Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Thirty-Nine Articles and Anglican Comprehensiveness (Part 2)

By Robin G. Jordan

In Part 1 of this article I noted that GAFCON in the Jerusalem Statement calls the Anglican Church back to the Thirty-Nine Articles, which with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and 1661 Ordinal form the long-recognized doctrinal standard of Anglicanism. I drew attention to the four main functions of the Articles, among which is to set bounds to Anglican comprehensiveness. I examined how the American Church’s tacit rejection of the authority of the Articles at a very early stage in its history would influence the direction that it has taken. I concluded that the present direction of the American Church, not only in the Episcopal Church but also in the self-identified Anglican bodies that have broken away from that denomination, greatly reduces the likelihood of a positive response to this call in the United States. In Part 2 of the article I examine the bounds that the Articles set to Anglican beliefs and practices .

The Thirty-Nine Articles are unambiguous in the positions that they take against the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. They answer the theological questions that were at the center of the reformed Church of England’s conflict with Rome. They include “the sense in which Scripture is the rule of faith (Articles 6, 8, 19, 20, 21); the state and need of fallen man (9, 10, 13); the nature, ground, and means of justification (11, with the Homily referred to: ‘Of the Salvation of Mankind’); the meaning of grace (17); the assurance of faith (17); the identification of true churches and clergy (19, 23, 36); the nature, number, and operation of the sacraments (25-30); the Papal claim to supremacy (37); and the propriety of a national church putting its own house in order under the direction of a civil ruler (34, 37).” [1]

The anti-Romanism of the Articles is unavoidable. Their provisions directly counter decisions that the Council of Trent made. They deny canonical status to the Apocrypha. They repudiate the doctrines of transubstantiation, of the seven sacraments, and of communion in one kind. They support clerical marriage and services in the vernacular. They condemn Tridentian teaching on the mass. They do not, as some Anglo-Catholic expositors have claimed, positively sanction the ex opere operato view of the efficacy of the sacraments and the real presence.

The Thirty-Nine Articles are unequivocal in their censure of the beliefs and practices that exercised control over the popular piety of the Medieval Catholic Church. These beliefs and practices include the doctrine of purgatory (22); the granting of indulgences, that is, remission of punishment still due to sin after sacramental absolution (22); the worship of images and relics (22), the invocation of saints, e.g. the petitioning of favors from the saints and making of offerings to them (22); works of supererogation, done beyond what duty required and therefore considered especially meritorious (14); the doctrine of the immaculate conception (15); worship in Latin or any other language that is incomprehensible to the people (24); the doctrine of transubstantiation, especially the conversion of the eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ (28); the practice of communion in one kind (30); the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice (31); and the belief that confirmation, penance, ordination, matrimony, and extreme unction are rites of the same nature as baptism and the Lord’s Supper (25). [2]

The Thirty-Nine Articles are quite definite in the statements that they make in opposition to the eccentricities of sixteenth-century Anabaptism, which have manifested themselves once more in this century not only in the Episcopal Church but also in the Anglican bodies that have broken away from that denomination, including the Anglican Church in North America and its ministry partner, the Anglican Mission in the Americas. These eccentricities include: “anti-Trinitarianism (1,5); Arianism and docetism (2,3,4); the doctrine of the ‘internal word’ (6); a new Marcionism denying the Unity of the two Testaments (7); antinomianism (7); Pelagianism (9-12); perfectionism (15); Novatianism (16); fatalism (17); the belief that sincerity in any form of religion will save without faith in Christ (18); disregard for the church visible and its authority in matters of faith and order (19, 20, 23, 33, 34); depreciation of the sacraments as means of grace (25, 27, 28); Donatism (26); antipaedobaptism (27); denial of the authority of civil rulers over Christians (37), especially in connection with military service (37) and oath-taking (39); and a communistic denial of property-rights among Christians (38).” [3]

Unitarianism, Arianism, illuminatism, Marcionism, antinomianism, Pelagianism, and universalism in the form of pluralism are flourishing in the Episcopal Church but we also find illuminatism, Pelagianism, and universalism in the form of theological inclusivism in the ACNA and the AMiA. We also find reluctance among clergy to baptize infants.

