Arthur Middleton on a scriptural mind


Long before our Anglican Formularies, Athanasius was telling us that the holy and inspired scriptures are sufficient for the declaration of divine truth, and it is out of these said scriptures that we are to instruct our people in the way of eternal salvation. Appropriately, in his Paschal letter for AD367 Athanasius wrote: ‘These are fountains of salvation that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrines of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.” And he reproved the Jews, saying, “Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me.”’ (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. IV, p.552)

The scriptural mind is a fundamental principle of Anglicanism. Today we seem to have lost the integrity of the scriptural mind as we become captives to a continuum of ‘demythologizing.’ Our church has become captive to a hermeneutic of sociological reductionism. Georges Florovsky has written:

‘We are in danger of losing the uniqueness of the Word of God in the process of continuous “reinterpretation”. But how can we interpret at all if we have forgotten the original language? Would it not be safer to bend our thought to the mental habits of the biblical language and to relearn the mental habits of the Bible? No man can receive the gospel unless he repents—“changes his mind.” For in the language of the gospel “repentance” (Metanoeite) does not merely mean acknowledgement of and contrition for sins, but precisely a “change of mind”—a profound change of man’s mental and emotional attitude, an integral renewal of man’s self, which begins in his self-renunciation and is accomplished and sealed by the Spirit.’ (‘The Lost Scriptural Mind’ in Bible, Church and Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View, p.10)

To preach a prophetic word, the church must possess the scriptural mind. On the positive side it is that which is to instruct the people of God and on the negative side it precludes the church from teaching ‘nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by Scripture.’ That is an important qualification. ‘That which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture.’ It is to remind the church that such persuasion is not a matter of private judgement nor is its basis to be any kind of authority. The Twentieth Article tells us what is to persuade us. The church has authority in controversies of faith. The Eighth Article echoes this when it tells us that the three ancient creeds of the church ‘ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.’

This restraint on private judgement is not captivity. It is wholesome. Even scientists learn to be scientists by becoming a member of the community of scientists, by accepting the established laws of the scientific community. This is the foundation of future breakthroughs. And musicians only become accomplished by imitating their predecessors in the community of musicians. A preacher, either clerical or lay, and the theologian are members of the community of salvation. The Bible requires us to hand on the paradosis, the tradition, so that bishops in every age follow the example of the apostles and commit to us what they themselves have received (2 Tim. 2.2.) The church passes on the sacred flame of divine truth, making the church the witness and keeper of Holy Writ. Otherwise our task would be hopeless if every generation had to rekindle that flame for itself.

So, Augustine’s confession in his Contra Epistolam Manichaei can be ours. He wrote: ‘For my part I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.’ (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. IV, p. 131) This is one of the earliest distinct assertions of the dependence of the scriptures for authority on the Church. Richard Hanson said in his inaugural lecture as Van Mildert Professor in Durham that, ‘the life of Christianity depends upon the Bible dancing with the Church and the Church with the Bible. The Church may be lost without the Bible but the Bible without the Church is just a collection of ancient lifeless documents.’ Surely none of us would have received the written word as God’s Word, unless the church’s authority had first persuaded us. The Ordinal makes explicit that priests are to teach nothing to their people but what the church’s authority persuades us may be concluded and proved by Holy Scripture as interpreted by the ancient Fathers. The church’s authority is not authority to create or develop new doctrines, but rather authority to declare judicially for purposes of discipline what is the faith once delivered to the saints. It is authority, in short, to determine what is heresy and what is not.