In my recent commending of The Thirty-Nine Articles for study as one of the three historic Formularies of the Anglican Way, I have received – from some persons who state their views very directly – both personal criticism and emotionally strong dismissals of this Standard of Faith.
I ask them and all who care to read what follows to use rational judgment in assessing my argument below.
What I want to show is that if one studies the other two Formularies, the classic Book of Common Prayer [BCP]and The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining and Consecrating Deacons, Priests and Bishops (The Ordinal) then one finds in them the same doctrines that are in The Articles, but without references to specific historical circumstances. For, being books of services of worship, we should not normally expect to find in them references to specifics of controversies (e.g., with Pelagians and Anabaptists).
Before beginning, I would like to point out – especially to those who use the 1979 Prayer Book – that the Catechism in the 1979 Prayer Book of The Episcopal Church was produced by the inductive method. That is, having rejected a reasonably good Catechism created on traditional principles, a committee was set up by the House of Bishops to write a new one and to do so by going through all the already approved services in contemporary English (to be known as Rite II). Its task was to ascertain what was there presupposed and expressed as doctrine (and Rite One material was excluded as being a left-over from the past). This inductive study of Rite II materials was done on the principle of “lex orandi, lex credendi,” that the law of praying in public worship is the law of believing for the people of God. That is, the congregation learns what to believe, teach and confess through using the new Liturgy and learning its content. (No wonder the ECUSA went wrong!)
If we do the same as this committee sought to do and use the inductive method to gather from The BCP (1662; 1928 USA and 1962 Canada) and The Ordinal (also 1662, 1928 & 1962) what is there presupposed and explicitly taught as doctrine, we shall find that the doctrine in The Articles and in The BCP with Ordinal is much the same!
The dogma of The Holy Trinity and of the Person of Christ made known in two natures (divine and human) is found in Articles 1-5 & 15 & 18 and is also presupposed and expressed through the entire content of The BCP & Ordinal, especially on Trinity Sunday and at the Festivals of Christ.
The doctrine of Scripture in Articles 6-7 is expressed in the Lectionaries, the Collect for Advent 2, in the questions and answers, together with the charges within The Ordinal, and in many other places.
The three Creeds of Article 8 are printed in The BCP.
The doctrine of sin in Articles 9-10 is presupposed in the confessions of sin in the services of the BCP as well as in many of the Collects and Prayers.
The doctrine of justification by faith through the merits of Christ and grace of God (Article 11) is deeply embedded in The Order for Holy Communion as well as in many Collects and Prayers.
The necessity of good works as the fruit of faith but not as means of gaining merit before God (Articles 12-14) is again found in The Order for Holy Communion, in the Catechism and in various Collects and Prayers.
The possibility of forgiveness of sin after Baptism (Article 16) is found in the exhortations and absolutions of daily Morning and Evening Prayer and of The Order for Holy Communion.
The mild Augustinian doctrine of divine election and its purpose of Article 17 is presupposed throughout the whole of The BCP in its Collects and Prayers and Exhortations.
The claim in Article 19 that the visible Church on earth has erred in doctrine, morals, ritual and ceremonial is expressed both in the content of prayers and exhortations but also in the absence of various (RC) doctrines, ritual and ceremonial from both The BCP and The Ordinal.
The authority of the National Church to set forth Rites and Ceremonies that are not contrary to the Word of God written (Article 20) is expressed in the very existence of The BCP as such, and its prefaces.
The decrees of General Councils only have authority in so far as they faithfully express biblical doctrine (Article 21) is seen in the reception of the doctrines concerning The Trinity and the Person and Work of Christ from the first four ecumenical Councils and in the rejection of the invocation of saints and veneration of saints from the Seventh Council and the doctrine of purgatory from later (Western) Ecumenical Councils (see Article 22). Note that in The BCP there are no requests on Saints’ days for the invocation of the saints and also in the Burial of the Dead or The Holy Communion there is not the slightest hint of purgatory – and there is no All Souls’ Day.
The rule that only those properly called by lawful authority should minister in the churches and that when they do so they should use the vernacular (Articles 23-24) is confirmed by the very existence of The BCP in English and the words of The Ordinal addressed to Ministers.
The teaching on the two Dominical Sacraments in Articles 25 to 31 is also found in the services of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism in The BCP.
The right of clergy to marry (Article 32) is presupposed by The Ordinal where they are charged to care properly for their families.
The excommunication of ungodly and wicked persons (Article 33) is described in the rubrics of The Order for Holy Communion concerning admittance to the Holy Table.
The establishing of local traditions in a National Church (Article 34) is illustrated by the contents of The BCP and The Ordinal and their prefaces.
The use of The Homilies (Article 35) is stated in the rubrics of The Order for Holy Communion (BCP 1662) at the place where a sermon is to be delivered.
The setting aside of men to the Threefold Ministry (Article 36) is achieved through the use of The Ordinal.
The authority of the civil magistrate (be it in under a Monarchy or in a Republic) stated in Article 37 is presupposed in the Catechism in the duties required by the Commandments and in the prayers for the civil magistrate in The Order for Holy Communion and at the end of the Daily Offices.
The duty to give alms to the poor (Article 38) is presupposed in the Offering/Collection in the Order for Holy Communion and in various Collects with the Eucharistic Lectionary.
The taking of an oath (Article 39) in a proper manner is part of the living soberly and in the fear of God often declared as needful in The BCP.
One problem facing those of us who commend the study of The Articles is that we are often heard by people who (a) rarely use the Order for Holy Communion in the BCP as written, for they use it as “enriched” from “Catholic” sources either by direct additions to the text by local custom or by the use of The Anglican Missal or other Missal; and (b) rarely go to Morning and Evening Prayer as public services, but may go to Evensong with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; and (c) rarely read or hear the Services from The Ordinal (and when they do these are also “enriched” so as to lose their original content and character). Thus what they think is BCP religion is in fact not so in a strict sense. It is a modified form of the BCP religion in a “Catholic” direction. Thus they instinctively feel that The Articles are not teaching what they are used to hearing, reading and saying! And they are right for The Articles agree with The BCP as is, not as modified and developed to take in “Catholic” principles. So it is not surprising that people in this position want to embrace the doctrinal decrees of The Seventh Council of Nicaea in 787 because this gives justification and support for the extras (e.g., invocation of saints and the BVM).
At the other end of the spectrum, some of those of modern evangelical and charismatic leanings, since they are committed to a certain dumbing-down in order to achieve credibility and relevance with modern folks in evangelization, dumb down their services in terms of doctrinal content, and thus they find that The Articles are just too strong for them!
I have no doubt but that those who “enrich” the BCP tradition and those who “dumb-down” the same truly believe that what they are doing creates something superior to that tradition in its pristine form. Even if they so believe, let them concede my point that the actual BCP, Ordinal and Articles belong together, as three sisters of one family!
The BCP & The Ordinal as they are, as they exist as published by the University Presses of Oxford and Cambridge in the editions of 1662, 1928 & 1962, are in full doctrinal agreement with The Articles, and the Three of them belong together as The Formularies of the Anglican Way!
[See further Peter Toon, The Anglican Formularies and Holy Scripture, from www.anglicanmarketplace.com or 1-800-727-1928. From the same source may be obtained now CDs on which are multiple text-books on The Articles and The BCP; and also an excellent new edition of The Homilies by mid-September 2006]
For contemporary language forms of some of the Services from the BCP 1928 go to www.anglicansatprayer.org
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)