Thursday, June 27, 2019

Sermon Notes: How Free Are We

How Free Are We

Galatians 5:1,13-15

Chomping mad

Something really stuck with me in this verse as I was beginning to prepare for this
week’s sermon
There is a lot to chew on in this section
I had to really choke down some tough ideas
I really got my teeth into something that seems important, though
Verse 15 says, “If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not
consumed by one another”
This phrase has seemed challenging to me in the past, but it never really
caught my attention
In the 61 “one another” passages of the NT, it is the most graphically negative
It also seems very difficult to grasp the imagery in the surrounding context
Paul is talking about freedom through Christ
Specifically, he addresses freedom from being slaves to the tradition of
In a broader sense, he is talking about the liberty we have to live
within the relationship with have with Christ
But Paul points out that we should not use our liberty from constraint to be
allowed to create a position of opportunity to be attacked 
Instead, we should fulfill the law of loving our neighbor as yourself by
serving one another
From verse 16 on, Paul speaks about our relationship with the Spirit and
how that impacts our lives
This whole subject of biting, devouring, and consuming one another really has a
weird connection to the surrounding passages
More importantly, what does that have to do with the freedom that we
have through Christ?
There is a lot of what I perceive to be wordplay going on in this part of Galatians
We don’t see as much of it in English, but it really pops out in the Greek
Words that have a double meaning, words that are similar sounding,
words that are paired up and related to each other
For example, the list of works of the flesh has a lot of this present
What Paul seems to be driving at in that list is that the works of the flesh
are a lack of public restraint, a lack of inner self-control, a rejection of
doctrine, and disruption of koinonia
But all of those words, and the bigger meaning Paul is driving at, fulfills
the image of biting, devouring, and consuming one another
Which is where the double meaning comes into play
Biting has another meaning - harming
Devouring’s other meaning is using up something
Consuming is another word for killing or destroying
When we read this verse with the second meanings, then the list of works
of the flesh becomes more serious - if you hurt and use up one another,
be careful you are not killed by one another
The works of the flesh are destructive to bodies, minds, hearts, and souls
To abide in those works is to slowly hurt one another, use up the life resources
that we have, and eventually lead to the destruction of our spiritual and
physical lives
Okay, that’s obvious, but what does that have to do with our freedom
through Christ?
Remember of prime importance that Paul is talking about freedom from the
constraint to suffer through circumcision as necessary for faith
He is also talking about living without constraints that would bind us under
a yoke of slavery
V17 tells us that we want to do the things of the flesh and the things of
the Spirit
They cancel each other out
The freedom that Christ delivers us to is a deliverance from the need to
want to do things that are destructive to one another
We can choose to live a life where the choices that we make will hurt,
use up, and destroy one another
We can also choose to live a different kind of life
Here is another wordplay
We can choose to not take up the yoke of slavery
We can do this by choosing to be slaves to one another in love
The way we choose to live a different kind of life is by electing to give up
slavery by becoming a slave
We choose to reject slavery to things that hurt one another in body, mind,
heart, and soul 
We choose to accept the slavery of fulfilling the law of loving our neighbor
as yourself by becoming a slave to them
That doesn’t mean becoming a household slave or becoming indentured
to them or sold into their care
It does mean that we are to take their lives and give them something to eat
instead of ourselves
Here is the last wordplay: the fruit of the Spirit is not the fruit we bear, it is the fruit
we feed
We are not to bite, devour, and consume one another
We are to give them something to bite, devour, and consume
In love, we bring joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control to them
We allow them to eat of what the Spirit bears into our lives
We feed them, as servants would feed their masters, in order that their
lives prosper
All of this may have been hard to swallow
Chew on this for a bit - we can continue to live a life where we are free to hurt
people, use them for our own ends, and leave them destroyed and wrecked
Or we can come into Christ and become a source of refreshment, joy, and life
for one another

The church is built upon the desires of the Spirit to show restraint in public and
be humbled in self, it is built around the doctrine that binds us and it thrives in
the spirit of koinonia among us

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Sermon notes: Pigs, Demons, and Tombs - Oh My!

Pigs, Demons, and Tombs, Oh My
Luke 8:26-39

The out of context kingdom
Jesus felt compelled to leave his comfort zone to bring the kingdom to people who didn’t receive it
Jesus began his mission with “the kingdom of God is near”
He then began to take this message from one end of the Jewish countryside to the other
One day, he decides to go across the Lake of Gennesaret and lands in the region of the Gadarenes
For us, this story doesn’t really spark much interest in quickly reading through - Jesus does his thing by casting out some demons
On a closer examination, there are some clear signs that Jesus left his comfort zone here
First - the Gedarenes were Gentiles - they raised pigs
Second - the first place Jesus enters is a cemetery of Gentiles
Third - in the cemetery, there is a person who is running around threatening people while naked
Jesus casts a multitude of demons out of the man
We know that the demons flock into the pigs and the pigs jump off into the water and die
The man is restored to sanity and puts some clothes on
Jesus appears to have done the work of the kingdom of God
But a crowd of people gathers to confront him and, in tones similar to the demons, rebuke Jesus and tell him to leave
Jesus was out of his context when he does the kingdom’s work
It is Gentile territory so they may not be as aware of the background of the Kingdom of God, the ministry of Jesus, or Jewish promises of a Messiah
Jesus is standing among the tombs of their ancestors, performing weird acts that most of them have not witnessed, but Jesus seems just as crazy as the demon-possessed man
Jesus has cost someone a livelihood - those pigs represented economic value as well as a way of life
The kingdom message that Jesus wants to proclaim is completely ignored
Yet Jesus still felt it necessary to go to a place “opposite Galilee”, completely alien to his ministry, and do what he does
Jesus went out of the familiar to a place of discomfort to bring the message of the Kingdom, no matter how receptive the audience

The single positive result
Jesus returned to Galilee and continued on his ministry mission, seemingly unshaken
How would you like to be the man that Jesus had restored?
The man wants to accompany Jesus, even into places he was unfamiliar with
Jesus tells the man to do one simple thing - tell people about what God has done for him
Jesus offers the man one job - tell people like himself about God even though the man didn’t know much about God
He was likely a Gentile unfamiliar with the Jewish writings of scripture
The man had been isolated by the community and forced into seclusion so he may be a little socially awkward
The only thing he needed to do was go back to his own people and tell them about the difference in his life
The church is a comfortable place for Christians
I talk a lot about getting out of our comfort zones and doing the work of the Kingdom
This passage should remind us that our work of the kingdom is only one job
We are supposed to tell others about how much God has done for us
It doesn’t require a seminary education or memorizing loads of scripture
It doesn’t require knowing all of the answers or being the most polished speaker
All it requires is going about the places we are familiar, seeing people we are neighbors with, and just simply telling them what God has done for us
Jesus has already walked into the uncomfortable places
He brought his message to the Gentiles
He also did the work of breaking the power of sin and giving us freedom in going to the cross
He also did the work of defeating death by going into the grave
He also did the work of restoring a broken relationship with God for us by being raised from the grave
He has already gone to the limits of stepping outside of his comfort zone for us

