Introduction to the 39 Articles of Religion Sunday 15 September 9:45 and 11:30am
By porthkerryandrhoose, Sep 23 2019 07:24PM
Has anyone had some good news over the last few weeks? Who'd like to share? Good news is great for sharing, isn't it? When something good happens, we want to tell our friends and family, sometimes we just can't help ourselves. Of course, as Christians, we have the best news to share. We know that God is real, that he loves us even though we mess up time and time again, and that through Jesus we can be forgiven and have a brand new start. It's great news! And it's news to be shared.
Some things need to keep on being shared. While one teenager's exam results, or someone winning a couple of tickets in a draw aren't going to change the world, and going on about them too much would have a negative effect, other news needs to be told again and again so that future generations know about it. News which would stop them making silly mistakes, news which can shape the way they think about themselves and other people. It is so easy to forget. The debates around vaccinations are a classic example. I am just about old enough to remember when certain childhood illnesses like measles were feared. There was a child in our street who had lost most of their vision because of measles. Another little friend almost died because of chest complications. When the vaccine was invented and was widely available, there was a collective sigh of relief. Children wouldn't have to go through these things any more. Pregnant women wouldn't fear for the lives of their unborn children in a measles outbreak. But a generation on, we've forgotten. We've forgotten the horror of measles and we've forgotten the good news of the vaccination. So the number of unprotected children rises and the number of measles cases rises. Last year it more than tripled in the UK. Remembering good news is so important.
In our first reading this morning, from Deuteronomy 11, Moses was doing just that. He was reminding the people who had experienced the wonderful rescue of God, that they needed to pass on what had happened to them, otherwise it would be forgotten. v 2 "Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he did in the heart of Egypt . .it was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place." They needed to remember, and that remembrance needed to be passed down to their children, so that they could relate to God in the right way. There would be temptations all around them, persuasive voices and attractive pagan worship which could suck them in, if they had forgotten how God had cared for them in the past.
By New Testament times, of course, those memories had consolidated into Scripture, written down and passed on (in some eras more enthusiastically than others), and new memories were joining them: the accounts of Jesus, his teaching, his miracles, his death and resurrection. (And of course his ministry was largely one of proclamation). Paul's charge to his young protégée Timothy in our second reading was to remember and protect the good news 2 Timothy 1:13-14 "What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you - guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us." That record of good news, in the scriptures was so important that Paul describes it as a good deposit so vital that Timothy was to guard it. It wasn't Timothy's to change or re-write or add his own spin. It was a good deposit, entrusted to him, and then to be passed on. That same charge is ours today, as we take on the mantle of sharing the good news in our own generation. We are to pass on this good deposit.
Now, I expect we all know that already. We know we should be telling people about Jesus. Yet often we're afraid. We're afraid of rejection, and we're afraid that people might ask us questions that we don't know the answers to. In fact the questions others have might highlight the questions we ourselves have. Because it's likely that each thinking Christian has questions. A few years ago I put out a box at the back of church so people could put their questions in, and we looked at some of them as a sermon series. It was great fun. Yet as Anglicans we already have answers to many of the Big Questions in our foundational documents, but most people don't even know they are there. It's not just those who, like many of you, have come into Anglicanism from other churches, like Roman Catholic, or Methodist or Baptist, even cradle Anglicans often don't know they exist.
So, what are these foundational documents? We have the 3 creeds (apostles which we use at morning and evening prayer, the nicene which is used during communion - though we use a shorter one here - and the athanasian, which we surprised you with on Trinity Sunday). Then there are the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the Ordering of Priests and Deacons. Those are the main ones, though there are a few other subsequent documents. I thought it would be a good thing for us to have a look at the 39 Articles because they cover so many of the questions people ask me. They are, in effect, what the Anglican church believes about a range of topics. I came to them afresh myself a few months ago and I found them so helpful that I wanted to pass them on.
Before we make a start, we do need to know a little bit about the history of the Anglican Church. People are often very flippant "It's just about Henry VIII wanting a divorce." That is not the full story by any means, and it is very lazy history. The formation of the Anglican church was part of a whole movement which was spreading across Europe in the 16th century. It started with Martin Luther's disquiet about corruption and false teaching in the church, not least the selling of indulgences which led him to nail his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral in 1517. Discussions about where Christian teaching should come from followed. He famously argued with Johann Eck that Scripture alone should be the basis of Christian faith and doctrine. He wrote about the priesthood of all believers, and when he was in prison for heresy he translated the New Testament into German, so that every German speaker could read it and make their own minds up. At the same time in England, William Tyndale was working on his English translation, which was published in 1526. John Calvin was hard at work too, writing his Institutes of the Christian Religion which were published in 1536. A new, reformed theology, was coming to the fore. Alongside this, Henry VIII was going through his particular troubles. He began on the side of the church, writing against Martin Luther and being rewarded by the Pope with the title 'Defender of the Faith' in 1521, but by 1533 he had had his marriage annulled in defiance of the church and by 1534 he was the head of the new Church of England. By 1549 during the reign of his son the church had its first official prayer book, with a reformed theology which was sharpened up in later editions. After a period of reversal during the reign of Mary, the reformation of the church of England continued and in 1563 the 39 Articles as we know them were published and in 1611 the King James Bible. The Anglican church as we would recognise it had arrived.
As we look over the history we can see that although Henry VIIIth had his own agenda for things, and although it was a very bloody and brutal time for everyone, God was able to take all of that and allow something good to come out of it. We have a church with a thought out theology, a theology which is firmly rooted in the scriptures, and that is something to be celebrated.
So, over this academic year we are going to look at the 39 Articles, not as a history lesson, but as a set of FAQs about Christianity, a series of Big Questions we might have about God, about salvation, and about what we are doing when we come to church. I hope it will help you answer some of your questions so that together we can continue to guard the good deposit passed down to us.