Authority within the Christian Church 9781463210663

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Authority within the Christian Church

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Authority Within The Christian Church

Authority Within The Christian Church



First Gorgias Press Edition, 2006. Copyright © 2004 by Gorgias Press LLC. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States of America by Gorgias Press LLC, New Jersey.

ISBN 1-59333-342-0


46 Orris Ave., Piscataway, NJ 08854 USA

Printed and bound in the United States of America.

By the same author Why Believe in God? Preaching Through the Christian Year, Volume 11

To my dear wife, DIANA and to KYLE, bringer of much excitement

PREFACE I would like to express my grateful thanks to many who have helped in the production of this book, especially to my parents for encouraging me to write theology, to my wife Diana, and to all who have helped in it. I am most grateful to Mrs. Sheila Toes for kindly word-processing my manuscript, to Mrs. Judy Turner for typesetting it, and to those who helped me in reading the proofs. Though concerned with authority in the Christian Church, I have written as an Anglican and some material applies to the Anglican Communion. Yet, I believe that the principles suggested here do apply to the church universal, and I hope that they may contribute to the growth of ecumenical agreement. This book differs from others which I have written in that they expound themes about which there is a very wide measure of Christian consensus. This book, by contrast, deals with a matter concerning which there is much discussion at the present time and is offered as a contribution to that debate. PETER LEE


CONTENTS Preface.................................................................................................................................. v Contents............................................................................................................................. vii 1 Authority: A Matter Of Controversy .......................................................................... 1 2 What Do We Mean By Authority? .............................................................................. 7 3 What Do We Mean By The Christian Church?....................................................... 11 4 Authority In Society: A Sidelong Glance At Views Which Have Influenced The Church In Recent Years ..................................................................................... 13 5 Authority In Society And The Church: Should They Be The Same? ................... 23 6 What Should Be Held To Be Of Authority Within The Church, And Of What Weight? ................................................................................................ 27 7 Claims To Authority Within Various World Religions .......................................... 29 8 What Authority Should Be Attributed To God?..................................................... 33 (i) What Grounds Do We Have For Believing In God And His Authority? . 33 (ii) What Is The Nature Of The Authority That Should Be Attributed To God? .................................................................................................................... 37 9 What Authority Should Be Attributed To Jesus Christ? ........................................ 39 10 What Authority Should Be Attributed To The Holy Spirit?.................................. 45 (i) The Authority Possessed By The Holy Spirit ................................................ 45 (ii) The Authority Of The Holy Spirit - Did This Cause Beliefs To Develop After The Apostolic Age?................................................................. 48 11 What Authority Should Be Attributed To The Apostolic Faith?.......................... 51 (i) Arguments For The Authority Of Apostolic Tradition ............................... 51 (ii) Arguments For The Authority Of The New Testament And The Christian Understanding Of The Old Testament......................... 53 (iii) The Authority And Narrative Role Of Scripture And Parts Of Apostolic Tradition................................................................... 55 (iv) The Authority Of Scripture, Tradition, And Reason In The Apostolic Age........................................................................................ 59




(v) Challenges To This View Of The Authority Of Scripture, Tradition, And Reason/Experience................................................................................... 61 (vi) A Discussion Of The Authority Of Reason And Experience In Coming To Belief.......................................................................................... 61 (vii) A Discussion Of The Authority Of Reason In Relation To Perceiving God And God’s Disclosure In Christ And Through The Spirit ................. 62 (viii) A Discussion Of The Role Of Reason In Relation To Criticism Of The Biblical Documents And Apostolic Tradition................................................ 65 (ix) A Discussion Of The Authority Of Changing Cultures In Relation To The Biblical Documents And Apostolic Tradition ....................................... 67 (x) A Discussion Of Deductive And Inductive Ways Of Coming To Christian Beliefs And formulating them ......................................................... 70 12 What Authority Should Be Attributed To The Continuing Interpretative Tradition Within The Church Universal?................................................................. 73 (i) The Case For A Continuing Interpretative Tradition ................................... 73 (ii) The Continuing Interpretative Tradition Of The Church In Relation To Other Authorities............................................................................................... 74 (iii) Do Changes In Culture Prevent An Appeal To These Earlier Sources As Normative?.......................................................................................................... 75 (iv) The Case For The Interpretative Tradition Being On A Worldwide Scale 78 (v) Organs Of Interpretation Within The Church And Within Its Interpretative Tradition ..................................................................................... 79 13 What Authority Should Be Attributed To The Church Universal? ...................... 81 (i) Why Should The Church On A Universal Scale Be An Authority For The Churches?............................................................................................................ 81 (ii) Objections To This View And Responses...................................................... 87 (iii) The Ministry In The Church Universal........................................................... 89 (iv) The Community Of All The Baptised Faithful And Its Authority ............. 97 (v) The Presidency Of Bishops And The Role Of Such A President............... 98 14 What Authority Should Be Attributed To Synods?...............................................107 (i) (ii) (iii) (iv)

What Should Be The Role Of Synods Universal And Local?....................107 Universal Synods ..............................................................................................111 A Discussion Of Objections To The Authority Of Universal Synods.....114 Suggested Limits To Synods’ Authority........................................................115 (a) Limits Arising From “Higher Authorities” ............................................115 (b) Limits Due to the Need for “Reception” of Decisions........................121 (c) Should There Be a Limit on the Decision Making of Regional or National Synods by the Whole Church’s Views and Synods Drawn from the Whole Church?..........................................................................121 (d) Universal and Local Synods .....................................................................122 (v) What Makes A “Universal Synod” Universal? .............................................123 (vi) What Makes A Universal Synod Authoritative?...........................................123



(vii) Local Synods In A Divided Church .............................................................. 124 (viii) Examples Of The Working Of Synods In A Divided Church.................. 124 (a) Roman Catholic Synods, Universal and Local........................................ 124 (b) The Eastern Orthodox Church and Synods, Universal and Local ...... 126 (c) Synods in the Church of England and Anglican Communion............. 127 (ix) A Discussion Of Objections To The Authority Of Local Synods ........... 135 (x) Suggested Limits To The Authority Of Local Synods................................ 136 (xi) A Widespread Convergence Of Views On The Authority Of Synods..... 139 15 What Authority Should Belong To Reports And Preparatory Documents Sponsored By Synods But Not Endorsed By Synods Or By The Church As A Whole?......................................................................................................................... 141 16 What Authority Should Be Attributed To The Communal Judgement Of The Faithful? ......................................................................................................................145 17 Co-Inherence, Consistency, And Universality (Across Space And Time) Giving Weight To Authority................................................................................................. 153 18 Continuing Interpretative Tradition: Its Scope And Its Limits........................... 169 19 Scripture, Tradition, And Reason: Their Authority Across The Ages ............... 173 20 Problems In The Isolation Of Elements Of Authority........................................ 181 21 The Authority Of Experience And Its Relation To Scripture, Tradition, And Reason......................................................................................................................... 197 22 A Summary Of The Argument Of The Book ....................................................... 201 Bibliography .................................................................................................................... 205 Index ................................................................................................................................ 215

1 AUTHORITY: A MATTER OF CONTROVERSY Authority has in every age been a difficult yet vital subject, in religious beliefs as elsewhere in life. To many of those who originally heard Christ, His authority seemed striking. “What is this? A new teaching with authority,”1 was one response and St. Mark comments that Jesus taught “as one who had authority and not as the scribes.”2 Another reaction however was that of Jesus’ opponents who sought to question His authority: “What authority have you for acting like this? And who gave you this authority?”3 Secular philosophies in our day, as well as Jesus’ opponents, have challenged His authority and claims to divine authority. In every sphere of life, the perception of what has authority and the particular authority which is accepted have a decisive effect on what course is followed. What is seen to be of authority will be important for belief, for worship or its lack, and for the person’s life-stance. Non-Christian faiths as well as Christianity and secular philosophies put forward their views claiming authority; although some features of the great religions are held in common and there is evidence of a consensus in society on many major moral implications,4 yet there are also differences. Hence the question of authority naturally comes up in order to discriminate between them. The question of authority in society has also come to the fore in recent years. Within the family and within the educational system there has been more emphasis on freedom and personal discovery than under older educational methods. The growth of communication with other societies, Mark 1:27. Mark 1:22; Matthew 7:22. 3 Mark 11:28; Matthew 21:23. 4 H. L. A. Hart in The Concept of Law (OUP 1963), I. T. Ramsey in Christian Ethics and Contemporary Philosophy, (SCM 1960), 382–396, and G. F. Woods in Theology 68 (1965), 272–278, and Duty and Discernment, G. R. Dunstan, ed. (SCM 1975), 35ff. give recent arguments in favour of widely held beliefs as to what is right and wrong; the latter draws particular attention to widespread agreements in professional ethical codes and international affairs, and an article “Moral Discovery” by J. S. Habgood in Theology 69 (1966), 251ff. argues that moral consensus increases in more developed societies. 1 2




which have different values, brings questions about the authority on which each is based and which has the greater claim to acceptance. This growth of pluralism, with many differing beliefs and ways of life competing with each other has meant that authorities once taken for granted are subject to question. The growth of existentialism has emphasised the individual’s claim to personal authority.5 Secular humanism has emphasised the need for humankind to be free from the influence of God and other authorities held by Christians and adherents of other faiths to carry weight.6 Moreover, in the field of education, received authorities are more widely questioned than in the past, and to do so is a natural part of education today. As regards government, the results of views and votes expressed in the House of Commons, (themselves the result of democratic votes designed to give expression to the views of the majority of voters) are now authoritative in a way that was not the case 500 years ago, when the Monarch and the House of Lords had much greater authority. At the same time, within the church, authority is a very live issue. In the last few years, many books have been published on this issue.7 In this book I want to give one Christian’s view on authority in the Christian church and to put the case for certain views on this. Why should we be concerned with authority within the Christian church? It is indeed fundamental to Christian belief that one accepts the 5 e.g., J. P. Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism (Methuen 1948) and A. Camus, The Plague, ET 1948 (Penguin 1960). 6 e.g., A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (Gollancz 1936/Pelican 1971), B. Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (Allen & Unwin, 1957), and J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (OUP 1981). 7 e.g., especially “The Church,” and “Divine Revelation,” in Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966, ARCIC, Authority in the Church (SPCK/CTS 1976), E. J. Yarnold, SJ and H. Chadwick, Truth and Authority (SPCK/CTS 1977), S. Sykes, The Integrity of Anglicanism (Mowbray 1978), A. McGrath, “The General Synod and Authority,” and G. Rowell, “Councils of Authority,” in The Synod of Westminster - Do We Need It?, P. Moore, ed. (SPCK 1986), By What Authority?, R. Jeffrey, ed. (Mowbray 1987), Authority in the Anglican Communion, S. Sykes, ed. (Anglican Book Centre, Toronto 1987), R. A. K. Runcie, Authority in Crisis? An Anglican Response (SCM 1988), R. Cook, Freedom and Authority (Scripture Union 1988), G. V. Bennett, “Authoritative Decision-making,” in To the Church of England, (Churchman 1988), Christian Authority, G. R. Evans, ed. (OUP 1988), G. R. Evans, Authority in the Church - A Challenge for Anglicans (Canterbury Press 1990), S. R. White, Authority and Anglicanism (SCM 1996), G. R. Evans, Reception of the Faith (SPCK 1997), S. Platten, Augustine’s Legacy (DLT 1997), ARCIC, The Gift of Authority (Anglican Book Centre, C.T.S., Church Publishing Inc. 1999).



authority of God, revealed as Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit.8 It is decisive for the form of Christian belief what one accepts as inspired by God, how one understands the authority of Jesus Christ, how one understands the authority of the Holy Spirit, and what should be understood as inspired by the Holy Spirit. In this connection views are affected by the weight one attaches to the authority of apostolic witness, the Scriptures, apostolic tradition, the church, and personal experience. In the early divisions of the church the question of authority was vital, as it was in the later breaches between East and West, the Reformation divisions, and later splits. However, at the present time the question has emerged with special force for various reasons. First, as consciousness of divisions in the church has grown, along with regret at them, there has been a concern to see where differences in authority occur, and to investigate to see if these can be overcome. Both the “Faith and Order” movement and the great changes of the Second Vatican Council with its reformulation of views on authority within the Roman Catholic Church have led churches influenced by the ecumenical movement to engage in dialogue on the question of authority. Secondly, there has been a difference of views between liberal and conservative theologians, which has affected what Christians hold more authoritative and the varying viewpoints on this among them. In the heyday of Bultmann’s influence there was a marked questioning of the possibility or reliability of evidence about the historical Jesus and events and sayings which the gospels relate, which in turn affected willingness to make Christ Incarnate the chief authority under God for the Christian faith; it has also been claimed that sayings of Christ, the apostles, and New Testament writers are too culturally remote to serve as continuing authorities for our own day.9 However, in recent years there has been a questioning of this very stance as itself culturally conditioned,10 and there has been a new quest of the historical Jesus (e.g., in the writings of G. Bornkamm, J. Jeremias, J. Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (SCM 1966), 161–193. e.g., R. Bultmann, etc., in Kerugma and Myth, rev. ed. (Harper 1961), R. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, ET (Blackwell 1963), “The Pastness of the Past,” in Christian Believing, M. Wiles, ed. (SPCK 1976), 7, D. E. Nineham, The Use and Abuse of the Bible (SPCK 1976), and “New Testament Interpretation in a Historical Age,” in Explanations in Theology (SCM 1997). 10 E. L. Mascall, The Secularisation of Christianity (DLT 1965), 53, etc., E. L. Mascall, Theology and the Gospel of Christ (SPCK 1977), esp. 454, 68, and 105, A. M. Ramsey, Jesus and the Living Past (OUP 1980), J. D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (SCM 1985), N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God (SPCK 2005). 8 9



G. N. Stanton, E. P. Sanders, C. Rowland, and others)11 and a renewed interest in the Jewish background of Jesus and conditions (economic, social, historical, and archaeological) in Palestine at that period.12 The finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls and new archaeological evidence have contributed to our increased knowledge of the background of Jesus’ life and ministry. Moreover, evidence from other disciplines such as poetry, drama, art, and architecture does suggest that coming from an earlier culture does not in itself lead to irrelevance and does not show that all that is most modern is on that account superior. These factors have in turn made it much more natural and desirable to appeal to Jesus in His historical life as of authority in the church. Thirdly, the wide acknowledgement of diversity of views within the New Testament writings has led to a less uniform view of what is authoritative and greater willingness to allow that a number of views may carry authority (though this does not mean, as S. Sykes has pointed out, that all views are admissible). Fourthly, the building of the Channel Tunnel and Britain’s membership of the E.E.C. have increased consciousness of the need to take into account European and worldwide dimensions in church life. Ecumenical agreements with other churches, some of which are worldwide in scope, have accentuated this. Fifthly, there has been an awareness of other life-stances and views, as secularism has grown and Christians have also encountered other faiths, not only abroad, but well established in England. This has made Christians look again at the authority for their own beliefs rather than taking them on trust as part of their inherited tradition. In this book I want to consider the question of authority within the Christian church, first dealing with the meaning of authority and of the church. Then I will deal with the question of whether there are distinctive factors in the Christian view of authority as compared with other forms of authority in the world. The book goes on to argue for a hierarchy of authorities, from God downwards, in which each lower authority has, it is suggested, less authority than those above, while allowing for dialogue G. Bomkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (ET Hodder 1960), X. Leon-Dufour, The Gospels and the Jesus of History (ET Collins 1968), C. H. Dodd The Founder of Christianity (Collins 1970), G. N. Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching (CUP 1974), G. N. Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (OUP 1989). 12 G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (Collins 1973), E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (SCM 1985), E. P. Sanders and M. Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (SCM 1989), C. Rowland, Christian Origins (SPCK 1985). 11



between them and I argue for why each particular authority should be placed as it is. Finally, I give a summary of the argument of the book as a whole.

2 WHAT DO WE MEAN BY AUTHORITY? The word “authority,” from the Latin “auctoritas,” meaning “weight,” is closely connected also with the word “author.” Originally, it was linked with the view that the author, cause, or originator of things, by virtue of that role, has power over what has been created. The causer has responsibility for what has been caused and the author has responsibility for what has been written or authorised. Some would argue that authority derives from the office held, others that it rests on intrinsic characteristics such as character, ability, and prestige. Ideally, the desired characteristics and the office should coincide, with one being appropriate to the other, though there can be cases when personal characteristics are inappropriate for an office with power to be exercised, or clashes between different forms of authority take place (e.g., between the authority of expert knowledge and the authority of office or an official or committee). Only when the authority of the office and the authority of personal and moral behaviour and knowledge coincide will authority, in fact, be at its greatest. A Christian would, of course, argue that this is actually the case with God, who both possesses chief authority and the supreme goodness needed. However, these beliefs are in today’s world challenged and hence will need justification, which we will attempt. However, questions still arise about whether a belief carries authority because God authorises it or because of its goodness and truth; or again, it may be that these are different ways of describing the same thing. Let us consider in turn authority derived from the office held and authority derived from intrinsic characteristics. As regards authority derived from the office held, this may be defined and circumscribed in legal terms or by conventions (e.g., the laws and conventions governing a Prime Minister’s, Cabinet’s, and Parliament’s use of power). However, the legal definitions, though they define and limit the authority of office and create means by which authority can be exercised (e.g., through office), do not give intrinsic authority to statements or views. With regard to earthly authorities, too, there is a further authority, to which earthly authorities are, 7



in the view of the Christian believer and some other theists, accountable (something that does not apply to God). Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, MPs, judges, magistrates, teachers, parents, heads of firms and unions, officers in the forces, police, and holders of academic offices have authority by virtue of their offices. However, personal characteristics and knowledge may affect that authority, and wider and higher forms of authority have an influence. In the view of Christian believers and some other theistic believers, the will of God should be an authority higher than all these earthly officers.1 Authority is given to those holding these offices because of their roles, responsibilities, and duties and yet is understood to depend on right performance of these. Politicians must put themselves up for re-election, when their authority and achievements are assessed by the wider authority of the electorate. If authorities such as judges, magistrates, police, teachers, and doctors do not fulfill their roles rightly, they are reprimanded or replaced. With parents, this does not happen quite so easily, yet even there, those who do not care properly for their children have them taken from them “into care” and thus cease to function actively as parents. Although monarchies and some members of the House of Lords in Britain have authority by heredity, yet this has in recent centuries been lessened and passed elsewhere. Constitutional monarchies have taken the place of monarchies with absolute authority virtually everywhere, and in Britain cases like those of James II2 and Edward VIII3 show distrust of the hereditary principle and an increase in the authority of Parliament, particularly with regard to the power and authority of the House of Commons. Members of Parliament, councillors, and monarchs can have power and authority taken from them because of misbehaviour. There is, therefore, a moral element in authority and its exercise. This implies a wider and higher authority by virtue of which even these authoritative offices are exercised.

1 cf. Christ’s teachings on the authority of God (Mark 11:29–34) and that of God and Caesar (Mark 12:13–17) and the reply of St. Peter and the other apostles to the High Priest, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:19). 2 In the case of James II, Parliament decreed that he should abdicate, and the authority of the monarch should pass to William and Mary. 3 Edward VIII’s desire for marriage to the divorced lady Mrs. Wallis Simpson led to the demand that he should abdicate, and succession by George VI was agreed by Parliament.



There is, however, authority derived from intrinsic characteristics. A person’s goodness or holiness, trustworthiness, and reliability gives them an intrinsic authority; past achievements and wisdom also contribute to this. This is analogous to the authority attributed to God on the grounds of His goodness, trustworthiness, wisdom, and power as Creator, though His authority exceeds ours by virtue of His perfection in these. As well as persons and groups of persons, there are other forms of authority. Some books, documents, and scientific views have more authority than others. Some correspond to a more universal picture of the world and some take more account of the evidence than others. In the field of academic learning in the arts, there are special characteristics that give intrinsic authority—attention to original sources and adequate documentation and references, for example. But if the views put forward are subsequently accepted by a majority of scholars on the widest possible scale, preferably internationally, then this increases the authority of the views by virtue of their wide acceptance. It is desirable that acceptance be international as this gives a safeguard against local or national partisanship, and this increases the authority of the views. With regard to scientific authority, this first starts as a hypothesis which best accounts for all or the greater part of the evidence. Then it is tentatively formulated and, if finally accepted, becomes held as authoritative within the scientific community. Both the plausibility of the intrinsic view put forward and the fact that the majority of scientists accept it give authority.4 In each of these spheres, intrinsic authority and authority from subsequent acceptance have a place. While, as we have argued, both in practice contribute to something being authoritative, nevertheless, in order of priority the intrinsic qualities come first, even though acceptance of them by many is likely to increase their authority. For a believer in God, the authority of various goods perceived in the world will be even greater if he or she holds, like St. Thomas Aquinas,5 that the authority of the good, truthful, and beautiful in earthly things is due to their derivation from God and “what there is of God in them.” Where it is held that God is the Creator and Author of all things, then this will affect the authority attributed to God. 4 It is, of course, possible that there may be changes in views and in the consensus of the scientific community, as when Newton’s views came eventually to be reckoned less authoritative than Einstein’s. 5 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, A.C. Pegis, tr. (Image, Doubleday 1955), 1, 8. 1, 29. 1–6.



There comes, then, this question of the authority of God. Of course, this has had to meet many challenges. Sometimes the reality of God or gods has been denied in which case God or gods could not possess authority. Sometimes they have been held to be real, but did not hold the authority claimed. For example, in the time before Christ, the authority of the “Elohim” (rival gods) was denied even though one school of thought admitted their reality. Only later did there come consensus among Jews (and naturally agreement by Christians) that they were not real and did not possess authority either. The view of God as Creator and Author of all things is, as mentioned in the last paragraph, decisive in pointing to God’s authority as well as reality, providing that God’s reality can be established. In our own day, both the reality and the authority of God have been challenged. Thus to show God’s authority we need to show God’s reality and His authority, stemming from His role as Creator and Author of all things and His particular disclosures. Moreover, the reality and authority of God, if it can be shown, will affect the authority attributed to other persons and things. If God can be shown to be real, this will influence the views taken of the authority attributed to other persons and things; those that are created and have God as their Author, while they can reasonably be held to possess a certain authority, will be held to have a lesser authority than their Creator and Author.

3 WHAT DO WE MEAN BY THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH? The subject of this book is authority in the Christian church. What do we mean, then, by the Christian church? By the Christian church I would understand all the baptised and faithful believers who acknowledge Christ as Lord1 and accept belief in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.2 Within the church there is, among the majority of Christians, a high regard for the inspiration of the Scriptures3 which witness to God, His mighty acts, especially in Christ, and for the continuing life of the Spirit within the church.4 Moreover, the church is not made up of its earthly members alone. It takes its being from God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who is timeless; moreover the church includes all the faithful departed, among them the saints, martyrs, and apostles. This union of the living and departed in the church is a reality in each Holy Communion service when “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” we proclaim God’s great and glorious name, forever praising Him in union with them. However, this also does give a stabilising element to the church; in making its decisions, not only its votes in synods, not only even the views of the whole body of faithful and baptised Christians in our day, but also all those members of the church back to time of Christ and the apostles, who are still members of it, need to be considered. As regards Karl Rahner’s view on “Anonymous Christians,”5 this seems understandable for those who have not heard the faith (whose status would be like the ancient Jews before Christ). However, if they have not Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11. St. Matthew 28:19, etc. 3 Matthew 4:4; Mark 7: 1–3, 12:26–27; St. Athanasius, Against the Heathen 1; St. Basil, Homily 29. 4 John 14:26, 16:13–14; Acts 9:33. 5 Karl Rahner, SJ, “Anonymous Christians,” in Theological Investigations, Vol. VI (1969), 390–398. 1 2




heard the faith, they are not professed and active members of the church, so whatever God’s view of them at the time of judgement, which God Himself knows and will decide, they are not at the moment at a stage to participate in the decision making and active interpretation of the gospel which from the nature of things only those who are, or have been, baptised and faithful Christians visibly can do.

4 AUTHORITY IN SOCIETY: A SIDELONG GLANCE AT VIEWS WHICH HAVE INFLUENCED THE CHURCH IN RECENT YEARS As we saw in Chapter 2, authority in society may come from the office held, from the characteristics of the person or persons who wield it, or from characteristics of their views, books, or other authorities. Although in most matters, those holding authority are accountable to persons or other authorities above them; for example, a teacher is accountable to the higher authority of the head teacher, and he or she in turn is responsible to the higher authority of the Governors and Education Committee, while most professions have also a written code in addition to govern behavior. In politics, a Cabinet Minister is accountable to the Prime Minister, who in turn is restrained by the authority of the Constitution. In more recent years, however, an emphasis has grown on democratic accountability. The views of governors, Education Committees, and Councils publicly elected by a majority vote have greatly influenced the ways in which schools are run. A government and its ministers, with its attendant authority, can be removed at the vote of the majority of the people and replaced by another government and its authority. There has been less feeling in society of a normative tradition derived from God’s revelation or from that revelation shown through a particular figure in history. Indeed, since Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution” became current, views of political and social evolution have been the norm. Adaptation to changes in culture was therefore not exposed to the same kind of problems with regard to incoherence of aims which can beset the church if its historical roots and more complex views of authority are altered. However, within the churches affected by the democratic tendency in society in those countries in which they are set, there has come a growing emphasis on the process of decision making by majorities in Synods 13



without the constraints and limits imposed by more complex views of Christian authority. Within the Anglican Communion, the complex nature of authority, as summed up by a statement at the 1948 Lambeth Conference,1 is markedly at variance with views (found alike in the secular The resolution on authority in the 1948 Lambeth Conference is reprinted in S. Sykes, Authority in the Anglican Communion (Anglican Book Centre, Toronto 1987), 284–286: “The positive nature of authority which binds the Anglican Communion together is (therefore) seen to be moral and spiritual, resting on the truth of the gospel, and on a charity which is patient and willing to defer to the common mind. Authority as inherited by the Anglican Communion from the undivided church of the early centuries of the Christian era, is single in that it is derived from a single Divine source, and reflects within itself the richness and historicity of the divine Revelation, the authority of the eternal Father, the incarnate Son and the life-giving Spirit. It is distributed among Scripture, Tradition, Creeds, the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, the witness of saints and the “consensus fidelium,” which is the continuing experience of the Holy Spirit through His faithful people in the church. It is thus a dispersed rather than a centralised authority, having many elements which combine, interact with and check each other; these elements, together contributing by a process of mutual support, mutual checking and redressing of errors or exaggerations to the many-sided fullness of the authority which Christ has committed to His church. Where this authority of Christ is to be found mediated not in one mode but in several, we recognise in this multiplicity God’s loving provision against the temptations to tyranny and dangers of unchecked power. “This authority possesses a suppleness and elasticity in that the emphasis of one element over the others may and does change with the changing conditions of the church. The variety of the contributing factors gives to it a quality of richness which encourages and releases initiative, trains in fellowship and evokes a free and willing obedience. “It may be said that authority of this kind is much harder to understand and obey than authority of a more imperious character. This is true and we glory in the appeal it makes to faith. Translated into personal terms, it is simple and intelligible. God who is our ultimate personal authority demands of all His creatures entire and unconditional obedience. As in human families the father is mediator of this divine authority, so in the family of the church is the bishop, the father in God, wielding his authority by virtue of his divine commission and in synodical association with his clergy and laity, and exercising it in humble submission, as himself under authority. “The elements in authority are moreover in organic relation to each other. Just as the discipline of the scientific method proceeds from the collection of data to the ordering of these data in formulae, the publishing of results obtained and their verification by experience, so Catholic Christianity presents us with an organic process of life and thought in which religious experience has been, and is, 1



world and in practice often in church synods)2 which see authority in the church as settled by a majority of votes, without further authorities and limits. Indeed, in practice, the church’s decision making processes have changed. The changes in the Anglican Communion have come especially in the field of decision making by democratic vote, without always seeming to view synods as beneath higher authorities, and in the extent to which synods are regarded as representative on their own without wider reference to the whole people of God, and in the growth of national decision making at the expense of decision making as part of the church universal. Let us consider these points in turn. It is true that there were limited democratic elements in earlier times. In St. John’s gospel, Christ gives authority to the whole church.3 described, intellectually ordered, mediated and verified. “This experience is described in Scripture, which is authoritative because it is the unique and classical record of the revelation of God in His relations to and dealings with mankind. While Scripture therefore remains the ultimate standard of faith, it should be continually interpreted in the context of the Church’s life. It is defined in Creeds and in continuous theological study. It is mediated in the ministry of the Word and Sacraments, by persons who are called and commissioned by God through the Church to represent both the transcendent and immanent elements of Christ’s authority. “It is verified in the witness of the saints and in the “consensus fidelium.” The Christ-like life carries its own authority, and the authority of doctrinal formulations, by General Councils or otherwise, rests at least in part on their acceptance by the whole body of the faithful, though the weight of this consensus “does not depend on mere numbers or on the extension of a belief at any time, but on continuance through the ages, and the extent to which the consensus is genuinely free.” After referring to episcopacy and the Book of Common Prayer, the resolution speaks of liturgy as “the crucible in which these elements of authority are focused.” 2 In the General Synod in England, although resolutions on doctrine have to be proposed by the bishops who themselves have taken an oath of loyalty to “the faith revealed in the holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic creeds” (ASB) and (in the BCP) an oath “not to teach anything contrary to the Holy Scriptures,” this is still taken by a majority decision (making difficult an “Athanasius contra mundum”) and this does not apply to other resolutions, where sufficient votes in each house suffice. As well as the lack of constraint from the Scriptures, apostolic teaching, and creeds, there is also a lack of link with the views of the church on a universal scale, particularly the views of the majority of the church universal. 3 John 1:12: “But to all who received (Christ), to them He gave authority to become children of God.” “Power” and “authority” are different translations for the same Greek word, “exousia.”



Incidentally, this is very different from giving authority to a democratic assembly in a national or local church, or even giving full and unlimited authority to a universal assembly, and there is little evidence that in early times St. John’s gospel was understood in that way. Relevant also to the understanding of the authority of the church as a whole are the confession of Christ’s lordship, baptism, confirmation, and the gift of the Spirit4 as endowing members of the church with new authority. St. Paul’s view of the church as the “Body of Christ”5 and St. Peter’s way of conceiving of the church’s authority6 are also relevant here. In the book of Revelation, where there is mention of Christians sharing in Christ’s priesthood and Kingship, the whole of the church is thought of as possessing some authority by virtue of this. However, there is also evidence of special authority being given to the “twelve,” to a wider group of apostles, to presbyters (like Jewish elders), overseers (again a Jewish title, probably usually interchangeable with the presbyters in the earliest period), deacons, and other officers such as readers and doorkeepers. To many different officers authority was given and handed on. At important crises (e.g., the discussion and different views held by St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. James on the admission of Gentiles to the Christian community without Jewish laws), brothers representing the church in Judea7 and in Gentile lands8 put their views before the apostles and elders who met them to decide the matter.9 Then the whole church showed their assent by sending delegates to communicate the resulting decision. Thenceforward synods, local and universal, became accepted ways of meeting with disagreements and of decision making. However, from the early centuries, decisions by majorities in Synods were one factor carrying authority, not the only factor. It was realised by those sharing in these synods that the authority of God the Holy Trinity, the Scriptures, and the apostolic faith were supreme, so that the gospels were placed on a stand in the midst of the assembly10 and the pronouncements of synods began “In accordance with the holy and inspired Scriptures….” In the documents of the Reformation period, the theocratic views of the Reformers take a view of Christian beliefs with Philippians 2:11; Ephesians 4:5; Acts 2:38. Romans 8:11; Ephesians 4:14–16. 6 1 Peter 2:5–9. 7 Revelation 1:6, 5:16. 8 Acts 11:l ff., 15:1. 9 Acts 15:2. 10Acts 15:3–33. 4 5



higher and more fundamental authorities (to use two images which both imply greater authority), than what is desired by contemporary fellow believers,11 whilst the Council of Trent12 and the Orthodox Council of Jerusalem13 also take a theocratic, Trinitarian, Scriptural, and ecclesiological view of authority; although they emphasise the church’s role in forming the canon of Scripture and creeds they also emphasise the church’s obligation to conform to the apostolic faith.14 It is also very interesting that the Second Vatican Council likewise sees the “living teaching office of the church” as subject to those higher and more fundamental authorities. As the Conciliar test puts it, This teaching office (of the church), is not above the word of God but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully by divine commission, and with the help of the Holy Spirit it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.15

There seems, I suggest, a danger in Anglican synods that not sufficient weight is given to higher and more fundamental authorities than the Synods themselves. This does, I suggest, show the need to supplement the present system of the General Synod and similar Anglican synods. Thus the authority of the church’s “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities” in God the Holy Trinity, revelation of the Father, particularly through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit through Him, the Holy Scriptures and apostolic tradition need to be more clearly acknowledged, and their authority needs 11 See E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, H. Carpenter, rev. ed. (Longmans 1955), 271, 272. 12 This is evident in the writings of Luther and Calvin. English references like Cramer, Ridley, Jewel, and Hooker show this also with an even greater sense of continuity. The authority of God, the Holy Scriptures, the creeds, and the Church as “witness and keeper of Holy Writ” (Article 20), are regarded as the highest authorities. 13 1545–1563. 14 In 1672. 15 One bishop at Trent (Nanchiatti of Chioggia) believed that all things necessary to salvation are contained in Scripture implicitly or explicitly. In the final decree on Scripture and the apostolic faith, the council declared that the Scriptures and traditions “which have always been maintained in the Catholic church” contained what was necessary on revelation. The Council of Jerusalem in the Eastern Church (1672) expressed belief in the Scriptures (including the Old Testament Apocrypha) as the supreme form of witness to God’s revelation, but interpreted by the church,.



to be acknowledged to be greater than the synods, who can interpret them and arrange lesser matters but should not go against them. Then secondly, there is the question of the representative nature of synods. In apostolic times the “brethren” from various parts of the church mentioned their problems before the synod of Jerusalem,16 but at that synod the apostles and elders, under the chairmanship of St. James, made the actual decisions on the question of the terms on which Gentiles were to be admitted to the church, which was subsequently endorsed by the members of the Jerusalem church as a whole.17 When decision making on a wider scale became a more regular feature of church life with local, then eventually universal, synods, these synods were normally made up of bishops, sometimes with theological experts also present; on a local level clergy were normally present and lay people were also sometimes present, for example at councils in Egypt. The emperor convoked the earlier ecumenical councils (e.g., Nicaea). However, it was a vital part of the synodical process for lay people and clergy in the church as a whole to express their views by the “reception” or “non-reception” of the decisions of the synod. Thus there was a further need for synods to be “received” or otherwise by the overwhelming majority of the baptised faithful as in accordance with the revelation of God the Holy Trinity, the Holy Scriptures, and the apostolic faith. The “common judgement of the faithful” was an important factor determining the result of the decisions of a synod, but this more democratic element of the representation of lay people’s views was normally within the church as a whole, not within the synod’s members.18 Thus widely representative councils like Ariminun and Seleuceia which voted in favour of Semi-Arianism were afterwards not accepted, while less representative councils like Nicaea were afterwards accepted by the great majority of the church. The democratic element in church life was thus expressed in a different way from that which has prevailed in recent years in the Anglican Communion. In the early centuries it applied to the church (of the baptised faithful) as a whole, which had to come to a decision on the synods, whereas now the democratic element is seen as expressed in votes on the nod in which most of the church, clergy and lay, do not have a voice, nor are they given an opportunity to say whether or not they “receive” or do not “receive” the decisions. The assent of the church as a whole, rather than just members of the synods, seems especially important in our own The Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 117, 118. Acts 15:6–21. 18 Acts 15:22, 30. 16 17



day, when members of the laity on synods are usually drawn from a narrow band of occupations, with many retired and self-employed people (owing to the times when the synods meet) and only a small number of working people. Again, this widespread element of “reception” in the early church meant that decisions were less likely to be seen as imposed legalistically “from above,” and more closely related to the community of the church as a whole and its views. This is still the understanding in the Eastern Orthodox church today, and in certain Anglican writers.19 A further change which has come about in synods, particularly in the Anglican Communion and Protestant churches, has been the growth of national decision making at the expense of decision making as part of the church universal. Yet in the ministry of Christ and the apostles and in the first 300 years of the early church, the church on a universal scale had a more predominant role than national churches (which did not exist; indeed, except for Persia, Ethiopia, and Armenia all the other lands evangelised were part of the Roman Empire). Local churches mentioned in the early Christian literature are all conceived of as part of one “Body of Christ.” Christ sent out His disciples to preach the gospel to all nations,20 and the church was distinguished by lack of concern about races and countries.21 The universality of the church was both across time and across space. The universality of the church across time was reinforced by a common appeal from earliest times onwards to authoritative sources of the faith, which retained that authority across the ages. Among these were the appeal to the revelation of God the Holy Trinity, the Holy Scriptures, the apostolic faith, and apostolic succession in the ministry. These were held to be constant for every age; for example, the Muratorian canon of the Scriptures was commended on the ground that it preserved the constant apostolic tradition, the Apostles’ Creed was commended on the grounds that it preserved the apostolic faith, and in the great universal synods there was a constant appeal to universality and an unchanging gospel across time; change was regarded as a sign of error and heresy.22 It is interesting to note in this connection that the Anglican reforms in the sixteenth century J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, (A & C Black 1960), 190ff. gives details of the appeals to the church as an authority on a universal scale. 20 See for example T. Ware, The Orthodox Church, (Penguin 1963), 256–257, E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, H. Carpenter, rev. ed. (Longmans 1955), 272. Matthew 28:19. 21 Matthew 28:19. 22 Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 12:13. 19



appealed to the holy Scriptures and the “godly and decent order of the ancient fathers”23 and the recent Roman Catholic and Anglican revisions of the liturgy have largely attempted to go back to the earliest known written forms of the liturgy, with a sense of continuity and universality across time. As regards universality across space, this was at first taken as natural as a result of Christ’s commission to go and preach the gospel to all nations24 and the Pentecostal experience.25 It was shown by the meeting of the apostles from their various fields of missionary activity at the synod of Jerusalem.26 In formulating the canon of Scripture, the views of the church on a universal scale (or virtually universal scale, bearing in mind the variants in the Syriac churches—and even here they tried to keep in line with the rest of the church) had a vital role and an article asserting belief in the church universal was included in the Creeds.27 Certain portions of the church did indeed break apart in the early centuries, but the bulk of the church remained one until AD 1054 and hence its ecumenical synods were accepted both by East and West up till then.28 As the power of nationalism grew, so there was a tendency for portions of the church to identify themselves with these local units. The Anglican articles in Article 34 speak of how “every particular or national church hath authority to ordain change and abolish ceremonies or rites of the church, ordered only by man’s authority,” though the phrase does not seem to include beliefs, particularly not those we have mentioned in “fundamental authorities,” and also shows that the churches are limited by some higher authorities (which were, in fact, shared with other churches). Nationalism was an important factor in the Reformation and the breaking away of different portions of the church, co-terminous with nation states. These nation states continued after the Reformation to grow in power and St. Athanasius, On Synods 5. Book of Common Prayer: “Concerning the Service of the Church.” 25 See note 21, Matthew 28:19. 26 Acts 1:8, 2:8–11. 27 Acts 15:3–4, 22–23, 30, 38, 39, 41. 28 i.e., the first Synod of Nicaea (AD 325) the first Synod of Constantinople (AD 381) the first Synod of Ephesus (AD 431) the first Synod of Chalcedon (AD 451) the second Synod of Constantinople (AD 553) the third Synod of Constantinople (AD 680) the second Synod of Nicaea (AD 787) the fourth council of Constantinople did not receive Eastern agreement. 23 24



influence, and some founded overseas empires. However, after the destruction of the First and Second World Wars and various local wars where nationalism was an important factor, there has come a reaction against excessive nationalism, and as the limitations of nationalism have been seen, so much the more important and desired has international decision making become. Churches that were reformed on a national basis at the time of the Reformation (like the Church of England) or later (as the Anglican Communion’s churches) are thus in a political setting that is becoming less important and less practicable, as international firms, trade links, and the vital need to avoid war between nations all assume a greater and greater importance. Now that Britain has entered the E.E.C. and the Commonwealth becomes less important to us, what has been largely a British sphere of influence seems less justifiable as bounds for a church or a decision making body. The church universal should therefore, I suggest, be seen as the community with the strongest claim to act as the leading communal organ of authority. This will, however, involve giving weight to the predominance of different groups of baptised and faithful Christians within it. Although these are not formally in a decision making structure together, yet the advent of polls has made it possible to work out a rough consensus of views among Christians in the world, and to arrange an actual meeting of Christians on a universal scale is a desirable challenge. Such an international perspective is, I suggest, much more faithful to Scripture and the practice of the primitive universal church (and the church down to the division between East and West and even after) than deliberative assemblies based on nations and churches co-terminous with those nations (something of which Scripture and Christ’s teachings know nothing).

5 AUTHORITY IN SOCIETY AND THE CHURCH: SHOULD THEY BE THE SAME? How far, then, should the kind of authority that prevails in the secular world prevail also in the church? I would like to suggest that there are differences both in the ultimate authorities (for what the church reckons “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities” are not always desired to be taken into account in secular assemblies) and in the methods which should be used to discover what is of authority. The “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities” which I have suggested should prevail in the church (God the Holy Trinity, Scripture, apostolic tradition, and universal or widespread interpretative tradition) have no binding parallel in the actual day-to-day running of nations, although, largely for historical reasons, in Britain the church has a residual role in Parliament and is regarded as the “Established Church”; this is in practice negated by the large number of unbelievers and agnostics in Parliament, while abroad there is in most countries a division between churches and the state. In Britain, there are some “church schools” and in state schools worship in assemblies has been ordered to be “of a predominantly Christian character” (a more definitely Christian view than has been put forward for several years past) and individual teachers and pupils may be and often are practising Christians, but they are, understandably, bound to acknowledge the other beliefs and rights of conscience and religious freedom of those holding different views. The same applies to other institutions in daily life. Again, the custom of deciding new measures and changes in laws and practices by majorities which prevails in democratic states does not, I suggest, give a full enough model for what should be held of authority in the church. Though in the church the number of those favouring a view in synods has been taken into account as an important factor, yet it has not always proved trustworthy in isolation. The councils, of Ariminum and Seleuceia which voted for semi-Arianism were afterwards, as we have noted, not found to represent the long term views of the Christian church 23



as a whole. Although this can fairly be said to be an appeal from an assembly to a “wider constituency,” the communal judgement of the church on a wider scale, if we look earlier also in the history of people of God, we find that in the case of Jesus the majority of the people of His day have not in the long run been felt by Christians to have been right in their assessment of him.1 Earlier, the prophets often felt themselves to be lone voices with the majority opposed to them and their message,2 though the preservation of their history and views has not shown the views of the majority of that day to have been approved in the long run. Admittedly, this involves a kind of appeal to a later and wider majority view, but it does tell against attaching authority to the short term majority view of the majority of the people of one particular period. Within the church, the need for prayer for the Holy Spirit and the need for the decisions of synods or individuals to be endorsed in the long run by the church as a whole either on a universal or nearly universal scale may indeed act as counter-balances to the problem of local decisions by bodies representing a small area or by individuals which do not have consensus of the church on a world-wide scale. One of the problems of national synods which are not linked with synods of their own communion or those of the great majority of Christians in the world is that by “going it alone” they can seem not to acknowledge the church on a universal scale as indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit, despite the close connection in the New Testament and the Creeds between baptism, the Spirit, and Church.3 I would conclude therefore that models of what is authoritative for the secular world are not appropriate to define what is authoritative and do not give adequate means of discovering what is authoritative within the Christian church; rather, there are special factors in the Christian church’s view of what is authoritative—that is to say, the need to take account of “fundamental authorities,” the problems attached to majority votes, and the need for a universal rather than national consensus (or at least a consensus from the majority of the universal church) in matters affecting the church universal, particularly if these are matters from a common Christian heritage.

Mark 14:50; John 6:67; Mark 15:12; John 19:7. I Kings 19:10 and Jeremiah 5:10, etc. 3 If the church of the baptised and faithful on a universal scale is not envisaged as authoritative and Spirit-filled, then the link between baptism, commitment, the Spirit, and the church is broken. See 1 Corinthians 12:13 and the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. 1 2



But what is the relationship of “executive authorities” to those authorities just mentioned? By “executive authority” I mean those authorities such as patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, priests, and deacons, each with an area of authority, and also ecumenical councils and synods on a worldwide scale, along with area, national diocesan and deanery synods, and parish councils. I will be discussing the role of these authorities in relation to other authorities more fully later, but here we may just note that for the most part these authorities have in theory acknowledged their inferiority to God the Holy Trinity, to the apostles and their teaching, and to the Scriptures, which have been reckoned as more authoritative and normative. The grounds for this acknowledgement have been that God the Holy Trinity should be the prime authority for Christians and deserving supreme worship, that Jesus Christ gave the fullest revelation on earth of God’s nature, salvation, and teachings, that the Holy Spirit bears witness to Him, and that the apostles4 stood closer in time to Christ than other authorities and hence were most likely to be reliable in their witness and had received a special commission from Christ5 which was itself unrepeatable, whilst the Scriptures were chosen on the grounds that (as regards the Old Testament and Apocrypha) they were inherited from the Jews, used and approved by the apostles, and (in the case of the New Testament) that they contain the witness of the apostles and their immediate followers; other apostolic teaching (e.g., on Sunday as a regular day of worship and primitive forms of the Creeds) had authority on the same grounds of preserving apostolic witness. Other earthly authorities which have sometimes claimed authority within the church (though not in the time of Christ or the apostolic age or, indeed, until just before the Council of Nicaea6) are emperors, kings, 4 The “twelve” apostles (which came to lack Judas, but include St. Matthias) seem to have had a special role as having both been with Jesus through His ministry, having seen personally the risen Christ, and symbolising the eschatological “ingathering” of different peoples, represented by the twelve tribes of Israel. St. Paul seems to claim equality with them, as having, like them, seen personally the risen Christ (see Galatians 1:1, 2:7–10, and I Corinthians 11:5). St. James the Just, however, chaired the Council of Jerusalem, at which the “twelve” apostles and St. Paul were also present, and Eusebius’ episcopal lists for Jerusalem are concerned with descent from him. 5 Matthew 10:2, 19:28ff. For adherence to apostolic teaching as normative in the early church, see Acts 2:42, “they continued faithful to the apostles’ teaching…” 6 The Emperor Constantine called together many bishops from the Western church at Arles, to decide on the problem of Donatism. Then, in AD 331, to deal with the problem of Arianism he called a general Council at Nicaea.



queens, parliaments, and their ministers. As Christ is not recorded as giving them specific authority to administer the Word or Sacraments they should, I suggest, have less authority in the church’s own life than the fundamental authorities just mentioned and the church’s own forms of authority. However, in the field of government of the country, as Caesar was declared by Christ to have an appropriate authority for his role of secular government,7 and the Roman emperor was seen as holding a role of authority appropriate to his function by St. Paul,8 then they would seem able to have an authority for the purpose of governing the state, though not an authority to oppose the church or its message. But what should be the chief authority for Christians and the churches? We need to ask indeed what should be the chief authority and ultimate authorities; if they are accepted as ultimate authorities, then they lie above “executive authorities” and they lie above all other people and things in the world. What then are these, and why should they be accepted as having this ultimate authority?

