeneutical contexts generally of biblical writers themselves, though of course we cannot fit all these writers, who span a thousand years of Hebrew Christian history, into one mold. The diversity of biblical writers is quite amazing, but what would one expect from the multiple struggles they faced over such an extended period of time? Any biblical unity is enriched by such diversity.
Obviously, there is no one way to articulate such interpretive contexts, but I would suggest the following: a cosmic context, and ecclesial context, a canonical context, and evangelical context, and a pneumatic context.
First, a cosmic or world-embracing context. (Kosmos means "world.") Biblical writers embrace the realities of their worlds and their situations where they and their communities find themselves. Do they, like we, really have any other choice than to begin where we are?
Further, I find it instructive that the way in which the biblical writings are put together in our Bible places them in the context of creation in Genesis at the beginnning and of new creation in Revelation at the end. Thus the Bible as a whole has this cosmic or world-embracing context. As you and I come to this colloquy, we bring our cosmic contexts: our personal lives, our interpersonal relationships, our work, our leisure, our economics, our politics. We bring the glory and the tragedy of life in our world. We do our Bible study in a cosmic context.
Second, an ecclesial or a community-of-faith-participating context. (Ekklesia means the "called-out" assembly, the church.) Biblical writers were part of communities of faith, even when as prophetic persons they had to challenge their own communities. These faith communities were communities of worship, of instruction, of supportive fellowship, of wider mission in that cosmic context of which they were a part. Their life in an ecclesial context intended to guide and nourish and challenge them to be faithful in the larger cosmic contexts of their worlds.
We too bring to this colloquy our life in the faith communities of our churches, with their worship, their education, their fellowship, their ministries and missions. As early Christians prepared for their world-embracing mission, says Luke, "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).
Parenthetically, I find it interesting that here Luke says nothing about preaching! Life within the faith community calls for teaching. For Luke, preaching is for those who have yet to hear "the good news of great joy for all the people" (Luke 2:10). Someone once said that sometimes we seem to speak to the church as if it were the world and to the world as if it were the church.
Teaching is more for the ecclesial context. Preaching is more for the cosmic context. At any rate, we do our Bible study in an ecclesial context.
Third, a canonical or Bible-engaging context. Though the earliest biblical writers may not yet have had their scriptures, they did have their oral traditions. These traditions and the biblical writings that emerged from the communities of faith during a thousand years became canonical for Israel and the Church. From among other writings, these, taking several centuries of usage, finally became the canon or "measuring stick" to engage them again and again to inspire and challenge and keep them on course, though these writings hardly spoke with one voice as they engaged their ecclesial as well as their cosmic contexts.
In fact, an important aspect of the biblical writings is the way scripture can challenge scripture and point to an ongoing interpretive process. The canonical context points to both content and process, and thus the Bible canonizes both the writings themselves and the dynamically continuing process of interpretation. In Matthew's witness, Jesus himself carried on that process repeatedly with the words, "You have heard that it was said ... but I say to you." He can challenge ancient texts with fresh interpretive power. As we compare biblical writings, we can see this intepretive process continuing at many points. In other words, it is quite biblical to challenge the Bible. For example, we would certainly want to challenge this text: "Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rocks!" (Ps. 137:9).
It holds even for the Bible (as someone has said), "None of us is entirely useless. Even the worst of us can serve as horrible examples." The great authenticity of the Bible is that it's all there, the good and the bad, the glory and tragedy of human life. It's no put up job where everything fits into a simplistic mold. As we do Bible study, we do so in the canonical context of the whole Bible.
Fourth, an evangelical or gospel-happening context. Why bother with the Bible? Because the Bible as canon witnesses to the Word that became flesh, not text, that is, to the evangel, the "good news" of God's working in real human existence to touch it with creative and liberating and healing power. I am grateful that one of the uniting churches in the United Church of Christ bore the name "evangelical," which comes directly from the Greek word euangelion.
I am quite unhappy with those Christians who define themselves as the evangelicals, as if other Christians are not. All Christians are by definition evangelicals, for we all have our life in God's evangel, God's good news. Our life has to go on in an evangelical context.
We sometimes limit the evangel to what God has done in Jesus Christ, but Old Testament writers also use the term. More than five hundred years before the coming of Jesus, Isaiah writes, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation" (Is. 52:7).
The whole Exodus event is "good news" for Israel. The Ten Commandments are preceded by the grace and good news of God's liberation. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; (therefore) you shall have no other gods before me". (Ex. 20:2-3).
And it is striking that the Apostle Paul can interpret his scripture (our Old Testament) in this way: "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you'" (Gal. 3:8). What here is the good news for Paul? It is the good news of God's inclusiveness in the promise to Abraham.
An evangelical context means that we live with the expectation that good news will happen to people, to communities, to God's beloved world: that God's good news for the world will bring a deeper sense of faith and hope and love, of freedom and justice and peace, of grace and truth and glory—the glory of God's self-giving love in the cross of Jesus Christ.
We do our Bible study in an evangelical context, in the expectation that God's good news will take on flesh among us as we live together in our canonical, ecclesial and cosmic contexts.
Fifth, a pneumatic or Spirit-empowering context. Biblical writers speak of God's spirit or Holy Spirit in differing ways (Isaiah is not Jeremiah and Jeremiah is not Ezekial; Paul is not Luke and Luke is not John.) We need to let each speak for themselves. But generally, the Spirit of God takes the events of God's deeds in the past (creation, exodus, cross, resurrection) and makes them alive in the present with a foretaste of the future. The Spirit empowers the present with good news from the past and with pregnant hopes for the future.
But how does that happen? It happens in part with the gifts of the Spirit, the charismata with which the Spirit empowers the life of each person and enlivens the evangelical, canonical, ecclesial and cosmic contexts of our lives. We are empowered not only for our own inner spiritual life but for that work of the Spirit that meant for Isaiah and Jesus "good news to he poor ... release to the captives ... sight to the blind ... liberty to the oppressed" (Luke 4:18-19).
Again, some Christians have appropriated the word "charismatic" for themselves with their particular gifts of the Spirit. But from New Testament usage, all Christians are charismatics, for we all are blessed with various gifts of the Spirit and we need to value each one in mutuality and edification and mission together. We do our Bible study in a pneumatic context.
What does this mean for Sunday worship?
To conclude, let me try to put these five contexts into our worship on Sunday mornings. Are they part of the picture?
Well, any sound planning of worship is going to have to take into account the cosmic context of what is going on in the world around us and in the lives of those who come to worship. The worship itself is an expression of the ecclesial context, the gathering of that community of faith with the multiple aspects of its life. In the worship is the reading of the scriptures and their engagement in the sermon, thus expressing the canonical context. And what we hope will happen in the worship is that God's good news will touch us individually and corporately, the evangelical context. And then we hope that people will be empowered by the Spirit with gifts to go forth to live the good news, individually and corporately, and so let it impact the cosmic context of the week that lies ahead. Then back again next week.
Every Sunday is a time to be empowered by the Spirit, for the sake of good news, as we engage the Bible, in the community, in order to be faithful servants in God's beloved world.
As to our sermons, I like the story of the sexton who used to greet his pastor after the service in one of three ways. If the sermon was good he would say, "Pastor, today the sheep were fed." If it was a so-so sermon he would say, "Pastor, that was a difficult text." And if it was really lousy he would say, "Well, Pastor, today the hymns were well chosen." Given that my spouse is a musician, I've learned how important it is that the hymns be well chosen. Thank you all.
Here is the Rev. Frederick R. Trost's paper delivered at the Dunkirk Colloquy in 2000. Trost was the founding convenor of Confessing Christ and is the former President and Conference Minister of the UCC's Wisconsin Conference.
I bring greetings to you all, grateful for this opportunity to be together in this place. I appreciate the work that Andy Armstrong has done in preparing the way for this colloquy and for the support many of you have given to the Confessing Christ project in the United Church of Christ.
It is a joy to be with you and with John Thomas, Debbie Schueneman, Robert Chase and Paul Hammer as well. Paul and I have been friends, "Since the days of our youth." I remember coming to the Dunkirk Conference ground when I was a child. My brothers and I looked forward to summer vacations here under the auspices of the former West New York Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, which also decided to ordain me. It is more than fifty years since I was here last and I am reminded of people like Frederick Frankenfeld (for whom I was named), Paul M. Scroeder, Julius Kuck, Otto Reller and others to whom we looked up when we were young.
Any one of you could speak eloquently to the issue we are exploring together, "Taking the Bible Seriously," for we are, laity and clergy, sisters and brothers in the faith of the church. Each of us and all of us together have been summoned and united by baptism into the work of the Church. We are co-laborers in the vineyards planted by God. Our lives are meant to be a joyful, glad and happy response, despite every weakness and contradiction, to the fact that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." Every difference we face, every issue among us, should be seen in this light. With the great variety of gifts and background, theology and ways of interpreting the Gospel, we are one in Christ Jesus.
There is, perhaps, no more difficult vocation in the world than the one entrusted to us, nor one more happy, than that of those who allow themselves to be humbled in the service of the Word. I believe I speak for many in simply thanking God for who you are. As D. T. Niles put it in former times, workers in the vineyard, bearers of the Good News, we are fundamentally, "Beggars," each one of us, telling other beggars where to get food.
