By Robin G. Jordan
In this part of “The Three Marks of the Visible Church” we will be examining what provisions that the sixteenth century English Reformers incorporated into the Thirty-Nine Article of Religion of 1571 to ensure that the sacraments were duly administered and rightly used in the reformed Church of England and that English churches evidenced the second mark of the visible Church of Christ.
The English Reformers, like their Continental counterparts, rejected the sacramental system of the Church of Rome. This sacramental system had evolved in the Middle Ages and recognized seven sacraments—baptism, the Lord’s Supper, confirmation, penance, ordination, matrimony, and extreme unction. The Reformers concluded from their study of the New Testament that God had ordained only two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In his Apology for the Church of England, John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury under Elizabeth I, wrote the classical defense of the Protestant faith of the reformed Church of England against Roman Catholic charges. The Apology served as an interim confession of faith of the Church of England until the adoption of the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion in 1571. The churchwardens of all English parish churches were required to obtain a copy of the Apology and place it where the parishioners could read it. Jewel limited the sacraments to two:
We acknowledge that there be two sacraments which, we judge, properly ought to be called by this name; that is to say, baptism and the sacrament of thanksgiving [eucharist]. For thus many we see delivered and sanctified by Christ, and were allowed of the old fathers, Ambrose and Augustine.
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the reformed Church of England’s official confession of faith, agreed upon by Convocation in 1562 and enacted into law by Parliament and given the royal assent in 1571, is based in a large part (but not entirely) upon the Forty-Two Articles of 1553. Article XXV also affirms the Reformed position:
There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord.
Those five, commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.
In the nineteenth century the Tractarians and their Anglo-Catholic successors would make the claim that the Church of England affirmed the seven sacraments of the medieval sacramental system in Article XXV. They followed John Henry Newman’s lead in separating the meaning of the Articles from the historical context in which they were written and from the intent of those who wrote them. This fanciful ahistorical approach to the interpretation of the Articles enabled them to ignore the plain intended sense of the Articles and to make such claims.
The new canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda adopt a similar line of thinking, and offer a contemporary example of how Anglo-Catholics have historically misinterpreted the Articles. They recognize two sacraments of the Gospel and “five sacraments of the Church.” At the same time they claim no discontinuity between the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Rwanda and the Articles. A former Roman Catholic priest in the Anglican Mission prepared the new Rwandan canons, which also affirm the Roman Catholic doctrines of eucharistic sacrifice and transubstantiation in contradiction to the Articles.
Edwin Sandys, an exile during the reign of Mary and the bishop of Worchester and of London and Archbishop of York during the reign of Elizabeth I, exemplifies the doctrinal views of the English Reformers at the time the Articles were given their final form.
[The sacraments] are two in number, instituted by Christ to be received of Christians: By the one, which is baptism, we are received and incorporated into the church of Christ; by the other, which is the eucharist or the Lord’s supper, we are nourished and fed unto life everlasting.
When the Articles are interpreted with consideration of the historical context in which they were compiled and revised and of the intent of their compilers and revisers, it is very clear that they recognize only two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. What they say in regards to the sacraments applies to these two ordinances.
Article XIX identifies as the second mark of the true visible church “the sacraments…duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” The Articles go on to address how the sacraments should be administered, to whom they should be administered, and how they should be received. They also identify and reject a number of medieval practices associated with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Article XXIII requires that those “administering the sacraments in the congregation” must be “lawfully called and sent to execute the same.” It further specifies:
And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which are chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard.
The present debate over diaconal and lay administration of the sacraments has drawn attention to the absence of any wording in this Article that specifies that such ministers must be ordained. However, in interpreting this Article we must consider what Thomas Cranmer, the primary author, and Matthew Parker, the principal reviser, had in mind. We must also consider the historical context in which the Articles were compiled and revised. The Proposed Canons of 1571, which were sanctioned by Convocation but failed to receive the royal assent contain this provision:
The byshop shall suffer no man to be occupied in the ministration of the churche, whiche calleth him selfe by the idle name of a reader, not hauyng receiued imposition of handes.
This provision puts an end to the practice of the appointment of readers by the bishops in parishes to say prayers and to take churchings of women and funerals and perform such other functions as a layperson could, acting under lawful authority. This practice was adopted in the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I in order to supply the lack of clergy. Convocation promulgated regulations for readers in 1562-1563. It appears to rule out the possibility that the Articles admit of the practice of lay administration of the sacraments.
It must be noted that the Proposed Canons of 1571 say very little on the subject of the administration of the sacraments. However, they do deal extensively with the qualifications, training, and licensing of preachers and the conformity of preachers with the Articles and the Prayer Book in their preaching.
Article XXIV requires the ministration of the sacraments in a tongue that is understood by the people. It affirms the important biblical and Reformation principle that all things should be done for edification
The Reformers found no evidence in the Scriptures that Christ had appointed the medieval practices of exposing the Host in a monstrance or other vessel for adoration and parading with the Host in such vessel for the same purpose, as may be seen from Article XXV. Indeed they viewed these practices as idolatry, an example of worshiping the creature—the Host—instead of the Creator. Rather they maintained that the sacraments should be used with due discipline, as also may be seen from the same Article. They laid great stress upon the worthy reception of the sacraments. Otherwise, the sacraments had no beneficial effect or working in the recipient. They took with full seriousness Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11:27ff.
