How do we know God?

Summarizing Articles 6-8

Like the first five Articles, these three set Anglican tradition squarely in line with historic Christian teaching.  The appeal to the Creeds and Scriptures as the normative grounds for Christian belief is of catholic (or universal) appeal – though the Athanasian Creed (mentioned in Article 8) is not generally recognized in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Unlike the first five Articles, however, these three set a distinction between the doctrinal shift of the Roman Church and the Reformed faith in England and the Protestants.  Where Roman teaching had come to put the teaching authority of the Church front and center (with the Pope being the highest representation of that authority), Articles 6 and 8 restore the primacy of the Bible over earthly authority, naming the Scriptures as “sufficient” for salvation, and the “certain warrants” that undergird the Creeds.

Most of the Protestant Reformers described this position as sola Scriptura – “scripture alone.”  By this they meant that only the Bible is infallibly God’s Word, and thus is the final court of appeal for determining true Christian doctrine.  What it doesn’t mean is that the Bible is the only authority.  Many modern Protestants have taken “Scripture alone” to such an extreme that all other sources of authority (be they documents or clergymen) are rejected.  But the Anglican tradition has in these three Articles drawn a line against that extreme.  Taking them in reverse order:

Article 8: The three Creeds are explicitly described as proclaiming that which “ought thoroughly to be received and believed.”  Their authority is built upon the Bible so solidly that they have been recognized as authoritative tools for understanding and receiving the teachings of the Bible.

Article 7: One of the challenges in understanding Scripture is the proper use and reception of the Old Testament and its Law.  Within the Bible itself, thus, there is a sort of hierarchy of authority.  All the Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, but some parts proclaim the truth of God in Jesus Christ more clearly than other parts.  Thus Article 7 describes how we discern the use of some parts of the Bible in light of other parts.

Article 6: Finally, demonstrating that “Scripture alone” is not to be taken to an extreme, a two-tiered definition of Scripture is offered.  While most Protestants have taken the Bible in a black-and-white approach (either it’s God’s Word or it isn’t), Anglican teaching has preserved historic Christian practice regarding a certain set of books from the Greek Old Testament that aren’t found in the official Jewish Bible.  These books, such as Sirach, Maccabees, Judith, Tobit, and others, are collectively known by many names:  the Deuterocanon because they’re a second canon of Old Testament writings, the Ecclesiastical Books because they’re read by the Church but not the Jews, and the Apocrypha because their origins are less clear than the other books.  Article 6 affirms these books are “to be read in the Church,” in line with Christian practice since the beginning, but puts them apart as “not to establish any doctrine,” in line with the reservations which many Early Church Fathers had concerning those writings.  So we have a two-tiered Old Testament: the Protestant list of books that are fully canonical, and the additional books that are authorized for reading and teaching but limited in their scope.

All this goes to show that, while the Scripture absolutely stands first and foremost in all theological ventures, it never stands alone.  Rather, the Bible is intimately connected to the authoritative tradition that proceeds from it, particularly the Creeds (as is affirmed here) as well as the liturgy (as will be affirmed in later Articles).

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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