Author's details

Name: UMJeremy
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Celebrity Pastors and the Communities that Love Them — November 21, 2014
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Who will watch out for the watchers? — November 14, 2014
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Right and Good-ful; Holy and Wonderful: A Dr. Seuss Communion [Liturgy] — November 13, 2014
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: The Only Two Avenues for Viable Change In This #UMC Chaos — November 12, 2014
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Sacraments Get Us Into Trouble — November 4, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Holding the #UMC Hostage 01 – The Setting — 5 comments
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: About that UMReporter Article…[response] – A Methodist Church United for our Daughters — 2 comments
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Restricting Marriage is a Justice Issue — 2 comments
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Is the #UMC the Rebellion…or the Empire? – Unity in Diversity…or Unity over Diversity? The choice is yours. — 2 comments
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Defeating the Dark Side of Church Metrics #UMC – Measuring transformation or accumulation? — 2 comments

Author's posts listings

Nov 21 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Celebrity Pastors and the Communities that Love Them

Original post at


Three celebrity pastors have been pushing back from (or in one case, being cast out of) the limelight. And they have led to some interesting transformations in their local contexts that inform non-celebrity churches too.

First, Pastor Mark Driscoll is forced out resigns from Mars Hill. The church, instead of going forward as a centralized entity with many locations, decides to disperse the resources to make do on their own.

Following much prayer and lengthy discussion with Mars Hill’s leadership, the board of Mars Hill has concluded that rather than remaining a centralized multi-site church with video-led teaching distributed to multiple locations, the best future for each of our existing local churches is for them to become autonomous self-governed entities. This means that each of our locations has an opportunity to become a new church, rooted in the best of what Mars Hill has been in the past, and independently led and run by its own local elder teams.

Second, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House For All Saints and Sinners, recently posted a pastoral note to Facebook that they were no longer going to be offering two worship services to accomodate out of town guests (they get around 2000 visitors a year!).

After having moved to two services on Sundays (to accommodate the approximately 2,000 one-time out-of-town visitors we had in a year’s time) we are returning again to having one 5p service, starting this Sunday. Why? Because the people who make up this community miss each other.

Having two services had a negative effect on our little congregation. While having an extra service on Sunday made it easier to accommodate out-of-town visitors, youth groups, and worship committees, it also made it harder to connect with each other and more difficult to identify who the local visitors are who might be looking for a church home…

We know it may seem weird to ask for fewer visitors, but for the time being we are choosing to err on the side of just trying to be a congregation rather than on the side of being a destination church. Perhaps we are making the wrong choice, but after two years of being inundated with people visiting us because of our famous pastor, we just need a little space to be together again.

Finally, Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in America, has embarked on a building project that includes a…smaller sanctuary? Smaller footprint by almost 400,000 square feet?  Why?

 1. To bring all weekend worship services, nurseries, children’s classrooms and adult classrooms under one roof in as close proximity to one another as possible.
2. To transform our current sanctuary into the fellowship hall, Vibe worship venue, classrooms and food service area.
3. To construct our permanent sanctuary in such a way that it feels smaller, more intimate, more sacred and serves to better engage people in worship.

Previous coverage of the CoR sanctuary here: “To Keep Your Temples, Care for the Tents.”

Celebrity v. Community

The common thread to me is that these are three churches dealing with celebrity in different ways.

  • Mars Hill was unable to sustain its celebrity pastor due to the abusive way how the celebrity interacted with the pastoral community and many community members. Realizing that, they have wisely chosen to disband its organization and see if enough decentralized groundwork was done to sustain the individual church communities.
  • House For All Saints and Sinners felt their community was stretched too far by too many visitors to their celebrity pastorate. They made changes to their worship schedule to accomodate them, but saw negative effects of it on their community.
  • Church of the Resurrection has rebuffed church trends and in its pursuit of creating bigger and better has opted for architectural space that creates community rather than enhances celebrity. All the work being planned for Easter 2017 seems more community-minded than celebrity-minded (and needed if CoR is to transition well from Hamilton in 15-ish years).

What can Non-Celeb Churches Learn?

For individual churches, they can take some lessons from these cautionary tales about churches and celebrities.

