The Ecumenical Articles of Religion (Conclusion)

This post is a conclusion in a series discussing the General Conference’s “Resolution of IntentWith a View to Unity“.

In the Introduction of this series,  I stated that I support the intent of the “Resolution of Intent”. Despite this support, I cannot ignore that it contains careless mistakes.

In Part 1 of this series, I described my method: noting the named Articles of Religion and identifying each one’s source in the original Thirty-Nine Articles.

In Part 2 of this series, I looked at the original “Resolution of Intent” as approved by the 1970 General Conference. I then made corrections for which there is a strong prima facie case. (By no means do I claim that these corrections are the final word. I only claim that there’s a solid case to be made for them based on the evidence so far.)

In Part 3 of this series, I looked at how subsequent petitioners and General Conferences dealt with the text that needed corrections. In my opinion, some did better than others, but ultimately, none of them made the needed corrections.

In this Conclusion, I will just record some current thoughts on this General Conference Resolution. This is not the day to try to summarize nearly two millennia of Christian conflict in a blog post.

Why this is important

¶ 105 in the current Discipline describes “Our Theological Task”. The text under Reason on page 86 begins:

Although we recognize that God’s revelation and our experiences of God’s grace continually surpass the scope of human language and reason, we also believe that any disciplined theological work calls for the careful use of reason.

The text under Tradition on page 83 begins:

The theological task does not start anew in each age or each person. Christianity does not leap from New Testament times to the present as though nothing were to be learned from that great cloud of witnesses in between. For centuries Christians have sought to interpret the truth of the gospel for their time.

Reason calls on us to take notice of all Tradition, including those aspects with which we are uncomfortable.

If the above justification sounds too scholarly, there’s the more pragmatic basis that the Resolution in question is addressing a denomination with 100 times as many members as The United Methodist Church. It isn’t too much to ask that the resolution explicitly name the ten “bitterly polemical” Articles from the original Thirty-Nine Articles, and that the resolution explicitly name the eight Articles retained by Wesley. If The United Methodist Church can’t explicitly name what it regrets, why should anyone take The United Methodist Church seriously in its expression of regret?

Another pragmatic basis is the realization that if this resolution wasn’t taken seriously by the General Conference, it’s difficult to know how seriously to consider its other resolutions.

I’ll close this post with two other related observations from the current Resolution of Intent.

Observation one

The first observation concerns this text:

At the General Conference of 1992, a new resolution, “Ecumenical Interpretations of Doctrinal Standards,” offered by the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, was received, adopted, and subsequently printed in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 1992 (245-46). Although grounded in the Study Commission’s resolution of intent, this document is not as comprehensive in its scope as was the original, with specific reference to our current understanding of the composition of our Doctrinal Standards.

Let’s take a closer look at this “not as comprehensive” document approved by the 1992 General Conference.

The original petition to the 1992 General Conference, petition 10654 (ADCA, pages 818-819), began the “Resolved” paragraph with this sentence:

Therefore, be it hereby resolved that we declare it our official intent to interpret all our Articles, Confession, and other “standards of doctrine” in consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment. …

Here is how the above sentence was amended and approved by consent calendar (DCA, page 295, Calendar Item 645):

Therefore, be it hereby resolved that we declare it our official intent to interpret all our these Articles, Confession, and other standards of doctrine in consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment. …

Here is how the 1996 General Conference modified this one sentence in the 1992 Book of Resolutions (petition 21056, ADCA, page 265; approved on consent calendar, DCA, page 142, Calendar Item 208):

Therefore, be it hereby resolved, that we declare if it our official intent to interpret these Articles in consolance consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment. …

“We will interpret these Articles in consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment.” Why only these Articles? Is it because these Articles alone might offend a larger institution?

At least in the current resolution, the General Conference didn’t officially fall for such an empty relativistic ecumenism, no matter how juicy some might find it.

Observation two

One problem I have with “Resolution of Intent—With a View to Unity” is its tone: it has a “mistakes were made” vibe about it. In evoking the idea that it all happened a long time ago, I’m also not too thrilled that it misquotes Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper“.

Perhaps the “mistakes were made” attitude is what bothers me the most about the Resolution of Intent. It took many people to not double-check their work. Because so many different people are involved, no one person is responsible for these mistakes.

It will take the efforts of more than the next General Conference to confront these decades of negligence.

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The Ecumenical Articles of Religion (Part 3)

In my previous post, I concluded that both lists from the original Resolution of Intent in the Journal of the 1970 General Conference of The United Methodist Church should be amended accordingly:

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, XXXI, XXIV XXXII—was bitterly polemical, it is of prime importance in an ecumenical age that they should be reconsidered and reassessed. … John Wesley’s hasty abridgment (1784) of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (down to twenty-four) retained seven eight out of ten of these anti-Roman references XI, XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI in his enumeration. …

How well did subsequent petitioners and General Conferences deal with the above text?