All he has asked us to do is tell other people, who we already know, about how much God has done for us

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Path to Christan

Sermon notes for Father's Day, June 16, 2019

Path to Christian Fatherhood
1 John 2:12-14

Father of a different sort
Being a Christian father is not so much about raising children in your household
Being a Christian father is about training the children in Christ to mature
That includes our household children, but also the members of the body of Christ who come into the faith
The writer of 1 John addresses three age groups: children, young men, and fathers
There are two words for children that both imply immature people
The word for young men is pointing to people in the prime of their lives
The word for fathers addresses those who have matured
Since there can be inferred that there were women involved in this community of faith, we can deduce that children, prime of lifers, and fathers addresses males and females
But it doesn’t address these groups in terms of age - it is faith development
For the community that the writer is addressing, the body of believers is broken into 3 (or 4) phases of faith development
Children represent those who are immature in the faith, who haven’t developed the necessary skills to confront the world on their own, and they only know the basics
The prime of lifers are individuals who have studied and proven the faith, they are equipped to face difficulties and conflicts they encounter, and they are strong enough to overcome
The fathers have a faith that has come into assurance, they have a deeper understanding of truth, and they have proven themselves in their witness so they are able to teach the children and guide the prime of lifers

The family of Christ
The church still can be broken into these three phases of development
There are still children among us
Not those of childhood age but those of childhood faith
They need to thrive spiritually
They need to develop in Christ
They need to know the basics of the faith (Heb 6:1-2; 1 John 3; Rom 12:9-21; 1 Pt 3:15-16)
There are still prime of lifers
There is no young adult or middle age in this category
These are individuals who study the Word of God hard
They welcome tests of faith to grow mighty
They know how to deal with conflicts that arise in faith and community and they deal with them (Rom 13-15; Gal 5:13-6:10; James; 1 John 4-5)
Then there are the fathers who exist in the church
We don’t look to age to determine who a father of faith is in a church
Fathers have experienced and lived in the assurance of the faith - they know God personally
Fathers seek a deeper understanding of God through Christ and attend to developing their relationship daily
Fathers use their experience, assurance, understanding, and relationship to serve others in the church
They teach the children what they need to thrive and develop, providing the basics of the faith
They guide those in the prime of their life as examples of what can be accomplished when you study the Word, accept tests of faith, walk mighty in the Lord through conflicts that arise
Eph 4; Timothy and Titus; 1 Peter 5; 1 John 1-2

A church needs to be able to identify those who are children, prime of lifers, and fathers or mothers in the faith
The phases of development still exist, but we don’t consciously address the divisions
In order to be a healthy, mighty, and faith assured church, we need to know who fills these roles, equip them for their separate levels appropriately, and prepare them to develop to the next level in the right time
Children - you have heard the basics, now continue to thrive and develop in Christ
Prime of lifers - you are the driving force of the kingdom of God, study its mission and gifts and go out to build God’s kingdom here in this church and in the world
Fathers and mothers - we need you to be our teachers and guides for the younger in faith; they need to hear of your struggles and tests, how you overcame the conflicts of doubt or in relationships with others; they need to see your assurance of faith intimately so they can know a deep and abiding relationship with God through Christ is real

May all of us not be afraid of where we are in the development of our faith and of growing to the next level as this is the will of our heavenly father for our lives in him

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Review: City of Mist Core Book

This review is based upon the electronic version and was provided in exchange for a fair review from Modiphius Games, the distributor.

This is a beast of a book; even in electronic format. You are in for 500+ pages of information about this noir related, supernatural-themed game system. City of Mist relies on a system of play similar to FATE, using Tags instead of Aspects. It may not be fair to the intention of the artists, but I found myself drawn into a FATE mindset as I read this. That doesn’t mean City of Mist is dependent on FATE. It just feels like a close relative to the system.

There were some features of the game that I found really engaging. The use of television shows or comic book series was helpful to frame how the designers envisioned the game design, character design, and gameplay. I think the explanation of designing cases would be helpful beyond City of Mist. Anyone in any game system who wants to design a complex plot could use the chapters on writing the case background for their own story. There is a plot of potential for in-depth plots with interesting branches if the right MC is involved.

I originally was interested in this because of the use of our myths, legends, and fairy tales. The underlying character base for players are those creatures, characters, and archetypes that we find in classical stories and myths. Relying on qualities or features of those archetypes allows players to create characters that bring myth into a reality that we may be more accustomed. This game does not rely on typical fantasy realms but uses the grittier setting of modern realities. Putting Jack (Jacqueline) from Jack and the Beanstalk into a 1930’s era noir urban setting will challenge the imagination. It also unlocks some great potential for story development.

The simplified dice and power system makes dice rolling an easier entry level. Instead of stats to keep track of, the player only has to justify how Tags contribute to positives or negatives to a dice roll. Many who are intimidated by multi-sided dice or stat+modifier+proficiency may find this a more comfortable beginning game.

This is also a team-centric system. This really does require a group of players to work together to move the story forward. The team (“Crew”) becomes a character itself. The way this is written, this will provide for every player to contribute their unique qualities to unfolding the plot. It also provides some excellent “release valves” for absent players. In many game systems, the story relies on consistency. As long as the episodes are self-contained, City of Mist allows for absent players while giving them an opportunity to still be included in the ongoing storyline.

I do find that the system requires a little more of a learning curve for players who are established in other systems. The language of the system seems a little too required. It takes some getting used to talking about the game without using the language of the mechanics. The underlying terms of Mist, Mythos, Logos are all used throughout character creation. Yet, the game requires that the characters do not know about these mechanics and should avoid using those terms during an in-game conversation. That may be a little too restrictive for most hardcore players who like to get into the mechanics of the systems they play.

I did not connect really well with the mystery element of the game very well. It seemed that there was a lot of “uncomfortable unknown” to deal with in playing. Maybe that is intentional to the design. It may make the players more curious to pursue the answers. I felt that it may be more of a hurdle to progress than bait to pursue the end.

Neither of these elements are game breakers. I feel they require the MC (game master) to prepare the players for something engaging. This system requires preparation and knowledge of the overarching plot. This does not feel like a one-shot or pickup game, like many of the FATE-based worlds you could play. This is clearly a world that relies on the ongoing story in order to hook players. Basing my opinion on reading this book, It would be best suited for a group who loves to play longer story arcs in a complex, unfolding plot.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Tasting the fruit of the corrupted tree

I am sitting here, pondering if I should even bother writing this. There really isn't much use in this space anymore. You who have decided to stick it out with me, I truly appreciate it. I write for myself most of the time. I recognize now that my opinion and voice really don't have any impact on my family, the churches I serve, the denomination, or the world. It sounds pompous to think that I feel like I could make an impact beyond the sphere of my little world that exists in my head. It is my ambition, though, to make a difference. I write this, knowing that it won't produce anything other than the combining of atoms in what we have come to know as cyberspace.

