The Three-Legged Stool

For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church was the only form of Christianity in Europe. The power of the church paralleled the political power of kings. Cathedrals were built throughout Europe paid for by selling “get out of hell” statements called “indulgences.” Men from miles around were forcibly impressed to toil on construction of these magnificent structures in a near slave-labor situation.
 
By the 13th century, universities began to flourish in Europe. Classical languages of antiquity – Greek, Latin, Hebrew had been brought into southern Europe by the Muslims in southern Spain. This led to a strong interest in translating all sorts of ancient texts as well as the bible. The Moravians were probably the first to translate the bible into the local tongue almost a century before Martin Luther. As Luther observed the fund-raising techniques for cathedral building programs, he vigorously objected stating that the church should only do things that are warranted by scripture.
 
The Protestant Reformation was launched that All Hallows Eve in 1515 with Luther’s 96 Theses nailed to the door of the chapel. The Roman Catholic Church had created one leg of this imaginary stool which is church tradition in the form of the liturgies, practices, governing structure and church laws. The Protestants’ rallying cry was “sola scriptura” (Latin for only scripture) meaning that the Bible was the only point of authority in their lives, not the tradition of the church.
 
By the time the “parliamentary reformation” swept through England under Henry VIII, the Church of England found it had strong adherents among the clergy who were sympathetic with either the old Catholic traditions or the new Protestant rejection of all things Roman Catholic. Upon acceding to the throne, Elizabeth I told her clergy that they would maintain both Protestant and Roman Catholic natures within the Church of England as long as everyone worshipped from the same Book of Common Prayer. It was a political compromise preventing more division and enabling diversity of practices with a unity of belief.
 
Theologian Richard Hooker first posited the three-legged stool claiming that the Roman Catholic Church created one leg of the stool of church tradition. The Protestants created the second leg of the Bible, and the Church of England insisted that a third leg was necessary for a stable stool. That third leg was human reason. You must use your God-given brains to read the bible and attend church.
 
If you fail to use your brains to approach your faith, you are likely to believe all kinds of crazy stuff that somebody else tells you. Episcopalians may like to drink wine and dance, but we reject a lot of the crazy things you hear in other churches.

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