Ask an Anglican: Confessionalism Vs. Conciliarity

Confessionalism is one of the big things that divides Anglicanism from other Reformation traditions. Unlike Lutheran and Reformed churches, Anglicanism has no official confession of faith outside of the creeds. I’ve been wanting to write something about this for a while and I figured that Whit’s question after my last post offered the perfect opportunity. Whit writes:

Why did the Church of England never become confessionally Lutheran?

The question is inspired in part by my mentioning the fact that Queen Elizabeth I had a Lutheran streak in her beliefs. She had been formed by Lutheranism in her younger days and even kept up a correspondence with Philipp Melanchthon. Nevertheless, she did not accept every facet of Lutheranism, nor did she attempt to force any of the Lutheran confessions upon the Church of England. Some of the more radical members of the English clergy at the time of the Elizabethan Settlement would have loved to impose some type of confession upon the church, most likely either a Reformed confession or something more stringent, but their efforts proved fruitless. Anglicanism is not now, and has never been, confessional.

There was a wide range of beliefs amongst the different Protestant groups that emerged on the European continent during the sixteenth century, but what all of these Protestants shared in common was a belief in sola scriptura, the idea that Holy Scripture is not only the highest source of authority for doctrine but the only source. As the early nineteenth century Irish Anglican John Jebb put it, “From the commencement of the Reformation, it has been the common principle of all continental Protestants, that the interpretation of scripture is to be exclusively derived from scripture itself.” Jebb contrasts this with the Anglican approach of reading Scripture through the lens of the early Church. Quoting Saint Vincent, he says:

‘From the very depth of holy scripture, all men cannot receive it in one and the same sense: one person interprets the divine oracles in one manner; another person, in a manner totally different; insomuch that, from the same source, almost as many opinions may be plausibly elicited as there are men. Therefore, amidst so great perplexities, of such various error, it is extremely necessary that the line of prophetic and apostolic interpretation be regulated by the standard of ecclesiastical and catholic judgment.’

The key to having a solid, scriptural faith is to have a faith that is consonant with the mind of the whole Church, which means, among other things, submitting ourselves to the guidance of the early Church councils wherein the whole mind of the Church was guided to godly conclusions by the Holy Spirit. Jebb lauds Anglicanism for its “unqualified deference paid to the first four general councils.” This does not mean that such councils are infallible, as we have discussed here before, but that in the principle of conciliarity there is to be found the highest degree of probability that what is taught is the truth, because of both the comprehensiveness of meeting in council and because of the guidance of the Holy Spirit that comes upon gatherings led by bishops who are open to receive Him. And when the council is ancient and ecumenical, that probability becomes as near to one hundred percent as you can get.

The continental Protestants were happy to turn to the ancient Fathers for support when it would help them prove a point, and they did (and still do) believe in the ancient Christian creeds. Moreover, there is a recognition amongst confessional Protestants that teaching is needed for people to understand the Bible correctly. But because the starting point for interpreting the Bible is sola scriptura, rather than catholicity or conciliarity, confessional Protestants see no problem with creating new statements of faith and insisting on adherence to them even without the council of the Church. Their understanding of the Church eschews bishops, or at the very least minimizes their importance, and so confessional Protestants feel no need to bring together bishops to settle points of doctrine, much less to bring together all of the world’s bishops. The words of Scripture are plain, and so it does not matter who draws up a confession of faith, so long as it is true to what the Bible says.

This is, in fact, how confessional Protestants understand the creeds themselves, not as statements of faith that emerged from a conciliar process guided by the Holy Spirit, but as simple explications of scriptural truth that are inherently authoritative because they are biblical. In terms of authority, the only difference between something like the Augsburg or Westminster Confessions and the Nicene Creed is when they were written, not how.

By contrast, classical Anglicanism seeks to guide us again and again back to the mind of the early Church. And the early Church was conciliar. While there may be a multitude of ways of reading the Scriptures that would produce clear and logical systems of doctrine, there is no guarantee that these systems are trustworthy if the Church, led by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, has not been given the chance to deliberate. Jesus Christ did not come to us to establish a Bible study. He came to establish a Church. Even within the Scriptures themselves, we see the early Church coming together in council, led by the Holy Spirit, to respond to difficult questions about the faith (see, for instance, Acts 15:1-22). This is, in fact, one of the purposes of the episcopate, to be able to bring the Church together in this way, to guard the flock of Christ against error (Acts 20:28). Eliminate the episcopacy and conciliarity goes with it. And once conciliarity is gone, almost any teaching can become viable, no matter how strange or novel.