Let us pray: Grant us, O Lord, to pass this day in gladness and peace, without stumbling and without stain, that, reaching the eventide victorious over all temptation, we may praise you,, the Eternal God, who governs all things. We give you hearty thanks for the rest of the past night, and for the gift of a new day, with its opportunities of pleasing you. Grant that we may so pass its hours in the perfect freedom of your service, that as evening comes we may again give thanks unto you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Mosarabic Sacramentary, Daybreak. Office of the Easter Church, Doberstein, 20).
"Taking the Bible seriously." I'd like to begin by telling you three brief tales of the church, each rooted in the crucible of the 20th century:
First, a story you know perhaps, and one of my favorite tales of the church, a story about the community of believers at Le Chambon in France. It is a tale I have heard many times over the years and never tire of enjoying.
For as long as anyone could remember, the community of faith in the region of Le Chambon had gathered every week as the Word was spoken. The congregation at Le Chambon was small, unknown, overlooked by many. But prayers were said and songs were sung among these French Reformed Protestants from one season to the next. The years passed in quietness, for the most part.
Then, about the year 1940, things changed. Children began arriving together with their guardians, at the railroad station. Jewish children. They were fleeing the crucible to the east. They were in search of refuge. At first, the communities in and around Le Chambon did not know what to do with them. It was, at the time, against the law to receive a Jewish child.
The communities decided to break the law. It is said that from 1940 to 1943, there was not a wine cellar in all of Le Chambon in which was not hidden a Jewish child, not a hay stack under which was not hidden a Jewish child, not an attic in which was not hidden a Jewish child.
At the time of the month when the moon grew dark, the consistory and other members of the community would gather together all the Jewish children place them in their hay wagons, and transport them across the frontier to sanctuaries in Switzerland, to freedom and to life. In this manner, it is said, the lives of several thousand Jewish children were saved.
In 1943, the pastor and leading elders of the community at Le Chambon were arrested. Pastor Andre Trocmþ was asked by his interrogators, "Why did you break the law?", "Why did you accept the Jewish children?" To which he is said to have replied: "We did it because we wanted to be with Jesus."
"Let me say, parenthetically here, that we often struggle among ourselves not because we know the Bible so well, but because we do not know the Bible well enough. Not because we take the Bible so seriously, but because we do not take the Bible seriously enough."
Taking the Bible seriously!
Second, an account from the same period of a sermon of Clemens August, Count von Galen, Roman Catholic Bishop of Mônster. He, too, took the Bible seriously. It was Bishop von Galen who, Reichsleiter Martin Bormann suggested should be taken into custody and hanged because of his resistance to the government. Their plan was to kill all epileptic and other exceptional children and adults who lived within the diocese of Mônster and elsewhere in the land.
It as Bishop von Galen who proposed that all the farmers living across the countryside of Westphalia take into their homes or find a place in their barns, all the exceptional children and adults being cared for in Church related institutions, then daring the government to come and try to find them.
In a famous sermon preached in the Liebfrauenkirche in Mônster on July 20, 1941, the Bishop exhorted the congregation to take the Bible seriously; to live by faith unafraid.
Remain strong, he said. "At the moment we are the anvil rather than the hammer... Ask the blacksmith and hear what he says. The object which is forged on the on the anvil receives its form not alone from the hammer, but also from the anvil. The anvil cannot and need to strike back; it must only be firm... If it is sufficiently tough and firm,... The anvil usually lasts longer than the hammer. However hard the hammer strikes, the anvil stands quietly and firmly in place and will long continue to shape the objects forged on it."
The Bishop summoned the congregation to resistance. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer was saying about the same time, it is the obligation of those who take the Bible seriously and who seek to live as Easter people, to open their mouths for the voiceless. (Proverbs 31:8)
"The service of the Church has to be given to those who suffer violence and injustice. The Church takes to itself all the sufferers, all the forsaken, of every party and of every status. Here, the decision will really be made whether we are still the Church of the present Christ." (Bonhoeffer, Finkenwalde, "No Rusty Swords," 325)
There is no way to take the Bible seriously without accepting the blows of the hammer, and allowing our faith to be shaped like objects forged upon the anvil of the Word.
Taking the Bible seriously.
Third a tale from the Apartheid years in South Africa where despite the blows of the hammer, little Christian communities shaped by the Word, sang their songs of faith. It was in the season of Advent, as Christmas approached. The community gathered in the tiny village to which it had been exiled and the people sang their advent hymns and Christmas carols.
The government was offended. The police ordered the people to stop. Hymn-sings were prohibited. The government deemed them acts of "disturbing the peace."
The people went to their homes and at night, in silence, lit a candle and placed it on the window sill. IN every home in the village a candle gave its light. Again, the government was offended. Police were sent to every house. They ordered the candles snuffed out. Then the people refused, the police entered the homes of the people and blew the candles out themselves.
The next night, the people lit their candles again, this time not just one candle but many. There was not a window in the village from which did not shine a candle into the night. It is said the dark night sky above flowed with candlelight.
The police backed away, embarrassed by the thought of entering every house in the village and having to bend down to blow out a thousand candles.
Taking the Bible seriously.
Not a program
Taking the Bible seriously is not a program of some kind. It is not a curriculum. It is not a directive from some source far away. It is not a strategy to solve our problems. It is not a suggestion easily made. It has consequences. It is the simple act of faithful people, done for generations, sometimes at a risk, enabling the Church to make its way through time and events with a song on its lips, often in the face of the laughter and derision of the world. The reality is, hammer blows are struck from time to time.
This belongs to taking the Bible seriously.
I shall always remember the face of Archbishop Oscar Romero. There is a portrait that hangs above his grave inside the cathedral in San Salvador. The gentle face of this "pastor of the poor,' is not the only thing that stands out in the painting those who have knelt inside the cathedral recall seeing two other things: first, the hands of the Bishop, calloused by good works, are folded in prayer. Second, the Bible is in front of him.
This belongs to taking the Bible seriously.
The fact is, despite all the changes that take place in the Church from one generation to the next, our vocation as Christians remains the same: we are to proclaim the Gospel in the Word and Deed as witnesses to the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Let the hammer strike where it may.
"The theology," Karl Barth observed, "there is the question as to the source of the Word, that is, exegesis, and the shape of the Word, that is, (so-called) practical theology. Between them stands dogmatics" (a nasty word in some circles). Dogmatics asks the question, "What are we to think and say?" "What should the content of the Christian proclamation be?" To do theology is to engage in conversation with the Word of God. It is at the heart of our vocation as pastors and as members of congregations. We all do it somewhat well, even very well at times, or somewhat badly, even very badly at times. But we all do it.
A few years ago, we built a new Conference Center in Wisconsin. The Conference staff works there and the Churches gather there to think and pray. When we built the Conference Center, we said to our architect, we have but two requirements: one, there should be skylights throughout the building so we might do our work with light that comes from beyond us. Two, we should have many windows in the building; windows that open wide to the world.
We placed a baptismal font at the entrance to the building so people are reminded of their baptism. In the chapel area, where many of our larger meetings are held, we placed a communion table, a cross and the Bible. The only way the community can look out into he world is through the table. And through that cross and, at the very center, the Bible.
Outside the building, we mounted a large, bronze church bell that had rung for nearly one hundred years from the steeple of one of our inner city churches. We placed it not far from the front door, so that when people leave their work at the conference center, they are reminded of their vocation to "make a joyful noise" in the world; "to sere the Lord with gladness," that is, ... to take the Bible seriously.
But the Bible is more than "light from above' or a reminder of our vocation "to lift our voices" in the world.
Where the Church is alive, where it lights its candles and allows itself to be shaped on the anvil of the Word of God, it will always have to "re-assess itself by the standard of the Holy Scriptures." (Barth)
The Bible is, in a sense, a measuring-stick, a ruler, if you will.
Despite some contemporary notions of faith, it is not the evidence of our thoughts that matter when it comes to the faith of the church. It is not even the deep longings of our hearts that count the most. What the Bible offers the Church is the evidence of the Apostles and Prophets, "God's self-evidence." (Barth, "Against the Stream").
The faith of the Church is a gift in which "we become free to hear the word of Grace which God has spoken in Jesus Christ. Our subjective faith lives by its object." (Barth)
What is of interest to those who seek to live by faith is not me and my faith, but the One in whom I believe and the miraculous fact that should stun us all, namely, that "God is gracious to us."
God is telling us in the Bible that "I am gracious to you." This is the Word of God and is the central concept of all Christian thinking. Where do we hear this Word of God? To know Jesus Christ is to be met by the graciousness of God.
To take the Bible seriously is to allow this Word to be spoken to us.
It is the Good News that the publican in the temple has a future and a hope. It is the Gospel that all of us who are acquainted with "the far country," are also the recipients of a robe, a ring, and slippers.
Each of us who takes to his or her lips the ancient prayer, "Lord be merciful to me, a sinner," is close to the very heart of this. Close to the astonishing fact that grace abounds! This is what the angels are singing about in the face of the dark night, into the howling winds of the "bleak midwinter." And this is why the shepherds return to their fields, bewildered but rejoicing.
To take the Bible seriously is to believe this; to accept the astonishing, bewildering, miraculous, absurd, liberating truth.... Despite everything, God is in love with us all!
