Monday, April 26, 2010

The Authority of the Holy Scriptures in the Church of England

The Church of England, when it was re-born at the time
of the Reformation in the 16th century, took a very clear position
with regard to the Bible. First of all, it made expressly clear that
no Christian was required to believe anything as necessary for
his salvation that was not to be found in the Bible. In other words,
whatever was required to be believed by Christians as an article
of faith was going to be found in the Bible and in the Bible alone.
This principle appears early on in the 39 Articles of Religion of
our church. Article VI is entitled "Of the Sufficiency of the Holy
Scripture for Salvation" and says, in part, "Holy Scripture
containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that what
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 the faith, or be thought requiste or necessary
to salvation". The Article goes on to state which those
books are that constitute the Holy Scriptures,
distinguishing them from the Apocryphal Books, which are
still to be read and valued, although they are not used
to establish any doctrine, not being considered canonical.

We need to note here that the Church of England did not
see this principle as simply applying to her own members. It was
not just members of the Church of England for whom the Holy
Scriptures were a sure guide in the matter of faith and salvation.
Rather, what could not be found in the Bible was not required
OF ANY MAN to be thought necessary to salvation. This means
that the reformers of the Church of England, Archbishop Cranmer
and others, saw the Bible as possessing an authority that no
other book and no human being could possibly have. This
follows simply and logically from the way in which the principle
is stated above in Article VI. In the matter of man's salvation,
the most important matter of all, only the Bible is to be our guide.
This means that, for the English reformers, the Bible spoke
with an authority that was unique. It's voice was no human
voice, but the voice of God.

This is reinforced by other statements we find made in
the Articles. For example, the three Creeds, the Apostles',
the Nicene, and the Athanasian, are to be received because
"they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture"
(Article VIII). The idea of works of supererogation, that is, works
that are above and beyond what God requires of us, is rejected
as arrogant, and Christ's words are directly quoted as proof that
they are so (Article XIV). With regard to the doctrines of election
and predestination, we are clearly told that the Holy Scriptures
are our guide. Article XVII reads, in part, "... we must receive
God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth to
us in holy Scripture, and in our doings, that Will of God is to
be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the
Word of God."

When declaring that no man will be saved by the
particular church or sect to which he belongs, Article XVIII
states, "For holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name
of Jesus Christ, whereby man must be saved". Also, the
first of the marks, or characteristics, of a true church, is that
the "pure Word of God" is therein preached (Article XIX).
The church is not allowed to "ordain any thing that is contrary
to God's Word written", and "ought not to decree anything
against the same" but must rather be a "witness and keeper
of Holy Writ" (Article XX), testifying to what the Bible says
and thus guarding or preserving its truth.

In her Articles, the Church of England acknowledges
that not all the leaders of a church are necessarily "governed
with the Spirit and Word of God" (Article XXI) meaning that they
can therefore err, and also makes clear that should a church
council decree anything as being necessary to salvation, such
statements would have "neither strength nor authority unless
it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture"
(Article XXI). The doctrine of Purgatory is rejected because it
is "grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but [is] rather
repugnant to the Word of God" (Article XXII). Conducting
worship in an language that the people do not understand
is considered to be "plainly repugnant to the Word of God
and the custom of the Primitive Church" (Article XXIV).
While the traditions of the church are deemed to be of great
importance, it is declared that "nothing may be ordained
against God's Word" (Article XXXIV). And lastly, the role of
civil magistrate and his prerogatives are understood to be
those that are described in "holy Scripture by God himself"
(Article XXXVII).

We may add to all this much more besides, such
as those things we might read in other more personal writings of
the reformers or in the Homilies of the Church of England, also
written by them. The very first of those homilies, which is an
exhortation to read and to know the holy Scriptures, begins
thus :

Unto a Christian man, there can be nothing either more
necessary or profitable than the knowledge of holy
Scripture; forasmuch as in it is contained God's true word,
setting forth his glory, and also man's duty. And there is no
truth nor doctrine necessary for our justification and ever-
lasting salvation, but that is or may be drawn out of that
fountain and well of truth. (A Fruitful Exhortation)

What must be abundantly clear to anyone who
is willing to be honest is that the Church of England,
as it was reformed, or re-born, at the time of the Reformation
in the 16th century, acknowledged the unique and supreme
authority of the Bible, receiving it as "God's true word", and
"God's Word written". And there can be no doubt but that
our church was convicted of the authority of Scripture and
determined to order her own life on its basis. For those of us
who seek to be faithful to this wonderful vision, and equally
determined to order our lives on the same basis, it is necessary
that we be not deflected in any way from this goal.

Our task is, above all else, to proclaim the true Word
of God, to proclaim the Law and the Gospel. There can be no
relativizing of the authority of that Word, no attempt to overrule
it or simply to ignore it. It must be bound as a frontlet between
our eyes (Deut. 6:8), that is, it must be in our minds and in our
hearts at all times. We have to remember that when the Bible
ceases to be authoritative, that does not mean there is no
authority in the church. Rather, when the authority of the
Bible is gone, then the authority resides precisely where
it should not, in the hands of sinful, fallen, and ignorant