Scripture in the 39 Articles


This year we started preaching through the 39 Articles (the confession of faith of the Church of England). I'm doing short series on groups suggested by W.H. Griffith Thomas' book The Principles of Theology.  Currently I'm on Articles VI-VIII on the Rule of Faith and I've just done Article VI which starts:

VI. OF THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES FOR SALVATION
HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever 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 requisite or necessary to salvation.

If I understand this right, then the intention was to make Scripture the authority in the church and for the individual believer.  In particular, this was in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, which put church tradition alongside Scripture and possibly it was in contrast to what we might call the more lunatic fringe elements of the Reformation, who were beginning to put experience and personal revelation alongside Scripture.


We read 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and Acts 17:1-12 (Gerald Bray's book The Faith We Confess is very helpful for suggesting Bible readings) and I was struck by the Article's biblical language in expressing two simple points.
  1. The knowledge contained in Scripture is sufficient knowledge for someone to be saved (that is Paul's point in 2 Timothy 3:15 and his practice in Acts 17 reasoning from the Scriptures)
  2. The knowledge contained in Scripture is sufficient for defining what we believe and therefore how we live (Paul's point in 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The sufficiency of Scripture is because of the authority of Scripture.  Unlike church tradition or our experience, Scripture had God's certain authority behind it, because it is "God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16).

In some ways it's a simple choice for those claiming to be Christians or the Christian church: Does God have authority or do humans?  It can't help but make you sad to see a denomination like the Church of England, that has, in large part, drifted in this straight-forward choice. The church is now often divided into Anglo-Catholics, Liberals and Evangelicals and authority in the church is now often described as the tension between tradition, reason and Scripture (one for each group!).  With the rise of the charismatic movement, there has of course, been a tendency to elevate the authority of experience as well. Furthermore, with the increasing penetration of post-modern thought into both church and society, the authority of a text has unnecessarily been widely dismissed.

Sad to say, that increasingly leaves a church which has chosen human authority rather than God.  And that is no church at all!  How much better to be like the Bereans:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11 ESV)

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