Bible can help us ‘learn to speak together again’

Oct 27, 2014 by

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SCHILLER PARK, Ill. — A seminary dean spoke to Mennonite Church USA leaders on rethinking our relationships to each other and the Bible.

Longenecker

Longenecker

“Might it be that the Bible is the one thing that can save us?” Jewel Gingerich Longenecker asked. “Might it be the language that we could learn to speak together again?”

Gingerich Longenecker is associate dean for leadership education at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.

She shared from her doctoral dissertation with Constituency Leaders Council members at their Oct. 6-8 meeting.

While the Bible was central to the faith of 16th-century Anabaptists, she said, today some Mennonites seem uncertain about how to read and understand Scripture.

A 2006 survey of MC USA members showed that fewer than 17 percent participate in a weekly small group meeting for discussion, Bible study or prayer.

Because Scripture has been abused and used as a weap­on in the culture wars, Gingerich Long­enecker said, some doubt it can be a guide on sexuality.

But dialogue with Scripture “must be at the center of the life of the Christian community,” she said. She wondered what it would be like if membership in MC USA was based on congregations’ commitment to engage in weekly Bible study.

“The Bible provides stories that have given identity to Christian community,” she said. “It is the one language shared by Christians. . . .

“When we can no longer speak to each other from the Bible, we lose our common identity, our shared theological core. We cannot speak across our divides because we are no longer speaking a common language.”

Gingerich Longenecker said pastors are key in guiding and motivating Bible study.

She shared the results of interviews she conducted of six Mennonite pastors from diverse backgrounds who lead adult Bible studies in their congregations, drawing on tools of biblical scholarship gained in seminary.

The pastors had in common a passion for biblical formation for the sake of transformation and a conviction that teaching is central to their ministry.

For all of them, the Bible was not a rule book but an account of God’s story with the authority and power to shape their lives.

Gingerich Longenecker invited her listeners to engage Scripture in diverse communities, seeking to articulate not only their own but each others’ understandings.

“The Scriptures call for the formation and re-formation of faithful communities before God,” she said. “They were hugely important for our forebears’ time and place and strengthened them for faithful discipleship.

“This is our time. We cannot rely on their study or spiritual practices and experiences. We cannot take shortcuts and continue to call ourselves a biblical people. We have to experience Scripture for ourselves.”


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