STONE-CAMPBELL DIALOGUE AFFIRMATIONS ON SCRIPTURE
Representatives of Churches of Christ, Christian Churches & Churches of Christ,
and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
June 12-13, 2006
In our discussions concerning Scripture, we discovered that:
- We all believe in the inspiration and authority of the whole Bible.
- We all seek to be shaped by the Scriptures in matters of faith, doctrine, and practice.
- We all share a rich heritage which holds Scripture in high regard—we all think of ourselves as Scripture-focused and Spirit-driven, and we all seek to understand or interpret the Bible with appropriate respect.
- We all affirm key mandates from Scripture, such as evangelism, social justice, mercy ministries, etc., though emphasis on these mandates varies within each group and among the groups.
- We all take into account the larger themes in Scripture in seeking to understand or interpret the meaning of specific passages.
- We all share common difficulties—each group has a wide variety of perspectives concerning the Scriptures and their application. The difference may lie in the numbers of those committed to various emphases in each group.
- We all seek to understand Scripture through the process of hermeneutics, and all generally employ historical-critical or theological-grammatical methodology using similar methods.
- We all affirm Alexander Campbell’s Rules of Interpretation
RULE 1. On opening any book in the sacred Scriptures, consider first the historical circumstances of the book. These are the order, the title, the author, the date, the place, and the occasion of it.
The order in historical compositions is of much importance; as, for instance,–whether the first, second, or third, of the five books of Moses, or any other series of narrative, or even epistolary, communications.
The title is also of importance, as it sometimes expresses the design of the book. As Exodus–the departure of Israel from Egypt; Acts of Apostles, etc.
The peculiarities of the author,-the age in which he lived, his style, mode of expression, illustrate his writings. The date, place, and occasion of it, are obviously necessary to a right application of any thing in the book
RULE 2. In examining the contents of any book, as respects precepts, promises, exhortations, etc.,observe who it is that speaks, and under what dispensation he officiates. Is he a Patriarch, a Jew, or a Christian? Consider also the persons addressed; their prejudices, characters, and religious relations. Are they Jews or Christians, believers or unbelievers, approved or disapproved? This rule is essential to the proper application of every command, promise, threatening, admonition, or exhortation, in Old Testament or New.
RULE 3. To understand the meaning of what is commanded, promised, taught, etc., the same philological principles, deduced from the nature of language; or the same laws of interpretation which are applied to the language of other books, are to be applied to the language of the Bible.
RULE 4. Common usage, which can only be ascertained by testimony, must always decide the meaning of any word which has but one signification; but when words have, according to testimony (i.e.,the dictionary,) more meanings than one, whether literal or figurative, the scope, the context, or parallel passages must decide the meaning: for if common usage, the design of the writer, the context, and parallel passage fail, there can be no certainty in the interpretation of language.
RULE 5. In all tropical language, ascertain the point of resemblance, and judge of the nature of the trope, and its kind, from the point of resemblance.
RULE 6. In the interpretation of symbols, types, allegories, and parables, this rule is supreme: —Ascertain the point to be illustrated; for comparison is never to be extended beyond that point—to all the attributes, qualities, or circumstances of the symbol, type, allegory, or parable.
RULE 7. For the salutary and sanctifying intelligence of the Oracles of God, the following rule is indispensible:
We must come within the understanding distance.
There is a distance which is properly called the speaking distance, or the hearing distance; beyond which the voice reaches not, and the ear hears not. To hear another, we must come within that circle which the voice audibly fills.
Now we may say with propriety say, that as it respects God, there is an understanding distance. All beyond that distance cannot understand God; all within it, can easily understand him in all matters of piety and morality. God, himself, is the centre of that circle, and humility is its circumference.
The wisdom of God is as evident in adapting the light of the Sun of Righteousness to our spiritual or moral vision, as in adjusting the light of day to our eyes. The light reaches us without an effort of our own, but we must open our eyes, and if our eyes be sound, we enjoy the natural light of heaven. There is a sound eye in reference to spiritual light, as well as in reference to material light. Now, while the philological principles and rules of interpretation enable many men to be skilful in biblical criticism, and in the interpretation of words and sentences, who neither perceive nor admire the things represented by those words; the sound eye contemplates the things themselves, and is ravished with the moral scenes which the Bible unfolds.
