Article VI: The Holy Scriptures

Article VI basically addresses what you take as your authority.  In other words, what reveals God to you. What do you listen to, to know what God says?

1. Take the Bible as Your Authority

The article is fairly clear that Holy Scripture – or the Bible – is our authority.

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.

This is the language of 2 Timothy.  So in 2 Timothy 3:15 the Scriptures – actually here Paul is referring particularly to the OT, but by extension this refers to all the Bible – the Scriptures have the knowledge, the information, to make us wise for salvation.  And then in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul makes clear that Scripture is sufficient for the Christian life.  Scripture contains everything we need to know to become a Christian and everything need to know to live as a Christian. That's because behind Scripture is God, the ultimate author of Scripture, who through human authors inspired it or who breathed it out.

In practice that means that if the Bible says it, we believe it.  If the Bible says we should do it, we do it.  If the Bible says we shouldn't do it, then we shouldn't do it.  And no other authority can trump the Bible or come above the Bible, because the Bible is the one thing that comes with God's definite authority.  That's why we call it God's word.

It's worth saying that often that will be difficult.  Occasionally it's because it's difficult to understand, but more often it's because it's difficult to do, especially in the culture we now live in, which has spend the last 100 years undermining biblical beliefs and lifestyles.

It's also worth saying that, despite what you sometimes hear, it is the Anglican thing to have Scripture as the final authority and nothing else. That leads us to reflect on why the article is written as it is.
Why is there all this stuff about things we're not required to believe?

Well it takes us back to the context in which it was written.  This article was written with two other groups in mind.  First, the Roman Catholic church which believed and still does, that Scripture isn't the only authority, but also Church tradition.

So, for example, you may know that the Roman Catholic church believes various things that can't be found in the Bible – for example that the bread and wine actually become Jesus' body and blood in communion (which is called transubstantiation), or that the Pope can make infallible statements and various things about Mary.  And a good Roman Catholic believes those things, not because Scripture says them, but because the church teaches them.  Well the article's saying that's wrong.  Our human traditions need to be reformed by the Bible, not the other way around.  Suggesting we need tradition as equal or greater authority undermines what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3, that the Bible is sufficient to know everything both for salvation and for living as a Christian.

We can do the same of course.  Plenty of people in the Church of England have unbiblical views of communion, or saints, or ministers or what-have-you, which owe more to Roman Catholic tradition than to the Bible.  But more than that, many of us have beliefs and principles and commitments that we will defend, not because they are in the Scriptures, but because it's what we've always done, what I was always taught and so on.

There's also possibly a second group in view.  Although perhaps they're not so much a group, but the more extreme reforming groups.  At the time you had people claiming direct revelation from God, setting up city states which they claimed were the new Jerusalem, claiming to be the Messianic king and encouraging polygamy.  These people, instead of taking Scripture as their authority, were often taking their experiences as their authority.  Their “revelations” from God, instead of being tested by Scripture were given an authority at a level with it or even greater.

That temptation has been significant to the church throughout history, whether mystics or charismatics or whatever.  It's not that Christianity has no experience, it's just that God is the authority over that experience in his Word – we test our experience by the Bible, we understand our experience through the Bible, because it is the sufficient authority.

One final group, that probably wasn't originally in view is the liberal or rationalist Christian.  The person who says my reason is my authority.  It's the person who says about the Bible, I can believe that bit, but not that, or the Bible is very inspiring, but I'll choose which bits are actually from God, or the Bible is good but we've evolved, we know more now, so we don't need to listen to this bit or that, which is just a bit dated.  Well apart from the arrogance of thinking like that, it's neither Biblical, nor Anglican.  All scripture is God breathed (not just the bits you want).

The thing is, we're to be radically Word-centred people, because we are God-centred.  God expresses his authority over his people by his Word.  And that means that although there will always be traditions, experiences and the need to use our minds, all those things need to come under God's word and be reformed by it.

We've been using a book by Peter Jensen who was the Archbishop of Sydney in our quiet times.  He takes us through the first chapters of Genesis including the narrative of Abraham.  He points out that often what Abraham did must have seemed crazy to those around, but he did it because he followed what God said to him.  Let me quote a bit.

Abraham's behaviour is bizarre, if you discount the word of God.

Today, Christian living is also going to be thought of as bizarre to the people around us.  The life of faith will make demands upon us which will seem eccentric.  Our attitude to money will be different; our attitude to death will seem strange; our sexual lives will be unique; our family life will stand out; our social life will not look the same.

That is why God has ensured that we regularly hear his word in the fellowship of brothers and sisters who are also followers of the Lord Jesus.  True faith is based on the truth.  We need to dwell in the truth of the word of God so that our faith will show itself in obedience.  Churches in which the word of God is read aloud and then faithfully taught have never been more important than they are now.

Pray that your church will be like that.

Well if we are faithful Anglicans, our churches will be like that, because we take the Bible as our authority.

2. Trust the Bible in Your Hands

The remainder of the article tells us what books the Bible actually contains.  I.e. if we take the Bible as our authority, then we want to be able to trust the Bible in our hands contains the right books. These are called the canonical books. So it reads:

In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel,  The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles,  The Second Book of Chronicles, The First Book of Esdras, The Second Book of Esdras, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or Preacher, Cantica, or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the greater,  Twelve Prophets the less.

And the other Books (as Jerome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:

The Third Book of Esdras, The Fourth Book of Esdras, The Book of Tobias, The Book of Judith, The rest of the Book of Esther,  The Book of Wisdom, Jesus the Son of Sirach, Baruch the Prophet, The Song of the Three Children, The Story of Susanna, Of Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, The First Book of Maccabees, The Second Book of Maccabees.

All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.

The key principle for the books that are in the Bible is that they are recognisably divine (from God) in origin.  Jesus talks about how his sheep will know his voice and this is the case with Scripture.  It's not that the church arbitrarily decided which books went in the Bible for some political or power-play reasons, although you sometimes hear or read that.  No the church through history recognised the voice of God in his word and collected those books together in the OT and the NT.

Again the distinction being made here is with respect to the Roman Catholic church.  You may have come across Roman Catholic Bibles which contain a section called the Apocrypha – a set of other books appended to the OT that come from the time between the OT and the NT.

Our article says we accept the standard books of the OT and the NT, but not the Apocrypha as Scripture, although it may be useful to read.

As far as the OT is concerned, although they have sneaked into Roman Catholic Bibles, the Apocrypha has never been part of the Jewish Scriptures (so not part of Jesus' OT), in fact there are no Hebrew versions, they are not used as Scripture in the NT in the way that we find much of the OT being testified to.  In fact, it seems to be a bit of an anomaly they they were ever included in the first place.  Jerome, who translated the Latin Bible for the Roman Catholic church included them as being useful, but not as being canonical.  That having been done, they were later included in the Roman Catholic canon.

As far as the NT is concerned, the principle remains the same.  The books already had authority in the church.  And although there was some debate and again you occasionally see newspaper articles suggesting there is another gospel or something, actually the churches and Christians have generally always recognised the books we have in our Bibles as the ones with apostolic authority and divine authority.

All of which is to simply say, the Bible in your hands is the Bible God meant you to have.  It's God's word to be the authority in your life.  For salvation and the Christian life.  You can trust it.

Conclusion

Why is this article important for us today?  Well it reminds us where we look to for final authority in the church – what we need to believe, how we need to behave.

It's not bishops, or institutions, or our experience, or our own minds.  It's the Bible.

What should that means for us.  Well we should be like those Bereans in Acts 17:11 examining the Scriptures every day to know the truth.

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