This is not to say that everything in the Protestant confessions is false or even that there is no place for individual churches to make statements of faith. The 39 Articles are certainly a statement of faith, but they were designed intentionally to be subordinate to the creeds and the prayer book. When you take something like the Augsburg or Westminster Confessions, or even the 39 Articles, and put them on a par with the ancient creeds, insisting that both confessions and creeds are self authenticating, you introduce the notion that the individual holds final authority, not the Scriptures. That may not seem like what confessionalism does, but it is an inevitable evolution from confessionalism’s starting point. If any group of Christians can come together and create an authoritative teaching based on their own reading of Scripture which seems plain to them, who is to tell any individual Christian that he or she must receive one teaching over another? So long as I believe that I am following the Bible, and particularly if I can get two or three other people to agree with me, what I teach must be true.

I do not mean to be flip about this. I have wonderful friends who are confessional Lutherans and Calvinists, and generally speaking their adherence to their confessions has kept them from floating off into the chaos of more radical forms of Protestantism in which even the creeds are dismissed as simply the opinion of some men a long time ago. But that’s just it, if confessions and creeds are equally valid, than the creeds really are just the opinion of some men a long time ago. So why not change them? Why not re-arrange them? Why not write whole new ones? It isn’t hard to see how this sort of thinking has blossomed in our age into Evangelical and Charismatic Protestantism on the one hand and Liberalism on the other.

Even within confessional churches themselves, there is a drift away from the historical teaching of the Councils. I am, generally speaking, a big fan of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, if for no other reason than the fact that I’ve met some phenomenal pastors and teachers in that church body. Seriously, it doesn’t get much better than Worldview Everlasting, Lutheran Satire, and Issues, Etc. These ministries are an oasis in the desert, and the Episcopal Church ought to take a page from them. That being said, I was shocked to discover recently that in the liturgy used by the LCMS, the Nicene Creed has been altered so that it says that we believe in “One, Holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church” instead of “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” I am honestly not sure what the reason is for this change. Certainly, the Church is both Christian and Catholic, but those two words are not the same, and to change something that has been determined by an ecumenical council, without the further assent of a new council, is just unthinkable. If one word can be changed, they all can be. And before we know it, God is not really Father, Jesus did not really die and rise, and the Holy Spirit is just a warm, fuzzy feeling we get when we think about being nice to each other. I don’t actually expect any of that to happen in the LCMS, but then again neither would anyone have expected fifty years ago that there would be Episcopal congregations attempting to write their own creeds (and yes, our problem in TEC is also related to our complete abandonment of conciliarity, but that is perhaps a topic for another time).

In the absence of conciliarity, we lose Christianity entirely. The very canon of Scripture that confessional Protestants claim to base their confessions upon is the product of various local and Ecumenical councils of the early Church. When conciliarity disappears, eventually so does the Bible. Classical Anglicanism maintains conciliarity through a strong appeal to the authority of the early Church Councils and through our continuing of apostolic order, liturgy, and creeds. Yet modern Anglican churches are not immune to the individualism that has plagued all forms of Protestantism from the very beginning. In the Anglican Communion today, we see an abandonment of conciliar principles that has led us to the brink of self destruction. It is only by recovering a truly authentic conciliarity that we may hope to continue to be a truly authentic part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

About these ads

About Fr. Jonathan

Your average traditional crunchy Christ follower with a penchant for pop culture, politics, and puns.
This entry was posted in Ask an Anglican and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Ask an Anglican: Confessionalism Vs. Conciliarity

  1. Bryan Owen says:

    Great posting!

    I’m reminded of a sentence in Charles Harris’ Creeds or No Creeds (1927) that Bishop Frank Wilson quotes in Faith and Practice (1967):

    “The Nicene Creed aims at promoting unity, the later confessions at justifying division; the former states only what is essential; the latter descend into detail and include a large number of disputable and highly contentious propositions.”

  2. slink says:

    I was going to leave a comment about it seeming strange to me for an Episcopalian to be defending conciliarity but then you wrote “… (and yes, our problem in TEC is also related to our complete abandonment of conciliarity, but that is perhaps a topic for another time)” so I will instead wait for a future post to see how you treat this issue.

    Instead, I’ll ask which church bodies, outside of ELCA, is TEC even capable of engaging in conciliar discussion with? Has TEC done any conciliar work with ELCA (or others) and if so what was the result of that work? Is it possible for such work to produce any sort of dogma (for lack of a better word) or would a major change in faith require more input from other bodies? Other Anglicans?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hefty questions. Let me try to take them in order.

