Today: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Foundations of faith: Scripture, tradition, reason & experience    (10/7/2012 )

Think of something that’s important to you — a person or an interest, perhaps. Where does that importance come from? How were you introduced to that person or interest; what made you attach importance to it; how and why have you carried on believing that it’s important?

Your important thing might be a friend or relative, the game of chess, the politics of the Middle East, or playing football. But there were times when these things came into your life, and reasons why they stayed. There are reasons why these things matter to you, even if you never really stop and think about it.

In the late 1700s, a man called John Wesley co-founded a Christian movement called the Methodists, now a major international church. While pondering how to look at faith-related issues, such as “What should Christians believe or do about X?” he decided that there are 4 sources of help:

  • The Bible—the word of God, a source of inspiration and guidance, and a manual for living. However, it doesn’t cover everything, especially modern issues (for example, genetic modification) which were not contemplated at the time when it was written!
  • Tradition—the way churches have developed guidelines over the years, to fill in some of these gaps, plus things as simple as ‘just the way we do things’ (like saying a short prayer before a meal, or beliefs or practices which develop within a family)
  • Reason—this is about thinking things through in our heads, and how we weigh up any evidence. God gives us a brain, and we should certainly use it as we develop our faith, or we would simply be robotic believers.
  • Experience—Christianity is all about a personal relationship with God, and so each Christian knows how God has spoken directly to them or acted for them. People also take on board what they hear about the God-experiences of other people (often called ‘testimonies’).

So Wesley used these four foundation stones when asking, “How, as people of God, do we address this issue?”, but I think they’re also useful tools for people wrestling with Christianity.

For example, what does the Bible reveal about who God is, and what he has done for us? What experiences might we have had, when God may have been tapping on our shoulder — or what have we heard about what God has done for other people? Which traditions or practices do we see that help us to think positively (or negatively) about aspects of Christianity? What do we think about the way Christianity operates today; do we see Jesus Christ in the work of individuals, or of Christian aid organisations, for example? Through our own reasoning, does Christianity make sense, or feel attractive? Have we decided that, logically or philosophically, God must exist?

Over the next four weeks, we’ll be looking in more detail at each of these foundation stones. How can they help us to decide what to believe; what is their effect on our faith in God? Come with us on the journey.

Pray: Lord, help me to weigh the evidence for you using all of my facultuies: my heart, mind and spirit. Amen.

Think about: Do you think it is useful to be able to categorise ways of evaluating the approach to faith in this way?

Challenge: Do you, personally, associate more strongly with a particular one of the foundations more than the others?

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