When a man is ordained a priest (or consecrated a bishop) in the ACC he is asked a number of questions-this is an important preliminary part of the Ordination Service. One of the questions is as follows: "Are you persuaded that the Holy Scriptures contain all Doctrine necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined, out of the said Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge; and to teach nothing as necessary to eternal salvation but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture?" This question needs to be studied carefully. The candidate is not being asked whether the Bible is the source of eternal salvation, but whether the Bible leads to saving faith in Jesus Christ and whether he will teach his people accordingly.
Our Lord insisted upon this point himself. In reply to his critics (St. John 5:39,40) Jesus said: "Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life". Behind the Scriptures stands an even greater reality-Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, God the Word (see St. John 1:1), the one who in his life and ministry on earth reveals the Holy Trinity. Earlier in the same chapter of St John's Gospel (which should be read as a whole and studied carefully) Jesus says of himself: "For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself".
We have here a pattern of priorities. First comes REVELATION-that is God, in his love for us, is prepared to show us himself in a way we can understand-this knowledge leads us towards eternal salvation. This revelation is fulfilled perfectly in Jesus Christ, who shows us what God is truly like because he is himself God in human form. We learn from him that eternal salvation is not just a matter of correct knowledge about God, but comes from sharing the LIFE of God through his Son, Jesus. The SCRIPTURES record faithfully the history of revelation, leading to eternal salvation through participating in the LIFE-the resurrection LIFE-of Jesus. The Scriptures, as St. Paul tells Timothy, ".. are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." These words are, of course, the same ones used in the Ordination Service.
The Ordination Service says that Holy Scripture contains '.. all Doctrine required as necessary for eternal salvation ...' What is meant by 'necessary'? In Acts16 (verse 16 onwards) we read how St. Paul stopped the 'Keeper of the Prison' at Philippi from committing suicide-when the man thought his prisoners had escaped. The man asked, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul told him "Believe of the Lord Jesus Christ" After receiving further instruction the man was baptised, 'he and all his'. The first 'necessary' thing was to point to the source of salvation -the Lord Jesus Christ. The next necessary thing was to give further directions. The third necessary thing was to set the man on the way-by baptising him and thereby incorporating him into the Life of Christ. Some time later, St. Paul wrote a letter to the Church at Philippi giving further teaching-this letter has itself become part of the Holy Scriptures. Necessary Doctrine must focus on the Saviour himself. Christ is the necessary location; the preaching of the Gospel gives the first directions; the Scriptures provide a clear map; but the journey, which begins at Baptism, is the reality.
At the time of Ordination the candidate make a solemn affirmation that he believes 'the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God'. In other words, the candidate agrees that the Bible is a reliable and trustworthy map. However accurate a map may be, it becomes fully effective and useful only when used on the actual spiritual journey. This is the point where the Scriptures 'come alive'.-actually, rather than potentially, the Word of God. The marks on the map become rivers, woods, hills, and towns-and there is so much more in the reality which the map cannot record. There is, however, a problem-if we read the map wrongly we end up lost. We need the map but we also need a living guide.
Two of Our Lord's disciples discovered the 'living guide' on the afternoon of the first Easter Day. The 'guide' joined them as they made their way to Emmaus, distressed and bewildered by the events of the past three days. The 'guide' asked the men"'Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and entered into his glory?' And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." St. Luke's account (St. Luke 28;16-35) reveals that the 'living guide' was no other than Jesus himself. The Church has still this 'living guide' who expounds the Scriptures-the Holy Spirit promised by Our Lord. Jesus said "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you." (St. John 16:13-15)
The undivided Catholic Church (of which the ACC is a manifestation) has always known the presence of the 'living guide'-the promised Holy Spirit, who came, on the Day of Pentecost, with 'power from on high " to abide for ever with the Church. To the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within the Church has been given the name of the HOLY TRADITION. The Holy Tradition is not to be thought of as a set of rules handed down, but as the Life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit within the Church. By means of the Holy Tradition the Fathers of the Church were able to discern true teaching from false, and, because they knew the spiritual reality of the Holy Tradition, they could make the Scripture come alive-as the Lord did on the road to Emmaus. This is why we also abide by the Doctrine set out in the seven Ecumenical Councils, because this Doctrine is at one with the testimony of the Scripture, understood in the light of the Holy Tradition. The two, Scripture and Tradition, form one living whole, witnessing to the fullness of salvation in Christ.
