Limited Inerrancy In The Church of the Nazarene

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:

RESOLVED that Manual paragraph 4 be amended as follows:
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)


REASONS:
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.

————————————————————————————————–

Footnotes:

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.

5 http://www.ncnnews.com/nphweb/html/ncn/article.jsp?id=10009167&sid=10009167

Note: The Board of General Superintendents quote from H. Orton Wiley’s Christian Theology, 1:171

6 http://www.ncnnews.com/nphweb/html/ncn/article.jsp?id=10009167&sid=10009167

7 Soteriology is the branch of theology that deals with salvation or things that concern our salvation.

 

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16 responses to “Limited Inerrancy In The Church of the Nazarene

  1. Manny,

    Great article. I have been a Nazarene my entire life, but if I had to stand up in front of a Nazarene church today and join the church knowing what I know now, I could not. Saying that, I have no intention of throwing in the towel on our denomination. My authority has and always wil be the fully inspired inerrent scriptures. God Bless.

  2. Manny:

    I’ve got a question for the BGS. If the whole Bible (all 66 books) are not the inerrant inspired Word of God, which portion do you discredit as not the inerrant inspired Word of God, and how do you distinguish the truth from fiction or fable? How can one trust and have faith that God will keep His promises to protect, provide, heal, and be their for us in time of trouble, if His Word is not inerrant? You Can’t, after all it may not be true as many declare today!

    This lack of inspired inerrancy in the Word of God actually weakens our position concerning salvation because it puts certain sinful practices, condemned by the Word of God, outside the narrow parameters that are alluded to by the Church’s position by limiting it to only include salvation and not including the whole Bible.

    Example: If it is only inerrant obtaining to our salvation (knowing Christ) then how do we tell someone the truth and prove it to be wrong according to the Word of God about adultery, abortion, homosexuality, murder, incest, drunkeness, etc..

    Perhaps this is why so many can commit these sins and see no wrong in them as recently witnessed at PLNU. This limited stand on inerrancy may well account for our Church allowing false teachers and false teachings to take place on our campuses, otherwise this would not be happening.

  3. Lige,

    You have made an excellent point and it is one that is addressed in my paper. The position of limited inerrancy or inerrant in things of salvation is intellectually inconsistent. How can we say the Bible is accurate to lead us to salvation (the most important thing) but not accurate in other things? Who would trust a map or GPS device to get them to the hospital when the map or GPS device can’t even get them to the store around the corner?

    Remember, the Bible talks about a falling away from the faith. This is only possible if people reject the full inerrancy of God’s Word. If God’s Word is not fully inerrant then we are free to believe just about anything we want.

    Grace and Peace

  4. I am quite disturbed by the Bible becomes the infallible Word of God statement from the BGS statement. That smacks of the influence of lectio divina and the whole experiential establishing a relationship with the divine nonsense.

    I did not like that the BGS statement quoted Wiley and elided part of the quote.

    I have no doubt of the current low opinion of inerrancy. But, reading more of chapter seven in Wiley’s Christian Theology, previous to the quote, Wiley argues for plenary inspiration in that less than complete inspiration would undermine and lessen the authority of Scripture. That sounds orthodox.

    Given the penchant for “living” documents, I can see interpreting Wiley as supporting the becoming infallible idea of today, but in context, I’m not certain he meant to convey that, but admittedly, the words of a theologian are typically chosen for precise meaning.

    I’d like to think in 1940 (first printing) context and vernacular, he was attempting to say plenary inspiration establishes the Bible as infallible, but I’m not versed in the historical linguistics of the period to make the call.

    Whether Wiley gets the same treatment as Wesley, denying what was actually said (good point bringing up Wesley’s quote on his true belief about Scriptural inerrancy), I don’t know, but current standards fall very short of orthodox.

    By the way, Northwestern has the Wiley books scanned and available online. If you have a Kindle, Amazon has the full three volumes of Christian Theology available at no cost. I got mine.

    Good paper, pastor; it certainly explains much of the why behind the current state of affairs, and the extent of the problem.

  5. Great discussion.

    I think we should go through John Wesley’s works at The Wesley Center Online next. http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/

    I saw this posted toward the bottom.

    Vocabulary
    Definitions of terms used in Wesley’s writings that have changed meanings since the 18th century.

    Does anyone have an 18th century dictionary around the house or know of a reliable online 18th century dictionary?

  6. Manny, if I may address your readers with as little sarcasm or satire as I can muster.

    First of all I would like to say that most all of you Nazarenes reading this are infected with corruption and are not even aware of it. The level of biblical manipulation is much greater than some of you know or even want to know, ignorance is bliss.

