Future Church of England: Thinking About the Thirty Nine - Part 2

A while ago I wrote some reflections on the place of the 39 Articles in the present day Church of England. In this blog I want to reflect on how the Articles might take a place in a reformed or reforming Church of England. In other words, suppose for a moment that something like the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans were to set a confessional statement for a reformed Church of England (I know about the Jerusalem Declaration, but run with me for a minute), what place would or could the 39 Articles have? Could we adopt them as our confession of faith?

I want to say up front, that if all churches and clergy in the Church of England subscribed to (as in believed!) the 39 Articles with their intended meaning, we would be in a significantly better situation than we are now. However, I want to suggest two problems/issues that I think we would need to resolve.

  1. There is the uncomfortable issue that the articles would probably split those that we might like to think of as orthodox within the Church of England. Within even conservative evangelicals they raise various issues. For example, Article VII assumes a reformed view of the law when many have been convinced of what is called the modified Lutheran position of someone like Douglas Moo. Article XVII requires a fairly Calvinistic view of predestination. Article XXVII teaches infant baptism. Article XXVIII suggests a Calvinistic view of the Lord's Supper. Episcopacy is found in Article XXXVI. The role of the state and the death penalty are in Article XXXVII. While we might be willing to have some latitude on these topics in our fellowship, if the articles were enforced on clergy for example, I suspect many conservative evangelicals might have to demur. And that's before we start to discuss whether we might want conservative anglo-catholics involved. I remember at my ordination one such saying that he crossed his fingers on various of the articles! Surely many would have some trouble with the articles on justification (e.g. IX-XIV). Personally, I have to admit that latitude on those areas is much less acceptable to me.
  2. The 39 Articles don't address a number of issues we face today. As a conservative evangelical, I might want more on things like the inerrancy of Scripture, the interpretation of Scripture, the complementarian understanding of gender and an orthodox understanding of sexuality. The reason is simple enough, which is that the questions asked and answered over the last few hundred years need expression in a confession of faith, just as they did in the 16th Century. I note that Packer and Beckwith in their Latimer booklet The Thirty-nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today suggest 17 more! Of course, the more precise you are, the more people you exclude.
Personally, I think a revised and updated version of the 39 Articles could be very useful in defining what a reformed Church of England should look like in the 21st Century. In some cases we may be willing to see a little more latitude, although personally I suspect we might be wiser to have positive fellowship with those of different conscience in different denominations or independent churches. In other cases, we might want to add to the articles to deal with question raised since they were published.


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