      Which church bodies, outside of ELCA, is TEC even capable of engaging in conciliar discussion with?

      This question is framed in an interesting way. TEC is capable of having discussion with any church, I suppose. But whether or not that discussion is conciliar is another matter. Perhaps a post on what conciliarity is would be in order here. But in a nutshell, conciliarity is the principle of bishops meeting together in council to address issues of faith. There is an understanding, going into a council, that what will come out of it will be binding. The level of authority that such a council holds, however, is determined in part by how comprehensive the council is. A statement insisting that all Christians must believe in the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary to be saved, for instance, would have very little credibility at all if issued by a bunch of bishops in North America, even if they understood themselves to be a council. Something like that would require a much more comprehensive council. So there is a principle of subsidiarity at work.

      Has TEC done any conciliar work with ELCA (or others) and if so what was the result of that work?

      No, not that I am aware of. Given that in the ELCA there is some question as to whether there are legitimate bishops, there is doubt as to whether there could be a council there at all. But even if we take for granted that the ELCA does have bishops in succession, the real question for both TEC and the ELCA is how there can continue to be overlapping jurisdictions between them. The current communion agreement between TEC and the ELCA makes absolutely no sense. Either we are in full communion with each other, in which case we ought to be one church with one set of beliefs and practices, or we are not in full communion, in which case we should not be sharing our altars. The fact that we seem to want to begin our ecumenical agreements with full sacramental sharing and then work backwards to actual unity shows that we either have no idea what we mean by communion or that we don’t think that the sacraments are very important.

      Is it possible for such work to produce any sort of dogma (for lack of a better word) or would a major change in faith require more input from other bodies? Other Anglicans?

      Again, it is important to remember that conciliarity is rooted in subsidiarity. The authority of a council is based in part on the breadth of the council. So a council of North American bishops would have more authority to speak on questions affecting all of North America than would a council only made up of bishops from Idaho. But when we speak of “dogma,” we’re talking about things that affect the whole Church. In our fractured state, a conciliar body of Anglicans from around the world might be able to describe dogma or interpret ancient dogmatic statements in a way that would be binding, at least for Anglicans. But a matter of truly core doctrine, in which we are speaking about something a person must believe to be a Christian, can only really be decided upon by an Ecumenical Council. And in the current divided state of the Church, an Ecumenical Council would be impossible to have.

      Another important thing to add to the mix is the fact that conciliarity requires consistency. The job of a Council, even an Ecumenical Council, is not to invent new dogmas out of whole-cloth, but rather to articulate the faith that has always been believed and taught. In effect, what this means is that Ecumenical Councils cannot overrule each other. Now, that’s not to say that everything that comes out of an Ecumenical Council has to be treated this way, since councils do a great deal of business that is not related to the direct interpreting of the faith (setting up disciplinary canons, for instance). And an Ecumenical Council is only understood to be Ecumenical in retrospect, as the whole, unified body of the Church receives its teaching. But what this does mean is that a council meeting today, involving all the bishops of the world, could not decide that the Nicene Creed has been wrong all along and that in fact Jesus did not die on the cross. The council would effectively render itself null and void.

  3. Pingback: Tuesday’s Round-up: Confessionalism vs. Conciliarism, Holy College Students, and the Fight Against Poverty « The Writers' Block

  4. Cadog says:

    Very much appreciated your post. As a relatively new Episcopalian, it helped me understand why the creeds are sufficient for TEC without the need for further embellishment. The proliferation of statements of faith — every local church having their own — was one aspect of the US evangelical church that dismayed me and prompted me on my path into Anglicanism.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Thanks for the comment, Cadog. And I agree, the plethora of statements of faith for each church can be overwhelming. Glad that you’ve found a home in Anglicanism. Many blessings to you!

