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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

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Part IX: Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of Anglican Faith: The Doctrine of the Church and the Denominations







"The authority and character of the Church was one of the principle areas of disagreement at the time of the Reformation. We have already seen that the Thirty-Nine Articles very distinctly subordinate the authority of the Church to the authority of Scripture. Of the character of the Church not much is said, but what is said is of great significance. . . . The nineteenth Article defines the church, not by reference to the ministers, but in terms of the congregation."


Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of Anglican Faith

A book by David Broughton Knox (Sydney: Anglican Church League, 1967). Revised 1976.

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 Five

The Teaching of the Articles

The Doctrine of the Church and the Denominations

One other topic of importance in the Articles remains to be noticed. This is the doctrine of the church, the local congregation, and the association of congregations known as denominations. Though this is a matter only briefly dealt with in the Articles, it is a subject of urgent importance at the present time on account of the interest aroused by ecumenicism and the efforts that are being made towards church union, and consequently it deserves careful examination.

The authority and character of the Church was one of the principle areas of disagreement at the time of the Reformation. We have already seen that the Thirty-Nine Articles very distinctly subordinate the authority of the Church to the authority of Scripture. Of the character of the Church not much is said, but what is said is of great significance. Article 19 defines the visible church in terms of a worshipping congregation. This is in sharp contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, which defines the visible church in terms of the ministry and in particular the hierarchy. In Roman Catholic theology the bishops are the 'primary and principal' element in the constitution of the Church.i However the twenty-third Article makes no mention of bishops in its definition of lawful ministery, and the nineteenth Article defines the church, not by reference to the ministers, but in terms of the congregation.

The English language currently uses the word 'Church' with several different meanings; for example, for a building, a denomination, or a profession. We should be on our guard lest what is true of the word in one of its meanings is transferred to its use in another, and in particular we need to guard lest the aura of glory which surrounds its New Testament meaning is used to heighten loyalty to institutions other than the New Testament Church.

In the New Testament the word 'church' always means 'a gathering' or 'an assembly'. Acts 19 shows it was not a technical ecclesiastical word, for in verse 32 St. Luke used it of the gathering of the mob in the amphitheatre in Ephesus, and in verse 39 of the regular political assembly of the citizens. In the Old Testament the two Hebrew equivalents of the Greek ekklesia are applied to the Old Testament people of God, especially when that people is conceived of as assembling or gathering; for example when gathered around Mount Sinai for the giving of the law, or later on Mount Zion where all Israel were required to assembly three times a year. The usual English equivalents of the Hebrew are 'congregation' and 'assembly', but Stephen in Acts 7 [Acts 7:38] used the word 'church' (ekklesia) of this Old Testament congregation of God. In the New Testament the Christian Church is the fulfilment of the Old Testament assembly. Jesus Christ is its constituent. Just as in Exodus 19:4, 5 God is said to have gathered His people around Himself at Mount Sinai, and as later they regularly gathered at His command around His dwelling place on Mount Zion, so Christ gathers His people around Himself as their shepherd. He gathers them through the preaching of the Gospel: 'The Lord added to their number day by day those that were being saved' (Acts 2:47, R.S.V.). It is Christ who builds His Church (Matt. 16:18). He calls into one flock around Him His sheep, whether near or far off (John 10:16, Acts 2:39).

The Epistle to the Hebrews makes it clear that the assembly or Church, which Christ is building now is a heavenly assembly. In Hebrews 12:18-24 the writer contrasts the assembly of which his readers are members with the Old Testament assembly of the people of God. That earlier assembly was gathered round God on Mount Sinai, but the present assembly into which Christian believers have been gathered is around the heavenly Zion, the city of the living God. This assembly is described as 'the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven'. It is being gathered round Christ where He now is. Our membership of this assembly or Church is a present reality. We have already come to the heavenly Zion and already are members of this 'church of the firstborn who are in heaven'. We are already 'seated with Him in the heavenly places' (Eph. 2:6, R.S.V.; cf. Col. 3:1-4). The book of Revelation gives us several glimpses of this heavenly assembly around Christ in its completed eschatological character; for example, Revelation 7:9 'a great multitude . . . standing before the throne and before the Lamb', and 14:1 'The Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousands, having his name, and the name of His Father, written on their foreheads.'

