Saturday, November 5, 2011

Finding the Anglican Way - Part 4, The Centrality of Holy Scripture

The Bible. The Revelation of God. God’s Word. Holy Scripture. It is referenced by myriad titles and descriptions, is the central source of truth and doctrine for the church globally and historically, and is the catalyst for academic argument, political upheaval, church schisms and reformations, familial disputes, and holy wars. It is printed in countless languages with diverse versions. It is worshipped by some, cursed by others, and disregarded by many. It’s words are prayed, sung, read, studied, and dissected; they are memorized and meditated upon, misunderstood and misrepresented.

If the Bible is accurate in its claim to be the very word of God, it would seem logical that the Bible would hold an obvious and central role in the life and worship of the church. Contrary to such logic I suggest that many modern churches have moved away from the Bible as an authority and have largely taken it out of corporate worship. The irony is that in a not insignificant number of churches that are emblazoned with the title of “Bible” church there is something of a drought of Scripture. A chapter of Scripture may be read early in the service, likely the same passage that will be the focal point of the sermon, and possibly a verse or two of a Psalm or benediction to dismiss the congregation. Much responsibility is then placed upon the individual congregant to read the Bible with suggestions made for devotional books and diverse Bible reading plans.

In contrast, one of the striking characteristics of the Anglican church is the role Holy Scripture plays in the very fabric of the life and worship of the church. Holy Scripture is woven into the very ethos of the church. We sing it, we pray it, we chant it, we read it out loud as a chorus of voices, and listen as the words are read to us. I have heard it said that at least 85% of the book of common prayer, the Anglican liturgical book, is either directly quoting Holy Scripture or is directly eluding to it. In a typical eucharist service we read an extended passage from an epistle and a passage from the gospels. In a typical morning prayer service we corporately recite a Psalm, hear a reading from the Old Testament, and hear a reading from an Epistle. In a typical evening prayer service we corporately recite a Psalm, hear a passage from the Old Testament, a reading from an epistle, and read or sing the Magnificat (Luke 1:46ff). If you follow the liturgical readings for morning and evening prayer every day of the week, over the course of a year you will have read the New Testament twice, the Old Testament once, and the Psalms monthly.

If the church in our modern day and in this American culture is going to have an eternal impact upon society there needs to be a return to Holy Scripture. What should we sing as a church? Sing the Psalms. What should we pray as a church? Pray the Psalms. What should we recite and mediate upon as a church? The words of Christ, His apostles, and His prophets. Instead of fumbling around for the next great method we should learn to digest the riches of God’s Word and seek out new ways of applying our lives to His unchanging message.

Lex ordani, les credeni. How you pray is how you believe. Lex orandi statuat lex credeni. The rule of prayer establishes the rule of belief. For the Anglican Way, our rule of prayer is Holy Scripture. Beneath the vestments, rituals, formularies and structure there is a foundation steeped in God’s Holy Word.

From the Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent (1928 BCP):
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. 

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