In relation to the disputes that they were intended to settle, the Thirty-Nine Articles are, as the late Eric Routley wrote, “singularly precise.” [4] The positions that they take in these disputes place them squarely in the camp of Reformed Christianity.

While the Thirty-Nine Articles, having been drawn up to avoid diversities of opinions, are not in the least ambiguous, they “are studiedly minimal in their requirements, and conscientiously leave many secondary questions open.” [5] They lay down what the sixteenth century English Reformers believed was necessary to ensure catholic faith and ordered life in the reformed Anglican Church. They do not attempt to go beyond this minimum. The Articles at certain points refuse to decide against any of the possible alternatives. This is to what Bishop Gilbert Burnet was referring in An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England when he observed that the Articles are “conceived in large and general words” at certain points, and the “literal and grammatical sense” of these words admit of more than one explanation. Burnet’s observation, while it is frequently quoted, is widely misunderstood. [6]

As well as being scrupulously minimal, the Thirty-Nine Articles are also scrupulously eclectic. They draw from a number of different theological schools of thought.

“They set out the Trinitarian faith of the ecumenical creeds (1-5) as biblical and necessary to salvation (6-8), together with Augustine’s doctrine of sin (9-10); Lutheran teaching on justification, grace, and the church (11-21, 23, 34, 37), as given in the Augsburg Confession of 1530 and the Wurtemberg Confession of 1552 (used in the 1563 revision); and the sacramental teaching of the Swiss sort (25-29), with at one point an anti-Lutheran edge (29). So far as they bear the impression of a single mind, it is Cranmer’s Parker, chief architect of the 1563 revision, was Cranmer’s devoted disciple), and Cranmer was an eclectic theologian whose forte was not innovation, but discrimination.” [7]

It must be noted that Lutheran and Reformed theology are in agreement on a number of points and the presence of Lutheran teaching in the Thirty-Nine Articles do not make it any less a Reformed confession.

How do the Thirty-Nine Articles affect a number of beliefs and practices that we find in what ACNA Archbishop and Primate Bob Duncan describes as “American Anglicanism”? Space permits me only to touch upon a few of them. They represent some of the most glaring examples of where beliefs and practices found in contemporary American Anglicanism are in conflict with the Articles.

The Thirty-Nine Articles reject the practice of adoring the consecrated elements and the various practices associated with it. They include elevating the host and the chalice during the prayer of consecration or after it, exposing the consecrated elements in a monstrance for adoration, and keeping them in a flying pyx, tabernacle, or other receptacle before which the faithful may kneel and pray. From the perspective of the Bible and historic Anglicanism such practices are idolatrous: They are a contravention of the First Commandment.

The Thirty-Nine Articles emphasize that Christ did not appoint the sacraments to be a public spectacle or to be paraded for adoration. The latter includes not only the practice of carrying the consecrated elements in procession from the church, around the community, and then back to the church but also carrying them in procession to the homes of the sick. Article 25 has bearing upon the practice of reservation of consecrated elements to bring to the sick. The 1559 Book of Common Prayer, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the 1604 Canons make no provision for this practice. Both the 1559 Prayer Book and the 1662 Prayer Book, however, do contain rubrics covering the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the homes of the sick and provide lessons for such occasions.

It is noteworthy that Article 25 not only applies to the consecrated bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper but also water from the font used in baptisms. The inclusion of the water as well as the bread and wine lays particular emphasis upon the inappropriateness of the practice of making a public spectacle of the sacraments and parading them for adoration. Article 25 stresses that Christ appointed the sacraments to be used with due discipline. It goes on to emphasize, “They have a beneficial effect or work only in those who receive them worthily….” [8]

The Thirty-Nine Articles clearly place outside the bounds of Anglican comprehensiveness the decoration of churches with images of Christ on a cross, including the victorious Christus Rex, and statues of the Virgin Mary and other saints. They raise serious questions about the appropriateness of decorating churches with paintings and stained-glass windows depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other saints especially when these paintings and windows are so placed in the church—such as above or behind the altar or communion table, that they may become objects of veneration or worship. The Homilies which supplement the Articles and explicate their doctrine strongly condemn these practices. The 1604 Canons permit the decoration of churches only with passages of Scripture.

