Scripture, Tradition, Reason

"God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars." - Martin Luther

Scripture, tradition and reason each hold a special place in the authority of our church (and our faith).  Richard Hooker (c. 1554-1600) is an early Anglican theologian who noted these are like a three-legged stool.  Scripture, tradition and reason each rely upon one another; when one is neglected the whole thing can fall over.  We have continued to honor the balance in these aspects throughout our heritage as a church.

The place of scripture varies widely among Christian denominations.  In the Episcopal Church we honor it in reading expansively as we gather each week.  This discipline is further supported in the Daily Office and other devotional material.  Some have suggested we are less knowledgeable, as we are less able to quote chapter and verse than others, yet the stories are a part of who we are.  Our holding 'scripture' in conjunction with 'reason' also sets us apart from those who hold to a literal interpretation of scripture.  We are more likely to sit with the contradictions than try to explain them away.

The traditions of the church are important.  They help us to learn from those who have gone before us.  Here, we can both learn from the successes and learn from "mistakes".  Honoring traditions can slow change too.  While change is important, we do well to temper it with an understanding of the traditions we inherit.  The Gospels are full of stories where Jesus pushes against traditions, particularly where there seemed to be tradition for traditions sake.

Reason may be listed, but there is no least in this list.  Our use of reason as central to the authority of the life and doctrine of the church has served us well.  It may be particularly meaningful in our current era.  Technological and scientific advancements have revolutionized our understanding of the world around us.  Some perceive this as a threat to their faith, whereas many Episcopalians embrace this.  Our church can reconcile our understanding of scripture and tradition with these advancements more readily.  Perhaps it will help us to connect with those who are struggling in other denominations.  May these aspects continue to guide our faith and our church in the years ahead.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

The lectionary... a continuation 'On Scripture'

Our Sunday readings are part of a lectionary, pre-selected readings.  There are two lectionaries in the back of the Book of Common Prayer.  One is for Sunday services, it is a three year cycle, labeled by letters ("A", "B", "C").  The other is a "Daily Office" lectionary, it is a two year cycle, labeled 'Year One' and 'Year Two'.  If one follows these you will read most of the Bible over two years.

A number of years ago the Episcopal Church voted to follow the "Revised Common Lectionary" on Sundays, rather than the one in the prayer book.  This aligns us with many other 'connected' churches, such as the Roman Catholic, Methodist and Lutheran Churches.  This means on most Sundays we hear the same readings as friends and family in these churches and have common ground for conversation!  That's right, you can share something from a sermon on Sunday (hint, hint) with a friend that attends another church and they may have heard a sermon on the same passage!

Both lectionaries 'begin' on 1st Advent.  We are currently in 'Year A', but will soon switch to 'Year B'.  This three year cycle focuses on a different Gospel each year, but includes readings from each Gospel.  This past year our emphasis has been on Matthew (Year A), and soon we will focus on Mark as we enter Year B.

The daily lectionary also hinges on Advent 1.  I remember what year we are in by thinking that "odd" years, such as 201'7' are Year 1 and "even" years, such as 201'8' are Year 2.  The only exception is the season of Advent... of course all of this is made easier when you can use a lectionary website to provide the correct readings.  I hope this insight into where we get our readings helps to connect you to our readings.  

Additionally, there are dozens of great readings plans that can help guide your reading of scripture.  Each has it's advantages, my hope and prayer is that we all spend some time with the scriptures each week.  This immersion into the story helps encourage and inspire us as we aspire to follow Christ.

On Scripture

The Bible is an incredible book.  I've heard it argued that it is actually a library of books, which is great if you've got a book reading quota to meet, but otherwise feels somewhat trivial.  It is a collection of writings and stories that tell a story.   I love the story. 

I found the story of God's people, as found in scripture, fascinating at an early age.  I've had many Bibles, but a few have 'stayed' with me longer, including a newsprint copy that caught my attention early.  In part, the reading plan in the back caught my attention.  I began checking off various readings as I made my way through as a teenager, although I never completed the task in that Bible.

In seminary I was struck by the fact that I was unsure if I had read every verse of the Bible.  Struck more so because I knew that part of the ordination service included my profession that I believed the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be inspired by God.  I did not think it was fair to make such a profession unless I completed the journey.  I had a lot of other reading to do, so I got more systematic.  This helped me complete the task, but the desire for the story continued.  

During my first year as a priest I reread the entire Bible with a few members who were studying for ordination, along with then Deacon (now priest) Ann Whitney.  During that year I also found a podcast "The Daily Audio Bible".  Now, I have read (and listened) through the Bible many times over.  With each subsequent reading I have moments where I think, "I love this part..." and "I don't remember this part!".

As much as I love the story, I also love what is not said.  It keeps my imagination turning and keeps me seeking understanding and thinking about God.  I hope that you too are reading scripture daily, or regularly.  How else might we engage with these stories together?