  1. Keep up the pace. There’s a natural life cycle of churches’ relationships with their pastors when they are growing. The first few years they see you as their chaplain and not their pastor. But as more people come and leadership positions are turned over to people who match the pastor’s vision, pastoral leadership takes root. Churches would be wise to continue to build community alongside their pastor’s transformation so that the growth is sustainable.
  2. Be willing to sacrifice celebrity for community. House for All Saints and Sinners made a really unpopular choice (based on the Facebook posts–including their own Lutheran Bishops!) to reduce their capacity so that they could continue to nurture their community. Rev. Bolz-Weber comes from a recovery background and their church understands the need for community. Making decisions the benefit the “insiders” is playing with fire, but when discerned well, it could better serve the local mission than the national appetite for celebrity pastors.
  3. Think about the structural space. I know I’ll get some pushback that Rev. Hamilton is not at all relinquishing celebrity status. That’s not my claim: my claim is that his third (and last) Sanctuary is more focused on community and interaction than merely making videos to sell in their Production Church. By changing the way how the people in the pews or seats use their structural space, they’ll better be able to enhance their small group focus–and every church can do better to see how their architecture is enhancing or limiting community.

Celebrity and community is an interesting dialectic as the pastors must redirect the energy sent towards them back to the local mission and ministry. Some absorb it and become toxic cults of personalities, some retreat from it when they see its harm, and some channel it into the church overall structure. For each church, no matter how small, dealing with attention and how to redirect attention away from the individual members of Christ’s body to Christ’s body itself is no small task, and it’s fascinating to see how “playing with fire” it really is.


Thanks for your comments and for the shares!

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Nov 14 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Who will watch out for the watchers?

Original post at


The Watchers

Wired Magazine recently featured an article (NSFW) about the people who screen Facebook and remove the terrible videos of sex, violence, gore, animal cruelty, and child abuse. This type of content moderation is depicted as taking a significant toll on the people who have to view and remove the videos so that grandma (and especially grandchild) don’t see them.

In Manila, I meet Denise (not her real name), a psychologist who consults for two content-moderation firms in the Philippines. “It’s like PTSD,” she tells me as we sit in her office above one of the city’s perpetually snarled freeways. “There is a memory trace in their mind.”…But even with the best counseling, staring into the heart of human darkness exacts a toll. Workers quit because they feel desensitized by the hours of pornography they watch each day and no longer want to be intimate with their spouses. Others report a supercharged sex drive. “How would you feel watching pornography for eight hours a day, every day?” Denise says. “How long can you take that?”…“From the moment you see the first image, you will change for good.

With content moderation jobs reaching into the high percentages of jobs in the tech sector, who will watch out for the watchers? How can we offer spiritual care for those in the front lines of human decency?

The Christian Watchers

Like the daily life of content moderators, trauma is not a single event. I try to not use the term “trauma victim”* because “trauma survivor” seems more accurate. The re-traumatization of survivors kept them from truly healing from the incident that sparked their condition. Be it from the Holocaust or a Katrina flood or Gulf War Syndrome or everyday bullying, the “triggers” that cause a survivor to relive the incident create a survivor mentality. Like the content moderators above, the triggers become commonplace in some professions.

This is important to consider because the Christian church often has similar roles to the content moderators above: people who have daily engagement with the rough edges of humanity in the name of the Church.

  • I think of my friend who is the first contact for many young people online and must deal with the ridiculous tweets tearing down other Christians and accusatory comments that the UMC must hate gay people. How does each email or ping of a tweet feel?
  • I think of Christian ministers–lay and clergy–who work with those behind bars or on death row, hearing stories and seeing some of the most indecent segments of humanity face-to-face, alongside with those who are not. How do they view each passerby on the sidewalk?
  • I think of pastors and clergy who console the family of a deceased alcoholic, or pedophile, or domestic abuser and are expected to officiate a worship service about the deceased while their survivors are still bleeding into the pews. How do they do the next funeral? And the next one?
  • I think of the missionaries sent long-term to far-removed lands or to close-by areas of need. How do they answer their door or serve in the field each day?
  • I think of activists who seek to change the church’s social stances from the inside and clash with the institutional powers. How do they view each “official” denominational missive or email?
  • I think your life of service, dear reader, as you engage in areas that are unknown to me and probably those closest to you. Those places and people who affect you for life, and you feel alone in your engagement with them. How do you do it?

How do we care for the people who are on the rough edges of Christianity? How do we even identify the ones who are running ragged but aren’t visibly so? How do we care for the survivors and help them not “be healed” or “get over it” but find a way to truly live amidst a world of triggers?


Why do we do it?

