The Harmony of Scripture & Doctrine
By Steve Manskar
Continuing our series on the shape of Wesleyan Leadership found in the Historic Questions:
8. Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
9. After full examination do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
John Wesley expected Methodist leaders to know both Scripture and the Christian doctrines. Leaders need to understand the relationship between the two. For Wesley, doctrine and Scripture sing the same song in two-part harmony. Scripture provides the melody, while the doctrines sing harmony.
The term harmony derives from the Greek, harmonía, meaning "joint, agreement, concord", from the verb, harmozo, "to fit together, to join." Doctrine agrees and fits together with Scripture.
John Wesley said:
“I want to know one thing, the way to heaven—how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his Book; for this end, to find the way to heaven.”
Taken on its own you might think that Wesley believed the Bible is the only book we need if we are seeking to know God and the things of God. He certainly believed that the Bible is essential and primary for Christian faith and life. It is impossible to know anything about God apart from Scripture because it is God’s self revelation to humankind. Wesley believed, with the Church, that the Bible contains all things needed for salvation and holiness of heart and life. He also believed that Scripture interprets itself. This means that we cannot understand the New Testament apart from the Old Testament. The whole of the Bible is interrelated and integrated. It tells a universal story of God and his relationship with his creation. When Wesley says he is “a man of one book” he means the Bible is the one, essential book needed for teaching and learning the things of God and the way of salvation. He does not mean, however, that the Bible is the only book Christians are to read and study.
Wesley believed that Christians, particularly leaders and preachers, must balance their study of Scripture with books written by faithful teachers and pastors. This includes classics of Christian theological reflection, as well as his sermons and tracts. He believed that the wisdom of others helps us to interpret and understand what God is saying through Scripture. Wesley believed that Scripture is meant to be studied and interpreted in the church, the “body of Christ.” This includes persons we know here and now as well as the saints and martyrs who have gone before us, whom the writer of Hebrews calls the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1).
Questions 8 & 9 assume that leaders are necessarily students of Scripture and theology. John Wesley expected his preachers, most of whom were lay men and women, with varying degrees of education, to people of “one book” – the Bible. And he expected them to read and study broadly the writings of the early church, the Reformation, as well as contemporary theologians and preachers. To that end, he developed and published his “Christian Library,” consisting of abridgments of classics of Christian theological writing such as Imitation of Christ by Thomas a’Kempis.
Leaders in the Wesleyan traditions are homo unus libri, “persons of one book.” They read, study, and pray with Scripture every day. Their lives and ministries are immersed in and shaped by Scripture.
Leaders are also persons who are shaped by and wrestle with the doctrines of The United Methodist Church (found in the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church and the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, John Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament and his Sermons).
Scripture and doctrine sing God’s kingdom songs in two-part harmony. Leaders are the people God has called and the Spirit has empowered to proclaim and teach these songs to God’s people so that the world will hear and receive them as good news.
Questions for Reflection & Discussion
- How do the doctrines of The United Methodist Church harmonize with Scripture?
- How does your congregation teach the doctrines of the church to its members?
- How does your congregation make the doctrines of the church readily available to the members?
- Does your congregation have copies of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church available in its library? Does it make copies of The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church and the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church available for members to read and study?
- Does your congregation have copies of Notes on The New Testament by John Wesley in its library?
- Does your congregation have copies of John Wesley’s sermons available in the library?
- If your answer to any of these questions is “No”, then what does this say about the importance your congregation places upon the teaching of the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
- What are the titles you would give to God’s kingdom songs that Christians learn to sing when they study Scripture and doctrine together?
- Why is doctrine important to understanding and living the mission of God and God’s church?
It's time to register for the Catapult Conference in Mobile, AL on September 22-24.
Catapult Conference is a missional leadership gathering of those who desire to recapture old truths in new ways. This conference is for anyone and everyone.
Community sessions reinforce the truth of God’s mission in the world. Breakout sessions equip for participation in the mission of God. Networking creates a web of innovation and encouragement for this North American mission field. Catapult sends you as an agent of transformation in your neighborhood, your church, your city, your world.
The Wesleyan Leadership Conference is scheduled for October 14-16 at West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN.