<< Part 4. The Sufficiency of Holy Scripture
From the sufficiency the Article naturally proceeds to state the supremacy of Scripture: “So that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” This is borne out by the emphasis placed on Scripture in other Articles. Thus, the three Creeds are to be received and believed “because they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.” Points of doctrine are constantly based on passages of Scripture (see Articles 9, 14, 15, 17, 18). The doctrine of the Church is also tested by and made subject to the Word of God (see Articles 19, 20, 21). Certain doctrines are condemned because they are repugnant to Holy Scripture (Article 22). In the Sacramental Articles in addition to actual quotation of the words of Scripture there is a constant appeal to Holy Writ (Article 28). Questions of Church order and discipline are discussed in the light of Scripture (Articles 32, 34); and even in questions dealing with the relations of Church and State we find the same principle laid down (Articles 37, 39). Thus eighteen out of the Thirty-nine Articles make definite reference to Holy Scripture, some of them more than once, while there are verbal quotations from and references to “Christ’s ordinance and commandment.” The Old Testament has an Article to itself. Nothing could well be clearer than this emphasis on the supremacy of Holy Scripture.
If it is asked why this is and must be so, the answer is that which has already been given, because Scripture embodies the revelation of God to the world as the Source of authority. The revelation of the Person of Christ is found in Holy Scripture in its clearest, fullest, and purest form. Since Christ is the Source of our religious knowledge the condition of our knowing Him centuries after His historical appearance is that we must know about Him, and for this perpetuation and transmission we must have an objective body of historical testimony. The supremacy of the Bible is due to the fact that it gives this, for the great outstanding fact of history is the supernatural figure of Christ, who is enshrined for us in the written word. We adhere to the Bible ultimately on this ground alone, for it is the presence of Christ in the Bible that gives it its uniqueness as our supreme authority in religion.
This supremacy of the Bible has several applications which call for special consideration.
1. Holy Scripture is supreme over Reason. There is a great tendency to find the seat of authority within man himself, as though the consent of the mind is the foundation of all certitude. Now while reason is both valuable and necessary as one of the means of distinguishing the claims of authority, and also as a recipient of the truth of revelation, it is altogether different to claim for it the seat of authority itself. We are, of course, prepared to insist upon the importance of reason as the only faculty for judging anything, as Butler showed long ago, for no authority can be legitimate which subverts or stultifies reason, and the right of verification is the bounden duty of every man. But if there is such a thing as reality independent of our mind, it is obvious that human consent cannot be the foundation of truth, for certitude is only the result of the acceptance and experience of a reality outside ourselves. To regard reason as autonomous is to deny the existence of objective reality. Reason does not create, it only weighs, and then accepts or rejects what is offered. The true idea of authority is that which is not against reason, but in accordance with it.
We therefore hold, following the Article, that the supreme authority is the Divine revelation in Christ embodied in the Bible. We believe that in this way the vehicle of transmission is certain for litera scripta manet, and that this could not be so with any mere human faculty. Revelation does not dishonour reason, but honours it by appealing to it with evidence, for to the spiritual, enlightened mind the Scriptures made a constant appeal. Reason has the vital duty to perform of judging of man’s need of Divine revelation and then of examining the credentials of revelation. Then when the credentials are examined, reason necessarily yields to the superior authority of Divine revelation and finds in it the principle and law of life.
The modern tendency to fix the seat of authority within is liable to the error of pure subjectivity unless it is safeguarded by the consciousness of a true objective element in knowledge. The idea that “objective” and “external” are identical is incorrect, for since the ultimate authority is Christ Himself we can see at once that while Christ is dwelling in us He is not thereby identical with us. He is the Divine revelation mediated through Holy Scripture, and applied by the Holy Spirit at once objective and subjective, external and internal. It is perhaps necessary to repeat that as the Lord Jesus Christ is our supreme authority we accept the Bible because it enshrines His Divine revelation in the best available form. All that we desire is the highest knowledge of Christ, and this we hold to be found in Scripture, and while we constantly emphasise the importance and necessity of reason in its work of testing the proofs of revelation, it is equally essential that reason should yield to those proofs when it has proved them satisfactory.