The Word that incarnates God's grace is the one whom the second article of the Apostles' Creed confesses; the one with whom the very first question of the Heidelberg Catechism is concerned; the one whom Herod the King understood better than almost anyone else (and was afraid).
The gracious Word of God, which is the main theme of the Bible, meets the world (according to Luke 2), in that stable in Bethlehem. Christian faith is the welcome to the embrace people give to the fact of Immanuel, God with us. Jesus Christ is present in this world for our good. In him, God chooses to meet us, embrace us, judge us, confront us. This meeting, this embrace, this judgment, this confrontation is a gift. It is why the church has always prayed, and in its most faithful moments opened the Bible and said, "Come Holy Spirit!
Pointing away from ourselves to Jesus
To take the Bible seriously is to trust in the act of the faithfulness of another, namely, the act of God. It is to this act that the Bible points. To take the Bible seriously is to trust that God is here for us. It is to live in this certainty.
Faith points to this fact. We are like John the Baptist. In Matthias Greunewald's Crucifixion from the time of the Reformation, his index finger points away from himself to the cross, to the Lamb of God. That is our calling too.
Louise's and my son, Paul Gerhardt, is an artist, a painter. Often his themes are the themes of faith. Recently, he was in Haiti helping to establish a food program among desperately poor children.
Paul sent us a letter describing a visit he made to a Catholic orphanage in Haiti. The orphanage was filled with little children, he wrote, almost all of them sitting or lying in their cribs, crying, reaching out for someone to hold them.
"I stumbled past row after row of those cribs," he said to us, "in a sea of tears. I was numbed by it all. Finally, I summoned the strength to take one of the fragile children into my arms. Then, I lifted up another and walked outside into the sunshine. I began to sing little songs to the children. Though they could not understand the words, they smiled with the melody. I did this for more than an hour. Then I returned the children to their cribs and said good-bye. As I was about to leave, I was captured by a little girl, about two years old. She stood out because of all the children, she was the only one who was able to smile. She stood in her crib, motioning to me and pointing way from herself, to a little boy whose tears were insatiable. I went to him and held him close to me. The little girl continued to smile. I set him down. She motioned to me again, pointing me to another child who wanted to be held. I thought of John the Baptist," Paul wrote.
To take the Bible seriously is to point, with whatever gifts we may have, away from ourselves to Jesus.
This, as you know is not always easy. There is a lovely story told of one of the great music conductors of the past century who was leading a magnificent orchestra in one of the Beethoven symphonies. A newspaper reporter noticed that tears poured down the conductor's cheeks as the symphony was played. After the concert, he asked the great man "Why?" "Maestro, why were you weeping?" To which the great man is said to have replied, "I weep because I cannot make the music sound the way I hear it in my heart."
It is not always easy to "play the music" of the Gospel or to do our theological work.
Preaching fairy tales
In a remarkable essay by Kurt Scharf, he writes of the temptation of the church to be too generous, to open, too tolerant of the many winds that blow about us. Bishop Scharf mentions how, as a young theological student, he (and many others), lost respect for church leadership because they seemed to have no standards or expectations when it came to the teaching office of the pastor.
The nave of this Church, he said, had become a forum of human opinions, where just about anything was acceptable, so long as one held the belief deep within his or her heart. "In the first years of parish ministry," he writes, "I became acquainted with a neighboring pastor who had written a book of sermons based on Grimm's fairy tales. These sermons were popular in my association and it was not uncommon to hear preaching on Sunday morning about Snow White or Dornroeschen" (or Jack in the Beanstalk). The pastors searched for truths and for relevance and popularity anywhere they thought they might find it, including the poetry of Goethe and the dramas of Schiller, but not in Scripture. (See Eberhard Bethge, U. A. "Kirche in Preussen: Gestalten und Geschichte," 178-180)
Taking the Bible seriously:
When the Church takes the Bible seriously, it will not trouble itself with "religious virtuosity" or with efforts to construct communities of the "morally elite."
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it will acknowledge that the Bible is Holy because it was written for the unholy. It will understand that the witness of the Bible is not that we, despite everything, believe, but that God, despite everything, keeps faith.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, Karl Barth observed, Christ always leads the way and the church follows. Christ always speaks and the Church merely answers. Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, the community knows that it belongs not to itself but to him. This is why in the "Evangelical Catechism," in response to the question, "What does thy daily communion require of thee?" the newest member of the congregation would respond, "Lord, Jesus, for thee I live, for thee I suffer, for thee I die. Thine will I be in life and in death. Grant me, O Lord, eternal salvation.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it will understand itself as the lowest, poorest, meanest, weakest thing that can possible exist, gathered around a manger and a cross, and also as the highest, riches, most radiant of communities, an Easter people.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, its members neither esteem, nor admire, or revere one another, but simply love each other. They accept each other in his or her place, exactly as she or he is, because the community understands the judgment and grace of God.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it is impossible for its members to face one another with any ultimate reservations. It is a community in which people help one another, not with the intent of doing good or showing how selfless they are, or to give God pleasure or to make a public impression, but because they have a common cause. They hold a basin in one hand and a towel in the other.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it summons the courage to challenge, to break the idols, to shatter callousness. It refuses to allow itself to achieve respectability by the grace of society. It will struggle not to allow love to be replaced by habit, ignoring the crisis of today because of the splendor of the past. It will understand itself as a response to life, to passion, to the cross, to the resurrection, resisting moods or fads and insisting on good thinking. It will have empathy for the prophets, who saw a single act of injustice as a disaster, even though it is incapable of emulating them. It will confess that theological work among people of faith can only take place in relation to Auschwitz and in a context in which the clouds formed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain with us. (Cf. Abraham Joshua Heschel).
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it sits at Jesus' feet like Mary. It knows that no one belongs to it by virtue of one's religious experience, but rather, it knows it is already called together, united, and governed by the Word of its master, or it is not the church at all. (Cf. Karl Barth, "Against the Stream.")
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, the members of the community will bear one another's burdens, seeking to live life from the Gospel in relation to the Word made flesh, as provisional heralds, as representatives of those who do not yet know Jesus Christ.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it believes that God who was in Christ does not cease to live for us, and so the Church lives in anticipation, in hope, expecting surprises.
Where the church takes the Bible seriously, it confesses God with us. "If its poverty lead it into temptation, it will confess Christ was poorer. Should it become grieved by disbelief, it will confess that Jesus was tempted, just as we. It will know that whenever one is in a position of weakness, he or she shares God's life." (Bonhoeffer).
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it sees a great light, though it is still a community walking in darkness. It therefore leaves behind all self-satisfaction, but also all brooding and despair over the enigmas of the present. It knows that it serves God by serving its neighbors in the world, wherever they are, whatever language they speak, or politics they profess or race to which they trace their roots. Its mission is not to say "no" but to say "yes." That God is not against us, but for us. (Cf. Barth)
Textual criticism only reveals the surface
In April, 1936, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his brother-in-law, Rudiger Schleicher (who was later to perish with Bonhoeffer for his role in the conspiracy). In this letter, Bonhoeffer speaks of the necessity of taking the Bible seriously. It is to believe that in the Bible it is God who speaks to us. Textual criticism belongs to biblical study, but it can only reveal the "surface of the Bible, not what is within it." Bonhoeffer asks an insightful question: "When a dear friend speaks a word to us, do we subject it to analysis? No, we simply accept it, and then it resonates inside us for days. The word of someone we love opens itself up to us the more we 'ponder it in our hearts,' as Mary did. In the same way, we should carry the word of the Bible around with us. We will only be happy in our reading of the Bible when we dare to approach it as the means by which God really speaks to us, the God who loves us and will not leave us with our questions unanswered." (Bonhoeffer, "Meditation on the Word." 44).
To take the Bible seriously is to understand that my knowledge of God does not originate either in my own experience or the insights which I bring from within myself, but that it is based on God's revelation of God's own Word. It is to frankly acknowledge that either I am the one who determines the place in which I will find God, or I allow God to determine the place where God will find me. God tells me where God is to be found. "If it is I who say where God will be" Bonhoeffer wrote to his brother-in-law, "I will always find there a God who in some way corresponds to me, is agreeable to me, fits in with my nature."
But if it's God who says where (God) will be, then that will truly be a place which at first is not agreeable to me at all, which does not fit so well with me. That place is the cross of Christ. And whoever will find God there must draw near to the cross in the manner which the Sermon on the Mount requires. That does not correspond to our nature at all... But this is the message of the Bible... The entire Bible then, is the Word in which God allows (Godself) to be found by us. Not a place which is agreeable to us or makes sense to us... But instead a place which is strange to us and contrary to our nature. Yet, the very place in which God has decided to meet us. (Ibid, 45)
To take the Bible seriously is to understand that our God is a suffering God. "It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in (the world)... It is to know that being with and for others is the way in which (we are) formed in Christ." (Bonhoeffer)
I close with a little advice from one who has come before us (Christian Lendi-Wolf, in Doberstein, Minister's Prayer Book, 326) [I believe, incidently, that we should remain in conversation with those who have come before us, not only the witnesses of the prophets and apostles, but those frail human beings who believed before we were born. There is an important conversation, as Archbishop Romero observed, that constantly takes place between the "Ecclesia Militans" and the "Ecclesia Triumphans" and we should pay attention to it.]