7 8

Mark 12:17; Matthew 22:21; Luke 20:25. Romans 13:1–7; 1 Timothy 2:2.

6 WHAT SHOULD BE HELD TO BE OF AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CHURCH, AND OF WHAT WEIGHT? In this book I will be arguing that the highest authority should belong to God, revealed as Fatherly and Creator, revealed in Jesus Christ, and in the disclosures of the Holy Spirit, whose interpretative function is to glorify Christ1 and call to mind all that Christ handed on to the apostles.2 These I term “fundamental authorities.” Below these, but still of extremely high authority, should, I suggest, be the authority of apostolic tradition, the New Testament, and the inheritance and Christian understanding of the Old Testament which gives it a particular interpretation. Thus, after the authority of God the Holy Trinity, I will be arguing for the authority of apostolic tradition and the Holy Scriptures which preserve “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”3 for the Christian church in subsequent ages. To assess the claims to authority we need, I suggest, to consider claims to religious authority on the broadest front, including other faiths, then address the question of belief in God, claims to a particular revelation through Jesus Christ and in the apostolic age, and claims to personal and communal illumination by the Holy Spirit. Some of the highest claims made in the world have been made by Christ and Christian believers and therefore the spotlight will be especially on these, though not to the exclusion of all else, as will be seen, for example, in the next chapter in which claims to authority in other faiths are discussed. It would be unrealistic, however, not to recognise that these views have received many challenges, and therefore in the following chapters I will aim first to argue for these positions, then to attempt to consider the

John 16:14. John 14:26. 3 Jude 3. 1 2




objections and reply to them, before coming to a conclusion which aims to take into account the different arguments.

7 CLAIMS TO AUTHORITY WITHIN VARIOUS WORLD RELIGIONS Judaism had at its heart belief in one Creator-God who had brought the world into being and then revealed Himself to the people of Israel, particularly through its lawgivers and prophets. In the later prophets there came an expectation of a universal ingathering and universal extension of Israel’s faith, as they reflected on God’s creation of the whole world.1 Yet in the early stages, they held God was particularly concerned for the people of Israel,2 while other claimed gods were regarded as non-existent by the lawgivers and prophets.3 These lawgivers and prophets declared the need for worship from the heart and moral obligations; they gave their message, originally orally, claiming the authority of inspiration (“Thus says the Lord”).4 Later, both the edicts of lawgivers and sayings of prophets were written down and held to be authoritative; some sayings of the prophets, indeed, were written from the beginning (e.g., by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Habakkuk) and oral and written transmission continued simultaneously. By at least the fourth century BC the first five books of our present Bible had come to have authority for Jews with prophets and writings growing in authority, though with differences of view between Alexandrian and Jerusalem Jews as to what were counted as “Scriptures.”5 Jesus, of course, e.g., Isaiah 40:25, etc. e.g., Kings 18:35; Psalm 10:5; Amos 3:2. 3 Jeremiah 2:28. 4 Jeremiah 4:27; 6:6. 5 The Scriptures used by Jews in the time of Christ’s ministry were not as fully fixed as later; it was agreed that the first five books of the volumes called by Christians “the Old Testament” were in the “canon” and by 200 BC the books of the prophets were also accepted. However, as regards the other books, the situation was more fluid; at Alexandria, Jewish writers translated the Scriptures into Greek for the “Septuagint” and included the following books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, 1 Esdras (some texts), 2 Esdras (Christian 1 2




being Jewish, shared much of this background and belief, in particular belief in God as Creator. The particular claims to authority made by Jesus we will deal with later. Allied to these claims are statements about God, of particular note because of their comprehensiveness; Jesus evidently believed in God acting on the world from without as Creator,6 like a Father7 and King,8 and also as present within the world, in His actions,9 in people and things in the world.10 Islam shares with Christianity a belief in one God as the highest authority. However, Jesus Christ simply has the role of a prophet,11 the greatest of those who prepared for Mohammed, through whom, it is held, God’s highest revelation is known. God is held to work on the world from without12 and (except in the mystical sect, the Sufis) there is less emphasis than among Christians on God’s activity within the world and within people. Among the great religions of the world, the Eastern religions make the least definite claims to authority. Buddhism claims to give enlightenment but is tolerant by nature (some Buddhist temples contain Hindu gods, particularly in Ceylon,13 and Buddhism is sometimes combined with worship of nature spirits). Nevertheless, Buddha claimed to give truth and his followers did feel strongly enough about what he said to break away additions were made later), Ezra, Nehemiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Canticles), Job, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) (many texts), Esther, Judith, Tobit, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Lamentations, The Letter of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, 1 and 2 Maccabees (most texts), 3 and 4 Maccabees, (a few texts), 1 Esdras (some texts), and the Prayer of Manasses. The Jews in Jerusalem, however, came to devise a narrower canon at the Synod of Jamnia (about 90); its list of the books accounted as the “Old Testament” is the same as that found in the Authorised Version and New English Bible’s “Old Testament.” Chapter 11 in this book deals with how these differences in Judaism were inherited and treated by Christians. (6). 6 Mark 13:19–20. 7 Matthew 6:9, etc. 8 Matthew 22:11; Mark 1:15, etc. 9 Luke 11:20. 10 Luke 17:21. 11 The Koran, Surah 19,16–34. 12 e.g., The Koran, Surah 87,1–5. 13 E. G. Parrinder, The World’s Living Religions (Pan 1964), 72.



from their parent Hinduism (except as we mentioned, in certain syncretistic areas).14 Hinduism is even more tolerant and many-sided. However, it is interesting to note that as it developed, polytheism began to give way to a search for unity and questions on the origins of the universe. The Vedas and Upanishads are held to have authority as “revealed scripture.” However, they point beyond themselves to a higher authority; they speak about the beginning of things, and one theory that they put forward is that at the beginning there was Brahman, the world-soul, a holy power or energy.15 As it encountered other faiths, so Hinduism has tended to see truth (and hence authority) in all religions. The Rama Krishna mission16 and popularisation of the Vedas by Christopher Isherwood and Aldous Huxley see the chief authority as resting in the teaching about the Brahman or world-soul. The Scriptures have a lesser authority, as derived from the gods; however, elements of other faiths are valued and some (like Christian good works) have even been adopted by modern Hinduism. Other practices that have met with moral criticism and legal opposition have been abandoned. But in connection with these other faiths and their claims to authority, we may note in the first place that none is higher in the claims made than Christianity. Jesus’ claim to forgive sins17 was taken by His hearers to imply a divine claim, and His claim to judge the world at the close of time18 involves a similar high claim. These claims in the first three gospels prepare us for even higher claims in St. John’s Gospel and make it understandable that St. John should understand Jesus as saying “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,”19 and “My father and I are one.”20 Such claims to unity with God, borne out by the character of Jesus’ teaching and His own behaviour (as the present writer would hold) do give the highest of all claims and hence bear out claims for the particular beliefs and teachings of Christ and the Christian church. There is also a powerful argument that Christianity does seem to present a more comprehensive belief about God than other faiths. Judaism and Islam present a picture of God as the Creator of the World, acting upon it 14 For a convenient account of Buddhist beliefs and history, see E. G. Parrinder, The World’s Living Religions (Pan 1964), 68–123. 15 E. G. Parrinder, The World’s Living Religions (Pan 1964), 40. 16 E. G. Parrinder, The World’s Living Religions (Pan 1964), 50. 17 Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21. 18 Mark 13:26; Matthew 26:64. 19 John 14:6. 20 John 10:30.



from without. At the other extreme, Hinduism speaks of the “world-soul” and the “avatars,” holy men in whom the divine is present on earth, while the theistic forms of Buddhism believe in nature spirits and powers immanent within the universe. But only Christianity combines these two views of God, as within the world and beyond it. In this sense it does seem more comprehensive than the other great faiths and hence its claims to authority are wider in scope and thus more plausible.21

S. Platten in Augustine’s Legacy: Authority and Leadership in the Anglican Communion (DLT 1997), 14–15, details fairly, I think, the new pluriformity of cultures in Britain today, albeit often minority ones. However, this is, in fact, a return to the situation in the early days of the church, and did not in itself make claims to authority then made invalid, whilst the argument detailed in this chapter from greater comprehensiveness than other faiths makes the Christian claims to authority, I suggest, especially strong. 21

8 WHAT AUTHORITY SHOULD BE ATTRIBUTED TO GOD? If all that we can perceive in the world can be shown to derive from a supreme reality and creative power that sustains all things in being, then that reality, as the Creator, author, and sustainer of all, will possess the chief authority, just as with all who create in other fields. The word “author” is indeed connected linguistically with the word “authority.” If God can be shown to exist as Creator and author of all, and a universally present reality sustaining all, then such an authority would by these very factors seem to possess supreme authority. Other lesser realities, though they may possess free will, would do so by the authority of the Creator and within the limits set by Him. To those who believe in the reality of God as Creator, author, and sustainer of all, God will possess power, wisdom, and goodness that no other reality possesses.



Can we, then, believe in such a reality?1 I suggest that all that we know of in the world has a cause that lies beyond it and, tracing a chain of causes back, life seems to have developed from simpler forms, perhaps from aminoacids as the “building blocks” of life and a bridge from matter. Matter likewise seems to have developed from the “big bang” that caused the material for the planets to shoot outwards and then cool down to form the planets. But it does seem that there must have been a power to make the world and matter come into being, causing it to shoot outwards and to develop. An alternative “steady state” view, less widely supported, would see creation as continuous, but this also would require a creator or creative

For a detailed argument for the reality of God as Creator, author, and sustainer, see R. Swinburne, The Existence of God (OUP 1979). 1




power. Thus on either view there is a pointer to the Christian belief in God as Creator and all-powerful.2 Likewise, the world, along with some evil features, does contain very many features of goodness that show signs of a good Creator and designer. Among these are the regularities of the laws of nature (e.g., the regular return of the seasons, the regularity of day and night) that have proved such a help to farmers and food production, and those consistent laws of nature (e.g., of gravity and scientific forces) that have proved such a help to professional scientists, industrialists, farmers, and in many other aspects of everyday life.3 Admittedly, there are evils in the world as well as the many good and helpful things, but many of these (e.g., wars, violence, crime, hatred) are due to humankind’s misuse of freewill rather than to God; as regards other evils like volcanoes, floods, and typhoons that cannot be attributed to human misuse of freewill, it may be that the ancient view that these are due to a power originally created good that turned away from God (personified as the devil) has much to be said for it. What can, I think, be said is that these evil features are much less predominant features of the world than the good and reliable features—for example, it is against a background of a stable surface to the earth that volcanoes stand out; it is against normal ordered flows of rivers that floods stand out; whilst it is against seas that can normally be safely crossed that typhoons stand out as a contrast. On earth, the reliable and helpful conditions have proved conducive to life. Taking the earth and the world as a whole, the earth and world do seem to show signs of a good designer, and a good creative and sustaining power. Moreover our sense of the authority of God the designer and creator is increased by signs of goodness given in nature, for we can perceive their helpful effects in nature and can point out the similar effects of goodness in daily life4 in bringing help to others; this increases our sense of the authority of goodness. A sense of moral awareness has also often been mentioned as an organ through which God’s disclosure and God’s authority come to be known. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans of how people as a whole, Gentiles For detailed arguments, see R. Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism (OUP 1977), 126–148 and The Existence of God (OUP 1979), 116–132. 3 For a detailed argument, see R. Swinburne, The Existence of God (OUP 1979), 133–151. 4 On the problem of evil, R. Swinburne, The Existence of God (OUP 1979), 180– 301, considers the problem of evil created by human misuse of freewill, and other forms of evil, concluding that belief in God is still possible despite these. 2



as well as Jews, have a sense of conscience to enable them to make moral judgements.5 While agreeing with St. Thomas Aquinas’ definition of conscience as “the mind of men making moral judgements,”6 yet I would see it, when rightly directed, as an indication of God’s presence and activity. Milton wrote of how God had placed within humankind “his umpire, conscience”7 and writes of conscience as “…stern daughter of the voice of God.” The philosopher Kant, in speaking of the “moral imperative,” seems to regard conscience as particularly authoritative and a revelation of God’s will.8 Although there seems to be much to be said for this view, particularly since from a theistic viewpoint mankind was made by God and might be expected to bear marks of the Creator’s work, a general consensus arrived at by many people in their conscience is, I suggest, more likely to carry authority and be signs of divine disclosure than a single person’s; in the case of Peter Sutcliffe, “the Ripper,” for example, it was claimed by him that God was directing him in his conscience to kill prostitutes, but a more widespread consensus by the minds of many people making moral judgements would view matters differently and see the killing as wrong and out of all proportion to any failings of others. It has been suggested by Archbishop John Habgood that as forms of civilisation are higher among humankind, so the more consensus is to be found in moral views;9 furthermore, the consciences or “minds making moral judgements” of many people on a worldwide scale are, I suggest, much more likely to carry authority from the point of view of human common sense and more likely to be divinely authoritative (coming from God the universal Creator) than individual judgements. This view of the force of worldwide moral judgements is indeed widely accepted—hence the widespread acceptance of the United Nations’ “Bill of Human Rights.” It was also the grounds on which the “Nuremberg Trials” took place.10 Although the acts of Hitler and the Nazis were not against the actual laws of Germany under the Third Romans 2:14. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 3 (Burns Oates 1920–1925. 7 John Milton, Paradise Lost (Nelson 1866), book 3, line 295. 8 Immanuel Kant, “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals,” ET in H. J. Paton, The Moral Law (Hutchinson 1948). Kant, while not unsympathetic to an appeal to moral feeling (section 11), puts his main emphasis on a consideration of what is a universal good or goods. 9 John Habgood, Theology 69 (1966), 251. 10 At the Nuremberg trials it was argued by the prosecution that the Nazis should have known by conscience (even though it was not contrary to the laws of Germany at their time of rule) that to harm and kill Jews was wrong. 5 6



Reich, yet, acting on the view that universally people ought to feel moved by conscience not to kill others, and certainly not kill simply because others were of a different race, the trial and punishments took place. It was held that the accused should have been aware of the authority of conscience in these acts as they are supported by a universal or near universal moral consensus. It may be argued that this view does not take sufficient account of the prophets in Old Testament times who withstood the majority view of their day, or of the ministry of Jesus Himself who, despite some success with the four thousand and five thousand nevertheless stood out against the majority of His day, or of others in later times who have done likewise. Elijah, for example said, “the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars and killed all your prophets. I am the only one left— and they are trying to kill me.”11 The Old Testament teaching about the remnant which is faithful makes a similar point, and Christians have seen this as fulfilled in Christ and the small group of early disciples. Undoubtedly an important point is at stake here. These cases tell against an overly easy acceptance of the view of the majority of the day as in itself having divine approval, and indeed tell against acceptance of excessive claims by the majority of any one age to divine authority. It may also be that at times individuals may hold a view which is at variance with the majority of that day, but in the long term the majority seems to have recognised that it has been wrong and the individual has been right (e.g., with regard to Elijah, Jesus Christ, and many others). What we said about the majority needs to be qualified, so that we can be aware that an individual or small group may speak with authority (by virtue of the inherent rightness of their views and divine inspiration) when the majority is wrong. It is only in the very long term that the “people of God,” under the Old Covenant and under the New Covenant, who chose to accept both the Old Covenant and the New, are to be trusted to judge rightly, and therefore their judgement across the ages is important as well as at a given moment in time. It is this additional proviso that increases their authority. A further objection to the view that humankind is capable of moral awareness may be made by those who take a very pessimistic view of the Fall (or failure to rise), for example Calvin and perhaps St. Augustine, as their views of the ability to make moral and perceptive judgements in humankind and in the church, even in the long term, will be that much lower, and it is likely that from this tradition a greater authority will be given 11

1 Kings 19:14.



to individuals and less to that of the community. However, those Christians who do not regard the Fall or failure to rise as blotting out the ability of humankind and of members of the church to make moral and perceptive judgements are more likely to be sympathetic to a view that sees the majority as able at least in the long term to come to moral and perceptive judgements which carry authority. From a very different viewpoint, objections to the view of conscience and moral perception earlier put forward have been made by Freud and his followers, who have argued that God is an illusion and the conscience (or super-ego) is simply derived from the community’s or the parents’ view. Yet it is difficult on this view to account for people holding and developing views which mark a moral advance over the community’s culture (like the ending of human sacrifice) or are contrary to views handed on by parents (e.g., in those who hold different political, moral, or religious views from their parents).

(ii) WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE AUTHORITY THAT SHOULD BE ATTRIBUTED TO GOD? Other objections to belief in the reality of God are dealt with in detail by Professor R. Swinburne in “The Existence of God.”12 If we accept on the grounds there brought forward or similar grounds that the objections are not in fact valid, and, like him, believe in the reality of God as Creator and Sustainer of the world, who is also active in conscience and religious experience, God whom we have thus come to believe in would carry the highest authority, as having greater power and moral awareness than ourselves individually. We have already written in Chapter 7 of the way major faiths understand this authority of God (or gods) to be conveyed. However, as we argued there, we think that the Christian faith makes the highest and the most comprehensive claims to authority and hence its claims on the way God’s authority is conveyed are the most deserving of acceptance. This, however, does involve claims about authority not made in other faiths. If we accept, therefore, the Christian teaching about God as the most comprehensive, this will involve considering the authority not only of God the Creator but also the authority of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, who

12 R. Swinburne, The Existence of God (OUP 1979). A shorter book considering objections to belief in God is R. Swinburne, Is There A God? (OUP 1996) and also the present author’s Why Believe In God? (Becket/Mowbray 1983).



have, in Christian belief, particular authority in revealing God. It is this particular view which will be examined in the following chapters.

9 WHAT AUTHORITY SHOULD BE ATTRIBUTED TO JESUS CHRIST? We have argued that the authority of God should be the highest. Yet the problem then comes as to how that authority is to be perceived, especially when varied claims are made as to human possession of God’s authority. I would suggest that claims, moral teaching, and example all need careful consideration, and claims made to speak with God’s authority need special examination. Many prophets in Old Testament times claimed to speak in God’s name, yet none seem to have claimed to be God in human flesh. In Hinduism there were said to be “avatars” of the world-soul in holy men, but these were manifold. In Buddhism the Buddha claimed to bring enlightenment but not himself to have God’s authority or to be divine. Mohammed claimed to be the last and greatest apostle of God but not to be more than an apostle and prophet and not divine. Yet none of these have made such great claims as Jesus Christ. Firmly embedded in the Synoptic gospels are Jesus’ claims to forgive sins1 and to judge the world at the close of time.2 These were taken by Jesus’ hearers to imply a divine claim (“who can forgive sins but God alone?”3), and the claim to judge the world (e.g., in the parable of the sheep and the goats4) involves what most Jews regarded as God’s function5 and what God would do at the close of time.6 At the close of St. Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”7 In St. John’s gospel come still more explicit claims; there Jesus is recorded as saying, “I

Mark 2:5, etc. Mark 14:52 and probably Matthew 25:31–46, etc. 3 Mark 2:7. The fact that Jesus’ (hostile) hearers understood Him to say this is a sign of the genuineness of the saying. 4 Matthew 25:31–46. 5 e.g., Psalm 96:10–13; Psalm 98. 6 Isaiah 2:4, 51:5; Micah 4:3, etc. 7 Matthew 28:18. 1 2




am the Way, the Truth and the Life,”8 “I and the Father are one,”9 and “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”10 We read that the Jewish leaders were determined to kill Jesus “because … He claimed equality with God”11 and Jesus accepted St. Thomas’ worship of Him as “My Lord and my God.”12 Moreover these claims were backed up by wonderful moral teaching of a kind that one might expect from such a divine source. Jesus’ moral teaching was indeed so respected that the gospel writers were concerned to record it. St. Mark does not have an ordered “sayings tradition” but nevertheless includes teaching on the Kingdom,13 miracle stories which bring out Christ’s compassion for those in need,14 parables (e.g., “whosoever would save his life,”15 “whoever gives a cup of water,”16 and other teachings on forgiveness17). St. Matthew and St. Luke clearly have a common “sayings tradition”18 (going back to the earliest gospel tradition19 and akin also to some parallels in the Gospel of St. Thomas20), along with parables,21 miracles,22 and accounts of Christ’s other behaviour23 which all give moral John 14:6. John 8:30, cf. John 14:11, John 17:21. 10 John 14:9. 11 John 5:18. 12 John 20:28. 13 Mark 4:3–9, 26–29, 30–32. 14 Mark 8:2, etc. 15 Mark 8:35, cf. Mark 10:45. 16 Mark 9:141, cf. Mark 10:42. 17 Mark 2:10, 10:6–12, 12:17. 18 Partly written and partly oral, which accounts for the exact verbal parables and other passages with the same general sense. 19 These sayings are in “blocks” in Matthew, but dispersed in St. Luke’s gospel. 20 The Gospel according to St. Thomas in The Nag Hammadi Library, translated and edited by J. M. Robinson (Brill 1977, 1984). 21 For further reading on the parables, see C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (Collins 1961), A. M. Hunter, Interpreting the Parables (SCM 1960), J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus (SCM 1972), J. D. Crossan, In Parables (Harper 1973), G. N. Stanton The Gospels and Jesus (OUP 1989). 22 For further reading on the miracles, see A. Richardson, The Miracle Stories of the Gospels (SCM 1941), R. H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles (SCM 1963), sections of G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (Collins 1973, Fontana 1976), esp. 63–83, and G. N. Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (OUP 1989). 23 e.g., His compassion to those who are ill: Luke 7:21, etc. 8 9



teaching. The Sermon on the Mount, the parable of the Good Samaritan and other moral teachings preserved by St. Matthew and St. Luke have inspired millions across the world. St. John’s gospel also yields moral teaching, partly through Jesus’ direct teachings, often a section of long discourses,24 and partly through Jesus’ actions, for example in relation to those of another race and sex with the Samaritan woman,25 in Jesus’ concern for healing26 and compassion,27 and in His action showing the importance of humility through the foot-washing.28 This moral teaching seems far removed from that of a madman or crazed megalomaniac. The moral teaching seems to bear out the claims rather than contradict them. Furthermore His behaviour seems to have borne out both the claims and the teaching—they all seem of a piece together. The miracles, particularly the Resurrection, are in keeping with His claims, and His actions bear out His teachings.29 There was, moreover, an international perspective very unusual in the Palestinian Judaism of His day. His kindness and love,30 the forgiveness,31 and the willingness to accept foreigners32 are all notable and many of His miracles exemplify these qualities. However, objections have been made to the authority of Christ’s actions and words and what they indicate. For those doubtful of Christ’s miracles, I will attempt to argue why they should not be disallowed as impossible. Granted, nature normally works with a stable and predictable series of causes. Yet if an extra factor is introduced into any situation, or a factor hitherto present but not active becomes active, then the result is different. For example, water normally flows downwards; however, if a suction pump is introduced, then water may be made to flow upwards even if this is against the normal laws of nature. Likewise, a special factor introduced can make a tremendous difference, so that while dead people do not normally rise to life and those that are ill are not normally miraculously cured, the presence and activity of God’s almighty power can, by virtue of that power being almighty, change the normal course of nature and events e.g., John 5:32ff., 8:12ff., 10:1ff., 13:31, 14:31, 15:1–16:33. John 4:54. 26 John 4:46, 5:1, 9:64. 27 John 6:lff., 11:lff. 28 John 13:4ff. 29 As in the examples below (30–32). 30 Mark 6:34, 42, etc. 31 Luke 23:34. 32 Luke 7:1ff. 24 25



in history. Our view on the presence of such a power naturally ties in with our view of Jesus’ teaching, claims, and actions; likewise the strength of historical evidence about what is claimed as miraculous, including above all Jesus’ Resurrection, will contribute to our total view. This paragraph is, however, included to show why such miraculous happenings and their authority should not be dismissed out of hand. A second objection urges that miracles do not show as much as some Christian apologists have claimed. Admittedly, other miracles have been claimed in the ancient world in pagan religions33 and in Judaism. Theudas, for example, was held by many to have performed miracles and hence led to beliefs that God was working through him. Geza Vermes34 has drawn attention to Honi the circle-drawer and Hanina ben Dosi, charismatic healers, while the impact of miracles, both those of Jesus and those of other people, seems varied even in that day.35 Hence a wider framework of reference is needed, into which miracles can fit (or be rejected), which can contribute to the building up of an overall picture of the person concerned and his or her claims to authority. Thus the teaching of Jesus, the claims of Jesus, and the other actions of Jesus all contribute, along with the miracles, to the building up of a total picture, and, I would claim, all do fit together. A third objection sometimes brought against attributing authority to Jesus Christ is that (it is claimed) records from so far distant in time are not reliable enough to give such authority to Jesus Christ. Yet other records from the ancient world are used and relied on which are much further removed in time from the events they record, and fewer in number. For example, Polybius’ history of the wars between the Romans and Carthaginians were written about 124 years after the events,36 and Livy’s history of the same wars was written about 229 years afterwards.37 Yet they are relied on as giving reliable evidence, while the gospels were written between 30 and 70 years after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, a much shorter time. There is also to be considered the custom among rabbis in Palestine (and elsewhere, down to our own day) of committing long passages to heart.38 e.g., Apollonius of Tyana’s miracles, described in Philostratus’ life. Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew (Collins 1973, Fontana 1976), 69ff., 72ff. 35 Matthew 22:4ff.; cf. Luke 7:22; Mark 13:58; Luke 10:13. 36 Polybius, History. 37 Livy, History, books 21–30, text and ET by C. O. Foster and others (Loeb, Heinemann, 1922 onwards) and ET by W. M. Roberts (Everyman, Dent 1926). 38 H. Riesenfeld, The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings (Mowbray 1957), B. Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript, Oral Transmission, and Rabbinic Judaism and 33 34



Moreover, the records about Jesus are more abundant than those for other figures in the ancient world. Whereas, for example, we have only one witness, Herodotus, for the wars between the Greeks and the Persians and their commanders, and only Polybius and Livy for the wars between the Romans and Carthaginians and their leaders, we have the four canonical gospel writers’ accounts abut Jesus, and in addition information from Josephus in his “History of the Jewish People,” from Tacitus in his “Annals,” and even a passing mention in Pliny. There is stronger documentation and more numerous witnesses than that about many other figures in the ancient world whose doings and sayings are readily accepted. A fourth objection to giving authority to Jesus Christ (even though such authority might ultimately be given to God) would urge that because of cultural changes, such authority should not be given to Jesus Christ. However, it is not held in other fields of study or life that earlier cultures, persons, and viewpoints are, by virtue of being earlier, inferior to those of the present day. In the arts certain skills have had a revival based on earlier times, as in the Renaissance, when skills from the Ancient World were recommenced; again, in Victorian times there was the Gothic revival of art, architecture, and many interests and concerns of the Middle Ages. In drama, Shakespeare is not necessarily a worse playwright than modern dramatists because of writing much earlier, in a different culture, nor does this apply to poets, other writers, artists, architects, or musicians. In science, there have sometimes been theories (e.g., materialism) which have risen and fallen, risen and fallen again. In morals and in political theory, there has often been a decline and disappearance of ideas, then later their rise again (e.g., of democracy); in connection with moral teachings, ages which have emphasised the objectivity of morals have been replaced by others stressing the impermanence of morals, then there have been later reactions back again. The later view cannot necessarily be assumed, by virtue of being more recent, to be the better. Then again, this characteristic of certain aspects of human existence— birth, life, death, tendencies to good and evil, sex, seeking aims and goals for life, capacities for wonder, thought, thanks, praise, joy, and sorrow— seems to have remained very constant. Hence teachings connected with these can have a permanent significance, and teachings like those of Jesus need not be excluded simply on account of the distance in time.

Early Christians, ET (SCM 1961, 1964), R. T. France, The Evidence for Jesus (Hodder 1986), 98ff.



A fifth objection to attributing authority to Jesus is the claims of other faiths to divine disclosure. But the claims made are not so great as those of Jesus, nor are they borne out in such an impressive moral way, while Jesus puts forward a more comprehensive view of God than other faiths, which includes points in common with them, but gives a fuller picture than any of the others. In His teaching on God, in fact, Jesus seems to have emphasised both God’s presence within the world,39 something shared with Hindu views of the world-soul and those forms of Buddhism that believe in nature-spirits, and also God’s activity upon the world from without,40 something that is prominent in Judaism and Islam. Only thus, as we have agreed in Chapter 7, do we find such a full and comprehensive teaching about God, fulfilling the very different insights in other major world-faiths. This does suggest, I would maintain, why particular authority should be attached to Jesus Christ as giving the fullest and most comprehensive teaching about God.

39 40

e.g., Luke 17:21; Matthew 6:28ff.; Luke 12:27ff. e.g., Mark 13:32; St. Matthew, 6:9; Luke 2:2.



The Holy Spirit was spoken of in Old Testament times as revealing God by His action within the world.1 The Spirit is spoken of as “Holy Spirit” in Psalm 51,2 in Isaiah,3 and in Jewish literature after the Old Testament (according to the “Jerusalem canon”); many of the “Dead Sea Scrolls”4 speak thus. In all these sources connected with God’s activity in revelation, and in the Dead Sea scrolls, spirit is used of human perception through the indwelling Holy Spirit.5 It is also used of the “spirit of holiness”6 and “the two spirits,”7 one in a prayer giving thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit to the members of the community8 and another spoken of as a means of purification.9 As C. F. D Moule says in his book, The Holy Spirit,10 language about the Holy Spirit seems to have been used among groups that were called the “holy ones,” for example the loyalist Jews of the Maccabaean

Ezekiel 37:1–14. Psalm 51:10–12. 3 Isaiah 53:12. 4 “Manual of Discipline,” 1QH 2.11ff., ET by G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin 1962, 1975), 189, etc. 5 “Manual of Discipline,” 1 QH 3 18ff., ET by G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin 1962, 1975), 75. 6 “Manual of Discipline,” 1QS, 3, 6ff., ET by G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin 1962, 1975), 75. 7 “Manual of Discipline,” 1QS 4.21, ET by G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin 1962, 1975), 77. 8 “Manual of Discipline,” 1 QH, 6ff., ET by G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin 1962, 1975), 173. 9 “Manual of Discipline,” 1QH, 16, 7, 9, 12, ET by G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin 1962, 1975), 196ff. 10 C. F. D. Moule, The Holy Spirit (Mowbray 1978), 23. 1 2




period, called the “holy ones of the most high,”11 and the members of the Dead Sea Sect, probably Essenes. All these groups seem to have thought of themselves as intensely dedicated, “responsible to God as the very heart of the people of God, the true Israel.”12 The gospels connect the Holy Spirit with the activity and revelation of Jesus, for example at His birth,13 baptism,14 and in His miracles, where the Spirit revealed Him as holy and called by God as well as expressing God’s love: “If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, without doubt the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”15 Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would enable the apostles to bear witness to Him, bring to their minds all that He had said and done, reveal things to come following from what Christ said and did, and abide in them. Certainly, it has been Christian belief that the Holy Spirit has continued to indwell the church. The Holy Spirit’s guidance seems to have been connected with the apostles, upon whom Christ breathed, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and He promised the gift of remitting and retaining sins,16 and promised the gift of the Comforter in St. John’s gospel,17 and at Pentecost the apostles received (along with St. Mary) particular gifts of the Spirit.18 Later, laying on of hands by the apostles was held to convey the power of the Holy Spirit.19 St. Paul, too, lays claim to be an apostle and to have particular authority, based partly on his seeing the risen Christ, partly on his claim that he was recognised by the other apostles, and partly on evidence of the Spirit working. In visiting the Corinthians and laying claim to authority over them, he emphasises how his visit was characterised by “the demonstration of the Spirit and of power,”20 and in his teaching says that “I think that I too have the Spirit of God.”21 Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit was also given to members of the whole church, the whole body of the faithful. In the Johannine tradition baptised Daniel 7:18ff. Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35. 13 C. F. D. Moule, The Holy Spirit (Mowbray 1978), 23. cf. J Burnaby, Is the Bible Inspired? (SPCK 1959). 14 Mark 1:10; Luke 2:27, 4:14. 15 Luke 11:28. 16 John 20:22. 17 John 14:1–16, cf. John 20:22ff. 18 Acts 2:1–4. 19 Acts 2:38, 8:16. 20 1 Corinthians 2:1–5. 21 1 Corinthians 7:40. 11 12



believers are spoken of as being “born again of water and the Spirit,”22 baptism is connected with the gift of the Spirit,23 and according to the Pastorals “God saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.”24 In Acts, the Holy Spirit is mentioned as given to members of the church as a whole by baptism25 and by the laying on of the apostles’ hands.26 So, as one would expect, the consensus of the church as a whole, inspired by the Spirit, carries authority. St. Paul appeals to this in connection with the disobedient Corinthians: “We have no such custom, nor have the churches of God.”27 The germ of the appeal to the church as a whole “semper, ubique, ab omnibus,” “always, everywhere, by all,” found later in St. Vincent of Lerins28 and writers after him is to be found in such New Testament passages. As R. R. Williams puts it in his book, Authority in the Apostolic Age, “One such source of authority was an accepted stock of general belief and custom” and “this sense of corporate unity—partly achieved and partly still a desideratum—was one of the chief sources of authority in the apostolic church.”29 In later ages it was to be a vital factor in “receiving” or “not receiving” the decisions of bishops and councils. Another vital question has been how far the Holy Spirit’s work and guidance in the apostolic age are normative for later ages, and how far the Holy Spirit develops the church’s teaching. Even in the apostolic age itself this was a problem, as Gnostic and Montanist forms of Christianity even in those early times claimed a development away from its historic roots by abandoning concern with what has been revealed by Jesus in history.30 Hence we have in the Scriptures an appeal to “the faith once for all John 3:5. 1 Corinthians 12:13, etc. 24 Titus 3:5. 25 Acts 2:38. 26 Acts 8:16. 27 1 Corinthians 11:16. 28 St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium 2, (Migne 1846); ET by C. A. Heurtley in Nicene and Port-Nicene Fathers, H. Wace and P. Schaff, eds. (Christian Literature Company, Parker 1894). 29 R. R. Williams, Authority in the Apostolic Age (SCM 1950), 89. 30 Gnosticism had many different forms. Many experts now see elements of Gnosticism pre-dating Christianity, then fusing with it. See R. M. Grant, Gnosticism and Early Christianity (Harper 1961). A modern account is in S. G. Hall, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church (SPCK 1991). An early account is in Eusebius’ Church History, 5 (Migne 1857), ET by A. C. McGiffert in Anti-Nicene Christian Library (Parker & Co: 1890). 22 23



delivered to the saints”31 and the Johannine writings, which in some respects have similarities to Gnostic thought, were also the most forceful in declaring the church’s unchanging historical basis.32 Eventually, the canon of Scripture served to define the apostolic writings and those by immediate followers of the apostles as normative “New Testament.” This was joined to the books of the Old Covenant or “Old Testament” (in their Christian interpretation) to form the Christian Scriptures. In the light of the supreme appeal to divine revelation, most clearly shown in Jesus Christ, through whom the Father, His own person, and the Holy Spirit are perfectly disclosed, these writings were formed and read. They were normative for all later ages, especially against groups like the Gnostics and Montanists who wised to develop Christianity away from its historic base. In recent years, of course, this kind of plea for similar development has been heard again, sometimes from some Roman Catholic Ultramontanists and from Roman Catholic Modernists and sometimes from Liberal Protestants (e.g., R. Bultmann) who have urged the incongruity of first century culture with our own, and therefore wished to disallow its permanent significance. This will be dealt with in detail later (Chapter 12, Section iii). Here, I will note that, while it has been Christian belief that the Holy Spirit has continued to indwell the church, guiding the church in the interpretation of the normative sources of belief, different views have been held as regards the nature and form of such guidance. Indeed, the question whether the church has authority to develop normative doctrine after the apostolic age has been much discussed, not by any means all along denominational lines. It is this question, then, that will next engage our attention.

(ii) THE AUTHORITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT - DID THIS CAUSE BELIEFS TO DEVELOP AFTER THE APOSTOLIC AGE? One view, found in the followers of Montanus and the Gnostics, held that under the guidance of the Spirit new and authoritative doctrines could be declared. It is possible that one wing of the “Johannine school” appealed to isolated texts of John in favour of this.33 Montanus was thus, for example, able to lead his followers out to Pepuza, expecting the New Jerusalem to descend there, and, when it did not, set about building it.34 The Gnostics Jude 3. 1 John 2:22, 1 John 4:2–3; 2 John 7–11. 33 John 16:13. 34 Eusebius, Church History, 5, (Migne 1857), 16ff. R. R. Williams, “What Counts 31 32



made still more drastic appeals to developing doctrine under the Spirit’s guidance. Christ and the Spirit were often envisaged as ever-changing spiritual powers who gave inspiration, divorced from Christ in Palestine and His earthly authority. In the varied Gnostic sects, some believed in eight mythical heavens, the Ogdoad, through which the soul must rise to reach God. Other sects had different beliefs, but the variety of these doctrinal developments posed the questions: “if several groups claim doctrinal development under the guidance of the Spirit, and the mainstream church also claims the Spirit’s presence and guidance, what if not all developments seem to be compatible? If what the Spirit claims is true, yet these teachings are different, can all really be inspired by the Spirit? How then is the Spirit to be discerned?”35 In response to these problems, there was a reassertion of the importance of Christ in His historical incarnate life and ministry, death and resurrection, and these were seen as especially authoritative; then there was an appeal to the authority of the apostles as witnesses to Him. The apostolic faith came to be understood as including the apostles’ understanding of the Old Testament, Christ’s supreme disclosure of God (witnessed to by the apostles and their immediate followers), then the apostolic witness and life, at first oral but later found in written and thus more permanent form; it was held to include the gospels, the other books which were formed into the New Testament canon, the creeds, and apostolic tradition which provided the living context for these books and means of understanding them. But certainly, unlike the early Gnostic movements and fissiparous groups, there was a historic appeal, in the earliest forms of Christianity and indeed in the New Testament to “the faith once for all delivered to the Saints,”36 that is, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the proclamation given by and about Him, and teaching given by and about Him by Jesus and the apostles. We find similar appeals to keeping the faith37 and not falling away38 elsewhere in the New Testament. Although the idea of the Spirit indwelling the church was never lost, it led the church gradually to form the canon or list of books of Scripture, as Scripture?,” in Early Christianity, Ian Hazlett, ed. (SPCK 1991), 86–98 on how condemnation of Montanism related to the formation of Scripture and definition of apostolic norms. 35 See note 30. 36 Jude 3. 37 Philippians 1:27; 1 Timothy 6:12. 38 2 Peter 2:21.



written by apostles or their immediate followers, and to the appeal to God and His particular revelation through Jesus and the Spirit which proceeded through Him as normative for belief. Further arguments for the authority of the apostolic faith (including the apostles’ own appeal to higher authorities) are to be found in the next chapter. The bishops were held to have a particular responsibility to preserve the apostolic faith, by virtue of their office and the prayer for the Spirit’s gifts made at their consecration. However, the Spirit in the church as a whole was conceived of as the interpreter of the books in the canon of Scripture, indwelling the baptised faithful on a worldwide scale. By virtue of the indwelling of the Spirit the “common judgement of the faithful,” the communal judgements of believers, had a vital role in accepting the canon of the books of Scripture and in the creeds, councils, and interpretations of the inspired books. Here was another concept of great importance for the future which I will be considering further in Chapters 15–17.

11 WHAT AUTHORITY SHOULD BE ATTRIBUTED TO THE APOSTOLIC FAITH? In a previous chapter, we have argued for the authority of Jesus Christ as the fullest revelation of God. However, Christ’s life and ministry did not take place in a void. He handed on to His followers a charge to keep faithfully to His teachings1 and gave them power to carry on a ministry both of word and action, bringing in that Kingdom or rule of God which Jesus inaugurated.



Among His disciples a special authority seems to have belonged to the twelve who had gone about with Jesus from His baptism to His ascension. As the number corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel, it may be that He thought of them as the foundations of the new Israel, the new people of God. We have also noted in the previous chapter how Paul, Barnabas, and James are termed apostles, and a number of other early Christians were apostles in a wider sense. Within the gospels we see the twelve sent out to extend God’s rule by word and action. The words and acts of Jesus will at first have been handed on by oral tradition. Although at times some New Testament scholars have argued that in view of an imminent expectation of Christ’s second coming there would not be a concern with the preservation of the words and actions of Jesus for subsequent generations,2 now it seems to be agreed Matthew 28:20. This is connected with their task as “representatives” of Christ. For the role of the apostles as “representative” (each being a “Shaliach”), see, H. Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the First Three Centuries (A & C Black 1969), 22. 2 e.g., A. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (reprinted A & C Black 1954) and the form-critics, especially R. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, rev. ET (OUP 1968), Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting, ET (Fontana 1960) 1




widely that very soon there was a concern both to remember and hand on the words and actions of Jesus for subsequent generations. This must have happened at a time earlier than the present gospels, for the writing of the gospel of St. Mark (about 60–65) presupposes such a concern as does the common tradition of teachings (commonly called “Q”) which underlies St. Matthew’s and St. Luke’s gospels (and must therefore come from a very early date before both). This evidence, therefore, shows a very early concern to preserve the words of Jesus accurately. By about 70, probably about 40 years after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, these gospels, too, were written in their present form, with St. John’s gospel not long behind and containing some early material with “life-touches” and archaeological details which have been confirmed by recent discoveries.3 All the present canonical gospels can plausibly be dated before AD 100 (i.e., within about 60 years of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension). Within the gospels themselves we find an insistence on keeping faithfully to what Jesus has handed on. In St. Matthew’s gospel Jesus’ parting teaching is “Go into all the world, proclaim the gospel to all creation, baptising them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,”4 and in St. John’s gospel Jesus says “The Paraclete will bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”5 As well as explicit teaching, the gospels also include what Jesus did in His actions, controversies, death, resurrection, commissioning of the disciples, and ascension.6 This apostolic teaching was at first orally handed on, then written. But how do we know the reliability of this teaching? Attacks have been made upon this, particularly by Bultmann and the form-critics. Though it is true that the context of the teaching is not always explained, and for part of the material there must have been a change of language from Aramaic to Greek (e.g., the prayer “Abba,” “father,” shows that Jesus spoke Aramaic), recent discoveries have emphasised the tri-lingual nature of Palestine in Jesus’ day, with Aramaic, Greek, and Latin in regular use (and some Hebrew in scholarly circles) so that Jesus and the disciples would have been likely to know Greek as well as Aramaic, and perhaps Latin, too, and See also notes 63 and 64. 3 For example, the five porches at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2) have been confirmed by recent archaeology. 4 Matthew 28:20. 5 John 14:26. 6 All the canonical gospels include these elements; the non-canonical gospels (like the Gospel of Thomas) seem to me at times to have concentrated on the sayings.



thus there would be a check on the transmission of the tradition and its translation.

(ii) ARGUMENTS FOR THE AUTHORITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING OF THE OLD TESTAMENT The authority of the New Testament derives from the fact that it preserves the witness of the apostles and their immediate disciples. This witness is either that of an apostle directly or a follower of an apostle, as St. Mark followed St. Peter.7 These criteria were used (along with orthodoxy of doctrine) when the church came to determine a “canon of Scripture” and doubts about the doctrines of the Gospel of Peter and Gospel of Thomas led to their exclusion, a conclusion which their lateness of date, despite their claimed titles, reinforced (though this need not exclude the possibility that some genuine traditions were included). The consensus of the church on reliable books seems to have been remarkably widespread with only a few books (e.g., Revelation, Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude) slow to gain universal acceptance. Gradually a consensus emerged to accept these books also with others, and they, too, achieved universal acceptance. Only in the East Syrian churches does there seem a slight qualification to this, for the highest authority seems to have continued to rest with the Peshitta (which did not include 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation); though later copies of the Bible in these churches (e.g., the Philoxenian edition) seem to have included them, they never seem to have quite attained the same authority as the other books. At the same time as the church accepted the authority of the books in the canon of our present New Testament (formally embodied for the first time in St. Athanasius’ Easter letter of AD 367,8 though it was only slowly that some parts of the church accepted all this canon), it renewed its acceptance of the authority of the Old Testament books which had been received by the Christian church for the church’s members. It did so in the sense in which Jesus Christ and the apostles interpreted them.

7 Papias writes (in an excerpt preserved in Eusebius, Church History, 3 19.15), “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter ….” The Anti-Marcionite Prologue says also that Mark was Peter’s interpreter. St. Irenaeus (Against Heretics, 3.1.2) speaks of St. Mark as “the disciple and interpreter of Peter.” 8 St. Athanasius, Festal Letter, 39.



