Introduction • There are a lot of ways to live a life of faith • There are a lot of ways to be a Christian • Being Anglican is one of them
To be Anglican is to be a member of one of the 39 autonomous national churches who are in communion with each other by virtue of sharing the common root of being descended from the Church of England.
ANGLICAN 101 • Much of the misinformation that surrounds Anglicanism is a product of the ignorance of our own history. • Anglicanism as we know it has very little to do with Henry VIII and his various wives – as fascinating as that may be.
What has shaped its last four hundred years or so were Elizabeth I’s efforts to give meaning to a reformed Catholicism, which was neither Roman nor Protestant (in the strictest sense of Reformed or Lutheran.) • She went about doing this by passing several acts through Parliament, which makes for much duller reading than Henry VIII’s wives.
Those acts – known collectively as “The Elizabeth Settlement” refer to the principles by which Anglicanism was established as independent of the Pope and differentiated from Calvinism. • Part of that process involved articulating how the Bible – or “the canon of Scripture” -- is authoritative for Anglicans.
The Canon of Scripture • The work “canon” comes from the Latin, meaning something by which you measure. • So the canon of Scripture is the standard, prescribed by the church, by which the belief of the church is confronted and measured. • The canon of Scripture is the canon not because of any intrinsic quality of those books but because the church says it is the canon • To say that nothing should be taught contrary to Scripture is very different, however, from saying that only what is in Scripture shall be taught.
We do not believe that the Bible is just like any other great literature. • Likewise, we do not believe that every word was dictated by God. • What we do believe is that within the totality of the Scriptures the story of God’s love for humankind confronts us, convicts us of our sin and calls us to new life. • The Bible, therefore, is a critical component for Anglicans in how we “do” theology.
Let’s start with how Anglicans DON’T do theology • The Roman Catholic Church for most of its history has been refining the idea that when the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, speaks ex cathedra (literally “from his chair” or “throne”) on matters of faith he is infallible. This was finally defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870.
Classical Protestantism has taught from the sixteenth century that the individual reading his or her Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit while Radical Protestantism has relied more on the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
None of these positions represent the answer of the Anglican Communion, although all three can find representation among us. The classical Anglican point of view is perhaps best articulated by one of the early Anglican church fathers: Richard Hooker (1554-1600)
It is Hooker who is traditionally credited with the description of the Anglican approach to theology as a “three legged stool” of scripture, tradition and reason.
This three-fold nature of authority – Scripture, tradition and reason – is not original to Hooker: it can be traced to 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas and is consistent with 4th century Augustine.
It is important to remember that Anglicanism does not think of itself as “founded” by Henry VIII but rather thinks of the Church of England as the catholic church in England – separated from Roman jurisdiction when Elizabeth became queen in 1558.
The question that faced Richard Hooker was to state clearly what it meant for the Church in England to be separate from the Church in Rome as well as to address the conflicting perspectives of “reformed theologians” such as John Calvin (whose followers were known as the Puritans of Mayflower fame.)
From Terry Holmes’ “What Is Anglicanism?” • The Puritans taught that the Scriptures provided a certainty that transcended all other certainty, including reason, which reason they wished to confine to “science” (i.e. all forms of human learning). They believed that the Scriptures must be read for themselves and devoid of subsequent interpretations, namely, tradition.
Hooker’s answer to this was that the Scriptures when read apart from reason and tradition and were subject to the all kinds of private interpretations, which would of necessity be biased.
Hooker articulated for Anglicanism its answer to the question “what is our authority?” • Our authority is the association of Scripture, tradition and reason … • AKA “the three legged stool”
Scripture for the Anglican is a fundamental source of authority for the church; but apart from reason it is dangerous. • It becomes the mirror for the misdirected person to project his or her own opinions and give them the authority of God. • The sin of schism in the result.
While Anglicans, along with Christians universally, acknowledge the Bible (or the Holy Scriptures) to be the Word of God, what the Bible says must always speak to us in our own time and place. • Anglicans, it can be said, have historically taken the Bible too seriously to take it literally.
From the Catechism • Q. Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God? • A. We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible
Q. How do we understand the meaning of the Bible? • A. We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures. • From “An Outline of the Faith” (commonly called the Catechism)
More from Terry Holmes:The Bible must be read intelligently and as a whole. This is why in the Anglican Communion we do not allow ourselves to cherish our favorite book, dismissing those that do not appeal to us, and we reject efforts to pick and choose texts in our sermons.
Our manner of listening to the Scriptures is that of an intentive intuition. We read the Bible with hope and the faith that as we wait upon God, God will speak to us through these words.
First, we have to understand the words. What did the words mean when written? • Secondly, we have to understand the author. • Thirdly, we have to understand ourselves. • Fourthly, we have to risk our interpretation within the larger dialogue.
It is clear in the Anglican tradition that the authority of the Bible is without question, but that hearing what the Bible says is not a simple matter. • This is why the Bible is the church’s book and the task of the church is to enable the Scriptures to be heard as good news, calling us to see the world in a new way in which God is present, bringing us to wholeness.
Two final quotes from Terry Holmes: • How tragic it is when the Scriptures are used as a straitjacket to the human spirit.
If Anglicanism is true to itself it will lift the burden of such futile guilt from people and help them see in Scripture the promise of God to an oppressed people.