In a letter to a young student, this one who has come before us seems to sigh as he says
so you want to be a pastor of souls? Absolutely necessary for this ministry is a mirror. But you, I know, are not fond of gazing into a mirror. And yet there are a lot of people who like to stand in front of a mirror because they are pleased with themselves. (I speak) rather (of) that unerring mirror. And what more salutary could happen to us than this? His gaze kills our pride.
Only a humble (person) can really be a pastor... Only a fighter can be a real pastor. The Lord's presence promises us forgiveness and gives us the courage again and again to make a new beginning... His Word is a call of alarm that keeps us from stiffening into self-satisfied security... The mirror of God preserves us from being phony paragons. Real pastoral care requires truth. And that's what God's mirror gives us, in order that we... may care for others with unflinching and joyful hearts.
Friederich Schleiermacher often signed his letters and other documents with the words "student der theologie" (student of theology). This remarkable teacher, the most influential of the theologians of his time, remained a student to the end of his days. As I prepare for retirement after nearly forty years as a pastor, my hope and prayer for you and for the United Church of Christ is that you might sign everything you say and do with the statement, "We have sought in this and in all other things simply to be a 'student of the Word'."
I thought last evening as the four women in the string quartet played their music so joyfully, what it would be like were each of us to remain, all our days, so happily engaged in the Scripture set before us, paying attention to the "notes," and even with the mistakes we would invariably make allowing the music to resonate deep into our being, looking up from time to time and taking direction from the first violin.
"Jesu Juva," Bach would write at the beginning of his compositions—"Jesus, help me." And at the end of the many of them, the words, "Soli Deo Gloria" ("To the Glory of God alone").
May it also be so with each of us!
The United Church of Christ embraces a theological heritage that affirms the Bible as the authoritative witness to the Word of God, the creeds of the ecumenical councils, and the confessions of the Reformation. The UCC has roots in the "covenantal" tradition—meaning there is no centralized authority or hierarchy that can impose any doctrine or form of worship on its members. Christ alone is Head of the church. We seek a balance between freedom of conscience and accountability to the apostolic faith. The UCC therefore receives the historic creeds and confessions of our ancestors as testimonies, but not tests of the faith. Linked on the right of this page are some of those testimonies.
On the right, you'll find links to the Theology Page—a growing library of articles on theological issues that face the church.
Statement of Faith UCC
The Name of Jesus
Jesus Head of the Church
God's plan of salvation
The Apostles' Creed
Jesus Human and Divine
Luther's Small Catechism
Principles Christian Church
Kansas City Statement
Basis of Union
Preamble to Constitution
Statement of Mission
Toward the 21st Century
Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ - La Declaración de Fe de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo
We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father, and to his deeds we testify:
He calls the worlds into being, creates man in his own image and sets before him the ways of life and death.
He seeks in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
He judges men and nations by his righteous will declared through prophets and apostles.
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord,he has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to himself.
He bestows upon us his Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.
He calls us into his church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be his servants in the service of men, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.
He promises to all who trust him forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, his presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in his kingdom which has no end.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto him.
We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify:
God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image, and sets before us the ways of life and death.
God seeks in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
God judges all humanity and all nations by that will of righteousness declared through prophets and apostles.
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord,God has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the whole creation to its Creator.
God bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.
God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table,to join him in his passion and victory.
God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace,the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto God.
We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit, God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God, and to your deeds we testify:
You call the worlds into being, create persons in your own image,and set before each one the ways of life and death.
You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
You judge people and nations by your righteous will declared through prophets and apostles.
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, you have come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.
You bestow upon us your Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.
You call us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be your servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil,to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.
You promise to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in your realm which has no end.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto you.
Creemos en Dios, el Espíritu Eterno, Padre de nuestro Señor Jesucristo y nuestro Creador; y de sus obras testificamos:
Dios llama los mundos para que existan, creó al ser humano a su imagen y semejanza, y puso ante la humanidad los caminos de la vida y la muerte.
Busca en su santo amor salvar a todas las personas de su desorientación y pecado.
Dios juzga al ser humano y a las naciones por medio de su justa voluntad declarada a través de los profetas y los apóstoles.
En Jesucristo, el hombre de Nazaret, nuestro Señor crucificado y resucitado, Dios ha venido y ha compartido nuestra suerte, venció el pecado y la muerte y reconcilió al mundo para sí mismo.
Dios nos concedió el Espíritu Santo, que crea y renueva la iglesia de Jesucristo y une en un pacto de fidelidad a personas de todas las edades, idiomas y razas.
Dios nos llama como iglesia para que aceptemos el costo y la alegría del discipulado, para que seamos sus servidores al servicio del ser humano, para proclamar el evangelio a todo el mundo y resistir los poderes del maligno, para compartir el bautismo de Cristo, comer en su mesa, y unirnos a Jesús en su pasión y victoria.
Dios promete a toda persona que confía en Jesús el perdón de los pecados y la plenitud de su gracia, valor en la lucha por la justicia y la paz, su presencia en las tristezas y en las alegrías, y vida eterna en su reino que no tiene fin.
Bendición y honor, gloria y poder sean dados a Dios.
About this testimony
The original (traditional) version of the UCC Statement of Faith was adopted in 1959 by General Synod and is widely regarded as one of the most significant Christian faith testimonies of the 20th century. The Statement of Faith in the Form of a Doxology was authorized by Executive Council in 1981. For these and other affirmations of the Christian faith, see the Book of Worship of United Church of Christ and The New Century Hymnal. Both resources are available from United Church Resources at 800-325-7061, or can be ordered from The Pilgrim Press at www.ThePilgrimPress.com
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in theSpirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind,having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each ofyou look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be inyou that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
About this testimony
One of the oldest Christian liturgical texts recorded in Scripture, this is the famous "kenotic hymn" or "Song of the Self-Emptying of Christ" from Philippians 2:1-11. It explores the mystery of Christ's humiliation and exaltation. The One who was handed over to a shameful death on the Cross is the One before whom all knees will bend and all tongues will confess, "Jesus Christ is Lord." But Christ's humility also teaches us how to live: we should "do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better" than ourselves. So, "let each you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others." This is how Jesus lived. This is how we can live.
Christ is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in Christ all things were created, in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or principalities or authorities—
all things were created through Christ and for Christ.
Christ is before all things,
and in Christ all things hold together.
Christ is the head of the body, the church;
Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in everything Christ might be preeminent.
For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through Christ all things are reconciled to God,
whether on earth or in heaven,
making peace by the blood of Christ's cross.
About this testimony
This testimony of faith, adapted from Colossians 1:15-20, is from the Book of Worship, United Church of Christ. In the words of Holy Scripture, it affirms our belief that Jesus Christ is the center of creation, the head of the church, and both the human and divine One "in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell." For information on how to order the Book of Worship, please call United Church Resources at 1-800-325-7061.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God in love.
God destined us for adoption as God's children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of God's will, to the praise of God's glorious grace that God freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of God's grace that God lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of God's will, according to God's good pleasure that God set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.
In Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of God who accomplishes all things according to God's counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of God's glory. In Christ you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in Christ, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of God's glory.
About this testimony
This is one of the oldest testimonies of faith in the Christian tradition. It is an ancient church hymn praising our salvation in Christ and can be found in Ephesians 1:3-14. Despite our fall from God, God destined us before time to be God's children "through Jesus Christ." Through Christ's blood we have the "forgiveness of our sins." The God praised in this hymn is a generous God who despite humanity's misery rushes to our side and restores our glorious inheritance—to be God's own adopted daughters and sons.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
From the English Language Liturgical Commission, 1988. Other ancient creeds and testimonies of the faith are collected in The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ. Affirmations of the faith for public worship are available in the New Century Hymnal and the Book of Worship of the United Church of Christ. All three books can be purchased from United Church Resources, 800-325-7061.
About this testimony
Also known as the Nicene- Constantinopolitan Creed, this classic testimony of the faith was the consensus of ecumenical councils in Nicea, 325, and Constantinople, 381. The creed was a response to the "Arian" movement, which challenged the church's teaching that Christ was both fully human and fully divine. Arians emphasized the humanity of Christ, and therefore believed he was "subordinate" to the Father. But the faith proclaimed in Constantinople was in a Christ who was both, and therefore "of one being" with the Father. This creed is recited in the Sunday worship of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, and many Lutheran and Reformed congregations also use the creed when they celebrate Holy Communion.
Here is John Thomas' paper delivered at the Dunkirk Colloquy on October 10, 2000. Thomas is General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.
Gary Dorsey is a journalist who spent a year watching, living with, and eventually growing to be a part of a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Connecticut. In his book about the experience titled, Congregation: The Journey Back to Church, he includes many delightful observations of the pastor and people of this ordinary and remarkable church. One Sunday morning, peering down from the balcony, he described the preacher as follows:
His hearing aid sounded off like a pitch pipe at times, and one Sunday. . . I noticed him speaking from a set of notes all typed in red. I realized that his jackhammer typing style finally had frayed the black ribbon on his Olympia, and rather than spending a dollar to replace it, he had jumped the cartridge to pound on the red side alone, making every word look like the scarlet verse of Jesus.
