“The Bible is…” Just do a Google search for that statement and see what you find. The top two results paint opposing pictures. 1. The Bible is the Word of God. 2. The Bible is fiction. What do you think? How would you complete the phrase? In October at Elm Springs United Methodist Church we’re centering our Sunday morning worship and teaching on the assertion that the Bible serves as the primary and final authority for the Church. Sola Scriptura is our theme which is Latin for “only Scripture.”
The world saw a huge tidal shift in theology during the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther contradicted the idea that final authority for the church lay in Rome with the Pope and other Catholic leaders. As Luther examined the Holy Bible, he argued that it has authority because only Scripture can be said to be “God breathed.” Only Scripture is without error, and therefore only Scripture is clear and sufficient, “to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives” (2 Timothy 3:16, NLT).
The tide shifted again during the Enlightenment when logic and human reasoning commandeered the top spot for authority. During that same time, The Great Awakening was happening in Europe and the 13 Colonies only to see another change in the United States 50-60 years later during the Second Great Awakening. In the 21st century, human autonomy has once again usurped the Bible and to make matters worse we’ve heaped relativism on our post-modern culture. It’s enough to make one’s head spin.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. The temptation in the Garden of Eden began with the question, “Did God really say…” and so it goes in 2019. While much of our United Methodist identity seems to center on activism and social justice, our Wesleyan theological roots are deeply connected to scriptural holiness and the role of God’s Word in our formation as Christ-followers. The Bible is the foundation upon which the Methodist movement was built. John Wesley liked to refer to himself as homo unius libri, or “a man of one book” and considered himself to be in the Reformation tradition of Sola Scriptura.
According to Albert C. Outler, Ken Collins and other John Wesley scholars, he recognized Scripture’s role as the primary source of religious authority, but not in isolation. “Scripture remained primary in its religious authority, but Wesley expected that at least reason and experience would readily support and illuminate scriptural truths .” He recognized that other factors played complementary roles in matters of faith and practice.
So how do we see Scripture? The challenge is that if we examine the Bible earnestly, it puts a dent in our self-righteous armor. It knocks us off of the throne where we create our own truth. If we listen for God’s voice in the coming weeks and listen for the Holy Spirit to speak as we study God’s Word together, perhaps we will see more clearly the authoritative role that Scripture should have in the life of a Christ-follower. See you Sunday!
1. Thorsen, Don, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, p. 39, Emeth Press, Copyright 2005