  5. Robert F says:

    Isn’t it true that the Ecumenical Councils, and the Creeds they formulated, as well as the formation of the Canon of Scripture, were to a great degree boundary setting measures that derived their impetus from the need to draw distinctions between the Apostolic faith and the threat of perceived heterodox beliefs being promulgated by contemporaries of the Church Fathers? In a very real sense, weren’t they defensive measures that the Church felt itself compelled to take in order to preserve the integrity of the Apostolic faith as it was handed down? And if so, doesn’t that mean that the conciliar expressions of the Ecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers had a significant and necessary confessional function?
    Also, as a former Roman Catholic who has for some decades been an Episcopalian (though unhappy with the recent theological drift of the TEC), I am painfully aware of myself as a seeker who of necessity has had to make decisions about where true Apostolic authority resides among the various church bodies that lay claim to it. That situation of having to make a choice before a dizzying array of options, and about a matter that has eternal significance, seems to me to be the essence of what it means to be Protestant. Yes, I chose in a certain direction based on certain evidence and experience, but I might have chosen otherwise, and I still might opt for something radically different in the future. Or perhaps not. But how is it possible in good faith to avoid the radical ambivalence and contingency of my own choices? How is it possible for even a Catholic reading of Christian faith to avoid being subsumed by the imperative to make separating choices, which I take to be the essence of Protestantism? I hope this question makes sense.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      In regards to your first set of questions, yes the Councils and the Creeds were acting in a somewhat defensive fashion, responding to errors like Arianism and Apollinarianism and so forth. And yes, the creeds and the statements of the Ecumenical Councils do have a confessional function, in that they confess the faith and make distinctions between that which is orthodox and that which is heresy. Nevertheless, what gives these creeds and statements of faith authority is the fact that they came out of the conciliar deliberation of the Church as a whole, through the office of the episcopate in particular, guided by the Holy Spirit. A particular Protestant confession may be entirely true and worthy of using for teaching in the Church, but if it has no conciliar base than it lacks real authority. The best you can say is that someone should believe it because you think it’s true, but your opinion is no better or worse than anyone else’s. There is no mind of the Church. In a certain sense, there is no Church at all, since the structures of Protestantism are generally divorced from the historic and biblical orders of ministry. The issue is not whether we should or should not confess the faith. I think everyone agrees on that, except maybe for those in the radical Reformation who object even to Creeds. The question is where the authority of confessions comes from, the individual believer and his or her whims or the Church Catholic in all of her fullness.

      In terms of your second set of questions, about how a person makes religious choices in the modern context without becoming a slave to individualism and the logic of schism… That’s a pretty deep question which I want to think about some more before I offer a reply… If you’ll be patient with me, I’ll think about this some more and then try to post something on the subject.

  6. Bob says:

    I just found your site through the Anglican Curmudgeon, and came across this article. I do have a couple of questions, but I’d like to give you a bit of background before asking them. I am a protestant, but I have recently been attending a AMiA church. One of my good friends has recently converted to Orthodoxy, and another converted to Roman Catholicism. As a result, my foundation of sola scriptura has recently come into question.

    In your article, you warned about changing the Nicaea creed… but what I am hearing is the filioque argument and the Great Schism. The same goes with your reference to “4 ecumenical councils” – the Orthodox recognize 7 (I believe) and the Roman Catholics keep having them (not sure how many). By what conciliatory authority does the Anglican Church stop at 4 ecumenical councils (other than later ones conflict with the reformation)?

    It seems as though the logical conclusions of your argument is to join either the Orthodox or the Roman communion. What am I missing?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Bob, thanks for your questions!

      In terms of the filioque, I’ve answered a question about that previously here: http://conciliaranglican.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/ask-an-anglican-the-filioque/

      Regarding the four Ecumenical Councils, I address that some here: http://conciliaranglican.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/ask-an-anglican-the-ecumenical-councils/

      In substance, Anglicanism accepts most of what came out of the first seven councils and does not deny the conciliarity of the later councils. The only question is to whether those later councils can truly be called “ecumenical.” Either way, though, the conciliar principle is upheld.

      I think that if conciliarity is what you’re looking for, Rome is not a viable option. There are examples of local conciliarity in some parts of the Roman Church, but they’re heavily outweighed by the disproportionate power of the papacy.

      If those other articles don’t quite answer your questions though, feel free to post again! Many blessings to you!

      • Cadog says:

        Really enjoying the dialog. I have a lot to learn. Thank you for your patience. Issues right now: Anglican position on the Eucharist (Real Presence? A mystery? Either, take your choice? and how relates the Roman position?)

  7. Fr. Jonathan says:

    Cadog, you may find this previous post helpful:

    http://conciliaranglican.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/ask-an-anglican-eucharistic-adoration/

    It’s about Eucharistic adoration specifically, but it does give an outline of the basic difference between the Anglican and Roman positions. Let me know if you still have questions after you look at this though. I’ve written relatively little on here about the Eucharist and I’m sure there’s more ground to cover.

    • Cadog says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to help me.