I may read Dorsey saying more than he intended, but his observation, playfully joining the preacher?s eccentricities with those familiar red letter editions of the Bible, provides me with a good starting point. Sometimes, here and there, now and then, when the preacher, accompanied by the Spirit, is able to take the Biblical text seriously enough, as well as the gathered community seriously enough, what emerges is not merely an oration, or a set of moral platitudes, or a ringing call to action, but the presence of the living Word itself, to which the Bible always points, but which it can never quite contain.
Many years before Dorsey, a more traditional theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher, put it this way:
I am sure you will gladly testify, dear friends, that from the time you received the milk of the gospel in your first instruction in Christianity, right up until the present day, every such encounter with scripture was like a new, joyous, and powerful appearance of the Lord himself.
Schleiermacher?s enthusiasm may sound like wishful thinking to ears assaulted by the noise of our secular world at the dawn of a new century. Far too often in our own experience the Lord fails to appear, at least in ways that seem fresh, joyous, and powerful, and the scarlet verse remains what at one level it always is, the product of the eccentricities of pastors who are no better than the Christians sitting in the pews waiting for the concluding ?amen? that never seems to come soon enough! But a church that takes the Bible seriously always expects more, and sometimes receives it, which in the midst of our jaded world view and its scientific straightjacket is news that comes as a marvelous surprise, perhaps even as the Gospel itself. Like the discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus, belief is mixed with unbelief, and even the skilled Biblical interpretation of the mysterious stranger does little to overcome cynicism in the face of dashed hopes and human tragedy . . . until. Until something happens and we get what we hadn?t quite dared to expect - the red type truly becomes the scarlet verse of Jesus, and the Lord himself appears with fresh, joyous power. So that the first word about taking the Bible seriously is expectation - approaching the text expecting more than mere written text, more than bare words to confront us. And while there is much more to be said about taking the Bible seriously in our day, perhaps this is the greatest challenge of all.
According to the Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ, ?we look to the word of God in the scriptures.? Another way to say this is that our expectation is an honoring of the Bible?s ?transparency.? Frederick Buechner uses the image of a picture window to describe this task:
If you look at a window, you see fly-specks, dust, the crack where Junior?s Frisbee hit it. If you look through a window, you see the world beyond. Something like this is the difference between those who see the Bible as a Holy Bore and those who see it as the Word of God which speaks out of the depths of an almost unimaginable past into the depths of ourselves.
In the line of the familiar hymn, ?Break now the bread of life,? we sing, ?beyond the sacred page, I seek you Lord.? Not apart from, but beyond or through the sacred page we seek the Lord and sometimes see God?s face. Taking the Bible seriously means recognizing its transparency, expecting to see beyond mere text to the mysterious presence. It is to see the Bible not as the ultimate object of faith in a kind of fundamentalist biblicism, nor as mere literature expressing pious religious themes or fixed moral values be they liberal or conservative, but as the penultimate instrument of mediation through which the ultimate living Word encounters us full of challenge, comfort, judgment, grace and truth. Encounters us, I hasten to emphasize, because this transparency works both ways, and allows the Word to ?see us for what we really are,? to see ?the depths of ourselves? as Buechner puts it.
To read the Bible expectantly, honoring its transparency, enables us to avoid what Walter Brueggemann and many others warn us about:
To say that the Bible mediates God is not to say that the Bible ?hands God over? to the reading community as possession or as prisoner. The reading community has been wont, on occasion, to imagine that it possessed or imprisoned the God of the Bible. Such a self-deception takes a Protestant form in bibliolatry and a Catholic form in magisterial infallibility.
Not only does this violate what Brueggemann describes as the ?elusive, odd character? of Yahweh which defies human definition, it also enables those in power, those in the ecclesial center, to use the Bible to violate or exploit those at the margins, an all too familiar approach to the Bible in our own day, an approach which, in the end, is far more cavalier than it is serious.
Both divine revelation and human disclosure
To begin taking the Bible seriously, then, is to approach it expectantly, to honor its transparency, and to discover that it not only discloses Yahweh, God, the Word made flesh, it also strips us bare before that same Word to portray us in all our grandeur and all our depravity. So in a peculiar way, the Bible is both divine revelation and human disclosure. Beyond the sacred page we seek you Lord. Yet beyond the sacred page, from the other side we might say, God also seeks us, and in so doing allows us to look over God?s shoulder, as it were, to see ourselves as God sees us. But in order to do this, we must first read the Bible, or perhaps better, we must listen to the Bible.
Taking the Bible seriously means to read it. This may sound like an incredibly mundane stating of the obvious, the kind of comment that elicits from our teenagers the marvelous rejoinder, ?Duh!? In one sense, of course, we do read the Bible. We read it in order to preach about it. We read it in order to seek answers to troubling question. We read it in order to justify our opinions, wielding it against our theological or ecclesial enemies like the ?sword? it used to be called in some conservative Christian circles. In other words, far too often our reading of the Bible is really an effort to make use of the Bible, and in the process the Bible tends to lose its transparency, becoming opaque or worse, a kind of mirror reflecting nothing more than our own devices and desires. The reading that takes the Bible seriously is of another sort altogether. It is a kind of attentiveness to the narrative in its broad sweep, and to its text in all its intricate detail, that makes of the Bible more of a companion than a tool, something we listen to, attend to long before there is anything we can ?do? with it, and long after its ?usefulness? has become dated. Jews catch something of this spirit in their worship when the scroll is taken from its place and paraded, even danced around the sanctuary like a long lost friend. The worshipers move to touch it, sometimes to kiss it. There is nothing magical in the mood; the scroll is no talisman. It is a friend to be embraced, a voice to be honored. ?In this scroll is the secret of our people?s life from Sinai until now,? the liturgy announces as the Torah is taken from the Ark. ?Its teaching is love and justice, goodness and hope. Freedom is its gift to all who treasure it.? ?Shema Yisrael. Hear, O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord is One! Our God is One; our Lord is great; holy is God?s name.?
Justo Gonz?lez suggests another dimension of the reading we are called to engage in when he describes the reading that takes place Sunday after Sunday in churches in poor barrios throughout the Western hemisphere. Unlike the modern historical critical reading, and the fundamentalist reaction to it, the reading he describes retains ?a sense,? he says, ?of the activity of God, of the openness of the universe, of the possibility of mystery.? In this reading the ?future is in control,? which means life, and the text, is ?constantly open to surprise, to astonishment, to real and radical revolution.? A reading that is ?open to astonishment? is how Gonz?lez puts it, an astonishment that
allows Hispanics today to read Scripture with a profound sense of connection with the people who actually wrote the text. We are well aware of the geographical and cultural distances that stand between us and the original writers and readers. But we leap across the distance by sharing a sense of astonishment, a sense of openness to God?s activity, that was very much part of the writing and the intended reading of the text.
This astonishment does not rule out close, critical readings of the text, and does not react in a fundamentalist form of literalism. But it moves beyond the modern reading to encounter the astonishment of the writers who themselves have been encountered by the amazing and liberating future of God.
Those who take the Bible seriously have grown acquainted with it, befriended it and like any good friend, look for it to tell them the truth, the hard truth, the whole truth, astonishing truth, the Gospel truth. The friend is not there to be used, manipulated or wielded like a set of tools or an armory of weapons. Nor is the friend there to lock the present into a comfortable and secure past. This ?friend,? this text is there to be heard, listened to, attended, embraced. Buechner, in his Beecher lectures at Yale, speaks of the prophet-preachers of the Bible. ?What do they say?? he asks.
They say things that are relevant, lacerating, profound, beautiful, spine-chilling, and more besides. They put words to both the wonder and the horror of the world, and the words can be looked up in the dictionary or the biblical commentary and can be interpreted, passed on, understood, but because these words are poetry, are image and symbol as well as meaning, are sound and rhythm, maybe above all are passion, they set echoes going the way a choir in a great cathedral does, only it is we who become the cathedral and in us that the words echo.
Truth echoes for those who take the Bible seriously. The truth of a God who knows what it means for a parent to see a beloved child go off to a far country, cut himself off from parents, squander opportunity and betray parental trust, and yet in the midst of all of that to stand at the door wanting only to embrace. The truth of an aging Sarah who has suffered all manner of indignity including her barrenness, a condition which seems only to mock the divine promise, yet a woman still ready to be told in the most unimaginable way that God remains faithful to God?s promise. The truth of Job whose life is destroyed before his eyes and who must then suffer the foolish advice of friends before discovering that God wants us not only to be faithful, but perhaps also to rail against the injustice of it all, even against the Creator of it all. The truth of a Jonah who cannot bear to offer the word of judgment for fear that it will be heeded, leaving the hated enemy spared. The truth of David, grown bored with governance, finding himself consumed by lust for Bathsheba and setting off a sequence of murder and lies that follow his dynasty from one generation to the next. The truth of a people liberated and of exiles sustained. The truth of a woman so overwhelmed with devotion for Jesus that she is willing to risk propriety and expose herself to criticism by anointing him in an act of extravagant intimacy. The truth of a man touted to be tough as nails and resolute as the rock he bears for a name, yet who finds himself weeping for the ease with which he denied what he had pledged to follow. The truth of bones living and of streets like gemstones lined with trees whose fruit is for the healing of the nations. The truth of a God who becomes vulnerable to the point of sharing in solidarity our deepest sorrow and being inflicted by the most profound wounds that our own journey into death might not be the last word and might never be traveled alone.
