Or, ‘Canonical Reading’ v ‘Private Judgement’.

First, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, from here: ‘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… In Athanasius’s first volume Contra Arianos… 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”.’

Second, Bishop of Liverpool J. C. Ryle, from Knots Untied: ‘The principle laid down is this: “Prove all things by the Word of God;—Measure all by the measure of the Bible.—Compare all with the standard of the Bible.—Test all in the crucible of the Bible. That which can abide the fire of the Bible, receive, hold, believe, and obey. That which cannot abide the fire of the Bible, reject, refuse, repudiate, and cast away.” This is private judgment. This is the right we are bound to exercise. We are not to believe things in religion merely because they are said by Popes or Cardinals,—by Bishops or Priests,—by Presbyters or Deacons,—by Churches, Councils, or Synods,—by Fathers, Puritans, or even Reformers. We are not to argue, “Such and such things must be true, because these men say so.” We are to prove all things by the Word of God.’

For a moment Rowan Williams sounds right, almost biblical, but what he is saying is that once the church authorities, whether General Council or General Convention, have agreed on the meaning or application of a particular passage of Scripture, it is binding on all members of the church for ever after. No second examination is necessary, or even permissible. ‘This is how we corporately read the Bible’—love it or leave it. This is, of course, a contradiction of the Articles of Religion (Book of Common Prayer p 872): ‘General Councils… may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.’

Evangelicals say the Nicene Creed because it expresses the truth found in Scripture, not because it is an official policy of the church. To accept it simply because the church says it would be a dereliction of duty. Ryle, once more: ‘God requires every Christian man to use the right of which I have just spoken;—to compare man’s words and man’s writings with God’s revelation, and to make sure that he is not deluded and taken in by false teaching.’

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