Wesleyan Theology: Scripture as a Means of Grace

By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

When we talk about the scriptures as a Means of Grace what do we mean? Baptism, Communion, Prayer, Worship, Fellowship, Healing, Ordination ... all these Means of Grace make sense to us; we can see how they function in our lives, and the in the lives of the Church; their character as sacraments and sacramental acts are obvious. But what about the Holy Scriptures? How do they function as Means of Grace?

I submit to you that the Scriptures function in an indispensable, fundamental way as a Means of Grace for you and me: they communicate the Real Presence of Jesus Christ — the Incarnate Word of God — to us through the words, thoughts, ideas, and experiences of the Biblical authors. As such, they provide us with a link to the living experience of the risen Christ in the early Church, and the transforming reality of that experience, which still has power to reform us today.

The fifth Article of Religion states the "official" position of the United Methodist Church on "The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation":

The Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

This doctrinal position should make it clear that the Bible is, indeed, central to Christian life and faith. The Bible is authoritative because it is the norm by which the requirements for salvation are established — if a theological opinion or belief is not found in the Scriptures, or if it otherwise cannot be supported through a careful study of the Scriptures, than it cannot be required that a person believe it. It sets outer boundaries for belief, sure, but it also sets inner boundaries for our Christian living. After all, the Scriptures are described as "containing all things necessary to salvation." This is a powerful proclamation, and goes directly to the core of their identity as an important Means of Grace. The Scriptures are a Means of Grace specifically in that they "contain all things necessary to salvation." What else is Grace, if it isn't God's saving love manifested in the lives of believers? As a Means of Grace, the scriptures bring salvation to those who receive them.

But there remains the important question: how do they do this? How does a simple book, a collection of thoughts, words, and ideas, become a Means of Grace for us? How do they contain God's grace, and how does this grace get to you and me? I believe that they convey God's grace to us because they reconnect us to the Resurrection experience of the early church, which wrote them.

The early church remembered Jesus. During the time of the Apostle Paul there were many Christians who could remember both the pre-crucifixion Jesus and the risen Lord, and this situation lingered for many decades. This experience of the church — an experience of God breaking into time — was what formed the church. Indeed, this experience of God in Christ resulted in such a powerful and enduring change in the lives of the early Christians that its memory could not be wiped away by time or oppression. It resonated on in their preaching and teaching, living and dying, to the second and third generations and, eventually, on to today. But, by the end of the second generation most of what is now within the New Testament had been written. In these writings we find a mixture of the oral tradition, the theological reflection, and the historical situation of the early church. This is the record of those who either knew Jesus or were in close temporal contact with those who did. This is their account of both the event which created their communities of faith and their reaction to that event. As such, the scriptures are the creation of the community as well as of the event itself. And it is this situation, this event, this community, and their experience, which is the basis for the grace that the scriptures communicate to us today.

This grace comes in many ways: through a simple reading, through Bible Study, through preaching, through song and dance ... the scriptures come alive to us and attain a transforming power for us in ways that go beyond our ability to catalog. And, indeed, isn't that always true concerning God's amazing grace? In this life we can only just begin to scratch the surface of the incredible depth of God's love for us, and we know God's love as it is manifested to us in and through the many means of grace — means of grace like the scriptures.

© 1994 Dr. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

Stacks Image p13_n9
The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.