But what do we do?
None of this tells us exactly what we must do in a given circumstance. None of it enables us to definitively sort out the good from the bad, the worthy from the unworthy. It won?t solve our dilemmas over homosexuality or abortion or euthanasia or genetic engineering or the economy. In other words, none of it is terribly ?useful.? Indeed, it is often more like a confusing cacophony of conflicting testimony or, as Brueggemann puts it, of ?core testimony and countertestimony,? of ?hiddenness, ambiguity, and negativity.? It simply tells us the truth about the way we are with ourselves and with each other, the way we are with God, and above all the way God is with us. And those who take the Bible seriously hold these texts that issue forth in echoing voices like a companion, a friend, who means more than anyone or anything else because this friend tells us the truth. A companion, yes, but never an easy one, for the God, the Word seen through its transparency, who sees us through its transparency, is often, to use Brueggemann?s language, ?the Wild One who lives at the center of Israel?s life, who in sovereign severity will dispense with Israel and who with impervious resolve will begin again.?
To take the Bible seriously is to read the Bible before, or perhaps rather instead of, quickly rushing to make use of the Bible. We are, to use the old Reformed language, ?servants of the Word,? not masters of the Word, because the Bible is quite literally ?out of control.? Again, Brueggemann?s colorful rhetoric presses the point, summarizing in a recent article what he exhaustively articulates in his Old Testament theology:
The preacher stands up to make utterance about this odd, problematic God in a society that is flattened in a-theism, and has on her hands a quality of the irascible, the elusive, and the polyvalent. Almost none of this, moreover, is available to or recognized among most of our listeners. Because it is too unsettling and difficult, we tend to fall back on more familiar ground of safe practices, blessed ideologies, scholastic closures, or liberal crusades. Don?t we all!
Tamed. Proof-texted. The living Word is often preached to death and used to distraction, our own distraction that is, because we would rather be distracted from the truth not only about God but also about ourselves that this transparent text reveals. Read the Bible expectantly, honoring its transparency. And read the Bible, listening, attending, as one might attend a dear companion who can always be counted on to tell the truth.
Taking seriously the origins of the text
John de Gruchy, a Reformed theologian writing out of the context of the struggle for liberation in South Africa, offers a third dimension of what it means to take the Bible seriously, which is to recognize that ?the spectacles of Scripture require the eyes of social victims.? ?We need,? he writes, ?the spectacles of the victims of society in order to discern the liberating and living Word in Scripture itself.? This should come as no surprise; a serious reading or interpretation ought to take seriously the origins of the text itself which is to be found primarily within the experience of the enslaved, the nomad, the exile, the peasant, the imprisoned, and the persecuted and which is, for Christians, ultimately articulated from a center that can only be found in the Christ of Calvary, the Crucified One dying outside the gates. Without these ?spectacles? a kind of demonic and dangerous nearsightedness almost always occurs. Thus we are shamed by a history of entrenched white economic interests reading support in the text for slavery; we are humbled by the remembrance of powerful colonial interests reading support in the Bible for the physical, spiritual, and cultural genocide of indigenous peoples; we are confronted by the memory of Christendom in the West reading support for anti-Semitism in the text; we have men reading support in the text for the subordination and silencing of women. And on and on it goes.
I am not suggesting that there can be no serious, legitimate, or faithful interpretation of Scripture by those whose social location allows them to occupy the cultural centers, in other words by folk like most of you or like me. Nor would I suggest that those at the margin always get it right. The same Reformed tradition to which de Gruchy appeals in his argument would remind us of the need to have a healthy regard for the sin that is no respecter of persons. de Gruchy acknowledges that ?neither the poor nor other social victims automatically understand the Scriptures simply because of their social location or experience.? But what feminists have described as the ?hermeneutic of suspicion? needs to be brought to bear in any serious reading of the Bible. And we ought, I think, to be particularly nervous, and especially suspicious, when readings by those in the center disadvantage those at the margins. If there is, as many today recognize, a kind of ?preferential option for the poor? embedded in the Biblical text itself, then there may also be a ?preferential reading of the poor? to which anyone desiring to take the Bible seriously must attend. De Gruchy borrows a Lutheran phrase to make his Reformed argument:
We encounter the grace of the saving presence of God not in Word and sacrament isolated from human suffering and the struggle for justice, but ?in, with, and under? it. This is precisely where God?s grace was encountered by Israel and the early church, according to the biblical record. The Word of grace addressed the people in their historical struggle and journey; indeed, the Word gave redemptive, liberating meaning to that history.
There is, for this reason, a theological ?appropriateness,? even a moral brilliance in the fact that almost every service of daily evening prayer includes the Magnificat. We ought never come to the Scriptures without hearing Mary, and Hannah before her, singing of a God who ?scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. . . , brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. . . , filled the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty,? (Luke 2.51-53). Even if Mary doesn?t always get the ?first word? in the church?s liturgy, the church has rightly intuited that she must always get ?the last word!? And even if one is finally not persuaded that there are ?privileged readings? of the Bible, there can be no denying the fact that there is never a ?disinterested reading? of the Bible. The ?spectacles of social victims? warn us, ?beware!? Taking the Bible seriously, therefore, always requires a communal reading lest our own location blur our sight or distort our hearing of the living Word, and that community called Israel and the Church can never be narrowly construed lest our reading be done by a clique of the like-minded rather than the whole people of God in their rich and agonizing diversity. Moreover, that communal reading must be an ?engaged? reading or listening, shaped by the Cross that is not only to be found in the words of the text, but also in the world of human struggle.
When interpretations collide
To honor the Bible?s ?transparency,? expecting it to reveal a living Word to us even as it allows us to peer over God?s shoulder while God sees us for what and who we really are. To read the Bible before we try to use the Bible, allowing it to echo and resonate in astonishing ways with its ?irascible, elusive, polyvalent character.? To engage the text communally and ecumenically, acknowledging that the spectacles of Scripture, indeed the very origins of Scripture, require the eyes of social victims and that engaging the text must never, therefore, be separated from a passionate engagement with a suffering world. This is what I believe it means to ?take the Bible seriously.? And here, of course, is the rub, and the tremendous pain of the Church today. For there are many, including some in our own United Church of Christ, who ?take the Bible seriously? in very different ways. No doubt you have ?heard? them on the other side of my argument. But let me offer a recent personal experience as a kind of ?case study? to make their presence more obvious, cautioned by the recognition of course that you are hearing them through me and my own ?interested? reading of the text.
My participation in a religious leaders statement on issues related to human sexuality had particularly enraged one local church which, while already quite distanced from the wider fellowship of the United Church of Christ, now felt alienated enough that it determined that it would do more than send me a letter of protest. Under the leadership of their pastor, the church prepared a resolution for their Association to formally ?censure? me for my action and call on the United Church of Christ to ?repent? of its positions on homosexuality and reproductive choice. As a result, I spent an evening at a gathering of about two hundred members of this congregation along with representatives of other local churches in the Association. I was there to listen and in both a personal and representative way to make an ?account? of the positions held by our General Synod along with many others in our church, on these difficult questions. It was not, as you might imagine, an easy evening; we managed for the most part to retain a sense of respectfulness and civility, but just barely!
Many of the people at the meeting arrived carrying their Bibles. They were well acquainted with the six or seven passages in the Old and New Testaments around which the debates on homosexuality often center. We went back and forth over what is by now very familiar terrain on this well-cratered battlefield, for the most part to little avail. My effort to enlarge the conversation and, in my mind, enrich it with pastoral and theological dimensions was not only unpersuasive, but met with deep resistance and, at least in a few cases, open derision. Finally a young woman put the essential impasse in stark relief by standing with Bible in hand and challenged me with a question: ?Show me a verse.? Don?t talk about pastoral experience and challenge. Don?t waste our time with alternative readings of contested texts or with hermeneutical insights about Scripture interpreting and critiquing Scripture, or with historical illustrations about how the Church has often been led to reverse itself on matters of faith and practice, or even with theological reflection about the nature and meaning of baptism. ?Show me a verse,? which is to say from the perspective of that gathering, ?take the Bible seriously.? Show me a verse where it says that what you want to affirm is acceptable from the standpoint of the Bible.
I, of course, could not show them a verse. Nor would I, in part because that kind of exchange usually ends up in an ecclesiastical winner takes all battle where casualties abound and where the Bible is turned into a weapon in a way that, from my perspective, dishonors its integrity and its intent. In short, for me it is not a way to take the Bible seriously. This meant that most left the meeting that night confirmed in their conviction that neither I, nor many others in the United Church of Christ, take the Bible seriously. I, on the other hand, left the meeting for my drive to the airport and a late return home, yearning that my audience that night would also take the Bible seriously. Not that they weren?t, of course, in their own minds, taking it very seriously, very faithfully. To differ radically is not, at the same time, to imply a lack of respect, though of course that is, for many in our climate of alienation and distrust, a distinction that is hard to maintain. And, to be fair, I need to acknowledge that in lifting up this one comment—?show me a verse?—I may not do full justice to the depth or sophistication of my opponents? Biblical engagement. Nevertheless, I still yearn for a more ?serious? reading.