2. Holy Scripture is also supreme over the Church. This was the fundamental principle laid down at the Reformation, as the whole history testified. Holy Scripture was regarded as the warrant for everything essential in Church life and progress. Indeed, the Church itself is the product of Divine revelation by the acceptance of the Word of God proclaimed through inspired Apostles. The Christian community, whether regarded as universal, or consisting of national Churches, has its rightful place of authority, but it is certainly not co-ordinate with Scripture, as the Articles plainly teach (Articles 20, 21, 34). 
But it is sometimes said that as the Church existed many years before the New Testament was written the Church must necessarily be supreme. This conclusion, however, does not necessarily follow. To be anterior does not of necessity mean to be superior. To be before does not always mean to be above. Besides, it is not quite correct to say that the Apostolic Church had no Bible, because the Old Testament was constantly used and appealed to in Jewish and Gentile Churches, and St. Paul could say, with the simple addition of faith in Christ Jesus, these Old Testament Scriptures were “able to make wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15),  and we can see the position of the Old Testament from our Lord’s appeal to it, and the use made of it in the Apostolic Church (cf. Acts 17:11). But quite apart from this the argument that because the Church was before Scripture therefore it is above Scripture calls for further attention. It is quite true that the Church existed before the written word of the New Testament, but first of all there was the spoken word through Christ and His Apostles. On the Day of Pentecost the Word of God was proclaimed, and on the acceptance of that Word the Church came into existence, being formed by the Word of God.
Every similar proclamation of the Gospel led to the same results, and communities of Christians came into existence based on the acceptance by faith of a Divine revelation. As long as the Apostles’ teaching was available nothing more was required, but as time went on it was necessary to embody the Apostolic message in a permanent form. Thenceforward to all ages the written Word became equivalent to the spoken Word as the seat of authority. The fact is the same throughout; the form alone was changed.  Thus, the Apostles were the seat of authority at the first, and they have continued so to this day, the only difference being between their spoken and written word. The Word created the Church, not the Church the Word.  The same thing is seen today in the Mission Field, where a Church exists in most places through the Word spoken long before the written Word can be given. The Rule of Faith is the conveyance of a Divine Authority to man, and the Bible as a Rule of Faith must have existed in the minds of Christ and His Apostles long before it was or could be committed to writing. As such, it preceded and conditioned the origin and life of the Church. The relation of the Church to the Word is, in the words of Article 20, “a witness and a keeper”; a witness to what Scripture is, and a keeper of that Scripture for the people of God.  But this is very different from being the maker of Scripture, for the Church, as such, is not the author of Holy Writ. 
Thus, the Word first spoken and then written is at once the foundation and guarantee of the Church. The witness of the primitive Christian community is valuable, because of its nearness to Apostolic times, but if it should be said that we are therefore bound to receive what the Church says, we reply that on the one hand we do not receive Scripture on account of the Roman Catholic Church, and on the other that the Church in the present consideration is universal, and its work is only ministerial, not supremely and finally authoritative. But this is simply the position and work of a witness to an already existing revelation. The function of the Church is exactly parallel to that of the Jewish Church in relation to the Old Testament. The Prophets were the messengers and mouthpieces of Divine revelation and delivered their writings to the Jews, who thereupon preserved them, and thenceforward bore their testimony to the authority of the Divine revelation embodied therein. In the same way the Christian Church received the New Testament writings from the Lord Jesus Christ through His Apostles and Prophets, and now the function of the Church is to witness to this fact and to keep these writings for use by Christian people. 
We therefore apply the touchstone of continuity and ask two questions: Has the Church preserved Scripture aright? Has it properly interpreted Scripture? But the former does not involve the latter. There is no desire to detract from the place of the Church as testifying and teaching;  on the contrary we are prepared to give every possible weight to the testimony of the Church as of real importance in its proper place, but for every reason we refuse to co-ordinate the Church with Scripture as our authority for the Christian religion.  This position of the supremacy of Holy Scripture above the Church is fundamental to the Church of England, and represents one part of what has been called “a line of deep cleavage”  between us and Rome.