Next week, the Oklahoma Annual Conference will convene to prepare itself for the ministry of the coming year. For the first time in a while, I will not be going for the entirety of the event. I will only attend one day. There are a number of reasons why I won't attend. One of those is the degree of stress that United Methodists are currently under.

We are at the edge of a shattering point. There are too many forces being applied for the denomination to remain whole. There are too many voices calling for a division of the denomination. I just can't go and be in the midst of that stress. We are voting on delegates to attend General Conference next year where the debate will continue to be waged over how LGBTQIA+ persons should be included within the polity of our denomination. The effort to guard the tradition or guarantee the transformation of polity will be high pitched. I can't be in that kind of environment right now.

The thought that has been troubling me lately is something that I hear quite often in the context of discussing becoming a church of full inclusion. Opponents to that move claim that, in becoming a church of full inclusion, we are merely accepting the culture of the world into the church. By accepting LGBTQIA+ persons, we are losing our distinct nature as the Church. The significant problem with that idea is that we have already lost our distinct nature. We have welcomed culture into the church with open arms, danced the night away in a tight embrace, and have fallen into bed with the cultural lovers clutch.

For a number of years, I have diagnosed the United Methodist Churches political factionalism. I have identified at least 4 groups within the media who have been pulling the church in opposite directions. There is no real middle ground in the UMC anymore. Everyone is a member of a caucus. If you aren't an intentional member of a caucus, then you are assumed to be in one by the other caucuses that exist.

After General Conference in February, and the resulting Judicial Council ruling in April, I began to hear about the caucus groups gathering to prepare their election voting blocks. Everyone senses the tension of the church. In order to guard or guarantee a particular point of view, the political groups needed to hold strategy meetings. They wanted to pull as many of their like-minded individuals into conversations to ensure they could build a voting block substantial enough to elect representatives to their chosen point of view. Next week will be the climax of those conversations and strategic meetings.

That sounds exactly like the system of government party affiliations.

We are winding up for the great 2020 Presidential run. The Democrats have a full offensive and defensive and special team lined up to make a run for one office. The Democrats can't even all agree on the same platform. Some want to move toward a more progressive posture. Others feel that a moderate position can generate more support. The Republicans are backing an incumbent who they may also feel is incompetent. But safer with the idiot you know than the moron you don't.

In the United Methodist Church, we have the WCA (Wesleyan Covenant Association) trying to establish the bulwark of tradition against the rising sentiment that full inclusion is the way of the future. You have the Progressive elements trying to convince the rest of the denomination that the Traditionalist plan that passed General Conference was intentionally harmful in content and in process. You have the Centrist groups who want to reform the church into a new model where the best of all of us as the UMC can survive in some form.

Where am I in all of this? It doesn't matter. My voice has no volume. I have nothing to contribute but more noise to the din of others who have a platform. I am staying home. This isn't my fight. I have resigned myself to the future that others will shape. Sadly, it is a future that looks just like the secular world. The United Methodist Church should probably stop and look at itself. It has become the thing that most people already fear.

We are just as politically splintered as the governmental parties. We are just as uncivil in the conversations that are happening (even if we just happen to open and close with prayer or use less caustic words in conversations) in the social media sphere. We are just as opposed to finding the common grounds as the selfish organizations and corporations who feel the need to protect their existence into the future.

I think the greatest thing that sticks out to me about the UMC looking like culture is that there an obvious lack of unity. The dominant theme of what the Church should be according to the New Testament is that we should be of one mind as in Christ. We should be reconciling and bringing one another to maturity together as a body. We should be united in the work of witness and changing lives. But that is hard to find in our denomination anymore.

Review of a book on sexuality and purity for young women

Review: Sex, Purity, and The Longings of a Girl’s Heart
Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal (Baker Books)

As a pastor who has worked with youth in middle school and high school for over 20 years, dealing with the subject of sex has been integral to a balanced approach of helping young people mature. And as a human being, I haven’t always been the greatest at communicating on the subject. I am always on the lookout for new material about youth and sexuality to expand my ability to guide young people.

Baker Books provided this review copy in exchange for a fair review. The focus of the book is fairly apparent. This book deals with sexuality and young females. I appreciate the forwardness of the authors in dealing with this area of sexuality. Many people find it difficult to be upfront about their sexuality, but it seems that the cultural history of “only naughty girls talk about sex” has limited the frank conversations that young women need.

The authors approach this subject from an evangelical worldview. There are many scriptural tie-ins. The discussion of sin and restoration through Jesus Christ is prominent. Many of the points are supported by a verse that directly relates to the subject. For those who share the evangelical worldview, this book will affirm dealing with young women from that point of view. For those who do not share the evangelical worldview, this book will not be as meaningful or helpful.

I found some solid points of agreement with the authors. They make the comment that lust is a human problem. I think this is something that we don’t deal with enough in talking with young people. It isn’t a male problem. It isn’t a Christian problem. It isn’t a teenage problem. Lust is something that is dealt with, usually poorly, by almost every person. Where the subject falls short is it does not deal with the reality that lust is a natural response. Lust is the emotional expression of our sexual drive. It is hormonal. It ties directly into our imaginations and our emotions. The authors emphasize lust as a problem. Lust is a problem when we allow the corrupting influence of sin (breaking a relationship with God and others) to corrupt our imagination and emotions.

I affirm their statement that intimacy is a deep need for all human beings. Intimacy is not a sexual need. Intimacy is a psychological, mental, emotional, and communal need. We are created for relationship with others. We have different levels of relational needs. Each person is different in the depth and breadth of those needs. Some people need a few people who know them very well. Others need a lot of people to know them well. All people have the need to be known and to know others deeply.

I also respect their emphasis on purity. This is an issue that has been abused in churches and religious communities and families. Purity has been used to teach that sex is a bad thing. Purity has been weaponized to enforce the mentality that a girl's worth is gauged by her purity. And purity has been aimed at a lifestyle of singleness. An authentically biblical understanding of purity is that it is the state of relationship that we have with God when we seek to do God’s will in our lives. Purity is gauged by God, not by standards established in a checklist.

I appreciate that the authors are dealing with a sensitive subject. They do not rely on graphic illustrations. They, instead, try to use illustrations that emphasize the struggles, pain, and brokenness that a faulty approach to sexuality have caused. They take this message into communities and deal frankly with the subject. This book is an extension of that ministry.

I will admit that I found some significant issues that I disagree with through the book. The first has to do with the four cultural lies they enumerate. They focus on identity, marriage, embracing open sexuality, and femininity. I agree with their cultural misunderstanding of femininity, but I feel that they misrepresent it when they do not deal with the empowerment of females. Femininity is not about exploiting the sexuality of a woman. It is about seeing the inherent value, strength, ability, and uniqueness of each woman and allowing a woman to be all that she can be in those.

