Article 34: Church Traditions

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 34 states:

XXXIV. Of the Traditions of the Church

It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. Whosoever through his private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.

Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.

This Article shows us something of the essentially conservative nature of Christian faith and practice: that is, that change occurs as needed, never for the sake of change itself.  Uniformity is not required across the globe nor throughout history, but locally, uniformity (or rather, unity) is extremely important, as the New Testament demands (Acts 4:32, Ephesians 4:1-3, Philippians 1:27, 2:2, 1 Peter 3:8).  Part of this is to worship with “one voice” (Exodus 24:3, Romans 15:6), which can only be done when all the worshipers are on the same page – in agreement of what to say, when to say it, and how to express it!

Article 34 captures this biblical mandate succinctly by first debunking the myth that everything is to be absolutely identical in all places at all times – all may praise God in their own language, and the exact manner of “Traditions and Ceremonies” need not be the same in every detail, indeed they cannot be!  Some parts of the world do not have adequate clean water (or are too cold) for full immersion baptism, some languages demand different turns of phrase in their spoken liturgy, cultural references shift over time.  The basic requirement underlying Christian liturgy given here is that “nothing be ordained against God’s Word.”

What Article 34 then goes on to address is the willing and purposeful violation of the Church’s local or regional rules of liturgy.  Martin Luther observed, when writing about the significance of common worship, that although we have “freedom in Christ” (Galatians 2:4, 5:1) we are also subject to the “bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  The English Reformers maintained the historic commitment to clear liturgical standards: the Book of Common Prayer.  Although the majority of other Protestant traditions also established their own forms of the common liturgy, few today have maintained those standards, sacrificing the “bond of peace” for a radically individualized “freedom”.  This Article, therefore, stands as a corrective witnesses for us against the “spirit of the age,” calling us to reinforce our commitment to understanding and using this gem of our tradition, our common worship, the Prayer Book.

But of course, the commitment to common liturgy and the warning against those who defy it are not mere legalistic statements; these aren’t rules for the sake of having rules.  As Article 34 lists, there are several reasons why authorized Church traditions are to be kept, and the liturgy ought to be adhered to (assuming they are not repugnant to the Word of God).  First, they are established by due authority, and Christians are taught again and again in the Bible to respect our leaders, elders, or pastors.  Second, they cause offense toward the whole Church and especially its “Magistrates” or leaders.  This, too, is a grievous sin according to the teachings of the New Testament.  Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, rejection of the Church’s common practices and liturgies “woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren”.  This is one of Saint Paul’s particular concerns in 1 Corinthians 8, where he urges believers who think themselves mature to accommodate those who are “weaker” in the faith.  The liturgy is a means to an end – a tool by which we worship God in more perfect unity.  One may think oneself capable of worshiping in a manner “better” than the liturgy prescribes, but out of deference to the greater Body of Christ one is to submit in humility and love.

Article 34 ends much like how it began: noting that human rites and ceremonies may be changed by proper authority.  It notes the ones “by man’s authority” because aspects of worship are mandated in the Scriptures directly, such as Holy Communion, Holy Baptism, the reading of the Word, the preaching of the Word, and common prayers.  No one has authority to do away with things like these.  But for the additions we make to these, and the forms and structures they take, the Church may change them as and when needed.  The final instruction is that such changes are to be made “that all things be done to edifying”.  Notice this is not a provision for “preference” or “experimentation” or “spontaneity” or “fresh reimagining.”  Many curious innovations have cropped up over the past century under such guises, none of which are strictly biblical values for worship.

Our liturgies are to be edifying, biblical, and true.  Individual styles and emotional tones are secondary matters that cannot be allowed to control the shared liturgy.  It is impossible for any worship service to be “all things to all people.”  Rather, the liturgy is one thing, for all people.  We learn to find our place within the rhythms of the liturgy, just as we learn to find our place in the work and narrative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We do not follow Christ on our own terms, neither do we worship Him on our own terms.  That is why we worship with a set liturgy, codified in a Book for all to see, use, and share.

