We continue our exploration of the "Jerusalem Declaration" (the full text of which can be found here: https://www.gafcon.org/resources/the-complete-jerusalem-statement). This week we look at point four: The Articles of Religion.
We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglican today.
Growing up in the Episcopal Church, it was not until I got to seminary at age 21 that I heard of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. I hadn’t heard about them in baptismal preparation, confirmation preparation, bible study, or in a sermon. I suppose I had seen them in the back of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, under the title of “Historical Documents.” However, these were not held out as historical documents like the U.S. Constitution (laying out the foundation of our democracy); the impression was that these were old, dusty, and out dated doctrines. Imagine my surprise when, in seminary, I began to read them and discovered a wonderful summation of the doctrines of the church for today, and a beautiful snapshot of the church in the midst of a world-wide reformation.
We find ourselves in the midst of another world-wide reformation, and once again the believing Anglican provinces are pointing toward the Thirty-nine Articles as a foundation for the doctrines of the church, which in turn point toward the authority of scripture.
The Thirty-nine Articles are divided into sections:
Articles 1-5 underscore the authority of the Creeds (which, we spoke of in last week’s Bishop’s Note), affirming the true nature of our One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, along with the dual nature of Jesus Christ being at the same time fully God and fully man.
Articles 6-8 affirm the authority of the Holy Scriptures as containing all things necessary for salvation. They also establish the Canon of the Bible being the 66 books that are used for the establishment of the faith of the church. The apocryphal books are important and good for study, but do not rise to the level of Holy Writ.
Articles 9-18 establish the uniqueness of Christ for Salvation. In other words, there is no other way to heaven except through Jesus Christ and Him alone! These articles remind us of our sinful nature and our inability to “earn” our way into heaven.
Articles 19-22 speak of the Church and her ability to order life, but only in so far as she agrees with scripture; scripture is the supreme authority. These articles especially distance the Anglican Church and doctrines from the Roman Catholic Church and doctrines such as “Limbo, purgatory and the re-sacrifice of Christ at the Eucharist.” Because these doctrines cannot be found in scripture, we cannot place our faith in them.
Articles 23-34 teach on ministry and the sacraments. Here we are reminded that the ministers of the church (all baptized believers), and specifically the ordained ministers, are to preach and teach the Word of God. Ordained ministers are also to faithfully administer the sacraments of the church. These Articles lay out the two primary sacraments of the Lord, namely Baptism and Holy Eucharist, because they are instituted by Jesus in Scripture. The other five rites, Marriage, Confirmation, Private Confession, Ordination, and Extreme Unction are questioned as “sacraments,” since there is no witness of Jesus in the scriptures instituting these. There is no question that they are “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace,” but for many in the Anglican world, using the term “sacrament” is problematic. For us in the Diocese of San Joaquin, we follow the tradition of the early church, practicing these rites as sacraments. Thus, I refer to them as the Sacraments of Jesus – Baptism and Holy Eucharist – and the Sacraments of the Church – Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination, Confession and Absolution, and Extreme Unction.
Articles 35-39 lay out the necessity for Christians in particular, and the Church in general, to submit to authority. These articles also layout the sovereignty of the King of England.
I pray you all a truly blessed week!