3. This question of the Bible and the Church has a special application to what is known as Church Tradition. The Church of Rome puts tradition, that is, Church beliefs, customs and usages, on a level with Scripture as the Rule of Faith, and this constitutes a fundamental difference between the two Churches, as Bellarmine, one of the ablest Roman controversialists, allows. While granting that Scripture is a Rule of Faith, according to Rome it is not a complete, but only a partial Rule, and therefore there are some things not found in it. This subject was considered at the Council of Trent in 1546, and the decree was well known to the compilers of this Article. It is as follows:
“The sacred and holy Œcumenical and General Synod of Trent … keeping this always in view that, errors being removed, the purity itself of the Gospel should be preserved in the Church, which (gospel) before promised through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth and then commanded to be preached by His apostles to every creature, as the fountain both of every saving truth and also of the discipline of morals; and perceiving that this truth and discipline is contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions which, received by the apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even to us, transmitted, as it were, from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the example of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates, with equal affection of piety and reverence, all the books both of the Old and also of the New Testament – seeing that one God is the author of both – as also the said traditions, both those appertaining to faith as well as those appertaining to morals, as having been dictated either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved by a continuous succession in the Catholic Church.” 
This position calls for careful consideration. The word “tradition” has a great variety of meanings. (1) Sometimes it refers to a usage in worship (1 Cor. 11:2); (2) at other times it means a doctrine (Matt. 15:3; 2 Thess. 2:15). In the latter case doctrinal traditions may be those that are not found in Holy Scripture or those that are recorded there. No one objects to all tradition, for we constantly use rites and ceremonies which are not found in Holy Scripture, though they are in proper accord with it. What our Church rejects is any doctrinal tradition which has no warrant in Scripture. Thus, all through the ages the doctrines of our Lord’s Deity, Incarnation, and Atonement have been handed down, and we accept them. But, on the other hand, there are distinctive doctrines of Rome, such as Transubstantiation, Purgatory, Mariolatry, which we do not accept because we hold that they are not Apostolic, for it is a matter of supreme importance to know whether a tradition is really Apostolic, since only that which can be proved to originate with our Lord and His immediate followers can rightly be regarded as possessing Divine sanction, and there is not the slightest proof that any of the distinctive doctrines of the Church of Rome are derivable from that source. 
The words of the Apostle are sometimes used to support this view of the co-ordination of tradition with Scripture: “Hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15). But the question is not what St. Paul taught in his day, but whether at the present time we can distinguish between oral and written traditions of Christianity. No one questions for a moment that St. Paul’s oral instructions were obligatory on his converts, but it is altogether different to believe that the oral tradition claimed today by Rome corresponds with this apostolic teaching. The supreme question is whether there are not fundamental Divine truths which are not found in the New Testament. The same thing is true in regard to the Apostle’s exhortation to Timothy, to “guard the deposit” (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:12-14). St. Paul assuredly taught certain doctrines to Timothy by word of mouth, but again the question arises whether there are any doctrines to be believed today which are not contained in the written Word.
But it is sometimes urged that there are certain doctrines which are taught today, not because of Scripture, but by reason of Church custom, special reference being made to the observance of the Lord’s Day, as to which, it is said that we reverence it because of the tradition of the universal Church. But the argument is more plausible than real, for, in the first place, the principle of one rest day in seven is fundamental in Scripture and is not merely Jewish, while the change from the seventh day to the first is entirely suitable to the circumstances of our Lord’s Resurrection. The strongest argument for setting apart one day out of seven for the worship of God is neither Jewish precedent nor Christian practice, for the authority of the Lord’s Day is essentially Scriptural, and the usage of the Church is in reality only a witness to an observance which finds its supreme warrant in Holy Scripture. We value all proper appeal to Church tradition, believing that it has its place and power, but this is very different from co-ordinating it with Scripture. The natural tendency in such a case is to reverse the order and to make Scripture subject to tradition, so that while in theory tradition is equal to Scripture in practice it becomes paramount. The moral authority of the universal Church is weighty, and no individual Christian can lightly reject it. But, after all, this is only the work of a witness to an ultimate and original authority, and in making the Bible supreme in things essential we are only doing that which is at once natural and necessary.  Tradition is of great value in the interpretation of Scripture, and no one would wish to under-rate its importance.