I wanted them to talk about the Bible in a way that pointed to its transparency, that moved beyond selected words and texts, which they clearly took very seriously, to allow the living and liberating Word to be encountered and which might allow all of us to see ourselves with greater clarity and honesty. The Bible was very much in view that night, and was the center of our conversation. But there was, at least for me, no sense of Presence ?in, with, and under? the texts in dispute. The book became opaque as the ?sacred page? became the ?end of discussion? rather than the doorway beyond which we ?seek God?s face.? I wanted them to take the Bible seriously.
I wanted us, together, to read the Bible that evening. Yes, to look at those six or seven verses; they?re there and cannot be ignored. But also to read, listen and attend to the rich narrative from creation to new creation, to the testimony and countertestimony that bears witness to an ?irascible, elusive, polyvalent? God who cannot and will not be contained, who will not be used, and who is constantly seen in the text breaking into the life of Israel and the Church in ways that judge the community for drawing its boundaries too close. I yearned for a reading that evoked astonishment, that leapt across geographic and cultural distances not in order to use ancient writers to answer modern or even post-modern questions, but to encourage in us an openness to God?s activity in our world that is as much about hospitality as it is about purity. I wanted the parables of welcome and embrace, of wedding feasts for unusual guests, the stories of an Ethiopian returning through the wilderness of Gaza, the dreams of what is unclean becoming clean, and the visions of glory coming into the city borne by the nations, the strangers - I wanted all of this to echo and resonate in our midst along with the words of judgment and the invitation to disciplined, covenant life. I wanted the Biblical witness to a just economy, to faithful stewardship of the earth, and its critique of militarism and power to be given at least an equal hearing as its admonitions about sexual behavior. The Bible was used all evening. But it didn?t seem to me as if we were really reading it, listening to it. Our gathering never achieved what Buechner described as a ?cathedral? in which the poetry, symbol, and image echoed. Ours was a tiny closet that night, where the words of life fell with a depressing thud. I wanted them to take the Bible seriously.
And perhaps most urgently of all, I wanted them to put on, with me, ?the spectacles of the poor,? or in our case that evening, the spectacles of those who were almost completely absent, or more likely silenced in that gathering. With the exception of one or two references to distant family members or coworkers who are gay, there was no real evidence of any serious engagement with or listening to gay and lesbian Christians as part of the Biblical discernment. This was a privileged, safe reading of texts from the secure centers of life in which the margins were afforded no voice. While my censurers of course vigorously disagreed with, even resented my suggestion of parallel situations, if felt to me like a discussion of the Bible and slavery, without any time on the agenda to hear the voices of the enslaved, like a discussion of the Bible and patriarchy without any time on the agenda to hear the voices of women, like the Bible and economics without any agenda time for the poor. Such readings always involve a set of lenses; there are no disinterested engagements with texts. Taking the Bible seriously requires, it seems to me, at least a recognition of our ?interest,? and a readiness to put on the ?spectacles of the poor? even if, in the end, we are not finally persuaded. I wanted my audience to take the Bible seriously just as much as they wanted me to take the Bible seriously.
Herein lies the anguish and the difficulty of church life today. It is obviously an ecumenical problem, but it is also, and perhaps most painfully, a problem within communions, fueling much of the contentious debate and deep estrangement that can be found in denomination after denomination. Most Christians believe they ?take the Bible seriously,? though we must admit the truth of one radio preacher I recently heard who said that ?the Bible is in danger of becoming America?s best selling coffee table book!? Most Christians believe the Bible has ?authority? in their lives. But in our widely divergent convictions and commitments about ?how? to take the Bible seriously, we are quick to deny seriousness to those with whom we disagree. And in our Protestant ethos, shaped by the sola scriptura principle of the Reformation, to claim that someone fails to take the Bible seriously is about as close to excommunication as we can get. This, in fact, was precisely what was at stake in the formal dialogue between the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ initiated by those in the Reformed Church who desired to resist and then to abrogate the Lutheran-Reformed full communion relationship adopted by our two churches and the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The dialogue came to a hopeful conclusion, in spite of remaining differences that were and are significant, by saying the following:
The question was framed, ?How is it that two churches of the Reformed tradition, honoring and reading the same Scripture, can come to such different conclusions? By the end of [our dialogue] it was agreed by all participants that the Bible has been and continues to be the foundational guidance for our churches on the issue of homosexuality, though we come with differing hermeneutical and interpretive principles. Both sides agreed that both churches seek to take the Scripture seriously.
While the Report has been received by both churches, it is clear that its conclusions are not universally embraced, particularly in the Reformed Church in America where calls for distancing or dissolving the full communion relationship persist at each meeting of the General Synod. Behind all the other issues in dispute, the suspicion lingers: ?You don?t take the Bible seriously.?
Is there hope for moving beyond the impasse?
So we are left with the question, ?Is there any hope for moving beyond the impasse, or are we destined for a prolonged, bitter, and divisive ecclesial struggle in which the Bible becomes both the terrain and the weapon of battle?? Two things will help. First, we could concede that those who differ from us, who distrust our reading of the text and the implications we draw from it, are in fact attempting to take the Bible as seriously as we are. Condemnation has always been the first step toward division, and in our Protestant milieu dismissing the seriousness of another?s engagement with Scripture is the heaviest form of condemnation. Second, we could attempt, as I have attempted here, to give an account, literally to ?be accountable? to those who challenge us, sharing as candidly and as forthrightly as possible how the Bible speaks to us. In one sense that is what this lecture seeks to do for my accusers in the Association gathering. There are theologians, preachers, and Biblical scholars who would give a different and in many cases far more sophisticated accounting than mine. But each of us, I believe, is called to offer that account, to say to sisters and brothers in the faith, ?this is what it means for me to take the Bible seriously,? and of course, in that account, to evaluate, challenge, and critique the accounts of others. To concede that someone takes the Bible seriously is not the same thing as accepting any and all approaches as accurate, valid, helpful, or even faithful. Borrowing the ecumenical language of the Lutheran-Reformed dialogue, I assert that with mutual affirmation comes mutual admonition. I do respect the seriousness of those who gathered to dispute with me at the Association gathering. But I disagree with them sharply. Nevertheless, much will be advanced if we join at least the occasional affirmations to our frequent admonitions. All of this will help, but with the stakes so high, I suspect it will only help; it will certainly not solve our problems.
Ultimately I suspect what will be more important than resolving disputes over how different ones among us take the Bible seriously, will be a commitment to engage together in what I would like to call a liturgical reading of the Bible. A liturgical reading is not simply, or perhaps even primarily, a reading of the Bible in the sanctuary. It is a reading that occurs in the shared context of our Baptism, a recognition that we come to the Bible together as ?children of God, disciples of Christ, as members of the Church? and as a Body whose head is Christ in which no part can say to another, ?I have no need of you.? Thus, a liturgical reading resists privatized reading, reading that is always subject to the ?interest? of a particular location or station in life. A liturgical reading takes place around the communion table, which means we always read in the presence of Christ, crucified and risen, in the company of all the saints, and that in the sacrament our reading is done against the horizon of God?s rule and reign which is both signified and enacted in the breaking of the bread. A liturgical reading is always shaped by the Table?s re-presentation of God?s mission in which all will ultimately be reconciled in Christ. A liturgical reading takes place before the Cross which confronts us with our personal and corporate sin, sin that always twists and distorts our reading, even as it lifts our eyes to those who suffer in the world and, in so doing, invites us to read along with the slaves, the exiles, the nomads, and the peasants from whom the text has been received. In other words, a liturgical reading invites us to read with those who not only are able to be astonished, but with those whose oppression causes them to desire the astonishment that turns the world upside down.
A liturgical reading honors the seasons of our worship life, reading the text through the anticipation of Advent with its judgment and hope, the celebrations of Christmas with its sense of presence and fulfillment, the expansiveness of Epiphany with its global and cosmic dimensions, the penitence and discipline of Lent and the astonishing victory of Easter, and finally through the Spirited and ordinary weeks of Pentecost. Thus a liturgical reading rescues us from our personal preoccupations and exposes us to the whole of Scripture with the full array of Biblical themes. That is to say, a liturgical reading is a sustained reading, a reading not for the moment, or for resolution of the current dispute, but is a reading over time, engaged in by those who share the experience of grace, who know themselves to be in the Presence of the crucified and risen Christ, and who seek to be in solidarity with those whose poverty provides not rose colored glasses, but clarity about both the astonishing evil in the world and, even more, about God?s astonishing activity and amazing grace. In that kind of liturgical reading over time, even the unschooled and the eccentric, the flawed and the imperfect will discover that the words on the preacher?s page do become the scarlet verse of Jesus, and the daily encounter with scripture can be, as Schleiermacher said, ?a new, joyous, and powerful appearance of the Lord himself.?
At the Bar Mitzvah of a son or the Bat Mitzvah of a daughter, a Jewish parent is invited to pray:
Into our hands, O God, You have placed Your Torah, to be held high by parents and children, and taught by one generation to the next. Whatever has befallen us, our people have remained steadfast in loyalty to the Torah. It was carried into exile in the arms of parents that their children might not be deprived of their birthright. And now I pray that you, my child, will always be worthy of this inheritance. Take its teaching into your heart, and in turn pass it on to your children and those who come after you. May you be a faithful Jew, searching for wisdom and truth, working for justice and peace. Thus will you be among those who labor to bring nearer the day when the Lord shall be One, and His name shall be One.