Furthermore, why does the Church continue to engage the worst parts of humanity: the most vicious online trolls who call for people’s suicides or rape, the serial killers behind bars, and the domestic abusers in the pews? Why do we have the Christian Watchers in the first place?

For one answer, we look to a comic book movie and how it engages with a biblical concept.

There’s a time-travel element to the 2014 film X-Men: Days of Future Past. [SPOILER ALERT] We travel back in time to find that a very young 1970s Professor Charles Xavier has lost too many teachers to Vietnam and is having trouble dealing with the events of the prequel X-Men First Class. The pain of loss causes Xavier to take drugs to diminish his mutant abilities and he has stepped back from helping others in the world.

Near the climax of the movie, the young Charles Xavier is able to have a conversation with his future self. His future self says these words:

It’s not their pain you’re afraid of. It’s yours, Charles. And as frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it comes from the most human part of us: hope.

Charles, we need you to hope again.

We engage the powers and come face to face with the indecent because we hope.

  • We hope for something more.
  • We hope for a better world for our neighbors’ children.
  • We hope for a better church for our children.
  • We hope we are the generation that eradicates racism and sexism from the dominant culture.
  • We hope we are the people that solve the persistent problem spots of the world’s conflicts.
  • We hope to hold the eggshell fragments long enough for the slow work of God to put it all back together.

The Watchers take on the pain as they seek the middle ground between redemptive suffering and aloof detachment. This is the place where Christ resides, taking on the world’s pain. However, unlike a truly kenotic (self-emptying) Christ, the Watchers do not completely self-empty. Thus, all are called to either support these people by serving alongside them, or by supporting them with resources before, during, and especially after their term of service.


What resources do you know of that:

  • Might offer a word of hope to people in secular content moderation jobs?
  • Might offer a word of hope to people in ministry roles that would have similar trauma triggers and experiences?

Thanks for sharing and sound off in the comments!

* of course, persons who have gone through trauma can refer to themselves however they wish. For general consumption only, I try to use the “survivor” term but am respectful to how people self-identify.

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Nov 13 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Right and Good-ful; Holy and Wonderful: A Dr. Seuss Communion [Liturgy]

Original post at

Allie Scott is the pastor of the Shared Covenant Ministries, a United Methodist regional ministry in East-Central Wisconsin. She recently shared on Facebook a communion liturgy she shared at SCM. It is reposted with permission below. Thanks Allie, very creative!

Seussical Communion Liturgy

Allie Scott

May the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

May your hearts be lightened and filled with God’s love!
We lift up our hearts and praise God above.

Let us give thanks to the Lord, God our Father.
We thank God and praise Him – it isn’t a bother!

It is right and good-ful; holy and wonderful; blessed and joyful;
To give thanks to you God, Almighty and faithful.
For it’s you that has given us this worship time,
Filled with laughter, some holy humor and rhyme.
It’s you that has shown us your holy love,
That you have sent from heaven high up above.
And so, with your angels who first sang your song,
We proclaim your goodness by singing along:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven is filled with your marvelous glory;
Earth is filled with your light.
Blessed is he who comes in your name -
“Hosanna on high!” we loudly proclaim.

Holy God, it’s your Son we remember today,
Jesus Christ, the anointed, whom we try to obey.
He encouraged the poor and freed the oppressed,
And taught us that you care about the distressed.
Through his suffering, death, and resurrection,
He taught that Your grace beats out our imperfection.
He ascended to Heaven and sits there beside you,
But still remains with us in all that we do.

On the night he was taken, he lifted some bread,
He blessed it, and broke it, and here’s what he said:
“Dear friends, this is my body to you that I give.
Take it; share it: in you I will live.
From now on, whenever, wherever you meet
Remember our time when this bread here you eat.”

When supper was over, he then took the cup,
With praise and thanksgiving he lifted it up:
“For the New Covenant, this is my blood;
A sign of the Lord’s continuing love.
For God has forgiven your every mistake,
So trust in God’s love when this drink you partake.”
May we offer ourselves for God’s greater glory,
And proclaim what we know of this fabulous story:

Christ Jesus: he died, but then rose again!
He’ll return here on earth: Hallelujah! Amen.

Holy Spirit, come down on us gathered here,
With this bread and this fruit of the vine please appear.
Make holy this food, fill us with your grace,
So we proclaim gospel to the whole human race.
We love you, Lord Jesus, we’ll shout out again
Your glory and honor:

Amen and Amen!

