Friday, July 3, 2009

Staying true to our roots

Every 4 years, our denomination The Church of the Nazarene has what they call their General Assembly. Pastors are automatic delegates but there was no way TFC could spend the money necessary to send me. I've been watching it online though and some of the debates have been quite fascinating. Some of the resolutions brought to the Assembly were simple administrative changes. Some resolutions however, dealt with our basic statements of faith and Christian practices. All of our beliefs, practices and by-laws can be found in our manual.

What I love about the Church of the Nazarene is that we are a middle way between many denominational movements. While the COTN views scripture as our highest authority, we also trust reason, tradition and experience (the Welseyan Quadrilateral). This distinguishes us from fundamentalism (although with all their big talk about "literal" interpretations, fundamentalists argue away passages that don't fit their paradigm - as do all of us). We're believe in God's grace bringing about salvation while rejecting the views of the reformed movement (that God predestines some to salvation and some to damnation).

Clearly, fundamentalists and Reformers play on the same team as us. They enrich the family of God in their own unique ways. The COTN however, also brings our own unique approach to living for Jesus, so it's important we stay true to our theological roots.

Our commitment to scripture without being fundamentalists was evidenced in two rejected resolutions. 1) To add a statement about the need to believe in a literal 7-day creation and 2) the rejection of our practice of infant baptism. Some of the discussion was rather heated. Two pastors used phrases from outside our tradition. One phrase was "the innerancy of scripture." The COTN does not affirm the fundamentistic idea of innerancy. Rather, we hold to a belief in the "infallibility of scripture", that scripture "tells us all we need to know about how to have eternal life and how to live with integrity." Those differences may seem minor but they are quite different.

Another phrase used by a pastor was "Sola-Scriptora." The COTN does not hold to Sola-Scriptora - "scripture alone." While we hold scripture to be the highest authority, we also look to church tradition, human reason and people's experience to discern the truth of God.

In response to some pastors wanting to lead us away from our Wesleyan heritage, one delegate stood and made this passionate speech. "There is a pervasive wind of fundamentalism and reformed theology that is creeping into our church. I believe that it is essential to retain our Wesleyan heritage."

That comment received a loud round of applause.

To watch all of General Assembly, click here. To read about the resolutions addressed by the voting body, click here.


Chris said...

Donnie, could you expand a bit more on why the COTN went with infallible vs. inerrant? To me, they are pretty much the same. Is there some slight difference that caused this decision?

The Sola-Scriptura factor is interesting as well. I know there are a few facets to the definition of Sola-Scriptura (sufficiency, authority, clarity, interpretiveness). In which areas does the COTN disagree with this concept? Also, to what degree is human reason held as a basis for theological understanding?

Donnie Miller said...

Here's the official statement of belief from

IV. The Holy Scriptures
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.

(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)

So after reading that, I see that "infallability" isn't actually in the statement of belief but it does have the phrase "innerantly revealing." Revealing is a big qualifier. We don't look to scripture as a science text-book (so we don't argue over the how or timeline of creation) nor do we look to it as an historical book (so we don't try to find all the archeological evidence to "prove" the bible) but we do look to the bible to innerantly reveal how to know God and experience salvation. Not to discount the history in the bible but the bible is innerant in what it claims to communicate - how to know God.

I'll admit, I'm not well-versed on the ideas of Sola-Scriptura but I do know that we're not "Bible-only." We're tradition, reason, personal experience AND the Bible. The bible is our ultimate authority and it stands above the other three but we look to the other three for biblical interpreation. And when the bible is ambigious or silent, we trust those other three.

Does that make sense?

Chris said...

Thanks for the clarification. I think the inerrant vs. infallible thing is kind of a non-issue. I will say that for me personally, the historical nature of Scripture is very point. In my opinion, if it is not historically accurate, then it undermines the credibility and legitimacy of Scripture. God's Word wouldn't be wrong, historically speaking.

I agree that human tradition and reason are important. However, in terms of actually being a foundation of faith, I don't hold them to that level. So, I agree with Sola-Scriptura in terms of being the sole, end all authority in terms of Faith and Spirituality. But, with the caveat that those other things are also important. For instance, having experienced some of the things that I've been through in live have certainly strengthened my faith. So, this too seems to be a non-issue. More a matter of semantics.

Good stuff!