Such is the prayer of all who would take the Bible seriously. May it be our prayer as well.
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, author and theologian, currently serves as ninth General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.
John began his ministry serving First Congregational United Church of Christ and Zion United Church of Christ in rural Missouri. He then served as Associate Conference Minister in the Missouri Mid-South Conference, and then Conference Minister of the Southwest Conference of the UCC prior to his election as General Minister and President.
Dorhauer received a B.A. in Philosophy from Cardinal Glennon College (1983), and has a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary (1988), the same year John was ordained in the United Church of Christ. John received a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary (2004); his area of focus -- white privilege and its effects on the church.
With a personal theology shaped in the passionate conviction that God is love and God is just, John has embodied the United Church of Christ’s vision of “A Just World for All” throughout his ministry. On October 17, 2014, Dorhauer conducted the first legal same sex wedding in the state of Arizona when he performed the wedding service of David Laurence and Kevin Patterson.
In his first term as General Minister and President, recognizing increasing sensitivities in this country around race, John initiated the collaborative creation of a curriculum, “White Privilege: Let’s Talk – A Resource for Transformational Dialogue”. Designed to invite UCC members and others to engage in safe, meaningful, substantive, and bold conversations on race, the curriculum and accompanying facilitator’s guide have been used by both UCC and non-UCC audiences.
In addition, John has partnered with the UCC Board of Directors in providing oversight for the articulation of the denomination’s statements of Purpose, Vision and Mission – critical elements for the UCC’s evolving organizational strategy. To activate the new vision, John invited the denomination’s participation in a collective biennial mission initiative, Three Great Loves. In partnership with the UCC Board of Directors – and informed with responses from across the church to the question “what does a transformative UCC need to be in ten years?”-- John has called the church to accomplish essential strategic priorities over the next 10 years to position the church for a transformative future. These include attaining inclusive excellence, developing robust technology infrastructure that benefits every expression of the church, curriculum and training towards “A Just World for All”, strategic organizational alignment consistent with purpose, vision and mission, and platforms to foster and encourage innovative church.
The Shaping Our Future Campaign has been launched to generate $4 million in new philanthropic support for marketing, technology and leadership development programs critical to the health and vitality of every expression of the church. More recently, recognizing a need for thought leadership to consider, inform and shape our responsibility for lifelong, cradle-to-the-grave theological formation, John called for a summit on theological formation, From the Ground Up, which was launched in spring 2018. At present, his focus is on re-establishing the primacy of the Local Church and the mutuality of relationship amongst the expressions of the church, undertaking an assessment of the denomination’s assets devoted to resourcing local church ministry relative to the needs of the local church, and operationalizing the alignment of the national setting consistent with the newly established strategic priorities for the UCC.
John now serves as Vice-Chair of the National Council of Churches (NCC), and has co-chaired the NCC’s United to End Racism campaign. He has been identified by the Center for American Progress as one of the religious leaders to watch for in 2017.
John insists that the Holy Spirit envisions a future in which the United Church of Christ matters. He is calling on the denomination to rethink itself and to consider new ways of being church in light of institutional religion’s changing landscape and emerging shifts in the generational populations – believing that an emergent church is already coming alongside the institutional church. John’s book Beyond Resistance: the Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World is a call to the body of Christ to accept what the Spirit of the Risen Christ is doing to birth something new, vital, and relevant – all towards nurturing Beloved Community. .
If you are a member of the press and would like to schedule an interview with Rev. Traci Blackmon, please contact:
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Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ and Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO.
Initially ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal
Church, Rev. Blackmon served in various ministry capacities for 9 years, prior to becoming ordained in the United Church of Christ and installed as the first woman and 18th pastor in the 162-year history of Christ The King United Church of Christ. A registered nurse with more than 25 years of healthcare experience, Rev. Blackmon's clinical focus was cardiac care and in later years her focus shifted to mobile healthcare in underserved communities with the greatest health disparities in her region. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Birmingham - Southern College (1985), and a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary (2009).
As pastor, Rev. Blackmon leads Christ The King in an expanded understanding of church as a sacred launching pad of community engagement and change. This ethos has led to a tripling of both membership and worship attendance over the last seven years, expanding membership engagement opportunities, and the establishment of community outreach programs. Community programming includes a computer lab, tutoring, continuing education classes, summer programming, a robotics team, children's library and girls' mentoring program, all housed in the church.
Regionally, Rev. Blackmon's signature initiatives have included Healthy Mind, Body, and Spirit, a mobile faith-based outreach program she designed to impact health outcomes in impoverished areas. Sacred Conversations on Solomon’s Porch, quarterly clergy in-services designed to equip local clergy to assess physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health concerns within congregational life, Sista SOS Summit, an intergenerational health symposium for women and girls, and Souls to the Polls STL, an ecumenical, multi-faith collaborative that was successful in providing over 2,800 additional rides to the polls during local and national elections.
A featured voice with many regional, national, and international media outlets and a frequent contributor to print publications, Rev. Blackmon's communal leadership and work in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, MO has gained her both national and international recognition and audiences from the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican. She was appointed to the Ferguson Commission by Governor Jay
Nixon and to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships for the White House by President Barack H. Obama. Rev. Blackmon co-authored the White Privilege curriculum for the United Church of Christ and toured the nation with Rev. Dr. William Barber of Moral Mondays and Repairer of the Breech, Rev. Dr. James Forbes of The Drum Major Institute and pastor emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York, and Sister Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus proclaiming the need for a Moral Revival in this nation.
Rev. Blackmon is a graduate of Leadership St. Louis and currently serves on the boards of The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Chicago Theological Seminary, and WomanPreach! Rev. Blackmon is a co-author of the newly released White Privilege curriculum through the United Church of Christ and has received several awards and recognitions, inclusive of:
• The White House President’s Volunteer Service Award
• The St. Louis American Stellar Award
• 2015 Ebony Magazine Power 100
• Deluxe Magazine Power 100
• St. Louis University - Community Leader of the Year
• 100 Black Men of St. Louis Community Leader of the Year
• The Coalition of Black Trade Unionist - Drum Major Award
• NAACP - Rosa Parks Award
• Rosa Parks Award - United Trade Unionist
• The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis Woman in Leadership Award
• National Planned Parenthood Faith Leader Award
• The United Church of Christ - Antoinette Brown Leadership Award
• Honorary Doctorate, Eden Theological Seminary
Rev. Blackmon currently resides in both St. Louis, MO and Cleveland, OH and was named 2017 Citizen of the Year by The St. Louis American and as one of St. Louis' 100 most influential voices. Rev. Blackmon is the proud mother of three adult children: Kortni Devon, Harold II, and Tyler Wayne Blackmon.
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The Rev. James Moos is Associate General Minister of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries and Co-executive of UCC/Disciples' Global Ministries.
Following his ordination in 1986, Moos was called to Adams County Parish, UCC, where he served until 1991. Moos then became senior pastor at Bismarck (N.D.) UCC, serving 15 years before accepting the call as executive minister of UCC Wider Church Ministries.
Moos' involvement at the Conference and national levels includes serving as chair of the Northern Plains Conference council (1990-1991), multiple periods of service with the Conference's Church and Ministry Committee and Mission and Outreach Committee; and on the Wider Church Ministries/Common Global Ministries Board of Directors (1999-2005).
A Global Ministries short-term volunteer to East Timor in 2002, Moos has served as president of the East Timor Education Foundation, a funding agency for Global Ministries, from 2004 to the present.
In 2005, Moos began a six-year stint on the UCC Executive Council, including two years as its chair.
Moos enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1976 and was on active duty until 1980. Five years later, he became a reserve chaplain for the Air Force and served for 18 years.
Growing up on a farm near Streeter, North Dakota, Moos went on to earn his bachelor of arts degree at Seattle Pacific University in 1983 before obtaining both his M.Div. (1986) and Ph.D. (1996) from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Moos is married to Sharon Moos, whose career is in the health-care administration field.
Jim has been deeply engaged with Global Ministries in support of its partnership with the Protestant Church in East Timor. He brings experience in administration and finance, a commitment to the prophetic witness of the United Church of Christ, a passion for connecting local churches to the global body of Christ, and an understanding of the collegial and ecumenical nature of serving as Executive Minister of Wider Church Ministries and Co-Executive of the UCC/Disciples' Global Ministries.
If you are a member of the press and would like to schedule an interview with Rev. James Moos, please contact:
Connie Larkman, News Director
For all other inquiries, please contact:
Linda Long, Executive Assistant
Presidents and General Minister and Presidents
Fred Hoskins & James E. Wagner – Co-Presidents (1957-1961)
Ben M. Herbster – President (1961-1969)
Robert V. Moss – President (1969-1976)
Joseph H. Evans – President (1976-1977)
Avery D. Post – President (1977-1989)
Paul H. Sherry – President (1989-1999)
John H. Thomas – General Minister and President (1999-2010)
Geoffrey A. Black – General Minister and President (2010-2015)
John C. Dorhauer – General Minister and President (2015-Present)