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Monday
Jun082015

DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE BIBLE?

Dr. Doug Hardy
Professor of Spiritual Formation
Director, Doctor of Ministry Degree Programs

I attended a worship service recently in which the congregation sang the Don Moen song “Because We Believe.” The lyrics begin with the well-known phrase of the Apostles’ Creed: “We believe in God the Father…” but do not continue with the exact words of the Creed. Like several other contemporary songs, it uses creed language as a springboard for affirming a litany of beliefs that sometimes say more and sometimes say less than what is contained in the three ecumenical creeds of the Church: The Apostles’ Creed (2nd century), The Nicene Creed (4th century), and the Athanasian Creed (5th century).

In this song I was struck by the phrase “We believe in the holy Bible” because there is no reference to the Bible in the three ecumenical creeds other than the Nicene Creed’s affirmation that Jesus rose again “according to the Scriptures.” Although Statements of Belief were developed later by various Christian denominations that typically affirm the Scriptures in an article of faith, no early creed actually calls for a confession of belief in the Bible itself. Why?

It certainly is not indicative of an absence of Scripture as a formative force in the life of the early Church. Even though the New Testament canon was in the process of being formed, the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) and the oral tradition and early written records about Jesus were incredibly important for their prayer, worship, doctrinal formulation, and discipleship. Scriptures mattered, as they still do to Christians today. Apparently, however, confession of a belief in a clear biblical canon was not as important to them as other confessions of belief—beliefs about God as Triune, loyalty to Jesus, and about the nature and being of the Church. Could it be that the relationship between early generations of Christians and their Scriptures was based on realities other than a belief in them? Only later, after the formulation of the Christian canons of Scripture, did different denominations include more explicit statements about the Scriptures in their confessions of faith.

Let me suggest some alternative questions to “Do you believe in the Bible?” that may help you more carefully reflect on the place of Scripture in the Church and its implications for Christian living:

  • Do you, with the Church, confess a belief in the Triune God as described in the creeds?
  • If, as the creeds affirm, God is the only true Word and Spirit, how can we keep our worship focused on this living God, rather than on the Bible?
  • In what ways are the Scriptures a means of grace for the people of God?
  • How might your church more actively pray the Scriptures?
  • In what ways might God use Scripture to form you in the image of Jesus as portrayed in the creeds—divine and human, suffering and dying, risen, in communion, forgiving?

The community of gospel love that God created in Jesus preceded the formulation of the Bible as we know it. Our use of Scripture, then, must be accountable to this community and the Holy Spirit of God who continues to create in love. Hear this good word from Saint Augustine, bishop of Hippo: “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought” (On Christian Doctrine, chapter 36, paragraph 40).

Reader Comments (5)

Thanks Dr. Hardy for this helpful post. I think the point being made is very important. The Creeds were used initially as a catechizing and confessional aspect of one's process of being baptized. Of course the Scriptures were very important in the very formation of the Creeds. The Early Fathers used the Scriptures often in the Christological and Pneumatological debates. Yet it is curious that the Bible is never listed in the creeds. Somehow a belief in the Bible would perhaps move the church away from a belief in the Triune God. Of course as you say the Bible is extremely important as a tool of the Triune God in the ongoing healing and formation of the Church as the body of Christ. What could use more discussion is the criteria for what things were/are to be listed in such creeds to be confessed/professed. Initially it feels like the creeds are all about confessing belief in the Triune God. What may perhaps be an exception is the belief in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Yet as the Church is affirmed as the body of Christ, perhaps this also is not completely deviating from a confession in God, though I would need to think about this more. It is also noteworthy that sacraments, prayer, singing, and potlucks :) are also not listed in such creeds. That does not mean that they cannot also be a means of grace, but to your main point we don't "believe in them" that is they are not suitable for what is being prayed/confessed in the creeds. I also think underneath your blog is a rightly held concern where the focus is away from God and put into the book the Bible. The Bible is not God, but a critical gift and tool God offers to creation as a means of transformation. But it is more right to belief in the Triune God who uses the Bible/Scriptures to speak, rather than a belief in the bible itself. Very helpful thought. Thanks.

06.10.2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrent Peterson

Dr. Hardy, I appreciate your reflections on these issues. However, I do not think we should be so quick to separate God from His word (we should not create a dichotomy of personal Word vs oral or written word). The Scriptures are referred to as the "very oracles of God" (Rom 3:2), God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16), etc. As such, they embody the very heart, mind and purposes of God and we are instructed to base our faith, confessions and even fellowship with God through our knowledge and response to their teachings and revelations (cf. 1 John 1:3).

Also, I think history shows that early Christians had a clear concept of a divinely-authored, authoritative body of Scripture. I think it was understood that Christians believed the Scriptures as God-breathed and their confessions and creeds were based on those inspired texts and were not in competition with them.

06.10.2015 | Unregistered CommenterChad Laughrey

Brent, I'm glad this has stimulated your thinking and prompted the asking of important questions. I think that the Triune God centeredness of the creeds is an important statement of priority that, among other things, implicates divine-human relationship. How to state what we believe about & commit ourselves to re: Scripture and the Church is also important, however (as Church History makes clear). An ongoing project!

06.11.2015 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Hardy

Chad, I agree that we should never separate God from Scripture in the sense that the Scriptures are God-breathed gifts to the Church for the sake of relationship with God. Scripture separated from God in this sense would be disastrous. In a different sense, however, when it comes to the inevitable and challenging task of interpreting Scripture, I think we must be careful to not equate God and Scripture or put them on the same level--a conceptual separation, if you will. I like your image of the Scriptures and creeds as complementary, not in competition. The functional commonality is God's work in and through the Church.

06.11.2015 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Hardy

Doug, thanks for your reply. I apologize if I was misrepresenting your intent. I think your response poses some interesting concepts to reflect upon. Are the Scriptures merely a tool used by God for the means of relationship? If so, are they just one among many means...such as confessions and traditions? I am sure we would probably not see this the same way.

In my estimation, while the Scriptures are not God, I believe they are unique and not merely a means to an end. The Scriptures are both an extension of God himself as well as possess a power of God to transform human lives and regenerate hearts as they are met with faith. Christ is described as Word which took on human form.

Unlike human communication, the communication of God is unique and I think we see that the thoughts, character, will and communication of God are not so easily distinguished from the person of God...as is the case with human beings. For instance, when Jesus spoke, the Father was speaking. And when the Father was speaking, there was more than merely a transfer of ideas but a power and extension of the person of God that was manifest in healing, forgiveness, freedom from bondage, and judgment. So, in this sense, I think the Scriptures are quite different from creeds and early Christians understood this and assumed belief in the Scriptures.

While the value of the creeds remains another topic, I think it would have been superfluous for a creed to state belief in the Scriptures that the creeds themselves were seeking to clarify. I don't think the lack of this type of confession is indicative that the early Christians felt faith in the Trinity was more significant or noteworthy than belief in the Scriptures. Anyway, just my musings. Thanks for spurring our thinking in this area.

06.11.2015 | Unregistered CommenterChad Laughrey

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