Summary: Fourth in a series on the Nazarene Articles of Faith, this sermon looks at the how the Wesleyan Quadrilateral helps us to interpret Scripture.
Today, we come to look at the Article of Faith regarding Holy Scripture. Scripture has been important throughout human history, as it is the story which reveals God and His interactions with His creation. Scripture tells us of God’s Story, showing us His plan and His will. While it is not a history book, it shows us many historical events in which God interacted with humanity.
Within the Wesleyan tradition, we often speak of the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience. If you remember your geometry, you will know that a Quadrilateral is a four sided figure, but that all side of the quadrilateral are not necessarily equal, and the corners are not necessarily square. In the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, we recognize that Scripture is always the foundational leg—the longest side, but that Reason, Tradition, and Experience all support God’s Word.
In other words, if all Truth is God’s Truth, then we know that God also reveals that truth to us through our gifts of reason, the teaching of the Church throughout the ages, and our own experience of how God has interacted with us. Primary to that revelation of truth is the revelation of God’s Word—Holy Scripture.
I’d like to take a moment today and share with you a reading from a book by Dr. Rob Staples entitled Words of Faith. Dr. Staples is a retired professor of theology at Nazarene Theological Seminary and Southern Nazarene University. The chapters in Words of Faith first appeared in his monthly column in the Herald of Holiness (now Holiness Today). Each chapter is a brief summary of a theological word, defining it and helping us to understand its use within the Wesleyan Tradition. This is what Dr. Staples writes on the topic of Scripture:
“ ‘The Bible is the manger in which Christ is laid.’ With that concise and graphic metaphor, Martin Luther explained his view of Scripture.
“The great Protestant reformer was utilizing Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, in which shepherds found the Christ child lying in a manger. The manger itself was not the shepherds’ ultimate goal. They were looking for the newborn babe, and the manger was simply the place where the angels told them to look.
“The point of Luther’s analogy is that Christ, who is the living Word, is found in the Bible, which is the written Word. But the latter is simply an instrument directing us to the former—and thus not an end in itself.
“Let me construct a story, playing off Luther’s metaphor. In my story are four shepherds. After all, the Bible does not tell us how many of them came to the manger. I suppose we have three shepherds in the children’s Christmas pageants in order to balance the three wise men on the other side of the stage, also dressed up in their fathers’ bathrobes. But the Bible is also silent on the number of wise men present. Christian art and legend have portrayed three wise men perhaps because there are three gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
“So my story has four shepherds—three representing various theological viewpoints that are widespread in today’s religious climate and one representing the Wesleyan viewpoint. One by one they come to the manger (remember that the ‘manger’ is the Bible), seeking the Christ.
“The first shepherd comes to the manger and says, ‘This is a weak manger; some of the boards have knotholes in them.’ So he tries to make it better by ripping out the ‘miracle’ boards—the ‘Virgin Birth’ and ‘Resurrection’ boards. Pretty soon he has weakened the manger so much that Christ falls into the straw onto the stable floor!
“Then the second shepherd rushes up. ‘I’ll defend the manger,’ he says. ‘I’ll fight anyone who tinkers with it. Let no one lay a hand on it.’ He spends most of his energy defending the manger, and practically idolizing the boards (the written words), leaving little time to adore the Christ (the living Word) who lies in it.
“The third shepherd probably never even bothers to find the manger. He thinks the angel’s announcement of a newborn king is a nice story, but only one store among many. It has meaning for some people. Other stories are meaningful to others, and who can say which story is most important? We can each create our own stories, and one is as true as another.
“Now the Wesleyan shepherd differs from them all. Unlike the third shepherd, he knows he must go to the manger (the Bible) to learn about the Christ. There are many mangers (books) in the world, but only this one has the words of eternal life. But having come to the manger, he differs from the first shepherd, who wants to reconstruct it. The Wesleyan knows that this manger is truly unique. Of all mangers (books) in the world, this is the most important. He respects it, loves it, and handles it with care. But he does not worship it. Having come to the manger, he, unlike the second shepherd, does not tarry, avoiding adoring the manger itself. He does not defend it, believing its truth is strong enough to defend itself. He quickly turns to worship and adore the Christ lying there, and then he goes and proclaims Him.