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,
Gracious Father, we thank you for the baptism of the Lord Jesus. As we read your Word, we remember the ways in which he became like us to be our perfect covenant head. Just as he represented us in life, so too he represented us in his death, resurrection, and ascension. We praise you for his active righteousness, even unto baptism. We know this pleased you for you declared that he was your beloved Son, with whom you were well pleased. Merciful God, thank you for saving us through the person and work of your beloved Son. Move us to live lives of grateful response and joyful obedience all the days of our lives. In Christ’s holy name we pray. Amen. (based on Matthew 3:13-17)
We Do vs Christ Did
Have you ever noticed how often we focus upon ourselves - our performance - when it comes to our faith? Much of the time, it seems, we spend far too much effort concentrating on ourselves instead of the beauty and magnificence of God. Or, we're constantly concerned about what we do rather than what Christ did.
Many of us do this. And it's not because we're obsessed with bad things. We want to know how to be more faithful disciples. We want to grow in our faith. We want to be joyful, content, etc. But that's part of the problem: we, we, we, we.
Without meaning to, and with no malicious intent, our faith can become all about us - our needs and our wants. But this inward focus, instead of helping us become more faithful Christians, can often work against us. How?
Well, interestingly, one of the ways a Christian can lapse into spiritual depression is by being so inward focused that the weight of our spiritual short-comings and unworthiness can begin to crush us. As we compare ourselves to where God has called us to be or where other Christians are, we can move quickly into despair because, in our self-assessment, we keep coming up short.
That's why some of the best counsel I ever received when I was at such a place a number of years ago was this: Take the focus off of myself and spend some considerable time dwelling on our incomparable Christ. Because when it comes down to it, it's not about me, it's about him. It's not about my performance... what I can do, but what he has done.
It's only when I begin to really believe and embrace that truth that I get back to following Christ in a positive way.
What I discovered is that attempting to draw strength from myself is a fount that will eventually dry up. But going to the One who is Living Water is where we find a never-ending source of strength, grace, and love.
Our Incomparable Christ
The other risk of such intense self-focus is that when we concentrate so much on ourselves, our work, our story, our faith, and so on, we give the distinct impression to the rest of the world that Christianity is about us and not about Christ.
Therefore, in the next few posts I want to explore the riches of our incomparable Christ found in Hebrews 1:1-4. I hope by spending time focusing on his greatness and majesty, we might be encouraged and reminded why Jesus, and not ourselves, is much more worthy of our continual gaze.
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