“It is one thing to use tradition as a help towards arriving at the true sense of Scripture, and quite another thing to make it a source of Christian doctrine.” 
Tradition is also of value for rites and customs, and all such ecclesiastical matters, so far as they are in harmony with the principles of the Word of God, the Anglican Church heartily accepts.  But this is altogether different from regarding Church tradition as our supreme authority in matters of doctrine and practice.
“This risks making the Ecclesia Docens independent instead of interpretative, as though Scripture were not the sole source of Catholic truth, and as though an Article of the Faith might rest on Church teaching alone as a sufficient basis in itself. Such were a departure from the primitive conception of the authority of Scripture.” 
This position of the supreme authority of the Bible over tradition is the assertion of the historic basis of Christianity. Sabatier truly says:
“It is a historic law that every tradition not fixed in writing changes in the process of development.” 
Bishop Gore shows the truth of this in connection with the history of the Jews, and points out the application of this fallacy to those in authority in the Christian Church. They ought to have been more thoroughly on their guard against anything that would tend to detract from the constant appeal to Scripture as the supreme authority. In regard to the Mediæval Church, Dr. Gore’s words are important and significant:
“The specific appeal to the Scriptures of the New Testament to verify or correct current tendencies is gone. … The safeguard has vanished.” 
There is perhaps nothing more certain in history than the untrustworthiness of tradition without some historic and literary safeguard.  It is also curious that in every religion, true or false, men have tended to be wise above that which is written. The people of the book have not been contented with it. Jews, Mohammedans, as well as Roman Catholics, have their traditions, and not seldom these are found to subvert the written authority. Our Lord’s words about the Jews in this respect are of special importance, and the threefold charge made in the Gospels is particularly noticeable. The Pharisees first of all held tradition (Mark 7:3); the result was that they laid aside the Divine command to hold tradition (verse 8), with the outcome of rejecting God’s Word in order to keep their own traditions (verse 9).
Thus, insecurity of tradition constitutes the supremacy of the Bible the charter of spiritual freedom. It is a great mistake to think that the function of the Church is to settle definitely every question of difficulty as it arises, for no trace can be found of any such view, either in Scripture, or in the Creeds, or in the early Church history. Nothing would have been easier than for the Church to summon a Council and settle all disputes by a majority, but no such action was ever taken; on the contrary, we know that after the Council of Nicæa the struggle went on for many years before the decisions of that Assembly were universally accepted. The great authority of the first Four General Councils is acknowledged, and their doctrinal standards are our heritage today. But even their decisions were accepted only because they commended themselves to the entire Church as in accordance with Divine revelation. It was this subsequent endorsement by the whole Christian world and not the mere decision of a Council which constituted the real test of universality.  But while we cannot for a moment co-ordinate tradition with Scripture, we are ready to appeal to the former whenever possible and necessary. The testimony of the primitive Church is invaluable in many respects, but there is a wide difference between the Roman Catholic and Protestant appeals to tradition:
“Tradition is either an exposition of apostolic doctrine, or an addition to it. If an exposition, how is to be shown that the Reformation branch of the Church was wrong. If an addition, what becomes of the claim for the apostolicity of all Catholic doctrine?” 
It is this fundamental difference that enables us to see the right and wrong view of appeal to the beliefs and customs of the Church.  It is always a satisfaction to obtain the consensus of Church opinion, but its use is only that of historical evidence, and not something which settles the matter apart from proper consideration.