The other lies that they focus on are minor issues of sexuality and purity. I felt that what was being presented is a less dynamic reinforcing of evangelical platform issues. Instead of sexual identity being Lie number one, there is no discussion of the separation of sex from the sense of wholeness of self. Sex is now considered a physical operation of the body. Women and men have learned that they can divide sex from emotional and connected relationships. The “one-night stand” is not a new thing. It has been cast in a new light thanks to hook-ups, friends with benefits, and social media apps such as Tinder.

When they deal with the subject of marriage, they say that it is a covenant between a man and a woman. The authors do not deal with what a successful sexual marriage looks like. When I teach about sex, I refer back to the three revealed purposes of sex: procreation, recreation, and reconnection. Within the boundaries of marriage, all three purposes of sex are fulfilled. When we remove sex from marriage, the purposes are not as fulfilling. And when the three purposes are not fulfilled in marriage, there are issues that arise within the relationship. Instead of focusing on the gender of the marriage partners, perhaps sex and purity should focus on how it is to be fulfilled in a marriage.

Finally, the authors emphasize how culture has emphasized, “if it feels right, do it”. In light of the MeToo movement, the breaking of silence on decades of sexual harassment, and the use of sex as a tool for power imbalance, it may have been more useful to talk about how sex is a matter of “if it doesn’t feel right, stop it”.

My biggest concern about the book, though, is one that I have found in many evangelical “self-help” approaches. Consistently throughout the book, there is a strong conviction that through Jesus Christ, all things can be dealt with in right ways. What isn’t touched on in any convincing way is the necessity of community. This is a very “Jesus and me” focused approach to understanding sexuality and purity. Nowhere do the authors speak with any clear instruction of involvement with a strong group of people to help them in the walk with Christ. Occasionally they point the reader to find a “wise Christian woman” to talk to. Christ built a community of disciples to train and mentor. He sent them out in mission with partners. He reminded them of the need for two or more to be gathered to know his presence. There is no clear encouragement to be involved in any meaningful way in a youth or young adult or peer group, as well as deep involvement in a community of believers.

This really becomes an issue when dealing with the subject of temptation. The authors provide steps to avoid temptation. One of the most glaring things left off of this list is an accountability partner or group. There is no mention of finding a connection with someone who knows them intimately, including their struggles, and allowing that person or group to check in to see how they are doing with their maturity in their struggles. Accountability has long been a part of counseling males in this area of struggle. It is just as important for females.

Finally, I feel that there is a significant area of harm being done by not addressing the need to seek professional counseling in areas of addiction or sexual abuse. The subject of abuse was briefly touched on a couple of places. The final counsel is to, again, find a “wise Christian woman” to talk to about this. There is hope that weakly offered. There is not, however, a counsel to seek out someone who has helped others through the struggles of healing from sexual abuse. Due to issues that are now being identified as post-traumatic stress disorder, there is a clear need to seek out someone who can help navigate those wounds and paths to healing.

The authors do not deal with addiction in any meaningful way. Pornography has been shown to have the same biochemical markers in a body as narcotics or nicotine. Prolonged exposure to pornography has been linked with relational maturity. Sexual abuse has been connected to alcohol, drug, and other forms of physical harm addictions (cutting, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, suicide attempts). Addiction is a serious subject that needs to be addressed with young people.

I feel that the authors are trying to do good work. I feel that this book represents a fair attempt at trying to deal with a sensitive subject with an overlooked demographic. I feel that it doesn’t go deep enough to provide the full extent of help that young women need to be healthy sexual beings in a Christian world.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Unity in a post-apocalyptic hellscape

Review: Unity Core Rulebook by Zensara Studios

I received of the digital format of this book in exchange for a fair review by Modiphius Entertainment (distributor).

I love this book. I want to play in this world. I want to experience leading a group of people telling a story together through this system. Those were all of the thoughts that I had while I was reading the core rulebook. The world is fascinating blending of the fantastic and the technological. It reminded me somewhat of Numenera where the lines between magic and technology are not clear. The world mixes the divine and the mundane in a fascinating way. This is a world where gods can be brought down by mortals and mortals can have their world turned upside down by gods. This game makes it possible to play a wizard who manipulates magical forces from beyond the material plane or a bio-mechanical outcast who is part of a team that pilots a building sized mech.

The Unity game is a cooperative storytelling game using a role-playing format. The system relies on the the best story a player can contribute to the challenges they have been presented. The goal of playing together is to create amazing moments or game memories. In many role-playing games, moments or memories are created through circumstances that aren’t planned. Unity tries to bring players to moments with the intention of creating grand events. Why else would you have a world where gods can be killed and mechs can fight giant demons?

The setting is post-apocalyptic. In this case, the world was upset by a creator god. The world is ruined. Peace and cooperation between races is disrupted. A disease was unleashed upon one of the races that forces them into exile and survival in a hostile world as well as survival against a disease that wastes away the body. The world can be played as a fight for survival, an attempt to find or rebuild a society, or as a straightforward and traditional adventure system.

Character generation and game mechanics are a little outside of the standard d20 systems. It may be helpful to eventually see a gameplay video for visual learners to pick up the system. It doesn’t seem very complicated, though. A single read through was enough for me to sense that it would be easy to introduce to players.

The contents of this book are beautiful. The art is excellent quality. The writing is easy to read. It includes a mixture of descriptive text for the world, instruction for game play and character creation, and short fiction pieces to fill in the world. This is where I see another point of comparison to Numenera. Unlike that book, though, there aren’t any crosslinks in the text. I hope that at some point to see a clickable index or table of contents or crosslinked page references. And that is the biggest complaint I could find on the first examination of the book. Something may present itself later, but it would be insignificant to the quality of the contents.

There is one thing I would love to see come from this and that is an easy to distribute player book that provides enough information for character generation and basic gameplay. The free sampler that is currently available contains some of this information, but not enough to get new players onboard. I hope that Zensara has this in the pipeline.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Back to Barsoom

In exchange for a fair review, I received a review copy of the new role-playing game from Modiphius: John Carter of Mars.

Based on the Modiphius 2d20 rule system, John Carter of Mars is a pulp, science romance based upon the Edgar Rice Burrough's series of book. Most younger generations will probably know this better from the Disney movie that was released a few years ago. Long before that poorly welcomed movie, John Carter was one of the early pulp heroes. As a fan of the pulp action era, I was excited to get the opportunity to examine and review this product.

Upon receiving the copy (PDF version from DriveThruRPG), I quickly opened the file and flipped through. That doesn't sound nearly as heavenly as the old days of cracking open a new book and riffling through the pages to get the new book smell. It was still a lovely book. It is orientated to the landscape format. I found this a little disconcerting at first. I adapted to it as I continued to read and reread the book.

