A friend of mine who has roots in the Anglican tradition gave me a great article by Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle (d. 1900). The article has to do with the 39 Articles – specifically in the context of the late 1800s when some Anglicans were essentially ignoring them. Though I write this for the benefit of our Anglican readers, these statements certainly pertain to other confessional Protestants.
“Once for all, I must protest against the modern notion, that it does not matter the least what religious opinions a man holds, so long as he is in earnest about them, that one creed is just as good as another, and that all earnest men will somehow or other at last find themselves in heaven. I cannot hold such an opinion, so long as I believe that the Bible is a revelation from God. I would extend to everyone the widest liberty and toleration. I abhor the idea of persecuting anyone for his opinions. I would ‘think and let think.’ But so long as I have breath in my body, I shall always contend that there is such a thing as revealed truth; that men may find out what the truth is if they will honestly seek for it; and that mere earnestness and zeal, without Scriptural knowledge, will never give anyone comfort in life, peace in death, or boldness in the day of judgment.”
Ryle also discusses the beauty of the 39 Articles – how they are firm on matters essential to salvation and moderate in things non-essential to salvation. In that context, he writes the following:
“We live in days when many loudly declare that it is not right to be positive about anything in religion. The clergyman who dares to say of any theological question, “This is true, and that is false; this is right, and that is wrong,’ is pretty sure to be denounced as a narrow-minded, illiberal, uncharitable man. Nothing delights many Churchmen so much as to proclaim that they ‘belong to no party,’ that they are ‘moderate men,’ that they ‘hold no extreme views.’ Well! I only ask these Churchmen to settle matters with the Thirty-nine Articles. I want no clergyman to go a bit beyond the authoritative statements of his own Church; but I do want every clergyman not to fall below them. And I shall always maintain, publicly or privately, that to call any one an ‘extreme’ man or a ‘party’ man because his doctrinal views are in harmony with the bold, decided statements of the Articles, is neither just, nor fair, nor reasonable, nor consistent with common sense. Give me the clergyman who, after reading the Articles to his congregation, and solemnly promising to abide by them, acts up to his promise, and speaks out boldly, decidedly, and unhesitatingly, like a man, about all the leading doctrines of Christianity. As for the clergyman who, after declaring his assent to the Articles, flinches from their doctrinal distinctness, and preaches hesitatingly, as if he hardly knew what he believed, I am sorry for him. He may be a charitable, a liberal, a learned man, but he is not in the right place in the pulpit of the Church of England.”
Again, I’d apply those same things to Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches – churches with confessions embedded in their history and theology. May God give us the fortitude to stand firmly upon what we believe, not waffling, wavering, or watering down the truths of the Word.
By the way, I’d recommend reading the 39 Articles if you never have; or read them again if it’s been awhile. Maybe someone can give a link to the Articles in the comments section.