Understanding and Interpreting the Bible

Virtually all branches of the Christian Church refer to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the standard of belief with regard to their doctrine and to their practices of faithful living and rituals. In spite of that common affirmation, the diversity of doctrine, practices, and rituals among those who self-identify as Christians is staggering. Even when one narrows the sample down to one particular denomination (e.g. The Presbyterian Church in Canada), the range of doctrinal emphases and/or exclusions, of stresses in personal faithfulness, of methodologies in worship, and of priorities in mission are unbelievably high.

Yet, in denominational life, core unity in essential doctrine, lifestyle practices, and governing regulations is a requirement for organizational vitality and focus. To determine the extent and the content of those requirements, Presbyterians most often turn to the Scriptures for guidance. Given all the diversity arising from various understandings of the Bible as noted above, how do we achieve that goal of core unity?

At last June's General Assembly, the Committee on Church Doctrine presented a study paper, Understanding and Interpreting the Bible. It outlines some principles of interpretations that seek to provide a basis for a common and accepted approach to understanding and applying the Scriptures to our life, mission, and governance as a denomination. The 2016 General Assembly has commended this document to The Presbyterian Church in Canada for use, but also invited response both to its usefulness and to its comprehensiveness. The deadline for said responses is January 31, 2017. Responses can be sent to the Committee Convenor, Blair Bertrand, through the General Assembly Office. The document, Understanding and Interpreting the Bible, can be downloaded at presbyterian.ca/downloads/29161/ or found on pp. 265-278 of the 2016 Acts and Proceedings. This study paper provides good material for personal and congregational reflection. Your feedback can assist the Committee, so what is now good can become excellent. Given the challenges before us in this century, a guide that is excellent is a treasure to be passionately pursued.

Ian Shaw, Simcoe, Ontario

Recommendation No. 7 That the document Understanding and Interpreting the Bible be commended to congregations, presbyteries, and other groups in The Presbyterian Church in Canada for their use.

Recommendation No. 8 That sessions, presbyteries, and other interested groups using the document Understanding and Interpreting the Bible report comments to the Committee on Church Doctrine through the Assembly Office by January 31, 2017, and that the results of these comments be reported to a future General Assembly.