You might have noticed that I put a huge emphasis on teaching and preaching from the Bible throughout the life of the Church. That isn’t to say that I devalue other aspects of our life and worship. Hopefully you know me well enough by now to know that isn’t the case! But when all is said and done, I guess I see a big part of Christian ministry to focus on the responsibility to ‘preach the word’ (II Tim.4:2). I thought it might be helpful if I took a bit of time to explain why I think the Bible is so critical to the life of any Church, or for that matter, any Christian.
It’ll take me a few articles to outline my own thinking and experience of this, so bear with me over the next few weeks as I lay it out as succinctly as I can. A word of warning though – people have spent their whole lives on this sort of question, and they’ve written some very big books as a result. I’ll try not to let it get out of hand, (but I might give us a sketch of what is in some of those books on the way through)!
But before we really get going, and sort of as an introduction to the series… a historical perspective. We are after all, Anglican Churches, and so here are some thoughts from the daddy of all Anglicans, the first Archbishop of the newly reformed Church of England. In 1547, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote the first sermon that was to be preached throughout the Church of England, it was entitled: ‘A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading and Knowledge of the Holy Scripture’. The opening paragraph (slightly modernised!) reads:
For a Christian, nothing is more necessary or profitable than knowing the Holy Scripture – for it contains God’s true word, sets forth His glory, and instructs us as to our duty. Every truth or doctrine that is necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation is contained within the Bible, and may be as easily drawn out of it as water is drawn from a well. If you want to know God, you must give yourself to knowing this Book, for without it you cannot know God or His will... And as drink is pleasant to those that thirst, so the reading, hearing, searching and studying of the Scripture is pleasant to those who desire to know God ... Therefore we reject the misguided and corrupt thoughts of mere men, and reverently hear and read the Word of God. Let us diligently search for the well of life, and flee from the stinking puddles of our own thoughts and imaginations. For in the Holy Scripture is fully contained what we ought to do (and not do), what we must believe, love, and look for from God’s hand. In these books we shall find the Father from whom, the Son by whom, and the Holy Spirit in whom, all things have their being. In these books (of the Old and New Testament) we learn to know ourselves, and how sinful we are, and also to know God, and how good He is - and how He shall make us partakers of His goodness; to know God’s will and pleasure, and all that is required of us. Here we shall find the medicine which can restore us to health, the truth to refute all false doctrine, the counsel to rebuke any vice, and anything else we may require for our salvation.
The Church of England has always officially stood by this view of the Bible. In 1563, the Church compiled a foundational document called The 39 Articles of Religion, which provide a summary of the things the Church is committed to believe and teach. When licensed and installed at St John’s, and again when I was licensed and installed at St. Andrew’s, I took a legal oath (the Declaration of Assent), in which I affirmed and accordingly declared ‘my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness’. Those ‘historic formularies include the 39 Articles, which in turn maintain the Church’s commitment to the Bible as the Word of God.
Article 6: ‘Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation, so that whatever is not read in the Scriptures, nor can be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or thought requisite or necessary for salvation…’
Article 17: ‘We must receive God’s promises as they are set forth to us in Holy Scripture, and in all that we do we should follow the will of God, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God’.
Article 18: ‘…It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it expound one place of Scripture so that is discordant to another. The Church is the witness and keeper of the Word of God, and must not decree anything contrary to it, nor enforce anything to be believed besides what is taught in the Scriptures…’
Over the next few weeks, we shall be exploring different aspects of the Church’s historic and unchanging testimony to the Scriptures, seeking to understand the nature of the Bible, and indeed the Bible’s own view of itself. We’ll think about where the Bible came from, how it came to be compiled – why are some books included and others not. How can we be sure about what it says when there are so many different and competing interpretations? What have been the big issues about the Bible that the Church has struggled with over the generations? What do we believe about Bible, and why, and how we can better understand what it teaches us…
Whilst I hope it will be an interesting journey, my prayer is that it will prove more than just interesting, and that as we work through these articles we’ll find a renewed conviction in our repeated declaration: This is the Word of the Lord, and a deeper appreciation in our response: Thanks be to God.