Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Thomas Cranmer and the Anglican Way of Reading Scripture*

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Thomas Cranmer and the Anglican Way of Reading Scripture*

Article excerpt

In the face of deep divisions over same-sex relationships, the primates of the Anglican Communion asked in October 2003 that the archbishop of Canterbury form a commission to seek a way forward. A year later, the Lambeth Commission on Communion presented its rinding in the Windsor Report.1 Among its many important contributions to the current debate was the recognition that "within Anglicanism, scripture has always been recognised as the Church's supreme authority, and as such ought to be seen as a focus and means of unity."2 Yet, for the Bible to fulfill its unifying role, the Commission argued that the phrase "the authority of scripture" must be "regarded as a shorthand...for the longer and more complex notion of'the authority of the triune God, exercised through scripture."'3

If the notion of scriptural authority is itself to be rooted in scripture, and to be consonant with the central truths confessed by Christians from the earliest days, it must be seen that the purpose of scripture is not simply to supply true information, nor just to prescribe in matters of belief and conduct, nor merely to act as a court of appeal, but to be part of the dynamic life of the Spirit through which God the Father is making the victory which was won by Jesus' death and resurrection operative within the world and in and through human beings.4

In short, scripture should make its contribution to the unity of the church by being a means through which God vivifies its common life, directing, shaping and energizing it for mission.5 "The current crisis thus constitutes a call to the whole Anglican Communion to re-evaluate the ways in which we have read, heard, studied and digested scripture."6

The Windsor Report's call for rethinking how Anglicans read the Bible has not gone unheeded. Indeed, the Communiqué from the very next meeting of the primates in February 2005 stressed the importance of the work of TEAC (Theological Education for the Anglican Communion). This primatial task group is charged with re-evaluating the entire approach of theological education throughout the provinces of Anglicanism to ensure the presence of a distinctively Anglican dimension. "This mandate is of concern because some theological education across the Communion needs to take more account of Anglican history, formularies, or spirituality." Consequently, of TEAC's four target groups, one is specifically dedicated to the "discernment and definition" of the "Anglican Way."7 Naturally, included in its remit is seeking to understand and describe the distinctly "Anglican Way" of reading scripture.8

The primates' call for a deeper appreciation of Anglican history in the midst of the current crisis is thoroughly understandable. Perhaps one of the most enduring characteristics of Anglicanism is that in times of uncertainty the church tries to find a way forward by first re-examining its past. The English reformers in the sixteenth century, the Caroline divines in the seventeenth, the evangelical revival in the eighteenth, the Oxford Movement in the nineteenth, and the liturgical movement in the twentieth all found their course for the church's future by a contextualized reappropriation of selective distinctives from their common theological heritage. Consequently, if the communion is to discern and define the authentic "Anglican Way" of reading scripture for today, it would do well to heed the primates' request to take a fresh look at the historic Anglican formularies.

Such an undertaking is especially timely in the light of the recent scholarly advances in understanding the Church of England under Edward VI and Elizabeth I.9 What the Windsor Report warns about a too facile consideration of scripture is equally true of Anglicans' understanding of their own past. The current academic consensus has moved away from the older view that the Elizabethan Settlement was a via media between Rome and Geneva. Rather, scholars increasingly now recognize that the independent Church of England from Edward VI to Charles I was, in the memorable words of Dewey Wallace, "a Reformed church with hankerings after Lutheranism. …

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