ScripturePractices of Faith in the United Church of Christ
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
- John 1:1
"The United Church of Christ looks to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world."
- From the Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ
What is the Bible? What is Scripture?
The Bible is a book that contains the sacred writings of both Jews and Christians. These writings are called Scripture. The words "Bible" and "Scripture" are used interchangeably. Scripture means "sacred writings," and Bible means "library." It is a book made up of many books. Before the Bible was written, the Scriptures were passed down from generation to generation as songs and stories. They tell the human story and the relationship and action of God with humankind.
For Protestants, the Bible contains 66 books: 39 in the Old Testament (First Testament, or Hebrew Bible), and 27 in the New Testament. The New Testament Scriptures begin with the birth of Jesus. Christians refer to the Bible and the Scriptures aas Holy since the Bible is believed to be "God's Book, one that tells the story of God with the creation, on through which God speaks."1 Christians look to the Bible for the Word of God.
How is Scripture used in the United Church of Christ?
Scripture holds authority for the life and mission of the United Church of Christ. It is the foundation of our faith and practice. What we do as a church is rooted in Scripture. We baptize because Scriptures tell us to do so. In the stories of God acting in history, of Jesus' life, teachings, death, and resurrection, we begin to understand who God is and how God works with us. The stories that form us as a people of God are found in the Scriptures. In these stories we find our identity. Scripture helps all Christians to understand who they are, their calling or mission, and how they need to act both individually and as a church - God's people gathered.
That is why the Bible is read both privately and publicly in a variety of settings. In our church services, the readings from Scripture provide a focus for the sermon, which is intended to expand and provide relevance for the worshiper. The Scripture provides the basis for the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Bible stories provide the foundation for church school education. Often, people with a community from Bible study groups. Some people read the Bible daily for their own personal devotions.
How is the Bible interpreted in the church?The church turns again and again to the Bible for God's word of promise in and for the community of faith. The church in every place and time must be deeply involved in discerning the relevance of the message of Scripture to contemporary issues and our constantly changing culture.
How do we read the Bible?
There are many ways in which we can read the Bible. Some like to begin at the beginning in the book of Genesis and read book by book through to the end. Others may choose to read the Bible thematically. A common way of reading the Bible is through the lectionary, a list of readings from the Bible (Scriptures) for the church. Although there is more than one style of lectionary, the one in most common use is the Revised Common Lectionary and the one used in the United Church of Christ. The widespread use of the lectionary makes it possible for people in various denominations to share the same stories during the same week, at the same time of year.
The cycle of readings spread over three years, organized as years A, B, and C. The lectionary provides great variety for Sunday worship as it winds its way through the Bible stories and the seasons of the church year. For each Sunday, there is a selction from the First Testament, a psalm, an Epistle (a New Testament Letter), and a Gospel reading. The idea for a lectionary dates from very early times in the church, as the lectionary was used as a way of educating people into the Christian life. Some pastors of local churches in the UCC do not use the lectionary, but instead make their own Scripture selections. Some hymnals and curricula are based on the lectionary.
At St. John, we generally use the Revised Common Lectionary, but from Advent 2021 - Christ the King Sunday 2022, we will be using Dr. Wilda Gafney's "A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church."
"Translation" refers to a particular version of the Bible in a particular language. The original Scriptures were primarily in Greek and Hebrew. Throughout the history of the church, these original Scriptures have been translated into various languages. Earliest translations were in Latin. One of the early English versions is the King James Version of 1611, still in use today. Others include the Revised Standard Version, published in 1952, and the Jerusalem Bible in 1966. Today in the United Church of Christ, the Bible is read in many languages and translations. The New Revised Standard Version, published in 1989, is now used with great frequency in the United Church of Christ. There are also many paraphrases of the Bible. These are written in contemporary language and take some liberties with the original text. Examples of these are The Living Bible, The Message, and the Contemporary English Version. Readings from a variety of paraphrases or translations can add much interest to a Bible study group.
We mostly preach from the New Revised Standard Version, and the Inclusive Version of the Bible at St. John.