No Barsoom material would be credible if it wasn't accompanied by good artwork. There is a mix of quality on the art in the book. Some of the pieces are reminiscent of the memorable style of Boris Vallejo. Others are more simplified in quality. All evoke the strange world of Mars (or Barsoom as Burrough's inhabitants of the red planet have named it). The character sheets are exceptionally beautiful.
The included map (sadly in 4 pieces divided between front and back in the core rulebook) is also a lovely rendition of the planet.
The modified 2d20 system was new to me. The game requires the use of 20 sided and 6 sided dice. Using attributes of the player's character, you roll to achieve a success below the target number. This may be a little foreign to those who are accustomed to the Dungeons and Dragons system that makes higher numbers a success.

The system allows for more player input to action and outcomes. Turns are not limited to a simple time frame, but allow ample opportunity for the thing all role-playing gamers are famous for: vamping. You can say as much as you like during your turn. There is no more vague concept of acting in a nebulous understanding of time. This is simply your turn. And the narrator is just that, the one who narrates the setting and activity. Of course the narrator still must control the other characters in the game, but players have a lot of flexibility in how their behavior effects the environment or things acted upon. I love that aspect.

I felt that the game is a hybrid of traditional d20 format games and narrative style games, such as Fate. For me, it is seems to be a happy compromise.

The area I felt least competent in speaking to was the content of the world. I have read the first in the Mars books. I saw the movie. I am far from knowledgeable about the world, its main characters, or its overarching story. I contacted a friend who was more knowledgeable about the books (but less competent in the gaming arena). After our conversation, I feel that this represents the world of Barsoom quite adequately. Newcomers to the world may need a little catching up, but it wouldn't be too overwhelming for a new player to be dropped into a game.

One feature that may be a little unclear is which time frame is best played. This is really open to the narrator or the players comfort level. As a neophyte to Barsoom stories, I would default to the earliest represented era. There are three to choose from. The latest era, representing the later books, is considered the "modern" era. There are adequate side-notes to point out playstyle differences between the three.

I found a few typographical errors and print-type errors. Those could be artifacts in my pdf file, though. Overall, the quality of the images in my copy were expert level. I own a number of Modiphius products, and the quality is equal to those.

I am looking forward to expanding my John Carter collection with narrator screen and player resources. It may not be a familiar setting to some, but it is a rich fantasy world with a lot of potential for those who are willing to give it a try.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Fractured Quadrilateral

A Fractured Quadrilateral

In the previous piece, I wrote about the four identified sources of authority within the history of the Church of Christian faith. Experience, Tradition, Scripture, and Reason have all risen to be the primary source of authority for a faith community. In some cases, the rise of a new form of primary authority has created a conflict between faith communities. There have been obvious splits within the history of the Church over these points of difference.

I also alluded to John Wesley and the integration of all four sources into his work in the area of theology. The United Methodist Church took what John Wesley did and have found a unique identifying theological framework. In the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, our polity and doctrinal guide, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is described. It has become a reference point over the last 40 years that United Methodists could point to as something that we shared in common. Recent events lead me to believe that the common identification around the Quadrilateral is no longer feasible.

Many denominations within the American Protestant portion of Christianity have been struggling to find their way in the 21st Century. The greatest issue of struggle at the time of this writing is changing status regarding homosexuality and the broadening of gender or sexuality beyond binary norms of male and female. The American secular culture has been more embracing of homosexuality as a normative lifestyle. Sensitivity to non-binary gender or sexuality is increasing if still accompanied by confusion and ignorance. The American Church, though, is generally lagging behind the secular culture. The United Methodist Church is among that group.

There are reasons for this grounded in a Tradition, which in turn is based upon a particular application of Scripture, that has rejected homosexuality as a legitimate expression of God’s intended purpose for human sexuality. The Tradition of this has been grounded in passages of Scripture in the Old and New Testaments. The interpretation of those verses is defended with great passion as clear prohibitions from the Bible against homosexual choices.

There is a movement with the United Methodist Church, as well as other denominations, to change this state. The position of changing how the United Methodist Church is based upon the Experience of God’s presence within a person, regardless of gender identity or sexuality. This is supported with Scripture as well. It focuses on the overwhelming and mysterious capacity of God to love humanity and extend forgiveness and grace.

As I sit on the sidelines of the great debate swirling about the United Methodist Church, I listen. I listen to the arguments and I listen to how the arguers approach one another. I listen to the content and I listen to the intent. I listen for the source of authority being drawn upon and I listen to the source of authority that is being rejected. What I have heard I can only describe as the fracturing of the framework that has been the unique identifier of the United Methodist Church. Our current debate has broken the “fellowship of the Quadrilateral”.

I use that phrase with a little tongue in cheek. That sentence reflects a pivotal scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. A fellowship of diverse people has been banded together to undertake a great mission. That mission will transform the world. Before the fellowship can really get into the heart of its mission, a disagreement arises over how to best carry out the mission. The result of that disagreement is that the fellowship is broken. The band of compatriots becomes divided into three separate units that each goes its own way. One maintains the mission. One is completely sidetracked but accomplishes something great importance. One goes out to rally the people needed to push through the enemy’s forces. Unfortunately in the process of breaking the fellowship, one of the band lies dead.

I have to wonder what the United Methodist Church will look like in the coming years. I have been United Methodist all of my life. It is an identity I have chosen for myself, though. I am part of the fellowship of United Methodists who have been joined together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The current debate and disagreement we are experiencing is fracturing to the very soul of who we are. We are facing the reality that some of our fellowship will continue to pursue the mission of making disciples. Some will pursue something that is of importance. Some will rally others to the cause. Some will abandon the mission completely because their souls are too damaged. The reality that we are currently facing is that the one thing that has enabled us to come together and agree on what we do is no longer sufficient.

The Quadrilateral was never a superstructure that was embraced by everyone equally within the United Methodist Church. It was, however, a framework that allowed us to find some points of agreement. We may not all come to the same conclusion when we applied our understanding of it, but we could offer some begrudging respect that it was done “right”.

John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement within the Anglican church in 18th century England. As an Anglican priest, he was well acquainted with the Tradition of the Church of England. He was also very passionate about the Scriptures. Wesley’s exposure to the Moravians and the readings of the ancient Church writers provided him with a healthy respect of Experience in faith. He also applied Reason in his thinking, writing, planning, and formation of the Methodist movement. Through his writings, we see his use of all four of these sources of authority. They were not used with equal status, though.

Wesley always maintained a heavy reliance upon the authority of Scripture. It was his primary source. He used it to define the boundaries of what Methodists were to be about. Many detractors of Wesley’s efforts criticized what he was doing. When Wesley found an example from the Bible, he defended his position with that support. If there was no prohibition or limitation from Scripture, Wesley found the defense to allow for the work he was doing. Everything Wesley was doing was passed through the filter of Scripture as his first and foremost authority.