The Scriptures make clear that Christ is now primarily to be thought of as in heaven, and this is clearly affirmed in Article 4. There are many passages in the New Testament to this effect, such as 'seek the things that are above where Christ is' (Col. 3:1, R.S.V.); 'Jesus Christ who is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven' (I Pet. 3:22, R.S.V.); 'Jesus whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things' (Acts 3:21, R.S.V.); 'I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God' (Acts 7:56); 'Absent from the body . . . present with the Lord, (II Cor. 5:8; cf. also Acts 1:11, 2:33, 9:6, 26:15-19; Phil. 3:20; I Thess. 1:10, 4:16; Heb. 9:24-28).

Since Christ is now in heaven, it is there that the New Testament thinks of Him as building His Church, because the Church of Christ is the assembly which He calls into being around Himself. This heavenly Church or assembly round Christ is a present, not merely a future, reality, and we are to think of ourselves as already members of it, assembled with Him in heaven. It is this Church to which Jesus referred in Matthew 16:18 and which He is now building; it is this Church or assembly which He loved and gave Himself up for (Eph. 5:25). This is the Church affirmed in the Nicene Creed (endorsed in Article 8), 'I believe one Catholick and Apostolick Church'. Its principle of unity is the fact that Christ has assembled it round Himself. It is logically impossible for Him to assemble two Churches; for Christ is to be primarily thought of as in one place only, that is, in heaven, if we are to use biblical imagery, which is the only imagery available in a matter which transcends experience.

We are called into membership of this one Church of Christ by the preaching of the Gospel. As a consequence of membership of Christ's Church there is a duty on Christians to assemble in local gatherings. Interestingly enough this duty was not so obvious to the early Christians that they did not need to be exhorted not to forsake the assembling of themselves together (Heb. 10:25). And the letters of Ignatius of Antioch are notorious for their constant iteration of the duty of Christians to assemble together rather than each to worship God on his own. These exhortations confirm that the word 'Church' refers to the heavenly assembly which Christ is gathering. For every New Testament Christian was vividly conscious, as he awaited his Lord from heaven, of belonging to His Church. The fact that they nevertheless required exhortation to assemble together suggests that their concept of the assembly of Christ, of which they all knew themselves to be members, did not of necessity suggest membership of a local gathering. It may well be that the phrase in the Creed 'the Communion of Saints', that is, 'the fellowship of Christians', refers to the visible fellowship expressed in local churches or assemblies, just as the preceding clause refers to the heavenly gathering or Church of Christ, which is the regulative antecedent of the local fellowship.

It remains true, however, that the most frequent use of the word 'church' in the New Testament is of the local gathering of Christians. These local gatherings, whether at Corinth, or in the cities of Galatia, or in Jerusalem, were manifestations of the one Church of Christ. Christ had gathered them, and He Himself was present, according to His promise, where two or three were met together in His name. [Matthew 18:20]. Thus, they were gathered round Christ through His Spirit, and consequently nothing was lacking for a complete church or gathering of Christ. These gatherings were never spoken of as part of Christ's Church because each was Christ's Church, gathered by Him round Himself at a certain time in a certain place. They were manifestations of the heavenly Church, of which every member of the local church was at that very time a member. It is a grave mistake, common in current theology, to reverse the order, and to think of Christ's universal Church as made up by adding together the total membership of the local churches, whether backwards through time or extensively over the earth's surface.

It is worth noting that Ignatius, who was the first to use the term 'the Catholic Church', seems to apply it to the gathering of Christians around Jesus in heaven. 'Where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church' (ad Smyrn., 8). From the way Ignatius is arguing it would appear that it is the heavenly assembly ('where Jesus is') which Ignatius designated as Catholic or universal, for he contrasts it with its counterpart, namely its local manifestation in the assembly of Christians round their minister. It is not a spiritualized presence of Jesus to which Ignatius is referring, as this would defeat his argument, which is that just as the Catholic Church is gathered round Jesus (in heaven), so Christians should gather round their bishop (in their own locality). This interpretation of Ignatius's phrase is supported by the gloss placed on it by the interpolator in the longer recension of Ignatius's letters. The interpolator reproduced the section almost verbatim, but instead of the clause, 'where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church', he has 'where Jesus Christ is, there the whole heavenly army is present . . .' This variation shows that the concept that Christ is in heaven was congenial, and that at least to one contemporary Ignatius's phrase 'the Catholic Church' sugggested the heavenly assembly.

