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By Roger Salter
December 7, 2023

The Gospel Conserved And Confessed In Our Articles Of Religion - The Radical Core

The essential Pauline gospel is not necessarily affirmed in all its completeness and clarity in the symbols, statements, teaching and preaching of every denomination or communion considered to be a partaker within wider Christendom claiming allegiance, in some way, to Jesus Christ.

Various traditions fall far short in their definition of divine grace, and their description of the operation of grace in the lives of those brought to true faith is greatly wanting. Given also the existence of patently false teaching within certain groups within the churches there happens to exist strong repudiation and harmful revision adopted by professedly Christian bodies that have drifted to varying degrees from the safe mooring of Holy Scripture. Adherence to Holy Scripture as the Word of God is not uniformly avowed.

In every generation error is seen to abound within the Christian religion and it requires immediate countering and correction from the earnest efforts of the faithful. Inaccuracies occur in the form of gradual and stealthy subtle tweaking of the word of God that does not initially arouse instant alarm, all the way through to outright, even brazen heresy that leads unfortunate adherents far from the possibility of salvation.

The church in its true and faithful expression of divine revelation is called to be "a witness and guardian of Holy Scripture" (Article 20). The onus upon the people of God, clerical and lay, is enormous and solemn. Every member, according to ability and opportunity, is called upon to monitor developments within the church, either of their ongoing nurture or later adoption. Slumber within the fellowship of Christ creates an open field for the sowing of dangerous doctrinal and unethical seed.

While it is generally agreed, in a formal sense, that the Thirty-nine Articles are meant to be the basis of Anglican belief and doctrinal expression, many within the Anglican fold openly, even haughtily, dissent from their continuing authority within contemporary Anglicanism [there is much "tongue-in-cheek" at many, if not most, Anglican ordination services in required subscription to the Articles], practically ignoring them and even disputing their suitability in a so-called progressive age, regarding them as redundant propositions of a bygone age, expressive, theologically, of a simplistic and literalistic cast of mind [bordering on Fundamentalism] shaped before the emergence of a more "up to date" scholarly and informed biblical science, [misleadingly termed "criticism" at its outset, for in its original intent, one believes, re-evaluation among many of its practitioners did not set out deliberately to be anti-Christian but to bring more light to the church's sources of faith in the honest reinvestigation of the Bible as to its nature and use in response to modern interrogation.

In actual and some - times mischievous subsequent intent the predominantly academic exercise often succeeds in spawning unnecessary notions of great dubiety and uncertainty, thereby undermining humble, reverent, and prayerful acceptance of the content of the Bible for edification, consolation and guidance. In biblical criticism much subjectivity prevails in forms of unreasonable historical doubt, speculative revision of the text [provenance and authorship], and over-confident conclusions on the basis of mere theory or highly personal supposition. The fruits of higher criticism are not as assured as many specialists like to claim. Their surmises and inventions are frequently exposed.

The Academy is a legitimate authority in the ongoing thought of the Church of God - but far from infallible and capable of obvious arrogance, stolid skepticism and immense harm. It is the Reformational conviction that when addressed obediently and inquiringly before God its ultimate Author, the text of Scripture is eminently sound, trustworthy and reliable, as is proved with patient and prayerful investigation. The edification, power and charm of the Scriptures are palpable and uniquely enthralling. The Holy Spirit Illuminates its meaning and witnesses to its authenticity. However, the sinful, un-submissive mind cannot discover its divine mysteries. The Scriptures exude the warmth and vitality of the word of God. They testify to heart, mind, conscience that they convey the speech of God, just as honey proves its sweetness to the tongue, and salt imparts its savor.

The Mysteries of Salvation

In the biblical sense the term mystery is certainly not evasive of intellectual clarity where there exists the opportunity to cloud an issue from reluctance to form a firm conviction that might prove offensive; nor is it to be attributed to some arcane or insoluble enigma, "mystical" in nature that must be probed deftly by human caution, enquiry, adeptness and openness, but a truth that only God can reveal and disclose.