How Wesley uses the other three sources of authority is perhaps one of the most confusing aspects of the Quadrilateral. Experience, Tradition, and Reason could be considered on equal footing with each other. Wesley preached and maintained a belief that personal Experience within the corporate Experience was a reality. We can be saved and know it. We can be perfected in love toward God and toward all humanity in this life. We can know God’s assurance that we are indeed children of God. Wesley also held tightly to the importance of the authority of the Church down through the ages. The Tradition of the faith, even up to the Anglican Church he was trying to reform, was important enough to build a structure to maintain a healthy sense of accountability to rule and order. And Wesley could not separate anything he did from a rational, thoughtful, sometimes overly logical method.

When the Quadrilateral was conceived by Albert Outler, a Methodist historian, and theologian, he was trying to describe the possible process steps Wesley may have used to come to points of theology. Outler would later become frustrated to a degree with how his original concept was being used. That result he was frustrated with was the formation of the only unified theological point within the United Methodist Church. When the Quadrilateral was finally processed through the General Conference of the United Methodist Church (the only official decision-making body for United Methodism), it had become the only common point of connection between the many points along the theological spectrum within the United Methodist Church.

The great beauty of the United Methodist Church, in my mind, was that we could hold widely different theological points of view while still finding a common point of connection. To go anywhere in the world and find another United Methodist brought me a sense of comfort. It wasn’t that we may agree identically on an issue or a point of theology. It was that we could look at each other and find a single point of common reference. It was the greater picture of United Methodism, like an ancient stained glass image, that kept me positive about our future.

That future isn’t as positive in my mind. In fact, I don’t see a unified future of the United Methodist Church. The main reason is that the thing that we had in common cannot hold us together anymore. I feel that the Quadrilateral has been fractured. It no longer holds the same level of authority as a system of thinking that it once did. For me, the Quadrilateral was a three-legged stool. The seat was Scripture. It held the three legs together in structure and purpose. Whatever was “set” upon the stool had to rest upon Scripture. The legs of the stool were tied together at the top to Scripture, but also bound together along their lengths. They held each other in balance and tension. No leg would slide out or fold in because the other two legs held it in place.

As I look at the landscape of United Methodism, I see that different quarters of the UMC have shortened one of the legs. I believe that every side of the disagreement we are currently dealing with still rests everything upon the seat of Scripture. All sides tend to pull out the requisite verses when there turn to speak is presented. There is one side pointing to clear statements of prohibition against homosexuality. There is one side pointing out the clear acceptance and gracious nature of God. There is one side that is pointing out the unity and reconciliation requirements of a godly fellowship. Every side I have heard knows where their authority comes from first: Scripture.

What breaks my heart about this is that Scripture is being used as a weapon, not as a balm. The Good News of the Church has become a sword in the hands of opponents. Swipes and defenses are made with well-rehearsed chapter and verse. Dynamic flourishes can occasionally be drawn out that produce a clear mark of victory. Those are only undone by a counter-strike that hits in an opening. Scripture has been used like this for centuries and in numerous battles. Even the Councils of the early Church used Scripture in this way. Those battles were just as heartbreaking.

I have come to the point that Scripture no longer has any authority in the decision making process for me. I have heard all of the sides and find that all three are correct. The Bible says exactly what all three sides say it does. It is therefore a stalemate. Scripture cannot solve the problem we are in. It is not the way forward. If we continue to use Scripture in this manner, we only decrease the efficacy of the Good News for the lost. That brings us to the other three legs.

I think this is where the greatest fracture has occurred at this point. The support bars that held the legs together has been broken. We see this in the progressive move away from the Traditional Church. They point out the centuries of bias or the narrowing aspect of theological pursuit. The Tradition of the Church was built early out of the rejection of new ideas or contrary points of view. Many of those contrary points of view were based upon Experience of the those who were presenting the idea. The progressive side of the Church wants to tap into the personal Experience once again as the secondary level of authority. Personal Revelation, immanence of God’s presence, acceptance, and grace are all hallmarks of progressive theology. The major point they raise is that God can be Experienced by anyone in their personal connection with God.

The more traditionalist perspective rests strongly on Tradition. It wishes to hold to the established line of how the Church has responded. It believes that the faith that has been handed down through the centuries is God-ordained. It has been preserved from generation to generation because it is truth. It isn’t looking to maintain the recent traditions. It wants to continue in the standards and faith boundaries that have been clearly developed. Creedal statements, doctrinal boundaries, and accountability to a higher standard of personal transformation are the strong points held by traditionalists.

The one source of authority that should be holding everything in balance is teetering, on the brink of failure. Reason has been replaced with Emotion. People are passionate. People are angry or hurt. We are seeing fight or flight mentality projected into discussions. Reason would dictate that we set emotions aside and deal with points of fact. We hear, instead, accusations and generalizations. People use the weakest forms of argument to bolster their position. We turn away from the hard choices because we want resolution right now. I feel that Reason, which was a leg of the stool made from strong material, has been replaced with Emotion and it is bending to the point of breaking.

I’ve seen a few broken chairs in my life. I know what happens when the legs come loose and go out in different directions. Most often the individual legs stay in one piece. What breaks is the seat. If the legs don’t hold each other together in tension and balance, they go their own ways and the seat cracks along seams that are in the material. Or the legs break off right at the point where they are joined to the seat. That is where I feel we are headed.

The legs are disconnected from one another now. The cracks are already visible in the seat. We have one leg that is bending to the point of breaking. The Quadrilateral cannot hold us up any longer as a church. The fellowship of the Quadrilateral is broken. We can only hope that when we fall down, we can continue to pursue a worthy mission.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Forest of Authority

Forest of Authority

This is quite long. It is a piece I have written to explain a new metaphor I am using to teach the different faith traditions. It is also the first part of an examination on where I believe we stand as Methodists in conflict with one another.

In the years that I have been teaching church history, I have commonly used the analogy of a tree. It helped to point out the development of the different “branches” of the Christian faith. It was easy to show how one denomination is related to or different from, other denominations. In the last few months, I have begun to shift the analogy. Now I use the image of forest instead of a single tree.

The move to a new picture has come as a result of preparation for Bible study in 1 John as well as the ongoing institutional and philosophical crisis of the United Methodist Church. I began to see that one source was not sufficient to understand the current reality of the Church universal. I felt that a different picture has become necessary to draw out the distinctions and the relationship of one Christian group to another. Every denomination is experiencing some level of institutional and philosophical crisis. I feel that the primary issue at stake is one of source or sources of authority.

In the one tree analogy, all denominational branches necessarily spring from one source. In my teaching, I used the source of the early church. All manifestations of faith practice in Christianity developed from the Acts fellowship following Pentecost. What isn’t represented as clearly in the single tree, or family tree, model is the nature of branching from the single source of authority trunk. The image of a forest, or orchard, may better represent the intentional points of separation a little better.