Article XXVI maintains that the efficacy of the sacraments is not dependent upon the character of the minister but upon the institution and promise of Christ. The wickedness of the minister does not take away the effect of Christ’s ordinance or diminish the grace of God’s gifts “from those who by faith and rightly receive the sacraments ministered unto them.” Faith and right reception on the part of the recipient of the sacrament are necessary and not godliness on the part of the minister.
Article XXVII further ties the efficacy of baptism to right reception. It also recognizes young children as suitable recipients of baptism, noting the agreeableness of their baptism “with the institution of Christ.”
Article XXVIII emphasizes right reception, worthy reception, and faith as essential to the efficacy of the Lord’s Supper. Implicit is the rejection of the idea of the ex opera operato, or automatic, operation of the sacraments.
to those who rightly, worthily, and with faith receive it, the bread that we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.
Article XXVIII goes on to identify “the manner” in which the body of Christ is “given, taken, and eaten” in the Lord’s Supper and “the means” by which the body of Christ is “received and eaten” in the Lord’s Supper. It is “given, taken, and eaten” after a spiritual, heavenly manner.” It is “received and eaten” “by faith.” The English Reformers conception of the giving, eating, and taking of Christ’s body is that it is a spiritual operation that occurs in the spiritual realm, and the receiving and eating of Christ’s body is carried out by faith.
Article XXVIII contains a strongly worded rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation that teaches that the bread and wine are transmogrified, or in today’s English, “morphed,” into the substance of the actual flesh and blood of Christ while retaining the appearance of bread and wine.
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Scripture, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthrows the nature of a Sacrament, and has given occasion to many superstitions.
Article XXVIII further declares that sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not commanded by Christ to be reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped. Anglo-Catholic and Roman Catholic practices of reserving the sacrament, carrying the Host in a monstrance or other vessel in processions, elevating the Host after the consecration, and eucharistic adoration before the Host in a monstrance or tabernacle are, from the perspective of the Reformers, contrary to Christ’s command. This includes genuflecting to the altar upon which stands the tabernacle when entering a church. It also includes bowing or making any other kind of obeisance to the altar or the Host. From the Reformers’ perspective such practices savor of idolatry. Any Church tradition that justifies these practices is an example of how men “make void the Word of God for the sake of their tradition.”
Article XXIX was not included in the original revised draft of the Articles. Elizabeth was at the time involved in negotiations with the Lutheran German princes and was contemplating marriage to one of them.
The wicked and those who are void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as S. Augustine said) the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ, but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing.
Article XXIX stresses that true repentance and a vital faith must be present in recipients of the Lord’s Supper in order for them to be partakers of Christ. Those who are unrepentant and those who lack such faith, in eating and drinking the sign or sacrament of such a great reality, doom themselves to punishment. The implications are that notorious sinners and the unbelieving should not be admitted to the Lord’s Table. This includes baptized young children who, while they may received the sacrament of regeneration, have manifest no evidence of regeneration in the form of repentance and faith, and who are, due to their age, maturity, and level of understanding, incapable of the self-examination requisite to receiving the sacrament. Repentance and faith are corollaries of each other, the flip sides of the same coin. It also includes unrepentant and unbelieving adults irrespective of whether they have been baptized. It rules out the practice of infant and paedo-communion that has gained a measure of acceptance in the Western Churches since the Liturgical Movement of the 1960s and the practice of open communion that liberals in The Episcopal Church and other Anglican provinces have been promoting. The canons of the Anglican Church in North America in admitting young baptized children to the Lord’s Table irregardless of whether they show any evidence of repentance and faith and capacity for self-examination run afoul of Article XXIX, which the ACNA constitution in its Fundamental Declarations treats as thing of the past along with the other Articles in sharp contrast to the Jerusalem Declaration.
Article XXX stresses that both parts of the Lord’s sacrament, the wine as well as the bread, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be administered alike to all Christian persons. The cup of the Lord should not be withheld from the laity. Article XXX rejects the practice of administering the sacrament under one kind only as contrary to Christ’s ordinance and commandment. It, by extension, puts aside as wholly unacceptable the practice of a non-communing Mass in which only the priest receives the sacrament and the laity attend solely for the purposes of witnessing the sacrifice of the Mass and adoring the Host.
The Articles rule out a number of usages that have come to form a part of the eucharistic practice and piety of traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, charismatic Convergentists, and independent Catholics. These usages fall well outside of what the English Reformers concluded from their study of the New Testament are the due order and discipline of the ministration of the sacraments as ordained by Christ. Churches where such customs are practiced, in the Reformers’ perspective, do not display the second mark of the true visible church.
In Part 5 of “The Three Marks of the Visible Church” we will continue our examination of the connection between the second mark that the English Reformers recognized as distinguishing the visible Church of Christ and their theology of the sacraments. We will be looking at the 1662 Restoration Book of Common Prayer and its predecessors, the 1552 Edwardian Prayer Book, the 1559 Elizabethan Prayer Book, and the 1604 Jacobean Prayer Book.