The Thirty-Nine Articles.
Our Original Anglican Heritage. The Articles of Religion were framed during the Reformation. They are clearly based upon Holy Scriptures; they include only those doctrines which are to be found in the Scriptures, and reject those which are not. The Articles define the distinctive doctrines of the “Reformed” English Church and condemn those of the Roman or Papal Church, which were known from centuries of experience to be sources of oppression, extortion, and immoral conduct. They were adopted and set forth in their present form in 1801 by the Original Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States as its confession of faith; they have never been revoked or amended and have always been printed in the Book of Common Prayer. The historic position of the Articles is beyond dispute; yet, the Articles are not merely of historical value -- they are the official statement of what the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA believes. They are the Magna Carta of our faith, our doctrinal constitution.
All Clergy in the PEC are required to subscribe to the Articles at the time of ordination. The Articles defend the laity against arbitrary clergy who would foist on their congregations illicit or forbidden teachings. Ignore them, hide them, or abolish them, and the Church is left without an adequate rule and guide: every clergyman could do as he pleases and teach according to personal whim. The Articles clearly teach that the Bible, not the clergy, is the source of both doctrine and authority in the Church. Doctrine and usages based only upon the approval of the General Councils, though representing the entire Church Catholic, are declared to have "neither strength nor authority", and Article XIX expressly repudiates ancient Churches themselves as sources of sound doctrine and usage. (BCP p. 561) These declarations lead to a momentous conclusion: for Original Anglicans the source of faith is the Bible and Bible alone. It is not the writings of the medieval Churchmen; not the acts of the General Councils; not the "ancient" Catholic Church, but the Holy Scriptures solely and exclusively.
The historic faith of Original Anglicanism is presently under attack from many sides. Secular humanism, communism, sexual immorality, and heretical teachings of all sorts seem to find a tolerant audience amongst some portion of “Anglicans”. Prayer Book revision, higher criticism, and inclusive language lectionaries have been promoted in nearly every Church in the world-wide Anglican Communion. The ordination of women (to the diaconate, presbyterate, and even to the episcopate) is receiving common acceptance.
Conservative Anglo-Catholics would have us believe that their form of non-papal Catholicism would save Anglicanism from its present ills and provide a bulwark against future departures from the Faith. They blame what they style "liberal Protestantism" for the demise of the historic Church and blast any form of "fundamentalism" as the enemy of reason and true religion. The Anglo-Catholic churchman dreams of some ideal (but historically nonexistent) church that fulfills some ideal of a "bridge" Church--a via media--between Rome and Canterbury. They would be willing to retain some of the "trappings" of true Anglicanism, but would repudiate any reformational character in their ideal theology. Some do more than dream: some have taken their dreams and put them into action by attempting to rewrite history and to alter or eliminate the Protestant foundations of Original Anglicanism as found in the Articles of Religion.
On the one hand, the Anglo-Catholics (better called Anglo-Romanist - but certainly not High Churchmen) pretend that their opposition to the Articles is that they have fallen out of use, they are obsolete. We know, however, that the teachings of the Articles on the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the Sacraments, the ministry, and so on are not "out of date". For Orthodox believers they cannot be out of date: they are believed by the great mass of orthodox, biblical Christians everywhere. The real reason why the Anglo-Catholics wish to suppress the Articles is exactly and precisely because they are not out of date or obsolete. They do stand solidly in the path of these groups, who for this very reason are trying to thrust them aside. They denounce and condemn the very doctrines and innovations which this party is trying to foist upon the Church.
Remember that it was the Anglo-Catholics who first called for toleration of higher criticism of the Bible; the first to call for changes in the liturgy and the Prayer Book; the first to ordain women; the first to ordain practicing homosexuals; the first to promote Marxism and "social justice" causes; and the first to involve the Anglican Communion in the hopeless moral of the World and National Council of Churches, as well as ecumenism.
The Articles are no more obsolete than they were framed nearly four centuries ago. Strangely, Anglo-Catholics have given them a new vitality; have made them a living need in the Church today. They are once more, as in the sixteenth century, a defense and bulwark of the Original Protestant faith against the errors of Romanism. Anglo-Catholicism teaches, as does Roman Catholicism, that there are seven sacraments; that purgatory is an "intermediate" state of the dead; and the sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross is "renewed" in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; that baptism regenerates a soul "ex opere operatio"; that a priest is an "icon" of Christ and has power to forgive sins in "Confession".
Even those who style themselves "conservatives" in the Anglo-Roman camp cannot agree upon the truth. Some ordain women to the diaconate, but not to the priesthood. Some ordain women in lower orders, but refuse them the episcopate. Some use modern revisions of the Prayer Book; some use only the historic BCP; some use both. Some condone homosexuality; some do not. Some believe in the he plenary inspiration of the Scripture; some do not. In short, they are a "mixed" group, both eclectic and syncretic in their theology and practice.
The real issue is as broad as the difference between despotism and liberty, between progress and reaction, between an advance to higher and nobler conceptions of religion and reversion to those which are whimsical and barbarous. The true son of the Church aims to keep his Church loyal to the plain teachings of Christ. The Anglo-Catholic aims to drag it back to the crassly paganized Christianity of the middle ages, with its magic, fetishism, and idolatry.
The Articles of Religion are no guaranteed remedy for the evils of the twenty-first century Church, nor are they going to be the answer to the ills of the declining Anglican Communion. Yet, they stand through the test of history and controversy in Anglicanism as the bastion of Biblical truth which cannot be denied by sincere churchmen. They were written by men: they are not infallible. But they have never been supplanted, even in the nearly seventy years of church history since General Convention first sought to officially remove them.
The liberals will do away with the Articles as a confessional statement and the conservatives will join with Rome. The Protestant Episcopal Church will stand firm as the Original Church in the USA. The 39 Articles will be retained… They are our Protestant Heritage, and our Faith.