We had Members Meeting at church last night; the periodic review of a portion of the Rules and Discipline. Those meetings are generally considered ho-hum, not inspiring. But I actually was inspired last night.
The last time we had a Members Meeting we reviewed the first section of the Discipline which contains the Eighteen Articles of Faith. Our Anabaptist forefathers in Europe wrote several confessions of faith. One of the best was written in Dordrecht, Holland, in 1632 and adopted by Pennsylvania Mennonites at their conference in 1725. The Eighteen Articles of Faith which we have today was adopted by the Mennonite General Conference in 1921 and is a restatement of the Dordrecht Confession written nearly 300 years earlier.
The first Article concerns the Word of God. It says, "We believe in the plenary and verbal inspiration of the Bible as the Word of God; that it is authentic in its matter, authoritative in its counsels, inerrant in the original writings, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice."
Stop on the fifth word. What does plenary mean? You're smarter than me if you know. I had to go to a dictionary. It means "full, complete, absolute."
This First Article of Faith is the foundational belief on which every other thing I believe is built. The Bible is the full and complete Word of God. Nothing will ever be added. It is the absolute Word of God. Nothing will ever be changed. It says what it means and means what it says.
In contrast, the portion of the Discipline we reviewed last night was the man-made rules concerning how the church is to operate and how the principles of the Bible are to be applied to daily life. That portion of the Discipline has undergone many changes in the history of the Mennonite Church, and there is great variety in these rules among various groups and conferences of Mennonites. Why? Because the man-made rules are not plenary. They were written by fallible men who (unlike God) are not immutable and omniscient.
Our Anabaptist forefathers would not have been able to imagine the world we live in today. They could not have written a set of rules which would address the issues of the 21st century--e.g. guidelines on proper use of the computer. Man-made rules change as the world in which we live changes. But they could (and did) write a Statement of Faith that is just as applicable to us today as it was in 1632. That is because the Word of God is unchanging. I can stake my life and my eternal future on the plenary Word of God and be secure for time and eternity. A thousand years after I have died, the requirements for eternal life will be the same. THAT is inspiring!