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Confidence in the Bible - General Synod debate, February 2010

Friday 12th February 2010

General Synod, London. In his contribution to this debate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, underlined the need for greater biblical literacy within the Church.

The Archbishoph also highlighted a new Anglican Communion project 'The Bible in the Church', which encourages a shared reading and interpretation of scripture across the Communion.

Read a transcript of the Archbishop's contribution below, or click download on the right to listen [4Mb]

Archbishop'scontribution to the General Synod debate on Confidence in the Bible

I want to support this amendment very enthusiastically, particularly because of its fourth clause. There's mention there of celebrating and teaching the Bible both within the Church and throughout wider society, and I was a little anxious with the original version of the motion that we didn't have quite enough about the need to promote biblical literacy within the Church. This point has already been touched on in the discussion, and I'd just like to underline it.

In days gone by I used to have a bit to do with Anglican Renewal Ministries in Wales and one of the common experiences that I acquired during that period was looking over orders of service at Renewal services up and down the province, and saying, "where's the scripture reading?". I think there really is an issue there – that we have really allowed ourselves (as the previous speaker very effectively noted) to drift into an assumption that missional or renewed worship is somehow absolved from engagement with scripture in any sustained way, and I really think we do need to take that to heart.

A few days ago, also, I enjoyed meeting with representatives of the Church of England Youth Council, and there are some here and I'm sure they would like to speak for themselves but... one thing that struck me in that conversation was their concern about levels of biblical literacy in their own younger Christian environment; their concern also that confirmation instruction in many of our churches didn't seem to be getting to grips with this. They, as a Youth Council, are very, very eager to take this up, to push it back towards the Archbishops' Council and towards the Synod - and I think it's fair that I should give you warning that this is on the way and seems to me to have excellent synergy with the Motion before us.

One other point about the wider setting is that in the Anglican Communion at the moment we are undertaking a project on the Bible in the Church. Various regional hubs of interest are working on this in Africa, in South and North America, in Asia, and the hope is that there will be some focused work on a number of issues around the Communion based on the effort to tease out (and I apologise for the jargon) a hermeneutic that we can share in common. But what I want to stress there is the title of that project: The Bible in the Church. The Bible is not just a quarry for individual Christians to fish in and come out with bright ideas. There is such a thing as canonical reading of scripture. That is to say, in the formative years in which Christian doctrine attained its classic shape in the Creeds, the debate was not about ideas in the abstract but about the interpretation of scripture. Those of you, dozens and dozens I'm sure, who've waded through the long sections in Athanasius's first volume Contra Arianos will know that the extended discussions there of Psalm 45, Psalm 110, Hebrews 1 and so forth are the very lifeblood of the doctrinal argument. And what emerges, not only in the form of the Creed of Nicaea, but also in the revised and consolidated form that was approved in 381 - you realise that what's going on there is the Church saying, "this is how you read the Bible, this is how we corporately read the Bible in a way which honours the full divinity of Christ and not otherwise".

So, I think in the context of looking at a Bible in the Church project Communion-wide and the context of the excellent proposals that are before us in this motion, this amendment, we should simply be aware that the Bible is a book that we read and in which and through which we discern corporately that part of our discipleship is that shared reading of scripture in which we seek both to submit ourselves to the canonical word and the canonical reading, and also to submit ourselves in charity to one another in that process of reading.

© Rowan Williams 2010

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