This point is important. It meant that weight was given to Jesus’ criticisms of biblical interpretation in His day,9 for example, His support for the abolition of animal sacrifices,10 His ending of the divorce provisions,11 and His disregard of many of the details of ceremonial law and worship,12 which now became redundant in view of what Jesus had done.13 Yet in other places Jesus did affirm the authority of the Old Testament.14 The Old Testament was therefore accepted by the church as a partial revelation, intended in God’s plan to lead up to the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ, and the law was regarded as a “schoolmaster to lead people to Christ.”15 Allegory was also sometimes used in Old Testament interpretation.16 While some Christian scholars such as St. Jerome knew of the difference between the Hebrew and Greek forms of the canon of the Old Testament (inherited from different strands of Judaism with different views on this), the predominant Christian view, as the church took over the Old Testament, endorsed the view of the Jewish “diaspora” in Alexandria and elsewhere as to what books should be included in the canon, and therefore Christian churches, in a similar way to the synagogues of the “diaspora,” used in their official readings books reckoned as “apocrypha” by the Jews of Palestine, probably at a Synod at Jamnia about 90.17 It was this usage by Mark 2:27. Mark 10:45 (cf. Hebrews 10:4). 11 Mark 10:10–12; Luke 16:18. 12 Mark 7:4. 13 John 1:29; Romans 3:24ff.; 1 Peter 1:18ff. and note 11 above. 14 Matthew 5:17, etc. 15 St. Irenaeus, Dialogue, 4.12, 13. 16 St. Paul in Galatians 4:21–31; St. Ambrose, and later St. Augustine, took the accounts of creation in Genesis allegorically (St. Augustine, Confessions, Books 6, 11, 12, 13). 17 The Septuagint included these books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, 2 Esdras, Ezra, Nehemiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Esther, Judith, Tobit, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Lamentations, the Letter of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Song of the Three Holy Children, the History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, and 4 Maccabees. The manuscripts are not, however, altogether consistent; some include 3 Esdras instead of 2 Esdras and omit the Song of the Three Holy Children, the History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and 4 Maccabees. It is books in these latter 9




the church of the “wider” Old Testament, including the books in the Septuagint, that led to its acceptance as authoritative, though with the provisos mentioned earlier about seeing it as interpreted through Christ and the apostles’ understanding, seeing it as a partial revelation, sometimes with allegorical interpretation, and leading up to Christ.

(iii) THE AUTHORITY AND NARRATIVE ROLE OF SCRIPTURE AND PARTS OF APOSTOLIC TRADITION Authority attached in the first instance to Christ and His revelation of God, then to the apostles and all that they handed on through the Holy Spirit. We have already seen that originally this was orally handed on, before being written down (which gave greater reliability and less likelihood of change). As the church sought to define its views and to decide between a variety of views which claimed to come from Christ and the apostles, an appeal was made to the views continually taught in the principal sees by the apostles and their successors,18 to a common baptismal faith19 which came to be summarised in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, interpreted by the church on a universal scale.20 manuscripts that have been declared canonical by the Eastern Orthodox church, though the books were said to be held of lesser status than those in the Hebrew canon. In the Western church, the books used in Alexandria rose in esteem, and the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent declared canonical all the books in the Hebrew canon with the addition of Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, the Song of Songs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus). These latter are held to be “deuterocanonical,” that is, admitted into the canon later than other books. The Anglican church orders for the Apocrypha to be read in churches “for example of life and instruction of manners; yet it doth not apply them to establish any doctrine” (Article 6, quoting St. Jerome). They were included in the Authorised Version (including 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the Rest of Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, the Song of the Three Holy Children, the History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manesses, and 1 & 2 Maccabees). The Lutheran churches printed them in an appendix, but the Calvinist churches did not include them in their Bibles or church readings at all. 18 I Clement 42; Tertullian On the Prescription of Heretics, 13, 21, 37; St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.2–5, 5.Pref.; cp. St. Athanasius, To Serapion, 1, 28. 19 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.10.1ff., 1.22.1, 5.20.1, Demonstration, 6. Tertullian, Apology, 47.10. 20 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.2.1ff., 3.24.1. Tertullian, On the Prescription of Heresies, 28.



Though three factors have been mentioned above, this threefold disclosure was not in practice held to lead to three sources for the apostolic faith. Rather, the same apostolic faith was held to be taught in the churches, summarised in the creeds, and given at greater length in the Scriptures. Indeed, as the canon of Scripture came to be more definitely decided, so much more was this emphasised.21 Thus, for example, St. Athanasius writes “The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of saving truth.”22 The councils, though interpretative of the apostolic faith and the Scriptures, were not held to have the power to make them redundant or to add to their essential articles of faith—the bishops assembled at Nicaea accepted with approval a tentative document on belief which was “received from the Bishops who preceded us and in our first catechisings and as we have learnt from the divine Scriptures”; there are also many elements in common with the creed issued by the council.23 It could therefore be said that what was handed on orally at the beginning of the apostolic age was held to be handed on by the teachers who succeeded the apostles, summarised in the creeds, and witnessed to at length in the Scriptures. To this statement we must, however, add some provisos. First, in the sphere of discipline there were small differences between the churches (like the precise wording of the liturgy) that did not affect their unity in the apostolic faith and central disciplines. Secondly, there was a tradition of interpretation in the church that did seem to interpret the apostolic tradition to meet apologetic needs as the church encountered different philosophies24 and practical circumstances,25 being 21 St. .Athanasius writes of how the fathers of Nicaea ratified the teachings which Christ gave and the apostles proclaimed (Athanasius, To the Africans, To Seraphim, 1.28). Eusebius’ statement (Eusebius, To the Emperor, 2) at the council, that he was repeating teaching received from his episcopal predecessors, ties in with the idea of a continuous succession of Biblical teaching. See St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis, 5.12, St. Augustine, Sermon to Those Being Catechized, and John Cassian, On the Incarnation, 6.2, and the creed brought forward and endorsed at Nicaea as itself drawn from Scripture. 22 St. Athanasius, On the Synods, 6, Against the Peoples, 1. 23 Eusebius, To the Emperor, 2, Church History, 1.3. 24 e.g., St. Justin’s attempt to see “the Word” in the world (St. Justin, Apology, 1.46; 2.13) and the Alexandrian Platonists’ attempts to reply to the Gnostics with a “Christian Gnosticism” (St. Clement, Miscellaneous Studies, 5.1; 6.3; 3.7, etc; Origen, On the First Beginnings). 25 e.g., Eusebius of Caesarea’s Church History, being designed to lead up to the time when the Roman Emperor was accepted as a leading influence in the church.



concerned nevertheless not to replace the apostolic tradition,26 but to apply it in detail. Were there indeed claimants to speak on developing tradition by prophecy? Could such claimants have a connection with the Gnostic and Montanist movements with their claims to developing revelation (which were frowned upon by the majority of the church as keeping insufficient connection with Jesus in the flesh and the apostles)? Prophecy certainly was respected in the church of the apostolic age. It had distinguished Old Testament antecedents and resembled aspects in Christ’s own ministry. St. Paul warns his readers not to “despise prophesyings.”27 Yet at the same time, prophecy seems to have caused problems for him. In dealing with the Corinthian church he warns of the need to discriminate, giving as tests the acceptance of Jesus as Lord28 and the building up of the church in love.29 Elsewhere he refers to the need to confirm a prophecy with two or three others so that there is more of a consensus.30 St. John seems to have had similar difficulties and met them in a very similar way, warning that the only true prophets are those who acknowledge that Jesus the Messiah has come in the flesh; those who do not acknowledge this are, he writes, to be rejected as false prophets.31 Apostolic authority is appealed to by St. Paul;32 the prophets also come after the apostles in St. Paul’s list of differing roles in the church.33 Early writers appealed to Christ as their chief authority,34 then to the apostles and the Old Testament prophets; St. Polycarp for example asks the Philippians to accept as their standard Christ Himself along with “the apostles who preached the gospel to us and the prophets who announced our Lord’s coming in advance.”35 St. Ignatius sets up conformity to Christ and His See notes 18–21. 1 Thessalonians 5:20. 28 1 Corinthians 12:3. 29 1 Corinthians 13:1–13. 30 1 Corinthians 14:27. 31 1 John 4:1–3. 32 1 Corinthians 9:1; also Romans 1:1, 11:13; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Galatians 1:1, etc. 33 1 Corinthians 12:28. A. M. Ramsey argues in “The Authority of the Bible” (in Peake’s Commentary (Nelson 1962) that the “central fact of Christianity is Jesus Christ” and from His authority and endorsement of the Old Testament books come their authority and from the apostolic witness to Him comes the authority of the New Testament. 34 St. Polycarp, Philippians, 6.3a. 35 St. Polycarp, Philippians, 6.3b. 26 27



apostles as an ideal,36 for St. Justin the gospels owe their authority to being “memoirs of the apostles,”37 And St. Irenaeus believed that the church had preserved the tradition inherited from the apostles and had passed it on to her children.38 He believed that this could be summarised as “the canon of truth,” that is, a brief summary of the main points of the Christian revelation. This seems to provide a check on freely developing prophetic revelation, as St. Jude did in appealing to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,”39 and the death of the apostles and their immediate followers (e.g., St. Mark and St. Luke) provided a point in time beyond which the “apostolic deposit” was not conceived of as developing; only in interpretation, but not in substance, was there a continuing role for adaptation to different ages. This appeal to the definiteness and fixity of the authority of Christ and the apostles and the apostles’ interpretation of the Old Testament was made all the more emphatic because the greater part of the church came into conflict with the Gnostic movement and Montanist movement with their lack of concern with specific earthly revelation. In documents like the Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas (which did not succeed in being accounted as genuinely apostolic or reliable by the mainstream church) various sayings that sound like Gnostic sayings and have no parallel in other gospels are put into Jesus’ mouth . While one cannot exclude the transmission of some genuine sayings of Jesus in non-canonical gospels (even if not known elsewhere), one needs evidence, particularly of a Palestinian background and environment, before they can be accepted as genuine, historical, and hence authoritative sayings of Jesus. The early church also seems to have been very perceptive in sorting out claimants to apostolic authority (e.g., the Gospel of St. Peter) that modern scholarship has shown to be late in date, written in the second century, not by the apostle himself, and containing doctrines that seemed surprising to the church as a whole (e.g., miracles for show, without a moral purpose). The Montanist movement also certainly claimed a continuing revelation. Its founder, Montanus, claimed continuing inspiration by the Spirit, as did the prophetesses Maximilla and Priscilla. St. Ignatius, To the Smyrnaeans, 8.1. St. Justin, First Apology, 66.3; Dialogue, 103.8. 38 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.Pref. 39 Jude 3. 36 37



In reaction against Gnosticism and Montanism, the church emphasised the decisive and final nature of revelation through Christ and the apostles. There was an emphasis on continuity in preserving the apostolic teaching in the great sees of Christendom, and a major motive in seeking to trace episcopal succession from the apostles was concern to preserve the apostolic faith and teaching. Both leaders of the church and the church as a whole, however, did provide the context in which the apostolic faith and teaching was handed on, and means to interpret them. They also decided the canon of Scripture, defining the list of books (by the apostles and their immediate followers) which were to be read in public worship, a practice which was connected with the canon of Scripture. Indeed the apostolic faith and the Scriptures (written by the apostles and their immediate followers) were held to give a permanent touchstone of mainstream Christian belief. St. Justin and later writers refer to readings from them at the Eucharist, with the “memoirs of the apostles” on a level with the Christian understanding of the Old Testament, and this appeal to the apostolic faith and the Scriptures (New Testament and Old Testament with the Apocrypha) has been continued by the mainstream Christian church in East and West and even between most Christians from the time of the Reformation.

(iv) THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE, TRADITION, AND REASON IN THE APOSTOLIC AGE In the apostolic age, various means were used to get peoples’ interest in Christ and the apostolic gospel. For some, like perhaps the circle to which St. John wrote, an appeal to reason, in the sense of the Word which had enlightened all becoming flesh and now being perfectly embodied, held an appeal,40 or again a use of secular poetry, implying some revelation through it, could appeal, as with St. Paul’s hearers in Athens.41 For many in the Jewish world the Old Testament writings, especially famous “proof texts” that pointed to the Messiah, will have seemed the most persuasive pointer.42 But though these pointers were recognised, Christ and the apostolic gospel were held to be the chief authorities of all. Gradually the apostolic John 1:1–14. Acts 17: 28, quoting from Epimenides’ and Aratus’ Phainomena. 42 e.g., the use of Old Testament proof-texts in the New Testament writings, the attitude of St. Justin, Apology, 32.2 and Dialogue, 8.1, 29.2 and of Tatian, To the Greeks, 2.9. 40 41



gospel was written down, added to the writings of the Old Testament (as understood by Christ and the apostles), and chosen into a “canon,” then interpreted by the church. Reason was an authority which could serve to lead to Christ and the apostolic witness, and could interpret it, as could religious experience, but, as we see from the variety of approaches in the early church, not all parts of the church placed the same emphasis on the role of reason or religious experience as setting the mind going towards Christ. Yet even in the more scripturally inclined section of the church, there must have been a religious sense that inclined them by their religious sense or conscience43 to accept Christ and the apostolic writings. Yet once they were accepted, by one route or another, Christ and the witness of the apostles and their immediate successors, in Scripture and apostolic tradition, formed the chief authority for the whole church. It was only with regard to the authority of written and oral tradition (dealt with in Section iii) and with regard to interpretation that discussion arose. Here however there was a remarkable unanimity of view, at least as regards the methods to be followed, even though not in every case did individuals or small groups recognise that they fell under these guidelines. In general, the church on a universal scale was held to have the right and duty to interpret Christ, the Scriptures, and apostolic tradition; this was to be done in the light of other Scriptures and using the oral “rule of faith” handed on by tradition, both on as universal a scale as possible and using reason and experience likewise as universally as possible. This interpretative tradition was not held to have authority to go against Christ or apostolic tradition. It possessed an interpretative authority for the age in which it was set, but interpretative tradition claiming greater authority than this had itself to be justified by Christ and the apostolic witness, “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”44 We find, therefore, as the chief authority, God’s self-revelation, then next to this Christ’s revelation of God and the apostolic witness to Him. I would argue myself that the fullness of authority belongs to God, and that this authority is revealed by God as Fatherly in creation, in Christ in His revelatory work and teachings, and through the Holy Spirit by whom that revelation is transmitted and brought alive in human minds and consciences, in the Church (particularly on a universal scale), and in the Scriptures (the Old Testament with the Apocrypha viewed from a Christian 43 See, “Conscience,” in A Dictionary of Christian Ethics, J. Macquarrie, ed. (SCM 1962). 44 See note 38.



viewpoint and the New Testament) and apostolic tradition which give the normative witness to divine revelation. This is, I would suggest, permanent for all subsequent ages, but there is also a lesser interpretative tradition which interprets divine revelation and the apostolic witness for varying subsequent cultures. This interpretative tradition should take account of and be based on earlier Christian Scripture, apostolic tradition, and interpretative tradition, but the last of these, I suggest, can change.

(v) CHALLENGES TO THIS VIEW OF THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE, TRADITION, AND REASON/EXPERIENCE However, this view has met with challenges, both in early times (in the age of the apostles and fathers) and in our day. One of the most important cites the authority of reason in relation to God’s revelatory work, questioning the particularity of Christ and His revelation. Akin to this is the view that development of beliefs is desirable in relation to later cultures than those of Jesus, the apostles, and the Scriptural writers, so that these later beliefs should come to be held to have greater authority than the original teachings and acts of Jesus, the apostles, and the Scriptural writers, as they are held to be better adapted to contemporary culture. A variant of this view argues that we should no longer deduce our faith from a permanently normative base, but inductively discover it from the surrounding world and culture, and what is discovered to work in church life. I want to address these questions in turn.

(vi) A DISCUSSION OF THE AUTHORITY OF REASON AND EXPERIENCE IN COMING TO BELIEF I would agree that there is a personal choice involving reason and moral discernment involved in corning to the Christian faith, and this is bound to carry authority for the person concerned. Indeed, the revelation of Christ (by His use of reasoning in arguments) and the witness of Scriptures see reason itself as created by God.45 St. John and St. Paul in particular see the world as showing signs of reason from which they conclude that God is its creator.46 Reason can therefore lead us to the central disclosures of Christian revelation. 45 46

John 1:1–3. John 1:1–3, 9–10; Romans 1:20, 2:14–15; cf. also Acts 17:18.



But should reason criticise God’s reality, the revelation of Christ, and the activity of the Holy Spirit? Should reason criticise the Old Testament (in its Christian understanding) and the New Testament, which preserve the apostolic witness? Undoubtedly reason (and experience) can, as used by some people, be used to attempt to do so, although in relation to God’s reality this may or may not convince the investigator (and we must allow also that God has many ways of disclosure). If the investigator is convinced, he may investigate further the revelation of Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit; or he may begin from Christ’s revelation and come from that to belief in God’s reality and activity. However, it seems natural and desirable that if one believes in God on grounds of reason and experience (and exercises a faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit), one should have a coherent and unified faith in God, since a search for a coherent and unified world-picture has long been a characteristic of reasoned thought. In this way its authority would be increased. Furthermore, as regards investigation of the Biblical writings and the apostolic faith, whether by an enquirer or someone brought up as a Christian believer, while it seems natural and right to use reason and experience (both, in the present writer’s view, given by God47) to investigate the Biblical writings and apostolic faith, such investigation ought to be coherent, doing justice to the one ultimate source whence revelation proceeds and allow varied ways in which it is observed and considered, without “a priori” ideas about what is or is not possible. In the following pages I want to discuss the authority of reason in relation to perceiving God and God’s disclosure in Christ and through the Spirit. Then (in Section viii) I want to discuss the role of reason in relation to criticism of the Biblical documents and apostolic tradition.

(vii) A DISCUSSION OF THE AUTHORITY OF REASON IN RELATION TO PERCEIVING GOD AND GOD’S DISCLOSURE IN CHRIST AND THROUGH THE SPIRIT As regards Judaism, it was normal to take for granted the reality of God (even if other gods were at times admitted alongside, or He was not always 47 See R. Swinburne, The Existence of God (Clarendon 1979), 151, 180–243. See pages 152–179 on reason as disclosing God, and pages 244–276 on arguments from morality and experience as likewise disclosing God, and pages 277ff. on his conclusion on probability. See also the present writer’s, Why Believe in God? (Becket/Mowbray 1983).



obeyed), and Christians will have taken this over from their Jewish heritage. The corporate experience by the community of God’s great acts of redemption (e.g., the Exodus and return from exile), their re-enactment of these and personal experience, combined with hearing and reading the authoritative Scriptures in a community which itself carried authority, will have had the effect of giving further authority to that belief. In Judaism informal reasoned arguments were also used as pointers to the reality of God, Creator of the world and greater than it and also present within the world. In the Wisdom of Solomon there is reference to the Spirit, probably conceived in Stoic terms,48 and in the writings of Philo,49 terms found in Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy are used to interpret the Old Testament; indeed, Philo claimed that they had drawn their views from here. Evidently for these writers and their readers the kinship of Jewish sacred writings to concepts found in other religions and philosophical writings increased their authority. Those who disbelieved in God were sometimes found within Judaism50 though this was not at all common and one has the impression that what is in question is the moral concern of God rather than the question of God’s existence and reality. As a whole, then, we may say that the early Christians will normally have accepted the reality of God on similar grounds to Jews, sometimes using the authority of reasoned argument as well as their own special apprehension of God’s presence and activity in Jesus. Within the Hellenistic world, belief in gods or a God was normal. Though a few put arguments against belief in the reality of gods or God,51 great philosophers like Plato52 and Aristotle53 put reasoned arguments for the reality of God (or gods). On a more popular level, the Stoics argued for 48 Wisdom of Solomon 7:22, 25 and 9:17, where there is probably a reference to the Stoic conception of “Spirit.” 49 Philo of Alexandria interpreted the Old Testament writings allegorically and discovered, he claimed, the source of the philosophical views of Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers hidden in them, e.g., in his De Plantatione he discussed Genesis 9:20 and reckons that Moses had access to knowledge of the Forms; in his de Somniis he reckons the Forms are powers of God, and in his many scriptural commentaries he interprets them in the light of Greek philosophers. 50 Psalm 14:1; Psalm 53:1. 51 Epicurus, Sovereign Maxims and About Nature and Lucretius, On the Nature of Things. 52 Plato, Republic, book 10, 3796, Timaeus, 28a, and Laws, 890–903. 53 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 993 b21 (argument to perfection), Fragment 14 (argument from design).



the presence of a single universally-present world-soul or God,54 and when preaching in the Hellenistic world, Christians made use of this Stoic belief in a universally-present God, quoting from poets like Aratus to this effect.55 Thus, reason did not at this stage form a challenge to Christian belief in God, and indeed only isolated individuals conceived of it as an authority challenging belief in God or gods. When later challenges were mounted to Christian belief in God, Christian writers used reasoned arguments from authors in the ancient world (e.g., Plato and Aristotle) in addition to Christ and the Scriptures as authorities to reinforce their beliefs. This is a discussion which still continues (see Chapter 8), but reason certainly has not normally been felt by Christians to be an authority telling against belief in the reality of God. Belief in Jesus Christ’s authority, through which God’s presence and activity was perceived, was naturally a feature of Christians—indeed, their most conspicuous characteristic as compared to Jesus and other faiths. Some Jews certainly rejected Christ’s claims, as Moslems and those of other faiths later did, on grounds of reason. They rejected Jesus’ claims to authority on the grounds that they were incompatible with the worship of the one God. Likewise, particular Christian claims (e.g., the Virgin Birth) were not accepted by the Jews, and the authority of Jesus’ actions and teachings, as well as His personal claims to authority were not accepted. In later years these problems have resurfaced as challenges about these have come from members of other faiths, non-believers, and some liberalminded Christians. Nevertheless, Christian apologetic has attempted to use reason as an authority56 to put the case for these features of Jesus’ life and ministry actually reinforcing His authority. With regard to the Spirit of God (often referred to as the Holy Spirit), some Christian writers in apostolic times saw this as springing from God, and saw, therefore, a connection with reason which also was held to spring from the same source.57 Both, therefore, possessed authority as derived from God and, indeed, being God present in the world. Moral and personal

54 e.g., Zeno, Fragment 162: “The general law which is right reason governing everything, is the same as Zeus, the supreme head of the government of the universe.” 55 See note 40. 56 e.g., K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, ET (T & T Clark 1956), 177; J. Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (SCM 1966), 258ff., 174ff.; N.T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? (SPCK 1992). 57 Romans 1:19–20.



experience was also held to have authority on similar grounds,58 and likewise to manifest God in the world.59 This carries much more weight if many people come by reason or experience to a view, but when only one individual claims to have possession of authority, then, unless backed up by special signs of authority (as Jesus was, in actions and the quality of teaching as well as claims), he or she is likely to have difficulty in establishing his or her authority. Again, when several people give a variety of views, each claiming authority for their view, then there is a difficulty in knowing which of these is true. A partial way of resolving this is to ask which (if any) of these views has identical or similar characteristics to what has elsewhere been perceived as from a divine source. Partially, too, the problem may be lessened by an appeal to the Spirit as dispersed through the church, whose members have been born again by baptism and faith, in whom as a whole the Spirit works, acting as a counter-balance to individual claims to guidance by the Spirit different from those of the overwhelming majority of Spirit-guided believers. This ties in with the appeal we have noted (by St. Paul) to the custom of all the churches.60 At the same time, there was a restriction on the Spirit’s guidance across time by a permanent appeal to God’s revelation through Christ and the apostolic witness, as St. Jude61 and St. Paul62 assert, leading to these having the chief earthly authority for the church. The eventual closure of the canon also implies such a view of authority and it is witnessed to obliquely by the anxiety of writers of apocryphal gospels (such as that of St. Peter) to ascribe them to apostles.

(viii) A DISCUSSION OF THE ROLE OF REASON IN RELATION TO CRITICISM OF THE BIBLICAL DOCUMENTS AND APOSTOLIC TRADITION In the life of the church, from the apostolic age onwards, there has long been a tradition of reasoned criticism of the Biblical documents, though normally conducted with reverent intentions and understanding reason rightly directed as divinely inspired. We find for example, Origen contending for a non-physical understanding of God and God’s activity, explaining terms like “father,” “king,” “rock,” and “castle” as comparisons; Romans 2:14–15. See notes 56 and 57. 60 1 Corinthians 11:16. 61 See note 40. 62 Galatians 1:8–9. 58 59



St. Ambrose explaining the early chapters of Genesis as an allegory rather than an exact description, leading St. Augustine to do likewise; and St. John Chrysostom writing that alleged discrepancies in detail in the Gospel narratives make more noteworthy the consensus of the gospels to the important facts.63 Looking forward, there was an intensification of this view at the Renaissance and even more so among liberal Protestant thinkers, particularly from the eighteenth century onwards. Yet the question of the criteria for reason and the presuppositions of reason cannot be taken for granted and need examination; the history of philosophy has shown many reversals of previous thought and sometimes a return to earlier patterns again. We may, moreover, recall Dean Inge’s saying “He who marries the spirit of the age may soon find himself a widower.” As examples of changes in thought and reversion to earlier views we could take the views of history and of science put forward in the course of criticism of the Biblical documents. There has sometimes been a violent alternation between a view which sees the historical Jesus only as important (in the early period the Ebionites give an example of this tendency and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there are many), and a view which sees the historical Jesus as unimportant in belief (in the early period the Gnostics give an example of this approach and in the twentieth century Bultmann and his school show this tendency). In view of this violent difference of views, both claimed to come from reason, it may not be unreasonable to suggest that the truth is likely to be between the two, with a concern to establish the facts of history and yet a willingness to see the historical facts as important for our day and the church’s life, and needing interpretation within them. This in fact is very like the view of the Biblical writers themselves. Then with regard to science, it has been claimed, for example, that the reasoned belief found in science gives rise to a belief in universal laws of nature, which prevents belief in miracles. But the laws of nature are in fact observed sequences, which have been observed to happen everywhere, providing that the factors concerned are constant. This does not in itself preclude a special factor (such as God’s almighty power, shown in Christ and elsewhere) being at work, for such a power would lead all the factors concerned no longer to be constant. The presuppositions under which reason is used, therefore, need testing. In many cases they will be found to have changed several times in the course of history, which leads one to handle them tentatively. There is 63

St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew, 103.



also the question of how widely they are shared, which ties up with our next points. The authority of reason, reached as a result of an individual’s own enquires, may be true, but it is advisable to remember this tentative character and seek for a view wider than one individual, to relate it to a consensus of belief in the community. Such communities of belief indeed exist in the academic and scientific worlds and in the professions. Though change can come widely, it is only likely to do this after extensive dialogue and after satisfying a large number, normally an overwhelming majority, concerning the truth of a new idea put forward by an individual under the claim of personal reason. Within the church, there comes a problem if what is claimed to be reason is used without reference to the community of the church on a universal scale. Many problems have come through the isolation of thinkers from the community of believers as a whole; where the views of thinkers are formulated in an atmosphere of prayer and worship and in relationship with those of the community, then views are less likely to be out of balance or related only to trends that are passing.

(ix) A DISCUSSION OF THE AUTHORITY OF CHANGING CULTURES IN RELATION TO THE BIBLICAL DOCUMENTS AND APOSTOLIC TRADITION Although setting forward the authority of recent cultural beliefs is sometimes thought of as being a modern challenge to the authority of writings of the apostolic age, for example, in the writings of R. Bultmann64 and D. E. Nineham,65 these authors and those influenced by them did, in fact, have early predecessors. The Gnostics, for example, held that the authority of different and (they held) more advanced cultures made the disclosures of Christ on earth and the apostolic witness not normative, but needing to be supplemented further (as in Christian Gnostic writings found at Nag Hammadi) by extra disclosures from the risen Christ, or even replaced by a largely different belief-system (such as that found in pre-

R. Bultmann, Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting, ET 1956 (Fontana 1960). 65 D. E. Nineham, “The Lessons of the Past for the Present,” in The Church’s Use of the Bible, Past and Present, D. E. Nineham, ed. (SPCK 1963); The Use and Abuse of the Bible (SPCK 1976); New Testament Interpretation in an Historical Age (Athlone Press 1976). For a discussion of D. E. Nineham’s views, see A. Thiselton, The Two Horizons (Paternoster 1980). 64



Christian Gnosticism); special revelations to the founders of different groups provided a further source of developing beliefs.66 Prophecy had a long and respected history in Judaism as a means of divine disclosure, and in the Jewish Scriptures that were to become the Christian Old Testament the prophetic writings formed a significant portion. The pronouncements of St. John the Baptist were hailed as marking the revival of prophecy and therefore of God’s message. Jesus Himself was called “the prophet,” implying that God’s disclosure was given though Him.67 This designation was certainly present in the New Testament and esteemed by some Christian groups, but evidently the gospel writers felt a need to supplement it by other titles implying a view of Christ doing greater justice both to His divinity and humanity. The apostles seem to have “spoken in other languages”68 and evidently prophets and prophetesses had a role in the Christian church in apostolic times.69 St. Paul commends prophecy while teaching disapprovingly about excesses at Corinth,70 writing of love as the highest gift,71 and setting prophets below apostles in his list of the people exercising functions and offices in the church.72 Probably difficulties like those at Corinth led to apostles like St. Paul73 and St. John74 claiming the authority of the apostles as normative. Certainly such an appeal to the witness of the apostles was more likely to keep the link with Jesus in the flesh and hence more likely to preserve the original gospel traditions, with a concern for His sayings and actions being faithfully handed on. When the prophetic tradition took its Montanist form, this especially discredited it. Their expectations of the imminent coming of the New Jerusalem, its failure to appear, and their attempts to build it at Pepuza discredited the sect. They highlighted the problem of prophecies given by 66 Amongst the Gnostic groups were the Valentinians, the Basilidians, and the sects called the Ophites and Naasenes. All of these include pre-Christian and Jewish elements as well as eclectic elements from Christianity. Their eclectic approach without historical rooting has certain parallels with forms of Christian belief that do not emphasise its historical roots, with Hegel’s philosophy and its derivatives, and with the “New Age” movement. 67 John 6:14; Acts 3:22, 7:37. 68 Acts 2:4, 11ff. 69 Acts 11:28, 12:27, 13:1ff., 21:9, 10; 1 Corinthians 12:l ff.; Ephesians 4:17. 70 1 Corinthians 12:4–31. 71 1 Corinthians 13:1–13. 72 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11. 73 Colossians 1:22; Ephesians 3:1–7; Romans 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:21. 74 2 John 7ff.



those without contact with Christ in his earthly life and without reference to those who had links with the apostles75 and links with the wider church.76 As Gnosticism developed, displaying an amalgam of Christian, Jewish, and pagan beliefs in many different forms and different sects, the variety of developments claimed by these groups gave Christians a challenge to reply to their views. The reply of Christian writers, alike in the New Testament77 and in later writings,78 was to say that such of these sects that claimed to be Christian could not in fact be so if they ignored Jesus Christ in His incarnate life and ministry (since to do so would be self-contradictory), and did not heed the apostolic witness with its reliable transmission of knowledge about Christ and the Spirit in the church on a universal scale. It has always been a problem with views which emphasise their authority to develop and change their beliefs from the revelation of the Trinity and the apostolic witness to it, as contained in Scripture and apostolic tradition, that they were less likely to keep in touch with Christ’s revelation in the flesh and likely to present a vast variety of views; however, in addition to these problems there comes the question of why people should adopt the particular changes desired and not others. For example, if Christ was misguided or apostolic preaching or practice are misguided in some respects, why should they not be misguided in all, or in the majority of their sayings and actions? If the authority of the surrounding modern culture, for example, is given greater weight than the authority of Christ and apostolic witness and practice, why in Western Europe should we not have tea and biscuits rather than bread and wine for Holy Communion? It is more coherent to accept the authority of Christ and the apostles to celebrate the Eucharist with bread and wine, making this normative for later ages and cultures if this way of going about systematic theology is used also in the way one approaches other sayings and actions of Christ and the apostles. Otherwise a dichotomy grows up between the grounds for the Mark 3:13–14, Acts 2, Galatians 1:1, 2:7–9, and 2 Corinthians 11:5 describe the apostles. 1 Corinthians 4:21, Acts 15:36, and 3 John 10 suggest apostolic supervision of the churches. 76 1 Corinthians 11:16 appeals to the church on a universal scale. 77 1 Corinthians 11:23–26, Galatians 4:4, Philippians 2:7–8, Romans 15:2–3, Hebrews 2:10–18, 4:15, 5:7, 12:1–3, 13:12–20, 1 Peter 2:21–23, all show strong historical interest and 1 John 4:2 sets out a definite opposition to those who neglect a historical concern. G. Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching (CUP 1974), gives a summary of the New Testament evidence. 78 e.g., St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 1.2, 3, 3.2–4. 75



actions and beliefs of the church; if however they are approached and grounded in the same way, coherence is preserved. Whilst we would agree that there is a helpful place for a continuing interpretative tradition (as argued in Chapter 12) to explain “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities” (using different images to express a similar idea of importance) in the light of changing cultures and conditions, we have argued (for reasons set out in Chapter 11) that the “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities” are indispensable and should not be superseded by more recent authorities. Moreover, we will argue in Chapter 19, with comparisons from literature, the arts, and architecture, that more recent developments are not necessarily superior to those of earlier ages, and the fact that something has been said or done in an earlier age or culture does not on that account make it dispensable or inferior. As regards attempts to make present or future authorities normative at the expense of those of past ages and even in some cases dispense with the latter, we argue in several chapters against this. In particular, in Chapter 12.iii, the latter part of Chapter 16, and Chapters 18 and 19 we bring forward the problems and incoherence such views seem to the present writer to involve.

(x) A DISCUSSION OF DEDUCTIVE AND INDUCTIVE WAYS OF COMING TO CHRISTIAN BELIEFS AND FORMULATING THEM The method set forward so far has involved coming to a view of God’s revelation, the authority to be attached to Christ incarnate, the Holy Spirit, and apostolic witness in the New Testament, their use of the Old Testament and apostolic tradition, deduced from these authorities which we have termed “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities”; from these should come what is transmitted as authoritative to later ages, though with the help of an interpretative tradition on a universal or overwhelming scale within the church. However, this type of approach has been criticised by those who argue79 that an inductive method as used in the sciences is preferable, using surrounding culture as a means to determine beliefs rather than subjecting it to higher authorities. I do agree that, in line with the view that I have outlined, there is a need for human appraisal of what are to be considered as “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities” and there are in the church e.g., S. Platten, Augustine’s Legacy: Authority and Leadership in the Anglican Communion (DLT 1997), 166–168. 79



practices which lead us to reflect on those authorities—for example, the Scriptures are read regularly in the church’s life and therefore what is disclosed of God’s activity through them is not just past happenings, but also has a present effect, for those who accept their validity. Christ’s gospel is made present in Word and Sacrament in the liturgy, in which past, present, and future join. Moreover, the interpretative tradition in the church on as broad a scale as possible is also a present factor. Yet three caveats are necessary. In the first place, the clearest disclosure of God’s activity, has been in the past, due to the decisive nature of what was revealed by God in Christ’s earthly ministry, This was emphasized in the struggle of the church with Gnosticism and Montanism; although the church can make explicit and interpret, draw out the significance of, and apply what has been revealed by the “fundamental authorities” through its interpretative tradition, it cannot without taking over the role of Christ Incarnate (which would clearly be absurd) add new revelation of such authority and weight as He had. Although a full revelation of God’s power and character may be expected at Christ’s second coming and the consummation of all things, yet we cannot know the details of this in such a way as to no longer treat as normative what has earlier been revealed, which is the clearest disclosure to which we have access. Secondly, this interpretative tradition referred to here can only be trusted to take place in the church, not in the world outside the church.80 There are indeed many good and divinely inspired things and influences in the world outside the church (as one would expect from St. John’s theology of the Word),81 yet it is the church which has been explicitly commanded to teach Christ’s revelation82 and promised special guidance for this.83 Thirdly, this process should take place within the church on a universal scale or on as wide a scale as is possible, giving weight to the most overwhelming numbers of baptised faithful in the church. In connection with the inductive method used in science, while this approach and an accompanying parallelism between the ways in which scientific and theological beliefs are built up have proved most fruitful in connection with theistic belief, and cognate questions on God and evil and God’s relationship to the world, as Professor Polkinghorne’s books have shown,84 yet, as the same writer agrees, this needs to be supplemented. He John 1:10. John 1:1–9. 82 Matthew 28:20, etc. 83 John 14:26, 16:13–14. 84 J. Polkinghorne, The Way the World Is (SPCK 1983), One World (SPCK 1986), 80 81



himself puts forward “the Christian claim that God has made Himself known in the plainest possible terms, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ”.85 This involves historical enquiry and the drawing of conclusions from this. Moreover, Professor Polkinghorne sees that theology is concerned with matters beyond the scope of the scientific method, such as whether there is a purpose in the universe, whether there is a deeper significance in what happens than what is immediately evident, and whether there is a destiny awaiting us after our death.86 This means that after an investigation of the evidence, we need to deduce conclusions from this and in that case to mediate the consequences to our day. If we attempt to move simply from what is commonly held in our day, then we come up against the problems of the particularity of Christ’s historical ministry, and the danger that we may create the kind of Christ that we desire, rather like that theologian who was said to peer at Jesus down a deep well, but was said to find a reflection of his own face at the bottom.87

Science and Providence (SPCK 1989), Serious Talk (SPCK 1995), etc. 85 J. Polkinghorne, Serious Talk (SPCK 1995), 110. 86 J. Polkinghorne, Serious Talk (SPCK 1995), 59. 87 G. Tyrrell on A. Harnack.



Normally writings, sacred or secular, are more easily understood with interpretation; hence there is much value in the notes that normally accompany texts which are studied. The writings of the Old Testament did not grow up in isolation, but within the people of God. Interpretative traditions grew up to explain them and the interpretations given by Jesus Christ, which came to be accepted as normative for Christians, sometimes differ from those within Judaism. The writings of the New Testament likewise grew up within the church and were accompanied by explanations, both in evangelism and at worship (hence the genesis of sermons). In the case of the Ethiopian, recorded in Acts,1 he was reading the book of the prophet Isaiah. However, when asked whether he understood at was written, he replied that he did not, and this gave an opportunity for St. Philip to explain and interpret the Scriptures to him. This seems to give justification from within the New Testament Scriptures for an interpretative tradition. However, it may be replied that there are likely to be many interpretations—how may we know which are to be followed? To do this, we need to bring in other considerations. If, as we have argued elsewhere, God is disclosed fully in Jesus Christ, after being partially disclosed in the Old Testament period and through nature, then Jesus Christ will have the highest and clearest earthly authority and be the chief interpreter of the Old Testament and of nature.2 From God’s presence, moreover, mediated 1 2

Acts 8:31–35. On this see J. D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making (SCM 1980) and




through Jesus Christ, as we argued in Chapter 10, comes the authority of the Holy Spirit. This total disclosure of God has, as we argue in Chapters 8–10, the highest authority and subsequent authorities are based on perceptions of these and interpretations of these, but these later authorities and interpreters will be subordinate. Those interpreters who came closest to Christ in time and received special commissions from Him3 will naturally have received a special authority in their witness and interpretation. As we noted in the incident of St. Philip explaining the meaning of Isaiah to the Ethiopian, there are grounds in Scripture to suggest that the church has authority to interpret those writings, and the gift of the Spirit in baptism4 means that, working throughout the baptised faithful who make up the church, when they are open to its influence, it affects the minds and judgements of its members.

(ii) THE CONTINUING INTERPRETATIVE TRADITION OF THE CHURCH IN RELATION TO OTHER AUTHORITIES However I want to put the case that, despite its great value, the interpretative tradition does not carry as great an authority as God, Christ’s revelation of God, the Holy Spirit’s disclosure to the apostles, apostolic witness, the Scriptures of the New Testament, the Old Testament in its Christian understanding, and apostolic tradition. As a stream is clearest near the source; without the pollutions lower down, so these give the clearest evidence and are closest in time to Christ’s disclosure and that of the apostles. As in the field of the arts, a painting, sculpture, drama, literature, or music are prior to interpretations of them and can be immediately apprehended (even though interpretations are helpful and desirable), so it seems that one would expect the authority upon which interpretation is made to be primary and normative. As we mentioned, the work of art remains prior to and normative for all subsequent acts of interpretation. I would suggest that this is also true in relation to the “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities” that were spoken of as having a higher authority as compared to later interpretations. Yet in the arts, it is often difficult to understand the original works without a guide. In art, a guide may shed much light on paintings and sculpture. In drama, an account of the circumstances of writing of a play, its G. Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (OUP 1989), and also Chapter 9 of this book. 3 See chapters 5–11 in this book. 4 Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 12:13.


background and meaning (as is often present in guides and programmes) can shed much light on its meaning. In literature, critics shed much light on writings. In music, although it can in part be individually apprehended, an explanation (as in a programme or record sleeve or book) sheds much light upon it. Hence the value of the church’s interpretive tradition for understanding the “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities.”

(iii) DO CHANGES IN CULTURE PREVENT AN APPEAL TO THESE EARLIER SOURCES AS NORMATIVE? The successes of science in superseding previous views of nature have led in some quarters to a suspicion of all sources of authority held from much earlier ages as outmoded, and a preference for the culture of each age which is contemporary as having the chief authority in the arts. Yet those who come later have not always proved more able than those who came earlier. For example, Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare have been widely acknowledged to be greater poets than those writing in the twentieth century. In painting, Giotto, Leonardo, and El Greco would be widely acknowledged to have greatness which few, if any, twentieth century painters could equal. In music, Bach and Beethoven have a greatness that warns us against writing off figures of the past as intrinsically inferior to those writing at the present day. In architecture, the great designs of, say, Lincoln Cathedral and Notre Dame, Paris, are not intrinsically inferior to modern architecture and if it were proposed to demolish these to build modern designs in their place, there would be a storm of protest. In fact, an appeal to the authority of God gradually revealed in Old Testament times, and the authority of Jesus giving God’s full disclosure, the apostolic witness through the Holy Spirit, and the witness of the Holy Scriptures is similar to this kind of judgement. Indeed, it is difficult to see how, if a thoroughgoing cultural relativism is applied by which earlier ages are regarded as inferior and not deserving belief on account of being earlier, the present age should be regarded as exempt from criticism, since it will itself be a past age from the viewpoint of all future ages. It will therefore itself have just the same kind of fallibility as is claimed for earlier ages, and certainly cannot be regarded as a permanently stable and lasting platform from which to look down with a sense of superiority on earlier ages and figures in them. As Professor E. L. Mascall mentions in a comment on a leading advocate of “cultural relativism,” Professor D. E. Nineham, “he seems to be committed both to the historical relativism according to which all judgements about historical events are culturally conditioned and to the



position that historical relativism, even if culturally conditioned in its origin, is the permanent transcultural truth about historical events and their impact on observers,”5 and he remarks on the contradiction of this. In art, great masters often looked to a common subject while giving varied interpretations of their subject. For example, Jesus Christ is a particularly central theme of Christian art, and Christ on the cross has been an especially prominent subject. There has been a variety of ways in which He has been depicted, and a variety of images of those original events which all the artists have agreed to be significant. Yet if these are to bear a relation to the historical event and not to recede into subjective fantasy, it is desirable that the images depicted should accord with Scripture and apostolic tradition, for example in using scenes of a figure on a cross and depict Christ on it or (using the Biblical writings) the images of the “Lamb of God” or “Victor” found in the Bible. Despite changes in culture, there does seem to be a case for recognising greatness and permanent significance in the works of earlier ages. If our recognition of God’s disclosure (partly in nature and the Old Testament and fully in what Christ said and did, and in the witness of the Spirit through the apostles, the Scriptures, and apostolic tradition) is seen in a similar way, as having an intrinsic greatness and authority, the earlier date of these disclosures need not, therefore, prevent such a perception. This has been recognised at different ages in the church’s life. In the synods of the early church, a copy of the gospels was set in the midst of the synods as a symbol of the authority which they should have over subsequent ages in the church’s life.6 The decrees of ecumenical councils were prefixed by a declaration that they were in accord with the authority of Christ and the Scriptures.7 In the Anglican Prayer Book service of consecration of a Bishop, promises are made that the person being consecrated will not preach or teach contrary to the Holy Scriptures, and a E. L. Mascall, O.G.S., Theology and the Gospel of Christ (SPCK 1977), 110, commenting on “cultural relativism or historical relativism” such as is found in D. E. Nineham’s lecture, New Testament Interpretation in an Historical Age (University of London Press, Athlone Press 1976). 6 E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, H. Carpenter, rev. ed. (Longmans 1955), 272. In Eusebius’ letter to his church on the creed that he presented to Nicaea, he takes care to claim that it is “as we have learned from the divine scriptures” (Socrates, Church History, 1.8; Theodoret, Church History, 1.12), and Constantine expressed his disapproval of any who spoke contrary to the Scriptures (Socrates, Church History, 9.17ff.). 7 Socrates, Church History, 18. 5


copy of the Bible is given; a modified form of this occurs in the Alternative Service Book service of consecration where the candidates are asked to profess loyalty to “the faith uniquely revealed in the holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic creeds.”8 The words of the Second Vatican Council on “Revelation” could, interestingly, be agreed by Roman Catholics and by most Anglicans of all churchmanships. After speaking in many places and varied ways to us by the prophets, God ‘last of all in these days has spoken to us by His son’ (Hebrews 1:1–2).9 The apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by a continuous succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:15) and to fight in defence of the faith handed on once and for all (cf. Jude 3).10

Very similar to this is the view set out in the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission statement on Christian authority: Through the gift of the Spirit the apostolic community came to recognise in the words and deeds of Jesus the saving activity of God and their mission to proclaim to all men the good news of salvation. Therefore they preached Jesus through whom God had spoken finally to men. Assisted by the Holy Spirit, they transmitted what they had heard and seen of the life and words of Jesus and their interpretation of His redemptive work. Consequently the inspired documents in which this is related came to be accepted by the Church as a normative record of the authentic foundation of the faith. To these the church has recourse for the inspiration of its life and mission; to these the church refers its teaching and practice…11

Subsequent tradition, then, is interpretative as these documents declare and, as we have argued, there are degrees of authority within it, yet it should not, as we have argued, go against higher authorities. These should have a continuing “authority of influence,” akin to that which we noticed in 8 Alternative Service Book, 387 and the promise of bishops about to be consecrated in the Book of Common Prayer. 9 “Revelation Itself 1.4,” Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 113. 10 “The Transmission of Divine Revelation 2.7,” Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 115–116. 11 The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission: “The Final Report,” “Authority in the Church,” I, 2, “Christian Authority,” 52.



secular authorities, which have an effect beyond the time when they were first formulated or created. Divine revelation, particularly clearly revealed through Christ, should have the chief authority, then the Holy Spirit, then the Scriptures, and apostolic tradition after this; apostolic tradition will include the divinely inspired gifts of conscience and reason (commended by St. Paul in Romans 1:20 and 2:15), used in harmony with their source. Interpretative tradition will use the Scriptures and endeavour to shed light on them. I would like to suggest that this interpretative tradition is most likely to be effective on a worldwide scale taking account of the views of all or the great majority of the church over a long period (see Section iv) and using the organs of interpretation within the church which I will discuss in Section v of this chapter.

