St Mary's Castle Street

We preach Christ crucified

Articles 32-39

Section 5, which deals with matters of order and discipline.

XXXII – Of the Marriage of Priests

It is a matter of great wonder that when God made man he divided him in order to make woman; and having divided man he immediately reunited them in marriage. Since God commanded man to be fruitful and to multiply and replenish the earth, it follows that there must be male and female. Since the only lawful situation in which procreation can occur is the married state, it is evident to all that marriage is honourable and beneficial.

Marriage is open to all, and God has never forbidden any class or group to remain unmarried. The Apostle Paul, speaking of the ministers of the Church, says they are to be blameless, the husband of one wife. Leaving aside possible interpretations of the one wife, one thing remains clear; a man who is married to one wife is in no way barred from the ordained ministry of God’s Church. Indeed, Titus was left in Crete with express instructions to ordain elders in every city. ‘If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children’ etc. (Titus 1:6). The marriage of those who are called to serve the Lord in the ordained ministry, whether as priests in the Old Testament, or as Gospel ministers, has never been forbidden.

That it might one day be forbidden was foreseen by the same apostle, St Paul, who wrote,

“For the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats.” (1 Timothy 4:1-3)

Yet the Roman Catholic writer Jacob Gretser (1562–1625) quoted one papal source as declaring,

“It is a greater sin for a priest to marry, than for him to commit fornication or adultery” (History of the Order of the Jesuits).

Perhaps of all the ways in which the Church of Rome has dared to stand out against the plain teaching of Scripture, and to impose its own wicked lies in its people, this is the most blatant. As a requirement it stands in direct contrast with the Bible, and as a burden it exceeds any the Pharisees laid on men’s shoulders. When the clergy were commanded to put away their wives by Pope Gregory VII (Pope Hilderbrand, c. 1073) a cruel and evil thing was done. Families were torn apart. Women and children were condemned to poverty. Women were accused of harlotry, and men of consorting with harlots, because husbands would insist on visiting their wives.

That an Article was written to deal with this issue indicates how seriously the Reformers viewed this abuse. The position taken by them is exactly that of Scripture. The benefits of marriage to all are set out in the exhortation in the beginning of the Marriage Service in the Prayer Book. 

XXXIII — Of Excommunicated Persons, how they are to be avoided

In order for Article XIX, Of the Church, to work, it is necessary that there be a godly discipline among Christians. The opening paragraph of the Commination there is reference to the ‘godly discipline’ of the ‘primitive Church’, whereby all who were convicted of ‘notorious sin’ were punished openly. The reason given for this is that their present punishment might keep them from eternal damnation, and that their visible experience might cause others to avoid similar offences.

The introduction goes on to speak of the desirability of reintroducing such discipline, and until it can be, the Commination, or denouncing of God’s anger and judgement against sinners, should be declared publicly.

The Article before us presumes that right discipline has been reintroduced, and that those who are convicted of various public sins have been put out of the congregation, or excommunicated. Such people are to be treated by Christians as sinners. That is, there can be no fellowship with them, no excusing their sins, and no acting as if their sins do not matter. The reason given is that by so treating them they will feel the effect of being cut off from the congregation and will repent. The whole aim and purpose of discipline in the Church has always been to restore the sinner, to reclaim the backslider, to heal the wound in the Body of Christ. 

This is the teaching of Scripture, of our Lord, Matthew 18:17, of Paul, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11,13, and of John, 2 John 10.

Sin is a most serious matter. It was the cause of man loosing paradise, of the coming of death, and of the need for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It stands at the root and heart of the human condition, and is the reason why we are all justly condemned by the holy and just God. Sin cannot be treated lightly, but must be dealt with. Sinners who repent, who confess their faults, and who seek forgiveness are not included here. Only the unrepentant are.

