A King James Bible from 1613, partially translated by Lancelot Andrewes.

One Canon, Two Testaments (Andrewes’ Principle, Pt. 1)

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One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments…

Lancelot Andrewes

There is no Luther or Calvin for Anglicanism. This is paradoxically a strength and a weakness. It could be considered a strength not to be tied to one particular theologian. The 21st century gives moderns a plethora of examples of what can happen when a ministry becomes too tied to one person: both gifts and sins are magnified, with one tending to outshine the other.

The weakness of this, however, is that boundaries can become fuzzy. A lack of clear definition can lead to a grab-bag of “have it your way” Christianity. Modern North American Anglicanism knows this all too well: debates about Anglicanism’s historical origins are a dime a dozen, as are the debates about its doctrinal core and boundaries. We continue to shift blame for this apparent confusion. Evangelicals blame the Oxford Movement for upsetting the Reformational heritage, and the Anglo-Catholics keep calling for a renewed sense of Anglicanism’s catholicity.

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Andrewes’ Unifying Principle

A unifying principle for this catholicity can be identified in a saying by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes. One of the Caroline Divines, Andrewes rallies Anglicans of all kinds due to his place in history. He is in line with the English Reformation and its particular flavor while also showing tendencies that find allies in modern Anglo-Catholics. His sermons show his acumen and brilliance. This is no surprise, given how he was one of the key translators of what has come down to us as the monumental King James Version of Holy Scripture. 

Andrewes fits neatly into no camp. He speaks highly of Calvin’s Institutes, then turns and lauds the Fathers of the Church. He magnifies the Blessed Virgin Mary but also promotes justification by faith alone. His mediating position allows him to be profited from by all. His common principle, given below, can serve as a beacon amidst today’s muddled ecumenical talk.

One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period—the centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.

Lancelot Andrewes

Over the next three posts, we will break down these foundations on which Andrewes says our tradition rests. Today, we address “one canon… two testaments.”

One Canon Reduced To Writing By God Himself

One Canon

The word “canon” in the first section comes from the Latin word meaning “rule.” Every belief system must have a rule to guide it. Press deeply into any system, and its canon will emerge. For Hinduism, it is the Bhagavad Gita; for Muslims, it’s the Koran and the Hadith; for atheists, nothing but time, matter, and chance, plus their own randomly evolved brain. Families even have canons: unstated beliefs, practices, and norms of behavior that govern their social interactions.

Christians have likewise affirmed a canon. Specifically, we claim that our rule of faith is contained in a book.

Reduced to Writing by God

Claiming our canon is “reduced to writing” is Andrewes’ genteel stab at the two largest branches of Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Both of these branches, in various ways, claim that there is an unwritten history of sacred tradition that Christians must hold to. The Catechism of the Catholic Church even says that “both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”

For Andrewes, this is not Anglicanism. The Fathers of the Church, from Clement to the venerable Augustine of Hippo, were wise and holy men who must be honored and studied, but none of them are above the written Word. 

This is nothing less than a commitment to sola Scriptura. It is a belief that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith for Christians. Andrews will add the necessary qualifications to this statement later on, but it is worth pausing here to let our souls soak in what we currently have. We do not need to worry about if we have missed a great truth from our God that is necessary for our souls because we did not read St. Cyprian in high school. It would be wonderful and beneficial if we did. We should even make the time if we can, but this reading will not give us a secret truth that God would have us know. What our Lord wants us to know—what he would have us obey—is written in his book.

Two Testaments

Of course, the Scriptures are not just one book but a collection of over sixty books spanning over a thousand years of human history. We have easily divided this book into two main sections, “Old” and “New.” The first section deals with the history of humanity, the calling of Abraham, and the overall failure of the Israelite religio-political state. The New Testament picks up this thread with the One who comes to embody all that Israel could not be: Christ comes as the greater Abraham, the greater Samson, the greater David, and the True Israel of God. 

The Old Covenant

The history of God’s people is inherently relational. We see this in the very names given to its division in the Old Testament and New Testament: “testament” is simply a 16th-century word for “covenant.” The Scriptures, then, fall into the divisions of “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant.”

The “Old Covenant” Scriptures, or the first half of our Bible, show modern readers the history of God’s interaction with his people. It is not primarily a history book but rather a record of God’s salvific actions. Particularly, it records how man’s sinfulness seems to constantly override God’s actions. 

The New Covenant

Enter the New Testament—or NewCovenant. This covenantal relationship, God declares, will not be like the Old (Jer. 31, Heb. 8). God, in the person of Christ, has now decidedly dealt with the sin problem. It is true that believers in the Old Covenant benefitted from the work of Christ before his incarnation (see Article 7 of the 39 Articles). Still, that fact alone shows us the importance of the period in which we now live. We no longer look at Christ under types and shadows (Heb. 8:5): we “with open face [are] beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3.18). We do not look at our testaments to see facts but to see God.

Entering the Story of Salvation

The Christian message is unique among the religions of the world. Our documents do not present us with a series of scientific facts to be tested and accepted. Instead, we have a record spanning 1,500 years, 40 authors, and three continents; we have a relational history in which the Triune God has interacted with us in all our messiness. We have a record of highs and lows—of David’s giants and David’s Bathshebas. Above all, we see how that story climaxed in the person of Jesus Christ. We see him bringing in the greater glory of the New Covenant, where we enter into the joy of salvation full and free.


Photo of a 1613 King James Bible by Michael Penhallow from Getty Images, courtesy of Canva.

Author

James Hodges

James Hodges, of Ridgeway, VA, is a Kindergarten Teacher in the local public school system and teaches the Junior Church in his local congregation. He is husband to Anna and father to Lilabet.

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