Creative Commons share

Dr. Seuss Memorial – Creative Commons share

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Nov 12 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: The Only Two Avenues for Viable Change In This #UMC Chaos

Original post at

With the plethora of proposals to change the United Methodist Church, which ones actually have a chance at success? Take a read on two criteria that I think will define the most viable options–and one criteria that will doom them all.


Two criteria for change

Having attended three General Conferences (as an advocate), served on a team that wrote major general church legislation, and being somewhat well-versed in our general church polity, I think there are two criteria by which a denominational unity/schism plan could be deemed “viable.”

  1. It must be doable without constitutional amendments and substantially change the UMC polity within our current constitutional framework.
  2. If it must be done with a constitutional amendment, then it must include a moratorium on trials of clergy persons who are LGBT or who officiate same-gender unions.

Here’s why those two criteria are important.

First, we already tried a constitutional amendment in 2008 to help the global church become more equitable. The forces against LGBT inclusion burned it down. The message war (on either side) would be enough to overcome the very high bar of 2/3 of the annual conference membership. So a constitutional amendment is unlikely to pass. That means any plan that doesn’t require constitutional changes has a higher likelihood of passing General Conference and becoming church law.

Second, even if an amendment and plan did come up with viability, it wouldn’t be applicable until 2021 at the earliest. We just ratified the Constitutional Amendments from the 2012 General Conference last week at the Council of Bishops. So anything in 2016 wouldn’t be ratified until 2018. Then the new legislation (that hinge on those changes) would need to pass the 2020 General Conference and would apply January 1st, 2021. A long time, right? Right. Our polity resists reactions that substantially change the tenor of the entire denomination. It enables cooler heads to have time to speak and more eyes to look at the changes.

Thus for at least 5 years after GC2016, we would be a church in transition and a church in transition needs to lay down its arms. Hence why a moratorium would be necessary–and indeed, it would be more honest to have a moratorium since that’s how many annual conferences are operating these days anyway.

So by our estimation here at Hacking Christianity, any plan for unity (or schism) requires the two criteria above.

How do the current plans fare?

By these criteria, how do the current crop of plans fare?

  1. A Way Forward requires no constitutional amendments and substantially changes the structure within our current polity. PASS.
  2. The Jurisdictional Solution requires constitutional amendments and has no language for cessation of trials. FAIL.
  3. The A&W plan requires no constitutional amendments but doesn’t substantially change the polity: it is more of the same. FAIL (indeed, it is the most openly hostile to LGBT persons/allies and opens the door for megachurches to leave the UMC scot-free).
  4. The recent United Methodist Centrist Movement requires constitutional amendments and calls for a moratorium on clergy trials. PASS (to nitpick, the language offered is “all trials,” and that would need to be changed because we need some trials)
  5. Almost all plans offered on the 4000 member United Methodist Clergy Facebook group require constitutional amendments, but none I’ve seen allow for a moratorium on clergy trials. FAIL.
  6. Finally, any plan for official schism or dissolution of the United Methodist Church would require significant hurdles above even constitutional amendments and thus would be even less viable. FAIL.

In short, only AWF and UMCM offer viable paths to change in the United Methodist Church. Little wonder both those plans are subject to the biggest critiques by those who are proposing or supporting the most harmful plan yet.

Are the big ideas all for naught?

The truth is that every evaluator of the plans for unity or schism within the UMC need to be consistent as to what they are using to measure each plan. By applying two clear criteria above, I believe it helps us see what is viable and what can be perfected with more effectiveness than the others. While some may claim that I’ve tilted the criteria and thus have a self-fulfilling prophecy–which could be true–I’m honest about my criteria, have the data to back it up, and would like others to be as open.

However, all may be for naught for those seeking the path with constitutional amendments. The biggest hurdle those would have to clear is that one side would unilaterally reject any moratorium of church trials or cessation of hostilities against LGBT persons. It is clear that any “budge” or any “allowance” would be met with abject rejection, either based on “allowing sin” or personal/regional positioning or simple covenant beliefs. This is the Via Vindicta whereby the path to unity requires vengeance to those who violate our purity polity.

In summary, while the most viable proposals would need to require a moratorium on particular trials, such a requirement conflicts with certain segments of United Methodism’s refusal to budge .0001% on this topic for any minute of time, which could derail any process that needs a constitutional amendment. Unless the reasonable solutions overcome this bloodlust, all this oddly puts “A Way Forward” as still the most viable plan for unity with diversity in the United Methodist Church (even the Schismatics admit it). And could it be?

