The University of Cambridge Professor of Divinity, G.W.H. Lampe, gave a lecture in 1964 in Oxford on The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. In this lecture he advocated the following position for the Church of England (where, it needs to be remembered, subscription to them was then required both at ordination and when entering a pastoral or teaching ministry):
To retain them as a highly important historical document which ought to be brought to the notice and consideration of every Churchman, and which the clergy in particular, ought to study carefully, but cease to treat them as an official exposition of the doctrinal position of the Church of England at the present time and accordingly, neither demand subscription to them, nor substitute any new “articles” for the.
Notice here that he uses the strong form of the verb implying moral duty, “ought to be brought,” and that he advocates careful study of The Articles. So, although there should be no subscription required, he believes that the clergy ought to know the content of The Articles. (This contrasts with those who dismiss The Articles as either irrelevant or “Protestant” and who seem not to read, let alone, study them carefully!)
From his own study of The Articles, Professor Lampe has the following to say about their purpose:
The real purpose of The Articles….is to identify the Church of England. They therefore serve, first, to explain the theological reason for the existence of the Church of England as a particular national Church in a divided Christendom; to set out, and to justify, its distinctive position as one of the Churches of the Reformation, and hence to clarify the main issues on which it took a stand in opposition to what it held to be the errors of others. Hence their statements are often of a negative kind. Many of them are concerned to deny error; and in so doing they often naturally appear to adopt a defensive attitude, whether on behalf of the sufficiency of the Ordinal, or against the jurisdiction of the Pope, or in support of the retention in the Church of Infant Baptism. They are designed to defend the belief of the Church of England against opponents on two fronts: not indeed, as is sometimes alleged, to maintain a via media between Rome and Geneva…; the opposing camps are rather Rome, on the one hand, and the Anabaptist teaching on the other. The Articles indicate where, in the burning questions of the sixteenth century, our Church stood in relation to the answers given by these two chief opponents….
It is sometimes said that Articles ought to be interpreted in the light of the Prayer Book [BCP, 1662]. Historically speaking this is certainly wrong. The liturgy of the Church does indeed express the Church’s doctrinal position in a general way, but it is not the purpose of a service-book to set out teaching directly and systematically… The Articles provide the doctrinal framework within which the Prayer Book stands and with reference to which it is meant to be interpreted….
It is worth remarking that The Articles presuppose the existence of fuller statements about our Church’s teaching on faith and practice. The Homilies are generally commended by Article 35 as containing “a godly and wholesome doctrine,” and they are to be read by the ministers diligently and distinctly, that they may be understood by the people. The highly important Article 11 on Justification has recourse to the Homilies as a source of fuller authoritative teaching…
And Professor Lampe goes on to stay that “if a person cannot assent to these Articles as being agreeable to the Word of God as this was best understood at the time of their compilation, and so by implication reject the opposing contemporary claims of Trent or of the Anabaptists, he cannot be recognized as standing within the Anglican tradition.” This statement is surely worth pondering.
In the present urgent and global search for “identity” by Anglicans – caused by the crisis brought to the Anglican Family of Churches by the recent innovations of the North American members – the voice of Professor Lampe from forty years ago is surely joined by many others in calling for the serious study of the Anglican Formularies (all printed in the pew editions of the BCP 1662) – not least a majority of the Primates of the Anglican Communion of Churches.
[ See further the important, new edition of The Homilies edited by Ian Robinson; and the essay/booklet of 64pp., The Anglican Formularies and Holy Scripture, by Peter Toon; both now available from www.anglicanmarketplace.com for the USA and www.edgewaysbooks.com for the UK and British Commonwealth (except Canada). Professor Lampe’s lecture is found in The Articles of the Church of England, edited by H.E.W. Turner, London, 1964.]
Peter Toon October 3, 2006