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 Issues | 39 Articles | Importance of the Articles

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 faith.

The Creeds

Historically Christians 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 since.

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.

Their value today.

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.

Objectors

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.

Particular uses

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.

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The Thirty Nine Articles
BulletIntroduction
BulletImportance of the Articles

BulletArticles 1 - 5
BulletArticles 6 - 8
BulletArticles 9 - 14
BulletArticles 15 - 18
BulletArticles 19 - 22
BulletArticles 23 - 24
BulletArticles 25 - 31
BulletArticles 32 - 36
BulletArticles 37 - 39

BulletSalvation in the Articles
BulletRyle on the 39 Articles
BulletDonald Allister on the Articles
BulletWace - Main Purpose

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