When this is clearly understood it removes all objections to what is called “private judgment.” It is easy to introduce confusion by contrasting and opposing Church authority and private judgment. But there is no such contradiction. What is called private judgment is the decision of the whole nature of man, judgment, conscience, and will, in his desire to know and follow the truth. He does not thereby separate himself from, or set himself above the corporate Christian consciousness, so far as he can discover that, but while he welcomes and weighs truth from every side he feels that Scripture is the supreme and final authority for life.  Authority is always based on the possession of superior knowledge, and no true Christian can have any objection to the authority that comes from any individual or corporate body which actually possesses more and better information than himself. All that his duty to Christ requires is that the information derived from others should be examined, compared, and tested by Holy Scripture as the supreme and final authority in all matters of faith and practice, and when this is done there will be little or no practical difficulty in arriving at a proper decision.
This position is abundantly justified on every ground. Our Lord Himself appealed to the Scriptures as the touchstone of truth. Our personality has been created in a relationship of direct responsibility to God. The Christian religion teaches beyond all else that the soul is in direct personal relationship to God, while welcoming all possible light through human channels in helping us to decide for ourselves. Then, too, this position has ever been productive of the finest characters and the noblest examples of individual and corporate Christian life. It is also at least noteworthy that all the great systems of religion have their sacred books, as though a book were absolutely necessary to a religion. So that the ultimate court of appeal must be the spiritual, enlightened judgment of the individual Christian with reference to any and every matter of conscience. This is the absolute right of the individual, whether like the Protestant he exercises it continually from the Bible, or whether like the Roman Catholic he exercises it once for all in deciding to submit himself to what he believes to be an infallible guide. But the final decision must be made by the spiritually illuminated Christian consciousness, guided by the Word of God, advised by every possible channel of knowledge available, and led by the Holy Spirit of God.
>> Part 6. The Practical Use of Holy Scripture
Litton, Introduction to Dogmatic Theology (Second Edition), p. 27; Wace, Principles of the Reformation, p. 236 ff.
“It is sometimes said, and an important truth lies concealed under the phrase, that the Church existed before the Bible. But a Christian of the earliest days, if you had used such words to him, would have stared at you in undisguised amazement. He would have explained to you that in the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms the Christian possessed all the Scriptures he could want, for they all spoke of Christ” (Turner, The Journal of Theological Studies, October 1908, p. 14).
“In the history of the world the unwritten Word of God must of course be before the Church. For what is a Church (in the wider sense of the word) but a group of believers in God’s Word? And before the Word is spoken, how can there be believers in it? ‘Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.’ Therefore the Word of God must be before faith. It is only of the Bible, or written volume of God’s oracles, assuredly not of God’s spoken Word, that we assert it to have been brought into existence later than the Church” (Gouldburn, Holy Catholic Church: quoted in Four Foundation Truths, p. 13).
“Our authority is not the Church of the first century, but the Apostles who were its authority. The Church does not rest on its inchoate stage (which would poise it on its apex) but on its eternal foundation – a Christ who, in His apostolic Self-Revelation, is the same deep Redeemer always” (Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, p. 96).
“We have a variety of opinions and sections in the first Church, but I am speaking of the representative apostles, and of the New Testament as their register and index. The Church of the ages was not founded by the Church of the first century, but by the apostles as the organs of Christ. We are in the apostolic succession rather than in the ecclesiastic. It is not the first Church that is canonical for us Protestants, but the apostolic New Testament” (Forsyth, ut supra p. 142; see also pp. 146-155).
See also on Article 20.
“The Church from her dear Master
Received the gift Divine” – (Bishop Walsham How).
“The books of the Bible were given to the Church more than by it, and they descended on it rather than rose from it. The Canon of the Bible rose from the Church, but not its contents. The Bible and the Church were collateral products of the Gospel” (Forsyth, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ, p. 140).
“The New Testament is not the first stage of the evolution, but the last phase of the revelationary fact and deed. … The Creeds are not parallel to the Church, but the Bible is. They are products of the Church. The Bible is not. It is a parallel product of the Spirit who produced the Church. They are two products of one Spirit; the one is not the product of the other. The Bible was not produced by the Church, and yet the Church was there before the Bible. Both were there collaterally from the Spirit” (Forsyth, op. cit., p. 152).
