If understanding what it means to be a disciple of Christ, how to follow, what to do in any given circumstance, how to figure out what God is calling you to do, were as simple as reading a few verses of scripture, we would all be fine. But it’s never that easy. We live lives with situations, experiences, and challenges that people of the biblical era never dreamed of. And, let’s be honest, not all of scripture is crystal clear and sometimes one passage contradicts another. Christians have always known this. That’s why study, preaching, and talking with other seekers has always been part of our life.
John Wesley set out four aspects of this discernment process, four parts of trying to figure it all out. It’s sometimes called “Wesley’s Quadrilateral”, but he never called it that. It does have four parts, though.
Scripture is the overarching and primary source, the essential ingredient, if you will. But Reason, Tradition and Experience always interact with scripture and with one another.
Tradition is the collective wisdom of the church over the centuries. We do learn things. The church does change its point of view or actions in light of seeing scripture in their own context and looking at what came before. Opposition to slavery is one example: the Church did not always take this stance. There are dozens of examples.
Experience is about our own understanding in light of our own life and how we experience faith, action, God’s work, and life in the world. In a negative example, if we experience little love, grace, or forgiveness in our own lives, how does that affect how we perceive God? Over a lifetime, our experiences may lead us to new or different understandings. Sharing experiences with other seekers is a key part to deepening understanding.
Reason is using our God-given ability to discern and consider how the interaction of scripture, tradition and experience leads us to deeper understanding. We are called to love God not only with all our heart, but with all our mind. Critical thinking is assuredly a part of Christian living.
Through all these inter-connected, constantly flowing parts, is the work of the Spirit and the life of the faith community, shaping, informing, and guiding us to deeper discipleship. And it is always an ever-evolving, ever-growing understanding and relationship with God.