The United Methodist Church’s Confession of Faith has this to say about the Bible:
We believe the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation. It is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice. Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation.
So what, given this and the language in the Articles of Religion, is the proper way for United Methodists to read the Bible?
It is a “rule and guide” for us.
A rule suggests a ruler, a measuring stick. If I read the word etymology correctly, the Latin ancestry of the word is for a straight stick of bar. I think of the plumb line in the prophetic literature. Here is a straight line by which we can tell how close we come to God’s standard.
The word also calls to mind the writings of William J. Abraham who has tried to recover the concept of canon as a means of grace. Scripture is the measuring stick that confronts us and challenges us and helps us to mark our growth in grace — like marks on the door frame that used to measure our height.
The word “guide” connects back to old Germanic words meaning “to see,” which reminds me that a guide is often a person who helps you navigate through unfamiliar territory. Perhaps, the Bible is the guidebook kept in the backpack of the Holy Spirit. A Rough Guide for sojourners on the Earth. Or maybe it is more like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy bearing the reassuring label “Don’t Panic.”
Maybe it is because I am such a book nerd, an English major and all. But I find it impossible to imagine answers to any of the great challenges facing us in the church that do not draw us back to Scripture. I don’t mean Scripture as a simplistic set of dictation notes. But I do mean Scripture soaked in and dealt with in all its particularity.