The Christian Bible forms the basis of most denominations' theology, and United Methodists are no exception. United Methodists are a diverse group, and views on the Bible can vary significantly from one church or individual to the next. Still, there are some common themes and beliefs about the Bible that all United Methodists hold dear.
United Methodists, like other Protestants, believe that the Bible alone is authoritative in matters of salvation. The bible supersedes any denomination or Christian leader in how an individual relates to God. As an offshoot of the Anglican Church, Methodists adopted the Anglican confession of faith, which states: "The Holy Scripture containeth 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 to salvation." The authority and sufficiency of the Bible for salvation is at the core of United Methodist beliefs about the Bible.
Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God. They even refer to the Bible as "God's Word." Different Christian groups assign different meanings to those terms, however. For some, it means the Bible was more or less dictated to the human writers by God. For others, it means God inspired the writers, giving them wisdom and insight, but that the words of scripture are still human words. For United Methodists, inspiration simply means that the Bible is God's Word, that God was involved in its creation and transmission to the present day. What exactly that means may vary from one United Methodist to another.
Textual Criticism and Inerrancy
In the late 1800s, various Christian scholars began looking at the Bible from a different perspective. They began to understand the Bible in its historical and literary contexts. This "modernist" interpretation allowed for potential disagreements within the Bible itself, as well as disagreements between the Bible and science or history. Conservative Christians responded by developing a doctrine of "inerrancy" in which the Bible is declared to be free from error of any kind -- even scientific or historical. United Methodists have, for the most part, steered clear of this controversy, preferring to affirm that the Bible is sufficient for salvation, authoritative in matters of faith and inspired by God.
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral
Methodist theology has developed significantly since the days of its founder, John Wesley. One of the concepts regarding the Bible found in Wesley's thought has endured, however. This is known as the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral," which refers to four principles of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience. In this view, Scripture is still the sole authority in matters of salvation and faith. However, as human beings, we understand the Bible via reason. United Methodists realize their movement is one in a long history of Christian faith, so they also use the traditions of the Christian church to understand Scripture. Finally, Scripture is worked out in daily life through experience.
- The United Methodist Church: Beliefs
- The United Methodist Church: We Rely on the Bible
- General Board of Global Ministries: United Methodists and the Authority of Scripture
- Florida Confessing Association: United Methodist Authority and the Question of Inerrancy
- The Wesley Center: The Wesleyan Quadrilateral in John Wesley
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