How we know we are following God’s will? For some it is with the aid of a spiritual director, in some faith traditions it is upholding scripture as the final judge of what is right and wrong. Does that mean that scripture speaks to every decision that needs to be made in life? Every moral choice along the journey? Does it clearly spell out solutions to divorce, abortion, marriage, leadership in the church? The litany of issues for discussion currenlty in all faith traditions can go on and on and on where each party can bring their own interpretation of the text to the table.
It is this crossroads the Anglican Communion has come to on the debate of Same-Sex Marriage or blessings. Each side of the argument has held up scripture to defend its stance. Some will ignore passages that disagree with their theology; while others will remove a vers or two from the context (historical, social, biblical) to make their point more valid. This may be a new issue, but the idea of a church in flux and debate is not new.
A reading of John Newman’s The Via Media illustrates the challenge the Anglican Church as a whole faces in walking the middle ground between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. In his dialogue between Clericus (Clergy) and Laicus (laity) he illustrates the core of what the Reformation had been about had been lost, and that there needs to be another renewal of the Reformation to get the church back on track. A renewal of beliefs rooted firmly in the church that Christ commissioned.
For the Church of England International, otherwise known as the Anglican Church (or in countries where being seen in co-operation with Britain is not a good thing, “the Episcopal Church”) it has a strong history of holding both Reformists and Catholics together under one cross (hence the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the prayer books). This is done by our decision-making process, known colloquially as the “Three Legged Stool”: Scripture, Reason and Tradition.
Scripture of course being the Word of God, the Canonical books, but also in the more Catholic school of thought (which I am a part of) within the Communion, the Deutero-Canonical works as well. Reason being our ability to think things out logically, it is one of the greatest gifts God gave humanity that the animals do not have. Finally, Tradition or Traditio. This is the tradition in hte church that dates back to Apostolic times, and led to such writings as the Apostle’s Creed. It is not like the tradition most default to, for example a church has always used overheads for worship music, then they move to hymnals for a period. The small “t” tradition is the one we create and after a while it becomes a localized tradition and is not what is meant when Anglicans speak of Tradition in their decision-making process, and faith.
This brings us to the view of Anglicanism and the Scriptures, because as in any church dispute one side will hold up the Bible as the inerrant Word of God and this style of fundamentalism has led to many nasty instances historically. On the other side is fundamentalism as seen in those that badly interpret or ignore pieces of scripture that disagree with their concept of God. Either of these two stances does a disservice to God’s words, but also tends to place God in a box by trapping God in the way that only our human vocabulary can describe the way that God is.
As Reginald Fuller phrased it in his article in The Study of Anglicanism- God’s word is the incarnate word as seen in the life of Jesus Christ (p.88). Fuller goes on to write about the inspiration of Scripture as covering both Old and New Testaments as an outline to the faith (p.88-89) for a believer to be able to see the journey with God and pointing to the saving grace we find in the Life of Jesus, the word of God incarnate (as bluntly phrased in the first chapter of the Gospel of John).
Scripture is held in Primacy, which means that it is the norm by which faith, and traditions are judged as to whether or not they are from God and part of God’s teaching (Fuller, p.91). Fuyller also adds besides being a norm for faith, the Bible is the starting point of understanding God’s characted, so it becomes a norm for our ethical/moral behaviour as well (p.92). To add to this understanding, Article VI in the Thirty-Nine Articles (An Anglican Catechism) states that scripture contains all things necessary for salvation (Fuller, p. 90 and the Bo0k of Common Prayer).
What does this mean for a believer who is part of an Anglican Faith tradition? I cannot speak for the masses, but I can reflect on my understanding and what it means for my reading of the Biblical Text. I am on the published record (The March 2005 issue of the Presbyterian Record for my article Love God, Love His Story) that I do not necessarily read the Bible as edicts or Law, but rather the Story of God with his people. It is a continuing story that has new chapters written each and every day, yet here is the beginning and end of the story presented to us in a library of stories, poetry, dramas, histories, biographies, pretty much every kind of genre writing available.
It leads to a broad perspective of the whole text God has given us, that points us specifically namely to the Word incarnate Jesus Christ and what that means for us as his people. To live our lives in the heart of God, with the Word of God both written and incarnate as our norm to figure things out.
This leads into a beginning to unpack the liturgical worship and the mysteries of our faith. The New Church Teaching Series is designed to help equip laity to lead in the church. Two volumes that help to explore the liturgy, is A Theology of Worship by Louis Wiel and Mysteries of Faith by Mark McIntosh. It may seem unique to explore liturgy with inerrancy of scripture, yet it fits together. As discussed earlier the incarnate word of God is Jesus. The liturgy is the Traditio that aids in the community expereince of the word of God.
Scripture is used to develop the framework for an Anglican’s faith, from the prayers of confession, praise, thanksgiving, and intercession to music to the sacraments, they all come from the story of God’s people living in the heart of God. Celebrated together with one another to draw us closer together God as a community. The liturgy service on Sunday is designed within a three-year cycle the entire Bible will be read to the People and taught. But we are not a service of the written word of God with that being the focal point, rather we are centred on the Eucharist and this is what bonds the Anglican Communion together as one, coming humbly to the altar to renew oursleves with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Not just a rememberance as within the Protestant church, yet not transubstantiated as within the Roman Catholic Church. One of the mysteries is the Eucharist and what exactly happens during it, but it is one cup, one bread of promise and hope for a people to experience the Incarnate Word so that we are equipped and readied for Monday to Saturday as Christ’s ministers in the world.
To say Anglicans are people of the Word is accurate in my opinion, because our ability to figure out norms living in the Heart of God comes from the written word and the Incarnate word. It is experienced in life. It is experienced in the water of Baptism that God uses to wash us clean; it is within the laying on on hands for Confirmation and Ordination or the anointing with oil and praying over the sick and/or dying. It is found in the blessing of a marriage of two people made one, or in the Eucharist.
One people under Christ bonded by the Eucharist. We are a people of God that discover God’s will for our lives by using Reason, Scripture, and Tradition. This “Three Legged Stool” helps equip us for action in the world. It is in the action of the six days we are called to minister to the world and be renewed on the seventh in community of God’s people. It is this we as a people need to remember wehn we hit crossroads and disagreements on points of doctrine, we have been at crossroads before and instead of asking what is right and wrong, what about asking “what is God doing within his people with this?”
Chadwick, Henry. “Tradition, Fathers, and Councils” in The Study of Anglicanism by Stephen Sykes, John Booty and Jonathan Knight, eds. Revised Ed. London:SPCK, 1998.
Fuller, Reginald H. “Scripture” in The Study of Anglicanism by Stephen Sykes, John Booty and Jonathan Knight, eds. Revised Ed. London:SPCK, 1998.
McGrade, A.S. “Reason” in The Study of Anglicanism by Stephen Sykes, John Booty and Jonathan Knight, eds. Revised Ed. London:SPCK, 1998.
McIntosh, Mark. Mysteries of Faith. Vol. 8 in The New Church Teaching Series. Cambridge: Cowley, 2000.
Newman, John. “Via Media” at http://www.newmanreader.org/works/viamedia/volume2/index.html 5May 2006.
Wiel, Louis. A Theology of Worship. Vol. 7 in The New Church Teaching Series. Cambridge: Cowley, 2003.
*John Newman would convert later in life to Roman Catholicism and become Cardinal Newman.