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Listening in Scripture
Foundation for Listening

The threefold sources of authority in Anglicanism are scripture, tradition, and reason. These three sources uphold and critique each other in a dynamic way.

Scripture is the normative source for God's revelation and the source for all Christian teaching and reflection.

This word comes from the Latin for "writings" and refers to a collection of the most important documents in a given religious community. Many different religions have scriptures. The term "canon," which means a rule or listing, refers to the list of items included in a scripture.

The word "Bible" is used by Christians to refer to the Old Testament (OT)—or Hebrew Scripture—and the New Testament (NT), the two parts of scripture. Other books, called the Apocrypha, are often included in the Bible (BCP, p. 853). When early Christians began to select writings for their scripture, they wanted to keep the Hebrew scripture and therefore chose to use the titles Old Testament (or covenant) for the Jewish writings and New Testament for the normative Christian writings.

The Apocrypha is a collection of books written by people of the Old Covenant. The Articles of Religion note that these books may be read "for example of life and instruction of manners," but are not used to establish any doctrine (Art. VI, BCP, p. 868). Selections from the Apocrypha are included in the BCP lectionaries for the Holy Eucharist and the Daily Office.

The selection of writings to be included in the NT was not final until about 360 A.D. Some Christians did not want to include the Gospel of John or the Second Letter of Peter. After a long period of time, the currently accepted canon of scripture was determined on the basis of apostolic authorship or attribution and widespread acceptance of the texts included in the canon.

All persons ordained as bishops, priests, or deacons in the Episcopal Church must solemnly declare at their ordination that they "do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation. . .." (BCP, pp. 513, 526, 538). Selections from scripture for the Episcopal Church's services of the Holy Eucharist and the Daily Offices are provided by the lectionaries of the BCP (pp. 889-1001).

Each of the three sources of authority must be perceived and interpreted in light of the other two.

The Anglican balance of authority has been characterized as a "three-legged stool" which falls if any one of the legs is not upright. It may be distinguished from a tendency in Roman Catholicism to overemphasize tradition relative to scripture and reason, and in certain Protestant churches to overemphasize scripture relative to tradition and reason. The Anglican balancing of the sources of authority has been criticized as clumsy or "muddy." It has been associated with the Anglican affinity for seeking the mean between extremes and living the via media. It has also been associated with the Anglican willingness to tolerate and comprehend opposing viewpoints instead of imposing tests of orthodoxy or resorting to heresy trials.

Adapted from An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians Don S. Armentrout, Robert Boak Slocum, editors. Church Publishing Incorporated, New York NY: 2000. Used with permission.

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