Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lent Course 2015 - The 39 Aticles - Handout (1) - INTRODUCTION

Lent Course 2015 – The 39 Articles – INTRODUCTION - (Handout 1)

The origins of The 39 Articles of Religion

Henry VIII (reign 1509-1547)
The 10 Articles 1536
The Bishop's Book 1537 = 'The Institution of a Christian Man'
The 13 Articles 1538 – agreed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and 3 Lutheran scholars, not published
The 6 Articles 1539 - traditionalist
The King's Book 1543 = 'The Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christian Man' - a revision of the Bishop's Book
Edward VI (1547-1553) – period of most Evangelical Reform
Cranmer’s 42 Articles 1552 – drew on The 13 Articles - pretty similar to 39 Articles 
Elizabeth I (1558-1603)
The 11 Articles 1561
The 38 Articles 1563 – revision of Cranmer’s 42 articles, largely by Archbishop Parker 
*The 39 Articles 1571* – revised by Bishop Jewel, authorised by Parliament and Convocation in both English and Latin 
Charles II (1660-1685)
1662 The Book of Common Prayer printed with The 39 Articles – clerical subscription strictly required

Influenced e.g. by the Lutheran Confessions of Württemberg & Augsburg
16th C context: against both Roman Catholicism and Anabaptists

4 historic purposes of The 39 Articles according to J. I. Packer:

1. ‘To act as the Church of England’s theological identity-card, showing what she stood for in a split and warring Christendom. As such, the Articles were intended to be a title-deed to catholic status’

2. ‘To safeguard the truth of the gospel, for the good of souls, the welfare of the church itself, and the glory of God’

3. ‘To bring unity and order into the church (‘the establishing of consent touching true religion’ [from long title]), and this in the realms of both doctrine and discipline’

4. ‘To set bounds to the comprehensiveness of the Church of England... they were meant to ensure that all Anglican clergy, whatever their views on other matters, should unite in teaching an Augustinian doctrine of sin and a Reformed doctrine of justification and grace’.

The status of The 39 Articles

The Canons the law of the church - Canon A2 Of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

The Thirty-nine Articles are agreeable to the Word of God and may be assented unto with a good conscience by all members of the Church of England

Canon A5 Of the doctrine of the Church of England

The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.
In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.
The Declaration of Assent (from 1975)

The Declaration of Assent is made by deacons, priests and bishops of the Church of England when they are ordained and on each occasion when they take up a new appointment (Canon C 15).


The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make, will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to those in your care?

Declaration of Assent

I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.
Article 6 Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation…
Article 20 Of the Authority of the Church
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

The content of The 39 Articles

The subject of the articles may be grouped and summarised as follows:

Articles 1–5 GOD
                1. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
2. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man
3. Of the going down of Christ into Hell
4. Of the Resurrection of Christ
5. Of the Holy Spirit
Articles 6–8 SCRIPTURE & the creeds
6. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation
Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books
7. Of the Old Testament
8. Of the Creeds
Articles 9–18 Sin & SALVATION
                9. Of Original or Birth Sin
10. Of Free Will
11. Of the Justification of Man
12. Of Good Works
13. Of Works before Justification
14. Of Works of Supererogation
15. Of Christ alone without Sin
16. Of Sin after Baptism
17. Of Predestination and Election
18. Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ
Articles 19–39 CHURCH
19. Of the Church
20. Of the Authority of the Church
21. Of the Authority of General Councils
22. Of Purgatory
23. Of Ministering in the Congregation
24. Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the people understandeth
25. Of the Sacraments
26. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments
27. Of Baptism
28. Of the Lord's Supper
29. Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper
30. Of both Kinds
31. Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross
32. Of the Marriage of Priests
33. Of excommunicate Persons, how they are to be avoided
34. Of the Traditions of the Church
35. Of the Homilies
Of the Names of the Homilies 
36. Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers
37. Of the Civil Magistrates
38. Of Christian Men's Goods, which are not common
39. Of a Christian Man's Oath

For discussion / further thought:

What would be your top 39 Christian doctrines?
Are there any things you are surprised are included in the 39 Articles?
Do you think there are any important doctrines missing?
(How do the 39 Articles compare to other doctrinal statements such as the creeds, The Westminster Standards, the Universities and Colleges’ Christian Fellowship doctrinal basis?)
Could you say the Declaration of Assent?
Could you subscribe to the 39 Articles?
To what extent do you think the Articles are still relevant today?
Are doctrinal statements like this needed?

Since we have to be somewhat selective, next time we’ll start be asking:
* Are there any parts of the 39 Articles you would particularly like to discuss further? (Anything you don’t understand or agree with or find especially interesting or helpful?) *


The 39 Articles may be found in the back of The Book of Common Prayer (1662) and by searching online - includes unofficial modern language version (also printed in An English Prayer Book), access to Griffith Thomas, Principles mentioned below and other useful resources

Gerald Bray, The Faith We Confess: An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles (London, The Latimer Trust, 2009)

Martin Davie, Our Inheritance of Faith: A Commentary on the Thirty Nine Articles (Malton, Gilead Books, 2013)

O. O’Donovan, On the Thirty Nine Articles: A Conversation with Tudor Christianity (Exeter: Paternoster / SCM Press, 1986 / 2011)

J. I. Packer, The Thirty-nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, Latimer Studies 20–21 (Oxford: Latimer House, 1984)

W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles (London, Vine Books, 1978) – available on Church Society website (above)

Mark D. Thompson, ‘The Origin of the Thirty-nine Articles’ in Churchman Vol 125/1 (2011) -

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