Jesus came back to the Temple; and as he taught, the chief priests and the elders came to the servant of the word and asked, "What authority do you have to say these things? Who gave you this authority?"
Jesus answered them, "I will ask you just one question, and if you give me an answer, I will tell you what authority I have to do these things. Where did John's authority to baptise come from: was it from God or from human beings?"
They started to argue among themselves, "What shall we say? If we answer, 'From God,' he will say to us, 'Why, then, did you not believe John?' But if we say, 'From human beings,' we are afraid of what the people might do, because they are all convinced that John was a prophet."
So they answered Jesus, "We don't know."
And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you, then, by what authority I do these things." (Matthew 21:23-27)
At the heart of all theological debates, including debate over the role of Scripture, whether Sola Scriptura is a worthy summary of that role, is the question of authority.
Look Protestantly in askance at the hierarchy of Rome in relation to doctrine (Papal Infallibility, Magisterium, etc) and you are asking about authority.
Claim as one bishop in the church we are not allowed to criticise here that because the church wrote the Bible we can rewrite the Bible and you have smuggled into subsequent conversation the question of authority.
Pronounce from the pulpit as many preachers do that despite centuries of the church believing this or despite multiple commentaries of sound scholarship saying that, nevertheless 'I say unto you, We no longer need to believe this or that,' and authority in the life of the church is presenting itself.
Sigh and sit back bemused at Protestants tying themselves into Protestant knots or Romans entangling themselves in Roman doctrinal nets because as an Eastern Orthodox you know that everything was sorted out theologically with the cessation of the seventh Ecumenical Council then you have made a claim about where authority in the life of the church lies.
For that matter, in case a major church stream feels left out, get up in church this Sunday morning and confidently claim, 'Thus says the Spirit of God, the glory has departed this fellowship, ichabod, ichabod,' then a Pentecostal take on authority is being expressed.
At the heart of current Anglican controversies, whether we are in England sorting out a reasonable way forward on women bishops, or here in ACANZP wondering which way forward we should go on same sex partnerships, or, to also look into 2014, what is the gospel we should preach in celebration of Marsden first preaching the gospel, is the question of authority.
In particular the questions whether Scripture speaks authoritatively on such and such a matter, and whether Scripture charts a way forward when the church disagrees. But the question also sharply arises - should we find a way to, so to speak, neutralise Scripture on a matter - by what authority we will proceed to do a new thing in the life of the church?
Already I am in deep waters and time is limited so just a few more thoughts today ...
Recently some considerable efforts have been made in the Communion to understand what role or roles the Bible plays across the Communion and, we might say, across the spectrum of theological commitments which make up our collective Anglican life. This project's web presence is here.
The situation the report addresses is summed up in these words of ++David Moxon:
""The Anglican Communion has always cherished Scripture and given it a central place in its life. This emphasis was historically summed up in Article 6 of the 39 Articles, "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation" and is confirmed by the way Scripture is so heavily drawn on in our liturgical life. In recent years the Communion has sought to handle the diversity of opinions in relation to moral and ethical issues. However, in turning to Scripture for insights we have discovered that we reach different conclusions as to the way forward. This raised the question as to whether we might benefit, as a Communion, by exploring in some depth the way we go about this engagement with and interpretation of Scripture.""
Necessarily the report is descriptive rather than prescriptive but I sense that one effect of the report has been for a slight raising of collective Anglican respect for Scripture. Some aspects of the controversies in our life currently have involved statements dismissive of Scripture: my sense is that we now recognise that being dismissive of Scripture is not a viable Anglican response to the controversies. However we may resolve them, they will involve serious engagement with Scripture because we have reminded ourselves that Anglicans are scriptural Christians.
Locally this seems - anecdotally - to be an outcome of the four Hermeneutical Hui held in ACANZP over recent years (driven forward by ++Moxon and directly catalytical of the report above). Our church now recognises collectively (so I am told by interpreters of the mood of our church) that however we move forward on these matters, we cannot do so by leaving the Bible closed in an anteroom to the room in which we make decisions.
But all the above is consistent with a generalised understanding that 'Scripture is important to Anglican life'. Can Anglicans say more than that? Should Anglicans say more than that? In particular, what about claims from evangelical Anglicans that Scripture is authoritative for our faith and practice?
An insight I would like to share is this: the authority of Scripture is like the authority of Christ.
But time is up and mundane but urgent tasks of the day call loudly, sands of time before Christmas falling fast and all that, I shall return to that insight ...