In the January/February edition of my denomination's (Church of the Brethren) magazine called Messenger, I wrote a letter addressing an article that had been written that discussed "What Holds the Brethren Together" and argued that it would be better for us to examine what currently divides the Brethren; the differing views pertaining to the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible. My letter closed with a call for the denomination as a whole to "get back to holding to the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God." I learned today as I looked at this month's magazine that someone kindly responded to my letter and claimed that I had been mistaken that "inerrancy" served as a "traditional Brethren view of the Bible from which some of us have strayed."
The man based his claim that the Brethren did not hold to this doctrine on his experience of 60 years growing up in the Church of the Brethren (CoB) and never being taught that the Bible served as inerrant; being without any error. I base my claim that inerrancy does serve as a foundational doctrine of the Brethren that has been forgotten today on the writings of the first leader of the denomination, Alexander Mack, as well as other statements of the early Brethren and their connections to the Reformed, Lutheran, Anabaptists, and Pietists groups at the time. My research and arguments pertaining to this can be found in a paper I wrote entitled The Early Brethren and Scripture. I will allow others to evaluate and check my claims to decide for themselves whether evidence exists concerning the early Brethren's treatment of the Bible as inerrant.
Also, the man goes on to claim that "while there were some early Christian writers who made reference to the idea in various ways, it was, as a religious doctrine, an idea that was born of the fundamentalist movement which began in the late 19th century." I am not sure that this is quite true from what I have researched concerning the history of the doctrine. The number of early Christian writers who made statements concerning the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the texts of Scripture would number more than just "some." In the writings of Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Athanasious, Augustine, and the Reformers such as Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, we find statements indicating they viewed the Bible as a book that contained no errors or contradictions. And these are not some abstract names in church history mind you. Several of them have been viewed as powerhouse contenders of the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). Remember as well that the Brethren movement split from the Reformed and Lutheran churches, not due to the inerrancy of Scripture but over the practice of baptism, the view of the state church, and the wayward living noticed from many of the Reformed and Lutheran practitioners. We have no writings of them ever challenging these churches pertaining to their view that the Bible served as God's Word that did not err in any way. The reason for the emphasis of the doctrine of inerrancy in the Fundamentalist movement of the 19th century was not due to the invention of such a doctrine but a defense against the movement of liberalism in which the Fundamentalist movement rose in opposition towards. It was the liberal movement and the rise of "higher critical scholarship" that began to question the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible. In fact, it would probably be more accurate to say that the questioning of the inerrancy of the Bible by those within the church is a novel idea and not the doctrine itself. The reason not much had been written about it prior to that time period could very well have been due to the fact that no need existed. It was not an issue that had to be addressed like the challenges leveled against the deity of Christ and the nature of salvation.
If this is the case, then the conclusion my friend, whom I have not had the privilege of meeting yet, arrives at stands as not valid. He says that based on the idea that the doctrine of inerrancy was "born of the fundamentalist movement" "then it can hardly be considered a traditional belief, since the Church of the Brethren predates it by more than two centuries. (Of course, Christianity itself predates the idea by far more centuries.)" Actually, the doctrine of inerrancy in a real sense predates Christianity! The Bible itself indicates the truthfulness and trustworthiness of its claims in numerous places (Psalm 19:7; 119:42,96,140,142,151,160,172; Proverbs 30:5; Matthew 5:18; John 10:35; 17:17; James 1:22-25). From what I have gleaned from my studies, inerrancy has been the consistent view of the church throughout the centuries (until the past few centuries) with no indication of the early Brethren, who founded what is now known as the Church of the Brethren, being a notable exception.
Why does this matter what the early Brethren believed anyway? Because it goes to show how "unBrethren" the denomination has become today and how we have gotten to the disunity and failure to being of "one mind" on so many issues. As I said before, if we want unity in this denomination, we must get back to holding to the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God as our Brethren forefathers. Otherwise, the Church of the Brethren will continue to crumble as it further abandons the firm foundation of the Word of God.
Respectfully In Christ,
P. V. Lee Smith
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15
- I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.