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The General Convention, the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Obligations of the Ministry

[By William Thomas Manning]

A Portion of the Bishop's Address to the Annual Convention of the Diocese of New York, May 8, 1928

[New York:] no publisher, [1928]

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007

We are all looking forward with great interest to the meeting of the General Convention, next October. There are many questions which will claim our time and attention at that meeting, but why anyone, in this day, should be seriously perturbed as to whether or not the Thirty Nine Articles should continue to be printed with the Prayer Book I find it difficult to understand. The Articles were designed to meet a situation which existed in England three hundred and fifty years ago. Considering the temper of the time at which they were issued they are surprisingly calm and controlled in their statements, but they say some unnecessary things about our fellow Christians of other Communions, Roman Catholics, Easterns and Anabaptists, and are a little lacking in that irenic spirit which we wish to see among Christians to-day.

They contain some most admirable statements of Christian doctrine, but they contain also statements which are wholly obsolete, and to which no one to-day could assent. The Articles were never of more than local application, and hold an entirely different place [1/2] from the Creed of the Church. The Ecumenical Creeds contain only the central facts and truths of the Christian Revelation, as declared in the Scriptures and held by the whole Church throughout the world; the Articles enter into questions of speculative theology in which there is wide room for difference of opinion among Christians. The Articles have little relation to the religious lives of any of us, and I doubt if any great number of our people have ever read them.

In the Protestant Episcopal Church no one is required to subscribe to them. As a somewhat archaic, though interesting, theological document they have a place. I doubt if their place is in the Church's Book of Faith and Prayer for daily living, though I am quite willing that they shall remain there if any considerable number so desire.

Whether they are removed, or remain, seems to me a matter of small importance, and with vital Twentieth Century problems pressing upon us I hope that at the General Convention we shall not spend much time discussing this question.

Before I close let me say a few words, in all affection, and also in full frankness, upon a subject which is of most vital importance to the life of the Church--I refer to the obligations, voluntarily accepted, and resting upon all of us who have been ordained to the Ministry of this Church. In the Protestant Episcopal Church there is very great liberty of thought and opinion, and in this we all rejoice. But our liberty cannot be construed to give us the right to deny, or to cast doubt upon, or by our utterances to cause others to hold lightly, the Creed of the Church whose commission we have accepted, and by virtue of whose commission we hold our places in the Church, and in the community.

We need not be too much disturbed by the irregularities of an extreme individualist, now and again, on the right hand, or on the left. The position of the Church itself is too clear, and too well understood, for such irregularities to be taken very seriously, provided they do not go beyond a certain point. But there are plain obligations resting upon us of the clergy, the sacredness of which I know you feel most deeply, and which no one among us is at liberty to forget, or to disregard. There is no restraint upon our liberty. No compulsion has been exercised upon us. Our acceptance of the Church's commission is our own free, voluntary, act, with full [2/3] knowledge of the conditions upon which that commission is entrusted to us.

When you and I were ordained we answered most searching questions, and we made, in writing, the following declaration "I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and I do solemnly engage to conform to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America".

At every Baptism we are required to ask the person who comes to be baptized "Dost thou believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith as contained in the Apostles Creed?" Standing before the Altar, at the Celebration of the Holy Communion, we are required, in the presence of God, and of the congregation, to recite the Nicene Creed as the declaration of our personal belief.

Dear brethren, the obligation which we have accepted is indeed sacred, and binding upon us, if any engagement in this world is sacred, but this does not mean that we are held only by the compulsion of our vows. The imputation that the Clergy preach what they do not really believe is a base and slanderous one.

We are not men held and bound by trammeling restrictions, or by obligations from which we are seeking to escape. The obligation resting upon us is not one imposed upon us, but one which we have voluntarily assumed because it expresses our own faith and conviction. We preach Christ not of compulsion but because the Truth revealed in Him claims the allegiance of our whole being, heart, mind and soul. We are still, and shall always be, seekers after the Divine fulness of His Truth. But we have given ourselves to the Ministry because, we have found the Truth in Christ and wish to preach Him to all the world.

We have accepted the Church's commission, and pledged ourselves to preach the Church's Message because it is this that we freely and joyfully believe. May that Divine Message, proclaimed in the Creed and the Scriptures, be so preached from every pulpit in this Diocese that Christ Himself may be made known, that His glory may be revealed, that His guidance may be accepted by young and old alike, and that our churches may be filled with aroused, converted, Bible reading, and believing people.

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