Our True Rule
The United Methodist Church, by way of our denominational standard, addresses the sufficiency of Scripture. Our 2008 Book of Discipline reminds us, Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
I’m assuming the “practice” referenced is the practice of our faith, the exercise of living one’s life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and preparing for the next. We believe God expects us to live such a life in accordance with Scripture’s direction, rules, laws, commands, examples, teachings, principles, and all the rest. That covers a great deal of ground.
United Methodists believe that what John Wesley called scriptural holiness relates to both our inward walk with Christ and the outward expression of that relationship with our neighbors. Our Doctrinal Statements, General Rules and Social Principles cover a lot of ground and an enormous variety of topics, such as economics, environment, bioethics, justice, marriage, parenting, politics, poverty, and yes, our precious Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through him. In all these spheres and more, Scripture is our “true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Our 2008 Disciplines says this about scriptural holiness,
We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.
Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.
This is what I mean when I say Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life. This is what I take our Discipline to mean when it reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
So, while the Bible doesn’t, for example, teach me how to change the oil in my car, it still directs and guides me to do even something as mundane (and as important) as that to God’s glory. It teaches me to be a good steward of what God has provided.
The Apostle Paul teaches us,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Scripture is profitable for a bunch of stuff. He doesn’t use the same language here, but Paul is saying Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life. Bishop Mack Stokes addressed this by writing,
Immediately following the “General Rules,” Wesley wrote, ‘These are the General Rules of our society; all which are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice.’ (The Bible in the Wesleyan Heritage, p. 21)
Understanding that Scripture is sufficient for faith and practice is not the same as saying the Bible is a science textbook, a political constitution, or a manual for how to care for my car. But the Bible clearly does have something (and something important) to say about those areas of life and far more.
Wayne Grudem, (who is not United Methodist), shares this definition for the sufficiency of Scripture, which I believe is helpful. He writes,
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (Systematic Theology, p. 127)
We want to submit to our Lord in every sphere of life and are guided in that pursuit in and through God’s Word. It is sufficient for such a pursuit.
Grace and Truth,
I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say that after staring at it on my bookshelf for over 17 years, I finally picked up J.I. Packer’s book, Rediscovering Holiness, and started reading it. It is extraordinary and I am kicking myself for waiting so long. (I’m also groaning over the fact that there’s a revised and updated version available. However, I’m going to resist the temptation and stick with my older copy. Ugh.)
Holiness is a topic that is near and dear to United Methodists (at least, it used to be... and still ought to be). It certainly was to John Wesley and Packer gives several tips of his hat to both Wesley brothers. I’m looking forward to reading the whole book.
Of particular interest in the first chapter was Packer’s distillation of J.C. Ryle’s “12 Point Profile” of what a holy person looks like. It’s fantastic! I thought I would share bits and pieces of his points with you below. The Apostle Paul encourages us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to examine ourselves to see if we are “in the faith” I can think of no better list with which to measure yourself than the following excerpts from Ryle.
I pray the following truths will bless, encourage, convict, and lead you to greater holiness in your life.
Grace and Truth,
1.) Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find his mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment, hating what he hates, loving what he loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of his Word…
2.) A holy man will endeavor to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment. He will have… a hearty desire to do [God's] will, a greater fear of displeasing him than of displeasing the world…
3.) A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ. He will not only live the life of faith in him, and draw from him all his daily peace and strength, but he will also labor to have the mind that was in him, and to be
conformed to his image (Romans 8:29).
4.) A holy man will follow after meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, government of his tongue.
5.) A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial. He will labour to mortify the desires of his body, to crucify his flesh with his affections and lusts, to curb his passions, to restrain his carnal inclinations, lest at any
time they break loose…
6.) A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness.
7.) A holy man will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence toward others…
8.) A holy man will follow after purity of heart. He will dread all filthiness and uncleanness of spirit, and seek to avoid all things that might draw him into it.
9.) A holy man will follow after the fear of God. I do not mean the fear of a slave, who only works because he is afraid of punishment… I mean rather the fear of a child, who wishes to live and move as if he was always before his father’s face, because he loves him…
10.) A holy man will follow after humility. He will desire, in lowliness of mind, to esteem all others better than himself. He will see more evil in his own heart than in any other in the world…
11.) A holy man will follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life… Holy persons should aim at doing everything well, and should be ashamed of allowing themselves to do anything ill if they can they can help it… They should strive to be good husbands and good wives, good parents and good children, good masters and good servants, good neighbours, good friends, good subjects, good in private and good in public, good in the place of business and good by their firesides.
12.) Last, but not least, a holy man will follow after spiritual-mindedness. He will endeavour to set his affections entirely on things above, and to hold things on earth with a very loose hand… He will aim to live like one whose
treasure is in heaven, and to pass through this world like a stranger and pilgrim travelling to his home. To commune with God in prayer, in the Bible, and in the assembly of his people – these things will be the holy
man’s chief enjoyments. He will value every thing and place and company, just in proportion as it draws him nearer to God…
The Fellowship of Ailbe
Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
C.S. Lewis Institute
The Gospel Coalition
The Institute on Religion and Democracy
Every Square Inch Ministries
Gene Edward Veith
Center for Cultural Leadership
Church and Culture