(iv) THE CASE FOR THE INTERPRETATIVE TRADITION BEING ON A WORLDWIDE SCALE The church on a worldwide scale includes, I would suggest, all baptised and faithful Christians, to whom the gift of the Spirit is given in baptism12 and in the subsequent life of the church. Christ promised that the Spirit would guide His followers into all truth,13 and that He would be with them always, even to the end of time.14 Even allowing for the fact that not all remain faithful after baptism, yet among those who are baptised and remain faithful, the Spirit’s working is most likely to be perceived and influence the interpretative tradition of the church on a worldwide scale.15 Where then does this place prophetic figures (like, say, St. Francis) who stood out to defend Scripture and apostolic tradition when much of the church seemed to have forgotten their significance? It would go against the teachings of the Scriptures (of the Old and New Testaments), Christ, and the apostles to deny the need for personal individual witness (including witness against wrongs in the church). Although a special gift of the Holy Spirit was promised to the people of the New Covenant, yet there, too, the need for a personal witness remains. However, over a long period the church (meaning by this all baptised and faithful Christians, giving the Acts 2:38, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Romans 6:4, Titus 3:5, and perhaps John 3:5. On the role of the Holy Spirit guiding the church of St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.24.1. 13 John 16:13. 14 Matthew 28:20. 15 See Chapter 11, “The Authority of the Apostolic Faith” in this book. 12


judgement of the faithful communally) can decide on whether to receive and admit certain interpretations and reject others. It was by this communal judgement that the canon of the New Testament was formed; to bear in mind the importance of long-term meditation and thought on the issues, and decision on them by all or the overwhelming majority of Christians in the world in the light of the promised gift of the Spirit, seems the best way of doing justice to the link between baptism and the Spirit among the baptised faithful and hence the best way for discerning which interpretations should be followed. It may be, indeed, that two or more varying interpretations are both admissible. This may be due to variety within the teaching of the Scriptures, with different views expressed within them, or may be due to differing views in apostolic tradition, or again there may be a lack of consensus or a lack of a clear majority view in the church as regards interpretation.

(v) ORGANS OF INTERPRETATION WITHIN THE CHURCH AND WITHIN ITS INTERPRETATIVE TRADITION Within this interpretative tradition, various organs have been put forward as having particular weight—bishops, individually and together, presidents of groups of bishops, a president of bishops in the world, “general councils,” other synods from world-wide denominations, local synods, reports from local churches, and the “communal judgement of the faithful,” expressed both through the clergy (bishops, priests, and deacons) and through all the baptised faithful. I hope to discuss these in the coming chapters, to attempt to see what authority should be attached to them, why this should be so, how this authority relates to other forms of authority, and, finally, to relate these conclusions to issues involving authority in the church today.



There are grounds in the gospel tradition for an authority belonging to Christians as a whole: “But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave authority to become children of God, who were born, not … of the will of man but of God.”1 However, there had indeed been divisions in the church from early times and some have argued that these should simply be accepted and each local church legislate for itself. Yet that was not how the early church saw the matter, either in apostolic times or later. In apostolic times Christ’s teachings on unity within the church were valued and preserved.2 St. Paul’s frequent exhortations to unity3 were of great significance. The sense that baptised Christians who accepted Christ’s lordship and believed in God, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, were “the body of Christ”4 gave a stimulus to work together. St. Paul appeals to a common basis of practice and implies a common basis of beliefs underlying these. The church of baptised Christians as a whole seems to be conceived of by St. Paul as having an authority, made clear when he writes to the Corinthians, “We have no such custom nor have any of the churches of God.”5

John 1:12. John 17:11, 21, 23. 3 Romans 12:5; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:18. 4 Philippians 2:2–20; 1 Corinthians 10:127, 12:13; Romans 13:5; Colossians 3:15; Ephesians 2:16, 4:4. 5 1 Corinthians 11:16. 1 2




In the church as a whole, apostles seem to have had a special authority.6 In the case of an erring church, such as that at Corinth, the authority of an apostle like St. Paul carried weight.7 In cases of dispute, the twelve apostles, St. Paul, and St. James came together and held a council or synod like the councils in Acts.8 Later the local and ecumenical synods sought to discuss and reach agreement on matters of dispute. In the event, most of the divisions before the breach between East and West were fairly small (despite the temporary growth of the Assyrian church) and until the division between East and West which received its clearest sign in AD 1054, the majority of Christians belonged to one great church, most with varying local emphasis. Even after AD 1054, many common beliefs remained between the Eastern and Western portions of the church and there were certainly efforts at reunion.9 However, then came the Reformation period. Among the Lutheran churches (to varying degrees) some elements were kept in common with the majority of the church universal. In the Calvinist churches there were also some, but fewer in number, and this was still less so in the more extreme churches and groups that sprang up in the Reformation period. In the Church of England a break came from some of the practices of the church universal, but many links with the church universal were still kept—more, indeed, than in other churches which separated from Rome at this time. Amongst these common links were the canon and text of Scripture (in which the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, as useful for “example of life and instruction of manners,” and the New Testament all had a place), the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, three orders of ministry with laying on of hands in ordination, the belief (expressed in the Preface to the Ordination rites) that “it is evident unto all men diligently reading Holy Scriptures and ancient authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these orders of ministers in Christ’s church: Bishops, Priests and Deacons,” and features of the liturgy, sacraments, and calendar (including early and pre-Reformation saints from East and West). However, in recent times in the Church of England, there has been a growth of emphasis on the decisions of a synod covering England alone (the General Synod), without a corresponding growth in decision-making Matthew 10:1; Luke 6:12; Acts 6:1–8, 14:14. 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2, 10ff., 4:14–21, 11:34; Galatians 1:19. 8 Acts 11:1–18, 15:6–21. 9 e.g., the Council of Lyons (1274), the Council of Florence-Ferrara (1438–1439). 6 7



links with the majority of Christians in the world.10 At a time of increasing political union with Europe (now even linked by frequent rail services through the Channel Tunnel) and beyond, to make vital decisions in church life on such a local basis does seem to be a surprising trend, in view of what we have argued. Why, though, should reference be made in the decision making of local or national churches (like the Church of England) to the church universal, or at least the majority of Christians in the world? We have argued that the prime sources of authority should be God’s revelation, the Scriptures and apostolic tradition, interpreted in the light of the church’s communal tradition, and reason. In this interpretative tradition, we have argued, reference is needed to the universal view of Christians, or at least the overwhelming majority of Christians, because baptism is the covenanted means of “new birth” and is accompanied by the gift of the Spirit.11 Admittedly, the Spirit needs to be activated and brought to the personal commitment of faith, and baptism completed by confirmation or its equivalent which itself is connected with membership of the church universal. Churches which do not have confirmation but have baptism and adult commitment in faith, either informally or in a formal ceremony where the faith is openly professed by members, must also be in fellowship with other baptised and faithful Christians within the church universal, though the universal relationship is not so clearly signified. Yet, as a result of baptism and a living faith, they, too, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit which is universal in its scope. The Holy Spirit, indeed, enabled Christ to do His mighty works12 and in St. Paul’s thought the church is Christ’s body, endowed with the gifts of the Spirit. The Spirit was given to the witnesses of the Resurrection13 and empowered them further at Pentecost.14 Subsequent sacramental actions admitting to membership are said to bestow the Holy Spirit.15 Christians are thus partners in the Spirit, according to St. Paul and St. Peter.16 10 See also Chapter 3 and Chapter 12, Section (iv). In practice, weight would seem to need to be given particularly to the Roman Catholic Church as it comprises 51% of the baptised faithful, and the Eastern Orthodox as they comprise 20% more. 11 1 Corinthians 5:11; Romans 6:3ff.; Titus 3:5–6. 12 Mark 1:8,10,12; Matthew 3:11, 4:1; Luke 3:16 and 22. 13 John 20:19–23. 14 Acts 2:1ff. 15 Acts 8:17, 9:17, cf. note 8 on baptism and Acts 6:6, 13:3, and 19:6. 16 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:1–10; Romans 8:1ff., 9:14, etc.;



Among early Christians writers, Hermas even identifies the Spirit with the church universal17 and the writer of 2 Clement envisages the church as the home of the Spirit.18 Speaking more modestly, St. Irenaeus says “where the church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace.”19 In early creeds like the Roman baptismal creed (also called the Apostles’ Creed) the section on belief in the Holy Spirit is immediately followed by the section on belief in “the Holy Catholic church.” Many scholars believe that the third part of the creed in St. Hippolytus’ tradition should rightly read “Do you believe also in the Holy Spirit in the holy church?”20 There was also a belief that the Holy Spirit guided the church toward unity and consensus. Though from the first there were small differences of view within the church (e.g., the theological trends in the gospels and the rather different views of St. James, St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John in their letters), and groups such as the Nazarenes and Gnostic sects held different views from the majority and separated from them, yet the bulk of the church remained united. St. Irenaeus says: “The tradition of the apostles, made clear throughout the world, can be clearly seen in every church by those who wish to behold the truth.”21 Tertullian emphasises unanimity as a characteristic of the church22 (though ironically he was himself later to join the small breakaway Montanist group). Of later small divisions, the break between the Monophysite (or Coptic) Christians and Dyophysite Christians has recently been declared healed by a joint declaration by their churches’ theologians (though this remains to be ratified by the consensus of those churches) with an acknowledgement that much misunderstanding was involved, and the small East Syrian (or Assyrian) churches may likewise came to a similar agreement. The division which gradually grew between the Eastern Orthodox and Western churches

Ephesians 1:14; 1 Peter 1:15, 2:5–9. 17 Hermas, Similitudes, 9.1.1. 18 2 Clement, 14.1–4. The church is “spiritual” (pneumatike). 19 St. Irenaeus, Against Heretics, 3.24.1. 20 e.g., J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (Longmans 1960), 153. 21 St. Irenaeus, Against Heretics, 3.3.1, cf. 1.10.2 for the claim that the church, scattered though it is, is in reality one, by virtue of its proclamation of a common faith inherited from the apostles. 22 Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.11. Tertullian writes of how there is one church throughout the world, just as there is one God, one Christ, one hope, and one baptism.



became formalised in AD 1054,23 though here, too, the atmosphere is now much more friendly, charitable, and accepting of each others’ traditions than for many years past.24 Certainly much is held in common between these two vast portions of Christendom, together making up 71% of the Christian church—the divine revelation, the Scriptures and the canon of Scripture, the Nicene Creed (apart from the “filioque” clause), the ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons, the first seven ecumenical councils’ decisions, and much of the liturgy, sacraments, and spirituality. At the same time, there is a strong case, I suggest, for saying that there should be a consensus across the ages, as well as across the church spatially, on a universal scale (or virtually universal scale). The claims of Christ for His teachings and actions claim finality25 and an unchangeable nature about them. St. John gave warnings to those who were denying that the Messiah had come in the flesh26 (claiming that a free and changing Christ-Spirit gives altered teachings), and St. Paul wrote: “If anyone preaches a different gospel to that which I have preached to you, let him be anathema.”27 The teaching of St. Paul about the church as “the Body of Christ,” including head and members, involves Christ as immanent in and transcending the church as its head, thus giving stability and consistency, and the writer of Hebrews speaks of Christ as perfect and “the same, yesterday and today and for ever.”28 In relation to the Gnostics, the early teachers of the church rejected developments not to be found in the teachings and actions of Christ in His earthly life and not found in the apostolic teaching. Eventually the Scriptures came to be seen as the especially authoritative guide to Christ’s teachings and actions and apostolic faith. Thus St. Athanasius wrote “The Holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of saving of truth,”29 and, when discussing conciliar decrees, differentiates See R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Penguin 1970), 53–86, esp. 67. 24 See Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 321, 355, 725; Y. Congar, Diversity and Communion (SCM 1984); T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin 1963), 321ff. 25 Mark 1:14 and 2:15; Matthew 28:18–20; Luke 7:18–23 (cf. Acts 2:22), 11:20; John 14:6–7. 26 1 John 4:2. 27 1 Corinthians 16:22. 28 Hebrews 13:8. 29 St. Athanasius, On Synods, 6. 23



between matters of administration (like the date of Easter), where he allows for change, and matters of the faith. Here St. Athanasius wrote that the church leaders at universal synods declared that in their statement of faith “their judgement was not new but apostolic,” and that “what they wrote was not any discovery of theirs, but was what the Apostle taught.”30 It is clear that “the Church in its early days did not claim any power of adding to the faith; novelty was a sign of heresy. At her synods and councils she sought to declare not some new truth but what the Church had always and everywhere believed.”31 As St. Vincent of Lerins wrote, “We within the Catholic Church are to take great care that we hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all (ubique, semper, ab omnibus) … and that we shall do if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent. Universality we shall follow, if we confess that one faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we depart in no wise from those truths which it is plain that our holy forefathers held; and consent, if in this antiquity itself we follow the definitions and sentences of all or practically all the priests and doctors together.”32 Indeed, it was a constant and uncontroverted claim by early writers down to the Reformation era, and maintained by many beyond that date across the Reformation divisions (both among Roman Catholics and among members of the churches that separated at the time of the Reformation), that authority belonged above all to God’s revelation, what was disclosed through Christ and by the Holy Spirit, in the creed, the Holy Scriptures, and apostolic tradition. Though it was acknowledged that adaptations in language needed to take place to suit different cultures (e.g., the use of Greek philosophical language in the creeds and Aristotelian terminology in St. Thomas Aquinas), yet it was held that the original sources of authority remained the same. There was even much agreement about this at the time of the Reformation. With the spread of the Renaissance with its maxim “in antiquis est scientia” (“among those of old time is knowledge”), criticism was made by the Reformers that the Western Catholic church had not, in fact, remained faithful to the Scriptures and apostolic tradition. Among Roman Catholics at the Council of Trent there was a varied response. One bishop, indeed, claimed that all matters for Christian belief were present St. Athanasius, On Synods, 5. E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, H. Carpenter, rev. ed. (Longmans 1955), 254. 32 St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 2. 30 31



explicity or implicitly in Scripture.33 Others claimed a much higher value for tradition. However, the eventual decision, that authority rested (in addition to God’s revelation) with what was present explicity or implicitly in Scripture and in “those traditions which have always been in the church from the time of the apostles” represented a view of the ultimate authorities in Christian belief that did not have a big difference theologically from that of the Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants of that age. It was in what was understood to be present within those authorities and their interpretation that the differences came. When Bossuet wrote that the Christian religion came from our Lord perfect and complete and that the church must have maintained immediately the deposit of truth which had been given to it, he did so as something common to all the branches of the Christian church “without fear of contradiction.”34 Thus in the seventeenth century and the early years of the eighteenth century when he wrote, universality in regard to the most central matters of the faith was held to be desirable both across space, ascertaining the views of all or the overwhelming majority of the church across the world, and across time, maintaining a common faith across the centuries.

(ii) OBJECTIONS TO THIS VIEW AND RESPONSES It may be argued (and has been by some) that the Holy Spirit works in individuals and therefore consensus and reception of their view by the majority or whole of the church universal is not needed. It may certainly be agreed that the Holy Spirit undoubtedly does work in individuals and at times (as with St. Athanasius) individuals may have stood out against the majority of the church or (as with St. Francis) individuals may have stimulated the majority of the church to action. Yet in time the majority of the church on a worldwide scale and across the ages has come to recognise the value of their witness. Undoubtedly, it is God’s judgement, not ours, that will be final but even in the interim before His realised judgement, the texts in the Scriptures and Christ’s revelation concerning the Holy Spirit in the church as a whole should not, I suggest, be overlooked, for to do so would seem to neglect the witness of the Scriptures and especially the New Testament as a whole concerning the Holy Spirit, and to lack coherence. Nanchiatti, Bishop of Chioggia. See note 16 of Chapter 4. Bossuet, “History of the Variations of Protestant Churches,” quoted in O. Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman, the Idea of Doctrinal Development (CUP 1957), 6. 33 34



A further objection sometimes made is that doctrines need to change in accordance with changing circumstances. It is argued by those holding this view that God continues His activity in the world through His Spirit, and in the church through His Spirit, changing its teachings to enable it to adapt to the successive changes in culture in the societies in which it is set. It may be granted that one cannot exclude the possibility (and, indeed, the need) for detailed and varying explanation in relation to the more specific varying needs of different times. Indeed, even in the early church this need was perceived; the very writers (like St. Vincent of Lerins) who most strongly emphasised the unchanging and universal nature of the church’s message “always, everywhere, by all,”35 also see a place for putting things over in new ways: “not new things but in a new way.”36 However, one is faced by the problem of discerning what is claimed to be inspired by God and by the Holy Spirit, and what is not. This was precisely the problem that arose in connection with Gnosticism (which like the church claimed the guidance of the Holy Spirit) and this is why we have dealt with the matter in such detail (in Chapter 12). We argue in Chapter 12 that revelation should be understood as coming from God and revealed in fullness through the historical figure, Jesus, to whom the Holy Spirit witnesses. For a claim to be accepted as revelation, it needs, in fact, very good grounds, and for a claim to divine disclosure to be accepted it needs, I suggest, tremendous claims, wonderful moral teaching, and appropriate behaviour to back it up, along with signs (all of which were shown in Jesus Christ, but could scarcely be claimed in the Gnostics, nor indeed in later emendations of His teaching). Because of these characteristics of Jesus and His claims to give divine revelation, if a view is being reckoned to be a Christian development (and not merely an accommodation to surrounding culture), then it needs to have a real connection with Jesus Christ in His historical life—His sayings and actions—and the apostolic witness to Him. In fact, the belief linked with Jesus Christ in history, the apostolic witness to Him, and the Scriptures proved far more lasting and widely agreed than the changing and amazingly varied beliefs of the Gnostics, with their many assorted groups. This has also, I suggest, proved to be the case in later ages. More recent attempts to cut Christianity off from its historical roots and particularly from the view that God is disclosed through Jesus

35 36

St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 2.6, “semper, ubique, ab omnibus.” St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 2.23, “non nova sed nove.”



Christ have certainly attracted less support than views that attach high value to Jesus Christ in the flesh.

(iii) THE MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL Jesus gave authority to a special group of His followers in His ministry. He chose a band of twelve apostles37 and gave authority to them to cast out unclean spirits and to heal illnesses and infirmities.38 He saw their authority and mission as derived from His own authority: “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me; go ye therefore, preach the gospel to all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”39 To His disciples, according to St. John, the risen Christ gave peace and authority to remit and retain sins.40 The apostles received a commission from Christ in His pre-resurrection ministry and, seeing Him after His resurrection, received a further commission from Him. St. Paul claimed to be an apostle on the ground of the latter two factors. The term “apostle” seems to have a narrower and wider sense in the New Testament, as we have seen,41 with the twelve and in addition St. Paul, St. Barnabas, and St. James having particular authority, for reasons we have noted. Yet everywhere “apostle” appears to be the highest form of leadership in the church, which some (e.g., Silvanus and Apollos) seem not to hold. Others, such as Epaphroditus (mentioned in Philippians 25), Andronicus and Junias (in Romans 16:7), and Silas (1 Thessalonians 6), seem to be apostles in a wider sense, “missionaries sent” but without such a universal charge as those who were “apostles” in the wider sense. St. Timothy and St. Titus also appear to have a special function as delegates of the apostles. The New Testament writings that were afterwards recognised as possessing canonical authority (i.e., approved by the church as part of the official canon or list of books), were confined to those by the apostles and their immediate followers (like St. Mark and St. Luke). Thus the apostolic ministry and immediate sub-apostolic ministry possessed through their persons and writings a continuing authority in the life of the church, natural in view of Christ’s delegation of ministry and their closeness in time to Christ, and hence their greater opportunities for gathering more reliable traditions about Jesus than those written much later. Indeed, the later Luke 6:13; Matthew 10:2. Matthew 10:1ff. 39 Matthew 28:18. 40 John 20:23. 41 See previous chapter. 37 38



writings of the New Testament are especially emphatic on the normative nature of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostolic faith. Thus, for example, in I Timothy (6:3ff), we read that “whoever teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the true words of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching of our religion is swollen with pride and knows nothing,” and again in 2 Timothy 1:13 we read “hold firmly to the true words that I taught you, as the example for you to follow, and remain in the faith and love that are ours in union with Christ Jesus,” whilst in 2 Timothy 3 verses fifteen and sixteen relate that “ever since you were a child you have known the Holy Scriptures (probably at this date the Old Testament books) which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living,” with which we may compare the fear in 2 Timothy 4:3 that “the time will come when people will not listen to sound doctrine.” As regards the formation of the “canon,” or list of books, of the Scriptures and their interpretation, a particular authority and responsibility seems to have rested with the ministry, particularly with the bishops, who were seen as succeeding to the apostles’ roles42 and charismata.43 Although (as we noted) some authority attached also to the “common judgement of the faithful,” a particular authority attached to the ministry, and especially to that of the bishops for interpretation of the more fundamental authorities. St. Clement of Rome speaks of how as the apostles were dying, they arranged that others should succeed to their functions,44 including expounding the apostolic faith, and St. Ignatius speaks of how anyone who does not recognise the bishop’s authority should not be held to be celebrating a valid Eucharist. In a claim opposed to the faith of the Gnostic movement, which claimed a developing doctrinal tradition different from that said and done by Jesus in the flesh and different from that taught by the apostles, St. Irenaeus claims that he knows in continuous succession the bishops in the main sees of Christendom, all preserving the apostolic teaching45 and none of them taught anything like the fantasies of the Gnostics.” This claim of St. Irenaeus and other early fathers to a constant tradition stemming from and identical with that taught by Christ and the apostles will be taken up 1 Clement, 44.1–3; St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.2.2, 3.3.3, 3.4.1. St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 4.26.2, 4.26.5; cf. 2 Timothy 2:6. 44 1 Clement, 44.1–3; cf. Titus 21:5. 45 St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.2.2; cf. Tertullian, On the Prescription of Heretics, 21, Apology, 47.10. 42 43



later when considering views claiming the desirability of doctrinal development and how far any such development should affect the substance of the church’s teaching (as against the interpretation of the church’s teaching in relation to varying cultures in which the church is set). This question is the more urgent since some writers have recently urged claims similar in style, if not in details, to those encountered in the early church by arguing that Christ’s revelation, as witnessed to by the apostles, should no longer be normative for our day. In the very earliest period it was naturally the ministry of the apostles and their immediate successors who handed on the gospel, at first in oral form, but very soon it was written down and so became more reliably fixed. The process of choosing the books to form the Scriptures was a gradual development in the churches; by the time of St. Irenaeus46 we hear of four gospels whilst only four gospels are incorporated by Tatian in the “Diatessaron,” a Syriac combination of the gospels. As regards the remaining books in the New Testament, St. Athanasius in his Easter letter in AD 367,47 was the first to set out officially the books in our present “canon,” though it seems to have taken some time to be universally accepted, and in the process the general judgement of the faithful as well as bishops and the ministry had a considerable role. It was, however, by the church’s authority (with bishops, other leaders, clergy, and laity all being involved) that the judgement to appeal to these documents as normative was made. As regards Christ’s sayings and doings, and the whole canon of Scripture, clearly interpretation was vital, for they could be understood in so many different ways. The “rule of faith,”48 or a summary of apostolic teaching, later incorporated in simple creeds, formed a means to draw out the most important parts of the Scriptures and highlight them. This seems to have been what fathers such as St. Justin regarded as “the teaching derived from Christ’s apostles.”49 St. Clement implies that the hierarchy which succeeded the apostles inherited the gospel message which the apostles had been commissioned to preach.50 In 2 Clement, obedience to the presbyters is urged on the grounds that their duty is to preach the faith and that their instructions are identical with those of Christ Himself.51 In St. St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.11.8. St. Athanasius, Festal Letter or Easter Letter (Migne, Patrologia Graeca 26,1437). 48 1 Clement, 7.2; St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.2.5, 5.20.1; cf. Romans 6:17. 49 St. Justin, First Apology, 5.3.3; cf. Second Apology, 6.6.3, Dialogue, 103.8. 50 1 Clement, 66.3. 51 2 Clement, 17. 46 47



Irenaeus the bishops are seen as possessing a “sure charisma of truth” (charisma veritatis certum)52 to hand on the apostolic tradition, identical with the original revelation, through the power of the Holy Spirit.53 Correct exegesis took place within the church, indwelt by the Spirit.54 Tertullian held also that the “rule of faith” handed down by Christ through the apostles55 was the right means to interpret Scripture, and complained because heretics disregarded the “rule of faith” in interpreting Scripture.56 The ministry, then, of the bishops, was held to succeed to the apostles’ authority,57 except that they could not be eyewitnesses of Christ and His resurrection. But bishops were not isolated. Presbyters are found in Judaism exercising a leading role in the synagogues, and the words “episcopos” (bishop) and “presbyter” (presbyter) are interchangeable.58 For long, bishops and presbyters were regarded in many different parts of the church as sharing in the same basic order. At Alexandria, the presbyters chose one of their number to be the presiding presbyter or bishop. Certain actions in the Western church normally reserved to bishops (e.g., confirmation) are in the Eastern church performed by presbyters/priests. Throughout the Middle Ages there was a controversy in the Western church as to whether bishops and priests were members of different orders in the ministry or sub-divisions within one order. Even now in ordination services, presbyters/priests lay their hands on those being ordained along with the bishop. In general, though, the bishop had and has a particular role in leadership, teaching and preserving apostolic doctrines (based on Christ, the Scriptures, and apostolic teaching), and for interpreting these, along with ordaining and consecrating others to the ministry, and caring pastorally for those entrusted to his care. The authority of the bishop is, in the belief of the majority of the church, due to and dependent on transmission of authority from the apostles, who were those best equipped to witness to Christ in the flesh and received the special commission.59 Bishops, therefore (in the Anglican Prayer Book Ordinal), have an address made comparing their “sending St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.2.2. St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 4.26.1–5. 54 St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.24.1. 55 Tertullian, Apology, 47.10. 56 Tertullian, On Modesty, 8, Against Praxeas, 20. 57 Matthew 28:20; Acts 20:28; 1 Clement, 42, 44; St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.2, 4.26. 58 Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5–6, 7; St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 4.26. 59 Mark 3:13, etc.; John 20:21. 52 53



forth” (cf. apostle, meaning one who is sent out) to the prayer and laying on of hands by the twelve apostles on Paul and Barnabas; in the Anglican ASB Ordinal they assent to their belief that their portion of the church is part of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church, worshipping the Holy Trinity, and professing the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic creeds, which the church is called on to proclaim afresh in each generation, as well as assenting to their church’s formularies, prayer is made that they may teach and govern after the example of the apostles and that they may be filled with the grace and power that Christ gave to the apostles. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox ordinals imply clearly the transmission of authority from the apostles.60 At the same time, there are limits to this authority. As it is subordinate to that of God, divine revelation through Christ, and the work of the Spirit in the whole church, bishops do not have authority to go against or dispense with Christ’s authority, or that of the Scriptures and apostolic tradition. It is pre-eminently an interpretative authority. Their authority is also limited by appeal to universal councils of bishops on a worldwide scale and the reception of these by the whole body of the faithful. These, therefore, act as checks preventing disregard of Christianity’s historical roots and fundamental norms, and form obstacles against autocracy. Such authority has also been questioned on historical grounds. It has been argued that there is a “tunnel period” after the latest New Testament documents and before the writings of fathers like St. Clement and St. Ignatius of Antioch, casting doubt on the idea of continuous transmission of authority. It should be noted, though, that if the Pastorals are dated later than St. Paul, in the second century, this “tunnel period” gap disappears; if they are dated in St. Paul’s lifetime, then they are evidence of very early views of transmission of authority not dissimilar to those which we find in later writers. However, even if continuous transmission of authority by the apostles to bishops of the second century and later is questioned, it can at least be said that the grounds for holding such authority to be present in bishops of the second century and later are similar to those which are claimed for the canon of Scripture and the early creeds, whose authority is on the one hand due to their faithfulness to the apostolic witness, and on

60 Matthew 28:16–20; St. Clement of Alexandria First Apology, 42; St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 5; Tertullian, On the Proscription of Heretics, 21. See the consecration services of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches and the Anglican services in the Prayer Book and ASB.



the other hand, due to the universal or virtually universal61 acceptance of these by the church as a whole in their day. Presbyters are found in the New Testament fulfilling an office of leadership (as was also the case in Judaism where they exercised an office in charge of each synagogue). In Acts 1:30 they are in charge of charitable gifts, in Acts 14:23 there is reference to their appointment, and in Acts 20:18 St. Paul sends to Ephesus, summoning “the presbyters of the church”: in the Pastorals, St. Titus commissions presbyters.62 Presbyters performed pastoral work, teaching, and ruling.63 The order seems to be universal, though in some parts of the New Testament the word seems to be used interchangeably with “episcopos.” St. Clement of Rome is concerned at efforts to depose presbyters (who seem likely to have been presbyter-bishops).64 The same kind of usage seems to lie behind St. Irenaeus’ views: “we should hearken to those presbyters who are in the church—those who have their succession from the apostles, as we have pointed out, who with their succession in the episcopate received a sure gift of truth, at the good pleasure of the Father…”65 Who had authority to celebrate Holy Communion? In Judaism the person who was the “head of the household” (a community wider than those living in one particular building, who did not necessarily own it)

61 The canon of Scripture was not set out in its present form until 367, though the gospels and Paul’s letters in particular formed collections before then. The Apostles’ Creed dates from the second century (with earlier roots) and the Nicaea-Constantinopolitan Creed in its present form (without the phrase “and the Son”) from the Council of Nicaea (AD 331). Although in early times we find some diversity of church government and authority, by AD 120 St. Ignatius writes “Let that be held to be a valid Eucharist which is under the Bishop or one to whom he has committed it.” The development of the episcopal system seems to have excited no opposition and there was a widespread belief that the apostles had authorised it (specially strong in the case of Asia Minor, where St. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian say this and St. Irenaeus implies that St. John set it up). By AD 200 it was everywhere accepted, as writers such as St. Irenaeus and Tertullian show (e.g., St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.2.2; 3.3.3; 3.4.1, Tertullian, On the Prescription of Heretics, 21, 32). 62 1 Timothy 5:22; Titus 1:5–9. 63 Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:7. 64 1 Clement, 44. 65 St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 4.26.



celebrated at sacred meals.66 In the New Testament, the twelve apostles are given the commission to “do this in remembrance of me.”67 By early in the second century, the letters of Ignatius (AD 120 approximately) say “let that Eucharist be regarded as legitimate which is celebrated under the presidency of the bishop or him to whom he has entrusted it.”68 Thus at that date the bishop or his delegate, the presbyter, seems to have celebrated as the head of the “household of faith” in a place. Such seems to have been the authority of the presbyter in early centuries and has continued thus in the greater part of the Christian world (though with some questioning in Calvinist churches as to how far eldership is an office which should be shared between laity and clergy, a view depending much on the meaning of “laity,” on which see note 75). Deacons are found in the New Testament performing a ministry of active service, care, and administration. Their institution is traced in the New Testament to the busy life of the apostles, so that seven people were chosen as deacons,69 with special authority and responsibilities for administration. They are frequently found in the New Testament. In the Pastorals there is also a section on women deacons and deaconesses,70 who seem to have performed similar duties to men deacons and also prepared women candidates for baptism and cared for them afterwards. Alongside more formal forms of ministry which were expected to show charismata or gifts of grace in the widest sense, there was also a more informal charismatic ministry. There were prophets and prophetesses71 marked out by possession of special gifts72 and also evangelists and teachers who, no doubt, in addition to those exercising the formal ranks and authority of the ministry for such functions, seem to perform such work

G. Dix, OSB, The Shape of the Liturgy (Dacre Press/A & C Black 1945). At the Last Supper, Christ acted as the “head of the household,” though not owner of the upper room. 67 Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:24. 68 St. Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8. 69 Acts 6:1–6. The word “deacon” is not used, but the functions are the same as later deacons. 70 1 Timothy 3:1. This instruction seems most likely to be for deaconesses rather than for deacon’s wives, since it is within a section on the ministry. We also know elsewhere in Scripture about deaconesses (e.g., Romans 16:1). 71 Acts 11:28, 13:2, 21:9. 72 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11. 66



informally.73 They possessed authority by virtue, it seems, of their particular charismata or gifts of grace. At the same time, these ministries, whether formal or informal, did not exist in isolation from the authority of the whole church. The whole church is the “laos” or “people of God,”74 and the whole (or great majority) of the people of God spread across the world considers and reflects on what is claimed and taught authoritatively by bishops, presbyters, and deacons and by inspired leaders, because all who are baptised and have faith are sharers in the “Spirit of God.” They can thus decide whether to receive and pass on what is taught by the bishops, presbyters, and deacons and other leaders, and, if they do so, particularly on a worldwide scale, the authority of those teachings is increased. Although official pronouncements were made about the canon of Scripture, it was the judgement and common consensus of the Christian church across the world that finally established the canon of Scripture75 as authoritative. Also, among the multiplicity of synods that have claimed the title of “general councils,” it has been those accepted as such by the subsequent “reception” of them as general councils and acceptance of their decrees as authoritative by a common judgement of the baptised faithful on a universal or overwhelming scale that has, I suggest, determined which were to be held truly general councils and which decrees from them were to be reckoned authoritative and which not.76 Didache, 11–13. Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Romans 4:9, 11:25. 75 B. F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (Eerdmans 1980), B. M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament (OUP 1987). 76 For full details, see B. J. Roberts, “Canon and Text of the Old Testament,” in Peake’s Commentary (Nelson 1962), 73; H. H. Rowley, The Growth of the Old Testament (Hutchinson 1950), and for the New Testament, J. N. Sanders, “The Literature and Canon of the New Testament,” in Peake’s Commentary (Nelson 1962), 676; A. Souter, The Text and Canon of the New Testament (Duckworth 1912); E. C. Hoskyns and F. N. Davey, The Riddle of the New Testament (Faber 1931, 1947). The different portions of the Christian church differ, however, in their estimate of the “Apocrypha” or “Deuteo-Canonical Books” which were present in the Greek but not in the Hebrew canon. From the sixth century the Syriac church seems to have included in the canon certain books ranked by the rest of the church among pseudepigrapha. At certain times 1 Clement and 2 Clement, the Letter of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hennas, the Didache, and the Apocalypse of St. Peter were accepted in the canon in certain churches but did not survive the long term universal consensus. Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, and Revelation for a time were on the edge of the canon, but eventually accepted. The Nestorian 73 74



The authority of ministries in the church is indeed subordinate to that of God the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ in His incarnate life and ministry, and the Spirit in the church universal.77 I have argued that it should also be subordinate to the authority of the apostolic tradition and the authority of the Holy Scriptures, since any authority possessed by the ministry may be interpretative, but should not go against the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.78 At the same time, in line with what we have said about the Holy Spirit in the church on an international scale, interpretation of the Scriptures (which one would expect, from passages like Acts 8:30–31,79 to be made), should take account of the worldwide church and the views of the baptised and faithful on a worldwide scale; in this we would expect both the ministry and all the people of God on a worldwide scale to participate. In this way the problems of narrow national and nationalist units of churches would be avoided, and a more universal model of the church substituted.80

(iv) THE COMMUNITY OF ALL THE BAPTISED FAITHFUL AND ITS AUTHORITY Inasmuch as all the baptised and faithful who remain steadfast in their allegiance participate in the life of the Spirit, their views, particularly taken together, have authority in the church, owing to their common sharing in the body of Christ and gifts of the Spirit. Hence, we find in the apostolic church lay people being involved, as in the “apostolic council” in Acts 15, in the decisions of that council. Though the present writer would not wish to argue for imperial or royal participation in synods by virtue of that office (as the Eastern emperor did in synods), this in itself in the age of the fathers involved a different form of lay participation. More important still was the church still does not accept 2 Peter, Jude, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation. 77 Thus while councils like Ariminum and Seleucia, which prima facie and geographically might have been expected to be accepted as “universal councils,” were not, owing to lack of acceptance in the long term by the great majority of the church universal, others like Nicaea and Chalcedon were accepted as representative (though the Western church was not well represented) since they were accepted by a widespread consensus throughout the church universal. 78 See Chapters 7–10. 79 See Chapters 10 (ii), 11. 80 In Acts 8:10, 31; St. Philip asks the Ethiopian “Do you understand what you are reading?” and he replies, “How can I, unless some person guides me?” cf. St. Vincent, Commonitorium, 2, “For the avoiding of error, the prophets and apostles must be expounded according to the rule of the ecclesiastical and catholic sense.”



development of the view, detailed at length in Chapter 15, that the decisions of local and universal synods, though for reasons of convenience and transport difficulties they might be taken “on the spot” by bishops and theological experts, nevertheless in order to be fully accepted by the church as “of authority,” needed also the assent of the faithful, on a local scale for local synods and on a universal scale for universal synods, and this “reception” is needed for the decisions to be regarded as “of authority.” Moreover, in matters where different views might affect the unity of the church on a universal scale (e.g., Trinitarian and Christological beliefs, the canon of Scripture, the creeds, the forms of the ministry and the sacraments), to prevent divisions, there should naturally have to be consensus within the church on a universal scale (or agreement on alternatives) among the faithful on a worldwide scale, not just locally, if divisions are not to be created or deepened. Such “reception” of judgements of the synods by the baptised faithful though not easy to discern, has nevertheless happened several times in history (see Chapter 15 for examples) and is needed, I suggest, for any full understanding of authority in the church.

(v) THE PRESIDENCY OF BISHOPS AND THE ROLE OF SUCH A PRESIDENT Within the New Testament, though the twelve apostles were all called to the role of witnessing to the risen Christ, yet there are places where a special trio or even a special leader appears to have a particular role of prominence or leadership. St. Peter, St. James, and St. John seem frequently to be mentioned together as receiving special teaching or a special privilege (as at the Transfiguration81 and being present at the agony in the garden82). St. Peter is mentioned first in each of the lists of the apostles in the gospels.83 St. Peter is also spoken of as “the rock” on whom the church is built (or possibly the one on whose rock-like faith the church is built) and given power to remit and retain sins. He is also given a particular command after the Resurrection to “feed Jesus’ sheep.”84 In the early chapters of Acts See Chapters 12 and 13. Mark 9:2–8; Matthew 17:1–8; Luke 9:28–36. 83 Mark 14:33; Matthew 26:37. 84 Mark 4:16; Matthew 10:2; Luke 6:12. St. Peter also acts as spokesman for the apostles (e.g., John 6:66–69) and takes the lead among the apostles after the Ascension, in the accounts in the first half of the Acts of the Apostles. 81 82



we find him taking a lead in the church’s life85 and he, even before St. James the Lord’s brother, seems to be prominent in the church in Jerusalem.86 Later he appears as leader at Antioch87 and there are good arguments for supposing that he did reach Rome and preached there—the gospel of St. Mark, said by many writers to come from an Italian or Roman provenance,88 is also said by early writers to be based on St. Peter’s preaching.89 The first letter of St. Peter contains a reference to “Babylon,” a popular term for Rome.90 Investigations beneath the present St. Peter’s, Rome, have uncovered a very early shrine such as normally was built over a saint’s bones.91 Nevertheless, St. John was probably the “beloved disciple.”92 It is he who is recorded as “lying on Jesus’ breast.”93 St. James the apostle was the third of the early trio of leaders.94 He died early as a martyr.95 However, St. Clement of Alexandria relates that St. Peter, St. James, and St. John “did not lay claim to glory, as men who had been preferred in honour by Him, but selected James the Just as bishop of Jerusalem.”96 This James was a brother of Christ. At first, the community in Jerusalem appears to have been governed by the apostles, presided over by St. Peter, but then St. James, “a brother of the Lord,” took his place beside them, sharing their authority. When the apostles dispersed, St. James “the Just” alone held the position of head of the church in Jerusalem, presiding, for example, at the council in Acts 15.97 His death was followed by Simeon as successor, then Matthew 16:18–19. e.g., in Acts 1:15–22, 2:14–41, 3:1–10, 4:1–21, 5:1–11, 10:1–11, 15:7–11. 87 Galatians 1:19; Acts 12:16, 15:1ff. 88 Galatians 2:11–21. 89 “The Anti-Marcionite Prologue” (written in Italy); St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.1.2. (“Peter and Paul’s teaching was in Rome” and it is implied that the gospel was written there). 90 Papias, Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord (quoted in St. Irenaeus and Eusebius, Church History, 3.39.15). 91 I Peter 5:13 92 J. Toynbee and J. W. Perkins, The Shrine of St. Peter and the Vatican Excavations (1956). 93 John 13:23, 19:26, 20:20, 21:7–20. 94 John 13:23. 95 Acts 12:2. 96 St. Clement of Alexandria, recorded in Eusebius, Church History, 2.1.3; cf. 23.1. 97 Acts 15:13–21. 85 86



Cleopas, but after AD 70, the destruction of Jerusalem caused Christians to flee eastwards from there to Pella, and made it difficult to exercise authoritative leadership from there. St. Paul undoubtedly had a leading role in early Christianity.98 Though not one of the original twelve apostles, he was also reckoned an apostle of similar status after his vision of the risen Christ.99 The book of the Acts of the Apostles depicts St. Peter and St. Paul working in harmony,100 though St. Paul’s letters do not show this all the time, and, indeed, record him “opposing Peter to his face.”101 He had a tremendous impact spreading the gospel in the Gentile world, his allotted sphere of activity, and he, too, came to Rome. It is likely that he perished there in the very same persecution as St. Peter under Nero in AD 64.102 Was there then a president or leader? The answer to this question may have been seen differently in different parts of the church. We have reviewed how the bulk of our evidence seems to conceive of St. Peter as at the head of the lists of apostles, with a special commission from Christ, and he is spoken of as the rock on which the church is built and shown taking the lead in the early chapters of Acts and elsewhere. Other writings in the New Testament canon particularly represent the schools and leadership claims of St. John, St. James, and St. Paul, but none are so widely diffused or from so many sources as those that represent St. Peter as leader of the apostles and the church. There was, indeed, a practical advantage in having a particular leader. He could act as spokesman, as St. Peter did after Pentecost and at the Council of Jerusalem103 and make policy statements at decisive points.104 But there is no evidence at this stage to connect this exercise of authority with the see of Rome. At first the only place which seems to have authority is Jerusalem,105 and St. Peter was also associated with leadership at Antioch. Nevertheless, there does seem within the first hundred years of the church’s history to be a special claim made by one writer to leadership from Rome (though this in turn does not imply apostolic authority for him or for See the second half of Acts and his epistles for evidence. Galatians 1:11–16; 1 Corinthians 9:1–2, 15:8–9. 100 e.g., Acts 10:34–48; Acts 15:6–12. 101 1 Clement, 5.4.6–7; Eusebius, Church History, 2.25.5–8. 102 Acts 2:34–41 and Acts 15:6–12. 103 Acts 10:34–48 (cf. also Acts 15:6–12). 104 Acts 1:4, 12. 105 The Council in Acts 15 meets in Jerusalem with St. James as chairman. 98 99



that church’s later pronouncements; he does not claim that this church’s leaders must inevitably be right, nor that their leadership is exercised in isolation from the rest of the church and its views); but we do, nevertheless, find in the first letter of St. Clement (admittedly not an apostle and so not what we have called a “fundamental authority”) an implication that the leader of the church in Rome has authority to interfere in order to set right the misdeeds of the church in Corinth.106 Such a claim does, however, lead to our interest as part of what we have called the “interpretative tradition”. What are the reasons why such claims to the authority of leadership from Rome might be made? There were practical reasons why Rome came to make such a claim to authority of leadership among bishops and in the church as a whole.107 The prestige of St. Peter in connection with Rome may be the reason present in the tone of St. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians.108 It is fair to say, however, that St. Peter was associated with Antioch as its founder-apostle as well as with Rome.109 There could also be questions made as to the mainstream beliefs of some of the Roman Popes (Zephyrinus seems to have held something close to Modalist beliefs on God, while the belief in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, later approved by Popes, first appears in fourth-century apocryphal and Gnostic literature). Nevertheless, in general the bishops of Rome did display a greater stability and more central balance of views than those in the polarised schools of theology in the Eastern church. This naturally assisted the prestige of the Roman church, and encouraged a practice of appealing to Rome. It was, however, a primacy of honour and prestige, not of direct rule, that Rome held in the universal church. In Italy and the Western church it had some more general and largely undefined roles of supervision, but these were never accepted in the East or in the church as a whole, who gave precedence in prestige and honour, but not more than this.110 1 Clement, esp. 1.1, 3.1, 12.1ff. The tone of the letter implies St. Clement’s sense of his right to set in order the disputes in the church of Corinth. 107 It was the only see where two apostles (St. Peter and St. Paul) were buried. It was the only see in the Western church to be intimately associated with an apostle or apostles. It also inherited much of the secular prestige of Rome, the capital of the Empire until the fourth century. 108 1 Clement, 1.1, 3.1, 12.1, etc. 109 The response of the bishops at the assembled universal Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) on hearing the “Tome of Leo” (Pope of Rome) presented. 110 St. Epiphanius, St. John Chysostom, and St. Theodoret all interpret Matthew 16:18 in a way that does not found the church on Peter personally. Cyril of 106



The universal councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon freely granted the bishop or pope of Rome a primacy of honour and influence in the church.111 However, the Eastern churches did not acknowledge a primacy of jurisdiction; it would indeed be difficult to do so while acknowledging the role of all the apostles112 and the disagreements with St. Peter in the early church.113 Still less was the head of the Roman church regarded as infallible, for St. Peter himself had scarcely been this, as his times of opposition to Christ and his denials of Christ show,114 whilst the Eastern churches were conscious of possessing a continuous tradition of faith from apostolic times, as ancient as that of the church of Rome, and were committed not to making any change in that faith. The later Orthodox view that the bishops were like brothers among whom the Pope was the elder brother115 may indeed be seen in germ in much Eastern writing. There are admittedly practical advantages in having a president of bishops. To co-ordinate the world-wide church, to have a centre of administration, to call together universal councils, and to chair them are of considerable practical use. Various persons have been suggested for this. First, the emperor or the monarch has sometimes been put forward for this role. The ruler of the country has indeed sometimes had a role, in the days when Christianity first became accepted by the Roman emperor, and later in the days of the growth of European monarchies, particularly in the Reformation period. However, a problem here is that the emperor or monarch is unlikely to be theologically well-instructed and therefore particularly unsuitable to preside Alexandra (on John 21:15–17) sees Christ’s charge to Peter not the giving of a special rank, but the confirmation of his pastoral functions as an apostle after his denial. 111 The Council of Ephesus (381) declared: “the Bishop of Constantinople shall hold the first rank after the Bishop of Rome…” The Council of Constantinople (451) recognised the Pope of Rome’s leading position, endorsed his statement, and declared “Peter has spoken through Leo.” 112 All the apostles, as well as St. Peter (Matthew 18:18; Ephesians 2:18–20), and the apostles as a whole as well as St. Peter receive authority to bind and to loose (Matthew 18:15). 113 St. Paul disagreed with St. Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2:11–14). 114 e.g., in St. Peter’s attempt to persuade Christ not to undergo the cross (Mark 8:33; Matthew 16:33; Luke 4:8) and his denial of Christ (Mark 14:66–72; Matthew 27:69–74; Luke 22:56–62; John 18:15–18, 25–27). 115 A formula put forward by the Youth Movement in the Patriarchiate of Antioch, quoted with approval in T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin 1963), 323.



