After yesterdays post in which I set out why the Church of England is different from most other denominations, today I want to look at where the Church of England gets its beliefs from.
The Elizabethan settlement was intended to damp down religious divisions and created a Church of England in which a variety of beliefs could be accommodated. It has been thought that Richard Hooker did much to introduce the Anglican via media so that the Church of England is often referred to as Catholic and Reformed.
Hooker formulated the Church of England’s sources of authority as coming from Scripture, Tradition and Reason, sometimes known as the “three legged stool”.
Wesley taught similarly, but introduced a fourth “leg” of Christian Experience (although it was previously included under Reason).
The introduction of the four sources of authority, rather than the Protestant sola scriptura, meant that people could disagree by giving different weight to the different elements. This leaves the question of how doctrine is formulated in the Church of England. Instead of defining the answer, Anglicanism defines the method. When a new question arises we do not believe that we have to have an answer now! Instead different people will hold different views (legitimately) within the church, and will debate them until consensus is (or isn’t) achieved.
Sometimes this is formalised, as for example with Marriage after Divorce, where clergy are allowed to Marry a couple after divorce, but are not constrained to do so, and may refuse to do so on grounds of conscience, but often it is not and people are allowed to hold contradictory beliefs.
This provisionality of belief creates gentler boundaries to the church than those denominations which have a firm list of beliefs to be affirmed. It is also more in keeping with an apophatic faith which accepts that there is a lot that we cannot know.