Time For the Avoiding of Diversities of Opinions
At the time of the English Reformation, it was evident that there needed to be a clear codification of what were and were not the essential biblical doctrines that would be beyond discussion in the reformed Church of England.
Those reformers knew there could be no grey areas— doctrinal commitments would have to be distilled to their essence in order to prevent weakening of the recovered gospel witness. What did they do to ensure this commitment? They gave us the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion as well as the Books of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal. To this day, they are the official doctrinal commitments of the Church of England and almost all Anglican Provinces abroad.
The full title for the Articles shows the intention of the authors.
Articles of Religion
Agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops of both Provinces and the whole clergy in the Convocation holden at London in the year 1562 for the avoiding of diversities of opinions and for the establishing of consent touching true religion.
The Reformers saw biblical doctrine as defined within those carefully worded biblical parameters. Diversities of opinions on those subjects were not acceptable. Some people disagreed as to their legitimacy but they were clearly stated and published. No one was left in doubt about what was accepted and that which was rejected
Later, during the reign of Charles I, a preface was affixed to the Articles in the Book of Common Prayer to further explain how they should be understood. Few today have bothered to read the declaration but it is nonetheless instructive. It reads in part:
“That for the present, though some differences have been ill raised, yet We take comfort in this, that all Clergymen within Our Realm have always most willingly subscribed to the Articles established; which is an argument to Us, that they all agree in the true, usual, literal meaning of the said Articles; and that even in those curious points, in which the present differences lie, men of all sorts take the Articles of the Church of England to be for them; which is an argument again, that none of them intend any desertion of the Articles established.
“That therefore in these both curious and unhappy differences, which have for so many hundred years, in different times and places, exercised the Church of Christ, We will, that all further curious search be laid aside, and these disputes shut up in God’s promises, as they be generally set forth to us in the holy Scriptures, and the general meaning of the Articles of the Church of England according to them. And that no man hereafter shall either print, or preach, to draw the Article aside any way, but shall submit to it in the plain and full meaning thereof: and shall not put his own sense or comment to be the meaning of the Article, but shall take it in the literal and grammatical sense”.
Elections for the next Five year sitting of the Synod of the Church of England will soon be upon us. Those running for those positions would do well by reading our Formularies, but particularly the Articles of Religion. They will face attempts to effect de facto changes to the Doctrines of our Church by those espousing their own sense of what is in keeping with our standards. We pray they will meet such attempts with biblically informed and shaped minds by repudiating error.