Two ways of using the Bible

Here is how my textbook from History of Christianity describes the different ways some of the early Reformers used the Bible:

Both Luther and Zwingli were convinced that over the course of centuries Christianity had ceased to be what it was in the New Testament. Luther sought to cleanse it from all that contradicted Scripture. Zwingli went further, holding that only that which had a scriptural foundation should be believed and practiced.

In this description, I hear Luther leaving room for many things Zwingli would reject. For instance, Zwingli prohibited organs in church because they were not biblical. I assume Zwingli would also prohibit electric guitars and video projection technology.

Luther takes Scripture as kind of a form that is pressed down over church practice and belief. Anything that sticks out beyond the form is to be cut away.

Zwingli takes Scripture as more of a blueprint for constructing a church from the ground up. Only things actually in the blueprint can be included.

I wonder how these issues inform United Methodist faith and practice in 2014?


2 thoughts on “Two ways of using the Bible

  1. Thank you, John, for pointing out the various ways that Scripture can be used. I don’t see any Zwinglians in our UMC today. Most evangelicals within the UMC would probably fall into the Luther camp in excluding things that contradict Scripture.
    I think the discussion in our church today is between those who view the Bible as God’s word and not be contradicted (alla Luther) and those who view the Bible as a human document that contains some divine wisdom. The latter group feel free to filter out anything in Scripture that they don’t believe reflects God’s wisdom. In doing so, they do not feel bound by traditions or creeds, since humanity has “progressed” beyond many of the “primitive” ideas of the past.
    This conflict of how to view and use the Bible is at the root of many of the theological and ethical conflicts in the church today.

    1. Thank you taking the time to comment, Tom. Yes, I did not mean to suggest the two categories were exhaustive. Adam Hamilton’s recent blog post and upcoming book certainly appear to fall in the human document camp, or at least toward that end of the spectrum, perhaps a mix of human and divine.

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