How shall we know them?


How shall we know them?

Bishop Paul’s post raises for me the key critique of the Windsor Report. There is no mechanism for the reception of new teaching from the Holy Spirit. There is no way to hear God’s word spoken to the Church.

This may be intentional in the report because the report is making a tacit assumption that there is never “new” teaching by God to the Church – there is instead only a restatement of what is already known and contained in the Canon of Scripture. (I need to read the report more carefully to see if this is true, it might not be.)

But my study of what the word Canon meant when it was used to describe the books the Church declared canonical leads me to believe that what the Church meant then by “Canon” is not what the Church often seems to mean now by “Canon”. I believe the early Church recognized that there were different themes that could be seen contained in the Scriptures. (St. Paul’s exegesis of the Genesis account of Abraham’s righteousness vs. the statements of the Deuteronomic Covenant is a good example.)

Given that there have always been competing voices in the body of the faithful that claim to have God’s truth, there has to be some way in the life of the Church to distinguish between them and to decide which one is from God.

I’ve been thinking about that question a lot of late. How do you know if a prophet is from God? In the early traditions a prophet would made a specific prophesy that would come true – and would by that be shown to be a true prophet. In the later traditions, especially during the time of the Book of Acts, we see people judging based on the presence of certain Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These gifts are no longer pre-tellings of events; they become specific qualities – love, peacefulness, kindness, generosity, etc observed in the person and/or community of the speaker.

I think it was the presence of these gifts in the actions of non-violence in the Civil Rights movement that helped Americans to see that this was a godly movement. In our American polity (both civil and ecclesiastical) the actions are judged by the act of reception by the body of the faithful – and this is primarily accomplished through the mechanisms of our democratic institutions.

But I wonder if others have any thoughts on other means by which the Church can judge the words of a prophet? It’s an important question, because any attempt to allow for the stirrings of the Spirit in the Anglican Communion is going to have to ultimately have an institutional expression – and would need to be included in an Anglican Covenant, should such a thing come to be.

(Having wondered this out loud in the presence of Mo. Laura this morning at Morning Prayer, I find that I have committed myself to teaching on this topic in the coming Lenten Season, so my question is not merely rhetorical. I truly do wonder what thoughts other people might have on this crucial task.)


The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...