Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Today is the third day in our 42nd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* today are:  Jeremiah 43-44, 46; 2 Peter 1.

This morning, I'd like to pass on to you something that my United Methodist friends have shared with me--the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  

When trying to grasp spiritual truth and apply it to our lives, Christians have four tools at their disposal: scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.  The United Methodist church says,  that its founder John "Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God 'so far as it is necessary for our salvation.'"**  In 2 Peter 1, the apostle calls on believers to use all four of these tools to aid in our spiritual growth.

Scripture:  In verse 19, Peter writes:
"We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."  
Sometimes, scripture is difficult for us to understand, but God promises that if we pay attention to its light, the darkness of our minds will be illuminated.  Like the sunrise, His truth will enlighten our hearts.

Tradition:  Peter passes on to believers what he himself has seen and heard.  He asks them to trust his experiences on the Mount of Transfiguration, as proof of Jesus' lordship.  In verses 16-18, he says:
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
Similarly, each of us has certain traditions that have been passed on to us.  These things aren't based on our own experiences, but on the experiences of others, whom we trust. 

Experience:  Peter says that our own experience will guide us, as we learn to live in God's grace.  The Christian life is a progressive journey, with one virtue added to another as we grow towards God.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductivein your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 5-8). 
As you grow in Christian character the experiences that you've had along the way will give you a lens through which you can interpret your surroundings.  Also, believers need to develop such a relationship with God that He is no longer simply a concept or a tradition, but Someone with whom we have a relationship.  Our personal experience of God is a great guide during times of confusion.

Reason:  Peter begins his letter by praying, "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord (v. 2)."  This knowledge helps us to interpret the things that the Bible has to say, and applies it to life in a tangible way.  My grandfather once told me something similar when he said, "Sometimes the best way you can discern God's will for your life is to use what He put between your two ears."  God has given us reason as a gift, and He expects us to use it.  "The knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord" means knowledge about Him, but it also means knowledge from him.  Don't neglect the gift of divine reason, as try to figure out God's purpose for your life.

Conservative theology
Liberal theology

Spiritual growth requires the believer to put each of these tools into practice.  When we neglect even one of these methods of understanding, we end up with a lopsided faith.  We've all known Christians who knew their Bible backwards and forwards, but who lacked reason, and therefore were entirely off-kilter.  Or we've seen believers who let their own personal reason or experience be the primary lens through which they tried to hear from God, while they ignored the testimony of scripture and tradition altogether.  Still others are guided so much by tradition that they aren't open to new experiences that God would have for them.  No, the Christian needs all four of these, working together, in order to develop a balanced spiritual understanding.  I pray that your walk with the Lord will be informed by scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.  And remember that...
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness....Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:3, 10-11)

*Scriptures are taken from the NIV.
**^ United Methodist Church (2004). The book of discipline of the United Methodist ChurchNashville, TennesseeAbingdon Press. p. 77. ISBN 0-687-02373-4OCLC 58046917.

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