It is worth adding that a person who has been disciplined in one congregation ought not to be accepted by another, until either the cause of their discipline has been found to be at fault, or until they have confessed their sin and repented of it. Congregations who ignore this act against the unity of the Church.

XXXIV — Of the Traditions of the Church

All worship of God must be as he has decreed in his word. To depart from his decree is to invent what is unlawful. However, there are some matters that are not decreed, but which need to be decided. These include such things as the times of services, and how a minister should dress. If everything is to be done decently and in order, such matters must be attended to. The Church has authority to decide what Scripture has not decreed, such as when Easter should be kept, and so forth. It does not have authority to change doctrine, or to introduce practices contrary to Scripture. See Article XX.

Those matters which men have decided on may be altered, if there is good reason to do so. The Reformers were justified in changing the Roman Mass into the Protestant and biblical Communion service. Anything that was corrupted by false doctrine was reformed and amended as needed. Whatever was not corrupted was kept, so that unnecessary change was avoided. So the people were not unduly hurt by reform, but were able to benefit from a more biblical and faithful form and practice, and by the preaching of the pure Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This Article distinguishes between ‘particular or national’ churches and individual congregations. The former may make alterations along these lines; the latter may not, for to do so is to deny the authority of the Church. That leads to division. This damages the Body of Christ.

XXXV — Of the Homilies

We have two Books of Homilies, or Sermons, written by our Reformers, and full of sound Gospel doctrine. The matter under consideration here is whether it is lawful to read such sermons in church, the alternative being only to preach sermons especially composed week by week.

It is worth pointing out that St Paul commanded the Colossians to cause his epistle to them to be read in the church of the Laodiceans, 4:16, and the letter from the Laodiceans be read in the church at Colossae. Since we have no true epistle from the Laodiceans we have to say that Paul commanded the reading of non-canonical writings in church. If so then godly sermons, whoever has written them and at whatever time, can and may be read in churches for the edification of the believers and the instruction of sinners.

The Homilies ought to be read by all for the doctrine they contain.

XXXVI – Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers

That there may be order in the church it is necessary that none take up the office of public preacher or minister of the sacraments until they be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same, Article XXIII. All who have been lawfully called and sent are to be accounted Ministers ‘in the Lord’s vineyard’.

This present article provides for the public act which marks out the ordaining and sending of those who are duly called, so that there can be no doubt as to who is called, and who is not. If there is a lack of clarity on this point, none will be sure whether one who calls himself a minister has any right to the name or not.

The Article itself draws attention to the Ordinal, which is appended to the Book of Common Prayer (and is usually assumed to be part of it). The Ordinal provides for the consecration of Archbishops and Bishops, and for the ordering of Priests and Deacons. Those who are troubled by the use of the word Priest in the Prayer Book should remember that the old name for a clergyman was ‘Prester’, being a corruption of ‘Presbyter’. Since ‘Prester’ is most naturally rendered ‘Priest’, the term stuck, even though the notion of priesthood—of a sacrificing priest—is alien to the Book of Common Prayer.

He who are consecrated archbishop or bishop has hands laid upon him by another archbishop and bishops. He who is ordained priest has hands laid on him by the officiating bishop and by other priests (presbyters) present. Those ordained deacon have hands laid upon them by the officiating bishop alone. That, in essence, is the ordination or consecration service; the laying on of hands.

Following the laying on of hands the newly ordained or consecrated man is given his charge. If a deacon, he is charged with the duty of executing his office, and he is given a New Testament from which he is to read the Gospel, and to preach it if so licensed. The priest is charged with the authority to pronounce forgiveness of sins to all who repent, to be a faithful preacher of the Word, and to administer the sacraments. He is given a Bible from which to preach. The bishop is also given a Bible, and commanded to study it, to preach it, and to live it. He is to be a shepherd to the flock and not a wolf, to be a merciful administrator of discipline, and a support to the weak, a seeker of the lost, and a binder-up the broken. In short, he is to be a true pastor to his flock, and certainly not the ruling prince some want to be.

