I was first introduced to our Anglican tradition by attending a parish church while living in England. Having formerly attended churches in the holiness movement, and later non-denominational churches, the two things that really drew me into the Prayer Book tradition were the collects and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. What I discovered in the Articles was a wonderful set of boundary markers. It is a confession of faith that is strict enough to hold in place Scripture’s non-negotiables, while also being relaxed enough that secondary matters could be discussed and even disagreed on.
Having found my home within the Anglican tradition, I have sought to share with others some of these treasures that are particularly meaningful to me. I have had success in sharing the treasure of the collects (a story for another time), but in sharing the Articles, I have run into some snags. The primary snag I have encountered is that there are 39 of them! While those of us who treasure them see them as pithy and concise statements of faith, newcomers to the Articles can find the number and length of the Articles overwhelming.
There are various approaches to sharing the treasure of the Articles. John Stott, on the anniversary of his commencement at All Souls’ Langham Place, would read the Articles aloud in their entirety. Some clergy devise a sermon series around the Articles, taking them one by one over the course of a year. Other preachers I know make it a point to preach on one or two of the Articles every year, with the goal of covering them all by the time they retire. And others devote adult formation classes to the Articles, covering them one by one. These are all wonderful approaches, but they can still leave the laity feeling a bit overwhelmed. Newcomers may be discombobulated when they arrive in time for a sermon on Article 22 on purgatory, not knowing how the preacher arrived there or where he’s going after.
Again, while not opposed to the “one-by-one” approach of sharing the treasures of the Articles, I would like to offer another. Another way of preaching or teaching the Articles is to split them into chunks. The Articles have been long been divided into three primary categories:
- Articles 1-8 are the Catholic Articles, those that are believed by all Christians in all times and all places.
- Articles 9-34 are the Reformed Articles: the contents were expressly promulgated by the Reformed wing of the Protestant Reformation.
- Articles 35-39 are the Anglican Articles: these are the beliefs that are specifically related to the needs and issues that arose in the English Reformation.
While this three-fold division is helpful in condensing our understanding of the Articles, it probably condenses it too far. One sermon on the 26 Reformed Articles is likely just as helpful as one sermon on only one of the 39. My suggestion is to further subdivide the Articles into ten sections. It seems to me that these divisions are obvious to the nature of the Articles and not forced upon them. Here are my ten sections:
The Catholic Articles
- Articles 1-5: The Trinity—who God is and what Christ has done for us.
- Articles 6-8: Revelation—how God has chosen to speak to us.
The Reformed Articles
- Articles 9-10: Sin—human estrangement from God.
- Articles 11-15: Salvation—human redemption by God.
- Articles 16-18: Sanctification—God’s care for humanity post-redemption.
- Articles 19-24: The Church—the role and responsibility of God’s chosen community.
- Articles 25-31: Sacraments—how the church is to minister God to God’s chosen community.
- Articles 32-34: Supposed Sacraments—correcting errors that the church has previously made.
The Anglican Articles
- Articles 35-36: Anglican ministry—what Anglican ministers should teach and how Anglican ministers should be made.
- Articles 37-39: Anglican community life—how Anglicans should live.
Ten sermons or ten class sessions is a manageable amount of time, probably not dissimilar to the sermon series that pastors already arrange. The sessions could easily be covered over the course of a Church season. These divisions align with the three-fold division that is customary across the Anglican tradition, but they also allow for focused and manageable attention to the doctrines in the Articles.