The 1992 General Conference received petition 10654 with the same text from the original Resolution of Intent (pages 818-819 in the ADCA):

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, XXXI, XXIV, were bitterly polemical, it is of prime importance that they should be reconsidered and reassessed in the contemporary context. … John Wesley’s hasty abridgment (1784) of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (down to twenty-four) retained seven out of ten of these anti-Roman references XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI in his enumeration. …

Petition 10654 became Calendar Item 645 (page 295 of the DCA). The Independent Commissions Legislative Committee made no changes to the above text.

The 1996 General Conference received petition 21056 to make the following change to the above text (ADCA, page 265):

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, XXXI, XXIV XXXIV, were bitterly polemical, it is of prime importance that they should be reconsidered and reassessed in the contemporary context. … John Wesley’s hasty abridgment (1784) of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (down to twenty-four) retained seven out of ten of these anti-Roman references XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI in his enumeration. …

Article XXXIV in the original Thirty-Nine Articles is titled “Of the Traditions of the Church.” Wesley did retain this as Article XXII, “Of the Rites and Ceremonies of Churches.” Shouldn’t Article XXII be added to the list of references?

The Legislative Committee recommended concurrence with petition 21056 in Calendar Item 208 (DCA, page 142).

The 2000 General Conference received petition 30533 for the current resolution text (ADCA, page 1396):

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, XXI, XXI) 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 antiRoman references (XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XIX, XX, XXI) in his enumeration. …

(DCA, page 1640 contains a correction for petition 30533 that does not modify the above text.)

Yes, the original petition added new errors: the list of ten Articles from the Thirty-Nine Articles lists Article XXI three times, and the list of seven antiRoman references changed XVIII to XVII.

Here is how the Legislative Committee converted the above text from petition 30533 into Calendar Item 1442 (DCA, page 2230):

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, XXI, XXI) 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 antiRoman references (XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI) in his enumeration. …

The Legislative Committee corrected one of the errors in the original petition: it changed Article XVII back to Article XVIII. By merely striking the duplicates in the list of ten original Articles, the Committee did not consider that the list of ten original Articles now only contains eight Articles.

The 2008 General Conference Calendar Item 473 retained the above text. Here is how it appears on page 284 of the 2012 Book of Resolutions, 3144. Resolution of Intent: With a View to Unity:

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. …

The 2012 Discipline cites this resolution in a footnote on page 66. Am I the only person who has (a) carefully read this resolution, and (b) noticed that it doesn’t contain a list of ten items?

I’ll conclude this series in the next post.

The Ecumenical Articles of Religion (Part 2)

Resolution of Intent—With a View to Unity” concludes with the “original resolution of intent” approved by the 1970 General Conference. It does appear on page 255 of the Journal of the 1970 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. Here is how both lists appear in the 1970 Journal:

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, XXXI, XXIV—was bitterly polemical, it is of prime importance in an ecumenical age that they should be reconsidered and reassessed. … John Wesley’s hasty abridgment (1784) of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (down to twenty-four) retained seven out of ten of these anti-Roman references XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI in his enumeration. …

The original resolution lists ten Articles from the original Thirty-Nine Articles. Unfortunately, Article XXIV appears on the list twice. For now, we only need note that it’s listed twice. It will become clear in a moment what the final listed Article should be.

Here’s the list as a graphic:

Resolution of Intent listing from the Thirty-Nine Articles

Resolution of Intent listing from the Thirty-Nine Articles

The Resolution of Intent then lists seven Articles from Wesley’s 1784 abridgement of the Articles of Religion. Here’s a list of those seven Articles in a similar graphic:

Resolution of Intent listing from Wesley's abridgement

Resolution of Intent listing from Wesley’s abridgement

Of the above seven Articles from Wesley’s abridgement, it’s simple to determine the source of each in the original Thirty-Nine Articles. For example, Article XIV of the abridgement is titled “Of Purgatory.” Article XXII from the Thirty-Nine Articles is also titled “Of Purgatory.” We can match all of the seven listed Articles accordingly.

In graphic form, here is how the seven Articles in the abridgement match up with the original Thirty-Nine Articles:

The seven articles listed in abridgement and their sources in the original Thirty-Nine Articles.

The seven articles listed in the abridgement and their sources in the original Thirty-Nine Articles.

With our sophisticated graphical capabilities, let’s take the left part of the graphic just posted and combine it with the first graphic of this series (this will be clearer after looking at it):

The source articles compared with the original list from the Resolution of Intent.

The source articles compared with the original list from the Resolution of Intent.

These line up well. If the Resolution of Intent considers Article XXI (“Of the Marriage of Ministers.”) from Wesley’s abridgement an “anti-Roman reference”, it seems reasonable to conclude that Article XXXII (“Of the Marriage of Priests.”) also qualifies as an “anti-Roman reference”. By this reasoning, the last item on the list from the Thirty-Nine Articles should be Article XXXII.

In other words, the original text corrected:

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, XXXI, XXIV  XXXII—was bitterly polemical, it is of prime importance in an ecumenical age that they should be reconsidered and reassessed. … John Wesley’s hasty abridgment (1784) of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (down to twenty-four) retained seven out of ten of these anti-Roman references XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI in his enumeration. …

What about Articles XIV, XIX, and XXI of the original Thirty-Nine Articles? Graphically:

What about the first three listed articles?