    Having seen these things coming years ago and knew that the COTN did not believe in the inspired word of God. I can honestly say, barring my salvation, that leaving the COTN was the best decision of my spiritual life. I had a professor at NBC (1994) that told the whole class that the NT was not inspired (Inspiration is the root of inerrancy). However, the worst of it was that when I disagreed and gave a verse the whole class was against me like I was not understanding the education.

    The COTN did not get into the shape it is in overnight. When I began to see these things I tried to research back through Sunday School Curriculum trying to find what or where changes could be noticed. I decided to find past curriculum that used the KJV to see how they taught on verses that had now been removed or changed to the new accepted standard of the NIV. It was very difficult because all I knew was what the church had taught me. However, I found a common phenomenon that caught my attention in a 1964 Beacon Bible commentary Special Sunday School edition of the book of Luke. Page after page is committed to destroying the King James text that it was written in.

    Two examples from page 563 states:
    “This verse is unnecessarily difficult in the King James Version” then again in the next sentence, “When ye fail” is in the best Greek text “when it fails.”

    1. After reading this Commentary it was evident that it was undermining the very text that it was supposed to be teaching. Page after page of doubt casting comments on the wording of the bible. Every supposed defect was questioned or confronted to be an error. Not one time was the “thee’s” or “thou’s” the problem as goes the alibi. Do you really think that God would order a new version of his word and lie about its purpose?

    2. Nobody knows what this best Greek text was or how it was figured to be better. But why doubt your Sunday school teacher, right?

    3. It becomes very obvious that the King James is always wrong but what it is replaced with differs from page to page. This was the beginnings of a campaign (knowingly or unknowingly) to destabilize the text that was used to establish and navigate the Nazarene Church for years.

    4. No other authority is belittled or demonstrated to be wrong except for ONE thing! Pastors correct it, Sunday school teacher correct it, Professors correct it, lay people correct it, and books correct it. Not one time when that commentary talked about a verse that was missing in the NEB did the author point it out. Not once! I mean why smear or cast doubt on the NEB?

    5. There is an obvious documentable conspiracy of this poison that has destroyed people’s faith in the written word of God.

    6. The so called scholars always like to pretend like the words are always lacking. This is a game the devil started and he now has millions of DIY bible scholars. The temptation being, to make one wise.

    7. It is very easy to weaken your own case by limiting the bible to private interpretation and quoting various versions with different manuscript backings. Completely demonstrating that there is no one authority. Every bible in the COTN is limited because everyone has been taught that they can stand in judgment of the very words.

    47 years later you have a mess on your hands and nobody know why!

    Is anybody out there listening? I was there, I know it is difficult. How about we get 10 versions of the COTN Manuel; that will surely clear things up. Then get another hundred people that are free to interpret, add, and subtract words from it at will.

    This is not rocket science brethren this is raw truth!
    If you will not stand up and make reference to the bible that is inerrant, folks you are going nowhere! And please stop saying “the” bible says when you should be saying “a” book claiming to be the bible says.

    To clarify the statement of faith of thousands upon thousands of saved born again Christians is that The King James Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible perfect preserved word of God and will be until Jesus Comes back. Pray about it. Educate yourself. Most people are just afraid to spell it out. The devil has you convinced that it’s not the educated position. For some of you it’s past time that you became a fool for Christ’s sake.

    Secondly, when it comes to salvation this is a laughable matter, for the COTN teaches and preaches on everything but salvation. I have been testing Nazarenes for 20 years. I haven’t found one yet that can give me a plain explanation on how to get saved with a verse to go with it. In fact when you teach that you must live-it and holiness is part of the plan can someone please tell me which verses do not apply to my relationship to God? This is again just a game that people are playing with words for not all the articles are related to salvation. The COTN should remove all articles that do not pertain to salvation. That is what article IV states “so that.” See if the BGS can’t give you a verse on their positions in the Church? That has God’s breath on it instead of man.

    Third, people who refuse to leave because that is where they have always been should not think that makes them anything except stubborn. To stay on board with a church that is not a bible believing church will not only continue to hurt one spiritually but is not the bible solution to such problem. Change is very difficult, I have had to watch my childhood church that my grandparents built finally close the doors, which by the way, began when a new pastor came to town getting everyone to change bibles. I pray God could get a few good men and women to open their eyes to what is really going on.

    Please do not respond to this post with a bunch of nonsense Manny hardly ever lets me finish a good woopin.

    Pastor Steve Sumner

  7. Steve:
    If everyone left the COTN as you claim they should or as ignorant as you infer then Isaiah [1:9} would have no meaning. “Unless the Lord of hosts Had left to us a very small remnant, We would have become like Sodom, We would have been made like Gomorrah.”

    You miss the point, their is true value to those who choose to stay and fight and not leave the church. Your post is out-of-line.

