The importance of the Thirty Nine Articles today
Faith and Facts
The bedrock of faith
is facts. Theologians distinguish between three aspects of faith
- knowledge, assent and trust. All three aspects can be seen in
John chapter 14.
In verse 10 Jesus presents
Philip with facts about himself (knowledge) and asks Philip if
he believes that (assents) this is true.
However, saving faith
is more than just assent to facts, it involves a personal relationship
of trust in Christ, putting your faith in Him. This element can
be seen in verse 1 where Jesus calls His disciples to ‘believe
in' Him, ‘trust in' in some translations.
There is solid evidence
for the facts. In verse 11 Jesus mentions the evidence of His
miracles, but the main evidence is words of Jesus. He therefore
calls Philip to believe what He says. Two incredible facts are
asserted by Jesus, His divinity and that He is the only way to
the Father. These are two of the core truths of the Christian
have wanted to clarify the facts of their faith. Early on this
was done with Creeds that were used to teach and thus also became
an affirmation of faith used at baptism. ?Later on such creeds
became a more general test that people believe the right facts.
?This is especially true of the Nicene Creed.
It should be remembered
that those who propagated this Creed were convinced of the total
trustworthiness and authority of the Scriptures as the Word of
God and believed the Creed to be faithful to the facts God presents
in His Word. The Nicene Creed only covers certain areas of belief
that were areas of controversy at that time. The Councils that
produced the Creeds also set out their teaching on areas of Church
practice and government in Canons. These often included such issues
as which Bishop's had jurisdiction in which areas. ?
In the sixteenth Century
the newly reformed Churches were keen to give full expression
to their refound faith and to show where they left behind past
errors. In Germany and Switzerland various Confessions were produced
and later also in the Church of England and Ireland.
Thomas Cranmer, then
Archbishop of Canterbury, appears to have delayed producing a
clearly reformed statement of faith whilst he planned for an international
gathering of Protestants. When this did not materialise he produced
a series of 42 Articles just before the end of the reign of Edward
VI. These were eventually revised and revived under Queen Elizabeth
I and became the Thirty Nine Articles being enforced from 1571.
In Ireland they did not become the standard until 1634. In both
Churches these have been a foundation of strength and unity ever
In order to safeguard
the Church it has been expected that clergy assent to these facts,
though this has been weakened in the Church of England since 1975.
The Articles have continuing
value today. They have obvious historical value showing
the faith of of the Church as it emerged from the reformation,
a faith that that has shaped our nation and many others around
the world. Many would see the value of the articles simply as
historical documents, but, like it or not, they are part of our
living present. They still have a place as the doctrinal standard
of many churches in the world-wide Anglican communion and although
there are pressures in the ‘west' to change our core beliefs this
will mean separating ourselves from our fellow believers around
the world who hold dear what spread to them from England.
However, the great value
of the Articles goes beyond history and their place in our formularies.
Those who composed them believed in the absolute authority and
trustworthiness of the Scriptures as the Word of God and they
believed the Articles to be a faithful summary of Biblical truth.
The Articles cover far more ground than the Creeds and although
they address the particular concerns of the day that does not
alter their essential truth. They are of enduring value not because
they expressed the ideas of the day, but because they are based
on the unfading Word of God. The same truths could be expressed
in other ways, but even if this were achieved successfully any
new statement would lack the history and international dimension
of the Thirty Nine Articles.
There are, of course,
those who object to the articles, and the principle objectors
can be characterised as follows: ?/p>
1) Those who hold to
the full authority and trustworthiness of the Bible but disagree
with some of the conclusions in the Articles. It must be remembered
that the Articles are not scripture, they themselves admit that
Churches can err and therefore they may be wrong. Honest debate
is required, so long as it is understood that the great reformers
did not seek a full manual for church order in the Bible. They
believed that God gives freedom in working out practice and that
we should learn especially from our traditions. ?
2) Those who do not
believe in objective truth at all, or who think that facts matter
far less than trust in Jesus or being part of the Church. As was
shown above authentic Christian faith rests on facts, they are
not an optional extra.
3) Those who accept
the authority of the Bible but put alongside it some other equal
authority, such as sacred tradition, the Church or other special
revelation (the Book of Mormon for example).
4) Those who say that
the bible may have appeared true in its day, but times have moved
on and we now know better.
These various views
are all plausible in their own terms but those who object to the
Articles must be honest about why they object. ?The Articles
were produced on the assumption that the Bible is the trustworthy
and true Word of God. Moreover, the authors believed that in the
Bible God gives a full and complete revelation of those things
that matter most, namely who Jesus is, why Jesus came and how
people should live in the light of His coming and the promise
of His return. ?There are issues of practice to be worked out
but in terms of these central truths the revelation of God is
complete. ?Those who composed the historic Creeds and those who
produced the Thirty-Nine Articles upheld this position.
Invariably those who
reject the Articles do so because they do not accept the trustworthiness
or completeness of God's Word.
Once it is recognised
that the Articles are seeking to be faithful expressions of the
truths given by God in the Bible their contemporary value is self-evident.
?They can and should be used for teaching the faith. ?They can
be used to determine whether Christian ministers hold the sure
word and are able to teach sound doctrine (Titus 1.9). ?They
provide a useful guide in shaping liturgy, doctrine and Church
practice. ?They can also be of great personal benefit in stimulating
learning and growth in Christian understanding. ?The Thirty Nine
Articles are not merely interesting history, they have an important
and continuing place for today. Back 39 Articles main page.