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THE THIRTY NINE ARTICLES OF RELIGION

Within the Model of Religion, Theology and Philosophy

By: The Reverend Lewis H. How

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear;”  1Peter 3:15

This is precisely why the Thirty-nine Articles are paramount to Anglicanism; because we cannot fulfil the great commission of Christ, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” Matthew 28:19 if we do not understand and profess the fundamental tenets of Christianity. “We cannot teach what we do not understand.” (E.J. Bicknell, page 5)

Therefore the Christian Faith must be articulated. E.J. Bicknell offers a threefold process model to this end in his A.D. 1925 book on the Anglican Articles: (1) religion, (2) theology and (3) philosophy.

In the first place (1) the Christian religion is primarily a “way of life, based upon beliefs about the nature of God and the claim of Jesus Christ; born of God’s Revelation in the Holy Scripture.” (Bicknell)

But faith (belief, hope, trust) constitutes a relationship with God, not mere unwitting obedience; so that intellectual ascent to Revelation is tied to faith. We must choose to believe or disbelieve: which is not a profession of works over God’s Sovereignty, but rather an acknowledgement that while faith comes of God Hebrews 12:2 it is fixed in man through a relationship with his maker Hebrews 11:6. In deed the Greek word for faith means to be convicted. Hence the Church bears a responsibility to preach the Word. Romans 10:14

The process of articulating the basic claims of Scripture is our second stage (2) theology. Within this category the claims about the person of Jesus Christ from the first stage are called DOGMAS. They are considered basic because of their “Primary assumptions implicit in all Christian life and experience; logical, but not provable. ...In Scripture ‘faith’ is always opposed to ‘sight’ never to ‘reason’. The teaching of these dogmas is called DOCTRINE.

When the early Church was faced with the task of defining the essential truths about Christianity in the presence of mystery cults, which claimed to have extra Biblical knowledge of God, contradictory to basic Scriptural witness; DOCTRINE was established through CREED. The universal consent to right thinking about Christianity or ORTHODOXY as it is called in Greek was settled by the first four oecumenical councils and expressed in the three creeds, believed “everywhere, always, and by all.” [Vincentian Canon]

The Reformation rejected unbiblical mediaeval corruptions and innovations. It was called Protestant because it protested against these unbiblical corruptions, but might better have been entitled the appellate Reformation because it appealed to Holy Scripture against innovation.

Our third process of Christian articulation is [3] philosophy. If theology seeks to organize and clarify the inalienable beliefs (dogmas) of Christian religious Faith, found in Scriptural Revelation, and doctrine is charged with teaching the same; then Christian philosophy can be viewed as the evangelical vehicle, which brings doctrine to bear upon other worldviews.

A worldview may be defined as a philosophical assertion which explains Reality, Knowledge and Ethics. The Christian Biblical worldview understands Reality was Created by GOD, that Knowledge is Revealed by GOD and that Ethics are Morally According to GOD.

“As rational beings we are bound to wish not only to understand our religion, but to bring our knowledge of it into relation with the rest of our knowledge.” To do this is to construct a religious philosophy, a process which faithfully and logically compares Christianity to the world of contrary minded knowledge and other faiths. The Anglican divines Richard Hooker and Bishop Butler both demonstrated the formidable effect of Christian philosophy in life’s full forum; Hooker by his deduction of universal laws and Butler through his inductive analogy proving Religion from Nature.

Bicknell points to a great danger in mistaking Christian philosophy for Christian theology. Because knowledge advances inexorably, Christian philosophy must change. There can be no single philosophy allied to Christianity, only the general goal of explaining biblical theology to the world at large.

Theology, in contrast, is immutable in its task of understanding and clarifying the inalienable beliefs of Christianity derived from Divine Revelation. When philosophy is misdirected toward influencing or defining theology rather than explaining it, heresy ensues. An example can be found in mediaeval scholasticism where Aquinas applied Aristotle’s philosophical views on matter and accident to the biblical doctrine of the Lord’s Supper to justify the invention of the un-biblical doctrine of transubstantiation and so divided the Church over one of her central Sacraments.

The direction of the religion, theology, and philosophy process is, correctly, from left to right, never the reverse. Our theology (understanding and organization of belief) must never teach anything contrary to the inviolate dogmas of biblical revelation. Likewise, Christian philosophy is purposed to serve theology by bearing logical and dialectic witness to the Gospel before the world. When philosophy ceases to serve biblical theology, it serves the world against the Gospel.

One final sub-category is in need of mentioning. Christian theology produces Christian morality or, logically appropriate behaviour flows from doctrine. Again, as with theology and philosophy, the latter proceeds from the former. The Christian moral vision only exists as it flows from Christian doctrine. The former is the base for the latter, just as theology flows from Scripture.

Hereby, God works His Gospel of Redemption, in and through us via: religion, theology, [including its behavioural manifestation morality], and philosophy. Without doctrine Bicknell concludes, morality dies. “This has already occurred in certain circles. A generation ago,” (before A.D.1925), “the opponents of Christian doctrine professed themselves anxious to preserve Christian morality as the one thing needful. Their descendants today criticize with equal freedom Christian dogma and Christian ethics.”

The next logical disintegrating step from here [currently manifest in our present society] is the two-pronged belief system of relativism and humanism. The former is void of absolutes, and is amoral; the latter embraces and promotes a humanistic, anti-religious doctrine disguised as neutral tolerance which confuses amorality for justice. T.S. Eliot’s warning has come to pass: “Do you need to be told that even such modest attainments as you can boast in the way of polite society will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?” (Choruses from the ‘Rock’)

Finally: the idea of Christian unity without biblical truth is detrimental to true reconciliation and the advancement of God’s Kingdom. Bishop Jewel condemned the idea of unity at any cost in his Apology for the Anglican Church: “Neither do we eschew concord and peace” he wrote, “but to have peace with man we will not be at war with God…Peace is one thing, bondage another; for if it should be, as they seek to have it, that Christ should be commanded to keep silence, that the truth of the Gospel should be betrayed, that horrible errors should be cloaked…this were not peace, but a most ungodly covenant with servitude. There is a peace that is unprofitable; again there is discord that is profitable, for love must desire peace, so far as is lawful before God.”      

Liberal Anglicanism of our time has discarded Biblical Authority in favour of what it calls the mind of the church, ignorant of the fact that God does not offer believers a worldly democracy but rather his heavenly Kingdom. When challenged about the logical consequence of this new basis for church authority, its proponents claim to be under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. It is a slick but utterly transparent trap that must be exposed and which Evangelical Anglicans must not brook.

Anglican’s via media position is at stake in her Thirty-nine Articles because they constrain her to adhere to Biblical Theology, and show an Evangelical witness to the world. Without Biblical authority at the heart of her dogma and doctrine, Anglicanism is spiritually dead: without the Articles of Religion she abandons her reformation heritage and evangelical witness.

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