The quickest way to kill the Bible stone dead is to treat it as a set of religious rules-to insist that something should be 'believed' because 'it's in the 'Bible'. The Bible is not an enyclopedia of religious knowledge, a doctrinal authority in itself, it is a witness to the truth. Any number of sects claim to be 'based on what the Bible teaches' and they teach false doctrines. Recently an attempt was made (from inside the ACC and at the highest level, unfortunately) to impose a new and entirely unauthorised condition upon one of our bishops, an attempt based on the same sectarian error.
The imposition, required as a condition for lifting an illicit sanction, reads:"... that you believe the doctrine of all the seven Ecumenical Councils and also believe that nothing should be taught as essential to eternal salvation except such as can be proven or concluded from Scripture." The first half of this formula is acceptable because the doctrines of all seven Ecumenical Councils follow the united witness of the Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture-this is how the Church is guided into all truth. The second half of the formula (underlined) is an entire novelty-even though it uses language similar to that in the Book of Common Prayer and in the ACC's own Solemn Declaration. First of all, this second half imposes restriction on the first, contrary to the declared position of the ACC (which accepts as "binding and unalterable the received Faith and Traditions of the Church, and its teachings ... as set forth in the Holy Scriptures; the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds; the writings of the "ancient Catholic Bishops and Doctors", and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils"- from the Preamble to the Constitution). Secondly the formula imposes no control whatsoever over the interpretation of the Holy Scripture-anyone may decide for himself what any text may mean.
This formula cannot be dignified as a return to Anglicanism, or even to Protestanism-it is an invitation to doctrinal chaos. It is aimed at setting up a doctrinal double-standard entirely alien to the ACC. Since our faith and our eternal salvation are focussed on the one Lord Jesus Christ and since all doctrine seeks to set out the truth concerning the Saviour, there can only be one true scheme of doctrine, not two or more.
Why is such an attempt to kill the true Faith (and to kill the Bible) being made? The motives are complex. It would seem, certainly, that a return to a traditional style of Episcopalianism/Anglicanism, with its carefully cultivated doctrinal imprecision, is attractive to some. There has also been an unwillingness to accept authentic Catholic Faith, even a failure to understand it. (Some find it difficult to accept that the The Church Catholic is New Life in Christ- not just an organisation imposing religious 'rules of membership'.) There is also an unwillingness to see in the Mother of God the implications and fulfilment of true discipleship.
The Catholic Church has honoured the Virgin Mary as one who was found worthy of the supreme privilege of being the Mother of God, who cooperated with the will of God to the fullest extent possible for a member of the fallen human race, and who has experienced the totality of salvation in Christ. In Mary, if one may express it thus, the total package of Salvation is realised-she represents and defines the identity and character of the Church and of Christian discipleship. It is misleading to place authentic Catholic teaching concerning Our Lady either in the category 'necessary for salvation' or in the category 'pious beliefs, inessential for salvation'. (The latter category is a nonsensical invention in any case). The role of Our Lady is 'of the Faith'-showing what God has prepared for us also-and does not require formal definition. The Roman Catholic Marian 'definitions' are, therefore, unnecessary and misdirected.
It is probable that those who are making the attempt to pervert the Faith of the ACC will shout 'Romanists' at those who bear witness to the fullness of the Holy Tradition. Romanism is, however, a divergence from the authentic Catholicism of the undivided Church which the ACC has been called of God to proclaim.
It is our duty to 'speak the language' of the Fathers
both for the sake of arriving at understanding, and ultimate unity,
with other Churches maintaining the same Apostolic Faith, and
on behalf of those who those seek to be guided by the Holy Spirit
into all truth and into the fullness of eternal salvation.