What about the first three listed articles?

From page 1558 of the Journal of the 1952 General Conference of The Methodist Church (click to enlarge):

1952 Journal, page 1558

1952 Journal, page 1558

The original Article XIV “Of Works of Supererogation” became Article XI “Of Works of Supererogation.” The Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards noted in a report approved by the 1972 General Conference that Article XI is polemical and aimed at Roman Catholics. (See page 1994 of the Journal of the 1972 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.)

From page 1560 of the Journal of the 1952 General Conference of The Methodist Church (click to enlarge):

1952 Journal, page 1560

1952 Journal, page 1560

Article XIX became Article XIII in Wesley’s abridgement, but it appears that Wesley did not include the original’s “bitterly polemical” paragraph. Article XXI was not included.

Based on the above, the Resolution of Intent omitted Article XI for some reason. Here is the original text corrected by adding Article XI:

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, XXXI, XXIV  XXXII—was bitterly polemical, it is of prime importance in an ecumenical age that they should be reconsidered and reassessed. … John Wesley’s hasty abridgment (1784) of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (down to twenty-four) retained seven eight out of ten of these anti-Roman references XI, XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI in his enumeration. …

With a little bit of careful attention, the above corrections aren’t that difficult to make. My next post examines whether, after 1970, petitioners and General Conferences made any of the above corrections.

The Ecumenical Articles of Religion (Part 1)

What follows might be boring but is not rocket science.

We can list the Thirty-Nine Articles by their titles. I’ll only list the first ten:

  1. Of faith in the Holy Trinity.
  2. Of the Word, or Son of God, which was made very man.
  3. Of the going down of Christ into Hell.
  4. Of the Resurrection of Christ.
  5. Of the Holy Ghost.
  6. Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
  7. Of the Old Testament.
  8. Of the Three Creeds.
  9. Of Original or Birth Sin.
  10. Of Free Will.

We can also list the titles from Wesley’s abridgement of 1784 (here starting on page 306). I’ll only list the first ten (and I won’t use the medial s):

  1. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
  2. Of the Word, or Son of God, who was made very Man.
  3. Of the Resurrection of Christ.
  4. Of the Holy Ghost.
  5. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
  6. Of the Old Testament.
  7. Of Original or Birth-sin.
  8. Of Free-will.
  9. Of the Justification of Man.
  10. Of good Works.

Just based on the above, let’s look at the first four of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Wesley’s abridgement kept the first two (Articles I and II). Wesley’s abridgement did not include Article III (“Of the going down of Christ into Hell.”) from the Thirty-Nine Articles. Wesley’s abridgement included Article IV (“Of the Resurrection of Christ.”) from the Thirty-Nine Articles, but in the abridgement it became Article III.

That’s the idea behind what I’m doing: looking at the specified articles from the Articles of Religion and seeing the source in the original Thirty-Nine Articles.

No one has to rely solely on my word here. There are a number of books that make these comparisons.

History of the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church by Robert Emory. The comparison starts on page 95.

History and Exposition of the Twenty-five Articles of Religion of the Methodist Episcopal Church by Henry Wheeler, D. D. The comparison starts on page 14.

The Encyclopedia of World Methodism, volume 1. The entry for “Articles of Religion” begins on page 146.

I’m going to rely on a fourth source: a report in the Journal of the 1952 General Conference of The Methodist Church. The comparison starts on page 1554. (The full report starts on page 1481.) This report is comparing the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Episcopal Church with the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church. For my purposes here, this is sufficient.

In my next post, I look at the original source for the Resolution of Intent, the Journal of the 1970 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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.

What is the correct text for the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church?

In my previous post, I noted that the current 2012 Discipline does not contain the correct text of the General Rules. I neglected to say what can be done about this. The only method I can think of is the same method used in Judicial Council Decision 468. Basically, a church body that can request the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision has to, well, request the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision.

What inspired me to research the General Rules was a scrivener’s error that first appeared in the 2008 Discipline. Page 60 of the 2008 Discipline added “Lamentations” to the list of canonical books in Article V. (The errata for the 2008 Discipline did note for page 60 that Article III was mistakenly titled Article II. There is no mention of “Lamentations”.) The errata for the 2012 Discipline notes that the word “Lamentations” should be deleted on page 65, line 4. (Somebody else noted this first. Oh well.)

This past summer I wondered: what is the correct text of the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church? ¶ 3 says that “The Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith of The United Methodist Church are those held by The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church, respectively, at the time of their uniting.” The reasoning of Decision 468 suggests that the relevant text should be from the Plan of Union. The Plan of Union is not something readily available.

¶ 17 (also called the First Restrictive Rule) reads, “The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine.” These are strong words. What text are they directed toward? To say that one must not “revoke, alter, or change” a text without a precise specification of the text in question would be like beautiful whitewashed tombs that hide internal rot.

Let me be clear: I’m not claiming to be a guardian of the Articles of Religion. I’m also aware of differing historical conventions in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. The Constitution of the United States is a perfect example of some of these differences. What underlies this cursory discussion is one basic premise: in order to know whether something has been changed, we have to know what is supposed to stay the same.

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