By Scott MacDonald
Let me preface this article by saying that I have many friends and acquaintances within the Church of the Nazarene denomination. I truly believe that numerous people in Nazarene pews have limited or no knowledge of this problem, and I hope that they will be as troubled as I was when I discovered this false teaching. I also hold that many leaders and pastors within the denomination have not sensed this as well. I seek not to condemn the denomination, but to call it to awareness. The Church of the Nazarene must confront this seed of heresy before it takes root in coming generations. This is of incredible importance. In all love, I ask and plead that you will hear my words for the sake of the purity of the Bride.
One day in February 2006, I was searching the internet for the Church of the Nazarene’s statement of belief. Along the way, I found this on the Southern Nazarene University’s website.This is a statement of what they desire to teach in their theology department.
The Christian Scriptures
(1) We introduce students to the Old and New Testaments.
(2) We try to lead them into a love for the Scriptures. Through our classes we present a comprehensive picture of the biblical narrative.
(3) We introduce students to the structure of the Bible so that they will not be lost in or discouraged by the Bible’s size and complexity.
(4) The doctrine of the Scriptures that the Church of the Nazarene embraces is our norm.
(5) We teach that the Old and New Testaments inerrantly reveal the will of God in all things necessary for our salvation. They are authoritative in all things that relate to faith and Christian practice.
(6) “Whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith” We pay attention to the diverse contexts in which the various writings of Scripture emerged, and to the unique ways in which individual writers bore witness to divine revelation.
(7) For us, the authority of the Scriptures is soteriological (salvation). The realm in which the Scriptures are authoritative concerns our salvation.
(8) Salvation, of course, includes both Christian faith and practice. Hence, where the Scriptures speak on matters of ethics–how the life of Christ is manifest in the Church and His disciples– they are authoritative. 1 (Line numbers added)
This paragraph astounded me for numerous reasons. In this article, I wish to logically analyze it using Scripture, history, and reason. Before I state my disagreements with it, I must say there are areas in which I overwhelmingly agree with it. First, I desire that all people would come to know and love the Scriptures (Lines 1-2). This whole article would be pointless if I disagreed. Second, it is essential in Biblical studies to be introduced to the framework of Scripture (Line 3). This aids young and old believers by helping them avoid troublesome context issues. Third, I agree that whatever is not contained in Scripture should not be considered as an article of faith. If we begin to include extraneous teachings into our statement of beliefs, we have returned to one of the Roman Catholic errors that we still protest. Now I will attempt to kindly address the areas in which I find myself to be in opposition.
In this fallen world, the church is under constant scrutiny and attack. Whether it is from societies, governments, or even so-called Christians; we, the “salt of earth,” must be firm and decisive on certain essential points of doctrine. If we are not, we must question whether we deserve to even bear the name of Christ. Why be called Christians when we contradict a basic part of the faith? I have known the Church of the Nazarene to be sound in the basics of Christianity; however, this came into question when I read, “We teach that the Old and New Testaments inerrantly reveal the will of God in all things necessary for our salvation. They are authoritative in all things that relate to faith and Christian practice.” I, too, believe in the plenary inspiration of Scriptures, and therefore, I must believe that God’s Word is inerrant in all things concerning our salvation. Though I agree with this statement, I still find it to be weak in nature. God’s Word is not limited to “inerrancy” only in salvation. If we honestly believe the following verses, we must maintain that Scripture (in its original texts) is veracious in every aspect.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (NASU)
2 Peter 1:20-21
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (NASU)
God inspired the Scriptures entirely, and we must hold fast to the principle that God is perfect in all His works, in regards to anything. He did not even allow a man’s interpretation, will, or opinion to enter His Word. Jesus and the apostles were shown to be quoting Scripture on numerous occasions, each time as being authoritative. Why shouldn’t they quote Scriptures? They are perfect as its Author is perfect. Consider God’s goodness and perfection from His Word!
Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”‘ (NASU)
The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. (NASU)
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (NASU)
The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” (NASU)
If we truly believe that God is perfect in His nature, we must contend that His works are unquestionably perfect. It is insane to suggest that the Perfect would do something imperfect. For this reason, we must conclude that God’s Word is the inerrant truth in every aspect. There can be no compromise or middle ground. This leaves the University’s statement in a weak and possibly troublesome position. This is not their fault entirely; the denomination has allowed this through the weakness of their own statement of beliefs. Examine the Church of the Nazarene’s statement for yourself.
These are the beliefs Nazarenes hold to be true. They are common to Christians world-wide:
We believe in one God-the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We believe that the Old and New Testament Scriptures, given by plenary inspiration, contain all truth necessary to faith and Christian living.
We believe that man is born with a fallen nature, and is, therefore, inclined to evil, and that continually.
We believe that the finally impenitent are hopelessly and eternally lost.
We believe that the atonement through Jesus Christ is for the whole human race; and that whosoever repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ is justified and regenerated and saved from the dominion of sin.
We believe that believers are to be sanctified wholly, subsequent to regeneration, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We believe that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the new birth, and also to the entire sanctification of believers.
We believe that our Lord will return, the dead will be raised, and the final judgment will take place. 2 (Emphasis added)
By omission, both of these statements allow for gross misinterpretations. Holding to them, I could decide to believe that the Scriptures do not contain truth outside of faith and practice. As much as this statement makes Christian unity easy, we stand to lose much more if this error creeps into any church. In an issue this important, we must be specific in our beliefs in order dispel even the shadows and whispers of trouble.
This brings me to the heart of my disagreement; my concern lies in the text of lines 7-8.
For us, the authority of the Scriptures is soteriological (salvation). The realm in which the Scriptures are authoritative concerns our salvation. Salvation, of course, includes both Christian faith and practice. Hence, where the Scriptures speak on matters of ethics–how the life of Christ is manifest in the Church and His disciples– they are authoritative. 1
Again, I agree that the Scripture has authority in soteriology, but we cannot risk error by limiting statements to salvation alone. For when we leave the door open, the heresy creeps in. The error takes its form in this paragraph as the word “realm.” How can the Nazarene denomination claim to believe in the “plenary inspiration” of Scripture then say that it is only “authoritative” regarding the “realm” of salvation? This appears to be a glaring contradiction.Let us suppose for the sake of argument that God’s Holy Word revealed in the sixty-six books of the Bible is only authoritative concerning soteriological applications. I could never trust the historical aspects of Scripture. It would become easy for me to believe that the story of the creation was fiction. Did all those kings of Israel and Judah actually exist? Probably not. Why should I believe that the story of Ehud is authentic? It seems incredible and unlikely. Scientifically speaking, the Bible would be outdated at best, useless at worst.
If we believe that God is God, then God’s Word must be the perfect authority in every realm.The Bible is not a reflection of God’s truth (which some Presbyterians have been lured into) nor does it merely contain God’s truth (as many of the Pagans erroneously suggest). The Scripture was, is, and will always be the truth. What I am saying is not new! The fathers of the Church of the Nazarene agree entirely with my dissertation. Jacob Arminius, a pillar of the Wesleyan tradition predating John Wesley, said this in his book, Disputations.
Disputation 6 – On the Authority and Certainty of The Holy Scriptures
The authority of the word of God, which is comprised in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, lies both in the veracity of the whole narration, and of all the declarations, whether they be those about things past, about things present, or about those which are to come, and in the power of the commands and prohibitions, which are contained in the divine word. 3
At what point did people in the Nazarene denomination drift away from such sound doctrine? This makes a clear statement for the veracity of Scripture – in every aspect.
John Wesley crafted the Twenty-Five Articles of Religion (originally 1784, expanded 1804).This is the man the Church of the Nazarene proudly states as a great forefather of their faith. The Twenty-Five Articles of Religion contain numerous statements on basic Christianity. Let us see for ourselves what Wesley’s words say concerning Scripture!
V. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation
The Holy Scriptures contain 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 for salvation… 4
This statement is in unison with the Church of the Nazarene’s basic statement of faith. I still stand firm in my position that this is a weak statement (though I find myself in agreement). However, John Wesley clarifies his position on this issue. In the following sermon, he is preaching against those men who twist and alter the Word of God for their own purposes. Along the way, he makes a solid declaration on what a good preacher should be. More importantly,Wesley quotes the same Scripture I did to back up His beliefs.
Sermon 136 – On Corrupting The Word Of God (2 Cor. 2:17)
…In the next place, they (Sound preachers) are as cautious of taking from, as of adding to, the word they preach. They dare no more, considering in whose sight they stand, say less, than [or] more, than He has assigned them. They must publish, as proper occasions offer, all that is contained in the oracles of God; whether smooth or otherwise, it matters nothing, since it is unquestionably true, and useful too: “For all Scripture is given by inspiration of God; and is profitable either for doctrine, or reproof, or correction, or instruction in righteousness,” — either to teach us what we are to believe or practise, or for conviction of error, reformation of vice. They know that there is nothing superfluous in it, relating either to faith or practice; and therefore they preach all parts of it, though those more frequently and particularly which are more particularly wanted where they are. 5 (Emphasis added)
Notice how Wesley makes it obvious that the Word of God is entirely true, for every part of it has to do with our faith and practice. Therefore, if we set this alongside his previous statement concerning Scripture, we see the reason for why the Bible contains “all things necessary to salvation.” It is because he firmly believes that all Scripture is veracious and relates to our salvation. In my eyes, I see Wesley as sound on this issue. However, this statement from the Southern Nazarene University does not seem to incorporate in its statement that all Scripture relates to our faith. Instead, it gives an impression just the opposite. This impression comes through fiercely in line 8 which reads, “Salvation, of course, includes both Christian faith and practice. Hence, where the Scriptures speak on matters of ethics–how the life of Christ is manifest in the Church and His disciples– they are authoritative.” See, this allows and teaches us to have a divisive view of Scriptures – that parts that don’t directly speak about ethics and faith somehow have a lesser level of validity. This is not the stand of Arminius, Wesley, or myself. Instead, we desire to have an entire view of Scriptures – where Scripture is inerrent in salvation because all of the Word is about salvation. Using this line of reasoning, if some person were to stand up and say that Abraham might not necessarily have been a real person, I would quickly object for they are depriving us of the truth of Abraham which most surely relates to soteriology. This can be said of every verse in the Bible. Consider this logic; since the Bible is entirely true for all of it relates to salvation, it is most certainly veracious concerning history, science, and any other realm.
As you have probably already deduced, I am not a member of the Church of the Nazarene. Do not discard this article for this reason, but examine it even more closely. Remember the ages past when Welsey and Whitfield worked together for the cause of Christ! It is in that spirit that I write this. I am not writing to tangle with a sideline debate, but instead I write to call for clarity on an essential doctrine. I can love and fellowship with Nazarene brothers and sisters, but not with any who would pervert the authority of Scriptures! I am deeply troubled by this, and I hope you are as well. I also will admit that this problem is by no means limited to your denomination. It is now becoming a popular idea as our faith is being battered by our humanistic Western society. Christianity is now becoming a religion based on how we feel and what we want. Many churches want peace at the price of purity and doctrine. This false teaching, limiting the Bible, is a step in the wrong direction. Eventually, the church will find itself in control of a religion of its own invention, and it will no longer be Christianity. In that day, those heretics will determine what is veracious; they will choose what suits their warped desires. May this never be – in any denomination, in any church!I hope for the sake of the Church and especially your youth that you prayerfully consider the clarity of your doctrine. May I propose and offer the following statement, which is my own declaration logically based on the Word of God:”Scripture, being found as eternally inerrent and inspired of God, is veracious and authoritative concerning every aspect of physical and spiritual existence. The Bible has been provided as our only completely truthful standard of theology, ethics, science, history, and every other realm into which its limitless grasp extends.”
For God’s Glory,
From the posting at nazarenepsalm113 on May 13, 2009