• Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 11: Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion

    Posted Jul 11th, 2017 By in Pastor Brian's Blog, Why We Believe What We Believe With | Comments Off on Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 11: Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion

    After Henry VIII (r. 1509-47) started his affair with Anne Boleyn he needed to find a righteous way to get rid of his wife Catherine of Aragon (in his defense Catherine had trouble producing a living heir and when she did it was a female. He desperately wanted a male heir and would stop at nothing to get one). Henry–a Roman Catholic—knew that there was no way the church would ever allow him to remarry if he divorced Catherine. So he got creative. He turned his attention to the Bible for justification and sought an annulment rather than a divorce based on Leviticus 20:21: If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless. You see, prior to marrying Henry, Catherine had been married to Henry’s now-deceased brother Arthur. In Henry’s mind it was an airtight case. Much to his surprise, however, the annulment was rejected. So Henry did as any self-respecting man in his position would do. He “cut off the church in England from obedience to Rome and established himself as its supreme head” (Holcomb, 124). Makes sense. In doing so, interestingly, he inadvertently established the Anglican Church.

    In the subsequent decades the Anglican Church wrote several documents distancing itself from the Roman Catholic Church as well as from the Lutherans, Geneveans (Calvinists), and Anabaptists. Sometimes Anglicanism is called Catholic-lite. And it is that in some ways. But it is also a full-throated Protestant church in the reformed tradition affirming justification by faith alone as the central doctrine of the church, as well as rejecting such central Catholic teachings as transubstantiation, purgatory, papal authority, and the celibacy of the clergy. For our purposes it is perhaps most interesting and important to note the way in which the Anglican Church leaned on Calvin theologically as well as how the Thirty-Nine articles were the basis for the Westminster Confession (as we will see next week). Even the dissenters—the Puritans—came from this church. In both of these positive and negative aspects we are very, very, closely related to Anglicans. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that they are our closest living relatives.

    One of the most important historical figures of the protestant reformation generally and for Anglicanism specifically was Archbishop of Canterbury (the highest position in the Church of England. Kind of like the Anglican pope) Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556). Cranmer is best known for massively important and hugely influential The Book of Common Prayer—the book that would become the regulator of faith and worship for the church and continues to this day. As an interesting little historical aside it was the imposition of this book in worship that set the group off now known as the Puritans who didn’t appreciate being told what to do. An equally important, but less known, contribution from Cranmer’s pen was his Forty-Two Articles. From these sprung what is now known as the Thirty-Nine Articles, the quasi-confessional document of the Anglican Church. I say quasi-confessional document because as Holcomb notes, “The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1563/1571) of the Church of England are hard to categorize as a creed, a confession, or a catechism. The best way to describe them might be as a short set of statements intended to set out Anglican theology as differing from the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant dissenters, Calvinists, Anabaptists, and Lutherans.”

    If you’ve never read the Thirty-Nine Articles check it out. I think you’ll find it to be equally interesting as well as edifying and encouraging.





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    Pastor of New Life La Mesa Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA.

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