Scripture, tradition and reason: A three-legged stool

In Anglicanism, and in the Episcopal Church, the cornerstones of our faith and sources of authority are scripture, tradition and reason. The balance between each of these three sources is often characterized as a three-legged stool – a concept attributed to Anglican theologian Richard Hooker (1554-1600).

A stool with three legs will collapse if any one of the legs is not equal with the others. And so it is with the balance between scripture, tradition and reason in church doctrine. Because they are held as equal in authority, each of these sources needs to be interpreted in context with the other two.

Scripture

Scripture is the word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The 39 books of the Old Testament contain the story of God’s love from the time of creation to the birth of his son, Jesus Christ. The books contain God’s laws as He gave them to the Hebrew people.

The New Testament contains Christ’s teachings, the accounts of his life as told by his followers and the beginning of his Church. It is written in 27 books. Within an Episcopal worship service, Scripture is read in the lessons, the Gospel (the teachings of Jesus), the Psalms (poems from the Old Testament) and other prayers.

Additionally, 2/3 of our guide to worship, the Book of Common Prayer, comes directly from the Old and New Testaments.

Tradition

We are not Christians in isolation but are part of a living faith that spans 2000 years. Tradition is the embodiment of our experience as Christians throughout the centuries. The heart of our tradition is expressed through the Bible, the Creeds (statements of faith, written in the first centuries of the Church’s existence), the Sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism and the ordained ministry passed on by Christ to his Church.

Our tradition is expressed with many voices, among which are a variety of worship styles, languages, cultures, architecture and music. Our tradition encourages this diversity. We seek to value the life and story each person brings to the community of faith. As in a multi-textured tapestry, each person’s offering is woven into the life of the whole, making it stronger and more beautiful.

Reason

Each one of us, with God’s help, makes a decision about how we use tradition and Scripture in our lives. A personal relationship with God allows us to realize and celebrate our lives to the fullest. The gift of reason, as a complement to Scripture and tradition, leads us to seek answers to our own questions and to grow spiritually. Being active in a community of faith strengthens us to carry our faith into the world. Weaving Scripture, tradition and reason together, we strengthen our faith and grow as children of God.

Sources:

Authority, Sources of (in Anglicanism),” http://episcopalchurch.org

Episcopal Diocese of Texas, http://epicenter.org

Related Posts