My articles on Inerrancy have produced quite a few questions on what United Methodists believe regarding the Bible, and other related topics. For instance, one of the most common questions I have received has been:
"What is the official position of The United Methodist Church on the Holy Scriptures?"
Frankly, and unfortunately, most United Methodists don’t seem to know that their denomination has official doctrines. For years, now, many of us have been told that it doesn’t matter what we believe, while others have been told that the fine points of faith are matters of personal opinion. Equally troubling has been the idea that "the simple Bible" is all the doctrine a Christian really needs, an attitude which sadly ignores the 2000+ years of faithful biblical scholarship which has gone before us.
In actuality, United Methodists have a very rich heritage of doctrinal standards which goes back to the very beginning of our denomination. The core of these standards can be found in the Articles of Religion, which we inherited from our sisters and brothers in the Church of England. The fifth Article of Religion states the "official" position of our Church on "The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation":
The Holy Scriptures 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 that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
This doctrinal position should make it clear that the Bible is, indeed, central to Christian life and faith. The Bible is authoritative because it is the norm by which the requirements for salvation are established--if a theological opinion or belief is not found in the Scriptures, or if it otherwise cannot be supported through a careful study of the Scriptures, than it cannot be required that a person believe it.
In these days, when people are searching for meaning and truth, for purpose and hope, I can think of no better source for guidance in faith than the Holy Scriptures. We study the Bible for many reasons, not the least of which being that we want to learn what is "requisite or necessary to salvation." But it is also true that, within the pages of the Scriptures, we find the Word of God, speaking to us as clearly as He spoke to His 12 original disciples. We modern-day disciples know that we, too, must hear the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be about our calling.
This takes us straight back to where we started: the Bible is true and Holy and very much inspired, and, as such, we should properly recognize that it contains the Word of God for us. This being said, however, it is also important to note that the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John tells us that it is Jesus Christ who is The Word of God. The Scriptures contain and communicate to us the Word of God in and through the words of human beings; as such, it can truly be said to be "the word of the Lord."
© 1998, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved