The Jerusalem Declaration: a summary of authentic Anglicanism
Part 2: What Anglicans believe about the Bible
Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word. Psalm 119:33-37, NIVUK
Psalm 119 is rightly seen as a poem about the wonder of actual communication from almighty God to human beings, which has been written down and can be shared, memorised and above all obeyed. In this long prayer, the writer expresses his love of God’s gift of speaking to humanity, and his pleas for help with continued learning and daily obedience.
In the section quoted above, the writer wants help with grasping the meaning and the implications of God’s individual laws. He asks for the right attitude, or ‘heart’, to delight in carrying out what is required. But he also makes clear that the Scriptures are not a series of disconnected sayings and instructions. They are part of the same overarching vision, in which together the ‘decrees’ and ‘commands’ indicate a ‘way’ or a ‘path’. And since he sees the word of God setting out a general trajectory, he wants God’s assistance in following it, rather than the routes that the world offers, which are enticing but ultimately selfish and worthless.
So today, the most fruitful Bible study looks at individual texts for understanding about God’s character and ours, salvation in the Lord Jesus, and how we should live. Underlying this is an attitude of submission to Scripture’s authority as God’s truth, and also a sense of gratitude and security that God has spoken and speaks to us, to me. Then, every command or lesson or precept from the Bible is turned into prayer to the Holy Spirit to help put it into practice, and to orient our hearts in the right direction; a ‘long obedience’ in relationship with Christ based on a biblical worldview: this is discipleship for us as individuals and as a church.
In recent years many Anglicans, particularly theologians and leaders in the West, have cast doubt on this understanding of Scripture, and have seen it instead as an ancient text like any other, to be respected for spiritual insights, but to be judged by the standards and thought-fashions of the contemporary world rather than seen as having ultimate authority. The most obvious expression and symptom of this departure from historic Christian teaching has been the approval of same sex relationships, but prioritising the world’s understandings and concerns over the Bible manifests in many other ways as well, such as denial of the uniqueness of Christ, and the shifting of the church’s mission focus away from evangelism.
As a result the Anglican Communion is divided. At the time of writing the Lambeth Conference 2022 is taking place, but because of a perceived revisionist trajectory, three whole Provinces and hundreds of bishops have not come, and many others attending from the Global South have publicly called for a return to submission to God’s word in direct opposition to the agenda of some of the conference organisers and funders. It is a conflict not primarily about views on sex or social justice, but about the Lordship of Christ and the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.
“The Gafcon movement is a global family of authentic Anglicans standing together to retain and restore the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion”, begins the ‘About’ section on the Gafcon website. Being aligned with Gafcon means joining with others all over the world who echo the words of the Psalmist: “Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees…direct me in the path of your commands.”
Article 2 of the Jerusalem Declaration states:
We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.
This is authentic Anglican faith. It affirms the inspiration, authority and sufficiency of Scripture, and notes the need in every generation to interpret and proclaim its message of salvation faithfully and carefully. Because God initiated communication with us through his word, we should have confidence that the Bible’s plain meaning is accessible. We should be wary of secular theories of literature which see any claim to inherent, unchanging meaning in text as a power-play, and attempts to divide God and his word using spiritual language, for example by giving more authority to what we “feel the Holy Spirit is saying” than to the Scriptures.
The books of the Bible, with different histories and human authorships, work together as a canon, where one part interprets and clarifies another. The teachings of the Bible need to be contextualised in every culture, but this “does not mean modifying Scripture to suit our culture; we should, instead, be bringing every aspect of our culture under the authority of Scripture” (Being Faithful, a Commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration, p31).
Restoring the bible to the heart of our churches and our societies will require investment in the training of those who teach, and in the development of biblical literacy among the whole people of God. It is challenging to us in the affluent north to see (for example on the Gafcon website Prayer section) how churches in much poorer contexts are developing appropriate theological training at all levels, often running alongside practical help for the needy.
Let’s pray together:
- for the bible to be restored to the heart of the Anglican communion
- for our own walk with Christ to be strengthened by renewed delight in his Word
- for bible-based training of pastors, evangelists and lay leaders in all Anglican churches