Without Scripture and the light shed upon it by the Spirit of God there would be no access to or understanding of the divine and miraculous way of salvation. Mankind would not so much as gain a glimmer of the glorious gospel, nor would he by nature even desire such a deliverance as God chooses to provide. Salvation, inherently is holy transformation, and therefore translation to holiness is strictly and utterly undesirable to human preference. Human sin and divine righteousness have no meeting points, apart from the justice of God, its desert, and grace, its un-deservedness.

Our Articles ingeniously, by the Lord's enabling, seamlessly trace the origin of our fallen plight to the offense of our first parents in Eden's garden; and they search out the fountain of saving grace in the merciful heart of the Creator Almighty, the Supreme Being who willingly cultivates a bias to blessing.

"Article 9 avers that the 'fault and corruption of the nature of every man, with which all the descendants of Adam are born. [It] is due to original sin that we have departed very far from the original righteousness in which we were created, and are naturally inclined to evil, with the result that there is a constant war between the flesh and the spirit. Accordingly in every person born into this world, original sin is deserving of God's wrath and condemnation."

This grim verdict on our human condition feels like a spiritual cul-de-sac, or more realistically a miry pit, a prison from which we cannot be extracted. We are alienated from God; we live under his curse and face imminent doom. Our nature is fixed and our prospects, therefore, most fearful.

Article 10 confirms our hopeless, helpless state when left to ourselves as captives and servants of the evil one and dominated by drives and propensities to all manner of wickedness and selfish gratification. We are dominated by evil that resides deeply within ourselves, the waywardness of the surrounding world that deludes our minds with lies, and excites and allures us with ceaseless temptation. Primarily we are deceived and driven in every foul direction by Satan who entraps us by his cunning, misdirects us by his false leadings and suggestions, and erects internal and external obstructions preventing us ever to consider turning to God.

"Since the fall of Adam man's state is such that he is unable, by his own natural strength and good works to turn and dispose himself to believe and call upon God. Consequently, we have no power of our own to do good works that are pleasing and acceptable to God."

A full reading of these articles, starkly frank as they are in their statements on the problem and peril of humankind, simultaneously reveals that divine grace is already in action by preparatorily attending to the well-being of self-destructive men, women, and younger persons of accountability before God. With the way of the sinner's incapability utterly closing off any reversal of his inescapable liability to the certain judgment of the Lord, and with no capacity to move towards the avenger of his wrongdoing, in any plea for assistance and compassion, our succeeding article of our Confession of Faith surprises us with the Lord's marvelous reply to our self-despair.

A way is opened to our change of expectation as sinners and enemies of God that proclaims his free pardon, peace of conscience, and reconciliation with God. It is the best news ever published on earth and in time. Justification - pardon from God and acceptance with him tied to the promise of everlasting life in his eternal companionship is the beautiful theme of the entirety of Scripture [former covenant and present apostolic announcement of rescue and redemption through Jesus Christ]. There is that winsome phrase in the Te Deum [cf versions] "Thine honorable/adorable, true and only Son."

Article 11 compassionately informs us of the justification of the wrong doer through faith in the designated Savior of the world, the coming lovely Messiah intimated through the holy writings of Israel, Jesus Christ: "It is not of any good works or deservings on our part, but only by faith which rests on the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that we are accounted righteous before God. Therefore, the doctrine of our justification by faith alone is most edifying and full of strength and comfort." [this doctrine is more fully explained in the homily on Justification]. It is Christ himself who qualifies us by his own righteousness, obedience and merits [virtue] for restored union with God as purified sinners.

This is the point where joy and relief - sheer gladness - ought to break out when believers genuinely apprehend the Lord Jesus Christ as their mighty Deliverer from sin, judgment, and death by his deserving, not ours, his merits alone, for ours do not exist, his cross and not our doings. As we take time to contemplate all that Jesus has accomplished on our behalf our love and gratitude before him will increase more and more in sincere humility. Adorable indeed!

