An Open Letter Concerning
the Authority of Scriptures
by Scott MacDonald

Now includes a response and rebuttal

Rebuttal from: Jim Abram Bethany Church of the Nazarene Rumford, RI

Scott MacDonald:

To those saints who call themselves the Church of the Nazarene and to those called of God who also desire Christian holiness in theology and practice:

Let me preface this article by saying that I have many friends and acquaintances within the Church of the Nazarene denomination. I truly believe that numerous people in Nazarene pews have limited or no knowledge of this problem, and I hope that they will be as troubled as I was when I discovered this false teaching. I also hold that many leaders and pastors within the denomination have not sensed this as well. I seek not to condemn the denomination, but to call it to awareness. The Church of the Nazarene must confront this seed of heresy before it takes root in coming generations. This is of incredible importance. In all love, I ask and plead that you will hear my words for the sake of the purity of the Bride.

One day in February 2006, I was searching the internet for the Church of the Nazarene’s statement of belief. Along the way, I found this on the Southern Nazarene University’s website. This is a statement of what they desire to teach in their theology department.

The Christian Scriptures

(1) We introduce students to the Old and New Testaments.

(2) We try to lead them into a love for the Scriptures. Through our classes we present a comprehensive picture of the biblical narrative.

(3) We introduce students to the structure of the Bible so that they will not be lost in or discouraged by the Bible’s size and complexity.

(4) The doctrine of the Scriptures that the Church of the Nazarene embraces is our norm.

(5) We teach that the Old and New Testaments inerrantly reveal the will of God in all things necessary for our salvation. They are authoritative in all things that relate to faith and Christian practice.

(6) “Whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith” We pay attention to the diverse contexts in which the various writings of Scripture emerged, and to the unique ways in which individual writers bore witness to divine revelation.

(7) For us, the authority of the Scriptures is soteriological (salvation). The realm in which the Scriptures are authoritative concerns our salvation.

(8) Salvation, of course, includes both Christian faith and practice. Hence, where the Scriptures speak on matters of ethics–how the life of Christ is manifest in the Church and His disciples– they are authoritative. 1 (Line numbers added)

This paragraph astounded me for numerous reasons. In this article, I wish to logically analyze it using Scripture, history, and reason. Before I state my disagreements with it, I must say there are areas in which I overwhelmingly agree with it. First, I desire that all people would come to know and love the Scriptures (Lines 1-2). This whole article would be pointless if I disagreed. Second, it is essential in Biblical studies to be introduced to the framework of Scripture (Line 3). This aids young and old believers by helping them avoid troublesome context issues. Third, I agree that whatever is not contained in Scripture should not be considered as an article of faith. If we begin to include extraneous teachings into our statement of beliefs, we have returned to one of the Roman Catholic errors that we still protest. Now I will attempt to kindly address the areas in which I find myself to be in opposition.

In this fallen world, the church is under constant scrutiny and attack. Whether it is from societies, governments, or even so-called Christians; we, the “salt of earth,” must be firm and decisive on certain essential points of doctrine. If we are not, we must question whether we deserve to even bear the name of Christ. Why be called Christians when we contradict a basic part of the faith? I have known the Church of the Nazarene to be sound in the basics of Christianity; however, this came into question when I read, “We teach that the Old and New Testaments inerrantly reveal the will of God in all things necessary for our salvation. They are authoritative in all things that relate to faith and Christian practice.” I, too, believe in the plenary inspiration of Scriptures, and therefore, I must believe that God’s Word is inerrant in all things concerning our salvation. Though I agree with this statement, I still find it to be weak in nature. God’s Word is not limited to “inerrancy” only in salvation. If we honestly believe the following verses, we must maintain that Scripture (in its original texts) is veracious in every aspect.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (NASU)

2 Peter 1:20-21

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (NASU)

God inspired the Scriptures entirely, and we must hold fast to the principle that God is perfect in all His works, in regards to anything. He did not even allow a man’s interpretation, will, or opinion to enter His Word. Jesus and the apostles were shown to be quoting Scripture on numerous occasions, each time as being authoritative. Why shouldn’t they quote Scriptures? They are perfect as its Author is perfect. Consider God’s goodness and perfection from His Word!

