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.
During our services in Lent I have asked a number of people to talk about how their faith informs their work. As I say in my introductions, a number of them have asked if they can say something slightly different, so I now have no idea who is saying what!
I have two main reasons for doing this (in no particular order):
- I believe that most people think that others faith is stronger than their own – by persuading people to share where they are honestly it helps others in owning where they are with their own faith, and helps them feel less guilty.
- Some people don’t actually know what they think about something until they express it (I’m one of those!), so by asking them to talk about something means that they have to think about it and discover what they really do think.
This isn’t the first time that we have done something like this, and we usually find that at the end people are saying things like “I’m so glad you said that”, or “that is what I think”.
One of the things that often comes out of these talks is how people feel free enough to question some doctrines – and the funny thing is that often the doctrines they are questioning aren’t doctrines at all, but instead things which those outside the church think are key, but which are not. Today someone felt it necessary to say that they did not believe that the Bible was literally true – apart from Richard Dawkins and fundamentalists (who form a small proportion of the church – 5% in Europe if this reports (pdf) definition is used) this is not an issue.
A couple of thoughts come out of this for me:
- Where does their information come from?
- What can I do to change this?
I suspect that the information comes from the media – one of the problems is that the media likes controversy, so people saying extreme things are more interesting than those saying sensible things. This leads to the media giving excessive attention to minority rather than mainstream views. For example, many people will know about Westboro Baptist Church with their perverse message, but far fewer will know about the Metropolitan Community Churches with their more inclusive message.
What can I do? It looks like I have at last found a theme for my blogging for the rest of Lent (or not! lets see how it goes).