This post is by David Brush and reports on the recent decision by the Nazarenes not to use the word “inerrancy” in describing their view of Scripture.
Within the evangelical protestant movement there is a pull to increase the contrast within our articles of faith (statements of belief) so that there is little room left for nuance along the edges. In most protestant and evangelical denominations there is a clearly defined article regarding scripture, and specifically the inerrancy of scripture. The fervor over these kinds of clearly bounded definitions is continuing to rise as conservative and fundamentalist ideals react to the loss of influence in the western cultural arena. The struggle and contention within the protestant mind, and regarding the inerrancy of scripture specifically, is in how we qualify the word inerrant.
In 2009 a group put forward a resolution at the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene that would alter their article of faith by changing the statement on inerrancy from, “inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation,” to, “inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach.” The assembly referred the motion for change to the scripture study committee in order to provide a response and recommendation at the 2013 assembly of the denomination. The committee released the report and recommendation ahead of the June 2013 assembly. In the report the committee recommended that the article of faith on Holy Scripture remain unchanged, and in it they also responded specifically to why it should remain so.
The Church of the Nazarene sits within the Wesleyan-Holiness movement of churches. As a child of Wesley’s methodism, his original rooting in the Church of England, and his appreciation for the theology of Arminius, the Church of the Nazarene has often held theological views that straddle the conservative and liberal divide. While the Church of the Nazarene has identified in support of some fundamentalist ideals there is a deep vein of skepticism against the modernist undertones guiding much of fundamentalist belief. This approach has lead the church to leave the qualifiers within this article of faith on inerrancy ecumenic.
By keeping the original text this article of faith is inclusive, it does not prohibit a Nazarene from believing that scripture is inerrant throughout if that is their conviction. By qualifying inerrant as inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation the article of faith leaves room for Nazarene who hold varying positions on issues such as creationism and evolution, textual and historical criticism, etc. To borrow from Scot’s lexicon it is a Big Tent statement.
Wesley understood the effects of tradition, reason,understand and experience on how we understand scripture. The report writers note, “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.” Wesley declared himself, ‘a man of one book.’ The writers of the report set forward:
“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.’”
Sufficiency is an important word that comes into play in the Church of the Nazarene understanding of innerancy. From the report:
“We know that we are not brought to faith by having the inerrancy of the Bible proved to us, but that our faith in Christ is what leads us to trust his messengers, the prophets and apostles, and all who wrote the Holy Scriptures. It is not that we are committed as a denomination to the opposite view that the Scriptures are unreliable or that they are historically untrustworthy. No: we are committed to the belief that the Scriptures give us a sufficiently accurate account of God’s action in the history of Israel and particularly in the birth, life, death, and bodily resurrection of the Lord. It is rather that we do not think that highlighting the issue of detailed factual inerrancy is helpful or necessary to insisting on the full authority and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture.”
Preceding this statement is the assertion that by placing such a tight yoke on inerrancy the Church of the Nazarene would, in effect, be promoting biblicism. The report writers are also concerned that the redefinition, instead of clarifying a stance, would lead to, “futile questions,” and “unprofitable debates about unimportant details.” As the church in the West continues to feel the encroachment of a pluralistic society it often takes the stance of entrenchment over cultural engagement. With its broad understanding of inerrancy the Church of the Nazarene has given us protestant/evangelicals a template for a third way between biblicism and abandon.
Phineas F. Bresee, primary founder of the Church of the Nazarene, took to heart Wesley’s ecumenical spirit when he advised, “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity.” Just as in any denomination, all Nazarenes do not agree on all things; however there is room for others, this helps reflect the diversity of God’s creative work in all of us.
As reference here is the entirety of the Church of the Nazarene article of faith on the Holy Scriptures.
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. (Luke 24:44–47; John 10:35; 1 Corinthians 15:3–4; 2 Timothy 3:15–17; 1 Peter 1:10–12; 2 Peter 1:20–21)