over an assembly of divines more scholarly in theology than he or she is. Moreover, they would normally lack the kind of teaching on the devotional life which is part of clergy training and have not infrequently been anything but moral exemplars. They also have many pressures of secular government on them and so are unlikely to have time to spare to deal thoroughly with church affairs. In these days, too, they are identified with particular nation states and therefore ill-equipped to deal with the universal church. For all these reasons, an emperor or monarch seems to be ill-equipped to be a president of bishops, and particularly ill-equipped to possess an authority within the universal church. Secondly, the chairman presiding at universal councils and the focus of authority within the church universal might vary, though this could cause problems if it happened every time. Although the emperor seems to have convoked the first general council (or synod), it seems to have been a bishop (albeit the bishop of a comparatively unimportant see), Marcellus of Ancyra, who actually was chairman at the Council of Nicaea.116 There would be problems, however, if a new chairman were constituted each time. There would be no continuity of administration between councils (even to prepare for them), and a considerable part of the council’s time might be taken up in lobbying for first the convoker, then the chairman, or both. Either way, there would be considerable competition, quite apart from any discord caused by the issues of the council. Thirdly, it might be suggested that the Bishop of Jerusalem, the scene of Christ’s death and resurrection and of the earliest ministry of the apostles, might have a good claim. We do indeed see St. James the Just presiding at the Council (or Synod) of Jerusalem in Acts 15 which seems to have represented the then universal church in discussing issues between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. However, in AD 70 Jerusalem was completely destroyed and all its previous inhabitants killed or removed. When eventually a new city was built on the site, it was peopled by Roman colonists. The early Jerusalem church fled to the east bank of the Jordan,117 and from there lost their geographical presence in the sacred city and were much further removed physically from the rest of the church universal. When Christianity grew again in Jerusalem, it only formed a numerically small church and after the Islamic invasion a small proportion of the population. Though the symbolic value of Jerusalem might lead one

116 117

Eusebius, Church History, 3.5.3. St. Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church, 4.



seriously to consider this as a base for the chief authority, in practice there would seem many difficulties in this becoming a universal centre. Fourthly, there was the possibility that the bishop of the civil capital until the time of Constantine, Rome, might claim a universal role in relation to the church as a whole and its bishops. In favour of this, it might be urged that Rome had been the place of the martyrdom and burial of the apostle St. Peter, the chief of the apostles, and of St. Paul. It was also the only place of burial of two apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, and the only apostolic see in the West. Later, the long tradition of orthodoxy in the Roman church helped to give it prestige. This was in addition to the authority inherited from secular Rome, the capital of the Empire, and the ready means of access that came as a result of its being the site of the civil capital of the Roman Empire for many years, until the time of Constantine. In much of the Western church this resulted in the see and bishop of Rome being accepted as having a greater authority than other sees and bishops (though St. Cyprian is notable in his emphases that the episcopate is one118 and the primacy as one of honour, not of judgement).119 In the East there was more doubt, for Christians there knew of the prominent early role of the Jerusalem church and of St. James the Just there, of how St. Peter had been the founder of the church in Antioch as well as founder or strengthener of the church in Rome, and the role of other apostles such as St. John and St. Paul in Asia Minor, as well as the later claims to prominence by the churches in Alexandria and Constantinople (though these did not claim to be superior to Rome). “Primacy of honour” would indeed seem to express a wider consensus of views in the apostolic and sub-apostolic age and in the early centuries within the Christian church about what the role of Peter and of the Bishops of Rome should be than the phrase “primacy of jurisdiction.” Yet there is a practical advantage in having someone to summon a universal council, to appeal to, and to coordinate action within the church, and here there might be a wider agreement on the greater appropriateness of the Bishop of Rome doing this than the holder of any other office within the church, in spite of the variety of practice in the early church. Moreover, the Eastern churches today seem willing to accept a leadership of the Bishop of Rome as “the elder brother among other brothers.”120 A recent Archbishop of

St. Cyprian himself was involved in a dispute with Pope Stephen of Rome. See note 11 on the validity of baptism conferred by heretics. 120 A. M. Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Longmans 1956), 226. 118 119



Canterbury, Archbishop Ramsey, has spoken and written of how the Bishop of Rome might well serve such a role of a “primacy of honour.”121 The fact that the Patriarch of Constantinople is given such a role and authority in the Eastern Orthodox churches seems to show the practical advantages of such an authority within the church universal.122 Likewise, in the Anglican Communion the Archbishop of Canterbury brings together and chairs the Lambeth Conferences of the Anglican Communion, and has a “primacy of honour” within that communion. Granted that the role of St. Peter in the early church was not infallible and his authority not separated from that of other apostles, that his role does not seem to have claimed unique authority of jurisdiction, and the link of St. Peter’s authority with Rome is not a link without parallels elsewhere, yet no other see and its holder would be able to achieve such a widespread consensus to have a “primacy of honour” and exercise the kind of role that St. Peter exercised in the early church. Such an authority, I suggest, in accord with the chief role attached to St. Peter among the apostles in the Scriptures and in accord with the evidence for St. Peter’s residence at Rome and ministry there, gives an explanation for the authoritativeness of St. Clement to the Corinthians and is in agreement with St. Ignatius’, St. Hegesippus’, and St. Irenaeus’ witness on the transmission of authority there, and would be acceptable in the form of a primacy of honour and chairman of universal synods to the great majority of the world-wide church today.123

T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Pelican, 1963), 15, 193ff. See S. Neill, Anglicanism (Mowbrays 1977), 358ff., 396 ff. 123 At the present moment 51%–56% of the Christian Church is Roman Catholic who might be expected to support such a role; 18%–20% is Orthodox who would support a primacy of honour and leadership, this, if added, would make up a considerable majority of the Christian church. Many, perhaps the majority of, Anglicans would support such a role if carefully defined (e.g., in the ARCIC report), representing 10% more of the Christian church. 121 122



The church, made up of the baptised faithful, must be indwelt on a universal scale among those who are truly baptised and truly faithful by the Holy Spirit, since baptism and faith enable the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is on this understanding that the great creeds of the church as we mentioned earlier have a section on belief in the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church immediately after belief in the Holy Spirit, and the epithet “holy” is attached to that church.1 In Acts, St. Peter had bidden the crowd “Repent and be baptised … and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”2 This in turn encourages the view that the church, defined as “all baptised and faithful Christians,” is indwelt and guided by the Holy Spirit as a whole. A synod (or council) is an assembly of representative Christians expressing fellowship (of which sharing in belief, prayer, love, care for the world, evangelism, and the sacraments is the ideal, but lesser degrees of fellowship are also possible and need not prevent a synod). It may, to judge from history, be comprised of apostles, elders, and believers (as in the Synod of Jerusalem),3 or of bishops, sometimes with delegates of these others, or varying combinations of bishops, clergy, and laity. The “reception” of such synods or councils by all or the overwhelming majority of baptised faithful believers (involved because of the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism and the persistence of the Spirit’s activity in those who do not turn to indifference to the faith or unbelief) would, if assent is given to a Synod’s decisions by all or the overwhelming majority of baptised believers, increase the weight and authority of the Synod. This “communal 1 Deuteronomy 7:6, 26:19; 1 Maccabees 10:39, 44; Ephesians 5:27; 1 Peter 2:9; St. Ignatius, To the Trallians, Preface. 2 Acts 2:39. 3 Acts 15:1–32.




judgement of the faithful” has, indeed, been a vital factor (rightly so, I believe, because of the theology of baptism and the Holy Spirit outlined) in deciding whether decisions of synods should be accepted, which Synods should be reckoned as ecumenical or universal, and in deciding the canon of Scripture. The chief function of synods has been seen in earlier and later centuries as to interpret the Christian faith, including God’s disclosure given partially before Christ and particularly clearly through Christ and the apostles who witnessed to Him. Their witness, crystallised as the apostolic faith, was to be found especially reliably in the New Testament, primitive confessions of faith that encapsulated the fundamental beliefs of the Scriptures and apostolic tradition.4 This indebtedness to earlier “fundamental authorities” was repeatedly professed by the synods before their pronouncements.5 Other matters of administration have also been dealt with by synods, though the authority attached to their pronouncements on these matters was and is naturally of less significance, and more suitably changed in the light of different circumstances than their pronouncements on doctrinal matters concerning fundamentals. What synods have often done in the fields of administration has, in fact, been to regularise matters when comparing what was happening in the wider or more universal church with what was happening locally. Or they have attempted to adjust the life of the church on a worldwide scale in the fields of discipline or administration where this would not conflict with God’s disclosures, the apostolic faith, the Holy Scriptures, and apostolic tradition. Synods may be universal, drawn from the worldwide church, or local, representing particular provinces, dioceses, and deaneries (and a not dissimilar form may exist for parishes, as parochial church councils or parish councils). Since the divisions within Christendom there have also been meetings for particular faith communities. In each case their aim is to represent the particular community in drawing up interpretations of the Christian faith, which should nevertheless, I suggest, be limited (as I will argue in Section iv) by appeal to higher authorities, that is, to God’s disclosure and the apostolic faith.6 There should also be acceptability of what they have decided to the community of the baptised faithful which the 4 See J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (A & C Black 1960), 29–51 and St. Polycarp, To the Philippians, 6.3; St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.1.1, etc. 5 See Chapter 14, Section (iv) for arguments in favour of this. 6 See Chapter 15.



synod represents, as it receives their decisions (or rejects them),7 and furthermore acceptability of what has been decided to the Christian church as a whole or the overwhelming majority of the church (ultimately in the form of the baptised faithful) if the matter concerned involves beliefs and practices common to the universal church or would affect the closer unity of the church. In the present divided state of the church, exchange of documents on belief and working out those likely to affect the Christian church as a whole, which even today is likely to be possible, should, I suggest, be taken into account and affect more local decision making. Why, though, should there be an effort to take into account and give greater authority to the whole world-wide church and its views in a church with local or national synods? This is a question that those who belong to churches organised on a local or national basis, such as the Church of England, as the present author does, need particularly, I suggest, to consider. In general, the more extreme the forms of Reformation, the less those churches wished to enter into links with the older pre-Reformation forms of Christianity, at least without their drastic reform; however, Lutherans and Anglicans showed interest in the Orthodox, the Lutherans did hold several dialogues with the Roman Catholics in an endeavour to establish a common mind, and the Anglicans held dialogues with individual Roman Catholics and received an invitation to the Council of Trent. It is also interesting to notice the Pope’s long delay in excommunicating Elizabeth I. Naturally, the Anglicans were conscious of links in beliefs with the continental reformers especially on the subject of “justification by faith,” although without any structural union. It might be argued, too, that the final decisions on justification by the Council of Trent were less opposed to Anglican and Protestant beliefs on the subject than might have been expected. Yet most Anglicans (and indeed some continental reformers, like Melancthon) were also conscious of links with the great majority of the Christian world and desired to emphasise that they did still share links with the pre-Reformation church and participated in the present church universal, including those parts which were still in communion with the Pope. On a theological level, these views involved recognising the reality of the church’s presence in all baptised and faithful Christians and the reality See the third paragraph of Chapter 14, Section (i) and Section (ix) of this chapter. 7



of orders in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. It meant, too, that the Holy Spirit’s presence was acknowledged among those who are baptised and faithful, providing they kept to that baptismal faith. In several Anglican writers, too, it was claimed that the independent Anglican decision making had been made “pending a full and free general council.” However, on a historical level, in practice Anglican decision-making fell below those high sentiments and decision-making continued to be on a normally national and local basis. Indeed, there is still no formal way of feeding in views from the majority of the Christian church to the General Synod in England. Yet there was an awareness from before, through, and after the time of the Reformation that the church was wider than the dioceses in England, Wales, and Ireland. The church acknowledged the canon of Scripture, the three famous creeds, continued the threefold ministry, including bishops (like the early church, the Orthodox church, and the Western Catholic church), had a liturgy based on Scripture and the early fathers (the intention expounded at the front of the Prayer Book sets out this aim), used the interpretative authority of the fathers, especially on the classical doctrines of God, the Holy Trinity, and Christology, and accepted the authority of the first four (or six) ecumenical councils. This meant that Anglicans were (and have continued to be) conscious of much in common with the church universal before and in their time. Indeed, the Church of England was concerned to demonstrate its continuity with the pre-Reformation church and to proclaim itself as part of the catholic and universal church. Thus Archbishop Cranmer not only kept the creeds in the Anglican liturgy with their assertion of belief in the holy catholic church but also, though he gradually moved in his reforming views, he termed his book on the Holy Communion “Defence of the True and Catholic doctrine of the Lord’s Supper,” and in Elizabeth’s reign the bidding prayer sent out with Queen Elizabeth I’s injunctions in 1559 began “Ye shall pray for Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, that is, for the whole congregation of Christian people dispersed throughout the whole world, and especially for the Church of England and Ireland.” Bishop Jewel, in his “Apologia pro Ecclesia Anglicana,” argued that Anglicans “have returned to the apostles and the old catholic fathers,” and that it was because hopes of a general council had had to be abandoned that churches on a national basis had had to carry out reform. In the 1662 Prayer Book the title page speaks of it as being “The Book of Common Prayer of the church, according to the use of the Church of England,” and the preface speaks of the intention of the compilers being to reject any alterations which struck at “some



established doctrine or laudable practice of the Church of England, or indeed the whole Catholic church of Christ,” whilst the prayer for “all conditions of men” prays for “the good estate of the Catholic church; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth and hold the faith in unity of spirit.” More recent links with the church on a scale wider than the national or local have slowly proceeded. Among the most notable achievements has been the full communion with the Old Catholic churches, then later links with the Lutheran churches of Northern Europe under the Meissen and Porvoo agreements. In relation to the Roman Catholic Church, there has been continuing acceptance of its orders (as hitherto) and increasing talk of “degrees of communion,” implying a degree of communion present, and the Second Vatican Council referred to the Anglican Communion as occupying a special place among those churches which separated at the time of the Reformation: “Among these (churches) in which Catholic institutions continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place.”8 There have also been considerable agreements with the Orthodox churches. There has been therefore throughout the ages a sense that the Church of England (and Anglican Communion) is part of a wider whole of the church universal or Catholic church, though this consciousness has been in tension with another tendency to decide matters locally through national or regional synods, and with other aims stemming from Reformation emphases. To address this problem of a clash between local and universal authority and the conflicts of authority it brings has, indeed, been one of the aims in writing this book, along with the overall aim of a consideration of the question for authority in the church.

(ii) UNIVERSAL SYNODS As a universal synod represents a more universal portion of the church as a whole than a local synod, it is understandable that its authority should carry more weight than very small faith-communities and their synods, providing that the other limits (mentioned above9 and in Section iv) are not transgressed. Universal synods, representing and giving views with authority for the universal church have a Biblical grounding in the council which met at Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15. The apostles, to whom was committed a 8 9

Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, ed. (Chapman 1966), 356. Matthew 28:19, cf. Matthew 24:14.



ministry to all parts of the world,10 gathered to discuss on what terms Jewish and non-Jewish believers should meet and share meals (perhaps Eucharistic meals). St. James and the apostles, with an eye to worldwide mission, came to their decision; to this the local lay congregation gave its assent. Though lay Christians elsewhere in the world do not seem to have been consulted, this agreement by lay Christians at the scene of the climax of Christ’s ministry to the decision seems to have been regarded as representative. It is also, I think, worth noting that the decision was made by St James and the apostles, then the lay people of Jerusalem give their decision on what had been worked out. Its authority and worldwide significance were then reinforced by the decisions (albeit in various textual forms) being incorporated in the canonical Scriptures. Though there were local gatherings in the years that followed, the next synod that had plausible claim to universal authority was that of Nicaea. In the intervening years between the council of Jerusalem and the council of Nicaea, local synods made decisions which were accepted by Christians in those areas as carrying authority for Christians in that area.11 At length, however, in response to the Arian controversy, a council drawing on bishops and theologians from the widest possible area was convoked. The emperor seems to have suggested this action, which afterwards commended itself to the “mind” of the church as a whole as a suitable thing to do at periods of controversy; he did not, however, preside at it, which appears to have been done by the Bishop of Cordova. The universal council was conceived of as interpretative in its doctrinal decisions, as we can see from the fact that at this (and subsequent) universal councils, a copy of the gospels was placed on a stand in the assembly. The Creed of Nicaea was accepted by all but two of the bishops present, but the agreement by consensus of the majority of the baptised faithful then, and subsequently down the ages, increased its authority. It For example, there was a synod of 60 bishops in 251 at Rome which condemned Novatian, a synod of 87 bishops at Carthage in 256 and a synod of bishops of the Western church at Arles in 314 which condemned Arianism. These decisions were widely accepted in the areas they covered, and agreement to their decisions emerged in neighbouring areas also. 11 The Second Council of Nicaea in 787. The Anglican-Orthodox agreed statement (the Dublin statement) (page 46) includes Anglican agreement to this council. Other Anglican authorities, however, have seen six or four universal synods as agreed and accepted synodical authorities (e.g., the first six are spoken of in one of the homilies as “received of all men”; cf. Hooker Ecclesiastical Polity, J. Keble, ed.), and four are referred to in the Homily of Good Works. 10



also passed certain disciplinary canons. These, too, were accepted afterwards and gained the agreement of the church’s consensus. Nicaea was followed by other councils seeking to represent the church on a universal scale. The first Council of Constantinople, the Council of Ephesus, and the Council of Chalcedon were accepted by the overwhelming majority of the church, though they did leave significant minorities who dissented, with permanent consequences (e.g., Nestorian and Coptic churches still surviving today). Very similar were the second and third Councils of Constantinople which followed. All are accepted as authoritative by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans today. The seventh council (on icons), namely the second Council of Nicaea, was more slowly accepted in the West than in the East, though now it is accepted by Roman Catholics in the West also. Some Anglicans (e.g., in the recent Anglican-Orthodox Report) have accepted this council also, although some have not been happy about it.12 These seven councils form all the Universal Councils held during the period before AD 1054 when the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Churches formally parted. Other councils have been claimed as universal councils by the Western Catholic church (e.g., the mediaeval Lateran councils and later councils) though, as the Orthodox were not represented except at Florence/Ferrara and as observers at the Second Vatican Council, their claim to be universal is much less strong. Moreover, what the Orthodox delegates agreed at Florence/Ferrara proved not to be acceptable to their church as a whole on their return. Although these councils possess the authority of representing a considerable portion of the church of baptised and faithful, they could not be said to be truly representative of the church universal. An effort was made at the most recent council, the Second Vatican Council, to involve baptised and faithful Christians on a universal scale, by inviting observers from the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches, and their comments did in some places influence the text.13 However, as these churches were not full participants, it would still seem not to represent with full authority all the baptised faithful on a universal scale and so not to have the authority of more universal councils, although as a council representing For example, the text on the Anglican Communion in Vatican II was inserted at the suggestion of one of the Anglican observers, so that it now reads: “(at the Reformation) … many Communions, national or denominational, were separated from the Roman see. Among those in which some Catholic traditions and institutions continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place.” Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 356. 13 See Christopher Butler, The Theology of Vatican II (DLT 1967), 5. 12



the majority of Christians in the world, namely members of the Roman Catholic Church, it carries considerable authority as representing the view of the majority of the baptised faithful among Christians, even if this cannot be termed the overwhelming majority among Christians as a whole. It seems also to have been received with very widespread agreement, and its eirenic tone has been welcomed by many outside the Roman Catholic Church as well as within it.

(iii) A DISCUSSION OF OBJECTIONS TO THE AUTHORITY OF UNIVERSAL SYNODS It would be widely agreed, in view of what I have said earlier about the synod of Jerusalem and synods in the early church, that synods have authority to interpret the apostolic faith and deal with matters of discipline and administration. However, this view has been opposed from different directions. From the viewpoint of “ultramontane” Roman Catholics (less prominent since the Second Vatican Council than before it), it had been usual to see “Scripture” and ‘tradition” as two sources of doctrine, with the Pope and synods developing the latter freely and able to add without limit to what was required for belief. There was even a view voiced that since the declaration of the Pope’s infallibility in 1870, universal synods need no longer be summoned, since he could provide himself the necessary teaching and interpretation.14 The convoking of the Second Vatican Council, therefore, marked a dramatic change, both in showing that synods were necessary in addition to the Pope’s teaching, and in declaring that “tradition” was to be understood as apostolic tradition, asserting that interpretative tradition should not go contrary to Scripture and apostolic tradition15 and that all articles of faith should be present, explicitly or implicitly, in Scripture and apostolic tradition.16 This undoubtedly restored an earlier understanding of the Christian faith and one more likely to win an ecumenical consensus.17 14 Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 155, 177, 188; E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, H. Carpenter, rev. ed. (Longmans 1955), 271, 272. 15 Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 118, 119. 16 Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission, Final Report (CTS/SPCK 1982), 59, etc. cf. St. Athanasius, Against the Heathen, 59, On Synods, 6; St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 4.1; St. Augustine, Concerning Christian Doctrine, 2.14. 17 cf. St. Augustine, Concerning Christian Doctrine, 3.2.



From a different direction, the role of universal synods would be opposed by many Protestants who seek in “scriptura sola,” without interpretation, the only sources of Christian belief. But these churches and groups, while disdaining officially the value of interpretation of the Scriptures as understood by Christians universally, do, in fact, have a complicated structure of interpretation of the Scriptures with meetings, books, periodicals, and institutions to back up their interpretations—with the difference that these are much less representative of the church on a worldwide scale. To provide such interpretation, in fact, is tantamount to an admission that interpretation of the Scriptures is needed,18 and interpretation within the church of baptised and faithful Christians on a universal scale would seem more likely to convey representative and widely acknowledged forms of interpretation.

(iv) SUGGESTED LIMITS TO SYNODS’ AUTHORITY (a). Limits Arising From “Higher Authorities” It has sometimes been argued that synods should have virtually no limits to their authority and be regarded as the supreme authorities in the church. This view has gained in popularity in England since Parliament and Parliamentary democracy have become more authoritative and common methods of government, and it has been suggested that the Synod should act as a similar forum; indeed, it has sometimes been called “the Church’s Parliament.” The British Parliament, of course, does have the right to change laws where a majority of representatives vote for this, and similar representative assemblies in many of the countries of the world have a right freely to alter laws where a majority of members vote for this. Should synods, then, have an authority to innovate and freely develop their decisions, similar to that which parliaments and secular assemblies have shown in developing their countries’ laws? Yet there is a difference in that for the churches, the synods are not the supreme authority—that lies with God and other higher authorities which we have noted also stand higher than synods. A specially clear revelation of God has taken place through Jesus Christ and by the Spirit’s work inspiring the apostles’ witness to Him, preserved in the Scriptures and apostolic tradition.19 See Chapters 8–11 for the arguments for this. Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966); Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission’s Final Report (CTS/SPCK 1982), 52ff. 18 19



To be sure, all the mainstream churches are officially committed to this, though some of the more Protestant churches have hesitations about “apostolic tradition” in these terms. The Roman Catholic Church, in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and in the Anglican-Roman Catholic agreed statements, sees Scripture and apostolic tradition as normative, although with an interpretative role for church, synods, bishops, and Pope. In the documents of the Second Vatican Council we read that “The church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord; she has always regarded the Scriptures together with sacred tradition as the supreme role of faith and will ever do so,” and “what was handed on by the apostles includes everything which contributes to the holiness of life and the increase in faith of the people of God.” Moreover, though the church has the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, this teaching office is not above the word of God but serves it, teaching only what is handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully by divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit; it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

With these statements may be compared statements in the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s Final Report which have many similarities.20 The Orthodox church accepts as pre-eminent and unchanging in authority the Scriptures, the Creed of Nicaea (itself avowedly a distillation of the apostolic faith), and the Ecumenical Councils (likewise claiming to be based on the apostolic faith, along with some additional, disciplinary measures). Timothy Ware, in The Orthodox Church, says “Among the various elements of Tradition, a unique pre-eminence belongs to the Bible, to the Creed, to the doctrinal definitions of the Ecumenical Councils: these things the Orthodox accept as something absolute and unchanging, something which cannot be cancelled or revised.”21

T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin 1963), 205. Among these, particularly in the Church of England itself, the past much greater role of the state still has some survivals (e.g., the role of the monarch, prime minister, and parliament, though these have been considerably lessened in recent years). Other churches in the Anglican Communion have abolished such links and so have become more like the church of the first few centuries and drawn closer also thereby to other Christian churches. 20 21



Anglicans have developed their own forms of synods. Their communion is based on a number of national or area churches, meeting in synods where bishops, other clergy. and laity are represented, and with the bishops these (with certain minor limitations in certain countries),22 govern the churches. For long the extent to which they themselves do this under authority from higher sources and limited by these is under intense debate, as is their relationship to the bishops.23 These churches are linked by other synods, the Lambeth Conference (made up of bishops, and, most recently, also their spouses have come for their own separate formal meetings), and the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting at intervals of several years (since transport costs make it difficult to meet more often). Here, too, there is much debate as to how far the authority of these is limited by reference to higher sources of authority.24 The Thirty-Nine Articles make it clear that Scripture is a higher authority,25 but in the Church of England the articles are now only given “general assent,” and in many other Anglican churches are not assented to nor printed in the service books. The Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral remained an authority within the Anglican Communion, accepted as an authority greater than the synods and their resolutions in local churches. This emphasised “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” as “containing all things necessary to salvation” and as being the “rule and ultimate standard of faith”; “The Apostles’ Creed as the Baptismal Symbol and the Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith”; “the two sacraments ordained by Christ Himself— Baptism and the Supper of the Lord—ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him”; and “the Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.”26 Only recently within the Anglican For discussion of this, see The Synod of Westminster - Do We Need It?,, P. Moore, ed. (SPCK 1986) on the workings of the structures of the Church of England. 23 See, for example, S. W. Sykes, The Integrity of Anglicanism (Mowbrays 1987); Authority in the Anglican Communion, S. W. Sykes, ed. (Anglican Book Centre 1987). 24 Articles 6, 7, 21, etc. 25 Affirmed by the General Convention of the American Episcopal Church at Chicago 1886, and adopted by the Committee on Home Union by the Lambeth Conference 1920 and subsequent Lambeth Conferences. 26 Notably there is the question of the Scriptures and how far they have a permanent authority in different ages and cultures, the forms of ministry, the question of who is authorised to celebrate the sacraments, and the meaning of catholicity applied to the church. 22



Communion have certain events highlighted the questions of how these authorities are to be interpreted and how their authority is understood in relation to local synods among Anglicans.27 The relationship between the Anglican Communion and the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church of which the creeds speak has also become less clear in view of developments by which synods in different countries have gone different ways, without giving authoritative weight to each other or to the wider church on a universal scale. Within the Protestant churches, the Lutherans always held to Scripture as their chief authority,28 but in their early days they were considerably influenced by the idea that the “godly prince” and his parliament should form a synod for them,29 and the state’s rulers and organs have continued to have great influence. Religious questions were settled either by legislation from secular parliaments or by a body appointed by the government. Clergy and laity have, however, come to be organised in synods in recent years, and special “Kirchentag” (church assemblies) have been organised. In the Calvinist churches there was a similar emphasis on the authority of Scripture alone (though in practice, with Calvin’s explanations attached) and, with their lesser emphasis on the authority of the state, synods or assemblies of clergy and lay people had and still have a correspondingly greater role and are envisaged as able to recommend the interpretation of Scripture for the affairs of the day. Originally, all these churches accepted the view of the church of the early centuries that the role of synods was to expound and interpret, but not supersede, contradict, or add fundamentals to the faith and life expressed in the Holy Scriptures and apostolic tradition. Their sense that the synods were under the higher authority of God was expressed in their methods of address,30 and among those accepting the creeds a similar view prevailed. In the Nicene Creed and (as the holy catholic Church) in the Apostles’ Creed. e.g., The Augsburg Confession: “This is almost the sum of our teaching. It can be seen that nothing in it is discordant with Scripture…” and p. 35 of Anglican/Lutheran dialogue “They (the Anglican and Lutheran churches) are at one in accepting the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the sufficient, inspired and authoritative record and witness, prophetic and apostolic, to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.” 29 In Germany and Denmark the prince created a consistory through which to govern the church. In Sweden (which then included Norway) the monarch governed the church with bishops under him. 30 Lutheran and Calvinist synods claim the importance of the Holy Scriptures as normative for their life. The Lambeth Conferences’ pronouncements include an 27 28



Though aware of differences in expression (e.g., in the Nicene Creed in relation to the Scriptures on Christ’s divinity), they saw these not as additions to the faith expressed in the Scriptures and apostolic tradition, but as selections from them, chosen out to give them special prominence. Yet, with the influence of the Enlightenment in Protestant and to some extent in Anglican theology, then later in Newman’s theory of development and the Catholic Modernist movement, another trend of seeking for gradual development became prominent.31 Greater historical knowledge of how doctrine had grown, the influence of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and experience of the development of legislation within elective assemblies all contributed to suggest that synods of the church and independent national churches should develop their enactments likewise. There are, however, some considerations which suggest that a freely developing synod not acknowledging any higher authority or authorities is, I would hold, undesirable. Churches which claim to appeal to specific revelatory events in history cannot forego that appeal without losing their raison d’etre and intrinsic character. Nor can they effectively claim to value their membership of the church universal if they take no notice of the views of the church universal. Even in secular parliaments and assemblies, an attempt to govern without any higher moral principles and any kind of consensus as to what is right within a nation and with other nations is likely to lead to a moral chaos like Hitler’s, or at the least to the breakdown of community within a nation and between nations.32 assertion that they meet in conformity with the Holy Scriptures and (e.g., in the Appeal for Reunion, 1920) whole-heartedly accept “the Holy Scriptures as the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man, as being the rule and the ultimate standard of faith….” 31 See for example the surveys in H. R. Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology (Fontana 1966); D. E. Nineham, “The Outcome: Dialogue into Truth,” in Truth and Dialogue: The Relationship Between World Religions, J. Hick, ed. (Sheldon Press 1974), 15; A. McGrath, The Renewal of Anglicanism (SPCK 1983); O. Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman (CUP 1957); A. R. Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution (Penguin 1961). 32 Symbolising a bulwark against arbitrary misuse of power without constraints, at Aachen (where the Holy Roman Emperor was enthroned) the chair where the Coronation took place has above it a picture of the Holy Roman Emperor kneeling before and receiving the crown from Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. A similar viewpoint lies behind many coronation services, including the British one. As laws and constitutions developed, so they limited what the monarch, nobles (or House of Lords), and assembly (or Parliamentary House of Commons) could do. Even countries which do not have a fully written constitution do have laws bearing



There would seem to be grounds, therefore, from the fact that the Christian church formed the canon of Scripture to be normative and approved this and apostolic tradition as normative, that they should be viewed as higher authorities than the synods, and as the church viewed synods as subordinate to these in the early centuries and kept this view in the majority of the church, this seems to point to the need to recognise these higher authorities as permanently above them. The experience of secular assemblies which have felt that they need to look to a higher code (e.g., a Bill of Rights, a constitution, or code like the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights) also seems to point to the desirability, if the code is well-grounded and accepted on a universal or widespread scale, of a higher authority. A further view that has sometimes been held about synods, influenced by secular parliamentary practice, has been that the right decision, in line with God’s will, would come democratically by “head-counting.” Admittedly, in assembles where there are different groups represented (e.g., bishops, clergy, and laity), the consent of each has normally been needed. Yet it may be questioned whether this sufficiently encourages consensus and a search for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, for in the course of the history of the people of God it has not always been majorities who have been found to be right in the long term—for example, the few prophets in Israel who held out against the many unrighteous were later seen to be right; the minority of disciples and eventually Christ alone stood against the unbelieving majority of the people of His day; a small minority supported Athanasius against the majority of Arians; a minority at the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia opposed semi-Arian views, but eventually prevailed; and there was a minority who championed liturgy in the vernacular at the close of the Middle Ages, failed to carry their case then despite the primitive custom to the contrary, and yet their views prevailed later in the liturgies produced at the time of the Reformation and in the Second Vatican Council. Though there may be some place for an assessment of the views of an assembly, to which “head counting” can contribute, additional grounds, I would suggest, are to be found in conformity to higher authorities (i.e., on the constitution, and many countries (like France and the USA) have an elaborate written constitution. All civilised countries have a system of laws to regulate dealings between people and institutions within the country. Moreover, institutions like the International Court of Justice and the United Nations have attempted to apply laws reflecting a universal moral consensus to relationships between countries, as “higher laws” than those of particular countries.



God’s revelation, the Holy Scriptures, and apostolic tradition as I have earlier argued), and subsequent reception or otherwise of their views by the church as a whole on a worldwide scale. Let us now consider again the latter. (b). Limits Due to the Need for “Reception” of Decisions If the Holy Spirit indwells the members of the church as a whole by virtue of faith and baptism, they, not just the members of the Synods, are entitled to judge the validity or otherwise of the Synod’s enactments. This is a very different approach from that which, influenced by parliamentary procedures and a very legalistic understanding of church assemblies, sees Synodical enactments as like legal enactments to be imposed from above upon the remainder of the church. Such an approach is at variance with the relationship between Synods and the whole church to be found both in the New Testament and in the early church. Within the New Testament, the enactments of the Synod of Jerusalem in Acts 15 had the “assent of all the brethren,” and in the period of the early centuries even synods like Ariminum and Seleuceia, convoked as universal synods, had their conclusions revoked and were declared not to be universal synods when their conclusions were found not to be acceptable to the majority of the church as a whole. For such “reception” of the decisions of synods, moreover, a considerable time was often needed. “Head counting,” therefore, does not seem sufficient; synods also need to be related to the wider church of all the baptised faithful, and there seems to be a need for their decisions to be considered and assessed by members of that wider church over a considerable period of time if we are to do justice to the gift of the Spirit in baptism, faith, and the royal priesthood in which church members as a whole are sharers. (c). Should There Be a Limit on the Decision Making of Regional or National Synods by the Whole Church’s Views and Synods Drawn from the Whole Church? We will in the following sections consider universal synods and local synods. It must be admitted that at the present moment it is not possible to summon a truly ecumenical council embracing all the baptised faithful in the world. Nevertheless, if we agree that this is a desirable aim, as I have been arguing, then we ought to bear in mind what might help towards this aim, and not make it more difficult. Moreover, even in the present divided state of the Christian church, it is possible to work out what are the beliefs of the great majority of the baptised faithful on most of the questions that



are likely to come up at local or national synods. It is here, I believe, that it is vital for local or national synods to take account of that universal perspective, and indeed to create statutory instruments by which these perspectives can be fed in and given the authority that belongs to these views, bearing in mind the relation of such views with what we have termed “fundamental authorities,” and also what proportion of synods worldwide and how many of the baptised faithful appear to hold these views. (d). Universal and Local Synods Both universal and local synods were found in the church of the early centuries and both had slightly differing and useful functions. Their purpose was to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting the Scriptures and apostolic tradition and to make disciplinary regulations; in doing this they were able to combine different insights. A synod on a universal scale was naturally more representative of the church as a whole (providing that its members were widely drawn and representative, and its conclusions also accepted on a universal or overwhelmingly wide scale), and naturally carries more authority, providing that the “fundamental authorities” are not transgressed, and it afterwards gains acceptance in the overwhelming majority or whole of the church. We have noted in Section (i) how a universal synod was held at Jerusalem (mentioned in Acts 15) and this formed in the third century a precedent for such universal synods, when a need for them arose. Local synods met after the Council of Jerusalem and before further ecumenical councils; by the third century the bishops of neighbouring dioceses met together once a year for discussion. Very soon these meetings were extended to cover wider areas, so that, for example, sixty bishops met at Rome in 251 to condemn Novatian; they also made disciplinary decisions. Their authority was expressed in the form of canons or laws, but these in turn had to be accepted by individual bishops and dioceses. It was recognised that local synods might err. However, there was a movement towards pooling views on a wider scale, on the ground that by consulting more widely and across different cultures, it would be more difficult for partisan views to prevail. At a synod of the whole Western Church at Arles, for example, the Donatists were condemned. Then when a universal synod of the Eastern and Western Church was held at Nicaea in AD 337, it rapidly commended itself to the church on a universal scale as a way of solving disputes. Many further followed.



(v) WHAT MAKES A “UNIVERSAL SYNOD” UNIVERSAL? To be universal a synod would, I suggest, need to have representative members from all or at least a large majority of the Christian church, drawn from all or the vast majority of areas and genuinely representative of Christians in those areas and cultures. However, to be “genuinely representative” and, as we will note, to carry long term authority, it would seem that such councils need to be “received” as true expositions of the faith by the church’s members at “grassroots,” that is to say, by bishops, clergy, and laity in the church as a whole or overwhelmingly. It has also been argued, by the Roman Catholic portion of the church, that those attending such synods should be in communion with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. However, this does not seem to have been a prime aim in the Council of Jerusalem or the first seven ecumenical (general) synods at least. St. James of Jerusalem, not St. Peter, chaired the Council of Jerusalem in Acts. Bishop Ossius of Cordova probably chaired the council of Nicaea and all the first seven ecumenical (general) synods were held in the East whilst the Pope did not attend the Council of Chalcedon, though his envoys did. Communion with the Bishop of Rome was thus a consequence of the aim of the council to be universal and incidental to this rather than their direct intention.

(vi) WHAT MAKES A UNIVERSAL SYNOD AUTHORITATIVE? In the first place, as argued on pages 106 and following, there is, as is widely agreed, a need to conform to the “higher authorities” of God and his revelation, especially what is shown through Christ, in the Scriptures and apostolic tradition, and in the church’s interpretation of this through the Spirit. Secondly, there is a need for the synod to be representative of the church on a universal scale if it is to justify its name. This should include universality, geographically and also including different cultures across the world. Thirdly, there is a need, I suggest, for a synod’s findings to be “received” on a universal or very wide scale after the synod for them to be acknowledged as authoritative and to be received as in accord with the “higher authorities” and hence as an expression of the true faith. This has important consequences, I suggest, telling against an over-legalistic understanding of the authority of synods.



(vii) LOCAL SYNODS IN A DIVIDED CHURCH The earliest local regional synods were in churches conscious of being in communion with other Christian churches who could also meet in a universal council. Fairly soon, however, even in the early centuries, those who disagreed with the universal councils were held not to be in communion with others; often this was mutual and each group held synods of its own. After the breaks in communion between the Eastern and Western churches and at the time of the Reformation, each group again held local synods of groups not in communion with one another. Nevertheless, the tie of common Christian baptism remained, and the Scriptures and common profession of the baptismal faith remained as further links between the divided churches. The Holy Spirit, given in baptism, was thus a common factor indwelling the different portions of the church universal. Some churches had much more in common. The Eastern Orthodox churches and the separated Eastern churches had very much in common, apart from their disagreements about the early councils. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches agreed on the Scriptures, apostolic tradition, common traditions, early councils, and much else. The Church of England and the Anglican Communion agreed with these in their appeal to Scripture and apostolic tradition, with four (or six or seven) of the early councils, with the forms of ordained ministry (with certain exceptions), and with the general appeal to Scripture and apostolic tradition, interpreted by the ancient church in the period of those councils (many would say, in the period of the ancient and undivided church prior to the division between East and West). The Protestant churches would agree with the other Christian churches in their possession of the Old and New Testaments, sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, and a ministry of preaching, worship, and caring service.

(viii) EXAMPLES OF THE WORKING OF SYNODS IN A DIVIDED CHURCH (a). Roman Catholic Synods, Universal and Local The Roman Catholic Church has continued to hold synods after the division between East and West on a worldwide scale, and has also held local synods to represent portions of it. The widest synods have been counted by them as universal synods, and though not universal in the sense that all Christians were represented (and having, therefore, less claim to universality than those in the ages before East and West divided), they



could nevertheless claim rightly to represent the majority of Christians in the world drawn from a wider geographical extent and more varied cultures than any other single Christian community. In its most recent synod (the Second Vatican Council), it did also invite Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant observers, who apparently were able to make certain suggestions for the texts that were eventually published.33 Local synods are also again (after a period when they were less normal) a feature encouraged in the Roman Catholic Church’s life, with bishops, representatives of priests, and representatives of laity for various geographical areas. The Second Vatican Council encouraged this.34 Episcopal conferences of different areas were also encouraged to meet and to make decisions, subject to review “by the Apostolic See.” International lay organisations are also encouraged. However, the question of reception of the work of these synods by the church at whole is not expressly mentioned. In practice, this has often happened, for example, the First Vatican Council’s decree on papal infallibility was balanced in the Second Vatican Council by express mention of the infallibility of the church as a whole35 and the role of the college of bishops36 in addition to the judgements of the Pope. Presumably, therefore, the Pope, bishops, and church as a whole are all conceived of as possessing infallibility and, therefore, presumably needing to be in agreement for a judgement to be infallible. However, more express mention of the need for reception by the church as a whole or majority of a universal or majority of synodical decrees would help to restore the pattern by which universal or majority synods were “received” (or “not received”) in the early centuries, and bridge the gap with the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches which in different ways envisage the Spirit as indwelling the faithful baptised. The Eastern Orthodox and some Anglicans hold that they can as a whole (with the Spirit’s help) by grace decide on the validity of synods’ decisions. This is a very different atmosphere and way of deciding matters from that which has prevailed in most of Western Christendom, where a more legalistic atmosphere of decisions handed down from above prevailed, but it has much to be said for it from the Scriptures and early church. In the next chapter, this view will be further put forward. e.g., part of the section on “Churches and Ecclesial Communities Separated From the Roman See” is said to have been suggested by the Anglican observer, the Rt. Rev. J. R. H. Moorman (related by Bishop Moorman to the present author). 34 Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 425. 35 Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 29. 36 Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 48, 49. 33



(b). The Eastern Orthodox Church and Synods, Universal and Local The Eastern Orthodox church shared in all the seven synods of the ancient church prior to the division between East and West, which included the overwhelming majority of the Christian church at that time. The Eastern Orthodox churches lay special stress in these seven synods as being those with the best claim to be considered universal, though one school among the Eastern Orthodox claims that they alone (without Roman Catholics or other Christians) could in theory summon further valid universal councils. This would, however, seem to doubt the validity of baptism and its gift of the Spirit in other Christians and deny their opportunity for the link with the church which baptism is normally held to bestow in all Christian theology, though there is one school of Orthodox theology which also does this, hesitating over the presence of all factors needed for baptism in other churches.37 Other Orthodox, however, would not agree, and emphasise the importance of eschatology, with the church pointing forward provisionally to God’s full role; they draw attention to the dependence of sacraments and of institutions on the Holy Spirit. “It is not in history that the ecclesial institutions find their certainty but in constant dependence on the Holy Spirit. This is what makes them “sacramental,” which in the language of Orthodox theology may be called “iconic.”38 John Zizioulas argues that institutions (and their actions) depend for their efficiency on prayer, the prayer of the community, and on this criterion other Christian churches could be held to create an effective baptism.39 The Orthodox have also held local synods. Existing as a communion of self-governing area churches, but with a common liturgy and beliefs, they have held local synods in their area churches as needs required. Sometimes, though, as in the Council of Jerusalem (1612) and the recent Pan-Orthodox Synod at Rhodes, they have deliberately sought to draw together representatives from all the Orthodox churches, at the invitation of the bishop who is foremost in honour, the Patriarch of Constantinople. Bishops have formed these worldwide synods and area synods, though the Orthodox also teach that their decisions need to be “received” by the clergy and laity; for example, all the delegates from the Eastern Orthodox church who signed the union between the Eastern and Western churches at the Council of Florence/Ferrara in the fifteenth century had their decision “not T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin 1963), 26–50, 210. T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin 1963), 108. 39 J. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1985), 138. 37 38



received” on coming home, whereas the one bishop who had not signed, Mark of Ephesus, was feted and eventually declared a saint.40 An authority, then, belongs to synods in the Eastern Orthodox church which is greater according to the width and representativeness of the meeting, but is limited by conformity to the Scriptures (interpreted as described in chapters 12 and 17) and apostolic tradition, and reception by the clergy and laity in the church as a whole. (c). Synods in the Church of England and Anglican Communion The Church of England has never claimed to be the whole universal church or possess its authority; its synods, therefore, all have the character of local synods. These are a long-continued feature of its history; before the Reformation, as for example, the Synod of Whitby decided on arguments between the Celtic and Roman mission areas and their traditions, and from the early Middle Ages the Convocations formed organs by which clergy (both Bishops and representatives of the other clergy) could give their views and decisions. Prior to the Reformation, however, their authority was subject to their views not being contrary to the higher authority of universal synods and Popes; whereas after the Reformation the Convocations were subject (in varying degrees and with subtle variations) to the authority of monarchs and Parliament. Henry VIII, indeed, claimed to be “Protector and Supreme Head of the English church and clergy,” whereas Elizabeth I, after the Roman Catholic interlude under Mary, only claimed to be “Supreme Governor alike in things spiritual as in things temporal” and claimed links with the primitive and catholic church, as in writing to the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand: “We and our subjects, God be praised, are not following any new or foreign religions but that very religion which Christ commands, which the primitive and Catholic church sanctions and which the mind and voice of the most ancient Fathers with one consent approve.”41 However, there do seem to have been changes in attitudes to the authorities claimed, particularly with regard to fundamental authorities, the relationship with the church universal, and the relationship of the church and state. Let us see, then, what is to be said about these changes and the question of their validity.