      I had seen your prior post, and will re-read it. You are addressing what I was really confused about: the difference between Real Presence and transubstantiation. In our church, we usually follow BCP Rite II, p. 363, as we pray: “Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son.” I can fully accept this, that though a mystery, Christ is as present with me during the Eucharist, as he was with the disciples at the last supper (this illustration I just heard from another Anglican priest, who was emphasizing that the Eucharist is Christ’s presence with us across time … or something very much to that effect). And further, that his presence is expressed in the form of bread and wine (these are my words now), which is for me his Body and Blood, though it remains bread and wine in a physical sense.

      Am I at least close?

      As an aside, I cannot tell you how my life has been blessed with hope and healing of body and spirit over the past year, as I have formalized what I had earlier discovered before ever attending an Episcopal church … that I am an Anglican Christian.

      I cannot say that the current troubles in the US church do not trouble me — but is it alright that I remain Episcopalian, especially since I see no Anglican alternatives in the relatively small community where I reside?

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        I think that your description of the Eucharist is a very good one. The only caution I would offer is that I would not want to rule out the “physical” presence, though the articles point out that it is not a “carnal” presence. There is a distinction that can be made between those two. But yes, essentially, the Anglican position leaves a lot of room for understanding and growth because we do not require a person to believe any more or any less than what the Scriptures teach. This rules out purely symbolic views of the Eucharist on the one hand and transubstantiation on the other, but leaves open a wide space in the middle. Anglicanism does not do this to be wishy-washy, but rather to be true to the Scriptures, even when the Scriptures don’t give us all the answers that we think we’d like to have. When we come to the altar, we truly receive Jesus’ Body and Blood, just as He promised. The mechanics of that are not important for us to know, otherwise Our Lord would have revealed them.

        I’m so glad to hear of the blessings you’ve found as an Anglican! And yes, I certainly think it’s alright for you to remain in the Episcopal Church. I am still a priest of the Episcopal Church and I plan to remain so until the day I die, unless they kick me out. I can understand why you would be troubled. There’s a lot that is wrong with the Episcopal Church today. It’s a struggle for the orthodox who remain. But this is not new in the history of the Christian Church. In every era there have been broken institutions and leaders who have gone astray, sometimes even worse than what we now experience. I have no ill will towards those who have left to form other churches. They have done what they felt God was calling them to do. But the Episcopal Church, for all its foibles, still has the ecclesial structures and the core doctrine that is needed for Anglican Christians to practice their faith. Unless and until one or the other of those things changes, I refuse to abandon ship.

  8. Cadog says:

    Fr. Jonathan, thank you so much for your thoughtful response.

    I look forward to continued wisdom and instruction from your site.

    Blessings and Christ peace this and every day … every day a gift.

  9. Morgan says:

    I believe the Lutheran practice of using “Christian” in the Apostles’ creed is just a consequence of there being no suitable word for “Catholic” at the time of the first German translations.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Morgan, I have heard something similar, that this is a practice the LCMS brought over from Germany. This may be true, but it doesn’t deal with the central issue. First of all, regardless of whether the problem developed first in Germany or in America, even with good intentions, the problem remains that Christian and Catholic are not synonymous. I do not know German so I cannot speak to linguistic issues in German, but I find it hard to believe that there was simply no way of saying “Catholic” in German. Even if that were the case, one would think that the next step would be to create a new word, not to grab a totally different one. Second, the LCMS liturgy is in English. If the problem was with German, why would they repeat the error in English? Moreover, why do they not take steps to change it now? If the answer to any of these questions is, “Because it’s not that big of a deal whether we adjust the wording a little bit, so long as what we’re saying is true,” than it has to be admitted that conciliarity has been abandoned. And without conciliarity, eventually truth is abandoned as well. A truth that is not the whole (IE Catholic) truth eventually becomes just my truth or your truth, at which point it isn’t truth at all.

      • Morgan says:

        I totally agree. They should use “Catholic”. I just think it’s difficult to convince people to change what they, their parents, and their grandparents have always said–especially in something as central as the Creed. I’ve had Missouri Synod Lutherans tell me that they say “Catholic” during services.

  10. Robert F says:

    The original German translations could simply have imported the word “Catholic” the way it is imported into the English language, so that explanation for why “Christian” is used instead of “Catholic” doesn’t seem plausible.

