Scripture’s role in Anglicanism


Scripture’s role in Anglicanism

The question of how Anglicans (Episcopalians) use the bible has come up a couple of times this week in various conversations. And as luck would have it, I’m working my way through a book by Paul Avis on what we mean when we speak about an Anglican Church, and in my reading this morning, I came across this quote:

This faith is said to be ‘uniquely revealed’ in the Holy Scriptures. Here the Scriptures are accorded the status of the vehicle of revelation. But neither here nor in the Articles is there any theory of revelation or of biblical inspiration. The Articles state that ‘Holy Scripture containeth all things necesary to salvation’ and this is echoed in the Chicago—Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886–88) which upholds the Scriptures as ‘the rule and ultimate standard of faith’. Anglican formularies do not recognize the Scriptures as a source of binding precepts and precedents which should determine the worship or polity of the Church. Reason and tradition also have their part to play.

Avis, P. (2008). The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (p. 11). London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

I’m grateful for the way Avis puts this. We use Scripture as the rule and ultimate standard, but it, in of itself, is not the source of “binding precepts”. It’s in Scripture’s conversation with Reason and the Tradition of the Church that we comprehend the Truth.

(This allows space for the Creeds and the Liturgy as well as our own engagement with both and Holy Scripture as the vehicles the Holy Spirit uses to reveal God’s truth to us.)

Just an early morning thought today.

The Author

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


  1. I would also add, as other do, Experience to the list of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. I believe Hooker included experience in his inclusion of reason, but it makes sense today to have a four-legged stool rather than a three-legged one for Anglican understanding.

  2. FTR Scripture was in no way subservient to reason and tradition in Hooker, nor was it an equal one-third partner with the other two, the three-legged stool being a misleading image (and not really present in Hooker). Sure, we’re not fundies or Baptists, but I wonder how in the above thought-for-the-day something is an ‘ultimate rule and standard’ and yet ‘not binding.’ Hmmm.

    We might also give some thought to the claim that reason does not sit pure, unaffected and untouched by the history of human sin and be a little suspicious of (at least some) appeals to reason. And one last important thought: scripture is not holy primarily because (sociologically speaking) all religions have their sacred texts, and we deem these texts sacred. Scripture is holy because it is the instrument set apart by God as a means of bringing the gospel to us and bringing us into conformity to Christ.

    No disrespect to Paul Avis, but John Webster (who followed Rowan Williams at Oxford, now in Scotland) is, with so many others,a much stronger Anglican theologian in every way and esp so in Scripture.

    As for “experience” we would do well, theologically, to go on a forty-year fast from this IMHO, and think instead about “understanding” so we could get away from the endless “precious moments, sentimentality, and my-latest-ephiphany” that pervades so much of our preaching. Snarky, I know. But the frankly scripturally impoverished state of our denomination is astonishing.

    • I would like first to say amen to wmpaul’s above comment (though I am not qualified to have an opinion regarding his third paragraph). A point related to his opening thought: I agree with the Rt. Rev. Knisely that Scripture “of itself, is not *the source* of ‘binding precepts,'” but I think that that is significantly different from asserting that “Anglican formularies do not recognize the Scriptures as *a source* of binding precepts and precedents which should determine the worship or polity of the Church,” which is what Avis actually says. If we are unwilling to say that Scripture is indeed such a source, then it seems to me that we are in fact saying that we are unwilling to recognize that there can be any source of binding precepts and precedents guiding our worship and polity, which I would regard as both unwise and un-Anglican.

    • Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente says

      Without reason and tradition you would not even be able to simply read Scripture. Without both, the authors of Scripture would not have been able to write down Scripture and the Church would not have been able to weed out what does not belong in Scripture, both are absolutely prior (chronologically and logically). Our denomination is becoming way too scriptural in a very simplistic sense.

  3. Elsie Szecsy says

    Thank you for this clarification. Indeed well timed. God’s hand was certainly in that.

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