Ups and downs in the Articles of Religion
I found myself reading through some of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion this morning. That's not as odd as it sounds. Thanks to my good friend, Skip Burzumato, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer has come to play a rather large role in my morning devotions and, well, the Articles of Religion are at the back. It is true, though, that that makes me an ordained Baptist minister seeking membership in a Presbyterian church and saying my prayers from the Anglican prayer book...
Back to the Articles of Religion, though. Two things captured my attention.
First, I was struck by the fact that the third Article of Religion, immediately after the affirmation of the Holy Trinity and the dual nature of our Lord (human and divine), is "Of the going down of Christ into Hell," namely, that "As Christ died for us and was buried; so also is it to be believed, that he went down into Hell." The placement makes some sense, coming as it does right before the fourth Article, "Of the Resurrection of Christ" (his descent into hell naturally preceding his resurrection). It seems unfortunate, though, that such a controversial doctrine is thus given such prominence. I'm in sympathy with evangelical scholars such as Wayne Grudem who have questioned the biblical validity of this doctrine--and pointed out its very tardy (sixth-century, as I recall) inclusion in the Apostle's Creed (especially as an affirmation separate from the burial of Christ).
Second, and somewhat conversely, I was impressed by the truth and beauty of the fourth Article of Religion, "Of the Resurrection of Christ."
Christ did truly rise from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.This truth surely is at the center of the Christian religion. As Skip told me more than once (quoting one of his seminary professors), we believe that "the dust of the earth is seated on the throne of heaven." Jesus is "of one substance with the Father" (citing the second Article there), to be sure. We worship him as such. And yet... he is also the human lord of the universe, reigning from heaven in all his human glory. And it is that glory which we Christians anticipate sharing with him. I never cease to be amazed at this great truth.
The third Article is a descent, in my view, in more ways than one. The fourth Article ascends to the heights and is itself a great gift to men.