The local churches come into being as their members are joined to Christ. These local churches will never be visibly one assembly until the Second Coming. Then, when Christ will be manifested, the Church (that is, all believers) will be seen united around Him (Col. 3:4). St. Paul in II Thessalonians 2:1 speaks of this quite correctly as our 'gathering together' around Him in the air. [I Thessalonians 4:17]. But just as at the present time Christ's lordship is not yet manifest as it will be but remains an object of faith, so His gathering or Church is not yet manifest but remains an object of faith, not only in its characteristic of unity, but in all its characteristics as His Church, so that quite properly the Creed affirms 'I believe in one . . . Church'.

Article 19 gives the marks by which a Christian assembly may be distinguished from assemblies called for other purposes. It defines it in terms of its constitutive principle -- the Word of God. It states that those who form the assembly have aready received this Word of God into their hearts. It is a congregation of believers. The Article further states that the activity in which the assembly engages is the ministry of the Word of God. Faith is the highest form of worship, i.e. honoring of a God whose character is love, and faith springs from hearing the Word of God. Nor can there be nobler acts of praise and adoration than proclaiming the gracious acts and promises of God. Ministering the Word of God to one another is the primary activity of Christian assembly (Heb. 10:25; cf. Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). 'I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise' (Heb. 2:12).

God's acts and promises may be made known, and a response evoked, both by the preached word and by the acted, visible word of the sacraments. Article 19 defines the visible church in terms of ministry of Word and sacraments and this is essentially one ministry, the sacraments being, as Augustine said, visible words: 'The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same'.

As to over how large an area the congregation forming the visible church (that is, the local church) may be scattered is not defined by the articles. Presumably this will differ from age to age according to means of transport. Article 19 refers to the churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch and Rome. These cities were compact areas of population, and differed widely from some modern dioceses where, because of distance, Christians find the greatest difficulty in assembling together to form a church or congregation in which the Word of God might be preached and the sacraments administered, in the way Article 19 declares the visible church to be constituted.

The visible church is the congregation worshipping according to the Word of God, and there are as many visible churches as there are true congregations. The Articles do not speak specifically of the 'invisible Church' but have only passing references. It is a mistake to think that the Articles deny the concept of the invisible or mystical Church, or to misread Article 19 as though it began 'The Church of Christ is a visible congregation', as is frequently done.ii Nor is there any ground for the assertion of the Vicar of All Saints', Margaret Street, London, that 'The Church of Engand repudiates any notion of an invisible church.'iii The concept of the invisible Church was uniformly held by the Reformers and was affirmed as early as the Bishop's Book of 1537 and the Thirteen Articles of 1538. It would be very unlikely, and in fact is not the case, that the Thirty-Nine Articles repudiated the concept of the invisible or mystical Church of Christ, or fell into the mistake of which Hooker castigated when he wrote: 'For lack of diligent observing the difference between the church of God mystical and visible, the oversights are neither few nor light that have been committed'.iv

Article 19 is concerned with the church in its visible aspect -- the visible congregation. But the opening clause of Article 26 which also speaks of the 'visible Church' implies a contrast with the Church in its invisible aspect round the throne of God, where the evil is not mingled with the good. The word 'Church' appears to be used of the 'invisible' Church in Article 27, which states that 'they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church', the mystical body of Christ; for all without exception who outwardly receive baptism are admitted to the visible church. But right reception (Latin recte), that is with a believing heart, is the requisite for being engrafted into Christ and into the assembly gathered around Him in heaven.  Next Section


i Papal Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi (1943), paragraphs 17, 40. Cf. Pius X, Encyclical Vehementer Nos (1906): 'As for the masses, they have no other right than that of letting themselves be led, and of following their pastors as a docile flock.' And Leo XIII (1890) in Denzinger 1936C: 'The duty of the laity is that of "echoing image like the voices of their masters".'
ii For example: 'The article starts off with the assumption that the church of God is a visible society', E. J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, 3rd edition, revised by H. J. Carpenter (London, 1955), p. 292.
iii K. N. Ross: The Thirty-Nine Articles, p. 47.
iv Ecclesiastical Polity, III (London, 1954), pp. 2, 9.
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity.
The Collect.
LORD of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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