“If He died to make a Church that Church should continue to be made by some permanent thing from Himself, either by a continuous Apostolate supernaturally secured in the charisma veritatis, as Rome claims, or by a book which should be the real successor of the Apostles, with a real authority on the vital matters of truth and faith. But we discard the supernatural pope for the supernatural book (Forsyth, op. cit., p. 171).
“By experience we all know that the first outward motive leading men so to esteem of the Scripture is the authority of God’s Church” (Hooker, Eccl. Pol., Bk. 3, Ch. 8, Section 14).
“All communities of Christians agree in this, that the Divine Rule is contained in Holy Scripture. They differ as to the authority of an Ecclesia Docens. Necessarily there must be something analogous to the latter, even in the smallest sect. The danger lies in the direction of substituting an independent for an interpretative authority. Undoubtedly this danger, always insidious, is contemplated here. The intention is not to dispense with an Ecclesia Docens, but to indicate its proper function and to insist upon its responsibility for fulfilling the same” (Maclear and Williams, ut supra, p. 99).
Report of the Royal Commission on Discipline, 1906, Vol. 4, p. 53.
Conc. Trident., Sessio Quarta, Decret. de Canon. Script.
“Whether the Apostles taught more or otherwise than what is recorded in the Canonical Scriptures, no Church or individual is now in a position to adduce a syllable thereof with certainty” (Litton, ut supra, p. 37).
Bishop Gore said at the Bristol Church Congress, 1903: “The Word of God in the Bible is the only final testing ground of doctrine.”
Gibson, The Thirty-nine Articles, p. 238.
See Article 34; see Bishop Kaye’s Tertullian, pp. 299-304; quoted in Gibson, ut supra, pp. 246-248.
Maclear and Williams, ut supra, p. 104.
Sabatier, The Religions of Authority and the Religion of the Spirit, p. 40.
Gore, The Body of Christ, p. 220.
“Tradition is utterly unsafe. The Roman Catholic doctrine of tradition is the concrete proof of the assertion. Unwritten tradition is always coloured and transformed by the medium through which it passes. An unwritten Gospel would be subject to all the fluctuations of the spiritual life of man and most likely to gravitate downward from the spiritual to the carnal and formal. Institutions may symbolize or embody truth, but without a written standard they always tend to become external means of grace, or sacraments. They are ladders on which we may climb up or down. Without a corrective it is usually down” (Mullins, Freedom and Authority in Religion, p. 349).
See on Article 21.
Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, p. 359, Note.
“Romanists appeal to the Church in her organized and official capacity. Protestants appeal to the individuals who compose the Church, and appeal to them, not for their official sanction, but for information upon a simple question of fact. Romanists appeal to the Church as a judge whose decision is final. Protestants appeal to her members as credible witnesses. Romanists appeal to her for an authoritative decision upon a question which they are unable or indisposed to examine for themselves. Protestants appeal to her members for evidence, which they weigh as they would any other evidence. According to the Romish view, the Church collects the evidence, passes upon it, and declares her judgment in the premises, from which judgment there is no appeal. According to the Protestant view, the persons who compose the Church may collect the testimony and perpetuate it from generation to generation, but each individual may and should pass upon it for himself” (McPheeters, “Objections to Apostolic Authorship or Sanction as the Ultimate Test of Canonicity,” Presbyterian and Reformed Review, Vol. 6, p. 42).
“As a matter of fact, the unlimited right of private judgment is not a fruit of the Reformation but of the Renaissance and of the Revolution with their wild individualism. It is Socinian and rationalist, it is not Protestant. The Reformation certainly made religion personal, but it did not make it individualist. The Reformation, if it destroyed the hierarchy of the Church, did not destroy the hierarchy of competency, spiritual or intellectual. In a political democracy we speak of one vote, one value; but in the intellectual and spiritual region all opinions are not of equal worth; nor have they all an equal right to attention. What the Reformation said was that the layman with his Bible in his hand had at his side the same Holy Spirit as the minister. Each had the testimony of the Spirit as the supreme religious Expositor of Scripture” (Forsyth, ut supra, p. 320.)