Matthew 5:48

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”‘ (NASU)

Psalms 19:7-8

The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. (NASU)

James 1:17-18

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (NASU)

Deuteronomy 32:4

The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” (NASU)

If we truly believe that God is perfect in His nature, we must contend that His works are unquestionably perfect. It is insane to suggest that the Perfect would do something imperfect. For this reason, we must conclude that God’s Word is the inerrant truth in every aspect. There can be no compromise or middle ground. This leaves the University’s statement in a weak and possibly troublesome position. This is not their fault entirely; the denomination has allowed this through the weakness of their own statement of beliefs. Examine the Church of the Nazarene’s statement for yourself.

These are the beliefs Nazarenes hold to be true. They are common to Christians world-wide:

We believe in one God-the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We believe that the Old and New Testament Scriptures, given by plenary inspiration, contain all truth necessary to faith and Christian living.

We believe that man is born with a fallen nature, and is, therefore, inclined to evil, and that continually.

We believe that the finally impenitent are hopelessly and eternally lost.

We believe that the atonement through Jesus Christ is for the whole human race; and that whosoever repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ is justified and regenerated and saved from the dominion of sin.

We believe that believers are to be sanctified wholly, subsequent to regeneration, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We believe that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the new birth, and also to the entire sanctification of believers.

We believe that our Lord will return, the dead will be raised, and the final judgment will take place. 2 (Emphasis added)

By omission, both of these statements allow for gross misinterpretations. Holding to them, I could decide to believe that the Scriptures do not contain truth outside of faith and practice. As much as this statement makes Christian unity easy, we stand to lose much more if this error creeps into any church. In an issue this important, we must be specific in our beliefs in order dispel even the shadows and whispers of trouble.

This brings me to the heart of my disagreement; my concern lies in the text of lines 7-8.

For us, the authority of the Scriptures is soteriological (salvation). The realm in which the Scriptures are authoritative concerns our salvation. Salvation, of course, includes both Christian faith and practice. Hence, where the Scriptures speak on matters of ethics–how the life of Christ is manifest in the Church and His disciples– they are authoritative. 1

Again, I agree that the Scripture has authority in soteriology, but we cannot risk error by limiting statements to salvation alone. For when we leave the door open, the heresy creeps in. The error takes its form in this paragraph as the word “realm.” How can the Nazarene denomination claim to believe in the “plenary inspiration” of Scripture then say that it is only “authoritative” regarding the “realm” of salvation? This appears to be a glaring contradiction. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that God’s Holy Word revealed in the sixty-six books of the Bible is only authoritative concerning soteriological applications. I could never trust the historical aspects of Scripture. It would become easy for me to believe that the story of the creation was fiction. Did all those kings of Israel and Judah actually exist? Probably not. Why should I believe that the story of Ehud is authentic? It seems incredible and unlikely. Scientifically speaking, the Bible would be outdated at best, useless at worst.

If we believe that God is God, then God’s Word must be the perfect authority in every realm. The Bible is not a reflection of God’s truth (which some Presbyterians have been lured into) nor does it merely contain God’s truth (as many of the Pagans erroneously suggest). The Scripture was, is, and will always be the truth. What I am saying is not new! The fathers of the Church of the Nazarene agree entirely with my dissertation. Jacob Arminius, a pillar of the Wesleyan tradition predating John Wesley, said this in his book, Disputations.

Disputation 6 – On the Authority and Certainty of The Holy Scriptures

The authority of the word of God, which is comprised in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, lies both in the veracity of the whole narration, and of all the declarations, whether they be those about things past, about things present, or about those which are to come, and in the power of the commands and prohibitions, which are contained in the divine word. 3

At what point did people in the Nazarene denomination drift away from such sound doctrine? This makes a clear statement for the veracity of Scripture – in every aspect.

John Wesley crafted the Twenty-Five Articles of Religion (originally 1784, expanded 1804). This is the man the Church of the Nazarene proudly states as a great forefather of their faith. The Twenty-Five Articles of Religion contain numerous statements on basic Christianity. Let us see for ourselves what Wesley’s words say concerning Scripture!

V. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation

The Holy Scriptures contain 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 for salvation… 4

This statement is in unison with the Church of the Nazarene’s basic statement of faith. I still stand firm in my position that this is a weak statement (though I find myself in agreement). However, John Wesley clarifies his position on this issue. In the following sermon, he is preaching against those men who twist and alter the Word of God for their own purposes. Along the way, he makes a solid declaration on what a good preacher should be. More importantly, Wesley quotes the same Scripture I did to back up His beliefs.