  11. Charles says:

    Hello Fr. Johnson,
    Several questions, I hope you don’t mind. 1) Is brevity a reliable indication for the comprehensive nature of the 39 articles vis-a-vis certain continental counterparts? Surprisingly, when the Book of Articles was composed, say ‘1562-ish’, the Scots’ Confession of 1560 only consisted of twenty-five points. Meanwhile, the Belgic Confession of 1561 had only thirty-seven. So, these are smaller documents than the Thirty-Nine, yet they are indisputably reputed as ‘confessional’. 2) Don’t Lutherans have more than one ‘confession’, drawing upon a near dozen supporting standards to flesh out so-called ‘gnesio-Lutheranism’? How are Anglicans different in this respect, and wouldn’t this imply the Augsburg itself is fairly broad, requiring such narrowing by German Lutherans? 3) How to account for the Crown’s policy of ex animo subscription, beginning with Elizabeth, lasting roughly to the mid-19th century– a period normally considered ‘orthodox’? I understand subscription wasn’t only required for clergy but certain laic; for instance, professors, scholars, wardens, and, I believe, even MP’s. In what ways is the history of subscription (even related test acts and oath of allegiance) in England different from the continent? I think we see a practice that is far more narrow than what we’ve grown accustomed in the 20th century with the general suspension of discipline in favor of promiscuous congeniality? 4) I completely agree about ranked truths or doctrine, namely, non-concilar breaches of the Creed. However, aren’t Latins equally guilty with the filioque though Rome is casually known as ‘catholic’?

  12. Fr. Jonathan says:

    My apologies for taking so long to reply, Charles. I very much appreciate the questions. And if I may add, I really enjoy reading what you post over at Anglican Rose.

    So, in the order you asked…

    1) I don’t think that the length of the articles has much to do with whether or not they are confessional. The issue is not the comprehensiveness of the document per se, although the fact that the 39 Articles deal only with some issues and do not attempt to deal with others is a helpful clue to their intent. More important though is the distinction of how they actually function and In what way they are authoritative. Are they equal to the creeds? Can they be changed or revised? Are they general statements of faith or do they serve a specific purpose? For the classical confessions of continental Protestantism, the answers to those questions are yes, no, and general. For the 39 Articles, the answers are no, yes, and specific.

    2) I can’t speak to the question of why Lutherans decided to adopt multiple confessions instead of just one, but I would say that the difference has to do with authority and epistemic humility. Lutheranism recognizes only the Bible as an authority and accordingly assumes that the authority of all Lutheran statements of faith is self-evident from the scriptures. Anglicanism acknowledges the ultimate authority of the scriptures but also acknowledges the limited powers of individuals or even groups of Christians to properly understand the scriptures. Anglicanism is skeptical of the idea that broken and fallible human beings can so easily interpret scripture without the aid of the tools that scripture itself suggests for the task, namely tradition, liturgy, and the council of bishops (not to mention a properly ordered reason). This helps to explain both our different approach to doctrine than Lutherans take and the differences that exist in the content of our faith, few though they may be.

    3) There are two issues in this question, one being the role of subscription and the other being the supposed narrowness of the faith. Beginning with the second, I don’t know exactly what you mean by “narrow,” but if you mean that the Anglican faith is much more precise and even uncompromising than a lot of modern ecumenists would like to believe, then I would certainly agree. In fact, the whole project of this blog has been, in large measure, to say just that. Anglicanism has real theological content, which understood properly puts us into a different category than either the other branches of the Reformation or the churches of Rome or the East. And I suppose that you could argue that in a way the laws in England that ensured Anglicanism’s survival as the particular religion of the Church of England help contribute to Anglicanism’s precision. But I wouldn’t make too much more of it than that. Clergy in the Church of England have always been required to subscribe to the Articles and still are, though the language of that subscription is much muddier now than it once was. This subscription by clergy makes sense, given that the main purpose of the Articles is to theologically ground those who are entrusted with teaching the faith. I don’t know if MPs were required to subscribe, but the subscription of heads of colleges and other similar figures makes sense to the same end. Those who are in positions to shape the Church should be steeped in the Church’s teaching and self understanding. And since the Articles are understood by Anglicanism broadly to be true and to contain true Christian teaching, this is appropriate. But the Articles were never required to be subscribed to by the laity as a whole nor to be taught to them in the way that creeds and prayer book liturgy are. That is not now and has never been their function. Again, the issue with confessionalism is not whether the particular confession is true but by what authority we can rely upon it.

    4) In regards to the filioque, I largely agree. See my article on the subject here: http://conciliaranglican.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/ask-an-anglican-the-filioque/

  13. Javier says:

    Conciliarity is being loyal to our anglican history. Probably our confessional belief can be considered as well explained in the 39 articles.

Comments are closed.