Friday, April 20, 2012

++Eugenio Duarte Speaks Concerning What Nazarenes Believe About the Bible

It is not a surprise for those Nazarenes who have been paying attention that there has been much uproar in some quarters about what Nazarenes believe about the Bible, or what some think that Nazarenes should believe.  

It must be admitted that there have always been those among us who have held a more fundamentalist view of Scripture.  However, it must also be asserted that the Church of the Nazarene has never held such a position.  The Nazarene Articles of Faith have always presented a solidly Wesleyan understanding of Scripture; an understanding that has been passed on to us through our Methodist and Anglican heritage.

The earliest Nazarene statement on Scripture, as found in the "Agreed Statement of Belief" in the 1908 Manual, affirms that we believe "In the Divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, as found in the Old and New Testaments, and that they contain all truth necessary to faith and Christian living."  This statement is expanded in the Article of Faith which says:

"By the Holy Scriptures we understand the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, given by Divine inspiration, revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation; so that whatever is not contained therein, and cannot be proved thereby, is not to be enjoined as an article of faith."  (The last line, by the way, itself rules out a fundamentalist position!)

During the fundamentalist controversies during either the General Assembly of 1932, or the previous one (I'm missing the Manual between 1923 and 1932!), the Article of Faith on Scripture was re-written using "inerrancy language."  However, it was used, thanks to Nazarene theologian H. Orton Wiley, in a very Wesleyan way.  The Article from that time until today has stated:

"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."

Though inerrancy language has been incorporated, there is essentially no substantial difference between the original Nazarene Article and the one originating between 1923 and 1932.  Nor is there much substantial difference between the Nazarene Article and the original Methodist/Anglican Article which states:

"The Holy Scripture 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.   . . . "

Nevertheless, there are those among Nazarenes who have insisted on "calling us back" to a position that we have never had.  The controversy most recently has heated up due to an article appearing in the most recent edition of Holiness Today, the denominations official magazine.  The article was written by the Rev'd. Kevin Ulmet, pastor of Nashville First Church. It is entitled "I Am a Concerned Nazarene."  Of course, adding fuel to the flame is the play on words that Rev'd. Ulmet is making, because those who's position is on the more fundamentalist side have identified themselves as "Concerned Nazarenes."  -  In any case, the article can be read, here.

++Dr. Eugenio Duarte
As has been pointed out, it is significant that this article has appeared in Holiness Today.  However, I think it is very significant that, at this time, Dr. Duarte, a general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, has used The Way of Holiness (a one minute radio program of the Board of General Superintendents) to express in a very positive manner that we Nazarenes ". . .believe…that the Old and New Testament Scriptures, given by plenary inspiration, contain all truth necessary to faith and Christian living."

I am thankful for our episcopal leaders being faithful in their responsibility to teach the historic, Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith as held by the Church of the Nazarene.  Thank you, Dr. Duarte!

I would say, however, that the so called "Concerned Nazarenes" have raised one point of legitimate concern.  It does seem that there are some who have misunderstood our denominational position on Scripture so as to imply that we believe there is error in the Bible and that we can, therefore, stand over the Bible so as to cut and paste as we choose.  -  That is a misunderstanding of our position.  It is as unfaithful to the classical Wesleyan understanding of Scripture as are those of a fundamentalist persuasion.

Rather, our position has much more to do with the way Wesleyans approach Scripture and what we understand the purpose of Scripture to be.  -  We would not say that Psalm 93:1, "The Lord . . . has established the world; it shall never be moved," or Psalm 19:6, which describes the sun by saying, "Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them," for example, are "in error," even though they are not scientifically correct.  (Such was the issue at the dawn of Copernican Astronomy!).  Rather, the point and the purpose of these passages is missed when one insists on reading such poetical expressions from a modern, scientific point of view.  Wesleyans (including Nazarenes!), in as much as we are faithful Wesleyans, approach Scripture soteriologically (broadly understood).

Dr. Duarte's original text is as follows (the link to the article, along with information on the broadcast is, here):

Even those who do not profess the Christian faith are interested in the conversation about how the Holy Scriptures came to us. They participate in one of the most common discussions related to the Christian faith—the inspiration of the Scriptures.
It is common to refer to the writers as authors in the sense that they participated in the work of making the plan understandable to all, including themselves. This, therefore, implies that each individual writer expressed himself in the way he received the Word, using a language and style that could be understood by the recipients.
Although in some significant ways the writers lived far apart from each other, they agreed perfectly on the central message of graceful and loving salvation. That is in itself a clear substantiation of the fact that the authorship of the Bible belongs to God.
We believe that God gives us the Scriptures for the purpose of communicating the truth about Himself (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit), about humans, and about the salvation that only God can give and only humans can receive and benefit from.
We believe that the Word of God not only gives us the meaning of faith, how it works, and what it achieves, but it also clearly stipulates faith and Christian living as the purpose for which the Word was given to us. It is so because God, knowing our greatest need, made the only provision that meets that need. He wants us to know why He made the provision. He wants us to receive it and, in consequence, to grow in our knowledge of Him. He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him, grow in that relationship, and thereby fulfill the mission for which He created us and redeemed us.                 

1 comment:

Brannon Hancock said...

Thanks for this, Todd - seriously. Also, just wanted to say, Dr. Spaulding said it was the 1928 GA (and subsequent Manual, I would assume - the one you're missing!) when the "inerrancy" language was added to Article IV. I hope you can complete your Manual collection with that volume! :-)