Sermon 136 – On Corrupting The Word Of God (2 Cor. 2:17)

…In the next place, they (Sound preachers) are as cautious of taking from, as of adding to, the word they preach. They dare no more, considering in whose sight they stand, say less, than [or] more, than He has assigned them. They must publish, as proper occasions offer, all that is contained in the oracles of God; whether smooth or otherwise, it matters nothing, since it is unquestionably true, and useful too: “For all Scripture is given by inspiration of God; and is profitable either for doctrine, or reproof, or correction, or instruction in righteousness,” — either to teach us what we are to believe or practise, or for conviction of error, reformation of vice. They know that there is nothing superfluous in it, relating either to faith or practice; and therefore they preach all parts of it, though those more frequently and particularly which are more particularly wanted where they are. 5 (Emphasis added)

Notice how Wesley makes it obvious that the Word of God is entirely true, for every part of it has to do with our faith and practice. Therefore, if we set this alongside his previous statement concerning Scripture, we see the reason for why the Bible contains “all things necessary to salvation.” It is because he firmly believes that all Scripture is veracious and relates to our salvation. In my eyes, I see Wesley as sound on this issue. However, this statement from the Southern Nazarene University does not seem to incorporate in its statement that all Scripture relates to our faith. Instead, it gives an impression just the opposite. This impression comes through fiercely in line 8 which reads, “Salvation, of course, includes both Christian faith and practice. Hence, where the Scriptures speak on matters of ethics–how the life of Christ is manifest in the Church and His disciples– they are authoritative.” See, this allows and teaches us to have a divisive view of Scriptures – that parts that don’t directly speak about ethics and faith somehow have a lesser level of validity. This is not the stand of Arminius, Wesley, or myself. Instead, we desire to have an entire view of Scriptures – where Scripture is inerrent in salvation because all of the Word is about salvation. Using this line of reasoning, if some person were to stand up and say that Abraham might not necessarily have been a real person, I would quickly object for they are depriving us of the truth of Abraham which most surely relates to soteriology. This can be said of every verse in the Bible. Consider this logic; since the Bible is entirely true for all of it relates to salvation, it is most certainly veracious concerning history, science, and any other realm.

As you have probably already deduced, I am not a member of the Church of the Nazarene. Do not discard this article for this reason, but examine it even more closely. Remember the ages past when Welsey and Whitfield worked together for the cause of Christ! It is in that spirit that I write this. I am not writing to tangle with a sideline debate, but instead I write to call for clarity on an essential doctrine. I can love and fellowship with Nazarene brothers and sisters, but not with any who would pervert the authority of Scriptures! I am deeply troubled by this, and I hope you are as well. I also will admit that this problem is by no means limited to your denomination. It is now becoming a popular idea as our faith is being battered by our humanistic Western society. Christianity is now becoming a religion based on how we feel and what we want. Many churches want peace at the price of purity and doctrine. This false teaching, limiting the Bible, is a step in the wrong direction. Eventually, the church will find itself in control of a religion of its own invention, and it will no longer be Christianity. In that day, those heretics will determine what is veracious; they will choose what suits their warped desires. May this never be – in any denomination, in any church!

I hope for the sake of the Church and especially your youth that you prayerfully consider the clarity of your doctrine. May I propose and offer the following statement, which is my own declaration logically based on the Word of God:

“Scripture, being found as eternally inerrent and inspired of God, is veracious and authoritative concerning every aspect of physical and spiritual existence. The Bible has been provided as our only completely truthful standard of theology, ethics, science, history, and every other realm into which its limitless grasp extends.”

For God’s Glory,

Scott MacDonald

[1] Southern Nazarene University, Theology Department. http://www.snu.edu

[2] The Church of the Nazarene, Statement of Beliefs. http://www.nazarene.org

[3] Disputations of Arminius, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

[4] Leith, John H., Creeds of the Churches, John Knox Press, Atlanta, Page 355.

[5] Sermons of John Wesley, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © by Biblesoft, Inc.

Written by Scott MacDonald and assigned to Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2006
Duplication permitted as long as the source is cited.

The following public response was given by a Nazarene pastor, in 2009, to Scott’s original open letter as published above. The paragraph immediately below, before his actual letter, was also forwarded to us as part of the response from pastor Jim Abrams. This paragraph was responding to the individual who brought Scott’s article to his attention.

I apologize in advance for any difficult wording which does more to confuse than clarify. As a pastor with one leg in the deep history of our church and the other in the contemporary congregation I do not agree with the following assessment “authority and reliability of scripture, is probably the crucial issue in our church today, and if we drift towards believing that the Bible is not infallible (is this a double negative?), we are in serious trouble.” I believe our denomination has been strategically placed by God and is ready to continue and advance his redemptive ministry in these difficult and changing times. I believe it would be detrimental for us to forfeit or compromise our position on the scriptures in favor of one like has been suggested by brother Scott.

