When we talk about the Scriptures as a Means of Grace what do we mean? Baptism, Communion, Prayer, Worship, Fellowship, Healing, Ordination ... all these Means of Grace make sense to us; we can see how they function in our lives, and the in the lives of the Church; their character as Sacraments and Sacramental acts are obvious. But what about the Holy Scriptures? How do they function as Means of Grace?
I submit to you that the Scriptures function in an indespinsible fundamental way as a Means of Grace for you and me: they communicate the Real Presence of Jesus Christ -- the Incarnate Word of God -- to us through the words, thoughts, ideas, and experiences the Biblical authors. As such, they provide us with a link to the living experience of the risen Christ in the early Church ... and the transforming reality of that experinece, which still has power to reform us today.
The fifth Article of Religion states the "official" position of the United Methodist 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. It sets outer boundries for belief, sure, but it also sets inner boundries for our Christian living. After all, the Scriptures are described as "containing all things necessary to salvation." This is a powerful proclimation, and goes directly to the core of their identity as an important Means of Grace. The Scriptures are a Means of Grace specifically in that they "contain all things necessary to salvation." What else is Grace, if it isn't God's saving love, manifested in the lives of believers? As a Means of Grace, the Scriptures bring salvation to those who receive them.
But there remains the important question: how do they do this? How does a simple book, a collection of thoughts, words, and ideas, become a Means of Grace for us? How do they contain God's Grace, and how does this Grace get to you and me? I believe that they convey God's Grace to us because they reconnect us to the Resurrection Experience of the Early Church, who wrote them.
The early church remembered Jesus. During the time of St. Paul there were many Christians who could remember both the pre-crucifixion Jesus and the risen Lord, and this situation lingered for many decades. This experience of the church -- an experience of God, breaking in on time -- was what formed the church. Indeed, this experience of God in Christ resulted in such a powerful and enduring change in the lives of the early Christians that its memory could not be wiped away by time or oppression. It resonated on, in their preaching and teaching, living and dying, to the second and third generations and, eventually, on to today. But, by the end of the second generation most of what is now within the New Testament had been written. In these writings we find a mixture of the oral tradition, the theological reflection, and the historical situation of the early church. This is the record of those who either knew Jesus, or were in close temporal contact with those who did. This is their account of both the event which created them and their reaction to that event. As such, the scriptures are the creation of the community as well as of the event itself. And it is this situation, this event, this community, and their experience, which is the basis for the Grace that the Scriptures communicate to us today.
This grace comes in many ways: through a simple reading, through Bible Study, through preaching, through song and dance ... the Scriptures come alive to us and attain a transforming power for us in ways that go beyond our ability to catalog. And, indeed, isn't that always true concerning God's marvelous Grace? We only just scratch the surface of what God's Grace has to offer us.
© 1994, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved