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The Archbishop of Armagh's Boulder

In his address at Clonmacnoise on Sunday 22nd July the Archbishop of Armagh stated:
“Bibliolatry is a boulder threatening to obscure the dynamic and contemporary truth of the resurrection. It is also the mother of dogmatic fundamentalism. Love for the scriptures is tainted when scripture and not God becomes the object of worship.”

Whilst the archbishop had much to say in his address which is to be commended and respected, the above statement needs to be challenged. The issue of human sexuality and Scriptures teaching on this issue is the subtext of his attack on his unnamed ‘bibliolaters.’ The hostility, which those who would hold to the biblical and historical teaching of the church face, is seen in the assertion that some within the Church of Ireland (and the Anglican Communion) have placed the Bible over Jesus. The Archbishop erroneously accuses those who would wish to hold to a historically orthodox view of human sexuality of being worshippers of the Bible — that we are "bibliolaters." If that were true, everyone ought to rise up as one man and repudiate it! But that, in fact, is not the case.

What is behind this accusation? Is it just an expression of the pro-gay lobby? A ploy in which theological garb is draped over what is in reality a political objection to the orthodox viewpoint and its statements of biblical Christianity? The duplicity behind such a charge would be bad enough. But the situation may be even worse than that! The truth is that those crying "bibliolatry" are covering their own aberrant view of Scripture. The peril that menaces the body of Christ is not exalting the Scripture over the Son — but exalting human reason over both Scripture and Son! The Bible does not stand over Christ — but stands over all "human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions". There is no dispute between Jesus and the Bible. Jesus is to be worshipped — the Bible is not to be!

Whilst the Archbishop is at liberty to reflect on the issues facing the Anglican Communion, and therefore the Church of Ireland, his attack on those who would hold to biblical and historical church teaching on this issue is at odds with his previous calls ‘to listen’ with respect to those with whom we differ. If some are in danger of ‘bibliolatry’ then equally some are in danger of denying the plain teaching of Scripture completely.

This was already a problem before the issue of human sexuality within the Anglican communion came to such prominence. In fact, for more than a hundred years, those who hold a low view of Scripture have seized upon any pretext to challenge its authority. Their own biases against the Bible stimulate them to irreverently attempt the impossible — to use Jesus as a wedge between God and the Scriptures he himself inspired. Exhibiting sanctimonious fraud of the lowest order, and hoping to seize the high ground by appealing to the ‘spirit of Jesus’, they undercut the authority of whatever part of the Scriptures they wish to dodge or dismiss. In this case the clear teaching that a ‘homosexual lifestyle’ is incompatible with Scripture and therefore incompatible with being a follower of Christ Jesus.

The accusation of bibliolatry is fraudulent. It is a classic piece of PR rhetoric which has all the depth of T S Eliot’s ‘straw men’. There is no substance, nor truth to the accusation. In fact those he accuses of worshipping the Bible are in fact those who uphold the clear teaching of Scripture and the historic credal statements of the Church of Ireland in face of those, like the Archbishop, who would wish to accept as legitimate what the Scriptures teach as sinful.

Reform Ireland is disappointed that the Archbishop has chosen an act of worship as an opportunity to attack those who believe what Scripture teaches and to undermine the authority of Scripture within the life of the Church of Ireland. We remind him that the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Ordinal and the Book of Common Prayer all place Scripture as the supreme authority within the life of an individual Christian and within the Church of Ireland. He may wish to deny its inspiration, inerrancy and sufficiency but in so doing he is worshipping human reason.

Reform Ireland believes that the following statement by John R.W. Stott to Billy Graham's Amsterdam 2000 conference for evangelists provides a timely and much needed exhortation: "The Scriptures have the content, authority, and power for a proper evangelistic message… God has clothed His thoughts in words, and there is no way to know Him except by knowing the Scriptures… We can't even read each other's minds, much less what is in the mind of God."

May we all pray that those called to the task of shepherding the people of God within the Church of Ireland do so according to Scripture and may their lives, as well as their teaching, reflect the truth of the written Word of God.

23th Aug 2007

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