As a faith line developed farther from the Pentecost origin point, regional and philosophical points of divergence influenced how people in the Church responded to the past and to the context of ministry. One clear example of this is the division sparked by Henry VIII with the Roman Catholic Church when the Pope refused to extend a divorce to Henry in his effort to secure a male heir to the English throne. Henry elected to forego the authority of the Church, represented in the Pope, and establish a religious seat of power in the throne; his own throne. We have seen similar points of divergence throughout the history of the Church. In the biggest areas of divergence, we have seen new branches develop around the different sources of authority.

Historically, four sources of authority have been identified within the Church. The United Methodist Church has encapsulated these four into a theological framework. The four identified sources are Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. Scripture is recognized as the canonized books of the Bible, even though different branches have slightly different finalized canons. Tradition represents the statements of faith that were formed over the length of the life of the Church from the present extending back into the earliest days of the formation of the Church. Experience is the personal and corporate subjective connection people have with God’s presence and revelation. Reason is the capacity for using the mental and emotional capacities we possess to arrive at knowledge and wisdom. Every branch of the Church calls upon these four sources of authority to varying degrees. The difference in the primary source is the basis divisions separating faith traditions. It is also necessary for the forest or orchard analogy to express these divisions more clearly.

When an orchard or forest begins, a few trees are planted. Those trees carry the basic building blocks of what will become the final life of the bigger body. As in animal biology, the basic building blocks of different trees are unique among trees. They are also influenced by external circumstances to change over time. A forest may be composed of one type of tree, but each tree is unique even within its uniformity to the whole. So are the faith expressions of denominations that have produced the forest of the Church universal.

Allow us to assume that God establishes the forest by laying down the foundation of the witness of Jesus Christ. The ground that each seed is planted in is the witness of the disciples watered by the Law, Wisdom, and Prophets. What springs forth from that fertilized soil is the beginning of the growth of the church’s authority. That authority is founded in the experience of those who were direct witnesses to Jesus and his ministry.

The opening chapter of Acts points out that among the disciples, only those who were among the followers of Jesus from the beginning were eligible to be chosen as one of “the twelve”. At the end of the second chapter of Acts, the rest were “devoted to the apostle’s teachings”. It would seem that the earliest authority of the church was based on those who had experienced Jesus’ life personally. The scriptures of the Law and Prophets were fundamental in supporting the claim of who Jesus was as the son of God and the chosen Messiah. It was not, however, possession of knowledge or understanding of the Scriptures that decided who was eligible for speaking for the new faith development.

As the church began to spread beyond the local oversight of the Twelve, and as the apostles journeyed to the “ends of the earth”, the authority recognized by the Church wasn’t just first-hand experience with Jesus. Authority was also granted under recognition of the experience of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was manifested on all flesh, according to Peter’s sermon, but the Holy Spirit seemed to prepare others directly to be voices of authority for the right and proper ways of belonging and believing within the fellowship of The Way.

The clearest example of this shift is discernible between the work of Peter and John in Jerusalem and the sending of Barnabas and Saul to Antioch. Eventually, Paul would be recognized under that same authority without the oversight of Barnabas, yet Paul’s faith was clearly not of the first generation’s experience of “seeing with our own eyes” as the writer of 1 John establishes. Paul’s authority as an apostle, by his own attestation in the letters and the historical reference in Acts, was challenged by some around the church. His authority becomes most clearly challenged on the issue of the authority of tradition and the integration of the Gentile Greeks into the fellowship of The Way.

The Twelve were all most likely examples of the tradition of the Jewish faith. They appended their faith of Christ into their tradition as Jews. The earliest form of the church leaned heavily on retaining close ties to the Jewish faith. They still attended synagogue and Temple. They observed the Sabbath and festivals. There were dietary and cleanliness laws that were maintained to some degree.

When Paul contradicts these in the missionary journey among the Gentile Greeks who come to believe in Jesus as the Christ, he feels it necessary to challenge this authority in the council of Jerusalem. When Paul emerges with a letter of orthopraxy for Gentile Greek Christians, the authority of experience is affirmed. If a believer experiences the witness of the Holy Spirit, manifested after a declaration of faith, baptism, and sometimes with signs, then they are truly within The Way. If they continue in the faith and show gifts appropriate to the task, they can claim the authority of the church through the witness of the apostles.

As the witness of the Twelve continued, they began to run into opposition. According to tradition, many of the original Twelve were martyred or died in areas of mission. It was now necessary to shift from the “we were there” authority to a different source. The next movement of authority also takes place as the Church continued to spread and the center of power shifts from Jerusalem to other places around the known world.

Three areas of influence begin to emerge around the northern edge of Africa, the region of Asia Minor (especially Ephesus and later Constantinople), and around Rome. As stated earlier, the spread of Christianity to further corners allowed for deviations in local practice that influenced doctrine. This decentralization of doctrine contributed to an identification with the centers of power. Each of these centers of power developed slight, but significant, differences in polity, practice, and even some theological viewpoints. The experience of the Holy Spirit was still paramount to Christian faith and witness. However, when theological viewpoints began to differ greatly, voices of authority stepped in to counter growing deviation. The result of this was an authority that began to develop as the tradition that was passed down from the apostles.

Heresy, defined as a deviation from the standard course, needed a standard course clearly established to be measured against. This standard was built firmly on the witness of the apostles and the teaching that they handed down from generation to generation. By this time the New Testament writings were beginning to be accepted as having some authority to teach and guard the Church against deviations too far outside of the norm. In many ways, the letters and accounts of the life of Jesus were still insufficient to form strong enough boundaries against a wide deviation. The early church authorities of the second century, and into the third, called upon the passing of those theological distinctions that had been maintained as closest related to what had been originated in the teachings of the apostles.

In many ways, the roots of authority based on Scripture are being established at this point. At the same time, disagreement existed in the second two centuries over what could be considered official canon. The Church is moving toward forming the recognized canon, but there are still original documents that are being produced, and content integrated, into the letters and historical materials of the Church. The ultimate source of authority during this period is found in the word of the bishops representing the tradition of the witness of the apostles.

In the West, that tradition was embodied in a singular focus on Simon Peter. The tradition of Simon Peter’s role in the early Church takes precedence to a degree that a singular voice of authority, the pope, becomes the preferred form of operation. In the East, the voice of authority remains located among the common expressions of the local communities of faith. In North Africa, bishops seemed to hold the voice of authority. Individual bishops were the leading voice against deviant ideas as they arose. Overall, the catholic nature of the Church is maintained among the three leading areas of Christendom. This catholic nature continues into the period of official recognition of the empire of Constantine.

