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UMC Bishop Subtly And Publicly Side-steps Divine Inspiration Of The Bible

Commentary: Bible's true authority lies in power to change

June 2, 1999- A UMNS Commentary By Bishop Kenneth L. Carder*

Much discussion today focuses on "the authority of Scripture," as well it should.

Holy Scripture is the primary source of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given. (Matthew 28:18)

The erosion of the authority of Scripture contributes significantly to our confusion and conflicts as a church.

During a recent discussion of authority in the Council of Bishops, Bishop Edsel Ammons pointed out the irony that much of the discussion of the Bible's authority is more abstract than formative. We talk about the Bible's authority while paying little attention to the Bible itself. We verbally and intellectually affirm the authority of Scripture but demonstrate little evidence of being shaped by the Scriptures.

The current debates in the church, even about the authority of Scripture, seem to be more concerned about winning arguments than changing lives. Scripture can be treated as a resource for evidence in ecclesiastical debates rather than as a means of grace to transform lives into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Using Scripture primarily as means of winning arguments ignores the Bible's true authority. I have long contended that disputes about Biblical interpretation are really rationalizations for ignoring the central truth of the Bible. For example, it is much easier to argue about evolution and creation than it is to live as though this is God's world. Or, debating whether a 'great fish' really swallowed Jonah is far less costly and risky than acknowledging that God loves our enemies as much as God loves us.

What is the Bible's authority? As I understand it, the Bible's authority does not lie in its verbal inerrancy or even its factual accuracy. The Scriptures' authority is in the Bible's power through the Holy Spirit to transform life into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Its power is not demonstrated in winning arguments but in transforming lives.

Our Wesleyan tradition affirms that 'searching the Scriptures" is a means of grace, a means of being changed by grace. Searching the Scriptures for proofs of preconceived notions about a variety of issues may win a few arguments in some quarters. However, only by permitting our lives to be changed by Scripture will the Bible have authority.

Maybe we should spend less time arguing about the authority of Scripture and more time being transformed by Scripture. After all, the best argument for the Bible's authority is a Christ-like life!

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* Carder is bishop of the United Methodist Church's Nashville Area, which includes the Tennessee and Memphis annual conferences. This commentary appeared first as a column in the newspapers of those two conferences.

Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.

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