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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of Anglican Faith




A book by David Broughton Knox (Sydney: Anglican Church League, 1967).

The author: Canon David Broughton Knox, B.A., A. L. C. D., B.D., M.Th., D. Phil. (Oxford), was Principal of Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia. Ordained in 1941 he served in an English parish and as a chaplain in the Royal Navy before becoming a tutor at Moore College 1947-53. On leave in England he was tutor and lecturer in New Testament at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford 1951-53 and Assistant Curate in the parish of St. Aldale's, Oxford. He became Vice Principal of Moore College in 1954 and Principal in 1959. He was elected Canon of St. Andrew's Cathedral in 1960. His other books include "The Doctrine of Faith in the Reign of Henry VIII" (London: James Clarke, 1961).

David Broughton Knox also founded George Whitefield College in South Africa in 1989.




Chapter 1

The Present Status of the Articles

At the back of every copy of the Church of England Prayer Book are printed thirty-nine short statements about the Christian faith. These Articles of Religion were first drawn up by the Church of England in 1553, were revised and somewhat abbreviated in 1562 and ratified and made binding on the clergy in 1571. Since then, the Thirty-Nine Articles have continued to be an authoritative statement of the beliefs and teaching of the Church of England. For example, at the present time every Church of England clergyman ordained in England is told at his ordination: "The Church of England . . . has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion . . . " and the ordinand is required to affirm: "I declare my belief in the faith . . . to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness . . . " The same declaration must be made on appointment to a parish or bishopric.

It will be seen that the Thirty-Nine Articles are not only an historical document of the sixteenth century, setting out the doctrinal position of the Church of England at the time of the Reformation when it declared itself a national church free from overseas control; they remain a guide to the doctrines which the ministers of the Church of England are required to believe and teach. They therefore merit careful examination by those who are interested in discovering the historical doctrinal position of the Church of England.

The Thirty-Nine Articles as a doctrinal confession are not restricted to England. They are also incorporated in many of the constitutions of churches of the Anglican Communion elsewhere. When settlers from England migrated overseas they took with them their ways of worship. Thus, during the last two centuries especially, the Church of England has expanded overseas through the migration of settlers to the new colonies as well as through the activity of missionaries both within and beyond the borders of the old colonial empire. The churches which came into being as a consequence were organized at first as a part of the Church of England; but at the present time almost all have been formed into self-governing denominations, though continuing in close fellowship and communion with the Church of England at home. These churches, with the Anglican churches of the British Isles, form what is called the Anglican Communion. It is interesting to see how the Thirty-Nine Articles have been treated in the constitutions which govern the fellowship of these churches. The great majority have adopted the Articles in some way, either by incorporating them in their constitution, or by approving of them by canon, or by including them in their Prayer Book, or by the requirements of clerical subscription, or by the examination of ordinands in the teaching contained in the Articles. Thus, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Church of England in Australia, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of the Anglican Provinces of New Zealand, South Africa, West Africa, Uganda and Japan, are all committed to the teaching contained in the Articles, and within the British Isles itself the autonomous Anglican Churches in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland have all adopted the Thirty-Nine Articles as their doctrinal standard. However, not all the churches of the Anglican Communion have adopted the Articles. For example, the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, and the Church of the Province of Central Africa have omitted the Articles from their doctrinal basis. In the Anglican Church in China and in the West Indies the position of the Articles as the doctrinal basis of the Church is not clarified, while in the Church of the Province of East Africa, each diocese is at liberty to adopt the Articles or not at its discretion.

It would, however, be a mistake to think that those Anglican provinces overseas which have accepted the Articles have done so simply as a legacy from the past without deliberately committing themselves to the doctrines contained therein. Their constitutions are comparatively of recent origin, drawn up after careful deliberation. The Church of England in Australia adopted a new constitution only as recently as 1961. In this constitution the Thirty-Nine Articles were given a prominent place under 'Ruling Principles'. To quote that constitution, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the Thirty-Nine Articles are the 'authorized standard . . . of worship and doctrine', and no action of the Church or of any of its ministers can be legitimately discharged within the Church, if it contravenes any principle of doctrine of the Articles. At his ordination a minister of the Church of England in Australia is required to make the following declaration: 

The Church of England in Australia, being an Apostolic Church, receives and retains the Catholic Faith, which is grounded in Holy Scripture and expressed in the Creeds, and within its own history, in the Thirty-Nine Articles, in the Book of Common Prayer and in the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. Accordingly, I, A. B., do solemnly make the following declaration:  "I firmly and sincerely believe the Catholic Faith and I give my assent to the doctrine of the Church of England in Australia as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons; I believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God."



In view of these facts, the Articles cannot be said to be merely a period piece in the life of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, but are still reiterated as the doctrinal expression of Anglicanism and are required to be believed and assented to by the great majority of the clergy exercising their ministry within it. It might therefore surprise the general reader without first-hand knowledge of the state of thought within the Church of England at present, to be told by Canon G. W. H. Lampe, Ely Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, that "The articles do not now represent the general mind of the church." i

However undesirable such a dichotomy between the official profession and actual opinion amongst the clergy may be, the existence of the divergence is confirmed by the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, the Very Reverend W. R. Matthews, who wrote in 1961: "It would be difficult to find any intelligent churchmen who would accept the articles in their plain meaning." ii But though this statement may be judged to be exaggerated, it shows that there is a wide divergence between the teaching of the Articles and the teaching of many of those who have assented to the Articles. Because of this, Dean Matthews advocated that the Articles should be revised so that they reflect current opinion amongst present-day clergy. He wrote: "The fundamental complaint I have to make is that the articles do not represent the present mind of the Church." iii Professor Lampe is of the same opinion. "If the articles were to serve their original purpose today, it would be by representing the common mind, as far as possible, of the Church of England. This they plainly do not."

It will be agreed that it is not a happy thing that there should be a contradiction between what the clergy officially profess and what they believe and teach. The two should coincide.

It is true that documents cannot coerce belief; but the Word of God can evoke it. Consequently, in estimating what place the Articles should play in the life of the Church in the future, it is important to examine their teaching and their presuppositions in comparison with the teaching of Christ and Holy Scripture. This will be attempted briefly in the following chapters.

For clergy of the Church of England, and for members of the Church of England in Australia there are further important reasons for being acquainted with what the Articles teach and their Scriptural basis.

The Church of England in September 1, 1975 reaffirmed its judgement that the doctrine of the Thirty-Nine Articles is a true reflection of the Christian faith revealed in Holy Scripture and from that date onwards requires all its ministers to declare that this is also their opinion. It is therefore a matter of importance to re-examine the contents and scriptural basis of the Articles.

The Church of England in Australia in 1961 adopted the principles of doctrine contained in the articles as part of its standard of doctrine and worship, so that nothing that contravenes these principles of doctrine can be validly enacted or performed in that denomination. But a standard that is unknown is useless as a standard. Consequently, it becomes a matter of great importance that members of the Church of England in Australia should be knowledgeable on the teaching of the Articles.

Next Chapter

Table of Contents for this book.

iThe Articles of the Church of England, 1964, p. 107.
iiThe Thirty-Nine Articles, London, 1961, p. 17.
iiiIbid., p. 9.

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity.


The Collect.


O GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake our Lord. Amen.

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