The Vault

SCRIPTURE: Is it really all we need?

In 1955, when T.C. Hammond came to the 6th of his reflections on the 39 articles, he did something different. He didn’t write one piece for the ACR. He wrote two. And then followed them up with a third piece in the next issue. Why? Why this extra attention on Article 6? It seems that in this article he saw a watershed moment. Articles 1-5 covered doctrines which were foundational, but they were largely accepted by the Christian community. Article 6 was different. It was contested. And as with any point of contention this presented a choice – a choice to speak less and move on or to talk more, in love, about what it means. T.C. chose to do the latter.

Article six is still a watershed moment. It is still contested. And we still have a choice: to speak less and move on, or to talk more, in love, about what it means. Let us be people of the Lord by being people of his word.

Given the significance of Article 6, we’re going to follow T.C.’s lead and spend the next few weeks reflecting on the sufficiency and authority of scripture in our ACR Vault articles. First we’ll hear from T.C. and then from D.B. Knox through a pair of extended articles he wrote in 1948.

So to kick off, here’s the first of T.C.’s reflections on article 6. Enjoy.


By Archdeacon T. C. Hammond.


Article 6: Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

The Sixth Article introduces us to the first of many issues that confronted the Church of the sixteenth century. Hitherto we have been occupied with foundation doctrines accepted by the great body of those who profess the Christian faith and rejected only by a tiny minority.

But now we are challenged to define our attitude to a highly debatable subject that sharply divided the Church of the sixteenth century and still divides her.

There are two subjects dealt with in the Article. We may describe them as (a) The sufficiency of Holy Scripture. (b) The extent of the Canon of Scripture.

The Religion of Protestants.

The Article firmly declares “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

Chillingworth, the nephew of Archbishop Laud who was induced to join the Church of Rome and subsequently returned to the Church of England, has summed up this particular assertion in the words “The Bible, and the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants.” The Article asserts that everything which God has revealed concerning the salvation of man in to be found in Holy Scripture. These are either explicit statements or inevitable deductions from the words of Scripture and these combined form the whole deposit of faith.

Against this express limitation to the written Word of God, the champions of the medieval system placed a threefold rule of faith. They admitted, and we cannot insist too strongly on the fact, that Holy Scripture came from God. The Council of Trent embodied this belief in the remarkable words: “(The Synod) , following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament — seeing that one God is the Author of both.”

Concerning the authority of Sacred Scripture there was no controversy. Bishop Milner, the celebrated Roman Catholic controversialist of the opening nineteenth century, says that the dispute was not as to the authority of the Word of God but as to what constituted the Word of God.

But the Council of Trent goes on to assert that the Synod also accepts traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.”

Thus the Council fixes the opinion that outside of Scripture there is a large body of evidence in “unwritten traditions” which have come down to us “transmitted as it were from hand to hand.” Later Roman Catholic theologians add to the declaration of the Council that such traditions concerning the words and acts of our Lord and of His Apostles were afterwards committed to writing by the Fathers. The Church of England definitely declares that there are no such subsequent traditions that are of sufficient authority and importance that they can be ranked as binding principles. They cannot be received as articles of the Faith and they are not requisite or necessary to salvation. Unlike the Church of England, the Church of Rome has recourse to this mass of traditionary material as “testimonies and authorities” for “confirming dogmas” and “restoring morals in the Church.”

The third strand in this threefold cord in the Roman Catholic “Rule of Faith” is given as follows:—”No one, relying on his own skill, shall—in matters of faith, and of morals, pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine —wresting the Sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said Sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church — whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures — hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers . . . Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by the law established.” When we place this decree of the Council of  Trent side by side with the Sixth Article we obtain a very clear presentation of the difference on the question of ultimate authority between the Church of Rome and the members of the various Reformed Churches.

This article from the ACR Vault is the sixth in our Articulate series, listening to T.C. Hammond unpack the 39 Articles, one by one.

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