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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Let's Talk About Article of Faith #4

So, the slightly OCD part of me is having difficulty doing this without first talking about the preceding three articles, but this was Debby's question:

"Can you put the following in layman's terms and then share some of your personal thoughts on this? Naz Article of Faith #4 '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.'"

I set out to answer this question by first entering into various discussions with other theologians.  You should know that we are painfully bad at putting things into "layman's terms".  Our conversations are funny.  However, I'm going to give it a try.

We (The Church of the Nazarene) believe the Holy Scriptures, which we recognize as the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, are fully inspired by God.  They sufficiently contain everything necessary for our salvation.  We do not teach that anything else is required for salvation, as a part of the governing principles for the Church of the Nazarene.

I think to really understand this, we have to start with the recognition that we all bring assumptions with us when we talk about Scripture.  As Nazarenes, we are not fundamentalists.  We do not take a literal view of Scripture, and that is sometimes difficult to defend, because many people do not understand that literal and true are not synonyms.  Before I get myself into all kinds of trouble (which, let's face it, is bound to happen anyway), perhaps I should take a step back and say that I am not speaking for the Church of the Nazarene when I give my personal thoughts, but I am a Nazarene, and I have been trained in a Nazarene school, and although you certainly don't have to agree with me about everything, I think I do have some insight to offer.

I believe that all Scripture is true.  I think it is irresponsible to say that all Scripture is literal.  This ignores the vast diversity of genres found in Scripture (another post for another day).  Where does this leave us in regard to inspiration?  I think Scripture, itself, is helpful here:   

II Timothy 3:14-17  "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (NIV).

"God-breathed".  I think, perhaps, that is the key.  The Scriptures were written by people who had intimate relationships with God.  God breathed life into them.  God spoke into their stories.  God walked with them.  They listened and they recorded the things they knew about God in such a way that those things convey something important about God, to us, even today.

You may note that I did not use the word, "inerrantly", in my re-worked definition.  It's not because I do not think it is true that Scripture is soteriologically inerrant (everything we need for salvation is there).  I most certainly agree with this.  However, I think the word inerrant lends itself to a misinterpretation.  It is, perhaps, slightly deceptive, appeasing those who insist on a literal interpretation but not really saying what we mean.  We could use different language.  We could say that the Scriptures are sufficient for our salvation, and that would be just as true.  But we're never quite satisfied with what is sufficient (or, just enough), are we?  Maybe we should be.

This also begs the question, however, "What is salvation?"

I don't want anyone to misunderstand me.  Crisis moments matter.  But I think we get way too wrapped up in conversion, sometimes, and we miss what's really going on.  When we say that Scripture contains everything necessary for our salvation, we are not talking about "the sinner's prayer," which is notably absent in Scripture.  If that was the case, we would only need to read Scripture once, say the prayer, and get on with our lives as we see fit.  Actually, there are theological perspectives that line up pretty well with that kind of thinking, but if you want to know what the Church of the Nazarene teaches, that's not it.

Returning to the above passage in II Timothy, clearly salvation is through faith in Jesus, but look what it goes on to say directly after that!  The Scriptures give us what we need "for every good work".  Salvation continues beyond faith.  We need the Scriptures to train us to continue in a life of salvation in which we have been saved and continue to be saved.  How we live matters.  At least, that's what we believe in the Church of the Nazarene.  We are a holiness denomination, and unapologetically so, after all.  Salvation is about the redemption of the world, which is a process that takes us on a journey over the course of our lifetimes.  The same God who spoke into our stories allows us to become a part of God's story of redemption.  What we believe about salvation, and what we do with it, has implications that reach far beyond ourselves. 

I think this is a practical overview of our fourth article of faith.  I'm happy to discuss specific points in more depth as readers would like.  Just leave me a comment.

If you're interested in a scholarly perspective on how the language in this article of faith has come to be and been adapted, Tom Oord's post found here is much better than anything I could hope to put together, myself.



  1. I have always found helpful the distinction that "inerrantly" in our article of faith is an adverb, not an adjective. In other words, our emphasis is on what the Bible does, as opposed to what it is. Seems appropriate, since a Word is first and foremost an act, and in particular an act of revelation. We can trust it to reliably reveal the One who speaks it. And that, after all, is its purpose.

    1. Brad - I think that's an important distinction, particularly since "inerrantly" describes the revelation, here, as opposed to the Scripture, itself. I had not considered that before. BTW, I am not ignoring your comment from the earlier post. I just thought it was important enough that it deserves another post, altogether, which I intend to make tomorrow for "Sacramental Saturday". L.

  2. Lisa,
    Now that I've read your post slowly and then skipped over to read Tom Oord's post and the comments below it, my brain is spinning! Whoosh! Why haven’t we heard messages on this topic? Maybe you and Phil are very correct that our Nazarene members have no clue what the church of the Nazarene really believes. Makes me want to re-take a membership class just to hear what is taught!

    I grew up going to church and I don’t recall ever not knowing in my heart that God loves me, Jesus had died on the cross for my sins, I was forgiven, the Holy spirit lives within me, and to share the message with others. I feel very foolish admitting the following and hope others will not think less of me because until I hit about 37 years old I never really thought about whether God’s word was literally true or not. No one ever really talks about this in church circles, do they? So, I have had a child’s faith in believing all scripture was literally factual, which has always been very mind blowing; but I chalked it up to, “With God anything is possible.” I’m sure much of my believing this became firm after hearing Ken Ham (Creation Museum) speak and probably a worldview class that my daughters took during their homeschool years. On the flipside, whether I believed it all literally true or others didn’t, I never split hairs on that topic. (Side note: I had suggested our church offer a worldview class for our teens and the idea was shot down. That being said, someday you might want to blog on worldviews once you’ve exhausted blogging on the Naz questions.)

    So, I understand that the Bible is inspired by God and written by men and each person has their own style of writing; but how does one determine what is factual and what is for learning purposes? For example, is Jonah just a big fish tale or is it literally true?

    I might be able to fill your desire to be a teacher yet! Maybe you don’t really need a job teaching at a university because maybe your calling is to teach the everyday laymen who have questions! :P

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts!!!

    1. Answers to some of these questions may be found at:

  3. L.

    Sorry to do this but can you back up the bus and define the word plenary in this Art of Faith #4. "Naz Article of Faith #4 '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.'"

    1. Plenary, in this case, means absolutely, unconditionally, unqualified. So, we believe that there is no doubt that the Holy Scriptures are fully inspired by God.