By Revd Stephen Bloor.
It is a real pleasure to be able to contribute the response to Warren Huffa’s article having spent many times engaged with him in theological discussion while at college. So I would like to begin by thanking him for the invitation to engage in this discussion on a significant issue facing the Anglican Communion.
I always think it is important that we start any discussion by trying to find some common ground for us all to work from. Warren has attempted to do this by pointing out that GAFCON statement affirms that the Scriptures “contain all things necessary for salvation” which is in the ordinal. This would seem to be a good place to try to find common ground and yet I wonder what any of us mean when we make such a statement for surely we all have our own qualifiers that we would put on such a statement. This of course probably also comes down to how we would define this statement as well, what do we mean by salvation? Is salvation something to do with the soul, is it something to do with our whole life, is it something to do with the whole world? And, of course if we then look at trying to define “all things necessary” we also find ourselves with many definitions of how this could be applied. Do we mean by this that salvation is exclusively found within in the Scriptures or can salvation also be found outside the Scriptures but that within the Scriptures are found all thing necessary for it? What I am trying to show is that though these six words might seem very simple and straight forward we all put our own qualifiers on what they mean, sometimes our qualifiers are helpful and other times they are not. The issue facing the Anglican Communion is a debate on how we read Scripture and so in many ways a discussion of what we mean by this very statement.
So we need to look at the qualifiers which GAFCON has used and what strength they have applied to each qualifier, something Warren failed to draw out. For there are four qualifiers placed within their statement; plain sense, canonical sense, the church’s historic reading and the church’s consensual reading. Now why I think the strength placed on these qualifiers is important is that it helps us see that in a discussion of one qualifier against another which one is meant to win out. So when I see that a plain sense and canonical sense is put with how the Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed I would see those two qualifiers winning over the two that the statement simply says it is to be respectful of namely the church’s historical and consensual reading. So I hope that helps answer Warren’s question on why the diocese of Sydney would sign a qualifier of consensual and it is simply because the historical and consensual reading here are still subjected to their plain and canonical reading.
This then brings us to the main point of Warren’s article: what does GAFCON mean by plain and canonical? Warren I believe quiet successfully points out that there can be no ‘plain’ reading of a text but only an interpreted reading of the text. So we are still on a journey then to find how to have an authentic interpretation of Scripture.
Warren though has offered us some thoughts on what we might need to consider in being able to find an authentic interpretation. Especially, he suggests we need to know that ‘the canon of truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ transcends any single embodiment of it, whether Scripture, Creeds or liturgy.’ Thus because what we are seeking is an authentic understanding of our relationship with God we need to remember the embodiment of our faith is not the Scriptures as it is for Muslims and many other faiths but the actual person of Jesus is the revelation of God and that simply put our Scriptures are only an embodiment about the revelation. And it is an embodiment that was written by those who held the faith and is best understood as Warren suggests within the life and teaching of the church, through the lens which the Church has accepted (the creeds) and of course alongside the Creeds and liturgy.
I find myself agreeing with Warren that GAFCON has missed an opportunity to further the debate that “canonical” does indeed improve perhaps how we need to read the scriptures. I also agree that “consensual” would also perhaps help as well it is dismissed by the GAFCON statement to last place really. That being said it would seem that this is the order that Warren would encourage as well to apply the Canonical lens primarily and consensual lens as secondary. The real issue is this enough? And of course Warren would argue it is not, and puts forward that he personally when interpreting scripture uses the ‘traditional core doctrines of the church, functioning both theologically and hermeneutically.’ As a former student of Warren’s I would suggest that I find myself doing the same thing. Yet, I am also very aware that one of the biggest criticisms of the Anglican Church is that it does not hold a consistent ‘traditional core doctrines” and that this is even why the Orthodox Church has trouble relating with us. And in many ways is the exact reason that we find ourselves having this debate, it comes back to our Anglican identity not as the Universal Church but as part of the universal church one church of many. This is a strength and a weakness in Anglicanism, yet the weakness of it is coming to bear on us as we now find ourselves being influenced by all churches and so our internal debate that is pulling us apart is the debate that has divided the Universal Church in many places before.