Dear Scott,

Thank you for your deep concern for our denomination. We will appreciate any prayers you feel lead to offer on our behalf.

In the church of the Nazarene we hold to 16 foundational articles of faith hammered out in great debate after many years of prayer and deep thought. These 16 articles have served us well over the past 100 years of our denomination (most are not unique to us Nazarenes). They have provided us the ability to work hand in hand and heart to heart with fellow Christians around the world in a combined effort to be use of God to reach the lost, sanctify the believer and nurture the disciple in holiness. At the same time these articles have defined us in a way that is distinctively Wesleyan-holiness. Your letter circulated among some of our denomination chips away at one of our articles in an attempt to undermine our confidence in how we understand the role and function of the Scriptures. Whether that was your intent, I won’t say.

As Wesleyans we understand the primary purpose of the text is stereological [sic]. In that the first and primary question answered by the text is this, what must I do to be saved? We boldly state that the Scriptures are completely reliable in their ability to accomplish their purpose. This strikes at the heart of what we believe to be the purpose of the Scriptures. We believe that God breaths life (1Tim. 3:16) into His Story for the purpose of bringing us into right relationship with Him and others. The purpose of the text is to bring about holiness of heart and life. The Bible is given to us as divine revelation to create a holy people and incorporate them into a holy community, where we are equipped and sent out to participate in his redemptive mission to our world. You see, the lifelong pursuit of holiness is the essence of what it means to be a Nazarene. To this end we boldly state the Scriptures are sufficient and free of error.

We do not hold that the first and primary purpose of the text is to define the locus of ultimate authority. We know that Jesus Christ is Lord. All authority has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18), the living Word. He is Lord of the Scripture. We do not believe that the Bible is a divinely inspired science book. We do not believe that the Bible is God’s divinely inspired Art of War. We do not believe that the Bible is God’s divinely inspired song book, poetry book, cook book or history book. Yes, the bible uses science, war, song, poetry, history, sermon, food, humor, and a host of other disciplines to communicate His message, but they do not represent its purpose. Therefore, we have no need to overuse words like veracity, authority, and infallible, except when they apply to the purpose of the text. Our article about the Holy Scriptures helps us to stay focused and on point and helps guard us against participating in “foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (2 Tim. 2:23).

What you perceive as a weakness is actually one of our greatest strengths. This article has served us well for generations and I have full confidence that it will continue to do so. You see, there is no need to be alarmed over the stability of our denomination so long as we continue to minister while grounded upon our 16 foundational articles of faith that have proven more than reliable over the life of our denomination and some others as well.

If there is a danger to be addressed here, and a cause for Nazarenes to be concerned, it lies in allowing a Calvinistic – fundamentalist approach to the scriptures to influence our reading of the Bible. For us to approach the text in the way you suggest will lead us to draw conclusions that are not consistent with our understanding of Scripture, tradition, reason or experience. It will impact how we understand important issues like: the role of women in ministry, how and why we do mission, our understanding of eternal security, how and why we pray and a host of other important subjects. For us to even come close to approaching the text the way you suggested will be a denial of our God given purpose and cause us to dishonor those who have spent their lives in faithful service to pass down to us our faithful heritage. In short, it would be sin.

I have chosen to frame my response in a way that states our Wesley-holiness position and not criticize the positions of others. I believe that in the great diversity of God’s creative design He is able to use and bless multiple Christian movements to His glory and for His purpose. I pray that God will bless you, Scott and your church as you faithfully follow him. In your studies, if you have the time, I suggest you look deeper into both Wesley and Arminius. As someone who has spent a few years studying their lives, impact, and theology, I believe with further learning you will find that the two do not readily support your claim.

In Christ,

Pastor Jim Abrams

Having received the letter above from the Nazarene pastor Jim Abrams, Scott wrote the following reponse and rebuttal (2009).

Dear Jim,

As a pastor blessed with more years of experience than I, I thank you for giving me the time for a response. I have not spoken on this issue of authority and inerrancy in a great while. This letter, written years ago, has suddenly been pushed to the forefront.

It is fitting to first respond with a refocusing on the Biblical text whenever we seek to speak rationally concerning its nature and authority. Let us recall the words of the psalmist.

