Dear friends,

Over the summer with these blogs, I am going to look at some classic Anglican doctrine. Today we will look at Anglicanism’s understanding of church “councils”. In other words, meetings of church leaders who are entrusted to make decisions. Please note, on one hand this is relevant to the meetings of even small local churches. But the main purpose is to look at national and international councils. I have modernized the language, but here, in its entirety, is Article 21 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.

XXI. Of the authority of General Councils. General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men and women, and not everyone will be
governed by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God), they may err (make mistakes) and sometimes have erred, even in things about God. Wherefore, any decisions made by the council as being necessary for salvation, have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.”

Several things. First, the opening sentence is dated, but it still makes good sense. The meeting or council needs to be legal. Here we notice one weakness of the Articles. It is a weakness of all historical documents. The Article was written for a nation that allowed and encouraged the Christian faith. They were not addressing what a church should do in Iran or China.

Second, while the Article can be “dated” in some ways, God’s Word is not dated. It is an always relevant word over time.

Third, when church leaders meet to decide matters, you can never assume they are all true Christians. Even if they are all true Christians, you cannot assume they are seeking to submit their heart and mind to the Holy Spirit and God’s Word written. Christians can have hard and impenitent hearts and minds. We can also have our minds submitted to selfish ambitions or ideology or nationalism or many other matters. So, church councils make mistakes – sometimes horrendous mistakes.

Fourth, the Bible is to be the check on decisions. We cannot look into someone’s heart to see whether they were or were not submitting to the Holy Spirit. But we can see whether their decisions are derived from and consistent with what the Bible teaches.  God’s Word judges church decisions.

George +