Article 17: At this juncture our Confession of Faith rises to its sublimest theological perception and poetic genius in adumbrating the operation of electing love in all its effectual phases from its origin in the merciful heart and will of the sovereign Lord God and its effusion into the souls of sinful and resistant human beings programed (constrained) by the Fall of mankind in its rebellious nature to defy and oppose every component of the gospel of Christ and the gift of peace with God. The Lord himself must disarm his enemies, and allure the stubbornly defiant toward himself [Article 10].

"Predestination to life belongs to God's everlasting purpose. By this is meant that before the foundation of the world, it is his unchangeable decree, in accordance with his secret counsel to deliver from the curse and damnation those whom he has chosen in Christ, and to bring them to everlasting salvation, as vessels of his mercy [Rom. 9:21ff].

This article continues, that as a consequence of electing love, effectual calling, justification, adoption as God's children, and progressive Christ-likeness map the path to the attainment of everlasting bliss. Every episode of the believer's life is due to the grace of the triune God exclusively. Some who evade the unconditionality of election posit the notion that the phrase "chosen in Christ" signifies that folk are chosen when by belief of the gospel they may be recognized as being in Christ - hence they are chosen. But this patently is not the case. It is by enabling grace that any individual may be said to be "in Christ" that determines their election.

We are chosen to salvation not in salvation. The point is that in view of the bondage of the will no person is able to bring themselves to Christ. They must be supernaturally drawn and freed from their enslavement from the flesh, the world and the devil. Only the powerful grace of God can liberate us from this triad of tyranny - the threefold thrall of the archenemy of God.

All through the history of Reformed Anglicanism this theological basis of Anglican doctrine has undergone attempted revision by a plethora of evasive opinions and modifications, and even explicit denial. The pastoral counsel contained within the article would be entirely unnecessary if the teaching of our church was not Augustinian or Calvinistic. The grammar is clear and the history is unequivocal. We know what our Reformers believed and meant. It was Cranmer's resolve to rebuild the Ecclesia Anglicana on the doctrine of predestination [Diarmaid MacCulloch, All Things Made New, page 276] and that doctrine was shared by all of his 16th century colleagues and their major successors until the opposition of Charles Stuart and William Laud who doused the light of the Reformation essentials as much as they were able.

Article 17 is not timid in its articulation of the divine decree. Its phrases are willing, uncontrived echoes, and not simply contrived or lazy imitation of the Genevan scholar in his Scriptural theology. Indeed, the eminent historian of the English Reformation, A.G. Dickens, opines that the article may well be construed as Supralapsarian in character. "This is not the position of the moderate or "sublapsarian" Calvinists" {Page 280, The English Reformation, Second Edition, 1993 Pennsylvania State University}.

Whatever we me make of Dicken's bold comment, it is beyond dispute as to what our Reformers believed and our Confession declares - unconditional election. How shall the membership of the Anglican Communion be apprised of our most admirable and beneficial heritage? And when shall our anemic ministry gain its courage to rise up as one and proclaim and explain the plain teaching of Scripture to the glory of the Lord who so sweetly and strongly wins us to himself with faithfulness at our calling and total reliability toward us through our embattled journey home to God and its triumphant conclusion.

The charge is issued to every serious Anglican: Know the truth and make it known. And to our hesitant ministry: For the love of the dear Lord Jesus and for his honor: Preach his Word!

"I know that no man can embrace Arminianism in the doctrines of predestination and grace, but he must desert the Articles agreed upon by the Church of England, nor in the point of perseverance, but he must vary from the received opinions of the best approved doctrine in the English Church" John Davenant

"Like most of the theologians of his time, John Davenant had strong calvinistic leanings and loved the doctrines of grace. How much healthier the Church of England would be today if her bishops were faithful, as Davenant was, to the Reformed faith of the Bible and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion" Brian Felge, 1989.

Roger Salter blogs at Living Oracles. https://www.rogersalter.com/about.html Born and raised in Australia, he trained for the Anglican ministry at Trinity Theological College in Bristol, England from 1974 to 1979. Following ordination, he served in several parishes in the Church of England and transferred to Birmingham, Alabama in 1994 where he pastors at St. Matthews Anglican Church.

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