The Article concludes by asserting that all who have been ordained or consecrated according to the Ordinal are to be accounted truly ordained. This was because, under the reign of Queen Mary, many were deprived of their livings, their ordinations being declared invalid. No, says the Article, if a man was truly ordained he continues to be a minister of God.

The point of this is to show that all that we do according to Scripture is safe from human interference. Though some may deny the validity of Protestant ordinations, they cannot stand against God, who must first call and equip a man to minister before the church, recognising this, can declare this publicly.

XXXVII — Of the Civil Magistrates

There are two main targets in this Article, the pretended authority of the Pope, and the reluctance of some Puritans to accept that there could be a human king over a nation, rather than just King Jesus. This Article denies the claims of the former, and seeks to overcome the objections of the latter.

 The first thing stated is that the King is the supreme authority in the nation, so that none can appeal to any foreign power. The origins of this lie in the old acts which allowed the clergy a right of appeal to the pope, over the head of the English monarch.

All other authority in the land derives from the monarch’s authority, so that both civil courts and ecclesiastical authority derives from him. This means that he must keep order in the land and in the church. He cannot allow anarchy in either. To say this is not to put him over the church, but to make him responsible for maintaining the peace of the church, which peace we have long since lost.

The Bishop of Rome is named specifically as having no authority here, for the reason mentioned above.

Those deserving of death, though Christians, may be put to death by the state. This is the final sanction on wickedness, and we cannot but note that the removal of the death penalty has coincided with an increase in wickedness in our nation.

Not only may death be inflicted by the state, but its citizens may be called upon to bear arms for the defence of the state. There have often been some who have objected to this, based on a misunderstanding of the Sixth Commandment.

XXXIII — Of Christian men’s Goods, which are not common

Just as it was certain Anabaptists who occasioned the final clause of the previous Article, so it is they who occasioned this. There is indeed such a thing as the communion of saints, but if all have their goods in common, why do we have a commandment against stealing, which, it must be remembered, was delivered to Israel?

Again, if everybody’s possessions belong to everybody else, how can coveting be a sin, since we can only covet what is ours? And again, how can it be more blessed to give than to receive, if we benefit from the industry of all?

Those who want all men’s goods to be common appeal to the practice of the Jerusalem church for support, Acts 4. Yet two things need to be noted about this. First, it was only the Jerusalem church which did this, meaning that it seems to have come about because of local conditions. Second, it is plain that Ananias was free to do what he wanted with his land, Acts 5:4, until he sold it and pretended to give all the proceeds to the apostles. Which means his land was not counted as common until he chose to make over the proceeds of sale to the apostles. The reason for giving over the cash was so that the poor could be helped by those who could afford to help. And this, the Article says, is still the duty of believers.

XXXIX — Of a Christian man’s Oath

The final Article deals with swearing oaths — that is, with legally binding oaths, not with ‘vain and rash Swearing’. Some, on the basis of our Lord’s words, Matt 5:37 (cf. James 5:12), believed that it was wrong for Christians to swear oaths. This Article seeks to ally that fear, by showing that there are occasions when it is lawful to affirm our word by an oath, that justice may be done.

Some of course often add an oath to their promise, as if none would believe them without the oath. Such are probably habitual breakers of their word, who want to convince themselves and others.

There are examples in Scripture of godly people using oaths, such as Paul calling God to bear him witness, Phil. 1:8, Romans 9:1, 2 Cor 11:31, and Gal 1:20. It was in order to establish the certainty of his words that he said it, and there are times when, for the sake of justice, we must add certainty to what we say. That is why, in a court of law, an oath is taken on the Bible. Of course, in these days of general unbelief, it may be a worthless oath, since none consider it to be God’s Word, nor God to be able to call them to account if they perjure themselves. That is their affair, and they must face the consequences. We are to be faithful, and to be willing to back up our witness for the truth.