T .Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin 1963), 80. Elizabeth I to the Emperor Ferdinand in 1563, quoted in S. Neill, Anglicanism (Penguin 1958, Mowbrays 1977), 132. 40 41



In the first place, the question is raised as to what are the fundamental sources of authority to which the reformed Church of England appealed in its formularies and writers. Here the appeal is fundamentally akin to that of the apostles and that of early Christian writers in East and West, before the division of those great portions of Christendom—to God’s self-disclosure, made known in creation and gradually through the Old Testament, and particularly clearly through Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. They look for witness in a normative way, to the Scriptures and apostolic teaching (with the received Scriptural canon), along with the most universally held interpretations of the Scriptures in the early church, perceived through its writers, its councils, and its “common judgement.” Scripture was held to “contain all things necessary to salvation,”42 a commonplace among the early fathers,43 while the Church “hath power to decree rites and ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith,”44 and yet, “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s word written, neither may it so expound one piece of Scripture that it be repugnant to another.”45 The Church has authority, according to the articles, to interpret Scripture, but not to go against its teaching: “Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of Salvation.”46 Therefore, neither monarchs or parliaments nor convocations nor synods have authority to overthrow or dispense with the teachings of the Scriptures (and the authority to which they point). Furthermore, the church has not the authority to enforce as necessary for salvation what is not present in the Scriptures. This was a belief found generally in the early fathers47 and even held by one bishop at least at the Council of Trent, Nanchiatti of Chioggia.48 However, the church was also the matrix for the apostolic traditions that formed the Scriptures, and provides the apostolic tradition with which to interpret it (e.g., a sense of what were the most important parts and themes of Scripture). It was, indeed, the church which Article 6. e.g., St. Athanasius, Against the Heathen, On Synods, 6; St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 2, etc. 44 Article 20. 45 Article 20. 46 Article 20. 47 e.g., St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Cathechetical Lectures, 4.17; St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 2 and the earlier references in note 42. 48 O. Chadwick, The Reformation (Penguin 1964), 276. 42 43



formed the canon of Scripture and, I have argued in Chapter 12, is responsible for interpreting the Scriptures. This is, in fact, asserted in Article 20. The church has also authority in controversies of faith, as Article 20 also declares. I argue in Chapters 11 and 12 that such interpretation of the Scriptures should be Christocentric and based as its fundamental sources on the New Testament, then on the Old Testament (viewed from the point of view of Christ, the apostles, and the New Testament), and the Apocryphal books as used in the ancient church in its canons. I also argue that the church has authority to interpret the Scriptures and apostolic tradition in controversies of faith (cf. Article 20) and try to put the case for the authority of the early councils (with four, six, or seven recognised by Anglicans,49 seven in common by Orthodox50 and Roman Catholics, and twenty-one down to the Second Vatican Council by Roman Catholics).51 A second question raised with regard to authority after the Reformation was the relationship of the reformed Church of England to the church universal. We have noticed the bidding prayer, issued at Elizabeth’s accession in 1559; in this the clergy and congregations of the Church of England were bidden to pray for “Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, that is, for the whole congregation of Christian people dispersed throughout the world, and especially for the Church of England and Ireland.” Yet it did not have the same organic links as the pre-Reformation church; it did not until recent years join in synods representing the majority of the church universal. Although it shares a common baptism and many common beliefs and practices with other parts of the Christian church, yet there is not such a degree of communion with other parts of the church in union with the see of Rome as in the pre-Reformation church, nor, of course, the same links with the Orthodox as before the split between East and West. Nationalism was indeed a temptation for a church on islands physically separated from many other Christians. Visiting Lutheran and Calvinist theologians urged the Church of England in that direction. The Lutheran views on the “godly Prince” with right to decide the form of religion are well known, and Calvin expected the magistrates to make it possible for a reformed church to make decisions independently of other nations not under their rule. The Anglican church’s theologians were often aware of the universal dimension of the church, for example, in the Scriptures, the form See note 31. See note 36. 51 For a list, see Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 740. 49 50



of the ministry, the creeds and sacraments, but were not organically linked by synods to other dioceses of the church abroad (despite an invitation to the Council of Trent, which was declined). It is only fair, however, to mention that a diocese-focused attitude is also the viewpoint of some Orthodox theologians, for example, John Zizioulas, for whom the diocese is the primary unit of church life.52 As an English overseas Empire developed, this also had the effect of somewhat counteracting excessive nationalism, since the Anglican form of Christianity developed abroad in those countries and, indeed, continued beyond the ending of political links with England.53 In certain areas like South America, Iran, China, and Japan, Anglicanism also took root where there had never been English rule. In general, though, the areas of Anglican Christianity have corresponded to those of the Commonwealth (at one time the Empire) and areas where English culture has had an influence. Now the Commonwealth is far less significant politically than it used to be, while other links have developed. The Anglican Communion has still less reason, then, to be connected to English culture. It does seem moreover, in view of the Biblical teaching on the breaking down of barriers between nations,54 that there is a danger if our understanding of Christianity is too linked to a particular nation’s culture, especially at a time when that country is becoming more aware of other nations and their value. In the last few years, Britain has joined the European Economic Community, trade with the Continent has expanded, we have become physically joined to the Continent by a rail link and far more English tourists than hitherto take holidays abroad, so becoming aware of the Christian church in other lands to a far greater degree than before. Thus the question of the relationship of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion to the church on a universal scale has become more important, and the question of the authority of the church universal in relation to the authority of national churches and communions such as the Church of England and Anglican Communion has likewise become much more prominent and vital. The third question raised with regard to authority after the Reformation was the question of the authority of the church in relationship to the authority of the state. It does seem that the use of authority by the state at the time of the Anglican Reformation was an exaggeration of In J. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1985), 139ff. e.g., in the USA, Eire, the protectorates in Sudan, Egypt, and Palestine, and the countries which came to independence as the Empire became the Commonwealth. 54 e.g., Mark 12:17; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11, etc. 52 53



authority for which there might, indeed, be some precedents in the preReformation catholic church and even in contemporary Roman Catholic states, though it is difficult to see a precedent in the time of Christ and the apostles or in the Scriptures. The Byzantine Emperors, from Constantine onwards, for example, caused universal synods to be convoked, strong English and French Kings appointed bishops in their countries, and even King Philip II of Spain placed the Kings of Israel and Judah on the front of the Escorial palace to emphasise his role in a theocratic state. The Tsar and heads of Orthodox countries often claimed a power also to create bishops. Yet, alike in the Western Catholic church and in the Orthodox churches, there has been a tendency to move away from this emphasis on the ruler’s authority over the church towards more primitive forms of authority, closer to those authorised by Christ and found in the Scriptures and the first three centuries of the church. The growth of secularisation within states has made less plausible the claim that its rulers are entitled to have authority to appoint bishops or other ministers in the church or to make decisions for the churches. Is it, then, justifiable for such authority to be exercised by the chief ruler of the state? There does seem to be a problem here, especially if the church is viewed as subordinate to the state rather than the two being partners with coordinate rights. This is particularly the case in a modern secularised society where the chief authority in the state may in practice rest with those who are not committed Christians at all. The widespread Reformation and (in some countries) Counter-Reformation practice depends on personal rule by a monarch who is a practising Christian. Nowadays, most of the monarch’s authority is delegated to the Prime Minister (or his equivalent in other countries) and Parliament who need not be Christians. Hence, there have been movements towards seeking freedom for the church to decide more things and act in matters of importance by its own authority. There already existed from pre-Reformation times the Convocations or synodical assemblies of bishops and clergy. Though these ceased to meet in 1717, they were revived in 1854 and 1861. Unofficial Church Congresses followed, providing a meeting of academics, bishops, clergy, and lay people and providing in-depth studies of subjects of topical concern that might usefully, I suggest, be revived today. Then, in 1919 in the Church Assembly a House of Laity was added to the Convocations of Canterbury and York. Although the decisions still needed ratification by Parliament and the monarch, they did allow much more creativity and freedom for the church, and expressed views of representative assemblies of the church; their revival signified a claim by the church to a degree of authority of its own.



Eventually, the Church Assembly was superseded by the General Synod (with less emphasis on the two provinces), though the Convocations did still sometimes meet separately. Yet, the growing secularism of Parliament and diminution of Christians there caused an increasing problem for the church, for it was difficult to see how a church could be subjected to such a body. The General Synod was endowed with much authority. Not only could it make practical and administrative decisions, but (unlike the Church Assembly) it was given authority to pronounce on doctrinal matters, although the terms of such resolutions had to be made by the bishops and with a two-thirds majority, General Synod did this in accordance with Canon A5,55 but General Synod itself was its interpreter. In worship, too, services additional and alternative to those of the Prayer Book could be enacted by a two-thirds majority. In favour of the new synod, it was smaller and more manageable than the old Church Assembly. There was representation of bishops, clergy, and laity together; it was regarded by its supporters as an improvement that, under the safeguards we noted earlier, bishops and representatives of clergy and of laity were all engaged together in interpreting doctrine (unlike the earlier Church Assembly) and making other enactments. On the other hand, in the years since its foundation, many criticisms have surfaced. The synod meetings are time-consuming, even if now normally reduced from three times to twice a year, with a further optional meeting, and a low proportion of time is spent in worship and “waiting on God” in the subjects under discussion. There can be excessive bureaucracy and remoteness from the concerns of the parishes. There can be a passion for change for change’s sake (e.g., on the office of churchwarden, seeking to enforce what may be suitable for one kind of parish on others with quite different needs) and an obsessive concern with trivia. There does seem at times a tendency to view the General Synod as though it were a “Parliament,” for example, with parties opposing one another and making laws laid down from above and imposed on the rest of the church (with no doctrine of “reception” on this view). To those who speak of the General Synod in this way, there can be a lack of sense of authorities higher than the General Synod. There can be an 55 Canon A5: “Of the Doctrine of the Church of England.” “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.”



unwillingness to recognise as a higher authority God the Holy Trinity, the disclosure of God brought by Christ and mediated by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, along with apostolic tradition, which the early church saw as not contrary to Scripture. Article 20 says that although the church has authority in controversies in faith, yet it may not decree what is contrary to the Scriptures. Then, there is the problem of the relation of a local synod to the worldwide church, which many Anglicans would regard as a higher authority, embodying more fully the possibility of “the common judgement of the faithful.”56 As there is among the Anglican articles one about the possibility of universal synods (i.e., those convoked to represent the whole church) erring and having done so, it may surely be taken that what applies to the church universal’s synods in this article applies to an even greater degree to local synods. A truly universal synod which was also received by the “common judgement of the faithful” would, however, have a much greater claim to authority, and would also seem to have a much higher claim to authority than the General Synod. Again, it is questionable how far the synod of one denomination in one nation has authority of the kind possessed by the church universal or majority of the church (as distinct from legal authority in its own denomination) in fundamental matters of Christian belief and life, particularly with regard to the sources of revelation, Scripture, the creeds, the ministry, the sacraments, and matters shared with other Christians across the world. There is a question here as to how far a church which ignores the majority of other Christians in the world, preferring narrowly nationalistic forms of decision-making, taken in separation from other Christians in their own and in all other nations, can at the same time claim to be taking seriously its claim to catholicity and participation in the church universal’s decision making. There is moreover the question of how far the “General Synod” allows for that “reception” of decisions which was an important feature of life in the early church, helping to decide which enactments of synods were to have a long term effect and which were to be dropped. In the procedures of the General Synod there seems to be a strong element of Parliamentarytype procedures, thinking in terms of measures to be “imposed” on others (and strongly influenced by Parliament and very legalistic forms of religion), rather than of tentative conclusions to be tried out in the wider sphere of the whole church of the area the synod represents (also filled and influenced by the Holy Spirit as well as the synodical assembly). 56

It represents the church on a wider scale than a local (or national) synod.



The question of how far there has been theological (as against ad hoc practical) consideration in decision making has also been voiced as a concern. One of the sad features of the demise of the Church Congresses was the loss of meetings where bishops, clergy, and laity from varied spheres, and also academic, devotional, and practical speakers could all meet together, and debates took place in an atmosphere of devotion, with hymns and prayers, on a variety of themes, some controversial, but many unifying, important for that time and across all ages. They dealt both with needs of the day and with the great themes of Christianity in a way that concern with lesser matters in the General Synod does not normally give time for. Their age, interestingly, coincided with the great flowering of religious enthusiasm in Victorian England. In the Anglican Communion, there is a “synod of bishops,” the Lambeth Conference, which meets every ten years. In between, there are the Anglican Consultative Council and meetings of Primates of the Anglican Communion. However, problems still arise as to how these bodies and their decisions are related to the whole body of Christians throughout the world and the organs (e.g., synods) wherein they express their views. If these bodies should make decisions at variance with those of most Christians in the world, then they cannot be said to be in accord with that wider consensus or to have been received by the “common judgement of the faithful” among the majority of Christians. Within the Anglican Communion and its individual churches, it seems that there is need, too, to allow for “reception” of Lambeth Conference and Anglican Consultative Council decisions by clergy and laity in individual churches and the communion as a whole, though the common consultation and ensuing documents do serve to show the extent to which a common mind (or otherwise) has been reached among the bishops concerned. Among Protestant churches, forms of synod have been prominent, though generally acting under the authority of Scripture and under acknowledged confessional documents (e.g., the Augsburg Confession in Lutheran churches and ecclesiastical ordinances in Calvinist churches). They were intended to express a share in the government of the church in a way that was consistent with the Scriptures, though that naturally set constraints on their authority. They also had a much lesser concern than the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches (and perhaps less than the Anglican churches) for international synods. The particular beliefs of the Reformation period, such as Luther’s appeal to and dependence on individual German princes who accepted his beliefs, and Calvin’s reliance on the power of the magistrate locally in Geneva encouraged this. Thus,



they were normally very dependent on local rulers, with Scotland a notable exception. However, in recent years this has no longer been so true; the Lutheran World Federation, for example, can now be serviced by meetings and synods on a worldwide scale, now that travel across the world is so speedy and easy.

(ix) A DISCUSSION OF OBJECTIONS TO THE AUTHORITY OF LOCAL SYNODS The elements held in common between the churches mean, I suggest, that every church should be conscious that it is only a small part of the church universal. This applies particularly to the churches that are small in numbers as a percentage of Christians in the world. One of the problems of local synods, if they are not linked to wider synods, is that they may take important decisions without realising the consequences for the church on a universal scale. For example, a local council in Spain took the decision to add the words “and the Son” to the Nicene Creed, so that the revised form of the creed said that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” By adding these words unilaterally, which subsequently spread through the Western church, a major barrier was formed between the Western Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox churches, who continued to recite the creed in the original form. It does seem that there is a need therefore for local synods to relate to worldwide synods and for their decisions to be provisional because of this, so that they take note of the views of Christians on a world-wide scale. Local regional synods, useful as they are, would certainly seem to possess a lesser authority than those synods which represent the church on a more universal scale, because they represent a smaller portion of the church. Nationalism and local cultural assumptions are, indeed, factors which lessen the authority of local synods and affect the authority we should attribute to them. The same applies to denominational synods, which naturally represent only a portion of the church. A synod which is a local regional synod and denominational synod would seem to possess a double lessening of authority even if it represents a particular country and members of a denomination within that country. This pattern, particularly common in churches stemming from or affected by the Reformation and later affected by the movement towards democracy in surrounding society, is thus at a double remove from the kind of authority possessed by universal synods accepted by the whole or overwhelming majority of the baptised faithful in the early church.



Those denominational assemblies which represent a majority (or large portions) of the church universal will, however, by virtue of this come closer to being a universal council, and carry a correspondingly greater authority (provided, of course, that the other criteria we noted are observed, of not deciding contrary to Scripture and apostolic tradition and confining themselves to interpretations of these, along with lesser administrative decisions). A universal council has more opportunity of transcending nationalism and varied local cultural backgrounds, and even one which comes nearer to being universal than those confined to particular nations and cultures has value on the ground of transcending these. However, the more such a council can also include varied views within the church universalof baptised and faithful Christians, either as members or (at least) as observers able to make contributions, so much the more authority it would seem to carry as coming closer to universality, especially if it were endorsed by all or the overwhelming majority of the church universal of baptised and faithful Christians.

(x) SUGGESTED LIMITS TO THE AUTHORITY OF LOCAL SYNODS These considerations suggest that local or national synods should have limits to what they can decide. It would seem desirable, I suggest, that these limits should themselves be enacted, and that the synods should themselves accept and vote for these enacted limits. Most fundamental of these, in the light of what I have been writing, is acceptance of the authority of God the Holy Trinity as the chief authority in the church’s life, acceptance of belief that there is a supreme revelation through Christ of God’s will and acceptance of the apostolic faith and witness in Scriptures and apostolic tradition as the foremost and permanent witness to this. Thus, if there were to be a clash between enactments of the synods and these “more fundamental authorities,” the latter should be acknowledged as higher authorities, in the light of which later decisions are judged, and only allowed to go forward if compatible. Secondly, I would suggest that where there is a clash between the decisions of a local synod and those of more universal synods or a clash with the views of the majority of baptised and faithful Christians in the world, so far as this can be ascertained, then the more local synods, which take their views and authority from a smaller portion of the Christian church, should defer to the views and authority of the greater part of the Christian church and its baptised faithful, providing, of course, that the



wider church is also observing the limits to its authority which we have observed in the first paragraph of this section. Thirdly, there comes a problem where local synods themselves attempt to overbear the bishops who have a particular responsibility for teaching the apostolic faith. This can probably be prevented by giving bishops (or a house of bishops) an explicit veto against changes of doctrine and doctrinal interpretation which do not meet with the assent of the bishops in the synod. Fourthly, there is a further problem when the local synods do not themselves reflect the views of the majority of the baptised faithful, so that if their decisions were submitted to a process of “reception” by the whole church of the area which the synod represents, they would not in fact secure approval. It has often been pointed out that the times when synods meet tend to make those who are elected unrepresentative.57 A partial attempt can be made, as in the Church of England, to do something about this, by requiring some measures (the doctrinal) to be referred subsequently to deanery and diocesan synods, but it can well be argued that in the case of contentious issues, provision should be made for wider reference still (e.g., on a more local level). If it is objected that this would slow up business too much, then the reply may be made that it is better to get measures right and check that they are acceptable to the “communal judgement of the baptised faithful” than to rush ahead with a multitude of measures of doubtful value, which turn out to be very divisive or with lukewarm support or opposition. It may be noted that the Church of England’s greatest outward success numerically, and in many ways spiritually, in the twentieth century came in the period before the Church Assembly and General Synod were formed, and seems to have been independent of these, whereas they have proved unable to prevent its decline,58 as compared to the period before the First World War. The times of meeting, mid-week and in working hours, tend to debar from the house of Laity regular wage-earning and regular salary-earning people, and lead to a predominance of retired people and those with flexible hours, or those who do not work regularly, or whose holidays coincide with the sessions, for example, university and college lecturers and other staff and teachers. On the question of the representativeness of the Church of England’s General Synod, see The Synod of Westminster - Do We Need It?, P. Moore, ed. (SPCK 1986), 25ff. 58 The highest levels of communicants and ordinands in the last 300 years were in 1910, after which they remained steady until the outset of the First World War in 1914, following which they began a long decline. The Enabling Act to form the 57



Fifthly, there does seem a need in local synods to encourage consensus, both within the synods and within the wider church, rather than swiftly resorting to divisive measures. In Acts 15, the apostles managed to achieve agreement and consensus at the Council of Jerusalem, and their measures were then agreed by the baptised faithful in the Jerusalem church. The element of “catholicity” or universality, while naturally a characteristic of the worldwide church, should also, I suggest, be a characteristic of churches in the local areas which make up the worldwide church. As Christ prayed that His disciples might be one,59 so also in our synods we should, I suggest, aim for consensus in the decisions even if this takes much longer than having a quick decision and parliamentary-style voting (drawn from a political model). St. Paul uses the word “sunerchesthai” to indicate meeting for a Eucharist as well as for a formal synod,60 urging agreement in the Eucharist and by implication at synods; agreement should here also be the aim. The early councils were vitally concerned, too, with the question of ‘being in communion.”61 Admittedly, the early local and universal councils subsequent to the Council of Jerusalem did have minorities who were not in agreement with the majority, but in view of Christ’s prayer for unity it seems desirable to make these conscientious minorities as small as possible, and to seek as wide a consensus as possible. Such a search for consensus would make a change from the adversarial style which has often characterised synods in the Church of England, but it is arguable that it is much more in keeping with the consensus achieved by the Jerusalem synod and would serve to build up the church as a whole in unity rather than divide it, thus helping forward its work and ministry. Naturally, these considerations should also apply to executive agencies or groups working on behalf of synods, which should show a similar kind of subordination to “fundamental authorities,” willingness to test reception of their actions and executive decisions by the views of the wider church, and encouragement of consensus. Of course, they should also keep to the subordinate relationship to bishops and synods if that is part of their constitution and intended purpose.

Church Assembly was passed in 1919. The General Synod followed in 1970. 59 John 17:21; cf. Galatians 3:27–28. 60 1 Corinthians 11:19. 61 See J. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1985), 156ff.



(xi) A WIDESPREAD CONVERGENCE OF VIEWS ON THE AUTHORITY OF SYNODS There could, indeed, be said to be a convergence among Christians in the world, with the majority seeing value in worldwide synods (as against absolutist rule or merely local synods),62 yet with these synods themselves subject to higher authorities and needing in the long term endorsement by the “common judgement of the faithful.” In this we need, I believe, to beware both of more absolutist models of church authority (which see no need to summon synods at all or “manage” them so that they do not function freely), and also of the other extreme—local synods conceived on the model of democratic secular parliaments, without regard to more fundamental authorities.

62 For example, universal synods of the Roman Catholic Church including Uniate Catholics and observers, Pan-Orthodox synods, Lambeth Conferences, Synods of Lutheran and Calvinist churches, and the World Council of Churches.

15 WHAT AUTHORITY SHOULD BELONG TO REPORTS AND PREPARATORY DOCUMENTS SPONSORED BY SYNODS BUT NOT ENDORSED BY SYNODS OR BY THE CHURCH AS A WHOLE? Preliminary documents and reports drawn up by particular groups have been requested by many parts of the church down the ages. Yet, fascinating though they often are to the historian where they can be recovered, they have normally been seen within the church (across the world and across time) as possessing the authority only of those who served on the commission or group that drew them up, until the findings were accepted or rejected by a synod or wider authority. Moreover, if they draw on what we have called “fundamental authorities” and look to them as authorities, they are thereby acknowledging them to have an authority for them. When such reports and preliminary documents were made known to synods and other authorities and to the wider church, they were made known in conjunction with what we have called “fundamental authorities,” and it was the latter which were given the greater authority and publicity as “essential resources.” It is, therefore, I think, the more alarming that all the clergy in the Church of England have recently been circularised with catalogues by the official publisher to the Church of England’s General Synod,1 which publicise preliminary working reports (often controversial and often not endorsed by the General Synod, let alone by Diocesan Synods or the wider church consensus locally or universally), whilst billing such preliminary material as “essential resources” for those to whom the literature is sent. Meanwhile, there is no mention of “fundamental authorities” (such as we 1 Church House Publishing, the official publisher to the Church of England, Church House, Great Smith Street, London, SWIP 3NZ, 1997/1998 catalogue, “Essential resources for the Church of England.”




have been referring to) as “essential resources.” Thus, there is no mention of copies of the Scriptures, commentaries on them, or of books treating of the themes of God’s revelation, other Christian beliefs, the creeds, Christian ethics, prayer, and spirituality. None of these appear to be considered worth publicising as “essential resources” for the church. If they turn out to be not available, then the situation is even more alarming and unbalanced. Indeed, a very dangerous tendency seems, I think, to be growing, sponsored by an agency connected with the Church of England’s General Synod by which “essential resources” for the church are publicised under these categories, some of which are useful and helpful while not of unique authority and others are bolstered up to be given a level of authority greater than any of the “fundamental authorities” we have mentioned, which do not appear to secure even a mention. The “essential resources” mentioned by the official publisher to the General Synod in the Church of England appear to fall into these categories. (i) Reports, often controversial, sponsored as preliminary discussion documents by the General Synod yet often not endorsed by it or Diocesan Synods and certainly not by the body of the church, let alone the church on a universal scale. (ii) Practical advice and services for worship. (iii) Practical advice on churches and churchyards. (iv) Some publications from the Advisory Board on the Ministry. (v) Some useful books on children’s and youth work and the faith in schools. In other words, while some useful books and booklets are mentioned in the Church of England General Synod’s publications department, the act of sending out precisely these books, pamphlets, documents, and reports billed as “essential resources,” with no others mentioned under the category of “essential resources” or shown to be available, gives, we suggest, a very misleading idea of their authority (indeed, from a theological viewpoint, dangerously so). Along with some useful publications, particularly in the fields of liturgy, children’s work, and youth work (though similar books may be obtained from other publishers) comes much other material, boosted up to be given a level of authority as “essential resources” which is apparently denied to what we have termed “fundamental authorities” that do not appear to be available here or publicised as “essential resources.” It is, I



think, of great concern both for the Church of England and for other parts of the church universal that these should really be called the “essential resources” for the church, while the other “fundamental authorities” should be so passed over by the Church of England General Synod’s official publisher and not mentioned as “essential resources.”

16 WHAT AUTHORITY SHOULD BE ATTRIBUTED TO THE COMMUNAL JUDGEMENT OF THE FAITHFUL? Baptism is seen in the New Testament as the means of,1 or closely connected with, the gift of the Holy Spirit.2 With it, laying on of hands or anointing are associated in several passages. Faith and its profession are linked very closely with baptism and these other actions, especially as adult baptism was then the most common form of baptism; faith along with baptism was spoken of as indispensable for membership of the church. The gift of the Spirit to the baptised faithful in turn meant that they were inspired and entitled to be consulted when guidance was sought for the church. We can see an example of this in Acts 15 when, although the synod seems to have been made up of apostles and elders,3 afterwards the whole church was involved in the decision that “it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas,” with a letter containing the contents of the synod’s decision; it is implied that those who agree to send the delegation also agree with its contents.4 The high view of the church in Christ’s teachings in St John’s Gospel, that “the Spirit will guide you into all truth,”5 implies the activity of the Spirit in the church as a whole and a power not to fall away from the truth, considered in its totality and in the long term; the exalted picture of the church set out in St. Paul’s writings as “the Body of Christ” and “the Bride of Christ” teaches a very high authority attaching to the church. To preserve this element of authority in the church, synods, (both local or 1 Corinthians 12:13. Acts 2:38. 3 Acts 15:23. 4 Acts 15:22. 5 John 14:26. 1 2




national and worldwide, representing all or a majority of the baptised faithful) need, as we have argued, to be “received” and accepted by the church as a whole “at grassroots.” At the same time, there is need for instruction so that those who are to decide about the decisions of synods may be well informed. Study sessions, study days, congresses, devotional periods, quiet days and retreats, conferences, books, periodicals, meetings, and study of the Scriptures are helpful. In Christian history, there has, in fact, been a long tradition of the “acceptance” (or “rejection”) of the results of synods, even of universal synods, by “the common judgement of the faithful.” We saw earlier (in Chapter 14) how synods (in interpreting the Scriptures and in disciplinary matters) were afterwards “received” or “rejected.” Most were “received,” but some were “rejected.” As regards disciplinary decisions—even some decisions of the council of Nicaea, such as that Bishops should never leave the sees to which they had been consecrated, and that there should be standing by worshippers in church for forty days after Easter—have not been kept and eventually were changed after pressure from the “common judgement of the faithful.” The Eastern Orthodox tradition has been able to see the desirability of such endorsement by the whole body of the faithful if such synods are to be accepted. This happened, as we noted, at Florence/Ferrara, and the Orthodox Patriarchs, writing in 1948 to Pope Pius IX declared, “Among us, neither Patriarchs nor Councils could ever introduce new teaching, for the guardian of religion is the very body of the church, that is, the people (the “laos”) itself.”6 Commenting on this, the Russian theologian Khomiakov wrote The Pope is greatly mistaken in supposing that we consider the ecclesiastical hierarchy to be the guardian of dogma. The case is quite different. The unvarying constancy and the unerring truth of Christian dogma does not depend on any hierarchical order; it is guarded by the totality by the whole people of the Church, which is the Body of Christ.7

Decisions of synods in the Eastern Orthodox views are only valid insofar as they are received by the whole church.8 Again, it is not just numbers and T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin 1963), 255. A. Khomiakov was a nineteenth century Russian theologian whose views are widespread in Orthodox thought. A similar view is found in S. Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church (Orthodox Book Society 1935), 89. 8 See E. Melia, “An Orthodox View on Problems of Authority in the Church,” in Problems of Authority, J. M. Todd, ed. (DLT 1962), 104–116. 6 7



appropriate distribution that creates authoritative decisions: “An Ecumenical Council is such, not because accredited representatives of all the Autocephelous Churches have taken part in it, but because it has borne witness to the Faith of the Ecumenical church.”9 Furthermore, it is the presence of Christ (whose Body the Church is) that creates the truly authoritative council: “It is not enough to summon an ‘Ecumenical Council’ … it is also necessary that in the midst of those so assembled there should be present He who said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”10 Within the Western Church, we can see traces of such a view in the conciliar movement and its supporters outside synods, and we notice it in the continuing semi-independence of the French part of the church, in Cardinal Newman’s views on the need to consult the faithful,11 and in the change of views within the church, which led to an alteration of emphasis on infallibility (widening it from the Pope to include also the bishops and all the faithful acting together) between the First and Second Vatican Councils. In the Second Vatican Council and the documents influenced by it (such as the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”), there is an emphasis on the authority of the whole of the Christian faithful in matters of the faith (especially in interpreting the Scriptures and apostolic tradition). Thus we read, The Apostles entrusted the ‘Sacred deposit’ of the faith contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition to the whole of the church. By adhering to (this heritage) the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So in maintaining, practising and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful.12

Although “the task of giving an interpretation of the Word of God … has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the church alone … entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome,”13 yet 9 L’Eglise Orthodoxe, Metropolitan Seraphim, ed. (Payot 1952), 51, quoted in T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin 1963), 257. 10 J. Meyendorff, quoted in T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin 1963), 258. 11 For instance, in Newman’s remark that “I will drink to the Pope, if you desire, but to conscience first,” and his article “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine” in The Rambler. 12 Catechism of the Catholic Church III.84 (Chapman 1996), 26. 13 Catechism of the Catholic Church III.85 (Chapman 1996), 26.


AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH all the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit who instructs them and guides them into all truth. The whole body of the faithful ... cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful’, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.14

In this way, an appeal is made to “the faith, once for all delivered to the saints”.15 There is a very great difference between the view outlined here and the view, sometimes heard in the Church of England, that the General Synod should be the final court of decision in matters of doctrine and worship; this latter view does appear much narrower than the appeal to all the baptised faithful, and there have been some Anglicans who have argued the need to accept the General Synod’s decisions without further reference in the region to which the synod applies simply by virtue of the synod’s enactments. This, therefore, is an issue which, I think, urgently requires consideration by Anglicans, so that their decision making synods both make provision for the views of the church on a worldwide scale, as far as these can be ascertained, to be fed in, and also for consideration of the synods’ views by the baptised faithful of their own church, to decide whether they are going to “receive” or not receive them. Within the Church of England after the Reformation period and in the Anglican Communion, there was among some writers a similar sense of the role of all the members of the church. In particular, Richard Hooker, the greatest of the early Anglican apologists, speaks of how the Holy Spirit works secretly within the faithful as a whole, leading “us into all truth and directing us in all goodness,”16 and speaks of how the Spirit may also be thought to aid people in discovering “what laws are expedient to be made for the guiding of his church, over and besides them that are in Scripture.”17 The work of the Spirit is distinguished as falling into extraordinary gifts (e.g., those of prophets) and those of all the faithful, which are not envisaged as confined to those taking part in synods and councils, but as present in the faithful as a whole: “they must every one of them from the greatest to the least be able for each several article to show some special

Catechism of the Catholic Church III.91, 92 (Chapman 1996), 27. Catechism of the Catholic Church III.93 (Chapman 1996), 27. 16 R. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (OUP 1888), III.8.125. 17 R. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (OUP 1888), III.8.18. 14 15



reason as strong as their persuasion therein is earnest.”18 Hooker insists that “the quest to understand whether God is leading us takes place not alone or primarily in the isolated individual but in relationship to others in the community of the faithful.”19 This is because the Spirit that Christ promised would lead into all truth is present in all the faithful members of the church: “all are coupled everyone to Christ their head and all unto every particular person amongst themselves, inasmuch as the same Spirit doth so formalise, write and actuate His whole race.”20 Therefore, worship, in which all the faithful participate, has a role in receiving teachings or otherwise. E. J. Bicknell in A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England writes of how “the oecumenicity of a council depends on the after-reception of its decisions by the whole church,”21 and that “the more general the council and the wider the acceptance of its decisions, the more it represents the deliberate and considered opinion of the church and the greater the authority with which it comes to us.”22 The present author would agree with this. The report on “Doctrine in the Church of England,” published in 1938, writes of how the church’s understanding of the Gospel is continually renewed by its experience of communion with God through Christ; and the authority of its doctrinal formulations ought always to be interpreted as resting, at least in part, upon the acceptance of these by the whole body of the faithful. This authority, insofar as it is derived from such a “consensus fidelium” rests upon the range and quality of the manifold experience which the “consensus” gathers up, and upon the witness which, alike in the devotional and other practice of Christians generally and in the doctrine of the theologians, it bears to the truth of the gospel. The weight of the “consensus fidelium” does not depend on mere numbers or on the extension of a belief at any one time, but on continuance through the ages and the extent to which the “consensus” is genuinely free.

R. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (OUP 1888), Pref 3.10. J. E. Booty, “The Judicious Mr. Hooker and Authority in the Elizabethan Church,” in Authority in the Anglican Communion, S. W. Sykes, ed. (Anglican Book Centre 1987), 101. 20 As in note 18. 21 E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine-Articles of the Church of England, H. Carpenter, rev. ed. (Longmans 1955), 272. 22 E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine-Articles of the Church of England, H. Carpenter, rev. ed. (Longmans 1955), 273. 18 19


AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH All Christians are bound to allow very high authority to doctrines which the church has been generally united in teaching; for the basis of the Church’s belief is far wider than that of each believer’s own can ever be….23

The report goes on to speak of the need for personal assessment and appropriation of beliefs but says “it is only in the fellowship and worship of the community that (the believer) can come fully to appreciate and accept (these).”24 Again, the statement concerning authority within Anglicanism drawn up by a committee of bishops for the 1948 Lambeth Conference speaks of the “consensus fidelium” as “the continuing experience of the Holy Spirit through His faithful people in the church,”25 and in connection with doctrinal formulations, by General Councils and elsewhere, repeats the view of the 1938 report in saying that “the authority of doctrinal formulations, by the General Councils or otherwise, rests at least in part upon their acceptance by the whole body of the faithful.”26 In the article “Ecumenical Dialogues and Authority,” by Gunther Gassmann, director of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches,27 reception is spoken of as “a criterion of authority.” “Reception is integral to the conciliar idea itself and is, consequently, also one of the criteria for judging the authority of councils and conciliar decrees.” He speaks of how agreement between committees is not sufficient; “rather the whole community of the church should be involved because steps towards visible unity affect the thinking, life and mission of all the people of God and require, therefore, their consent and support.” Such documents as “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” and the need to discuss these locally are cited in support.28

Doctrine in the Church of England (SPCK 1938, 1962), 35, 36. Doctrine in the Church of England (SPCK 1938, 1962), 36. 25 The Lambeth Conference Proceedings 1948, Part 2, pages 84–86, reproduced in S. W. Sykes, The Integrity of Anglicanism (Mowbrays 1978), Appendix). 26 The Lambeth Conference Proceedings 1948, Part 2, pages 84–86, reproduced in S. W. Sykes, The Integrity of Anglicanism (Mowbrays 1978), (Appendix). This in turn seems to depend in part on the earlier statement in Doctrine in the Church of England (SPCK 1938, 1962), 35. 27 cf. also S. R. White, Authority and Anglicanism (SCM 1996), 105–110 and “Ecumenical Dialogues and Authority,” in Authority in the Anglican Communion, S. W. Sykes, ed. (Anglican Book Centre 1987), 223–228. 28 As above, pp. 225–228. 23 24



There is, therefore, a widely held view across a very broad spectrum of Christian opinion which relates baptism, faith, and the gift of the Spirit together to the gift of discernment among the faithful on a universal or overwhelming scale—the “communis consensus fidelium” or communal judgement of the faithful. As this is broader than the membership of synods and represents better the judgement of the whole church, it seems understandable that we should look to this criterion to assess whether the decisions of a given synod, local and universal, are representative of the faith brought by Christ, taught by the apostles, present in the Scriptures, acceptable to the church universal, and agreeable to the mind and conscience of the Christian church on a universal or overwhelming scale. This emphasis on “reception,” though it has a very long theological and practical history, is very different from that which places all significant power in the hands of elected representatives chosen by a process akin to political elections. What is needed, I suggest, is an emphasis on a community additional to and wider than the national and universal synods; all presbyters and deacons are entitled to give their views in reception of proposals or otherwise, and likewise all practising baptised and faithful church members (not only a fairly small group of lay people elected) are entitled to assess and give their views on proposals, especially if the proposals are new. This would, I suggest, give a model more in keeping with Biblical and primitive models of authority and decision making than the present procedures which seem to owe much to secular parliamentary procedures and are, after a decision reached by such minority means, then imposed on other members of the church, like laws passed by a secular parliament. Moreover, the more universal (over against local or national) such a process of reception is, the more it is likely to reflect the workings of the Holy Spirit in the church as against the influence of particular surrounding cultures. But by conferring with and comparing the views of other Christians, a process of reception on a universal scale is, I suggest, likely to reflect God’s Holy Spirit on a wider scale than what is decided and received locally.

17 CO-INHERENCE, CONSISTENCY, AND UNIVERSALITY (ACROSS SPACE AND TIME) GIVING WEIGHT TO AUTHORITY Authority, as we noted in Chapter 2, has a meaning of “weight” of evidence leading to belief. In connection with all valid religious insights, and in particular in connection with Christian beliefs and practices, this ultimately comes, as we have argued, from God. God, in the predominant Christian tradition, has been understood as faithful, unchanging in character, selfconsistent,1 and creator of an ordered world.2 Moreover, as St. John’s Gospel implies, God’s word or “logos” is the source of order in the world.3 The Spirit is seen in the Scriptures as the source of God’s immanent presence and of unity and faithfulness to the Apostles’ teaching.4 Although God may be active in many different ways (e.g., in Creation, in Redemption, and in promoting Sanctification), yet if in His character He changed, this would imply an earlier deficiency in His character, which in turn would not fit in with His perfection, and would tell against the grounds on which His worship can rightly be urged. Because of this characteristic of God, who is, we would argue, faithful, unchanging in character, and self-consistent, beliefs and actions in the Christian life which are faithful to God, reflect His unchanging character, and are self-consistent, are most in keeping with God’s character and nature. Moreover, a form of belief which is faithful to the “fundamental 1 For arguments in favour of these characteristics, see R. E. Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism (OUP 1977), 211ff. As regards the Biblical background, on God’s faithfulness some Biblical references are: Deuteronomy 7:9; Jeremiah 42:5; 1 Corinthians 1:9, 10:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 1 Peter 4:19, etc. On God as unchanging in character some Biblical references are: John 8:42; 2 Corinthians 2:14. 2 Aristides, Apology, 1.4; St. Justin, First Apology, 10.2; St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 2.11.1, etc. 3 John 1:1–5; St. Athanasius, Against the Heathen, 40. 4 Exodus 36:1ff.; Isaiah 42:1, 61:2lff.; Psalm 5:1lff.; Wisdom 7:7, 9:17; Acts 2:1; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 16:17; Ephesians 4:3, 4; John 14:16, 25, 15:26, 16:14.




authorities” and has a universal (or very widespread) appeal, is consistent, and is justified in a coherent frame of reference, increases the authority of such a pattern of belief or of the Christian life. Universality may be taken in more than one sense—it may be taken as universality across space, and as universality across time. We will concern ourselves with both of these in turn. Universality has, indeed, not often been achieved within the Christian church, but I will be examining together both views which have been universal and those which have had the agreement of the majority of baptised and faithful Christians who make up the greater part of the church on a universal scale. To concern ourselves first with views which are universal or those of the majority of the Christian church across space, these would include belief in God, God’s special revelation through Jesus Christ, understood as divine and human, belief in God’s activity in the world and the church through the Holy Spirit, and belief in the apostolic witness as normative for Christian doctrines. Apostolic witness was understood as appeal to apostolic tradition and apostolic writings (later crystallised into the New Testament), along with the writings of the Old Testament, including (in the belief of virtually all Christians) the Old Testament Apocrypha; the pre-Christian writings were understood in a Christian sense. Very soon the universal beliefs included the fourfold gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, then the canon of the New Testament, the canon of the Old Testament (universal except for disagreements on the status of the Old Testament Apocrypha), the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and a commonly agreed pattern and form of ministry (from the second century till the Reformation, through the overwhelming majority of the church). There was a pattern of Trinitarian beliefs held (in slightly different forms in East and West) in common from the fifth century, with earlier adumbrations. From the fourth century onwards, councils representing the church on a universal scale became more and more valued in the church, and councils continued to be so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches after the great division between East and West, as did an appeal to the “communal judgement of the faithful.” After the Reformation, Anglicans expressed their agreement with the early universal councils, and other churches involved in it continued to value church assemblies. However, such councils were seen as explaining the faith given once and for all to Christ and the apostles, and not possessing the same degree of authority as those earlier authorities.