  8. Steve said, “47 years later you have a mess on your hands and nobody know why!”

    I appreciate your perspective but I need to know why so maybe in the future I can trust Pastors and Preachers in the pulpit. You see Steve, I can’t trust what I hear in any pulpit in any church.

    Steve you went through the Enigma years with your eyes wide open and I went through them with my eyes shut and trusting. I get it that it may be tedious and ridiculous to you because of the heart ache in the past but I need to understand.

    You see I really don’t want anyone to be fired. I want people who believe the Bible to be respected or at the very least treated with kindness in the Naz church. Am I really asking for a whopper? If we are all really friends we will confront and talk to each other when it’s hard and it hurts so much you never want to enter a church again. Is that a strength or a weakness? If we never talk about things do they just vaporize or do they fester? I vote for vaporize but I don’t make the laws of human nature or hold the world together. Only Jesus can help us through this and I think Manny’s posts are helping us to discuss really hard things. my

  9. Hi Manny,
    After reading all the comments and considering a response ( a wise man holds his tongue) I wonder if Pastor Steve should heed Paul’s warning in the KJV in Galations 6:1 and then refer to Galations 5:22-25. Then perhaps to Christ our Lord and Master’s own words in Matt. 5, Bessed are the MEEK… There is nothiing wrong with preaching and teaching the Scripture powerfully or forcefully but when it is laced with sarcasm it does not honor the the Lord. Belittling others does not hold to the Lord God Almighty ‘s standard.
    In Christ,
    Beth

  10. Lige,

    I was specifically refering to people that wont leave because of one specific reason. Please re-read my comment.

    Ps this is my second response, Manny did not aprove my answer to you Lige.

  11. Pam,

    I deal with hurt people like you on a regular basis. It is what it is. However, Christians talk a lot and solve very little.

    Elijah moved from the Juniper tree to the cave. Learn from his mistake. Get refreshed and stay away from the cave.

    Pam, find you a good Bible believing Church support it with your tithes and offerings and be faithful. God is in the still small voice.

    Pastor Steve Sumner

  12. Steve,

    I am curious why you believe ALL of the modern translations are corrupt? You compare them to the KJV and say where there is a difference the modern translations have changed the text. Your evidence for this is that the modern translations differ from the KJV. This is circular reasoning, the manuscript tradition needs to be compared. DId you know that the Textus Receptus (the manuscript tradition for the KJV) was based on 7 manuscripts? Did you know that the Textus Receptus relied heavily on the Latin Vulgate for the book of Revelation?

    The NA27/UBS4 is based on 25,000 plus manuscripts. These manuscripts provide the confidence that the original text has been recreated. Sometimes we just need to accept that the original text did not contain the reading we thought. For example if Matthew states “Jesus Christ son of the Living God” and Luke says in the parallel reading “Jesus, son of God” how is this removing the deity? or why did the KJV choose to ADD these words? Couldn’t it be said that the KJV has added words to the Bible?

    This being said, not all new translations are good as some clearly modify the text (New World Translation for example) but not all new translations do this.

    Steve, in love I want to tell you this. While people have been arguing over translations (KJV, NASB, NIV) they have missed the real battle – the inerrancy of God’s Word. Those that attack the full inerrancy of God’s Word do not care what version you use, because their position is that all of them have errors.

    I would encourage you to read “The King James Only Controversy” by James R. White. it is a great book that sheds a lot of light on this subject, much more than what I am able to do in this short post.

    Grace and Peace,

  13. Steve said, “I deal with hurt people like you on a regular basis. It is what it is.”

    Your right Steve, it is what it is. I’ve prayed and forgiven for over 10 years and I find I still have a lot of forgiveness to do on a daily basis. Manny’s blog helps me to figure it out.

    Steve said, “However, Christians talk a lot and solve very little.”

    True. God’s Word has much to say about fools, many words, and hearts are bent on evil.

    I don’t think that is true for Manny or Lige. They are not foolish men stirring up contention. KC Nazs may see it that way but they (Manny and friends) need to be heard like the woman at Point Loma’s Pastor Conference that wanted to speak after Rob Bell spoke. I think they need to speak. It may not fix things this side of heaven but if God tells them to speak we need to listen and pray about it.

  14. Steve:
    Thanks for clearing up the matter. And I apologize if my comment seemed unfair,

  15. I cannot imagine that this has not be brought up before, but does it strike anyone as funny that the term “limited inerrancy” is a complete oxymoron. Inerrancy by its definition means “completely free of error”. You cannot be completely free of error yet have some errors present. I cannot help but think of the various distinctions (i.e. hot/cold, light/dark) made throughout Scripture. Can you have blazing hot with just a little bit of cold? Can you have light with just a little bit of dark? Can you have truth with just a little bit of lies? There are lots of voices outside AND WITHIN the church today that would say “sure”. As for myself I think I will stick with Jesus, Paul, ect. on the matter.

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