Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, days of prayer and thinking. Following his example, we try to keep Lent each year as a time of thinking about our faith, but how do we think?
In the Church of Ireland, we have followed the Anglican way and we have seen our faith as being shaped by three strands: Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Scripture is believed by Anglicans to contain all that we need to believe. Article 6 of our Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion says, “Holy Scriptures 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.”
When we attend church meetings, when we hear of arguments in churches, how often do we ask ourselves what does the Bible say about this? How often do we look at what churches say or do and ask ourselves, does the Bible require this?
Tradition is part of the faith of every church, to a greater or lesser extent. The New Testament came out of the early church and the early church decided what would be included in the New Testament. Most churches, of whatever tradition, accept Christian doctrine as set out in the Creeds, because the Creeds have been shaped by the same experiences as shaped Scripture. Anglicans accept the authority of tradition, but that tradition must always be measured against what the Bible says.
Scripture and tradition are interwoven with a third strand, that of human reason. As the centuries have passed, the days of the New Testament and the early church have become more and more distant, we live now in a world very different from those times and we have to interpret what our faith says about the questions facing us today. It is not an easy task and Christians may disagree deeply about the Christian response to issues. We pray at such times that the Holy Spirit will guide our reason; we need reason as the third strand in what shapes our faith in order to understand the meaning of Scripture and tradition for our own time.
If our faith as members of the Church of Ireland should be shaped by Scripture, Tradition and Reason, then Lent might be a time of looking at our own beliefs, examining our own thinking, and testing them against the faith of the church.