Psalm 119:160 The sum of Thy word is truth, And every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting. (NASB)

Let me be succinct. I finished your letter, and I was disappointed by your response. Instead of seeking to engage my position and debate its Biblical and historical validity, you mostly gave your position and stated the unacceptable outcomes that would be attained by adhering to my “approach.”

You essentially professed that the authority of Scripture is only concerning salvation (faith and practice). Your primary argument in response was one of experience, and I will address that later. A core issue lies in your response that must not go unaddressed.

When we state that the Bible is not necessarily inerrant or authoritative historically while maintaining the same passage’s spiritual and soteriological validity, we near a dangerous fission. How can something simultaneously be soteriologically true yet historically flawed? This divide has philosophically existed and flourished for a while. Its inherent to post-Enlightenment German theology. Under their care, the history of the Bible was completely discounted, but occasionally, the spiritual value was still maintained.

Sir, the question simply is, “Is the Bible true?” And how do you believe that it is true? Is it only true in certain senses? Or will you concede that truth is necessarily comprehensive? I profess the inerrancy of the Scripture in all that it asserts, whether it be historical, soteriological, etc.

No doubt that you must concede the Bible’s historical, scientific, and spiritual authority is some cases. Let us utilize the example of John 9. Jesus miraculously heals a man who had been born blind. The ramifications are plentiful.

  1. This was a real historical event with Jesus, Pharisees, and a blind man. These are all temporally bound.
  2. This was an act of spiritual and soteriological worth. This act and the study of it ought to drive us to worship our Lord, Saviour, and Healer.
  3. This account is scientifically unusual to say the least. This text trumps all known medical practices.

If any aspect of the historical, scientific, or spiritual validity is removed from this text; it is not a miracle any longer. Indeed, you probably believe in miracles. But your statement allows for the dismissal of the Bible’s historical and scientific validity! The application of this dismissal is subjective. At least Liberalism and Existentialism are more consistent in that most, if not all, Biblical history is discarded as “true” myth.

So let me take this discussion one step further. You raised a question. “Where is the locus of authority?” Where is yours, Sir? Let’s reexamine a few of your statements.

“These 16 articles have served us well over the past 100 years of our denomination…”

“They (16 articles) have provided us the ability to work hand in hand and heart to heart with fellow Christians…”

“This article has served us well for generations…”

“…We continue to minister while grounded upon our 16 foundational articles of faith that have proven more than reliable over the life of our denomination…”

Sir, you have dismissed my arguments primarily for this sake. You attribute a soteriological authority to the text because of this: your heritage, your experience, your past. Indeed, all men are influenced by this. But how pragmatic is your approach to this discussion? You refuse my arguments because your approach has served you well? You also complain that,

“It will impact how we understand important issues like: the role of women in ministry, how and why we do mission, our understanding of eternal security, how and why we pray and a host of other important subjects.”

“For us to even come close to approaching the text the way you suggested will be a denial of our God given purpose and cause us to dishonor those who have spent their lives in faithful service to pass down to us our faithful heritage. In short, it would be sin.”

You cannot take my position for it would change your understanding! Indeed, it would. But that is the point, Sir. Will I refuse to reconsider an issue because what I have works and benefits my life? If that is the case, my locus of authority is planted in err. You said the locus of authority is Christ. Granted. He is the ultimate revelation of the Father, God incarnate. He unfortunately does not dwell with us at this time in corporeal form. Where do we look for authority? Not to a vicar on a throne, indeed we are not papists. As Protestants, we claim the Bible and hold it high. Of course, the Bible’s primary purpose is for salvation and edification. But to limit its authority and infallibility to simply that arena undermines the whole purpose. It is true in all it asserts. Since the text maintains that Methuselah died at 969 years old, I believe it. But by limiting the authority of Scripture to only salvation, that fact comes into question. Perhaps all those old stories were myths that God gave as helpful guides for our soteriological benefit. How far down this road can we go? Is there a historical Christ? Did he rise from the dead? Are the narratives just stories? See, when we assert Christ as Saviour, we maintain the Bible’s historical validity as well. Christ was a real person living in a real period of time, and that timing was absolutely crucial (Galatians 4:4). The historical accuracy of the Gospels is important.

Overall, this argument is Biblical and logical, and perhaps that is why your denomination’s affinity to this doctrine of merely soteriological authority is creating a fair deal of angst among your people.

Regardless of our disagreement, know that you and your denomination are in my prayers.

In Christ,

Scott MacDonald