Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):
¶108 The Scriptures-Authority
The Bible is God’s written Word, uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit. It bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ, the living Word. As attested by the early church and subsequent councils, it is the trustworthy record of God’s revelation, completely truthful in all it affirms. It has been faithfully preserved and proves itself true in human experience.
The Scriptures have come to us through human authors who wrote, as God moved them, in the languages and literary forms of their times. God continues, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to speak through this Word to each generation and culture.
The Bible has authority over all human life. It teaches the truth about God, His creation, His people, His one and only Son and the destiny of humankind. It also teaches the way of salvation and the life of faith. Whatever is not found in the Bible nor can be proved by it is not to be required as an article of belief or as necessary to salvation.
¶131 Scriptural References
The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Deuteronomy 4:2, 28:9; Psalm 19:7-11; John 14:26; 17:17; Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:21.
The Bible is a central aspect of the Christian faith. It does not matter what Church or denomination (or non-denomination) one attends, the books that comprise the Bible will be at the core of that group. In some instances that centrality of Scripture will look like quotations and allusions throughout the liturgy. In other instances that centrality will look like multiple readings of Scripture within the context of the worship service. In still others it will look like extended commentary on a single passage. Whichever format, the Bible will be referenced. This is because, as we say in Free Methodism, the Bible “bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ.” As Christianity is ultimately about a relationship with Jesus, that which points us to Christ and helps make Christ known to us must be central.
We believe that we can trust what the Bible has recorded because it is the Holy Spirit who has been involved in the composition process, the transmission process, and the reception process of Scripture throughout history. By saying this, though, we have to make a logical leap. It is extremely obvious when I followed the format for this blog that I have for the previous Articles of Religion. In Free Methodism, we do not create our theology out of thin air. We base our beliefs on the biblical record. In this instance, then, we are basing our belief of the authority of Scripture on the very Bible itself. Logically, that is like using a word to define itself. That would be like saying glotification is the state of having been glotted. It is something we are taught not to do, yet we say the authority of Scripture is revealed in the Bible.
This is why many people will reject Christianity as inherently illogical and problematic. But that is because belief is not logical. We cannot logically explain a lot of things we believe. For example, why does a lever work? There are many, many good explanations of how a lever works, but no one can explain why a lever works. We know from experience it does work. We even know the mathematical formula for how it works, where to place the fulcrum, and the amount of force needed to exert based upon the length of the lever and placement of the fulcrum to achieve the desired output. Yet we cannot explain why it all works the way it does. So too with Scripture. We know, based upon personal experience over two thousand to four thousand years, the truths attested to in Scripture. And based upon that experience, we can conclude that Scripture is true, and therefore has authority over our belief systems.
Does this mean that we take everything absolutely literally in the Bible? Can one be a Free Methodist and believe that creation was either six days or billions of years? What I tell my students is that I want them to read the Bible literally. When it literally uses metaphor and symbolic language, I want them to literally understand those passages metaphorically and symbolically. What determines which passages are to be read metaphorically and symbolically? For this, I point people to the grand history of biblical interpretation that spans 2000 years. How have people down through the ages understood and interpreted particular passages? Then I include those opinions in my deliberations on Scripture.
I like to appeal to what is called the Vincentian Canon, named after St. Vincent of Lerins. He essentially stated that which has been believed in the most places, over the most time, by the most people is true. And in cases of monumental error, appeal to antiquity. This means that the Holy Spirit guides the Church with the same voice over time. What I believe today ought not to be radically different from what was believed by Christians 100 years ago, 500 years ago, 1000 years ago. And if there is an error in our belief today that is in lots of places, we look to what the early Church believed and taught for our corrective on the matter. This approach to the Bible helps us avoid the biases of our own time and culture. It helps us understand that biblical truth can be a corrector and teacher for the present.