Salvation, Faith, and Practice
The United Methodist Church, via our denominational standard, addresses the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture. Our 2008 Book of Discipline reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Surely the "practice" referred to, is the practice of our faith (the practice of living in this world and preparing for the next, as Christians). Thus, we believe Christians should live in accordance with Scripture’s doctrines, direction, rules, laws, commands, examples, teachings, and principles. You can see, therefore, that “faith and practice” cover a great deal of ground.
United Methodists believe that what John Wesley called scriptural holiness relates to both our inward intimacy and communion with Christ, but also our outward relationships, conduct, and witness in this world. Our Doctrinal statements, General Rules, and Social Principles address an enormous variety of topics such as economics, environment, bioethics, justice, marriage, human sexuality, parenting, politics, poverty, and yes, our Wesleyan understanding of grace, Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through him, and the other foundational doctrinal truths. In all these spheres and more, Scripture is our “true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Our 2008 Discipline 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 is meant by my phrase, “the sufficiency of Scripture for every sphere of life.” This is surely what our Discipline means when it reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Thus, 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. Among other things, 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)
The Bible is Sufficient
Paul is declaring that Scripture is profitable (sufficient) for virtually every sphere of life. This is no mere rhetorical flourish. 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) (Emphasis mine)
That’s what is meant by saying Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life.
To be sure, embracing the sufficiency of Scripture is not the same as suggesting the Bible is a science textbook, a political constitution, or a manual for how to change my car’s oil. But it does have something (and something important) to say about those areas and far more.
Wayne Grudem, (who is not a United Methodist) shares this definition for the sufficiency of Scripture which I believe is helpful. He writes,
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contains 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)
Christians want to submit to our Lord in every sphere of life and are guided in that pursuit in and through the study of God’s revealed Word. It is sufficient for such a pursuit. Thanks be to God.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.