A Comma or a Period?

Is God Still Speaking? And How Do We Know We Are Hearing God's Voice?

I’ve been intrigued by the promotional campaign, “God is Still Speaking,” which features a giant “Comma.” At the Still Speaking Store, you can buy banners, posters, apparel, party supplies, pens, and more with the Still Speaking logo.

This is the United Church of Christ's reaction to the conservative evangelical belief that God has already spoken in his Word, the Bible. It is a counter to the phrase often heard in conservative circles, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Period. Period. Period.

I have to admit that the "that settles it" approach is a very simple and narrow way of thinking about how God interacts with us. It is truncated and anemic. It is not a fully-formed theology of understanding how we interact with God’s Spirit as we are formed by the teaching of the Bible.

Most evangelicals believe that God does indeed still speak. At varying degrees, evangelicals believe in prophesy for today. At varying degrees, we believe that God speaks in and through culture and circumstances. At varying degrees, we believe that theology is a constant science of connecting the Bible to our contemporary culture and circumstance.

Admittedly, we evangelicals have a sad history of not being humble in our theological convictions. We tend to come to some theological conclusion and then draw a heavy line in the sand saying, "This is orthodoxy and can never change." But when we do this, it causes strife and division within our own community, creating new denominations based on every new line drawn in the sand. A new line is drawn, and a new denomination is born. Some Christians attempt to embrace the phrase, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity,” but we mostly fail miserably at it, for we all have different definitions of “essential” and “non-essential.”

I am sympathetic to the UCC’s new catch-phrase, “God is Still Speaking,” but I am also wary of it. The statement that accompanies the comma campaign is “No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here.” In other words (and I don’t think I’m being presumptuous with this), if you are openly gay and want to continue in your lifestyle, the United Church of Christ can be your home.

The UCC is capitalizing on the fact that evangelical churches are known as not being welcoming to homosexuals. This is granted. It is also sad. Evangelical churches have struggled with balancing their proclamation of the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality with living out the Bible’s calling to welcome all sinners into the loving and transforming community of the Church.

But what the UCC is saying is that they have definitively heard the voice of God on this issue – that God is “still speaking,” and has said that homosexuality is not a sin after all.

I want to embrace the idea that “God is Still Speaking,” but I want to be sure that what we are hearing is not our own fallen notions of right and wrong, or worse yet, the voice of the deceiver, Satan.

How do we discern that what we are hearing is actually God speaking?

The only controls that I can think of are these: Scripture, Tradition, and Community – all working together in the on-going work of understanding what God is saying to us in our contemporary culture and circumstances.

Some who claim to be Christians put all their marbles in the bag of “Scripture” and disregard what the Church has always believed (ignoring tradition) and neglecting interacting with other members of the community of believers. This creates all-new ideas about the Bible's teaching and often results in division and strange and novel doctrines.

Others who claim to be Christians put all their marbles in the bag of “Tradition” and ignore that, often, their church tradition rubs against the Scriptures. The Bible can take a backseat to what the church's leadership says is doctrine, in spite of no solid biblical teaching on the tradition.

The UCC is putting all their marbles in the bag of “Community.” Since they, as a group, have decided that the loving thing to do is to never tell someone that homosexuality is a sin, then that trumps Scripture and Tradition.

This is a problem that I see rising up in the emerging church as well. We are not paying enough attention to all three controls for hearing God correctly. If we do not do so, we will fall into the same mistakes that have happened before.

And that is not very "emerging" at all!


Ted M. Gossard said...

Good words, Bob.

The Cat in the Vat said...

Interesting analysis of the UCC campaign. I too am intrigued by it because it does embody the message of the Gospel while raising the complex issues that you mention. I believe that homosexuality has become the modern day leper for the Church and that the body of Christ has in many ways treated homosexuals like lepers were treated in biblical times. I think the balance can be found where we followers of Christ can extend a hand of friendship while respectfully disagreeing like friends (should) do.

The church I attend The Journey www.myjourney.tv has a billboard up with the message "You Don't Have To Believe To Belong" you can read about it here http://lifethrough4eyes.blogspot.com/2007/10/you-dont-have-to-believe-to-belong.html

Unknown said...

Very good!