|NICEA Position Statement||
It is our conviction that the scriptures provide the guiding principles by which the church should unify its life and carry out its mission. This view is consistent with Par. 78 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline; "United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine." To be sure, Jesus himself is the living Word, and no written document should be elevated to a place of prominence over him. Yet, his historic appearing: his birth, life, teaching, death, and rising: are testified to primarily in the scriptures. With these saving events clearly affirmed, the scriptures then become the word of God for faithful people.
Inward and subjective experiences of Jesus as the living Word are also central to Christianity. Through such, "our hearts are strangely warmed." But it is wrong to assume that when subjective experience is in conflict with the biblical witness, it should take precedence over it.
Furthermore, NICEA members see the scriptures as containing a progressive revelation with Jesus and his first century interpreters as the high point. Indeed, they contain a record of God's redemptive acts such as the exodus from Egypt; the gift of the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai; the ministry of the prophets; the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Viewed in this way, the scriptures are surely superior to any modern day commentary about them. To maintain that the scriptures are not plain to the average educated person unless they are interpreted and demythologized by an expert is pre-reformation at best and Gnostic at worst. NICEA celebrates the great service which modern biblical interpretation has rendered the church. Yet, the current idea that the scriptures are not to be trusted because they are pre-scientific is supported neither by logical necessity nor practical experience.
The members of NICEA understand the Doctrinal Standards in the United Methodist Book of Discipline to be valid expressions of Christian theology and quite relevant to the present age. Though developed in times past, they hold within them truths which transcend history. Their language is symbolic, of course, as all language is. To the extent that they use archaic terms, they require interpretation for the twenty-first century.
Does it follow, however, that such interpretation demands the denial of the objective realities to which they point? The consensus of NICEA members is that it does not.
For example, the Article on the doctrine of God states: "And in the unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost." To interpret this to mean that God is a nebulous, spiritual entity without otherness and without a distinct and separate center of consciousness is to interpret away its meaning.
NICEA understands the Article on the resurrection of Christ in a similar way: "Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature." This must mean more than merely the courage and hope of the early Christian believers was reborn and lived on, or even that his spiritual presence or his soul was not destroyed by his physical death. To interpret it in such a way is to reverse its original intent.
Beyond this, it is inappropriate to use the theological statements contained in our Doctrinal Standards as one's "understood" background and as a tool in preaching when on the deeper levels of ideology and commitment, they are denied.
There is much to do in the church's engagement with the world. Our Social Principles provide the challenging outline for our tasks. The protecting of the environment, working against political oppression in our own and other countries, protesting militarism as the primary threat to world peace, addressing our rich extravagance in the face of the hunger and deprivation that stalks the earth, opposing the exploitation of women and ethnic minorities, halting the threat of addictive substances and behaviors, and addressing the breakdown of marriage and family; these and many other issues face us.
Participants in NICEA see the commitment to such problems and issues as the proper good works to which Christians are called, "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works, will show you my faith" (James 2:18).
Just so, NICEA participants see ethical action as the outgrowth of faith, and not as an acceptable substitute for it.
The centrality of the scriptures in directing our engagement with the world must be emphasized. In the ethical debates before us, great caution should be exercised when moving against a contextual reading of the scriptures. In those situations arising from modern times which are not addressed in the Bible, and there are many of them, we should take a careful study of the scripture as our point of departure and interpolate forward to appropriate action with humble prayer for guidance from the Holy Spirit.
NICEA is a multi-ethnic organization of United Methodist laity and clergy of Northern Illinois which meets on a monthly basis. Meetings are open to all interested persons.
NICEA is made up of individuals who hold similar opinions around several key issues facing the church. Beyond these similar views, the ideas of participants are quite diverse.
Basic agreement around three topics form the center of the NICEA consensus.
If you are interested in information about NICEA, please contact Jim Blue at JamesBlue@aol.com.