A CAREFUL VIEW OF SCRIPTURE with Regard to LGBT Questions
Bible interpretation requires careful examination of the text and its context. We believe that people were inspired by God over the centuries to write what we today call our Bible. We do not believe that this was God’s lips to their ears but rather that the Holy Spirit unctioned and inspired them in their writings. As we read different parts of scripture it becomes very evident that some of the personality of the human author is evident. This in no way takes away from the inspiration of the writings. However … it is important to understand scripture in the context of the surrounding passages and book … and in the context of the Bible as a whole
There can often be confusion over what we mean when we say that scripture is inerrant. That confusion led to some asking that the word: "inerrant” be removed from Article IV of the articles of faith of the Church of the Nazarene. In response to this a committee was formed to examine this issue. The following are excerpts from that committee's findings and conclusion from a Nazarene perspective. The full report with credits is available for download at the bottom of this page.
Here is what Article IV says …
We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith.
This paper, by the committee, explains Article IV of the Nazarene Articles of Faith …
THE STRENGTH OF ARTICLE IV
We wish to begin by drawing attention to the strength of the present Article IV as a declaration of our commitment to the authority of the Bible.
Plenary, divine inspiration
First, the article clearly states the inspiration of Holy Scripture as ‘divine’ and ‘plenary’:that means that the whole Bible is inspired and that it is inspired, not just in the sense that a work of art may be said to be ‘inspired’, but by God. To say that the Bible as a whole is inspired is to say that we cannot take texts out of context and quote them arbitrarily as ‘the word of God.’ We have to understand biblical theology as a whole. Nor do we believe that divine inspiration cancels out the human authorship. Each book has a distinct style, vocabulary, and idiom reflecting the quite different human authors and contexts, whether of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Luke, Paul, or even writers unknown. We do not believe in a mechanical idea of inspiration in which their minds were blotted out and they became mere puppets. Rather their mental powers were heightened and their free wills guided by the subtle and sensitive Spirit of God. Whether they were gathering information to write a narrative, or editing what had previously been written, or were putting into writing speech directly inspired by the Holy Spirit, the result was a collection of documents fit for the purpose of revealing God’s will and way, God’s acts, and supremely God’s revelation in his Incarnate Son. We agree therefore with the Cape Town Commitment of the Third Lausanne Congress when they say in their confession of faith:
We receive the whole Bible as the Word of God, inspired by God’s Spirit, spoken and written through human authors. We submit to it as supremely and uniquely authoritative, governing our belief and behavior. We testify to the power of God’s Word to accomplish his purpose of salvation. We affirm that the whole Bible is the final written word of God, not surpassed by any further revelation, but we also rejoice that the Holy Spirit illumines the minds of God’s people so that the Bible continues to speak God’s truth in fresh ways to people in every culture. ((The Cape Town Commitment: A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action -The Lausanne Movement, 2011)
We strongly endorse the emphasis in this Cape Town Commitment that we love God’s Word because we love God, love his world, love the gospel, love the people of God, and love the mission of God.
Inerrantly revealing the will of God
Secondly, Article IV clearly states that the Holy Scriptures reveal the will of God inerrantly. That means that what Holy Scripture tells us about God and his saving acts and purpose cannot be set aside by any merely human philosophy, metaphysics, or ethics. Human reason and culture are all fallen and therefore suspect when it comes to discerning the will of God, but we each may trust the word of God given to us in Holy Scripture as ‘a lamp to my feet and alight to my path’ (Psalm 119:105). Human reason and experience may guide us in many things, but when it comes to the things of God (which shapes all of life), they must bow to what he has revealed to us in the inspired Scriptures. This belief is what is usually known as the ‘infallibility’ of Scripture, that it ‘inerrantly reveals the will of God in all things necessary to salvation’ as distinct from absolute ‘inerrancy’ in every factual detail. This implies that, while the Holy Spirit guides us as we listen for the voice of God speaking to us through Scripture, no claims to private revelations of the truth of God which are additional to Scripture are acceptable.
