A few nights ago, our new little church in Parker County, Texas met to begin gathering a launch team for our new church. It is part of the life of any new church that you form a team of people that will work together, going in a single direction, to begin a new worshipping community, to invite new people into relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and to launch the worship of the church at some as yet undefined point in the future. In the course of our meeting, I asked the gathered community to think back about what they love about the Anglican tradition and why is it that we need a new Episcopal mission in this part of the country at this point in time. In the interim day that passed, I considered my own question and have been mulling over my own response to what it is that I love about my church and the traditions that I have inherited as an Episcopalian. One of the things that I love about my church and about the Anglican tradition as a whole is that we are a Bible church.
The truth of being a Bible church is to say that we are a tradition that takes Holy Scripture very seriously and that begins with a literal understanding of what we find in the collection of books that has come to be known as the Bible. Now, the real question in that statement is to get at what I mean when I say that we, as a tradition, take the Bible literally. The Oxford English Dictionary first defines literal to mean ‘taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or exaggeration.’ It is in this way that I understand The Episcopal Church to take the Bible literally. We first read the words that are written on the page. Or perhaps, as Rowan Williams reminds us in his book Being Christian, we hear first the words as they are written on the page.1 Our understanding of what God is saying to us begins with the literal in that it is only in the literal sense that we can comprehend the reading. We begin with the contours of the letters as they are written on the page and from there search for meaning within the reading. Thus, in very important ways, The Episcopal Church (and the Anglican tradition as a whole) takes the Bible literally without also meaning that a literal reading of Scripture necessarily entails an association with fundamentalism, a “disastrous shrinkage” of the definition of literal.2
It is, then, in the world of the text that we begin and that we spend the most time as we continue to ask the question “What does God want us to hear?” We begin with the letters on the page, and we remain in the world of the written text for the longest amount of time as we seek to know the contours of the landscape we are reading. The world of the text grants to us the ability to engage our ears to see the grace of God. The world of the text invites us to use our eyes to hear the grace of God as it moves in our lives as a community. The world of the text is the place in which we begin. It is the place that asks us to take time out of our lives to dwell in the written word, to ask how I find the self in the reading(s) for the day, and to ask how God is inviting our community to renewal and refreshment through the hearing (or reading) of Holy Scripture.
It is important to stress that the reading of Scripture happens in togetherness. Even when I sit alone with the Bible to read Scripture, I am reading that Scripture in the community of the tradition of the Church. I am reading the Scripture in the context of my faith community and seeking answers to the questions above through and with that same community. As a practice of the community, as something that we commit to doing every day (which you can do with a simple email subscription to The Daily Word), the Bible becomes an essential part of the Christian life.3 We read Scripture together; we seek meaning together; we listen for God’s call together. And we do all of this with a literal understanding of Holy Scripture. We do all of this precisely because we are a Bible church.
- Rowan Williams (2014). Bible in Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, prayer (pp. 21-39). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
- Rowan Williams (2008). The Discipline of Scripture in On Christian theology (p. 48). Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.
- Being Christian, p. 39.