The Ecumenical Articles of Religion (Introduction)

It was a Saturday night: January 16, 2010. There were two things I was doing online that I couldn’t tell anyone: I was thinking of going to a church two blocks from my apartment, and I was interested in the beliefs of that church’s denomination.

It didn’t take long to find the relevant page on Wikipedia. It also didn’t take long to find this statement of doctrine on a related Wikipedia page:

Article XIV—Of Purgatory

The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.

This was a surprise. I’d been baptized and confirmed in The United Methodist Church and had never before read any of these condemnations of the Roman Catholic Church.

Four years later, I’m still not sure what to think of the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church. (Almost four years later, I’m not even sure what is the official text of the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church, at least according to The United Methodist Church. For my purposes in this series, what appears in the current Discipline with the errata is sufficiently accurate.) Maybe we don’t talk about the Articles of Religion much in the northern United States because we have Catholic neighbors.

It would be false to think that all Methodists spend time denouncing “Romish doctrine”. The 2008 General Conference (via Calendar Item 473) reaffirmed “Resolution of Intent—With A View To Unity“. Last year in this spirit Bishop Wenner as President of the Council of Bishops expressed appreciation for Pope Benedict XVI’s ministry and also welcomed Pope Francis. I fully support these ecumenical developments.

My concern in this series of blog posts is with the text of “Resolution of Intent—With A View To Unity”. Specifically, it’s with this specific part of the text:

WHEREAS, it is common knowledge that the context of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (1563–and specifically Articles XIV, XIX, XXI, XXII, XXIV, XXV, XXVIII, XXX) was bitterly polemical, it is of prime importance in an ecumenical age that they should be reconsidered and reassessed. … John Wesley’s hasty abridgement (1784) of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (down to twenty-four) retained seven out of the ten of these anti-Roman references (XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI) in his enumeration. …

There are two problems with the above. The first is obvious, and the second is not as obvious:

  1. The text mentions “ten of these anti-Roman references.” It only lists eight (XIV, XIX, XXI, …, XXX), suggesting that two “anti-Roman references” are missing.
  2. Article XIV in the original Thirty-Nine Articles is titled “Of Works of Supererogation.” John Wesley retained this as Article XI in his abridgement of 1784. Why isn’t Article XI listed?

When the General Conference speaks, what it says is supposed to be important. In addition to any person acting as Church counsel in a judicial proceeding (¶ 2701.3), the only other entity that can speak for The United Methodist Church is the General Conference (¶ 509). It would be nice if the General Conference could make a statement about the Church’s past without making careless mistakes.

This series of posts is about the careless mistakes in this General Conference Resolution.


2 thoughts on “The Ecumenical Articles of Religion (Introduction)

  1. Pingback: The Ecumenical Articles of Religion (Part 2) | Attending Circuses

  2. Pingback: The Ecumenical Articles of Religion (Conclusion) | Attending Circuses

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