Showing items filed under “June 2016”

Theology Matters: What do Anglicans Believe About the Bible?

Anglicans believe that the Bible is the word of God. We also believe that this word was written down by human beings.

As the word of God, the Bible has an active power in human lives. This means the Bible is the subject of verbs; the Bible does things. It is a text that works on people, moves people, changes people, and draws people to God. Hebrews 4:12 states, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword.” Because they are true words, because they are God’s words, the words of Bible itself (and its message when preached) have the power to change human lives. So the Bible is not just a text to be examined or studied – it is a text that examines and studies us.

But unlike the Koran in Islam (where the words themselves are sacred), we do not believe the word of God to be identical with the words of the text. It is the message the text contains, or perhaps better the three persons of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to which it attests, that are sacred. The words themselves are just words, written down (and copied) by human beings. We say that these human authors were “inspired by the Holy Spirit,” not that God dictated the words. One of the wonderful implications of the inspiration being in the message rather than in the words is that the Bible can be translated – we can read it (and so it can work on us) in whatever language we natively speak.

This Bible, the word of God written down in the words of human beings, is then then read by us, who live in an entirely different place and time. This means when we read the Bible we’re dealing with (1) the word of God, (2) the original culture of the human authors, (3) the present culture of the human readers. Not only that, all three are deeply embedded and intertwined in one another.

At the heart of many of the controversial issues that have buffeted the Anglican Communion in recent years is an honest disagreement about what stuff in the Bible is part of the living word of God to us today and what belongs to the culture of the humans who did the writing down. This is hard to figure out; there’s no doubt about it. The word of God has a lot to say (that we don’t always like) about what the world is supposed to look like. God had a lot of critiques to make of the ancient world in which the Bible was written and certainly has a lot to say about our own world as well. Faithful Bible-reading people simply and honestly disagree about where in the Bible it the word of God doing the critiquing and where it is the ancient culture.

But even as we face up to this struggle of interpretation, we must also not lose sight of what’s most amazing: that across millennia the Bible still speaks in ways that we can understand and that can bring us into the loving arms of our Savior. As the Catechism in the prayer book says, “God still speaks to us through the Bible” – pretty impressive for an old book.

Now, though Anglicans believe all that about the Bible, there’s nothing peculiarly Anglican about those beliefs. This is good. The Bible is common ground in Christian world, so if we had particularly peculiar views as Anglicans, that would hardly be to our credit. However, there are some Anglican perspectives worth noting.

First, compared to many Protestant denominations, one of the things that’s catholic (small-c) about the Anglican understanding of the Bible is that is makes room for the Church. It’s easiest to see what this means historically. In terms of the New Testament, the canon of Holy Scripture (canon refers to those writings that “made it in”) was determined by the Church. At the exact same time, scripture was being used to determine the bounds of what was theologically in and out of the Church. It’s not a matter of which one came first–the Bible and the Church simply shaped one another. Today, though the issue of canon is settled (we’re not adding more books to the Bible), it is still the case the the Church shapes scripture and scripture shapes the Church. The tradition of the Church determines what sort of interpretations of the Bible are out of bounds; and the Bible determines what sort of innovations in belief and practice within the Church are out of bounds.

But though the Anglican tradition makes room for the Church’s role in shaping and interpreting that Bible, that doesn’t mean that people don’t need to engage scripture directly. Quite the contrary, if our Anglican heritage offers us one indelible belief about the Bible, it’s that we should read it, both individually and corporately. For English reformers and early Anglicans, it was critical that people to be able to read the Bible in English. They risked (and sometimes gave) their lives to give the English speaking people a Bible to read, not to collect dust on bookshelves. They did it so that word of God might touch us and change us, and that God might speak to us through it. Thomas Cranmer, the Anglican reformer who put together the Book of Common Prayer, organized the whole thing around a daily practice of Bible reading and prayer.

The shortest answer to “What do Anglicans believe about the Bible?” is simply “You should read it.”

The Rev’d Andrew Van Kirk is Associate Rector at St. Andrew’s, McKinney.

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Theology Matters: Why Should Christians Read the Old Testament?

Take a moment and remember the last time you went on a really interesting vacation. What was the one place you visited or activity you did that you just couldn’t stop talking about when you got home?

On the very day of the resurrection, Jesus said to his gathered disciples, “’These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:44-47 ESV) Jesus had just been through death, harrowed Hell, risen from the dead, ascended to the Father, and is now back to report on his saving work to his disciples. That was the most exciting trip ever made! And when he gets back to his dear friends and disciples, what is the one thing he just can’t stop talking about? The Old Testament!

Three times, in this meeting, he points his disciples back to the Old Testament. He spiritually opens their minds – not so that they can work miracles or preach sermons, but so that they could understand the Scriptures of the Old Testament! The risen and glorified Christ could point to no better doorway to the Gospel than Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. He has no better advertising for the saving work he did through His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension than the Old Testament. There is no stronger platform, in his mind, from which the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins can more effectively be launched into all the world and all of history than the record of God’s saving work among His people Israel. That’s a ringing endorsement from our Lord Himself! Why read the Old Testament? – because it reveals the same Gospel of Jesus Christ as we have in the New Testament.

And this isn’t the only time Jesus points to the Old Testament, properly interpreted, as the very Gospel itself. During his ministry, he told his followers over and over again that Moses and the Prophets predicted his passion. On the day of resurrection, it was the Old Testament that held the answer to the mystery of the empty tomb (John 20:9). On the road to Emmaus, Jesus even called his disciples ‘fools and slow of heart to believe’ for not seeing the very obvious truth that the Old Testament spoke plainly about his passion. How foolish is Jesus’ church still today, if we cannot see him in those same books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms? We need Christ to enlighten our minds, open our eyes, and reinforce through the breaking of bread (yes, even our Eucharistic worship illuminates the Old Testament) that message which began in Genesis thousands of years before.

Those same disciples to whom Jesus taught the Old Testament began to write down what Jesus taught them about the Gospel in the Old Testament – we call these writings the New Testament. Whenever a New Testament author mentions “scripture” he means the Old Testament scripture, because that is all they had. Peter and Paul, in the Acts of the Apostles and in their letters, constantly quote the Old Testament. If we claim to be an apostolic church, we must continue to read the same scriptures which the apostles used: the Old Testament.

The Apostles also began to teach other people, passing on what Jesus taught them to new generations of Christian leaders – we call them the Early Church Fathers, and their works are still published today. Every one of them sees the Old Testament, properly interpreted, as a clear message about Jesus. They continued to teach what their teachers had learned from our Lord himself, the Great Teacher of the Old Testament.

With such ringing endorsements, how can Christians ignore the Old Testament? Yes, it can be difficult to understand, and its cultures and practices seem remote to us today. But it is the foundation and first proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There may also be hundreds of other reasons to read it. The history is interesting. Its story-telling is beyond compare. Hebrew poetry is gorgeous and powerful. God reveals Himself in these words. The inspired wisdom of the ancients can guide our lives today. We find models there for good communities and governments. Its stories of courage and perseverance inspire us. But first and foremost, Christians read the Old Testament because Jesus insisted that it is God’s inspired Word about himself.

The Rev. John A. Thorpe is Chaplain at St. John's Episcopal School in Dallas


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