Note: At the Church of the Nazarene General Assembly in 2009, the following amendment submitted by the Southwest Indiana District failed to be voted on, and instead was referred to the Board of General Superintendents for further study. The recommended change is highlighted in bold:
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] inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach 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)
1. Stating that the Holy Scriptures are inerrant “concerning all things necessary to our salvation” implies the possibility that the Holy Scriptures could be errant regarding other matters (not necessary to our salvation).
2. The divinely inspired Holy Scriptures are the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach. No other authorities should be considered more credible and thus above the plain sense of divinely inspired scripture.
The following is a summary of a comprehensive position paper on the subject of limited inerrancy as a doctrine within the Church of the Nazarene. You can download the full position paper here: Position Paper on Limited Inerrancy, written by Jason Bjerke, a licensed minister in the Church of the Nazarene. Please add this paper to your library, and distribute it to as many Nazarenes as you can if you agree with the conclusions of this paper on such an important topic. Limited inerrancy is the view that the Bible is inerrant and infallible and without error ONLY in matters of salvation, but not necessarily as it pertains to science, geography, mathematics, or history.
Limited Inerrancy In The Church of the Nazarene
by Jason Bjerke, Gospel of Christ Ministries
(full paper: Limited Inerrancy)
There has always been controversy surrounding the Bible’s inspiration, inerrancy and authority (IIA): throughout history there have been those who have attempted to deny and discredit orthodox views on the Bible. Traditionally, this controversy was levied against the Bible from those outside of the church; however, there has been a gradual shift in this paradigm as now the Bible is being attacked from within the church. This attack is not blatant or overt but rather subtle in its nature as it begins with the compromising of Orthodox Christian beliefs.
Many of the mainstream denominations hold different positions on the IIA of the Bible. These differences can be seen in what a denomination affirms and does not affirm about the Bible in their statement of beliefs. While these differences may appear to be subtle and minor in nature they have major theological implications, and their logical conclusions can have a detrimental effect on Christian living.
An in-depth look at the position that the Church of the Nazarene affirms on the IIA of the Bible begins with Article of Faith IV which states,
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 faith1
In this Article of Faith we find that the Church of the Nazarene affirms the following about the Bible:
1. The Scriptures are plenary inspired.
2. There are 66 books in the Old and New Testaments.
3. These 66 books were divinely inspired.
4. These 66 books inerrantly reveal the will of God as it relates to salvation.
The third affirmation from the Article of Faith is orthodox in its content as it correctly affirms the mode of transmission;2 however, this statement’s application by the Church of the Nazarene is neo-orthodox.3 The Church of the Nazarene affirms that although God inspired the original autographs,4 His use of human authors disallow these original autographs from being written without error. The Church of the Nazarene further affirms that while the human element allows for the personality of the writers to be seen in their writings, it also allows for the limitations of human knowledge and the human condition to be seen in their writings. These limitations can be seen in the historical, geographical, scientific, and mathematical statements made by the inspired authors.
The Church of the Nazarene’s official position on inspiration can also be seen in a statement by the Board of General Superintendents which states,
“[T]he Bible becomes the infallible word of God, the authoritative rule of faith and practice in the Church.”5
This affirmation, along with others issued on April 21, 2010 in a statement titled “We Believe” are said to,
“[C]omprehend the full scope of scriptural theology held by the Church of the Nazarene…and reaffirms the core beliefs of nazarenes everywhere.”6
In this statement the Board of General Superintendents give a response that subverts the Word of God and affirms a neo- orthodox position on inspiration and inerrancy. The Board of General Superintendents state that the inspiration occurs as the Bible is being read, and becomes the infallible Word of God which is used for faith and practice or “things necessary for salvation.” This neo-orthodox view of inspiration will lead to difficulties with the view of inerrancy, and this is demonstrated by General Superintendents Dr. Paul Cunningham and Dr. Nina Gunter who dismiss the importance of the full inerrancy of the Scriptures in an email where they state,
“An understanding of inerrancy that is focused on the literal accuracy of data is misdirected in a quite modern direction. It reflects a western scientific understanding of truth and language that is inadequate for biblical (and Christian) notions of truth.”
This difficulty concerning inerrancy is also evident in the fourth statement, which appears to be consistent with Orthodox Christianity based on what it affirms; however, what it does not affirm makes it consistent with neo-orthodoxy. This statement does not affirm the full inerrancy of the Bible, and this is demonstrated by the use of the words “inerrantly” and “reveal” to describe the extent of the inerrancy of the Bible.
This leads to the conclusion that the inerrancy of Scripture is limited, and that the only way Scripture is inerrant is in its function to reveal what is necessary for salvation. The limited inerrancy view is again confirmed by General Superintendent Paul Cunningham when he was asked, “What is the official position of the Church of the Nazarene on the issue of inerrancy?”
Dr. Cunningham responded,
“Our view on the inerrancy of scripture does not apply to geography, science, mathematics or historical statements. The Bible’s soteriological7 message does not embrace the scope of these other areas of human knowledge.”
It is clear from both Article of Faith IV and the statements by the Board of General Superintendents that limited inerrancy is the official position of the Church of the Nazarene. Although the Church of the Nazarene has adopted a neo-orthodox definition of the word ‘Scripture’. This neo-orthodox definition has redefined the word ‘Scripture’ to only apply to those things which pertain or concern salvation, and anything that does not apply to the salvation message is not Scripture.
This can be seen in an email written by General Superintendent Dr. Nina Gunter in which she states,
“We can say with great trustworthiness that the whole body of Scripture taken together regarding the story of salvation is fully inspired.” Dr. Gunter goes on to say, “[W]e believe that the scriptural message is indeed ‘free from error’.” (emphasis added)
In these statements Dr. Gunter clearly indicates that the whole body of Scripture and the scriptural message is limited to those things related to salvation (faith and practice), and anything outside of this is not Scripture, and therefore would not be included in the truth taught in 2 Timothy 3:15-17.
Therefore according to the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene, statements from the General Superintendents, and statements from the General Editor for the Board of General Superintendents, the Church of the Nazarene affirms the following concerning the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of the Bible:
1. The original autographs are not error-free.
2. The Bible is not fully inerrant.
3. The term “Scripture” only applies to those things that concern salvation.
4. The Bible becomes the inspired Word of God.
5. Inerrancy reflects a modern, western scientific understanding of truth.
6. The Wesleyan position on the inerrancy of the Bible is limited inerrancy.
The controversy over the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible is often labeled as ‘conservative theology’ vs. ‘liberal theology.’ However, this type of terminology can be very misleading as both terms are subjective. A more appropriate terminology is right-theology or wrong-theology as right-theology is bible-centric and wrong-theology is man- centric. This wrong-theology is addressed by Jesus Christ when He addressed the Big Tent Approach when he said, Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew7:13-14)
While it cannot be argued that contemporary scholarship points to the limited inerrancy view of the Bible, it would seem that this is not an issue of scholarship, but rather an issue of Lordship. It is often said that minor errors and discrepancies in geography, history, and science are not important because the Bible is the lens we use to see God. However, it must be realized that if the lens is dirty then the image seen will be distorted.
1 Manual Church of the Nazarene 2005-2009, page 31.
2 Transmission refers to the process by which the inspired writers received the inspired Word of God, and then wrote this inspired message.
3 Neo-orthodox Theology redefines traditional or ‘orthodox’ words and concepts to align with a more liberal theological position.
4 Original autographs are the original writings of the inspired writers.
Note: The Board of General Superintendents quote from H. Orton Wiley’s Christian Theology, 1:171
7 Soteriology is the branch of theology that deals with salvation or things that concern our salvation.