The moral soundness of vision consists in having the eyes of understanding fixed soley on God himself, his approbation and complacent affection for us. It is sometimes called a single eye because it looks for one thing supremely. Every one, then, who opens the Book of God, with one aim, with one ardent desire—the intent only to know the will of God; to such a person, the knowledge of God is easy: for the Bible is framed to illuminate such, and only such, with the salutary knowledge of things celestial and divine.
Humility of mind, or what is in effect the same, contempt for all earth-born pre-eminence, prepares the mind for the reception of this light; or, what is virtually the same, opens the ears to hear the voice of God. Amidst the din of all the arguments from the flesh, the world, and Satan, a person is so deaf that he cannot hear the still small voice of God’s philanthropy. But, receding from pride, covetousness, and false ambition; from the love of the world; and in coming within that circle, the circumference of which is unfeigned humility, and the centre of which is God himself the voice of God is distinctly heard and clearly understood. All within this circle are taught by God; all without it are under the influence of the wicked one. “God resisteth the proud, but he giveth grace to the humble.”
He, then, that would interpret the Oracles of God to the salvation of his soul, must approach this volume with the humility and docility of a child, and meditate upon it day and night. Like Mary, he must sit at the Master’s feet, and listen to the words which fall from his lips. To such a one there is an assurance of understanding, a certainty of knowledge, to which the man of letters alone never attained, and which the mere critic never felt.
HISTORIC MODELS FOR BIBLICAL AUTHORITY
In our discussions we discerned at least four prevalent models of authority and interpretation are prevalent among members of all three Stone-Campbell groups. In fact, individuals of all three groups often employ multiples models simultaneously as seek to understand or interpret the Scriptures. Brief descriptions of these four prevalent models follow:
- Common Sense or Rationalist or Foundationalist model: found in A. Campbell and W. Scott, but reaching its extreme version in Tolbert Fanning and others. Approaches the Bible as a pure foundation of “facts” and “propositions,” or as a logical body of evidences leading to a final conclusion.
- Christocentric or Narrative-Centered or Gospel-Centered model: also has roots in both Campbells, Stone, Scott, and Robert Richardson. Views the person of the Lord Jesus Christ as having an even more basic authority than the text of Scripture. Focuses on the central gospel story of Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension and return and the need for the interpreter or believer to enter into that “story.” Sees Scripture as transformative and not simply informative. Recent Stone-Campbell : Tom Olbricht (his autobiography, Hearing God’s Voice, describe his shift to this position).
- Classical Liberal Model: deeply informed by biblical higher criticism and the demythologizing of the Bible. Sees the Bible as “inspired” in a quasi-poetic sense. Scripture is most authoritative where it is most humanizing. One classic Stone-Campbell example: Herbert Willett.
- “Pietistic” model: sees the Bible as not just “inspired” but as “inspiring.” The Holy Spirit lives in and beyond the text and brings scripture to bear on our lives and experience within the church. Recent Stone-Campbell examples who use this method quite differently from one another: Max Lucado, Fred Craddock, Bob Russell.
THE RESULTS OF OUR DIALOGUE
Our mutual encounter has led us to the following actions:
- We confess that social, cultural, political, and other presuppositions greatly influence our perspectives and decisions about the meaning of Scripture.
- We confess that we have often sinned by judging brothers and sisters on the basis of our stereotypes or caricatures rather than engaging them on the basis of their commitment to Christ.
- We are aware that although we have a common commitment to the inspiration, authority, and priority of Scripture, we have often come to very different conclusions about some specific teachings of Scripture. This is true within each stream and between the streams.
- We affirm through the grace of God we will seek to understand one another and with renewed understanding to embrace one another.
- We will seek to stand with one another in ministry whenever and wherever we can do so [Delete: with integrity].
- We confess we are united in Christ through the Holy Spirit and not through agreement on Biblical interpretation or anything else.
Stone-Campbell Dialogue, June 12-13, 2006
Center for Spiritual Renewal, David Lipscomb University, Nashville, TN