Back to Basics Part 1: To go forward we must go back
Our General Secretary, Dr Peter Jensen, has written a series of reflections following the January 2016 Primates Gathering on the fundamentals underpinning the basis of our faith. This is the first in that series of six thought leadership and teaching papers.
By Dr. Peter Jensen, General Secretary of GAFCON
Since the Primates gathering in January I have been trying to assess its significance for the Anglican Communion.
I am not alone in thinking that the GAFCON movement and its Primates played an important role in the outcome. But it is possible to lose clarity in the midst of all the talk and interpretations. We need to go right back to basics to be sure of our identity, our purpose and our policies as a communion. We need to go back to basics to make sure that our witness is heard.
What does the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration say?
The Bible is the word of God written
‘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 a thoroughly Anglican statement, reflecting also the Articles of Religion and our liturgies. The Bible is the trustworthy, sufficient, clear, authoritative word of God. Here is the way in which the Lord rules his Church; the business of the church is to believe, obey and preach the Word of God.
Notice that it describes the Bible as ‘the Word of God written’ (authoritative and trustworthy), containing ‘all things necessary for salvation’ (sufficient), ‘to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense’ (clear).
The clarity of Scripture is very important. It does not mean that everything is crystal clear nor that we do not need help in interpretation. But the fact that we are encouraged to read it for ourselves shows that the main teaching of Scripture is clear and able to be understood by ordinary people. ‘Respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading’, reminds us that we have the privilege of reading the Bible in the light of what others have seen over 2000 years.
Today, however, Christians are constantly assailed by non-Biblical thought. Today there is a very powerful temptation simply to capitulate and change our doctrine on key matters. Now you have to decide consciously, individually and as a church, that you will trust the written word of God and follow its teachings no matter what the world says. About this there can be no compromise. In public utterances church leaders must teach the Bible.
The tragedy is, that in some places the church has listened more closely to the culture around us than to the Bible. Instead of being different and holding out a better hope and a better way, sections of the church have become advocates for patterns of life which God rejects.
Sometimes the claim is even made that this represents the Spirit’s contemporary voice, as though the Spirit could contradict himself, or the Bible is not sufficient. We are listening to the human spirit rather than the Holy Spirit.
Or, we are told, the Bible is unclear in its teaching. We must therefore allow several interpretations to flourish even though they are absolutely contradictory to each other, and one has been the established interpretation for 2000 years.
Is the same true of the doctrine of the Trinity?
Unfortunately, those who have compromised with the world have become missionaries for their ideas among their fellow believers, bringing confusion and disunity.
The GAFCON movement stands for the renewal of the Anglican Communion through the word of God blessed by the Spirit of God. We cannot afford to compromise about the authority of God’s Word. That has to be our starting point.