When Emperor Constantine grants the seal of official religion to Christianity, there is also a new development in the source of authority. The finalized canon is established. This clears the way for the official councils of the Church to be utilized to clarify issues of deviation from the standard course of the Church. Those Old and New Testament writings that are included mark the “official” boundaries of what is deemed authoritative for the faith. It does not, however, cease the challenges to what those writings mean. In order to clarify the meaning and Christian understanding of revelation, councils continued to be called where the standards of what is or is not part of Christian beliefs. Instead of changing the approved scriptures, creeds and statements of faith are issued that form a new layer of authority. This second source of authority was the formal development of the source of Traditional authority.

At this point, we see people who have (and continue) to call upon Experience as their authority overruled by the Tradition. Bishops and communities of faith turn away doctrines that are contrary to the creeds and faith statements issued from the Councils. Individuals or communities that challenge the creeds, and the authority they represent, have been deemed as heretical. Many of these heretics were merely offering a different interpretation on words or concepts that they found in their study of Scripture and the witness of the early church experience. They felt that their faith witnessed in the presence of the Holy Spirit was clearly enough authority to make their case. The tree of Experience is now transformed through circumstances and location. The offspring has mutated into the tree of Tradition.

With the forest of authority expanding to include a second family, it is important to recognize that the tree of authority, Experience, did not pass away. It continued to find its life in the church. The influence of the power centers of Constantinople, Rome, and Northern Africa pushed those communities of faith that relied on Experience as their authority into seclusion or exile. Monastic communities developed with a reliance upon the experience of the individual being more critical to faith. The mystic path is one of experience over tradition. Some who felt too enclosed by their traditional counterparts wandered into the wilderness to find the expression of their faith.

The new development of authority, Tradition, fits well within the approval of the political system. The Councils provided clear boundaries and positions of acceptance or rejection. The government could work with those to neutralize ideologues that were rejected. Persecution became the tool of the government, ordained through Tradition. What was once a tool used by the government against the Christian believers was now being turned against believers who differed from one another. Eventually, the Church in diverse expressions would claim the use of persecution, ordained by the government, to maintain Tradition as a source of authority.

This remains the landscape of the forest for many centuries. The Eastern Church laid claim to Experience supported by Tradition. The Western Church emphasized Tradition supported by Scripture as its authority. The path of the mystic and the heretic was built from the pure Experience source of authority partially supported by Scripture. It will not be until the 1600’s that Scripture rises as an authority of its own standing.

Martin Luther and John Calvin set the new seedlings of Scripture alone as a source of authority. As both of them fight against different perceptions of abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, they begin to strip away the authority of Tradition. All of the extraneous additions from the Church could not be justified by the Bible, according to the priest and theologian. They began to establish that it is Scripture that identifies all that is necessary for the fundamental experience of salvation. No other requirements not found in the Bible can be added to what a person must do in order to be saved. Faith alone is the only viable means to experience salvation.

Paired with the invention of the printing press, the Bible was being translated into the regional languages and put into the hands of “mere” educated people. The lower classes were still vastly uneducated. The Bible was still something read to them. It was no longer read in the Church’s Latin. The use of regional language was nothing new in the Eastern Church. They were much more sensitive to making the Scriptures approachable in the language of the culture. The Roman Church had stuck to Tradition so tightly, though, that it would not relinquish the authority of the priesthood in reading and interpreting the Bible to the community. The Protestant Reformers put the Scripture into the reach of the people in the West. For the next 150 years, Scripture was the single authority the Protestant Reformation was built upon. During the 1700s the Age of Enlightenment brought a new philosophical outlook and with it a new source of authority: Reason.

Every person has the capacity to use reason. Descartes “I think, therefore I am” is a testimony to the fact that we are thinking creatures. The Age of Enlightenment took reason as a capacity within humanity and elevated it to a thing outside of human control. Reason became an objective standard that could be related to. With regard to religion, thinkers turned against the sources of Experience as too subjective. They criticized the authority of Tradition as being too locked into false concepts of moral superiority of the institution. The Bible itself was examined with Reason and the long-standing understandings of the Scriptures were unraveled. Reason became a source of authority, inside and outside of faith, to which people began to turn.

This was where John Wesley arrived. He saw all of the trees that made up this forest of authorities. The Anglican Church, the inheritor of the Catholic Church’s source of Tradition, was where Wesley felt natural at the beginning of his ministry. Encountering the Moravians and reading in the Eastern Church exposed Wesley to an understanding of the role of Experience in a vital faith life. Raised in the Oxford environs at the height of the Age of Enlightenment, Wesley was formed by the skills of Reason based thinking. Of course Wesley was never diminished in his understanding of Scripture as the ultimate authority. Yet, he applied all four sources of authority to his view of faith.

Scripture was the necessary starting point for anyone to discover how God has moved toward us to be saved. That message of salvation has to be a true Experience, personally encountered and transform the person in real ways. The ongoing pursuit of that transformation was to be carefully maintained within the accountability structure of Tradition, specifically the use of the Sacraments and regular ongoing participation in the community of faith. Finally, as God has granted every believer the gift of Reason, it should be applied to the pursuit of faith, thinking through what the believer does and says.

I like to think Wesley didn’t form a new source of authority. The Quadrilateral is a tree house. It is cut from the trees of the different parts of the forest. It is also tied into all of the different kinds of trees. As the trees in the forest of authority are stabilized by roots that are intertwined in the witness of the apostles and the early church, so is the Methodist tradition rooted to all four sources of authority. As the forest is watered in the word of the Law, Wisdom, and Prophet, the house that Methodists were born and raised in is constructed from the application of Scripture, Experience, Tradition, and Reason.

The forest is a necessary change of metaphor. The family tree has been split enough times to justify a different metaphor, but we are likely in another age of great relocation of authority. We are in a time of transition of authority as significant as the major transitions we have experienced in Church history. This is on par with the movement from Experience to Tradition in the first centuries. This is equal to the division of Experience versus Tradition between East and West. This is a movement from one state to another as the movement from Tradition to Scripture as the sole voice of authority. It is just as personally powerful as the incorporation of Reason as its own authority.

We are entering an age where Experience is once again being given primacy among all of the other sources of authority. Tradition is being found lacking due to the injustices against persons and people groups that have been championed by the Church. Reason is given a higher degree of authority than Scripture in trying to uncover the “historical” faith of the early Church and the one it was built upon - Jesus of Nazareth. Experience of the one true God is a subjective matter that cannot be dismissed easily. Scripture is used against Scripture fighting over opinions and positions that do not have the weight of authority. As conflict has marked every period of great transition, so we now see the Church in conflict in all areas.

I don’t know how helpful the use of a change of metaphor is to the conflicts. I realized for myself that I need to use a different image to help others understand the great differences in our faith traditions. We are a beautiful creation, the Church. We are not all the same in how we believe or the authority we submit to. So instead of seeing ourselves as a family in a single tree, let us claim to be a forest of unique but related trees, growing out of a common soil and source of life.