Timeline: January 2016

With the variety of proposed legislation likely due in January 2016, my hope is that any future plans coming in the next 15 months take seriously the above criteria and seek to work within our current polity or to propose constitutional amendments that include moratoriums on clergy trials as related to LGBT identity and same-gender marriage. We need either to work within our own polity, or to offer a breathing space to give time for something new to come in–if only we can lay down our arms long enough for it to be so.

I believe we can.


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Nov 04 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Sacraments Get Us Into Trouble

Original post at

Often the wisdom in a Sunday School classroom comes from the participants and not from the leader.

This past Sunday, my class was discussing the Animate:Practices episode with Phyllis Tickle talking about Sacraments. After a pretty light conversation, it turned to two questions: infant baptism and open communion. Almost everyone chimed in and had a good back-and-forth…and then one of them said:

The thing is with the Sacraments is that they get you into trouble. All of them are about boundaries and who can take it or experience it, and those things are where people get into trouble.

Sacraments with Requirements?

There’s a lot of truth to what my Sunday School participant said.

To define what we are talking about, Sacraments are specific practices (like baptism and eucharist) that are highly ritualized and have significant meaning. They are outward and visible signs of the invisible, inward, spiritual grace given by God. Sacraments are Christian practices that order our lives and give a structure that sustains Christian living. They are not necessary for salvation, but are means of grace that help inaugurate the Christian journey, signify turning points, and sustain the Christian life.

Actually, that’s the textbook definition (from my United Methodist ordination papers). The reality is that in the Christian tradition, Sacraments are incredibly divisive.

Even if we limit our consideration to the two most-shared Sacraments across Christendom (baptism and communion), there’s deep and wide variance:

  • Baptism: Southern Baptists hold to believer baptisms only, Catholics believe in baptizing babies (but only if they will be raised in the Catholic faith), and most Protestants affirm infant baptism. Many traditions require a catechumenate process beforehand; some will call you down and baptize you previously unseen. Many fundamentalist churches recognize only submersion baptism, whereas I heard a story of a Presbyterian preacher who belatedly saw he didn’t have any water in the baptismal font and he baptized the child anyway with just air.
  • Communion: Catholics believe the wine becomes Jesus’ blood, whereas others see it as a reminder (memorial) or the real presence (ie. non-icky) of Christ. Episcopalians use real wine while post-Temperance Methodists use grape juice, and Mormons use water. Catholics only serve to Catholics (in good standing), many denominations only serve to Christians, and Methodists practice an open table where one may not even need be Christian to partake.

Getting into Trouble

With so much variance and rules, there’s bound to be moments when one is excluded from a Sacrament. The visceral response to being excluded from a Sacrament is one shared by many, especially when it comes to Protestants attending a Catholic funeral or wedding or teaching at a Catholic school and being denied Communion.

It’s in those moments of exclusion–no matter how rigorously theologically maintained or pure of thoughtfulness the action is–that the Sacraments get us into trouble. We get into trouble when we cross a boundary or note that we are on the other side of a boundary, and no matter how deeply committed we are to our own faith tradition, it impacts us in ways that separate us from the holiness of God in that moment.

Sacramentality without Limits?

Because humans have codified and segmented Christendom through barriers and rules regarding water and wine, I wonder if we need to rely on something different.

If we humans have chopped up the Sacraments, can we still hold onto seeking Sacramentality?

Sacramentality is the belief that God’s grace has been received through participating in the activity instituted by God. Sacraments like Baptism and Communion are rituals that connect us to the church’s past as if threaded onto an ever-long tapestry, like Phyllis Tickle said in the Animate:Practices video.

But beyond the moment of the sacrament, sacramental living means approaching all aspects of life as a means for sharing and receiving God’s grace. We are empowered to live God-directed lives outside the context of the Church and its rituals. Regardless of how codified and segmented the actual Sacraments are, they are meant to empower us to take that sacramental living into the messiness of the world. Sacraments are not mountaintops but instead are pit stops that reconnect us so that we can go about our task of reconnecting our diaspora of a world. The grace conferred by these Sacraments empower our bodies to do good works for the Reign of God and continue to seek reconciliation, peace, and justice in the world (2 Cor 5:17-21) for all those that have bodies and all those who need to know the love of God.

Perhaps the Sacraments have layers of exclusion and particularity because we have the inverted belief that what we believe about the Sacraments defines how we live out our sacramental living beyond the altar space. I believe the opposite is more true: how we live sacramentally ought to define how we view our Sacraments. If we live a life of inclusion and grace, then why are our communion tables closed, or our baptisms by one particular “valid” method?

