We preach Christ crucified
Section 3, which deals with the doctrine of the Church.
XIX – Of the Church
Where will we hear the Gospel of salvation, and were should we go as believers, in order to enjoy the benefits and privileges of faith, and to share in the service of Almighty God? The answer is, the Church. What is the Church?
The Article begins by speaking of the visible Church. Some take ‘visible’ to mean the organised Churches of the world, others to refer to the Church militant as opposed to the Church triumphant — believers yet alive as opposed to those who have already died. Since the Article states that the ‘visible Church is a congregation of faithful men…’, and since we know that not all who are members of the organised Church can be called faithful, it makes more sense to refer this to the Church here on earth, the Church militant.
It is called a congregation, or gathering, or assembly. Thus it is first and foremost the people, the members, who are in view. Only later did the word translated ‘church’ be applied to the buildings in which congregations met.
It is called ‘a congregation of faithful men’, so that where any assembly does not consist of people of faith it cannot be called a Church. Since it is the ‘Church of Christ’ it follows that the faithful men are those who have faith in Jesus Christ. He is the Head of the Church, and all the members derive their life from the Head. He is the foundation, and although there are many local congregations, yet they are all part of that one building. There is only one true Church, and we must all be members of it. Bishop Beveridge wrote,
It is [the] outward profession of faith in Christ that entitles us to church-membership here on earth, though it is only the inward possession of Christ by faith that entitles us to communion with the invisible church in heaven.
The faithfulness of the Church may be known by two things. First, it is where the pure Word of God is preached. We note two things; first, there can be no Church where there is no preacher. Whatever people might call themselves who assemble without a preacher, they are not a Church. Secondly, in that preaching is central to the very essence of the Church, it follows that the Church has a duty to proclaim, to declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Preaching is both that declaration to sinners, and the instruction of believers. Both go together.
The Article adds that in the Church ‘the Sacraments be duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same’. That is, in the Church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper will be recognisable from those patterns set out by our Lord Jesus Christ, both in his own baptism, and in his instituting the Holy Communion. Nothing which belongs to the essence of either sacrament can be omitted, so that water, bread and wine remain the outward symbols, and faith and the receiving of grace remain the inward benefits.
That Churches can and do err is shown by the references to three ancient Churches which all fell away, and to the Church of Rome, which continues to do so. The Article is plain that it is not just in the corruption of the sacraments that this error can be seen, but in the very doctrine of salvation Rome teaches.
This Article, therefore, teaches us to have a right regard for the Church, and for the things the Church is commanded to do. Membership is truly a privilege, and we should always be thankful for all that we have through it.
XX — Of the Authority of the Church
The authority of the Church is limited to two things, against Rome’s claim to have authority over every area of human existence. These two things are ‘rites and ceremonies’, and ‘controversies in faith’.
The rites and ceremonies of the Church concern such things as how we accept people into membership. So the sacrament of baptism must, in its essentials, be according to Christ’s ordinance, but in the outward form, it is as the Church decrees. The same is true of marriage, of confirmation, the burial of the dead, and even the forms of public worship. However, rites and ceremonies, being those things men consider best, must not be confused with the worship of God, which is a spiritual exercise, and not a mere adherence to forms or rites. Therefore God may be worshipped without rites, and not worshipped with them. They are matters ‘indifferent’, and so the Church decides.
Yet in that the Church has authority to decree these things, it is necessary for the members of the Church of adhere to them, to follow them as they are decreed. This is because the Church is to be ordered, and there is no order if we all do what we think is right.
This is why the Church also has authority in matters of controversy. When there is doctrinal debate, where someone is teaching what appears to be error, it is the Church which decides who is right and who is wrong. The Article goes on to speak plainly about the standard by which such things are to be judged; the Church only has authority to declare which view is more agreeable to the Word of God. Truth is not decided by a majority vote, nor by the ability of one side or the other to lobby more effectively. Scripture is the arbiter to truth, and the Church, to whom the Scripture is entrusted, must always judge according to the Word.
As it must judge by the Word, so can it not add anything as necessary to salvation, neither must it set Scripture against itself by ignoring anything that would require a different interpretation from the one being taken. The Church only has authority to conform to the Bible, and to require believers to do the same.
XXI — Of the Authority of General Councils
Having declared the authority, and limitations, on Churches, the Articles go on to speak of the gathering of more than one Church. Such Councils, the Article states, ‘may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes’. Secular rulers must call such Councils.
Two things need to be noted. The first is that the power of princes, or secular rulers, is limited to the calling of Councils; it does not extend to taking part in the discussions, much less in determining the outcome. Secondly, this Article assumes the authority of secular rulers over the members of the Church. As citizens of any country, this is obvious; even the Archbishop of Canterbury is subject to the laws of the land. However, it is equally true that even the monarch, as a member of the Church of England, is subject the authority and discipline of the Church. How, then, can the monarch be the one who calls Councils? The secular ruler is responsible for upholding and maintaining the law of the land. Since all law derives from God, whose law all must obey, and since the ruler is set up by the will of God, it is his duty to ensure that every part of his kingdom is governed properly. This means the Church as well as everything else. It is his duty, as a member of the Church, to keep the Church in order, and to that end, when there is a matter that must be resolved, he must call a Council. In so doing he is upholding the rule of law.
As to the decisions and decrees of Councils, the Article recognises the fallible nature of such gathering, and states that no decision of theirs is binding unless it can be shown to be according to the teaching of Scripture. We are therefore not bound to follow every Council, nor do we, for some have taught serious error in place of truth.
