Anglicanism is Traditional, Pt 2
Last time, we expressed our love of the tradition of Anglican Christianity, in two senses. The first sense considered tradition as the ancient history of the Church: the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church located in the British Isles. We love this “tradition” because it demonstrates that the Anglican Church is not a “new” church or a denomination that arose out of the Reformation (though it did, certainly, reform in the 16th century). It is not named after a man or a theological system, but instead, is simply the Church of Christ in a location throughout time.
This time, we turn to the second aspect of tradition, namely, the theological traditions of Anglican Christianity. Simply stated, Anglican Christians seek to believe that faith “which has been believed always, everywhere, by all.” This quote, from St. Vincent of Lerins in the early 400s AD, captures what Anglican Christians believe theologically. Anglican Christianity, properly done, eschews novelty and innovation, instead searching for the truth embraced by Christians since the time of Christ. Another way of summarizing (loosely) Anglican theology is that we subscribe to: one canon (the Bible), two testaments (Old and New), three creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian), four general councils, and the first five centuries of the history of the undivided church.
Of course, as we explained earlier, the Bible holds the highest place of authority for us. But, we do not interpret Scripture in a vacuum. It is not “every man (or woman) and his (her) Bible” for us. Scripture, in its content, contains all that is necessary for life and godliness. But we only need to survey the fragmented nature of Christianity to see that it’s not enough to interpret the Scriptures for ourselves. Many Christians cannot even agree on what the essentials of the faith are, let alone on the details of those essentials. We bring baggage or our own worldview to Scripture when we read it. In doing so, we end up often substituting our own interpretation of Scripture as the infallible Word of God, when it is not—it is Scripture that is infallible, not us. This is why we think it’s vital to be rooted in the history of the Church and its teachings.
Some may not like this idea, but Jesus gave us some assurance on this point. In John 14, Jesus promised his Holy Spirit—“another Advocate to be with you forever.” In doing so, He would not leave His Church as orphans. In John 16, Jesus promised that this Spirit would guide the Church “into all truth.” In Matthew 28, Jesus tells his disciples (the first leaders of the Church), that all authority had been given to him, and therefore, they were in the position to go out and make disciples, “teaching them” to obey all Christ commanded. He also promised He would be with them. In John 20, Jesus, who had full authority from the Father, passes that same authority on to the Church’s leaders—“As the Father has sent me . . . I am sending you.” The Spirit of Truth did come, of course, at Pentecost. St. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions” he taught, whether in person or by letter. 2 Thess. 2:15.
G.K. Chesterton sums it up this way:
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”
In sum, Anglican Christianity recognizes that Jesus created the Church; the Bible didn’t. Jesus vested the Church with authority to teach and interpret the Bible. And the promise of His Spirit assures us that we can trust the Church to teach the truth, particularly on key things (like who Jesus is, the Trinity, salvation). In effect, we test the teaching of the Church against Scripture’s plain language, but in those areas where there may be some question (such as, what happens in baptism? or who should be baptized?), we look to the consistent teaching of the Church through the ages and defer to it. We recognize that some parts of Scripture are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16). We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We trust Christ’s promises to guide the Church into truth. And this is one more reason we love being Anglican Christians.