The universality of the church across space has often been thought of under the image of “communion” based on St. Paul’s imagery connected with the Eucharist: “The bread that we break—is it not a sharing (communion) of the Body of Christ?” (a phrase which itself oscillates in meaning between the elements and the church).5 Sometimes this has been thought of in “black and white” terms as being “in communion” or “not in communion,” but more recently the concept of “degrees of communion” has often been employed. Among Western Christians, and sometimes among all Christians, the concept of baptism into the Holy Trinity and faith as linking all Christians in a universal fellowship has been strong. The Apostles’ Creed speaks of the “Holy Catholic, Church” and the Nicene Creed of “One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church,” (in each case consolidating earlier creeds of varying forms). The use of the word “catholic” stems from references in the Bible to the church spanning many nations and peoples6 and in Ignatius the phrase “catholic church” is first used.7 At first it means the “universal church” but from the mid-second century, it comes to mean the “one great church” over against heretical sects. Sometimes, though, it is conceived of in a more informal way as a “communion” of local churches, spread geographically across the world, and examples of this way of thinking are not lacking in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.8 Either way, though, an authority is conceived of as resting with the church on a worldwide scale or held by a very widespread and overwhelming majority. This is very different from looking for authoritative interpretation of God’s revelation of Christ, the Spirit’s working, the Scriptures, and apostolic tradition either to inward illumination of individuals or to churches limited to nation states or particular cultures. It involves an appeal to an interpretative authority beyond and higher than that of individuals or national churches, appealing rather to all the Christians or the overwhelming majority of them within the church universal, through universal synods and through the judgement of all the faithful on those synods and their communally held faith. For the majority of Christians who accept that other Christians may be Christians yet only have a “degree of communion” with them, there comes a problem with overlapping Christian churches in connection with claims to authority due to universality across space. Here those churches which have a manifestly international structure have a specially valuable and universal 1 Corinthians 10:16. e.g., Isaiah 2:2, 66:18ff.; Matthew 24:14, 28, 29; Acts 17:26, etc. 7 St. Ignatius, To the Smyrnaeans, 8.2; cf. Martyrdom of Polycarp, inscription. 8 J. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1985). 5 6



role to play, and for that reason no local area or nation can afford to neglect those churches in attempting to move towards Christian unity, and in ascertaining the views of Christians on a world-wide scale. In a country like England, where both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church claim to be the heirs of the pre-Reformation Catholic church, and the Orthodox church also claims descent from that at an earlier stage, probably all can rightly be considered to share this. Similar problems arise in other countries, notably in the Middle East. But certainly no attempt to put forward a Christian viewpoint locally or nationally can afford to neglect a universal perspective embracing Christians across the world, who by virtue of the common possession of the Spirit and sharing in many different cultures can balance narrower and more sectional local interests. The universality of the church across time was constituted by baptism and the concern to make a common appeal to its sources of faith. So St. Paul exhorts his followers to “hold fast to the traditions which you have been taught,”9 and in the letter of St. Jude the writer exhorts his readers to keep to “the faith once delivered to the saints.”10 When, among the Gnostics, an appeal to a developing doctrine arose, it was opposed by St. Irenaeus and others on the ground that what they proclaimed had not been taught by Christ or the apostles. Tertullian wrote how what was believed and preached in the churches was the same revelation that they had received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God. The fathers and universal councils claimed to be loyal to the apostolic faith and just to explain it for their day. St. Vincent of Lerins, indeed, claimed that the true faith was to be found in what was held “always” as well as “everywhere” and “by all.”11 Although there were distinctive features in East and West which culminated in the Great Schism of AD 1054, yet both claimed to be based on the unchanging apostolic faith, and they retained much in common to which they were able to give serious debate with a view to possible reunion at the council of Florence/Ferrara and later. However, it was due to a sense that there had been developments from the apostolic faith, especially at a popular level, in the sixteenth century that the Reformers aimed to restore and (where they were still in existence) to maintain the elements of the Faith which had been present in the age of the apostles; indeed, they did acknowledge that the Scriptures (though neglected) and creeds present in the Middle Ages had been continuously preserved. The Council of Trent was also unsympathetic to 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2. Jude 3. 11 St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 2. 9




the view of developing doctrine, and more sympathetic to the concept of a universal faith across the ages than the later advocates of Catholic Modernism might have expected; its views on the authority of the Scriptures and “those traditions preserved continually in the church since the time of the apostles” did not mark a great difference from those of the Reformers, and may have reflected the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to reform itself. The position of the Papacy was a ground for disagreement, but it is interesting to note that both sides attempted to use Biblical texts on the issue. The same is true in the debate on faith and works. The concept of a faith universal across time is clearly set out by Bossuet, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Meaux and great preacher in the seventeenth century. However, by the next century, this had been subject to challenges, both Protestant and Catholic. Among Protestants, the emphasis on inner illumination and reason had given rise to a view of a developing faith among thinkers such as Schleiermacher, Hegel, and Strauss; in the twentieth century Bultmann gives an especially clear example of such views. Among these writers and thinkers, Scripture and the apostolic faith have less importance, and more authority is given to a developing faith. Among Roman Catholics, there were thinkers in Spain,12 for example Suarez and Lugo,13 who, building on mediaeval views about logical deductions from the apostolic faith, held that the Holy Spirit had guided the church to right definitions about these. Yet many Spanish theologians rejected this.14 However, they had some effect, as Owen Chadwick shows, and led to some Roman Catholics adopting the view that early proof texts were not needed for their views. The view of doctrinal development received its most eminent convert with John Henry Cardinal Newman, who justified changes in Roman Catholic beliefs on the grounds that the church had been led to develop them. Yet even he qualified this by saying that “every Catholic holds that the Christian dogmas were in the church from the time of the Apostles; that they were ever in their substance what they are now; that they existed before the formulas were publicly adopted, in which as time went on, they were defined and recorded.”15

For details see O. Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman (CUP 1957). For Suarez see O. Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman (CUP 1957), 34ff., 200ff., and for Lugo see O. Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman (CUP 1957), 43, 203ff. 14 O. Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman (CUP 1957), 45ff. 15 J. H. Newman, Tracts Theological and Ecclesiastical (B. M. Pickering 1874), quoted in O. Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman (CUP 1957), 243. 12 13



The concept of evolution, encouraged by Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution,” formed a part of the background of the thought of the age and was embraced as giving a new form of apologetic. Catholic Modernists on the Continent took the idea to a much greater degree than Newman. Their condemnation was nevertheless followed by a continuing period of ultramontane Catholicism with intense veneration for the Pope’s pronouncements. Nevertheless, a change in mood and a reversion to the kind of doctrinal understanding found at Trent and, indeed, in the earliest days of the church is found in the Second Vatican Council. Here authoritative revelation is expressed as coming from God, expressed partially through reason and perfectly through Jesus Christ. Christ the Lord, in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion, commissioned the apostles to preach to all men that gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching and to impart to them divine gifts … the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by a continuous succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (cf. 2 Th 2:15) and to fight in defence of the faith handed on once for all (cf. St. Jude 3)…16

There is however a growth in understanding of the realities and the words handed down. “This tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down”.17 The living teaching office of the church is responsible for interpreting God’s word, but this teaching office is not above the word of God but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously, and explaining it faithfully by divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit; it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.18

“Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” Chapter 2.8, in Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, S.J., ed. (Chapman 1966), 116. 17 “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” Chapter 2.8, in Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 116. 18 “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” Chapter 2.8, in Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 118. 16



Along with the tendency in the Second Vatican Council’s documents to view the bishops collegially and the Pope as president of the College of Bishops (not on an isolated eminence of authority), this view, in fact, approaches very close to that of the Orthodox. The Orthodox had long preserved a view that saw God the Holy Trinity as the chief authority, disclosed above all through Christ and witnessed to by the apostles guided by the Spirit in their teachings and actions, including handing on the gospel message by word and writing (forming the New Testament). Then the church formed the canon of the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures and apostolic tradition are understood as interpreted by the church, particularly in the decision of its universal synods, whose acceptance depends on the assent of members of the baptised faithful, “the true guardian of the faith is the people of God as a whole.”19 Such was also the view of many Anglicans.20 Some Anglicans, however, have held views closer to the continental reformers and some have been affected in their views on authority by a more developmental view of authority akin to Roman Catholic Modernism and by the liberal views on development in Protestantism which we will note in the next section. The arguments for and problems in such views I will consider later in this chapter. The Protestant churches had originally appealed to the importance of earlier, fixed doctrinal standards, which should be taken as normative in any reform of the church. Indeed, they attacked late mediaeval forms of religion (even though not all or, indeed, many of these had received official doctrinal sanction) as forms of development from the primitive faith proclaimed in the Scriptures and on that account to be opposed. It is, therefore, all the more surprising to find that by the early nineteenth century some Protestant thinkers21 were themselves embracing a form of doctrinal development, looking to different authorities from those accepted by the Reformers (though perhaps Luther’s opposition to the letter of St. James and the valuation of the letters of St. Paul above even the gospels do give early examples of Protestant doctrinal development). However, it is not The Orthodox Patriarchs in their letter to Pope Pius IX in 1848, quoted in T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin 1963), 255. 20 See for example E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-NineArticles of the Church of England, H. Carpenter, rev. ed. (Longmans 1955), 128–146, 249–278, etc. 21 e.g., Schleiemacher, Baur, and particularly Strauss. Later, in this century, Bultmann with his aim of “demythologising” showed markedly the same tendency. 19



clear how Protestant churches and churches influenced by the Reformation22 can coherently bring criticism against the pre-Reformation church of having made developments from the apostolic and primitive forms of the Christian faith if they themselves practice and approve forms of development from apostolic and primitive times. For Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans holding the more traditional view, this problem is not so acute, since they see God’s disclosure, especially through Christ incarnate, and the apostolic faith as basic. Other developments, if tested in the very broad way we have considered, are seen as interpretative, but of lesser authority. Some advocates of doctrinal development have been liberal Protestants and others Roman Catholic Modernists. The former naturally gave greater weight to views of doctrinal development, individually perceived and set out in the light of those very personal perceptions. The latter understandably placed more emphasis on forms and dogmas showing doctrinal development officially pronounced and grounded in developments in the Roman Catholic Church (or at least the Western Catholic church). What, then, is to be said for and against doctrinal development from the norms of doctrine found in divine revelation and apostolic witness to this? In favour of doctrinal development, there has always been a need to reply to controversies. In discussion with different views, the church may find it desirable to express agreement or disagreement with views put forward, or to couch a reply more in accord with views which have hitherto been regarded as normative. Again, there may be a change in language and in the meaning of words and concepts which make it necessary to explain the original concepts. Furthermore, in explaining the original faith-deposit, it may be helpful, for apologetic purposes, to explain ideas of the age of the original writer in order to make it easier to understand the fundamental beliefs. The interpretation of the Scriptures has from early times yielded different understandings of the texts from those which prevailed earlier (e.g., the allegorical understandings of the Old Testament found in St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Augustine, and St. Ambrose). From early times there was an awareness that there was a doctrinal development between certain passages of the Old Testament and the New Testament writings (e.g., on animal sacrifice), and diversities within the apostolic 22 Among Anglicans, the Liberal Modernists, especially prominent in the 1920s and 1930s, and radical theologians from the 1960s onwards provide examples of these tendencies.



witness, combined with agreement on the central matters of belief.23 Later scholarship has discerned elements of doctrinal development within the New Testament itself,24 and suggested changes of understanding of the texts. None of these, admittedly, need go against a normative witness by the apostles and the Scriptures. Nevertheless, changes in wording and expression are also evident between the Old and New Testaments and formularies of the patristic age, such as the creeds. Yet the latter were at any rate claimed to be summaries of the Bible’s teaching, and, in fact, can, I suggest, be justified from the Scriptures either explicitly or implicitly, even if they often particularly represent one line of exposition deliberately emphasized.25 If, then, there are developments in doctrine between the Old and the New Testament writings, variety in the New Testament, and changes in wording and expression in the formularies of the early church such as the creeds, as compared to the Old and New Testaments, it might be urged that on this account it would be in keeping with this to have doctrinal development between these earlier expressions of the Christian faith and expressions of the Christian faith in and for our day. Indeed, it might be said to be the church’s interpretative task to relate the foundational documents of the faith to the culture of each succeeding generation, and this would be agreed by theologians of very varied views. However, the limits to this, which many (including myself) would urge, will be discussed in the following section. Enthusiasts for developments also urge that such development would be in line with what we know of evolution in nature26 and evolution in other spheres of knowledge and belief; indeed, such views on doctrinal development were especially put forward at the time when evolution in other spheres was much in the air. 23 St. John Chrysostom taught that alleged discrepancies in the gospel narratives made more noteworthy the consensus of the gospels to “the important facts” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on St. Matthew’s Gospel, 1.2). 24 For example, from St. Mark’s gospel to the other Synoptic gospels; St. John’s gospel, though containing very early elements, is widely held in its present form to be the latest and most developed of the four. Many scholars would hold that the “Pastoral” epistles are later than other letters claiming Pauline provenance (reflecting a different spirit of “early Catholicism”). 25 It has been suggested, for example, that the Nicene Creed with its Christology of Christ as “God from God, Light from Light” reflects a Johannine Christology more clearly than that of other New Testament writers. 26 Hegel in the sphere of philosophy and Darwin in the sphere of biology had particularly emphasised evolution. Mohler and W. G. Ward seem to have suggested an idea of development that may in turn have come from evolutionary philosophy.



What is there, though, to be said against such doctrinal development? In the first place, what we know of Jesus Himself, His acts and sayings, do seem to show something special, more so, indeed, than we can find in the subsequent actions and teachings of the church; indeed, I would suggest, we find higher claims and greater moral justification for those than in the case of other great religious leaders27 and subsequent leaders and teachers in the church’s history. He made claims to forgive sins, a claim to do something normally done by God, performed miracles, which all those accepting miracles would normally attribute to the great creator of the universe, God, and claimed that He would judge the world at the close of time—again, something one would expect only God to do. He taught with authority (unlike the scribes), venturing to contradict even teachings in the Old Testament law by virtue of His possessing a higher authority, saying “You have heard that it was said by those of old time … but I say to you ….” His followers were told to teach “all that I have commanded you,”28 and told to “remain in my word.”29 This seems to be a concern recorded in the epistles also. St. Paul is concerned that a “different gospel” should not be preached from that which he himself preached.30 Among other writings attributed to St. Paul, St. Timothy is told that “whoever teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the true words of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching of our religion is swollen with pride and knows nothing,”31 and is warned to “guard the deposit.”32 In Hebrews, God’s revelation through many prophets is contrasted with His definitive revelation through His Son (Jesus Christ).33 In the letter from St. Jude, his readers are urged to “contend for the faith which once and for all God has given to His people.”34 In 2 John, a warning is given to “the elect lady and her children” (probably a church and its members) that “anyone who does not stay with the teaching of

27 B. F. Westcott, The Gospel of Life (Macmillan 1892), 121ff., 247ff.; L. Newbigin, “The Christian Faith and World Religions,” in Keeping the Faith, G. Wainwright, ed. (SPCK 1989). 28 Matthew 28:20. 29 John 8:31; cf. John 3:34, 8:26, 14:9, 25:26. 30 1 Corinthians 11:4; cf. Galatians 1:6. John 1:1–14. 31 1 Timothy 6:3. 32 1 Timothy 6:20; cf. Titus 8:3, 9. 33 Hebrews 1:1. 34 Jude 3.



Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God. Whoever does stay with the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”35 Within the church of the apostles’ day, in the sub-apostolic period, and through to the second and third centuries, Gnosticism and Montanism were problems which the infant church had to meet. Both of these taught doctrines which had developed and changed compared to those of Christ and the apostles, and hence the church had to decide its attitude to such doctrinal developments. It has recently been widely agreed that Gnosticism was a syncretistic form of religion which was developing around the time of Christ’s ministry and thereafter, not a purely Christian heresy, but this still posed the question as to whether Christian doctrines should change and become conflated with this movement within the surrounding cultural milieu, or be restricted to the revelation of God shown by Christ and the witness of the apostles and their immediate followers. Montanism posed a similar question in that Montanus and his followers, claiming inspiration by the Holy Spirit, declared that the new Jerusalem was about to descend, and, when this did not happen, set about to build it in the mountains of Phrygia. The reply that the church as a whole made was that the revelation of God through Christ and the apostolic faith were to be normative without additions such as these. Similar questions are posed today as to whether these beliefs should continue to be normative or be conflated with contemporary trends of thought or cultural movements. The response made to Gnosticism and Montanism had consequences for future doctrine; indeed it was an axiom in the early church that novelty was a sign of heresy. St. Irenaeus specially dwells on how the churches across the world are united in their acceptance of the apostolic faith, while “none of them taught anything like the fantasies of the Gnostics.”36 In succeeding years the canon of Scripture (as containing the witness of the apostles and their immediate followers) and apostolic tradition were accepted as the chief authorities after the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ’s revelation. The creeds, as summaries of the Scriptures and the church’s fundamental beliefs and decrees from the universal synods, accepted as such by all or an overwhelming majority of the church, were accepted as the chief interpretative authorities. On a local level, the bishop was accepted as the authorised expositor to teach unchanged the apostolic faith. The church as a whole (or the predominant majority of it) functioned as a subordinate interpretative authority. These factors remained constant elements across 35 36

2 John 9. St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.3.



the centuries in the church’s teaching and life, in East and West alike.37 Bossuet was notable in his belief in the constancy of the church’s teaching, although he agreed with opponents of his views that the church’s beliefs had sometimes needed clarification. “The face of the church is one, and her doctrine is always the same; but she is not always equally clear.”38 We do in fact find in the majority of the church across the ages, an appeal to divine revelation, focused at a particular point in history, and to the witness of the apostles and their immediate followers, though a subordinate tradition of interpretation on the widest possible scale is also appealed to. Turning now from an historical enquiry to wider considerations, we may also ask why, if there is doctrinal development, there should be reference to Jesus in His historical existence at all? In other words, if something said and done by Jesus in His historical existence, or by the apostles and their immediate followers are no longer held to have contemporary relevance and authority, why should other things He said and did be held to have relevance and authority? Related to this point, if it does not matter whether there is historical identity between what is taught in developed doctrine and divine revelation, especially through Jesus in His historical existence, together with the witness of the apostles and their immediate followers, historical enquiry into these would (from the point of view of belief) be pointless and irrelevant. In that case, we could just rely on present day experience. Thus, the original faith-deposit would be irrelevant. This is, indeed, a problem in the views of Liberal Protestants and Modernists, and especially of Bultmann, whose attitude to historical revelation seems at times to approach close to that of the Gnostics.39 All of these writers differ markedly 37 St. Vincent of Lerins sees Scripture as “sufficient and more than sufficient,” but because so many interpretations are possible, they should be expounded according to the “rule of ecclesiastical and catholic opinion.” This, says St. Vincent, is to be identified with “what has been believed always, everywhere, by all” (“quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est”). St. Vincent is indeed aware of the difficulties of finding an absolute universality of view by saying that we should “make our own the definitions of all, or at any rate the majority of bishops and teachers.” He does also allow for expressing the same things in a new way (“not new things, but in a new way,” “non nova sed nove”) and seems to allow for some organic growth to explain beliefs in different cultures, but without changing the church’s fundamental grounds of belief or their significance. 38 J. Bossuet, Defense de la tradition et des saints peres, VI 2, quoted in O. Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman (CUP 1957), 199. 39 e.g., (Liberal Protestant) D. F. Strauss, Das Leben Jesu (C. F. Osiander 1835); (Catholic Modernist) G. Tyrrell, Christianity at the Cross Roads (Longmans 1909,



from the appeal of the early Christians made in the gospels, other New Testament writings, and in the early Christian centuries to history where, through actions and words in history, God’s revelation was disclosed. There was, thus, a great contrast to mystery religions like those of Isis and Osiris, Mithraism, and the Gnostic sects; at that time this appeal to historical revelation proved much more persuasive than the non-historical claims to revelation made by these other groups. There is also the question whether, if doctrinal development be approved, there can be any limits. Admittedly, it would be very difficult to relate to surrounding cultures and languages simply by telling of the original sayings and deeds of Jesus and the witness of the apostles (fundamental though these might be). There has, of course, been a change of language from the Aramaic spoken by Jesus to the Greek and Latin of the Roman empire then to other languages in countries to which the Christian faith has spread, in each case giving possible changes in meanings of words and expressions as they are translated. There do seem also to have been continual attempts to interpret the fundamental sources of belief, which we have argued for as possessing the highest authority; these interpretations had the aim of answering questions posed about Christian beliefs and practice and of explaining Christian beliefs and practice in cultures different from that in which Christianity originally arose. Should there, then, be any limits to such an interpretative process? I would suggest that the interpretation should be limited to drawing out and making explicit what is implicit, or showing the logical corollary of something,40 and in both cases, should have an interpretative aim within the fellowship of the church and of lesser authority than the primary sources. Nevertheless, such interpretations would have some authority if, as we argue, they co-inhere, are consistent, and have universality or considerable support across space and time. Some, however, may wish for less interpretation than this and some far more; the need for limits, related to this question, does seem to constitute one of the arguments in favour of the authority of beliefs universally or widely held across space and time, and against unlimited doctrinal development. Moreover, against doctrinal development which disregards universality (or a very widespread consensus) across time, we may ask whether there is Allen & Unwin 1963); (Later Liberal Protestant) R. Bultmann, “Kerugma and Myth,” in The New Testament and Mythology (SCM 1977). 40 The schoolmen (including St. Thomas Aquinas) argued for logical developments as admissible, and one of the tests Newman proposed for doctrinal development (in Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church (Rivington 1837)) is “logical sequence.”



any guarantee that a later developed view is true and not itself to be superseded. If, it is argued, change can occur from the divine revelation given by Jesus and the faith of the apostles with their immediate followers, surely later forms of faith and practice can be similarly superseded, and thus these later forms themselves have no more authority, since they lack permanent cultural significance, and probably have less, since they are not backed up by such claims and grounds for particular authoritativeness, as compared to what they claimed to replace. Moreover, temporal closeness to our own times is not itself a ground for superiority. In architecture, for example, more recent fashions such as “tower blocks” are not intrinsically superior to what was produced in earlier ages because of being more modern.41 Furthermore, Christians in their creeds are committed to belief in the “communion of saints”: in the most widely held interpretation of this phrase, this refers to the union between the living and dead within the church, the whole community of Christians. In this union between those alive today and the faithful departed, a true union would naturally include harmony of beliefs. This, in turn, tells in favour of common fundamental beliefs. I want now to set out a view summarising what I have argued, which, I suggest, preserves a coherent and consistent view that has been universally or very widely held among Christians in the church across space and across time, but allows a measure of flexibility in order to answer questions about the truth of Christian beliefs and make them intelligible in different cultures. On this view, divine revelation with a special disclosure through Jesus Christ and the witness of the apostles and their immediate successors would be regarded as of fundamental authority, as argued in chapters 8 to 11. The interpretation of these, however, would also be needed, and this would possess a subordinate authority, drawing out what is implicit to what is explicit, showing what is logically involved and interpreting it in relation to the surrounding culture. If the interpretations being put forward coinhere with other beliefs and if the sources of authority claimed for them co-inhere and agree with other sources of authority claimed, then this gives greater weight to their conclusions. If interpretations are consistent within themselves and with other beliefs, then this, again, gives greater weight to their conclusions.

On this, see P. K. Lee, “Past and Present,” New Blackfriars (November 1979) and in this book, Chapter 12, Section (iii). 41



In both of these respects we follow similar procedures in everyday life; as Christ is said to be the “Logos” or “Word that gives order” in the world,42 it would seem to be in accordance with revelation also to expect that such beliefs should fit together as a whole to be given particular weight or authority. As regards postmodernism, problems with not seeking a coherent view of the world are that this is not consistent with the methods of science, which seek an overall picture of the world, nor with those of legal axioms which seeks to apply general principles (though with modifications in particular cases), nor, of course, with those of most patterns of religious beliefs which aim to set forth a comprehensive picture. Only by dispensing with these other widely held views can postmodernism gain ground. As regards universality, since the Holy Spirit is spoken of in the Scriptures as given at baptism and indwelling the baptised who maintain a faith and form the church, it seems natural to expect that a belief widely or even universally held by the baptised and faithful should be reckoned to possess especial weight or authority. Granted, sometimes prophets, apostles, saints, and Jesus have spoken out at times against the predominant consensus, but over a long period the widespread or universal consensus of the baptised and faithful who form the church has normally come to a view which itself does seem to increase its authority. When a transformation of attitudes has come (e.g., in no longer accepting slavery, in accepting that the earth goes round the sun, and in accepting evolution), then after a period of discussion, dissemination, and assimilation of new knowledge, a universal or nearly universal view has again normally emerged and become accepted as a universal or nearly universal consensus. In the same way, I suggest, the wider church can and should “receive” interpretations from individuals and synods. The Holy Spirit, since it is given in the sacraments and in other ways, indwells the church communally and, thus, can be a stimulus in receiving the interpretations. Yet, by this same “consensus,” which accepted interpretation by a universal or large number of the baptised and faithful who form the church as having a weight of authority, so it came to be accepted that divine revelation given especially through Jesus (by virtue of His sayings, claims, and acts) and the witness of the apostles and their immediate successors, possessed an unchanging authority. In favour of this pattern of authority, internal coherence, consistency with other Christian beliefs, and universal (or very widespread) agreement within the church of the Christian baptised 42

John 1:1–14.



and faithful about this pattern of belief, all bear witness and thus its authority is strengthened.

18 CONTINUING INTERPRETATIVE TRADITION: ITS SCOPE AND ITS LIMITS We have argued in Chapters 10–12, especially in Chapter 12, that there is a need for a continuing interpretative tradition to explain what God has revealed1 particularly clearly through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and witnessed to by the Holy Scriptures and apostolic tradition. The words, language, and concepts they use need explanation, and from early days in the church sermons and commentaries have done this. Naturally, those with particular expertise in this (itself giving authority of a informal kind) and those with authority as leaders meeting together in councils or synods will have a special weight of authority in this. Yet, this interpretative tradition should, as I have argued in Chapters 12 and 13, be expressed particularly within the church on a universal scale, with a role for all the baptised faithful who believe in God the Holy Trinity and confess Christ as Lord, spread throughout the world. On the one hand, this expresses the scope of the interpretative tradition (i.e., worldwide among the baptised faithful), but on the other hand, this also expresses a limit for those wishing for a Christian interpretation. Although there may be other interpretations and interpretative traditions from secular viewpoints, atheistic, and agnostic views and perspectives, and from the stance of other religions, what these do not provide (and do not claim to provide) is a Christian interpretative viewpoint. Nor is it possible to provide an interpretation or interpretative tradition without any viewpoint at all.2 For a Christian interpretative tradition, such as is implied by the title of our book, Authority Within The Christian Church, an interpretative tradition should, I suggest, if it is to be fully representative, should be exercised within and taking account of the church on a universal scale. See Chapter 8 and notes. For a discussion of interpretation and the varying stances involved in this, see R. Morgan with J. Barton, Biblical Interpretation (OUP 1988), esp. chapters 1, 5, 7, 8. 1 2




A continuing interpretative tradition would need to be expressed in many different ways as the Christian community, with special responsibility attaching to scholars and leaders within it, reflects on the “fundamental authorities” to discover how they should be interpreted in different ages and surroundings. In the case of disagreements in belief or practical reforms being desired, synods or councils on a local or universal scale would provide and have provided a means to express views communally and to try to come to decisions. Whether they should meet regularly or on an ad hoc basis has been a much-discussed point, and certainly within the Church of England the frequency and time-consuming nature of synods is the target of much adverse criticism. Yet they do present a way of continuing to interpret the “fundamental authorities” and, if they are to have interpretative authority, it seems natural that those with authority from offices of leadership should have a place in them, and those with scholarly expertise (and the authority that comes in a non-formal way from this) should have a chance of feeding in their views. As regards representation of other church members, many have argued in favour of this. It may, indeed, be questioned how often it is practical for universal synods; furthermore, for local synods, it is, I suggest, important to distinguish the very small number of representatives from “the consent of all” (or an overwhelming majority) of the baptised faithful. These do seem to be under-represented in the decision-making at least of the Church of England at the present time. Both in universal and local synods it is, I suggest, vital to notice the difference between a vote in favour of a proposal by a majority of bishops, clergy, and lay representatives (a small and selective number within the church) from “the common judgement of the baptised faithful.” There is need, therefore, for a wider “reception,” I would suggest, of synods’ decisions before they have effect, for a synod should be, in principle, very different from a secular parliament, which immediately imposes its decisions by law. Local (including national and area) synods would have less authority than universal synods and the general body of baptised faithful, while the more universal the synods, the greater authority they would possess. Within these synods bishops would have a special role, either as comprising them or as making up a group with leadership. However, even the synods on a universal scale (including the bishops within them) should be judged by the “reception” of their interpretative judgements by the general body of the baptised faithful (“the communal judgement of the faithful”).3 Therefore, 3

See Chapters 13, 14, and 15.



all parts of the body of baptised faithful in the universal church have a part to play and an authority in making interpretative judgements of the church, and none should be isolated from other organic elements in the church’s structure and treated as though they alone possessed authority. As regards limits to the authority of the interpretative tradition, this should, for the reasons set out above, always look to God’s revelation, particularly clearly given through Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as witnessed to by the Holy Scriptures and apostolic tradition,4 and these should be regarded as the “fundamental authorities.” The interpretative tradition should aim to expound the “fundamental authorities” and operate within the church on a universal scale.5 While it should aim at interpreting these “fundamental authorities” to differing cultures, it should be limited in doctrinal decisions to making explicit what is implicit and to drawing out, where necessary, what is logically involved as a corollary.6 In this interpretative work it will no doubt bring various parallels, examples, illustrations, and practical applications alongside what is being interpreted, but its conclusions should cohere with one another and be consistent with one another and a wider worldview. To have authority next to the “fundamental authorities,” they would need to have universal or overwhelming support across space and time. However, though the fundamental beliefs of the church should, I suggest, be limited to those revealed in divine revelation and particularly clearly revealed through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, as witnessed to by the Scriptures used by the apostles, the apostolic proclamation, and tradition, there are still problems in interpretation of these, and many practical decisions needing resolution. Below the “fundamental authorities” there lies, I suggest, universal (or overwhelming) interpretative tradition and below that there may well be many practical decisions (e.g., on the formation of dioceses, writing of the liturgy, etc.) which can usefully be made, but will have less authority than those other more important authorities. As regards problems of interpretation and the question of doctrinal change in the church, I would argue that the “fundamental authorities” should have continual authority, for the reasons set out in Chapters 5–11. The authority of the continuing interpretative tradition, though less than the former, and liable, at least in principle, to change as different cultures come into being which require explanations to different questions, nevertheless, See Chapters 5–11. See Chapters 12, 13, 15, and 16. 6 See Chapter 17. 4 5



in practice changes little, since a universal or overwhelming majority view should, as I have argued in chapter 13 and 15, be needed to change it. Hence, decrees of synods of the church on a universal scale, and the writers of the early Christian church before the division between East and West, and great Christian theologians thereafter have continued to be read as possessing some authority. Nor need this preclude writers, theologians, and church leaders today from giving their views on the “fundamental authorities” and earlier parts of the continuing interpretative tradition. However, it will take some time for their writings and sayings to be assessed by scholars and the wider body of Christians and for the body of baptised faithful to size up their views and give that kind of agreement which will increase their authority in the church. What I have written here refers, of course, to the authority which I am arguing Christians should respect within the Christian church. Different traditions within that church may understand the matter with different emphases and my own faith-community from which I write is no doubt discernible from the emphasis in this book. Nevertheless, I believe that there is an increasing convergence on this matter, as I have found in conversations with friends and family (who include Western and Eastern Christians). However, it will naturally not be seen as authoritative by those viewing what I have called “fundamental authorities” from a secular viewpoint. Those of other faiths will naturally also not view them as authoritative, preferring their own forms of authority and faith. While one may commend the authorities I have written about on the grounds of their plausibility and claims, their practical relevance in answering the most fundamental questions posed to us in our human lives, their coherence, and their explanation of the world and what life is for, the results would need to be thought about and worked out personally and only then would they come to be accepted as authoritative. Within the Christian community, however, one can start “further in” with acceptance of the plausibility of Christian claims, and this book is an attempt to examine the question of authority within that context.

19 SCRIPTURE, TRADITION, AND REASON: THEIR AUTHORITY ACROSS THE AGES From what has been said earlier, it will be seen that Scripture (witnessing to divine revelation, shown especially through Jesus Christ and containing the apostolic witness), apostolic tradition and interpretative tradition universally or nearly universally agreed in the church, and reason have all been accepted through the ages as possessing authority in the church.1 They are certainly found in apostolic writers, among the early Christian fathers, and later among such varied Christian writers as St. Thomas Aquinas, Melanchthon, the Anglican reformers, and the decrees of the Council of Trent and Second Vatican Council. All through this period, however, it was held that the Scriptures (and above them divine revelation, given especially through Jesus Christ, and apostolic witness) formed an authority more normative than subsequent tradition and reason. Thus we find, for example, St. Athanasius writing that “the holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of saving truth”2; in the Middle Ages St. Thomas Aquinas writes of how “theology, as the science of which God is the subject, argues from the divine knowledge of God, contained in the Scriptures, whose main aspects are summarised under specific articles of faith,” and Duns Scotus wrote that “theology does not concern anything except what is contained in Scripture and what may be inferred from it.”3 Luther and Melanchthon set the Scriptures first in authority in their preaching, but they used (particularly Melanchthon) the church’s tradition and reason as guides in church life. Luther, while opposing emphasis on reason in teaching on justification, nevertheless wrote that “thought and 1 See, for example, the earlier chapters of this book, and also A. McGrath, The Renewal of Anglicanism (SPCK 1993), 75–79 and the notes there. 2 St. Athanasius, On the Synods, 6, etc.; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II, la and 10–4. 3 Duns Scotus, Ordination, Preface.




talk have been given to man, the task of which is to speak the truth.”4 Melanchthon had a still stronger sense of the importance of reason and also saw as normative the “first and true foundation” of apostolic times. Moreover, among some Calvinist writers, such as the seventeenth century Dutch Calvinists, we find a use of reason and apologetics in theology. Among Anglicans there was an acknowledgement of divine revelation and the Scriptures as the primary authorities; they saw the need for the church’s interpretative tradition and (in most writers) the use of reason leading to divine revelation and guiding in understanding of the church’s beliefs. In its articles, for example, we read that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”5 However, in the same articles the church’s tradition is seen as having a vital role in interpreting the Scriptures; the three great creeds are accepted and commended and the church is regarded as “a witness and keeper of holy writ” (although “it is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s word written” and “it ought not to decree anything against the same,” whilst “besides this ought not to enforce anything to be believed of necessity for salvation”).6 The church also “hath power to decree rites and ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith.”7 As regards reason, Richard Hooker is well known for the use he makes of reason in theology, resting in part on the methods of St. Thomas Aquinas.8 Lancelot Andrewes and the Caroline divines were widely read in the Greek fathers and so inclined, like them, to use both the church’s tradition and reason in expounding the “fundamental authorities,” divine revelation, Christ’s own disclosure, the Scriptures, and apostolic tradition.9 The writings of a prominent exegete, Cardinal Cajetan (used by Hooker) are notable for their emphasis on Scripture. Also, he uses as authorities the interpretation of the Scriptures by the church’s tradition and reason even if (unlike Hooker) he makes the Pope the final arbiter of the church’s tradition. The decrees of the Council of Trent are notable for the M. Luther, Luther’s Works, 1.511.7–8. Article 6 in Thirty-Nine Articles. 6 Article 20 in Thirty-Nine Articles. 7 Article 20 in Thirty-Nine Articles. 8 On this, see J. S. Marshall, Hooker and the Anglican Tradition (A & C Black 1963), esp. 45–76. 9 See A. M. Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Longmans 1936, 1956), 206. 4 5



emphasis they place on Scripture and apostolic traditions “received by the apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself or from the Apostles themselves” as normative, understood in the light of the church’s tradition and “unbroken transmission in the Catholic church.”10 However, from the seventeenth century a change took place among some Christian writers. Till then, divine revelation, Christ’s disclosure and the Scriptures (and among many Christians also apostolic tradition) had been accepted as the chief and normative authorities in Christian belief. Among the “Cambridge Platonists“ (Whichcote, More, and Cudworth) there was, however, a separation between divine revelation and the historical disclosure given in Christ and through the Scriptural writers which represented a shift in emphasis onto the immediate divine revelation given to individuals through reason, “the candle of the Lord,” although still seeing this as pointing to the higher authorities. It was the development of sceptical criticisms of revelation by those who held that God had set the universe going but then made it run by unchangeable laws, precluding miracles and special disclosures, that led to a wish by some for further alteration of belief. The wish to confine religion within the limits of what they believed to be shown by reason alone led a considerable number within the church to adopt the view (originally admittedly set forth as apologetics) that divine revelation, the Scriptures, and records of Christ’s ministry, words, and actions, could be criticised in the light of what they believed reason to show and in the light of that developing tradition of understanding which they set forward. Such were the Latitudinarians.11 It will be seen that they accepted God’s existence and divine revelation but placed greater emphasis on their own present personal enlightenment than on the normative nature of past disclosures. Moreover, while they still accepted Scripture, tradition, and reason as giving the “tools” for theology and belief, the authoritativeness of each altered, so that the authority of Scripture was diminished, and that of a school of developing tradition (albeit not of the church on a universal scale), and what reason was believed to show them were enhanced. Such a way of approaching theology was developed by a long line of scholars on the Continent, particularly in Germany in the Lutheran tradition, from Renan and Strauss to Bultmann.12 In each case, there was an The decree on this was issued in 1546. See G. R. Cragg, The Church and the Age of Reason (Pelican 1960), 70ff. 12 See A. R. Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution (Pelican 1961); H. R. Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology: Schliermacher to Barth (Fontana 1965); and L. Malevez, SJ, The Christian Message and Myth: The Theology of Rudolf Bultmann, ET by 10 11



acceptance of divine revelation and the Scriptures as a “quarry” for thought and exploration, but these were then criticised in the light of the predominant view of society, at that time Deism; later movements with similar approaches took the views of Nazi Germany, “what is thinkable by modern man,” or contemporary trends in North American and British society, as normative and accommodated what we have described (on pages 185–190) as “fundamental authorities” to these. Nevertheless, there do seem to be incoherences in this view, which will be dealt with at greater length in the next chapter. In brief, however, one can say with regard to this view that: (i)

It suggests that God’s revelations in history, especially (as we have argued) given through Jesus Christ, and the disclosures by the Holy Spirit, manifested particularly in the witness of the apostles and the Scriptures, do not possess special authority, yet this view still wishes to refer to them rather than the many other rival claims to authority, without explaining why, on the premises of those who hold this view, this is done.

(ii) It attempts to place the main emphasis of revelation on future disclosures (so allowing free-floating present beliefs, since these future disclosures are naturally not known except insofar as elements are already disclosed), which seems to be at variance with the understanding of revelation and of the Kingdom of God found in Christ’s teaching and the Scriptures, which see revelation and the disclosure of God’s Kingdom as taking place supremely in Christ’s life and ministry, death and resurrection. Now is the period “between the ages,” for what has been fully revealed in Christ to the faithful and inaugurated by Him, will in the future, at the close of time, be revealed to all. It is not that Christ’s life and ministry, death and resurrection are imperfect compared to the future disclosure of Christ’s glory, but rather, I submit, that their significance (i.e., the same significance), already believed in by the faithful, will then be revealed to all. (iii) Historically, it does not conform to beliefs in earlier ages of the church or to the majority of the Christian church, then or now. (iv) There is, therefore, a problem for those who wish to hold that the church is catholic and apostolic since the view goes against these characteristics. O. Wyon (SCM 1958).



(v) This view does not do justice to a belief in the church as “the communion of saints,” embracing the church on earth and the church in heaven, and combining their views. (vi) This view implies that the surrounding society in any given age and its views is more normative for Christians than what we have called the “fundamental Christian authorities,” which should conform to it, rather than vice-versa. The results of this in connection with the “German Christians” will be noted later.13 In fact, in reaction against the problems of this kind of view and the practical results which such views induced in the eighteenth century church in Britain, there came in the Evangelical movement a renewed emphasis on the authority of divine revelation, the revelation of God brought through Christ, and the authority of the Scriptures, which continued in the later years to the eighteenth century and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries;14 and in the Oxford movement15 there came a reassertion of the place of Scripture within the interpretative tradition of the church universal—this also had continuing effects through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A further change came as a result of scientific discoveries (e.g., the theory of evolution) and biblical criticism, especially in Germany. Some responded by seeing divine revelation and the Scriptures as interpreted in the light of tradition (sometimes a changing tradition) and reason.16 Some took the findings of recent discoveries in other fields, even understood in a secular way, and very sceptical Biblical scholarship as normative and attempted to use parts of the inherited Christian deposit in the light of these.17 Yet in the 1930s, as the church was faced by more aggressive opposition than it had ever met before, from secular atheism, materialism, See note 18. The Evangelicals were especially prominent in the Church of England and Methodists, then later in other Free Churches. See S. C. Carpenter, Church and People, 1789–1889: A History of the Church of England from Wilberforce to Lux Mundi, (SPCK 1933); and A. Hastings, A History of English Christianity 1920–1985 (Collins 1986, Fount 1987). 15 See R. W. Church, The Oxford Movement: Twelve Years 1833–4 (Macmillan 1891); G. Rowell, The Vision Glorious (OUP 1983); and A. Hastings, A History of English Christianity 1920–1985 (Collins 1986, Fount 1987). 16 See A. M. Ramsey, From Gore to Temple (Longmans 1960); James Carpenter, Gore (Faith Press 1960); and books under note 12. 17 e.g., Bultmann’s demands for “demythologisation” in Germany. 13 14



Freudian psychology, and the political problems of Nazism and Communism, the problems of accommodation to surrounding climates of thought became more evident. In Germany, those who had theologically urged conformity to surrounding society were especially prominent18 in urging the formation of “German Christians” supporting Hitler, and those who opposed such a view tended to be those who looked to other fundamental sources of authority, whilst in Europe and North America as a whole there came to be a renewal of the sense of the authority of the Scriptures in all the Christian churches, which is often called “Biblical Theology.”19 This movement revived classical Protestant emphases on the Bible’s authority and influenced the Roman Catholic Church, for example bearing fruit in the Second Vatican Council’s strong emphasis on the value of the Scriptures, the importance of preaching of the word from the Scriptures, and the normative role of divine revelation, Christ’s disclosure, the Scriptures, and apostolic tradition;20 it also had a tremendous effect in the Church of England, in the Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, and central church traditions. In the light of this, church life and attendance revived from the mid-1940s onwards until the mid-1960s. From this time, however, in the Anglican and Free Churches in Britain and North America there came another period when Scripture’s authority was questioned (with a rather delayed arrival of Bultmann’s programme of “demythologising” from across the North Sea),21 and there came a further concern to integrate Christian beliefs and practice into the norms of contemporary society (which in practice meant efforts to encourage them to conform to this);22 rather more positively, there were efforts to bring about a reasoned understanding of God and His activity within the world, so that Scriptural theology and the church’s interpretative tradition were not e.g., Emanuel Hirsch, Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus. e.g., in the writings of Karl Barth, Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr, and, in England, of Sir E. Hoskyns, C. H. Dodd, and A. M. Ramsey. 20 “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” in Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 111ff. 21 see J. A. T. Robinson, Honest to God (SCM 1963); R. Bultmann, Kerugma and Myth, ET in Jesus Christ and Mythology (SCM 1977); A. M. Ramsey, Image, Old and New (SPCK 1963); E. L. Mascall, The Secularisation of Christianity (DLT 1965); and David L. Jenkins, Guide to the Debate about God (Lutterworth 1966) give commentaries on the issues. 22 e.g., in the “Death of God” movement writers such as P. Van Buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel (SCM 1963), S. Ogden, The Reality of God (SCM, Harper NY 1966), M. D. Goulder, Myth - The Debate Continued (SCM 1979). 18 19



isolated.23 Much of Continental Europe and South America, Africa and Asia (all increasingly important for theology) remained however rather detached from these movements of thought, and the Second Vatican Council reflects much more the renewed Biblical theology, the liturgical movement, and the concern to seek unity with the Eastern Orthodox and other Christians who have a high view of what we have referred to as “fundamental authorities.” As this Council represents more than half the Christians in the world, it needs serious consideration when assessing trends within the Christian world. In North America and Britain the picture has been less clear. The isolation of the trends which some Anglicans and some liberal Protestant churches in these areas have sought to pursue has become increasingly evident and their practical ineffectiveness in encouraging evangelism equally clear (e.g., the Eastern Orthodox and Pentecostal churches have been the fastest-growing churches in England); however, a considerable number of church leaders, especially those who studied at universities when “demythologising” was the most recent trend, have continued to pursue these views. The growing of churches and theological colleges in the Church of England have, however, in general in recent years not been among those who held such views, but rather among those who (rather like the Eastern Orthodox and Pentecostal churches already mentioned) have constantly emphasised divine revelation, Christ’s disclosure, and the authority of Scripture. It may, indeed, be suggested that this kind of theological viewpoint and also that kind of Catholic theology found in the Second Vatican Council and in the Eastern Orthodox church (also Biblically based though within a universal interpretative tradition), with emphasis on the “fundamental authorities” of the faith, has a much more widely accepted basis in the whole church universal, whilst the coherence and (it is suggested) the plausibility of such views, allied to their practical effectiveness give much food for thought.

e.g., in the writings of the liturgical movement and in E. R. Wickham, Church and People in an Industrial City (Lutterworth 1957). 23

20 PROBLEMS IN THE ISOLATION OF ELEMENTS OF AUTHORITY We have spoken of “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities,” though even here there is, I suggest, a descending order of priority; then we have spoken of other authorities in the church’s life. Yet all through there come problems if one of these authorities is taken as an authority on its own, without reference to others. For example, with regard to divine revelation, this is vague and not very specific; it could include partial disclosure in several religions in the world—for example, in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and even in the form of a world-soul or a creator-god in Hinduism. Only when joined to an assessment of the authority of claims to that divine revelation, aiming to decide which have the most claim to credibility, can one choose between these competing claims, as to what has most credibility. In this book, as detailed earlier,1 we gave some authority to a general perception of God from reflection on the world, creation, order in the world, and conscience, which gave authority to disclosures within Judaism till the time of Jesus Christ and gave authority particularly to what Jesus Christ disclosed of God and His will. Then, next in importance, the witness of the apostles and their immediate successors (working through the “Holy Spirit”) preserved that witness, especially permanently in the Scriptures, and in apostolic tradition; these give guidance for the church’s life of permanent authority. As regards the later life of the church on a universal scale, we have argued that divine revelation continues to work though it, through the Holy Spirit, in its interpretative tradition, and through reason. As it is very difficult to assemble the church on a universal scale, however, and has been particularly difficult since the early ages (though perhaps now this is again becoming easier), one must be particularly careful, I suggest, about attributing the same kind of authority to what is seen by a part of the church as divine revelation or divinely guided interpretative tradition, as one would give to 1

See Chapters 6–18.




what is perceived as such by the whole or the overwhelming majority of the church universal. If a belief in Christ’s disclosure is developed without reference to Christ’s own source and inspiration in God, then that is contradicted by Christ’s own statements.2 If versions of testimony to Jesus are brought forward which acknowledge His role as a man but not His role as divine, then His miracles, especially the Resurrection, the quality of His teaching, and His claims (which would seem to be those of a madman or a rogue if they are not true) are difficult to understand; but if, as I would hold, they are true, then everything else does seem to fit together. If the work of the Holy Spirit, or the work of the apostles through the Holy Spirit, is taken as separate from the other parts of God’s selfdisclosure, this imperils the divine unity, so making it difficult to claim that Christianity is monotheistic and Trinitarian. It also fails to do justice to the evidence that the apostles saw their primary role as being to witness to Jesus Christ and God’s revelation through Him,3 and that the role of the Holy Spirit was seen as being to testify to Jesus,4 not to supersede him (as the Gnostics claimed). Although this does not preclude interpretative tradition through the Holy Spirit, this does imply an authority and source above interpretative tradition; from this authority and source the earthly witness descends and the Holy Spirit proceeds. Should the Holy Scriptures then be taken on their own? There have been a small number of Christians who have claimed this, particularly among some more extreme heirs of the Reformation.5 There are, however, great problems in this view. In the first place, it is questionable whether this view allows sufficiently for God and, in particular for Christ, to be given a sufficiently clear role as superior in authority, although it is normally acknowledged that the Scriptures do witness to God and Christ. Moreover, Jesus Christ is Himself called “the Word of God” and declared to be God’s revelatory agent interpreting the Scriptures, giving different parts different values.6 It is to Him that, from the witness of the New Testament writers themselves and the Christian Church’s understanding of the Old Testament writers, the Matthew 11:27, 12:28; Luke 11:2–4, 20; John 10:30, etc. Matthew 16:19–20; Acts 4:33, etc. 4 John 16:14. 5 e.g., J. Calvin, Commentary on Acts, 14.17, Op 48.217: “Men cannot be brought to a saving knowledge of God except by guidance of the Word” (of the Scriptures). For problems in this view see succeeding sections. 6 John 1:1, 9–14. 2 3



Scriptures point for their fulfilment and it is to Him that they witness as a higher authority,7 who supremely on earth reveals God. Moreover, as regards the choice of the Scriptures, they were not selfselecting. The Scriptures of the Old Testament were chosen by the Jews in Jammia8 and Alexandria and entered the Christian church with authority from Jesus Christ9 and the apostles,10 who used them and interpreted them in their ministry. The books of the New Testament, though possessing an authority through the inspiration of the writers, had that authority recognised and enhanced by the choice of those books to form the “New Testament” by the church on a universal or nearly universal scale,11 using the criterion that the books needed to be written by an apostle or an immediate follower of an apostle, and recognised as conveying the beliefs of the church on a universal or virtually universal scale. Then there is the question of whether all books are of equal importance; it would seem difficult to hold this in view of Jesus speaking against the continuing significance of some enactments by “those of old time,”12 or his teaching against remarriage after divorce,13 or the early Christian disuse of animal sacrifice. Again, it would seem difficult to hold that books written before Christ’s disclosure have the same kind of authority as those written after Christ’s disclosure and penned in the light of it. There is also the question of whether the Scriptures can be understood without interpretation. As they are a very varied collection of books, from different languages and cultures, sometimes depending on word-play and needing explanation of technical terms and words not now used, they do seem to need interpretation.14 Certainly, Christ15 and the apostles16 seem to have interpreted the Scriptures written before their time, and, given this precedent, it seems natural that the church in later times should interpret the Scriptures, so that the texts themselves can be understood and their Luke 4:31; John 5:39. At the Synod of Jamnia in 70. 9 See Mark 14:49; Matthew 22:29; Luke 4:31 and note 7 above. 10 Mark 15:38; Galatians 3:8; Romans 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:16. 11 The formation of the canon was, of course, a gradual process. 12 Matthew 5:38; cf. Exodus 21:24. 13 Matthew 5:31. cf. Deuteronomy 24:1, cp. Genesis 2:24 and Luke 16:18, etc. 14 See St. Philip’s question in Acts 8:30, “Do you understand what you are reading?” and the eunuch’s reply, “How can I unless I have someone to guide me?” 15 e.g., in Mark 7:10, 11, etc. 16 e.g., in Romans 1:17, 4:6, etc. 7 8



meaning drawn out in the different cultures in which the church is set. Indeed, this is the method used by commentaries in many different ages and also by Bible reading notes used by many traditions, including those from an extreme Protestant background who have traditionally been hesitant about interpretation of the Scriptures. This form of interpretative tradition, however, has taken place within the church, often within the church universal, and mutual interchange of views between the scholars and the people of God as a whole was encouraged. Normally those who wrote interpretative commentaries aimed to work as servants of God and of the church; often they carried out their work in a setting of regular prayer and worship. Frequently they have been members of religious orders, with worship built into the structure of their lives. At times, however, there has been a tendency for tradition and reason to be seen as authorities on their own, together or separately, and isolated from the life of the church as a whole. Let us consider them, then, at first together and then individually, in this more prominent role. Tradition (independently of the Scriptures and apostolic tradition) and reason occasionally became prominent in the early Christian centuries as independent authorities which placed little value on Christ’s historic revelation and on occasion the Scriptures were used separately from most of the church’s understanding of these. In Gnosticism (eventually declared outside the church altogether) this happened. Problems that were later to recur in the church are found in its lack of historical grounding, lack of concern with Christ’s earthly ministry and the apostolic preaching; as it was very subjective it was unproveable in its claims and multifarious in its divisions. St. Irenaeus was a leader of the church in opposing these views. Afterwards, these trends ebbed. However, in the Middle Ages there came a strong emphasis on individual religious belief and experience (in reaction against corruptions noticed in the institutional church), and in the upsurge of individual religion at the period of the Reformation there came an emphasis on the individual as able sufficiently to interpret the Scriptures, due it was claimed, to the interior inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This could be without regard for the whole or the majority of the church universal. While the classical reformers, Luther, Bucer, and Calvin, all emphasised the priority of the Scriptures over the individual, and all these reformers and even more the Anglican reformers,17 saw the Scriptures as interpreted