During the nineteenth century the Ritualist Movement would revive these practices in the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. In the case of the Church of England in they were a flagrant violation of canon law. The acceptance of such practices in the modern-day Episcopal Church and the breakaway Anglican churches—the Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Mission in the Americas, and the Continuing Anglican Churches—reflects the influence of nineteenth century Ritualists who deliberately sought not only revive the practices of the pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic Church but also to introduce the practices of the post-Tridentian Roman Catholic Church. None of the practices that they revived or introduced are consonant with the Thirty-Nine Articles and historic Anglicanism.

Contemporary Episcopalians and Anglicans in North America may view these practices as “Anglican.” However, they have acquired an inaccurate view of what is genuinely Anglican. They have been influenced by what Canon Philip Jensen describes as “sociological Anglicanism.” Whatever the Anglican Church believes and practices in a particular time and place is considered to be Anglican. As a frequent poster on a number of Anglican web sites put it, “The Anglican Church is what the Anglican Church does.” I do not believe that he realized the full implications of what he was saying. Such a view countenances both the adoration of the sacramental species and the normalization of homosexuality and homosexual practice in the Anglican Church. Theories of Anglicanism as a via media between disparate beliefs and practices, as a convergence of such beliefs and practices, and as a continually evolving system of beliefs and practices have contributed to this inaccurate view of Anglicanism.

Our culture places a high value on self-gratification and self-indulgence. It reinforces the very human tendency to cling to unacceptable beliefs and practices and to rationalize them. Once we become attached to a belief or practice, we are loath to abandon it. We will come up with all kinds of arguments for retaining it. This may explain in part why many Episcopal and Anglican clergy in North America are not overly keen on the Thirty-Nine Articles. Acceptance of their authority, which GAFCON Theological Resource Group describes as backed by the authority of Scripture and “constitutive of Anglican identity,” means giving up what have become cherished beliefs and practices.

Among the results are theological statements like the Anglican Church in North America’s Fundamental Declarations that give lip service to the Articles as a historic Anglican formulary but do not accept its authority and in effect abrogate that authority. To those who deny that this is the case, the answer is a simple one. The ACNA can show its acceptance of the authority of the Articles by adopting a straightforward declaration that it, with the Jerusalem Declaration, upholds the Articles “as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s word and as authoritative [as God’s word] for Anglicans today,” and accepts their authority as it accepts the authority of God’s word. Such a declaration would leave no doubt in anybody’s mind that the ACNA is truly committed to the maintenance of the doctrine of the Articles. Where its canons are not in full agreement with the Articles, it would make the requisite changes, showing that it indeed meant what it had declared. This, however, is not going to happen because the ACNA does not accept the authority of the Articles nor is it committed to the maintenance of their doctrine.

The GAFCON Primates may for their own reasons wish to pretend that the ACNA is GAFCON in North America but in reality it is not. Their continuance of this charade reflects poorly upon their own acceptance of the authority of the Articles and their own commitment to the maintenance of the doctrine of the Articles. It throws their own commitment to authentic historic Anglicanism in doubt. It also greatly weakens their position as champions of Anglican orthodoxy.

In his most recent address to the ACNA Provincial Council Archbishop Duncan described the ACNA as spearheading the “reform” of Anglicanism in North America. Whatever change the ACNA is pursuing, it is certainly not to return American Anglicanism to the Thirty-Nine Articles, historic Anglicanism, and Anglican orthodoxy. The ACNA may have chosen a different course from the Episcopal Church but the course the ACNA has chosen does not take American Anglicanism back to them. This will in the continuance of time become even apparent to observers of the ACNA outside of North America as it is presently to observers here in North America, who have a close-up view of the ACNA and its inner workings.

In upcoming articles I plan to take a further look at how contemporary American Anglicanism measures up against historic Anglicanism’s confession of faith.

[1] J.I. Packer and R.T. Beckwith, The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, (Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College Publishing, 2007), 42.
[2] Ibid., 42.
[3] Ibid., 42-43.
[4] Ibid., 43.
[5] Ibid., 43.
[6] Ibid., 44.
[7] Ibid., 45.
[8] Philip Edgecumbe Hughes, “The Thirty-Nine Articles A Restatement in Today’s English,” The Theology of the English Reformers, Revised and Expanded Edition, (Abington, PA: Horseradish, 1997)

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