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Holy Orders Task Force Completes Phase 2 of Study

The Theological Task Force on Holy Orders

Report on Phase 2: Holy Scripture

Introduction

Phase Two of the Method of Procedure directs the Task Force on Holy Orders (TF) to identify those principles of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) that will inform the subsequent work of the TF in addressing the question of holy orders in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Toward this end, the TF examined the governing documents of the ACNA and drew from them the relevant statements pertaining to the interpretation of Holy Scripture. This work has produced two documents – a concise statement of General Hermeneutical Principles and A Summary of Hermeneutical Principles Drawn from the Foundational Documents of the ACNA. Both documents were approved by the College of Bishops at its June 2013 meeting at Nashotah House Seminary, and they are attached to this report in the appendix.

The hermeneutical principles presented in the documents may be organized under three headings: Scripture has primary authority; Scripture is coherent; and Scripture is to be interpreted in the context of the Church.

1. Scripture has Primary Authority

a. Scripture has primacy – that is to say, Scripture is the first place we look for the answers to our questions about faith and life. Scripture is the voice that speaks with final authority over the decisions we make.

b. The central theme of Scripture is redemption in Jesus Christ and those matters that pertain to life in him. There are matters that Scripture does not address. In these areas the church is permitted to create canons and structures for its benefit, even though Scripture does not specifically give direction. As long as the canons do not contradict or disregard Scripture, or require something as necessary for salvation which Scripture does not declare to be so, the Church is free to make decisions for good order and the edification of her members.

c. Anglican tradition has enjoyed a permissible breadth of diversity in practice and interpretation. It makes a distinction between primary matters (for example, the Trinity and the bodily resurrection of Christ) and secondary matters. In secondary matters there is liberty. However, even in secondary matters, where there is a difference of judgment, we are to address those issues by seeking the mind of Christ, searching Scripture and praying together, with an attitude of love and humility.

d. The church is not free to “re-write” or dismiss hard theological and moral teachings found in Scripture.

2. Scripture is Coherent

a. Both the Old and New Testaments are God’s Word, so that the Old Testament is not to be dismissed. The Old and New Testaments are authoritative in matters pertaining to salvation; the central theme of both Testaments is salvation, redemption in Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is key to a full understanding of God’s redemptive activity, which centers on Jesus; it is not merely historical background. Although the Bible is a coherent whole, certain practices described in the Old Testament are no longer binding on Christians. Such for example were the ceremonial laws governing the sacrifices in the Temple, which have been fulfilled by Our Lord’s death on Calvary. Such likewise were the civil laws governing the people of Israel, like the provision of “cities of refuge.” However, the moral commandments, principles and teachings of the Old Testament were reaffirmed by the New, and continue in force as the standard for our daily life.

b. In both the Old and New Testaments, Scripture interprets Scripture. When the meaning of a particular Scriptural passage is unclear, it should be interpreted in light of the whole. While the human aspect of Scripture should not be ignored, the Holy Spirit is involved in the whole of Scripture, so there is a single mind at work.

3. Scripture is to be Interpreted in the Context of the Church

a. The Church is the guardian and keeper of holy writ. The “Church” means more than a church at one particular time or in one particular location. Church councils (the Church being gathered at a particular time and location) may and have erred. Furthermore, while particular cultures unavoidably affect and influence the manner in which Scripture is interpreted, for good and ill, we must be mindful that we are influenced by our own culture as well. Likewise, Scriptural inquiry and archaeological discoveries may illumine particular texts in ways that were not appreciated before. We also must be mindful that we live in relation with other churches in the Anglican Communion and with those in ecumenical partnership with us. Any discussion of a major change in the church’s practice must be done in discussion with them. Note the FCA statement on women in the priesthood from 2010, which is included in the appendix.

b. We are to strive for an understanding of the original setting and audience, but also be mindful of the applications of the text throughout the history of the Church. The Jerusalem Declaration specifies, “The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in the plain and canonical sense, respectful of the Church’s historic and consensual reading.” This presents certain challenges in the interpretation of any particular passage. What is its “plain and canonical sense”? Can we always discern its “historic and consensual reading”? What does it mean to be “respectful” of these things? We need to address these issues in fellowship with our GAFCON partners.

c. In our tradition, the cumulative wisdom of the Church is found in the manner in which it has applied the Scriptures in various contexts over the centuries, as for example in the Creeds, the Ecumenical Councils, the 39 Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. These do not provide simplistic answers to every question brought to Scripture but provide boundaries for acceptable interpretations of the text.

Conclusion

The future work of this Task Force will respect and be guided by these hermeneutical principles, given above, together with the attached General Hermeneutical Principals and Summary of Hermeneutical Principles Drawn from the Foundational Documents of the Anglican Church in North America.

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