Does it matter? Grace is everywhere

In The Diary of a Country Priest, the unnamed Catholic priest has spent the bulk of his short life practicing the understanding of the sacraments on his rural parish. As he lay dying from stomach cancer, unable to himself receive the sacrament of last rites from a tardy neighboring priest, his last words are: “Does it matter? Grace is everywhere.”

Grace is indeed everywhere. The Sacraments connect to those thin places in the context of worship. There is abstract value in having insider language and meaning for the Sacraments. However, I believe there is concrete value in performing them in such a way that outsiders feel included and can see the transformation in our lives going forward.

Truly, the grace of God is known in all places. If our Sacraments do not affirm this reality, or have layers of exclusion built upon them, then what kind of grace do they really point to? The anti-grace of requirements, secret languages, and judgment of qualified and not? Or the unifying grace of people helping people, seeking the means of grace at all moments, and only occasionally turning to the moments when our grapes, wheat, and water touch the sky?

May we allow the grace of God to define our Sacraments in ways that the roped off corridors of humans cannot. And may all our Sacraments point to a life of celebration of our relationship with God whose grace knows no requirements, whose presence is found in grapes of all kinds, whose refreshment is found in all forms of water, and whose receiving line is always open, waiting for you.


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Nov 03 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Living into the Tension between Experience and Tradition

Original post at

Many mainline denominations have several sources of authority beyond the Bible. For example, Episcopalians have the “three-legged stool” of Richard Hooker which is Scripture, Reason, and Tradition.  United Methodists add one and see Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience as authoritative when considered together.

There’s often incredible tensions between two sources of authority. The Bible has elements that conflict with scientific reason. The tradition of the church has interpreted the Bible in sometimes erroneous ways – or at least contextual ways that did not stand the test of time.

But in my experience, none of the tensions compare to the tension between experience and Church tradition. 2000 years of loosely coherent interpretation and theology seems a staggering obstacle to overcome when one’s personal experience is counter to it. Women and Queer people who experience the call of God on their hearts to preach have to overcome two millennia of church tradition that says it is only for straight men. Even for a local church, the experience of newcomers to the faith may be quite different than the traditions of that local church, and that leads to tension. Nevermind the fallback position of claiming “that’s not orthodox” when such a claim is dubious.

In our age of seeing the Bible as less authoritative for our daily life, it is important to live into the tension between sources of authority. To help with this, I found a lot to think on with Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr’s Daily Devotion on October 29th and his take on experience v. tradition. Take a read:


Paul trusts his experience of God and of Christ over his own upbringing, over the Twelve Apostles, over Peter, and over the Jewish Christians. Paul doesn’t follow the expected sources of outer authority in his life, neither his own Jewish religion nor the new Christian leaders in Jerusalem. He dares to listen to—and trust—his own inner experience, which trumps both of these establishments. It’s amazing, really, that institutional religion makes him the hero that it does, and almost half of the New Testament is attributed to him, because in many ways he’s a rebel. He’s not by any definition a “company man”—anybody’s company in fact! In terms of human biographies, he is almost in a category all his own.

It is ironic that the ability to trust one’s own experience to that degree has not been affirmed by the later church, even though both Jesus and Paul did exactly that. They trusted their experience of God in spite of the dominant tradition. And the church came along and domesticated both Jesus and Paul. We were never told to trust our own experience. In fact, we were probably told not to have any experience. It was considered unnecessary! (Yet the Church still produced people like Augustine, Francis, Teresa of Ávila, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Teresa of Calcutta—who trusted their own soul experience against the tide.)

Once you know something, you can’t deny that you know it. You don’t need to dismiss outer authority—its intuitions are often correct—but you’re not on bended knee before it either. The church’s fear of inner authority has not served the Gospel well and has not served history well either. I am afraid this has to do with those in charge wanting to keep you co-dependent. I don’t think Paul wants to keep you dependent upon him at all. He is the great apostle of freedom—a scary freedom that much of tradition, and most clergy, have not been comfortable with at all (Galatians 5:1-12, Romans 8:20-23).

~ Richard Rohr



  1. How would the church be different if it held inner authority to be less of a challenge to traditional authority? Or have both terms been too narrowly defined?
  2. What is your life example of a clash between experience and tradition?

Sound off in the comments!

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