The 7th Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture - Report

It was a great joy to be back at Lambeth Palace for the Tyndale Society's 7th Lambeth Lecture, held in the historic Guard Room on 16 October 2001.

His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed us and then introduced the speaker, Michael Nazir-Ali, 106th Bishop of Rochester, pointing out that his cosmopolitan education had resulted in an expertise, not only in theology but also in Christian-Islamic relationships, which was so relevant at this time.

Bishop Nazir-Ali reminded us about two of his predecessors at Rochester Bishop John Fisher whose condemnation of the teaching of Luther provoked vigorous disagreement from William Tyndale, and the martyr, Nicholas Ridley, who had served at Rochester prior to his appointment to London.

The subject of the lecture was Scripture and the Shaping of the Church and Bishop Michael postulated that, although the shape of the Church was partly determined by the shape of the contemporary world, of more importance was the receiving and handing down of the Gospel through the ages from community to community. The Apostolic Witness to the historical Jesus and the conversion of Paul and his relationship with the Risen Lord had produced Tradition, which was a response to the Gospel, but at times a distortion of the Gospel.

The great Apostolic Tradition had selected the Canon of Scripture, rooted in the Jewish scriptures; apostolic authorship was based on the Rule of Faith. recognizing Scripture as the Word of God, but the choice was not finally defined until the 4th Century AD. Scripture is a unique Divine intervention by the transcendent Word into our mundane world: 'inspiration' occurred with the single God-breathed record and rose above the writers' skills, so that the Divine element was not obscured by their characteristic styles; this was expressed by Henry Martyn 'The sense was from God and the expression from the authors'.

Scripture has always motivated its readers, and since its easy availability in English, thanks to William Tyndale, it has also influenced our culture and literature: this was illustrated by the widespread positive response to the exhibition Seeing Salvation in 2000, Scripture has inspired Christian endeavour by giving moral guidance, so that people responded by faithfulness, sacrificial giving, suffering and even dying for their faith.

Bishop Michael then elaborated on the two views regarding Divine Revelation to the world — Scripture and Tradition were the bases of the belief of Thomas More and John Fisher, but Tyndale's faith was founded on Scripture only. Scripture and Tradition are not additional to each other, but it is necessary to discern in the flow of Apostolic Tradition what is truly apostolic and what is the formative place of Scripture within that tradition. There are broad themes in which Scripture affirms all that is necessary for faith and conduct, but the context surrounding the various books of the Bible differs and also their languages. Throughout there is an insistence that God the Creator has a plan for the universe, developing through Redemption History to the world views of today — Philip Doddridge stressed that 'study of the Scripture gave us greater insight into the mind of God'.

Bishop Michael mentioned problems of human evil, e.g. war, genocide, famine through human weakness, and the place of the common good and the promised redemption of creation. Regarding God's choice of the Jews in the fulfilment of His universal purposes, he showed that the God who saves Israel is the God who saves the world through Christ. The Incarnation demonstrated God's love, and He suffers when rejected; through the Cross, humanity will be recreated in God's image, but our response must be repentance — our goal should be 'what in Christ we may become' (George Herbert). Scripture reveals how Christ's death was substitutionary and victory over the devil was achieved: the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — were involved respectively in the creation, redemption and sanctification of the Church.

As a continuous Divine Purpose is fulfilled in nature, God communicates with humans through conscience, prophets and saints, acting through the lives of people. Conscience must be grounded in Scripture if it is to have the capacity of discerning right from wrong: there are dangers in accepting syncretism outside the Apostolic Tradition, and Scripture must be the rule of faith when seeking ecumenical agreement. Thus the Apostles at the Council of Jerusalem in AD 49 appealed to Scripture when discussing the admission of Gentiles to the Church.

Bishop Michael dealt with the social issues of slavery, justice and family relationships in some detail. Slavery was accepted as inherent in Early Church society although the Church affirmed the freedom to be found in Christ: the institution of slavery was not challenged until the 18th Century when Evangelicals in Britain protested against it on the grounds that as all are equal in dignity before God, so should all be treated as equals in society.

Since World War II we have seen a growing awareness of inequalities and the rise of Liberation Theology: God suffers with the poor and there are many pleas now for compassion and justice, based on Christ's empathy expressed in the Synagogue at Nazareth at the start of His ministry. 'God is good and His final purposes must be good'. (Thomas Aquinas)

Regarding the place of men and women in Church and society, the changing roles outside the Church led to the ordination of women, but this has posed a problem when discussing links with Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the question of ordination to the episcopacy continues unresolved. New understanding is still needed, but in situations of conflict Scripture must be the final arbiter. Scripture affirms and confirms human knowledge of the material world, and scholarship need not be hostile: the confirmation of Biblical statements by archaeology, etc., is admitted by critical investigation.

As an example of the Church's engagement with the world, Bishop Michael spoke of his membership of the Ethical Consultative Committee of the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (his is the only religious voice); dialogues regarding such new issues as the status of the embryo, personhood, embryo research and cloning can be undertaken using criteria from the Apostolic Tradition.

But when engaging in dialogues with the world in the marketplace and seeking relevance, the Church must not lose its moorings, and when developing fresh ways of proclaiming good news to contemporary society the Church must show love and preach the Gospel. Apostolic Tradition and the Holy Spirit can shape the Church to meet today's challenges.

Archbishop George Carey thanked Bishop Michael, and then reminded us that Tyndale's view of Scripture changed lives and society — he was passionate about the power of Scripture and the Church today must be so too We were invited to discussion while mingling and enjoying refreshments. later a group of about 60 joined for a meal together at a nearby hotel. It was truly memorable evening.

© Eunice R Burton, November 2001


Further elaboration of the ideas expressed in this lecture can be found in Bishop; Michael Nazir-Ali's recently published book entitled Shapes of the Church to Come, Kingsway, November 2001, ISBN 0-85476-891-2, 8.99.

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