XXII – Of Purgatory
In Article XIX we were told that ‘the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.’ That perhaps rather sweeping statement is now fleshed out. Although the title of the Article speaks only of Purgatory, the Article itself deals with a whole raft of Romish practices which were justly condemned at the Reformation, and yet which continue today.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1994, has a section entitled ‘The Final Purification, or Purgatory’. It states, ‘All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven’ (p. 235, para 1030). The doctrine is derived, they say, from 1 Cor 3:5 and 1 Peter 1:7, though their preferred passage is 2 Maccabees 12:46.
This doctrine was rejected at the Reformation on the ground that it runs contrary to the doctrine of justification by faith, so that a person is accounted righteous solely as an act of divine grace, having the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to them. This being so there can be no sin remaining for which atonement must be made by any other means.
This doctrine also contradicts the declaration of Christ’s death as the one full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for our sins. If his death dealt with all sin, there is no sin for which we must atone ourselves. So we reject the doctrine of Purgatory.
Allied to this doctrine are several others, all mentioned in this Article. The first of these is Pardons, which we know by the more usual term ‘Indulgences’. An indulgence is a pardon for sins that the individual buys from an authorised source. They are readily available at the shops in Little Walsingham today. This piece of paper (by which Gutenberg made his fortune as a printer) declares that the purchaser has obtained ‘remission of a temporal punishment due to God without the sacrament [of penance], by the application of the satisfaction of Christ and the saints.’ In other words, it is a payment from the so-called ‘treasury of merit’, an imagined chest of righteousness which Christ and the saints are supposed to have accumulated by fulfilling all righteousness and more beside. Such a notion is of course unknown in the Bible. It was also unknown in the early centuries of the Christian Church, when the general cry of the Fathers was, ‘None can pardon sins but only God’, as St Chrysostom and others maintained.
The next Romish practice the Article condemns is the ‘Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques.’ It distinguishes between worship and adoration, as Rome does, but only to condemn both. Rome defends the veneration of these things on the ground that her adherents honour the people represented by the statues and relics, but do not worship the items, when in practice it is clear that they do worship them, kissing the items if they can. This is idolatry, and in calling is such, we need add nothing further on the point.
Relics are items connected with certain places, events and individuals from Scripture and Church history, such as pieces of the true cross, the head(s) of St James, the Turin Shroud, vials of Christ’s blood, and very much else beside. Since payment of money is required to look on these things, it is easy to see why they have been (and in some cases continue to be) so very popular with the Church of Rome.
The final practice condemned is ‘the veneration of Saints.’ This is more than the adoration of images, but includes the offering of prayers to intercessors other than our Lord Jesus Christ. It is said the Christ must be angry with us for causing his death on the cross, so we should pray to his Mother, who will then demand that he hears us favourably. Then there are the ‘patron saints’, to whom people are directed to pray in different situations’ St Peter for fishermen, St Jude for lost causes, St Christopher for safe travel, and so on. Such superstitions owe nothing to God’s revelation in the Bible, and everything to the corrupt imagination of the human mind. Yet together all these practices show how far the Church of Rome has fallen from the Church as set out in the New Testament. The Protestant Reformation delivered us from all these things, for which we ought to continue to thank God.
XXIII — Of Ministering in the Congregation
Just as the last Article is an expansion of an earlier one, so this expands on Article XIX, in which it is said that ‘the Church is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly administered…’ Who may preach the word and administer the sacraments? Only those who be ‘lawfully called, and sent to execute the same’.
The lawful calling refers primarily to the divine call which every preacher and minister must have consciously. That is, none must dare take up the preaching office unless able to demonstrate that they are called of God and led by the Holy Spirit to do such work. St James warns that ‘masters … shall receive the greater condemnation’ (James 3:1).
Those who truly know themselves to be called of God to preach must also be sent. That is, the Church must recognise their call and ordain them to the work. So the Church cannot simply ordain whoever it wishes, but must restrict itself to those whom God has raised up. Similarly, none must put themselves forward for ordination who are not conscious of the divine call.
Finally, the Article notes that such ordination must be conducted by those ‘who have public authority given unto them in the Congregation’. In the Church of England, this means bishops. It is not enough for a group to assemble to ordain whoever they desire. Those who carry out the ordination must be recognised as having authority to do so.
As the previous Article countered certain false claims of the Roman Church, so this counters the actions of certain independent churches, including the Quakers, where ordination is not required, and where anyone can speak. Where this happens the role of divine calling is overlooked. Where lay ordination takes place the need for authority is overlooked. Great dangers attend those who fail on either point.
XXIV — Of speaking in the Congregation in such a tongue as the people understand
This Article is directed against the Roman practice of conducting services in Latin, which was not understood by most of the clergy, let alone the congregations. Although Vatican 2 removed the Latin liturgy, the current Pope has overseen its partial return.
If the congregation do not understand what is being said, how can they participate in worship? Bishop Beveridge rightly quotes from 1 Cor 14, vv 2, 14, and 18f, to show that this practice is counter to plain scriptural teaching.
It is not just Latin, or any other strange language, that is in view, but also the priestly practice of muttering, or of saying certain things so quietly that the congregation could not hear. In both cases the congregational ‘Amen’ cannot be added, since they neither hear nor understand what it is they are assenting to. Prayer must be audible and intelligible, as must be all our worship of Almighty God. This is another benefit to us of the Book of Common Prayer. Since we have the same book we can all join in together. None are excluded who know English.