The theological flow of the 39 Articles

This post is really just me being a 39 Articles fan (stan? Am I a stan? What is a stan?). I’ve been going through some Reformation-era confessions and catechisms for research lately, looking at what they have to say about Christology. It’s interesting, but the results are still forthcoming. One thing I notice is where the article about Christology falls, and it’s often far down the list, or at least after a discussion of the Fall of humans.

And I noticed this because I’ve been mulling over the 39 Articles of the Anglican faith lately, and it puts the Christological article as Article II, right after the Article of Faith in the Holy Trinity. Here’s a Table of the Articles from prayerbook.ca, complete with links to the text:

  1. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
  2. Of Christ the Son of God.
  3. Of his going down into Hell.
  4. Of his Resurrection.
  5. Of the Holy Ghost.
  6. Of the Sufficiency of the Scriptures.
  7. Of the Old Testament.
  8. Of the Three Creeds.
  9. Of Original or Birth-sin.
  10. Of Free-Will.
  11. Of Justification
  12. Of Good Works.
  13. Of Works before Justification.
  14. Of Works of Supererogation.
  15. Of Christ alone without Sin.
  16. Of Sin after Baptism.
  17. Of Predestination and Election.
  18. Of obtaining Salvation by Christ.
  19. Of the Church.
  20. Of the Authority of the Church.
  21. Of the Authority of General Councils.
  22. Of Purgatory.
  23. Of Ministering in the Congregation.
  24. Of speaking in the Congregation.
  25. Of the Sacraments.
  26. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers.
  27. Of Baptism.
  28. Of the Lord’s Supper.
  29. Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ.
  30. Of both kinds.
  31. Of Christ’s one Oblation.
  32. Of the Marriage of Priests.
  33. Of Excommunicate Persons.
  34. Of the Traditions of the Church
  35. Of the Homilies.
  36. Of Consecrating of Ministers.
  37. Of the Civil Magistrates.
  38. Of Christian men’s Goods.
  39. Of a Christian man’s Oath.

The flow of the articles is from more important to less important. We begin with the doctrine of God, and then we discuss Christ, including his saving mission, then the Holy Spirit, before moving on to how we know about God — the Scriptures, the knowledge from which is articulated in the creeds. Having established the absolute foundation of our faith — God, the Holy Trinity who saved us through the life of Jesus — and how we have the knowledge of theology — God’s revelation through Scripture as articulated in the creeds — then we can move into other matters.

And now, not as Article 2, but as Article 9, we come to Original or Birth-sin. From here, questions of justification and sanctification are addressed, including stuff like predestination and election. Once salvation and the place of the church and her authorities are in good order, we look at what goes on in church, from speaking in a tongue such as the people understandeth to the sacraments, to excommunication and traditions of the church.

I love that in reading the Articles we are brought face-to-face with the greatest realities of the Christian faith before anything else. The Most Holy Trinity is where to lay our gaze, and then what he did for our salvation (which is wrapped up with those first few articles). Everything else should flow from or be framed by that belief. And the Articles help us be there.

It’s a great corrective to something I’ve witnessed — I’ve been at baptisms where people are asked about their beliefs in the Bible before their beliefs about God. Something is just … off in that ordering. It is disordered.

I’m sure other people have done this better than I have. But here it is. Now — read the Articles and see how Protestantism looks when it’s done properly.

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