In 1950 most theologians and bishops of the Episcopal Church were content to state that the Anglican Way was based on Scripture, tradition and reason. (This formula is usually traced to Richard Hooker although he never actually stated it as such.) They claimed that this formula rightly summarized the theological method of the standard divines of the Anglican Way who treated the Bible as the Word of God, to be read and interpreted by godly reason informed by the best insights of the Church over the centuries and in the light of her Creeds and Formularies.
Then after the 1960s the formula became - Scripture, tradition, reason & experience.
After the social and cultural revolution of the 1960s, it was apparently difficult for broad-minded people to deny, for example, that the EXPERIENCE of struggle for liberation and human dignity/ equality by ethnic groups and by women was a source of human knowledge and even of divine revelation. Thus the ECUSA began to innovate in doctrine and discipline - and later in liturgy - to incorporate the insights and lessons from experience! Thus, the ordination of women, the equating of the kingdom of God with the search for justice and peace, the relaxing of marriage discipline and then the inclusive language for church services and bible readings. (The beginnings of all this are clearly to be seen in the 1979 prayer book of the ECUSA.)
Now, in 2003, within the more radical parts of the ECUSA, the formula has been turned inside out and is: Experience, scripture, tradition and reason.
What is selectively taken from the social, cultural scene and from the human sciences dominates the mindset of the new Episcopal religion. The Scripture is read in such a way as to conform to - not challenge - the latest revelation from EXPERIENCE, and reason is used to make sure that Scripture and tradition do not provide any substantial arguments against what is taken as prophetic and innovatory word of God from EXPERIENCE. The Gay Agenda in the churches is the most obvious but not the only example of the working out of the new formula, for serial monogamy with church blessing is close by it. In fact when Experience takes over as THE source of authority and doctrine then of course it is no longer The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is worshipped but rather some idol of human creation.
The classic 1,2,3,4 & 5 of the Anglican Way were and remain : ONE Canon of Scripture; TWO Testaments within it; THREE Creeds to summarize its essential content; FOUR Ecumenical Councils to provide the essential dogma concerning the Holy Trinity and the Identity of Jesus Christ based on Scripture; and FIVE centuries of church life, liturgy, polity, canon law and Bible interpretation to learn from.
Here there is experience but it is experience within the doctrinal, ethical and liturgical framework and it is experience of God, grace, salvation and so on.
The new 1,2,3,4 & 5 is wholly innovatory and is probably:
- Contemporary experience as reported by the human & behavioral sciences;
- personal experience of self-worth, self-realization and self-expression;
- corporate experience in social and political activism;
- congregational & synodical experience in religious worship and fellowship;
- and individual meditation, prayer, reading of holy books and seeking after "God".
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)