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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, February 22, 2009

J. C. Ryle on the Authority of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

In KNOTS UNTIED, the famous Evangelical and low church bishop, J. C. Ryle makes it clear that he believes the Thirty-nine Articles are indeed a confession of faith and constitute binding doctrine which all Anglicans should believe at face value as they are plainly stated. Ministers in the Church of England were at one time required to believe them in every detail but today they are only required to sign them as a "general" statement of belief giving them an "out" and inviting divisions and heresies within the Anglican Communion. I believe the Thirty-nine Articles are a statement of the Protestant faith and that they are "catholic" only in the sense that they represent an Evangelical and Protestant and Reformed understanding of Anglicanism. They are in no wise "Catholic" in the sense of being Anglo-Catholic or Roman Catholic. They are "catholic" with a small "c" as in "universally accepted." That is they are universal on the point of the ecumenical creeds accepted by all churches, including the East and Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. But regarding the five solas of the Protestant and English Reformation they are only "universal" or "catholic" as they conform to the major doctrines accepted among the Protestant side of Anglicanism. Thus, the term "catholic" is applied only to Protestant doctrine and not Anglo-Catholicism or Roman Catholicism. There is no "via media" between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism and thus Anglo-Catholic revisionism is an illegitimate reading of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. Ryle makes this very clear in this comment at the Church Society webite, J.C. Ryle on the 39 Articles:


I pass over the obvious suspiciousness of any Churchman ignoring the Articles, giving them the cold shoulder, and talking only about the Prayer-book, when he is speaking of the tests of a Churchman's religion. That many do so it is quite needless to say. Yet the fifth Canon, of 1604, contains the following words:

"Whosoever shall hereafter affirm that any of the Thirty-nine Articles agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops of both provinces, in the Convocation holden at London in the year of our Lord God 1562, for avoiding diversities of opinion, and establishing of consent touching true religion, are in any part superstitious, or erroneous, or such as he may not with a good conscience subscribe unto, let him be excommunicated ipso facto , and not restored but only by the Archbishops, after his repentance and public revocation of such his wicked errors."

Plain language that! Certain Churchmen who are fond of pelting Evangelical Churchmen with Canons would do well to remember that Canon.

Please note that Ryle cites the fifth Canon against the Anglo-Catholics who accept the Prayer Book but not the Thirty-nine Articles as a statement of faith or confession of faith which is binding on the conscience. While the Articles are not a "creed" they are a confession of faith and are therefore binding doctrine, particularly for ministers. I would contend that the fifth Canon applies not only to Anglo-Catholic departures from the Articles but also to Anabaptist departures from the Articles, including a denial of the two sacraments in Article XXV. If the Thirty-nine Articles are merely optional then we might as well throw them out and become Anabaptists. We can just all become lone ranger Christians and reject the church and sacraments altogether. But obviously that is not the position of the Reformation. The true church is marked by the right preaching of the Word, the right administration of the sacraments, and church discipline.

J.C. Ryle goes on to say that though grace is not tied directly to the sacraments, the sacraments are nevertheless a necessary sign for believers. The sacraments accomplish nothing for those who are not truly converted, however:

(3) Let us mark, in the next place, as we read the Articles, their wise, discreet, and well-balanced statements about the Sacraments. They declare plainly the divine authority of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. They use high and reverent language about them both, as means of grace, "by the which God doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but strengthen and confirm our faith in Him." (Article XXV.)

But after saying all this, it is most instructive to observe how carefully the Articles repudiate the Romish doctrine of grace being imparted by the Sacraments ex opere operato. "The Sacraments," says the Twenty-fifth Article, "were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation."

Now if there is any one thing that is laid to the charge of us evangelical clergy, it is this - that we deny sacramental grace. "Excellent, worthy, hard-working men," we are sometimes called; "but unhappily they do not hold right church views about the Sacraments." Men who talk in this manner are talking rashly, and saying what they cannot prove. Evangelical clergymen yield to none in willingness to give rightful honour to Baptism and the Lord's Supper. All we say is, that grace is not tied to the Sacraments, and that a man may receive them, and be none the better for it. And what is all this but the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles? (J. C. Ryle on the 39 Articles).

From these remarks it can be clearly seen that even low church Evangelicals do not reject the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is indeed sad that some have decided they have more authority than the Bible or the church. Whether it be the extremist views of Anglo-Catholics or the sectarian views of Anabaptists, both are equally condemned by Scripture, the church, and the Articles of Religion. I think Ryle has it correct.

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