This does not imply however that we are infallible in our interpretation of the Bible. Some Christians think that they are merely stating what the Bible says, but that is naïve. Whether we like it or not, every Christian is actually engaged in interpreting the Bible. Accordingly, we must interpret each word in its sentence, each sentence in its paragraph, each paragraph within the argument of the book as a whole, and each biblical book within the Scriptures as a whole. We interpret the New Testament against the background of the Old Testament, and the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament and particularly as progressive revelation leads up to the final revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We follow the guidance of the ancient creeds of the Church as we interpret the Scriptures together. All of this calls not only for careful scholarship, but also for dependence on the Holy Spirit. We expect all preachers and teachers particularly to be committed to the interpretation of the Scriptures given in the ancient creeds and the Articles of Faith, but on other matters we affirm freedom of interpretation provided it is in a spirit of loyalty to the Church. As we interpret Scripture together within the fellowship of the Church, we look to the Holy Spirit to guide us in the future into ‘the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Romans12:2).
All things necessary to our salvation
Thirdly, that brings us to the point that Article IV makes clear the purpose of Holy Scripture: that it reveals the will of God “…in all things necessary to our salvation…” John Wesley was very clear that the purpose of being a person ‘of one book’ was to find ‘the way to heaven.’ The Bible is not to be treated as an almanac or a magic book or a text book of history or science. Its truth is expressed in the thought forms of the ancient world, in their culture, context, geography, cosmology, and language. But on the other hand, God’s action in the history of Israel and supremely in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ was ‘necessary to our salvation.’ Accordingly, it is part of our faith that the Bible is the God-given account of God’s action in space-time history and therefore an integral part of God’s revelation in history and uniquely in the Lord Jesus Christ. And while science progresses by studying ‘the book of nature’ rather than by biblical study, nonetheless modern science arose in a Christian culture out of Christian convictions, and ultimately we believe that everything we know through science will be seen to be more than compatible with all that has been revealed to us through Holy Scripture.
Faith in the word of the gospel of salvation also implies obedience to the law of God. To live intentionally violating the law of God as interpreted by Jesus and the apostles is the antinomian denial of the faith. Christian ethics are formulated as the Church interprets Holy Scripture guided by the Holy Spirit and taking note of the wisdom of the Church through the ages.
What is not from Holy Scripture cannot be a doctrine of the Church
Fourthly, the final compound clause of Article IV is perhaps the strongest of all. Its wording derives (via Wesley’s Twenty-five Articles) from Article VI of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England:
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man [sic], that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite necessary to salvation.
This asserts one of the cardinal principles of the Reformation, the sola scriptura, that Holy Scripture is the only source of Christian doctrine. It says that only what is read in Scripture or proved from Scripture is to be required as an article of faith or is necessary to salvation. Of course, as Wesleyans we know (as do the other major theological traditions in the one Church)that Scripture has to be interpreted. We interpret Scripture, guided by the traditions of the Church, in the light of our experience as the people of God, and using sanctified reason. But according to this sentence none of these can be in itself the source or basis for Christian doctrine, and as we look at the other Nazarene Articles of Faith, we see that this is in fact true. They are all derived from Scripture. Christian tradition helps us today to interpret Scripture, and human reason and experience are engaged in this interpretation and in articulating our doctrines. Reason and experience have shaped the way these Articles of Faith were formed and they still shape the way we express our doctrines and they may even corroborate them. But every doctrine we profess together as a denomination in our Articles of Faith is in fact based upon and derived from Holy Scripture.
Such is the strength of Article IV therefore, that as a committee we believe that when it is fully understood, it is a good and sufficient guard against any theology that departs from Holy Scripture. Its strength and clarity needs to be understood and appreciated by all who preach in Nazarene pulpits and teach in Nazarene colleges/universities. The committee therefore believes that it is not only unnecessary, but that it would be untrue to the Wesleyan tradition, incompatible with Wesleyan theology, and unwarranted by the Scriptures themselves, to add any assertion that the Scriptures are ‘inerrant throughout’ not only in revealing the will of God for our salvation, but in determining the truth of any statement whatsoever. That would be to turn the Bible from the saving word of God into an almanac or encyclopedia. To say that the Scriptures are ‘the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach’ merely raises the question of what exactly the Scriptures teach, and there are numerous unsettled disputes among Christians (and even among Nazarenes) about that. To assert the complete detailed factual literal accuracy of every part of Scripture (‘inerrant throughout’) raises more problems than it solves and diverts people into unnecessary, distracting and futile disputes.
To support this conclusion, we need to expand on this key-note paragraph. We need to understand where this demand for complete detailed ‘inerrancy’ comes from, why it is unnecessary and misleading, and what the view of Nazarene theologians has been.