As part of my journey to ordination I have been asked to share a short reflection on each of the 39 Articles of Relgion of the Church of England. I will share my reflections as I write them over the coming weeks. Today, I share my responses to articles one through six.
Article I: Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
There is but one living and true God, ever-lasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
The Trinity is central to my faith and ministry. I appreciate that the Anglican fathers also saw Trinitarian belief to be the first principal of Orthodox Christian expression. The Trinity is a difficult doctrine to explain for it must be experienced to be known. I still do not fully understand a three-in-one being, but in my walk with God I cannot imagine him being any other way. He has been three and one since before time began. The love experienced between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is before all things. That I have been invited into this eternal flow of love, is beyond my comprehension.
Article II: Of Christ the Son of God
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.
Flowing out of the doctrine of the Trinity, to know that God condescended to become fully human as an expression of his divine love is central to a Christian disciple’s message. The eternal God of the universe out of no personal need decided to create creatures that he would love. When those creates rejected him for power and knowledge and fell into the death of sin, he resolved to continue his love for them. He became a human, emptying himself – so Charles Wesley – of “all but love” and came to serve and love those who rejected him. He lived as we do experiencing pain, loss, happiness, and the entirety of the human experience. Fully divine, Jesus was the only one able to endure the fullness of sin’s death for all of creation without being overcome. Jesus truly lived, he died on the cross, was buried & dead. Sin’s death, however, could not conquer the eternal God. The perfect love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit could not be extinguished. On the third day, Christ rose from the dead as the first born of the new creation. Through his death and rising again, all of creation is invited to be made anew in the image of the Triune God. Death is defeated through Jesus Christ!
Article III: Of his going down into Hell
As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also is it to be believed, that he went down into Hell.
The Syriac tradition within the Church has an amazing sung liturgy where the prisoner who Christ says will see him in heaven, goes to the angels guarding the gates of paradise to explain to them that Jesus will soon be coming with those who he has released from Hell. The angels at first do not believe that such a thing is possible, but the prisoner goes on to explain what Jesus has done for humankind at the cross.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what is meant by Christ going down into Hell. Is it to mean that all who died before Christ tarried in Hell waiting on Jesus? Did those before the resurrection of Jesus experience torment? Did they simply slip into a moment of nonexistence until Jesus called the righteous back to await bodily resurrection in the heavenly realms? There are many unanswered questions, but Scripture and the tradition of the church contained in the creeds affirms that Jesus descended to Hell. What the Scriptures, the catholic church, and the creeds affirm, I also affirm in faith. In this faith and in communion with the church, I expect the Holy Spirit to give me the understanding necessary to apply this teaching in my ministry.
Article IV: Of his Resurrection
Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.
In both the ancient world and the modern world it is easy for people to spiritualize things. God can more easily be a distant, spiritual entity with little direct interaction in reality than a physical presence. When the Scriptures and apostles teach that Jesus rose from the dead and was resurrected they are not speaking in a spiritual sense. Jesus doesn’t “live” through the continuation of his teachings or the discipleship community he left behind. Jesus lives in the real sense of the word. He has a body. He has mass. God’s decision to become incarnate continues. Jesus is still fully God and fully man. The eternal Triune God of the cosmos continues to take an intimate, loving interest in humankind.
Article V: Of the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.
The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is often overlooked and forgotten in the church. This is not a recent trend, but has been a tendency since the beginning. Even the creeds place the Holy Spirit at a less prominent place than Father and Son. To some extent, I think this is partially how the Holy Spirit desires it. He is the binding person of the Trinity perfectly sealing and expressing the love within God. The Holy Spirit isn’t a feeling or idea, he isn’t an abstract thought. He is just as real and just as much God as the Father and the Son. the creeds teach us that he is to be worshiped equally. As we seek personal relationship with God, we should be keen not to overlook the Spirit.
Article VI: Of the Sufficiency of the Scriptures
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel, The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles, The Second Book of Chronicles, The First Book of Esdras, The Second Book of Esdras, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or Preacher, Cantica, or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the greater, Twelve Prophets the less
And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following: The Third Book of Esdras, The Fourth Book of Esdras, The Book of Tobias, The Book of Judith, The rest of the Book of Esther, The Book of Wisdom, Jesus the Son of Sirach, Baruch the Prophet, The Song of the Three Children, The Story of Susanna, Of Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, The First Book of Maccabees, The Second Book of Maccabees
All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.
The Christian Bible is the infallible word of God. Within the narratives, poetry, letters, and hymns recorded by God’s people over the centuries God has revealed himself to humankind. The authors and redactors of the Bible were inspired by God to reveal his nature and plan for humankind in written form. As a creation of inspired men, the Bible, like the church, is far from perfect. The Bible is not a science textbook or an extensive academic history of the world. God is not constrained by modern requirements of revelation, and – as is his character – worked through imperfect men and various written genres to reveal his nature.
The Bible is the supreme authority in the church. Reason and tradition, though important elements of authority, do not override the teachings of Holy Scripture. That being said, God does not simply leave us alone with an ancient text on no further guidance. Jesus, before he ascended into heaven, left us with his holy Church. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon this church, founded in the apostles. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and their successors continue to guide the church in understanding and applying Scripture to the life of the church within the world.