See Article 20.



within the church,18 nevertheless a view of individual enlightenment had become firmly planted among the more extreme reformers. In the seventeenth century, moreover, a view of the individual’s divine inspiration became more emphatic within the classical Protestant and Anglican churches. Whereas earlier writers from these traditions had spoken of God the Holy Trinity, the Holy Scriptures interpreted in the light of Christ, and sometimes (particularly among Anglicans) apostolic tradition as normative, with interpretative tradition within the church and reason having a subordinate role, leading up to revelation and expounding it within the community of the church, this new teaching in the late seventeenth century and in the eighteenth century thought of interpretative tradition as developing freely and acting in line with reason to declare what in the Scriptures and Christ’s disclosure in history was of continuing significance in their own day and what was not. While protagonists of this view still believed in Scripture, tradition, and reason as authorities, the balance of authority between them altered in their writings. There was, in fact, a change to accommodate the earlier writings and beliefs to those of a later age, regarding the latter as normative. Such a process continued in the radical theology of the nineteenth century, especially in Germany, and has been particularly evident in the “demythologising” programme of Ruddf Bultmann and some twentieth century attempts to disallow sources of authority in earlier ages. Sometimes the substitute greater authority has been located in the present, through preaching (as with Bultmann, of whom one wit declared that on Bultmann’s view “revelation takes place not when Jesus Christ lived and worked, died and rose again in Palestine, but when Dr Bultmann ascends the pulpit on Sunday mornings in Marburg”) or sometimes through the sacraments or mystical experience or the communal experience of the church (as with the Catholic Modernists). Sometimes a substitute greater authority has been placed in the future, not as a disclosure to all of what has already been revealed through Jesus Christ’s life and ministry, death and resurrection to the faithful but as a different and greater authority as compared to what has been revealed by Christ in Palestine. As this future disclosure is naturally not as fully known as what has taken place, a space is created for freefloating present beliefs for the church unconstrained by the past,19 and See A. McGrath, The Renewal of Anglicanism (SPCK 1993). Although J. Moltmann and W. Pannenberg strongly stress the apocalyptic and eschatological future, they see these as founded on the prime revelatory source of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. However, M. D. Chapman, By What Authority? Authority, Ministry and the Catholic Church (DLT 1997) takes the future 18 19



without taking account of what we find on the matters of revelation and the Kingdom of God in the words and acts of Christ and in the Scriptures; surprisingly, in view of the argument put forward, those who hold this argument sometimes do refer to them without an explanation of why these here seem to be regarded as possessing authority. Indeed, there seem to be considerable problems involved in attempting to disallow sources of authority in earlier ages. In the first place, it cuts the ground under the historical disclosures that originally brought the church into being. If they do not have as much authority as contemporary society (e.g., on the grounds that they represent an “outmoded world-view”) while contemporary society has a greater authority, why should contemporary society be related to them at all? They need have no more authority than, say, other religions in the ancient world or contemporary world or other contemporary world-views. The view, I suggest, “falls between two stools.” It says that these historical revelations are not of authority, yet wants to appeal to them as authorities needing to be referred to and hence as of authority. Secondly, the argument that past disclosures by God made especially through Christ (and witnessed by the apostles, etc.) are to be disregarded as insecurely based while the weight of revelation even for believers is placed in the future, does not seem to be in keeping with the witness of Christ and the Scriptures. For example, we find St. Matthew’s and St. Luke’s gospels attributing to Christ a saying “no-one reveals the Father but the Son and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”20 Similar expressions are to be found in St John’s gospel;21 moreover, a view that Christ reveals or discloses God does not just depend verbally on the existence of the word “reveal” in stress much further, without their concern for revelation through Christ’s ministry, death and resurrection. J. N. Figgis is claimed in support, but though some of Figgis’ views have similarities to Catholic Modernism, along with the difficulties attendant upon Catholic Modernist views, the author seems to fail to do justice to the prophetic nature of Figgis’ strictures on surrounding society and the grounds for these. A. M. Ramsey, also claimed in support by virtue of his The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Longmans 1936, 1956) could scarcely, I suggest, be further from Chapman’s view, because of his support in that book for the permanent importance of the Gospel enacted in Christ’s ministry, cross, passion, and resurrection (see esp. pp. 17, 18, 64, 223–225 of The Gospel and the Catholic Church and his article “The Authority of the Bible,” in Peake’s Commentary on the Bible (A & C Black 1962), where he carefully defends the authority of Christ and the Scriptures. 20 Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22. 21 John 1:18, 14:49, etc.



these very early witnesses, but on the general picture that the gospels give. Thus, to quote Professor Graham Stanton’s book, The Gospels and Jesus, “The evangelists all believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the fulfilment of Israel’s hopes. The story of His life and death is part of the Christian story.”22 All the gospel writers show Jesus’ teaching and acts as signs of the disclosure of God’s power at work, of vital importance for their own day and for the coming ages of the church, for whom they wrote. They all believed that Jesus’ death was of vital significance for all ages,23 and that Jesus was raised from the dead “on the third day” by God’s power.24 Furthermore, He claimed power to forgive sins (something that would be taken in his day, and was taken, as tantamount to claiming the power of God), said that acceptance or rejection of Him and His message was equivalent to acceptance or rejection of God,25 and declared that He would judge the world at the close of time (again this would be taken as a divine prerogative and an implied claim to revelation of God’s power in Him on earth and at the last judgement which would be a vindication of what had already been shown in His earthly ministry).26 There is also a strong emphasis on the presence and inauguration of God’s Kingdom by Jesus, neglected by those who wish to undervalue this presence of God’s Kingdom in and through Jesus. Thus He declares in relation to His miracles, “If I by the finger of God cast out demons, without doubt the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”27 In His preaching, He begins His ministry by preaching the Kingdom of God,28 while many of His parables are parables of the Kingdom emphasising the need to immediately respond there and then (not just in the far future!), and in the charge to those sent out they are told to proclaim that “the Kingdom of God has come”29 (or possibly “has come near”). There are, indeed, a certain number of sayings that point to the death and resurrection as the particularly powerful acts inaugurating of the Kingdom. Such are Jesus’ saying “There are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power,”30 and His saying G. N. Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (OUP 1989), 271. Mark 10:45, etc. 24 Mark 16:1ff.; Matthew 27:63ff., 28:1ff., etc. 25 Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16. 26 Mark 8:38, 14:62, etc. 27 Luke 11:20; cf. Matthew 12:28. 28 Mark 1:18; Luke 4:18. 29 Luke 10:9. 30 Mark 9:1. 22 23



at the Last Supper, “I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”31 The saying, “The Kingdom of God is among you (or within you),”32 does indeed point to the continuance of the Kingdom in the time which I have called “between the ages,” and there is also a reference to the future consummation of God’s Kingdom in the Lord’s prayer, where the prayer is made “Your Kingdom come;”33 yet the intention here can scarcely be to derogate the role of Jesus’ own ministry, death, and resurrection in making the Kingdom of God come, but rather to refer to the perfect fulfilment everywhere of God’s rule as what was believed in by the faithful is made manifest to all. Thus an investigation of the Scriptures does seem to point to revelation of God and the coming of God’s Kingdom in and through Jesus Christ in Palestine, not just in the future. Thirdly, neither tradition subsequent to the apostolic age, nor reason have ever been regarded in the official documents of any age of the church as superior to divine revelation or of greater authority than what has been shown in Jesus Christ, the witness of the apostles, and their immediate successors, nor have they been seen as more authorative than the Scriptures (taken as a whole and in the light of Christ’s revelation) and apostolic tradition.34 The tradition of the church and reason have been thought of as pointing to these as the highest authorities and drawing people to them, and as interpreting them on a universal scale. Hence, for example, in the early church we find St. Athanasius writing that “the holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of saving truth.”35 St. Cyril of Jerusalem held that “with regard to the divine and saving mysteries of faith no doctrine, however trivial, may be taught without the backing of the divine Scriptures for our saving faith derives its force, not from capricious reasonings but from what may be proved out of the Bible.”36 In the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas insisted that “theology is at heart taking rational trouble over the mystery of revelation, mediated through Scripture.”37 Mark 14:28. Luke 17:21. 33 Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2. 34 In the councils it was normal to begin the decrees with a preface saying “In accordance with the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and the holy apostles” and the gospels were set on a stand in the midst of the assembly to remind those attending of their authority for those speaking and voting. 35 St. Athanasius, On Synods, 6. 36 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 4.17. 37 See P. E. Persson, Sacra Doctrina - Reason and Revelation in Aquinas (Blackwell 31 32



Recent studies on late mediaeval thought have stressed the primacy of Scripture in the theology of the period.38 It was only, in fact, with the Enlightenment that a critical attitude to Christ, the Scriptures, and apostolic tradition became widespread, and even then that movement did not succeed in convincing all church members or in altering the fundamental doctrinal and liturgical formularies of the churches. The Biblical theology movement created a reaction in the Protestant and Anglican churches, at least until a further liberal movement in the 1960s onwards, whilst the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church marked a clear emphasis on divine revelation given especially through Christ, the Scriptures, and apostolic teaching as normative.39 All of these interpreted the Scriptures and apostolic tradition in the light of tradition and reason, but they did not dispense with them or raise post-apostolic tradition and reason above them as sources of doctrine.40 The overwhelming majority of the church universal has agreed. Fourthly, there seems to be a problem if those holding a position which wishes to supersede “fundamental authorities” agreed by the church universal still want to take seriously the designations of the church in the creeds and the Scriptures. The church is spoken of as “holy,” called by God who is holy and indwelt by Him through His Spirit—yet this treatment of the church would seem to disallow that indwelling and guidance in earlier ages of the church; it is characteristic, for example, of early writers like St. Irenaeus to join together the church as inspired by the Holy Spirit and as the sole repository of the truth.41 This church, as we will consider shortly, includes both those on earth and “the church in heaven” from all past ages who equally form “the church” even though they can no longer be seen. Then again, the creeds speak of the church as catholic and universal geographically and in its make-up.42 The church universal is not connected predominantly with areas of English speaking or European culture, but includes many different countries and cultures throughout the world. These 1970). 38 A. McGrath, The Renewal of Anglicanism (SPCK 1993), 77–78. 39 Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 114–118. 40 See note above, especially 114, 117. 41 St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.24.1. 42 Before the incorporation of the word into the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, the word is found in The Martyrdom of Polycarp written to “all the communities comprising the holy and catholic church.” In his letter to the Symrnaeans (8.2), St Ignatius writes of the catholic church in contrast to the local church.



have very different settings and concerns, which means that if changes in belief or order or practice are desired that have relevance to the whole church (as many do), then a universal synod alone would have sufficient authority to decide on them. Moreover, as we will consider, the church universal contains both the church on earth and in heaven, which alters the members and views of those concerned. The Nicene Creed also speaks of the church as “apostolic.” This means that the church today, “sent out” as the apostles were sent out, holds the faith of the apostles, holds a common witness with them to Christ, and receives as authoritative the Holy Scriptures and apostolic tradition on account of their having been written by the apostles and their immediate followers. It has, moreover, an obligation to preserve this permanent authority. This was indeed a major difference between mainstream Christianity and the Gnostics and is a prominent theme in the writings of St. Irenaeus.43 Recent reunion negotiations have given prominence to this.44 The responsibility of bishops to teach the apostolic faith (clearly set out in the Anglican services of consecration)45 has been an important factor in reunion negotiations, and their authority is connected with and increased by this. St. Irenaeus’ concern about episcopal succession stems from his belief that teaching should be given which is identical with that taught by the apostles: “none (of the bishops) taught or thought of anything like the fantasies (of the Gnostics)!”46 Continuity of ministry from the time of the apostles is, I believe, important, yet it is conjoined with an obligation to preserve and preach the apostolic faith. If the witness of the apostles and their immediate successors in Scripture and apostolic tradition are not counted as significant, the church can scarcely claim to be apostolic, and there is no point in looking to the apostolic church as an authority and documenting this as the belief of the church. A doctrinally free-floating church that can alter doctrine at will has no need to consider the apostolic church as an authority.

St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.1.1, etc. Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission, Final Report (CTS/SPCK 1962), 54, 63; Anglican-Lutheran Dialogue (SPCK 1983), 13; Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue (SPCK 1984), 13 (sections 14-17); Roman Catholic-Lutheran Joint Commission (paragraph 61). 45 Alternative Service Book, pp. 387, 388, 389, etc.; The Book of Common Prayer, Collect, Epistle, and Gospel, and the Questions at the Consecration service. 46 St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 3.2.2, 3.3.3, 3.4.1. 43 44



Fifthly, within the church there is, in Christian belief according to the creeds, the “communion of saints,”47 so that the church on earth and the church in heaven are one. The faithful on earth and the faithful departed all form part of the one church universal. Any proposal to change what is held to be of fundamental authority in the church would, therefore, need to be acceptable to Christ, the apostles, and the faithful departed, all of whom are part of the church. Their views may, indeed, be to a considerable extent discovered from writings, but this does tell against the view that it is the views of the church on earth or a portion of it alone that need to be considered when attempting to make changes in “higher authorities” or “fundamental authorities.” Sixthly, the view would seem to presuppose that the surrounding society and its views in different ages has such great authority that fundamental Christian authorities should conform to it, rather than that higher or fundamental Christian authorities should be brought forward and assess surrounding society and its viewpoints, at times being sympathetic to them and at times in opposition. Few, for example, would now deny that Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the anti-Nazi Christians more faithfully presented the Christian gospel, though their stance was not congenial to society around, than those who agreed with the predominant Nazi views—it is significant that the “German Christians” who supported the Nazis contained a large number of those who held less emphatic views on the value of the “fundamental authorities,” as compared to the others. It is, moreover, far from obvious that what has happened or what is thought most recently is on that account superior to what has happened before it.48 Indeed, constantly to change Christian belief in the light of its surrounding culture involves a constantly altering, frantic enterprise as surrounding cultures change so frequently. As Peter Berger says, “The various efforts by Christians to accommodate to the wisdom of the world in this situation become a difficult, frantic and more than a little ridiculous affair. Each time that one has, after an enormous effort, managed to adjust the faith to the prevailing culture, that culture turns round and changes.”49 It also seems to be the case from a practical point of view that such theologies that look to rapidly changing surrounding cultures as their base rather than Christ, the Scriptures, and apostolic tradition interpreted by the church, do not, in fact, explain why there needs to be a church to join or Phrase in the Apostles’ Creed. See also St. Jerome, in Migne PL, 37, 2993. For examples, see Chapter 17 and note 42 there. 49 Sir P. Berger, A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (New York Free Press 1992), 10–11; cf. A Rumour of Angels (Pelican 1971). 47 48



why it is worthwhile committing oneself to Christian life and practice. As Robert Morgan says, “the best insights of liberal theology … do not suffice to nourish a minority church in an aggressively secular society.”50 What, then, of tradition taken on its own as an authority? This is less commonly met with, though at certain periods there did seem to be a danger that this was going to happen in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. In each case, however, there came a reaction, so as to create a more balanced belief. Before the Reformation, for example, it was claimed by its critics that the Roman Catholic Church disregarded Scripture. Yet, whatever happened popularly among members, the Scripture continued in the liturgy (albeit in a translation that most people could not understand), and at the Council of Trent the authority of the Scriptures and “those traditions which have always continued in the church from the time of the apostles” was carefully laid down and declared to be higher than subsequent traditions. Again, as the Ultramontanist movement grew in the nineteenth century, there seemed to be a danger, both in the manner of declaration of doctrines by the Pope and the decree on Papal Infallibility that Christ, the Scriptures, apostolic tradition, the church universal, and universal synods could be superseded by a developing tradition depending simply on the decree of the Pope for its creation. Some, indeed, suggested that all that was needed for new dogma was for the Pope to speak. Yet this century there has been a substantial reaction against the form of the First Vatican Council’s decree on infallibility, and the role of the Pope is understood as placed within all the bishops of the world and their views,51 while the church’s interpretative authority is seen as not itself superior to the Word of God in Christ, the Scriptures, and apostolic tradition.52 Within the Eastern Orthodox church, it is common for its members to draw attention to the church’s unchanging tradition as normative. Yet on investigation, it will be found that, in fact, as Bishop Kallistos Ware writes, among the various elements of Tradition, a unique pre-eminence belongs to the Bible, to the Creed, to the doctrinal definitions of the Ecumenical Councils; these things the Orthodox accept as something absolute and unchanging, something which cannot be cancelled or The Religion of the Incarnation: Anglican essays in Commemoration of Lux Mundi, R. Morgan, ed. (Bristol Classical Press 1987), xi. 51 Documents Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 398, 399 and B. C. Butler, The Theology of Vatican II (DLT 1967), 82ff. 52 Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, SJ, ed. (Chapman 1966), 155, 116, 188 (e.g., “This living teaching office (of the church) is not above the Word of God but serves it…”) and B. C. Butler, The Theology of Vatican II (DLT 1967), 38. 50



revised. The other parts of Tradition do not have quite the same authority.53

Yet he goes on to say that Tradition is envisaged as having a continuing interpretative role, through the work of the Holy Spirit in the church.54 What authority, then, does reason possess on its own? If we start with reason as an authority, we may notice that, though it may solve some immediate matters, when it is used to consider the really big questions in the world and in life, it does seem to point beyond itself. In other words, it no longer works on its own, but points to another and higher authority.55 For example, if using reason we consider causality within the world, then, as many would still argue (despite Hume and Kant), we find a series of creative causes which must have a first creative cause that brought the world into being. This suggests a great similarity to the “Big Bang” view of creation put forward by scientists and the view that God, the first creative cause and power, brought the world into being. The design of the world (e.g., the regular seasons, laws of nature, and the anthropic principle) seems to show that the Creator is good, and although there are also signs of evil in the world, these are, I suggest, less predominant than the good within it.56 Furthermore, in the case of human evils, these can be attributed to human free choices for evil; some have extended this argument to claim a free source of natural evils.57 Reason may also lead to moral awareness in the conscience, yet also seems to point to a source wider than the individual person, in view of the widespread nature of moral perceptions epitomised in “natural law” and in the understandings of a common moral law.58 Moreover, the willingness of some people, in the light of conscience, to end earlier group ideas normative in their society (e.g., human sacrifice) causing a change in group ideas, seems most easy to explain in the light of a creative and original cause acting within a person and within people as God has traditionally been held to act. Reason, thus, seems to point away from its own isolated authority towards a greater authority. Reason also leads to an assessment of those making claims to authority, especially the authority that comes from declaring divine revelation. In this way, reason leads to one’s T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Pelican 1963), 205. As on pages 207–208. 55 See Romans 1:20 for St. Paul’s use of this argument from reason studying the world to belief in God. 56 See R. Swinburne, The Existence of God (OUP 1979), 116–132. 57 See R. Swinburne, The Existence of God (OUP 1979), 157, 267. 58 e.g., The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. See J. Hick, Evil and the God of Love (Macmillan 1966), 305, 306. 53 54



assessment of Jesus Christ, along with other spiritual leaders making high claims to authority; we ourselves have argued earlier why His claims seem the best founded and of the highest earthly authority. Does this then mean that reason can be detached in authority from other authorities? I suggest that this should not be done, for in the first place, reason points to those other authorities, beyond itself and higher than itself.59 Secondly, though it has been urged by some that reason has a superiority in authority by virtue of the fact that it can be used before knowledge of other authorities, this is not, I suggest, necessarily the case, for reason requires also external stimuli and faith, for example, in the existence of a dependable and regular universe. Thirdly, it is also possible that God has graciously made mankind in such a way that they can reason and, though they can choose if to reason or not (and some may feel that they are beginning a new line of enquiry), this does not necessarily imply that they are doing so completely on their own, or that their use of reason makes them superior in authority to the ultimate source of their enquiry or what or whom they discover. Fourthly, and backing up this point, if there is to be a correspondence between the perceiver and what is perceived, there would seem to be need of some kind of guarantee and link between what is external and what is internal (such as God’s gracious universal presence would provide), otherwise one could not have confidence in there being a correspondence between them. Indeed, some Christian writers have put this still more strongly, but I have put this in moderate terms to allow for human fallibility. Fifthly, there does seem to be a sense in which reason does not seem to give total knowledge, for example, in considering God as Creator we lack (as many theologians and other thinkers have said) a total knowledge of God by reason. Sixthly, what appears to be an individual choice by reason is, in fact, strengthened in authority if a community after reflection agrees. Seventhly, this use of reason can scarcely be taken as an authority on its own if it aims to bring over the message of the Scriptures, for while praising the use of reason,60 these also speak of Jesus’ death and resurrection as giving the fullest revelation.61 Furthermore, many Christian writers, including St. Augustine62 and St. Thomas Aquinas,63 have seen reason as needing the addition of other To take a parallel from everyday life, we might compare an ordinary citizen in a foreign country discovering its ruler, who has greater authority than he has. 60 e.g., in Romans 1:20 and elsewhere. 61 e.g., in 1 Corinthians 1:18–25, 3:19, 15:1–57. 62 St Augustine, Confessions, I, VII.10.18, VIII, XI. 27; On the City of God, X.29.99. 63 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II, 1a, 10–4; Commentary on the Apostles’ 59



methods of divine disclosure. In fact, revelation is needed as reason alone does not seem to suffice. Reason, in fact, does not seem to be able to stand on its own as an authority, but when taken seriously as an authority (which is, I suggest, indeed desirable), points beyond itself to its source and to God’s revelation, and in particular to the historical revelation given through Jesus Christ’s life and ministry as greater authorities, and to the Scriptures and apostolic tradition as the most dependable authorities giving access to this; it points, too, to the need of an interpretative tradition through the power of the Spirit in the Church, which becomes an interpretative tool, especially weighty if early in date and with the agreement of all or the majority of the church. Reason, then, though carrying some weight and authority, does not seem to be an authority which should be taken on its own, if we consider to whom and to what reason points.

Creed, 1.

21 THE AUTHORITY OF EXPERIENCE AND ITS RELATION TO SCRIPTURE, TRADITION, AND REASON xxxxExperience, to use a term which has been much used, particularly since the eighteenth century “Enlightenment” and is popular in existentialist writers, may indeed (we would agree) possess an authority which will be particularly evident to the person experiencing it. Indeed, experience is really a composite word, and has been used since the eighteenth century to refer to elements of authority that were spoken of in earlier times under different names. For example, Jesus’ life and disclosures are made in the light of His experience of God and of life, whilst experience (e.g., the experience of the prophets and lawgivers, the gospel writers and letter writers, and, indeed, all the biblical writers) in fact stands behind the writings that were formed into the Scriptures. Again experience forms a considerable portion of what theology before the eighteenth century (and much theology since) has referred to as “tradition,” inasmuch as experience of God and God’s disclosures, both on a personal scale and a scale embracing many persons across the world and across cultures, formed a considerable part of interpretative tradition. Furthermore, experience (in a broad sense) has given rise to much of the personal consideration of life, the world, and its mysteries which has often been referred to as reason. Sometimes the word “reason” has been envisaged as something dry and cold, detached and remote from life, whereas “experience” has been used to indicate discoveries in and through life. This difference of nuance may, I think, be admitted, yet one may also question whether there is, in fact, any hard and fast distinction between the two. Many philosophers whose writings are traditionally associated with “reason,” in fact, are concerned with all humankind’s life in the world. Plato, for example, draws his philosophical arguments from life-settings in the ideal Republic and its laws. Likewise, matters of personal belief, the reality or non-existence of God or gods, morality, beauty, and the next life 197



are all discussed by Plato in the context of everyday settings and questions relevant to everyday life. Aristotle is concerned with everyday affairs; though a more cool and less passionate writer, he is concerned with matters like the world and its Creator, nature, ethics, and politics. St. Thomas Aquinas was concerned to integrate facts about the world with Christian theology and experience, while the Cambridge Platonists shared Plato’s concern for the experiential element in philosophy and religion. Although Locke and Hume concentrated on people’s experience of the world, Berkeley was concerned both with the world and how one’s inner experiences in the mind could correspond with it. Kant’s views were based on his experiences in the world and his sense of moral obligation which led him to seek a cause for it. Idealist philosophers, though setting out what ought to be in the mind, nevertheless were conditioned by their experience. Most philosophers and thinkers have been very unlike the linguistic school of philosophers and have, in fact, been concerned with their experience of life, the world, and in many cases of God. Experience, therefore, formed and forms a kind of basic source which reason sets in logical order. Yet to isolate human experience and rely on human experience alone for knowledge of God and the world would seem to allow too much weight to an individual making claims from experience who might turn out to be deluded and might exclude what is unexpected or uncongenial to a particular person or group of people (which are difficult to explain save on the supposition of further sources in God and the world), and also diminish the extent to which God and the world are significant factors, prompting a view that the conclusions of human consciousness are simply self-induced. However, having said this, providing that human experience is recognised as prompted by factors which lie beyond it (e.g., God, the world, and what is in it), and providing that it is tested in wider groups of the human community across countries and nations, then it may, I suggest, be held that human experience holds a valuable authority. For those who are Christians, experience also, I suggest, holds an authority, providing it is tested in a rather similar way by taking into account other believers at the time and across the ages and across the world. Experience, indeed, carries authority as being a primal apprehension of “how things are,” while reason increases, I suggest, the authority of what experience brings forward, by setting it in order and unifying it with other experiences so that a wider and more coherent world-picture is built up. I would suggest, therefore, that, while experience carries authority as providing perceptions of how things are and on what they are based, these perceptions are “set in order” and made more clear through being sifted to


see if they can be recognised as valid disclosures from God, of greater and lesser weight, the most authoritative of which have been recognised as such, set down in the Scriptures and apostolic tradition, and tested in a wider community. Within the interpretative tradition, too, these are set in order and unified by reason, and tested in people’s experience; their authority is thereby borne out and re-emphasised.

22 A SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT OF THE BOOK We have tried to enquire into the contemporary concern with authority, and the meanings of “authority” and “the church.” After an examination of authority in society, we attempt to consider authority in different faiths, coming eventually to prefer the threefold disclosure of one God to be found in Christianity. On the grounds outlined, we conclude that there are cogent grounds to believe in the reality of God, with the connotations which this involves of His authority. Likewise, the particular disclosure of God in Jesus Christ seems, we suggest, to have good grounds, including the claims, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which in turn give Him a special authority. The apostles, guided by God through the inspiration (as they termed it) of the Holy Spirit, witnessed to God and to Jesus’ disclosure of God. Their witness, and writings made by apostles or by those who from closeness in time to them were likely to keep that apostolic faith, were reckoned to be very important authorities, next in weight to the disclosures of God and of Jesus Christ; these authorities together we are calling “fundamental authorities.” The people of God as a whole (whom the Holy Spirit indwells as the baptised faithful) have, we argue, endorsed this view, and this corresponds to the perception of the “fundamental authorities” by most of the Christian church, across the ages and geographically across the world today. As regards reason, we would see its role as forming a picture of the world, its nature and purpose, and our place in it. Next, it draws our attention to the “fundamental authorities,” and can lead towards an acceptance of them as well grounded. However, once the “fundamental authorities” are accepted, then reason continues to be of authority, but its role should, I suggest, then be seen as assisting in explanation; tentative conclusions put forward on its grounds should themselves be weighed, thought about, and considered on a universal scale in the church. 201



We would agree that there is a helpful place for a continuing interpretative tradition inspired by the Holy Spirit in the church of the baptised faithful on a universal scale, as we argue in Chapter 12. Such interpretative tradition, we argue, is valuable as an explanatory tradition, but it does not supersede the “fundamental authorities.” Although there is a continuing valuable role for this interpretative tradition (explaining the “fundamental authorities” in relation to varying cultures), it is, we believe, an important aspect of it that when it is on a universal scale, geographically across the world and across time, it carries more authority than individuals’ views and local synods and area decisions. Both the ministry and all the baptised faithful have, we suggest, a role in the transmission of interpretative tradition, and both should be represented in decision-making, whilst in the last resort, the people of God (the baptised faithful including clergy and laity, whose views together form the “consensus fidelium”), by the common judgement of the faithful should decide whether to “receive” decisions of the synods and other official decisions or not. We next considered synods and how far authority should be attributed to them. We dealt first with universal synods and discussed the question of limits to the authority of universal synods. Then we had a section on universal synods and local synods, arguing the importance of having limits to the authority of local (including national) synods and of making clear these limits and the limited authority of reports sponsored by them (especially if not endorsed by them or the community of the baptised faithful as a whole). Still continuing the issue of a continuing interpretative tradition, we argued that co-inherence, consistency, and universality give weight to authority. After discussing the scope and limits of continuing interpretative tradition, then the authority of Scripture, tradition, and reason across the ages, we concluded that there are problems when elements of these are isolated, and attempted to elucidate the authority of experience and its relation to these. Our conclusion is that the chief authority belongs to God, then to what is revealed by God, especially through Jesus Christ, witnessed to by the apostles and the apostolic church through the power of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures and apostolic tradition. These all form “fundamental authorities.” There is a need, however, for a continuing interpretative tradition of these. This is, we suggest, subordinate to the “fundamental authorities” in terms of authority, yet has played a vital role in perceiving them (e.g., by defining the canon of Scripture, in the creeds, in the doctrine of the Holy



Trinity, and in Christology) and has a continuing interpretative role (most notably in decisions of synods, especially universal synods, “received” by the baptised faithful as a whole or by an overwhelming majority). The continuing interpretative tradition, in fact, we would argue, has its authority increased or diminished according as it is endorsed or rejected by the church of the baptised faithful on a universal or overwhelming scale, across the world and across time. As we live “between the ages,” we await the full manifestation of God’s authority to all, yet that authority has been shown, to all who have faith, in what God has already disclosed, above all in Jesus Christ, in whom His reign has begun. He taught and acted with authority, and though He would not tell His hostile questioners before His death by what authority He acted, at the conclusion of St. Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of how “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”;1 therefore, His disciples are to evangelise, baptise, and teach His followers to observe all the commands that He has given to them. It is by virtue of acceptance of God’s authority and of that authority supremely revealed through Christ that He makes His promise: “Lo; I am with you always, even to the end of time.”2

1 Matthew 28:18. This is implied also in claims to forgive sins and judge the world, found elsewhere in the gospels. cf. Mark 2:7, 14:62. 2 Matthew 28:20.

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Acts, 47, 73, 82, 94, 97, 98, 99, 100, 103, 107, 111, 121, 122, 123, 138, 145 administration, 86, 95, 102, 103, 108, 114, 117 Augustine Augustine, St., 36, 66, 160, 194 Authority, 1, 8, 47, 55, 150, 153, 169

Caesar, 26 Calvinist, 82, 95, 118, 129, 134, 174 Cambridge Platonists, 175, 198 Canon of Scripture, 56, 96, 98, 108 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 147 Catholic Church, 86, 110, 129 Catholic Modernists, 48, 158, 160, 185 Chadwick, O, 157 Chalcedon, 102, 113, 123 Chioggia, 128 Chrysostom, 66 Church Assembly, 131, 132, 137 Church Congresses, 131, 134 church universal, v, 15, 19, 20, 21, 24, 82, 83, 84, 87, 89, 97, 103, 105, 109, 110, 111, 113, 119, 124, 127, 129, 130, 133, 135, 136, 143, 151, 155, 177, 179, 182, 184, 189, 191, 192 Clement of Alexandria, 99, 160 coherence, 70, 87, 167, 172, 179 co-inherence, 202 common judgement of the faithful, 18, 50, 90, 133, 134, 139, 146, 202 confirmation, 16, 83, 92 conscience, 23, 35, 37, 78, 151, 181, 193 consensus, v, 1, 10, 21, 24, 35, 47, 53, 57, 66, 67, 79, 84, 85, 87, 96, 98, 104, 105, 112, 113, 114, 119, 120, 134, 138, 141, 149, 150, 151, 165, 167, 202 consensus fidelium, 149 consistency, 85, 167, 202 Constantine, 104, 131 Constantinople, 104, 105, 113, 126 convocations, 128 Convocations, 127, 131 Coptic, 84, 113 councils, 18, 23, 25, 47, 50, 56, 76, 79,

B baptism, 16, 24, 46, 47, 51, 65, 74, 78, 79, 83, 95, 107, 121, 124, 126, 129, 145, 151, 155, 167 Barnabas, 51, 89, 93, 145 Barth K., 191 Beethoven, 75 Berger Sir P, 191 Bible, 29, 53, 76, 77, 116, 155, 161, 178, 184, 188, 192 Biblical, 62, 65, 66, 67, 76, 111, 130, 151, 157, 177, 178, 179, 189 Bicknell, E. J., 149 Bishops, 18, 25, 47, 50, 56, 79, 85, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 96, 98, 101, 102, 103, 104, 107, 110, 112, 116, 117, 120, 122, 123, 125, 131, 132, 134, 137, 138, 147, 148, 150, 159, 170, 190, 192 Book of Common Prayer, 110 Bossuet, J. B., 87, 157, 164 Bultmann, R., 3, 48, 52, 66, 67, 157, 164, 175, 178, 185 Byzantine, 131




82, 85, 86, 93, 96, 102, 103, 107, 108, 110, 112, 113, 122, 123, 124, 126, 128, 129, 138, 148, 150, 154, 156, 169, 170 Councils, 13, 113, 116, 120, 146, 150, 192 Cranmer, 110 creation, 29, 33, 52, 60, 128, 181, 192, 193 creator, 33, 34, 61, 153, 162, 181 creed, 56, 84 cultural relativism, 75 culture, 4, 13, 37, 43, 48, 61, 69, 70, 75, 76, 88, 130, 161, 166, 189, 191 Cyprian, St, 104

D Dante, 75 Darwin, 13, 119, 158 deaconesses, 95 deacons, 16, 25, 79, 85, 95, 96, 151 Dead Sea Scrolls, 4, 45 democracy, 43, 115, 135 democratic, 2, 13, 15, 18, 23, 139 demonstration, 46 dialogue, 3, 4, 67 Diatessaron, 91 diversity, 4 doctrinal development, 49, 91, 157, 159, 160, 162, 164, 165 doctrinal developments, 49, 163 Doctrine in the Church of England, 149 documents of Vatican II, 116

E E.E.C., 21 Easter Letter, 53, 91 Eastern Orthodox, 19, 84, 105, 113, 124, 125, 126, 135, 146, 154, 155, 179, 192 Edward VIII, 8 El Greco, 75 Elders, 16, 18, 107, 145 Elizabeth I, 109, 110, 127 Emperor of Rome, 26 England, Church of, 21, 82, 83, 109, 110, 111, 117, 124, 127, 128, 129, 130, 137, 138, 141, 142, 143, 148, 156, 170, 178, 179

Enlightenment, 119, 189, 197 Ephesus, Council of, 113 Ethics, 142, 198 Eucharist, 59, 69, 90, 95, 138, 150, 155 Europe, 69, 83, 111, 178, 179 Evils, 34, 193 Exhortations, 81 Existentialist, 197 Experience, 3, 20, 37, 60, 61, 62, 63, 65, 119, 120, 149, 150, 164, 184, 185, 197, 198, 199, 202

F faith, 3, 11, 16, 18, 19, 27, 29, 37, 47, 49, 50, 55, 56, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 65, 77, 83, 85, 87, 90, 91, 93, 95, 96, 98, 102, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 114, 116, 117, 118, 121, 123, 124, 128, 129, 133, 136, 137, 142, 145, 147, 151, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 162, 163, 164, 166, 167, 172, 173, 174, 179, 188, 190, 191, 194, 201, 203 faithfulness, 93, 153 farmers, 34 Father, 3, 11, 17, 30, 40, 48, 81, 89, 94, 135, 163, 186 Ferdinand, Emperor, 127 Freedom, 1, 23, 131

G G. Chapman, 111 General Synod, 17, 82, 110, 132, 133, 134, 137, 141, 142, 148 Gentiles, 16, 18, 34 Giotto, 75 Gnostic, 47, 49, 57, 58, 67, 84, 90, 101, 165 God God, Authority of, 3, 10, 16, 34, 37, 39, 75, 118, 136 God, Existence of, 37 Goodness, 7, 9, 33, 34, 148 Gospel, 12, 15, 16, 19, 20, 39, 40, 41, 43, 46, 52, 57, 59, 60, 68, 71, 81, 85, 89, 91, 99, 100, 149, 158, 159, 162, 186, 187, 191, 197, 203 Greeks, 43


H Habgood, J.S, 35 Hermas, 84 Herodotus, 43 Hinduism, 31, 32, 39, 181 Holy Communion, 11, 69, 94, 110, 124, 154 Holy Scriptures, 17, 18, 19, 27, 55, 75, 76, 82, 86, 90, 93, 97, 108, 117, 118, 121, 133, 159, 169, 171, 182, 185, 190 Holy Spirit, 3, 11, 17, 24, 25, 27, 37, 45, 46, 47, 48, 55, 60, 62, 64, 70, 74, 75, 77, 78, 81, 83, 84, 86, 87, 88, 89, 92, 97, 107, 110, 116, 120, 121, 122, 124, 126, 128, 133, 135, 145, 148, 150, 151, 154, 157, 158, 163, 167, 169, 171, 176, 181, 182, 184, 189, 193, 201, 202 Holy Trinity, 16, 17, 18, 19, 23, 25, 27, 93, 97, 110, 133, 136, 155, 159, 163, 169, 185, 203 Homer, 75 Huxley, A., 31

I Ignatius, St, 57, 90, 93, 95, 105, 155 incarnate, 3, 49, 69, 70, 97, 160 Industrialists, 34 Infallibility, 114, 192 interpretation, 12, 27, 48, 54, 55, 56, 58, 60, 66, 73, 74, 77, 78, 79, 87, 90, 91, 97, 114, 115, 118, 123, 129, 137, 147, 155, 160, 164, 165, 166, 167, 169, 171, 174, 183 interpretative authority, 60, 93, 110, 155, 163, 170, 192 interpretative tradition, 23, 60, 61, 70, 71, 73, 74, 78, 79, 83, 101, 114, 169, 170, 171, 173, 174, 177, 178, 179, 181, 182, 184, 185, 195, 197, 199, 202 Irenaeus, St., 58, 84, 90, 91, 92, 94, 105, 156, 163, 184, 189, 190 Isis, 165 Islam, 30, 31, 44, 181 Israel, 29, 36, 46, 51, 120, 131, 187


J James II, 8 James, St, 112 James, St. (letter of ), 159 Japan, 130 Jerome, St., 54 Jerusalem, Council of, 100 Jesus (Christ), 1, 3, 4, 17, 24, 25, 27, 29, 30, 31, 36, 37, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 57, 58, 61, 63, 64, 65, 66, 68, 69, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 88, 89, 90, 97, 98, 99, 115, 128, 154, 158, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167, 169, 171, 173, 176, 181, 182, 183, 185, 187, 188, 194, 195, 197, 201, 202, 203 Jewel, J. Bp, 110 Jewish, 4, 16, 30, 40, 43, 45, 54, 59, 63, 68, 69, 103, 112 Jews, 10, 11, 25, 29, 35, 39, 45, 54, 63, 64, 183 John, St., 15, 16, 31, 39, 41, 46, 52, 57, 59, 61, 66, 68, 71, 84, 85, 89, 98, 99, 100, 104, 153, 154 Josephus, 43 Justin, St., 58, 59, 91

K Kant, I., 35, 193, 198

L Laity, 131 Lamb of God, 76 Lateran Councils, 113 law, 29, 54, 162, 170, 193 lawgivers, 29, 197 Laws, 197 Leonardo, (da Vinci), 75 letters, 84, 95, 100, 159 Liberal Protestant, 160 life, 1, 2, 4, 11, 18, 23, 26, 33, 34, 40, 41, 43, 49, 51, 52, 61, 64, 65, 66, 69, 71, 72, 76, 78, 82, 83, 85, 88, 89, 95, 97, 99, 103, 108, 116, 118, 125, 130, 133, 136, 150, 153, 164, 167, 172, 173, 176, 178, 181, 184, 185, 187, 192, 193, 195,



197 Lincoln Cathedral, 75 literature, 45, 70, 74, 75, 101, 141 liturgy, 20, 56, 71, 85, 110, 120, 126, 142, 171, 192 Livy, 42, 43 Lord, Christ the, 11, 29, 40, 57, 87, 90, 99, 110, 116, 117, 158, 162, 169, 175, 188 Lords, House of, 2, 8 Luther, M., 134, 159, 173, 184 Lutheran, 82, 111, 129, 134, 175

M man, 20, 81, 174, 176, 182 Milton, J., 35 ministry, 4, 19, 36, 49, 51, 57, 64, 69, 71, 72, 82, 85, 89, 90, 91, 92, 95, 97, 98, 103, 105, 110, 112, 124, 130, 133, 138, 154, 163, 175, 176, 183, 184, 185, 187, 190, 195, 201, 202 miracles, 40, 41, 42, 46, 58, 66, 162, 175, 182, 187 Modernist, 119 modesty, 213 monarch, 102, 131 Montanism, 59, 163 Morgan, R., 192 Moule, C. F. D., 45

N Nag Hammedi, 67 Nanchiatti (of Chiaggia), 128 Nazis, 35, 191 Nestorian Church, 113 New Testament, 3, 4, 24, 25, 27, 47, 48, 49, 51, 53, 59, 61, 62, 68, 69, 70, 73, 74, 79, 82, 87, 89, 91, 93, 94, 95, 98, 100, 108, 121, 129, 145, 154, 159, 160, 165, 182, 183 Newman, J. H. Cardinal. See , See , See , See Nicaea, 18, 25, 56, 103, 112, 113, 116, 122, 123, 146 Nineham, D.E., 67, 75 Novatian, 122

O Old Testament, 25, 27, 36, 39, 45, 48, 49, 53, 54, 57, 58, 59, 60, 62, 63, 68, 70, 73, 74, 75, 76, 82, 90, 128, 129, 154, 160, 162, 182, 183 orders, 82, 92, 110, 111, 184 Ordination, 82

P Palestine, 4, 42, 49, 52, 54, 185, 188 parables, 40, 187 Paul, St., 16, 26, 34, 46, 47, 57, 59, 61, 65, 68, 78, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 89, 93, 94, 100, 104, 138, 145, 155, 156, 159, 162 Peter, St., 16, 53, 58, 65, 83, 84, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 104, 105, 107, 123 Philo, 63 philosophy, 63, 66, 198 Plato, 63, 64, 197 Polybius, 42, 43 Pope, the, 102, 109, 114, 116, 123, 125, 146, 147, 158, 159, 174, 192 practice, 9, 15, 21, 23, 56, 59, 69, 77, 81, 101, 104, 110, 111, 118, 120, 125, 131, 149, 160, 165, 166, 172, 178, 190, 192 Preaching, 5, 213

R Rahner, K, 11 Ramsey, A. M. Abp., 105 Reception, 150 Reformation, 3, 16, 20, 59, 82, 86, 102, 109, 110, 111, 120, 124, 127, 129, 130, 131, 134, 135, 148, 154, 156, 160, 182, 184, 192 Republic, 197 Roman Catholic Church, 116, 156 Roman Catholic International Commission, 77, 116 Romans, 34, 42, 43, 78, 89 Rowland, C., 4 Russian, 146


S Sanders, E. P., 4 Second Vatican Council, 3, 113, 114, 116, 120, 125, 129, 147, 158, 159, 173, 178, 179, 189 society, 1, 13, 131, 135, 176, 177, 178, 186, 191, 192, 193, 201 Stanton, G. N., 4, 187 Stoic thought, 63, 64 Strauss, D. F., 157, 175 Swinburne, R., 37 Sykes, S., 4 Synods, 13, 16, 17, 107, 108, 121, 124, 125, 127, 136, 141, 142, 147 synods, universal, 18, 19, 86, 98, 105, 114, 115, 121, 122, 124, 127, 131, 133, 135, 136, 146, 151, 155, 159, 163, 170, 192, 202, 203 Synoptic gospels, 39

T Tatian, 91 teacher(s), 13 Tertullian, 84, 156 text, 82, 113 Theology, 178 Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England, 149 Timothy, St., 89, 90, 116, 162 Tradition, 116, 147, 184, 192

219 Trent, 17, 86, 109, 128, 130, 156, 158, 173, 174, 192 Truth, 31, 40, 147

U undivided church (before divisino of East and West), 124 United Nations, 35, 120 Unity, 117 universal councils, 113, 138, 154

V Vatican Council, 17, 113, 114, 125, 192 Vermes, G., 42 Vincent of Lerins, St., 47, 86, 88, 156

W Ware, K. (T.), Bishop, 116, 192 West (Western Church), 3, 20, 21, 59, 82, 104, 113, 124, 126, 128, 129, 154, 156, 164, 172 Whichcote, B., 175 Williams, R. R. Bishop., 47 World, 21, 31, 43, 135, 137, 150

Z Zizioulas, J., 126, 130