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Psalm 56 on Veterans Day

In the standard cycle of Psalms for every morning and evening of the month, the 11th day’s morning begins with Psalm 56.  Although this cycle of Psalm-praying was established centuries before the Great War, let alone the institution of Remembrance Day or Veterans Day, Psalm 56 turns out to be a poignant read on this national observance.

BE merciful unto me, O God, for man goeth about to devour me; * he is daily fighting, and troubling me.

2 Mine enemies are daily at hand to swallow me up; * for they be many that fight against me, O thou Most Highest.
3 Nevertheless, though I am sometime afraid, * yet put I my trust in thee.
4 I will praise God, because of his word: * I have put my trust in God, and will not fear what flesh can do unto me.
5 They daily mistake my words; * all that they imagine is to do me evil.
6 They hold all together, and keep themselves close, * and mark my steps, when they lay wait for my soul.
7 Shall they escape for their wickedness? * thou, O God, in thy displeasure shalt cast them down.

8 Thou tellest my wanderings; put my tears into thy bottle: * are not these things noted in thy book?
9 Whensoever I call upon thee, then shall mine enemies be put to flight: * this I know; for God is on my side.
10 In God’s word will I rejoice; * in the LORD’S word will I comfort me.
11 Yea, in God have I put my trust; * I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.
12 Unto thee, O God, will I pay my vows; * unto thee will I give thanks.
13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, * that I may walk before God in the light of the living.

What we see here is a marvelous expression of trust in the Lord God.  It is a prayer that recognizes the threat of enemies on every side, threatening to “devour me”.  It is a prayer that admits “I am sometime afraid.”  The enemy mistakes the praying person’s words, they mark his steps, they lay traps.  Of course, the intended application of this prayer is not meant to be restricted to those living a martial lifestyle; the common trope of “enemies” in the Psalm is a placeholder for all manners of evils, not the least of which are the evil inclinations within one’s own heart.  But the serviceman or woman is among the relative few who may learn to take this sort of prayer in one of its most literal senses.

On Veterans Day the state (and in attentive sympathy, the Church) invites us to reach out in respect to those who have put themselves in danger.  Although Psalm 56 comes up in the Church’s daily prayers every month, in November perhaps we can offer it up to our Lord with a particular ear to the prayer of those whose lives are (or have been) in danger.  As we will also pray tomorrow:

O King and Judge of the nations: We remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our armed forces, who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy; grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, now and forever. Amen.

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Article 33: The Excommunicated

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 33 states:

XXXIII. Of Excommunicate Persons, how they are to be avoided

That person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church, and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful, as an Heathen and Publican, until he be openly reconciled by penance, and received into the Church by a Judge that hath authority thereunto.

It may help to begin with the definition of excommunication.  This is how one becomes excommunicated in the Anglican Church in North America:

If the Priest knows that a person who is living a notoriously evil life intends to come to Communion, the Priest shall speak to that person privately, and tell him/her that he/she may not come to the Lord’s Table until he/she has given clear proof of repentance and amendment of life. The Priest shall follow the same procedure with those who have done wrong to their neighbors and are a scandal to the other members of the congregation, not allowing such persons to receive Communion until they have made restitution for the wrong they have done.

When the Priest sees that there is enmity between members of the congregation, he/she shall speak privately to each of them, telling them that they may not receive Communion until they have forgiven each other. And if the person or persons on one side truly forgive the others and desire and promise to make up for their faults, but those on the other side refuse to forgive, the Priest shall allow those who are penitent to come to Communion, but not those who are obstinate.

In all such cases, the Priest is required to notify the Bishop, within fourteen days at the most, giving the reasons for refusing Communion.  This is intended to give sufficient time for the repentance and reconciliation of the parties so involved.

Excommunication, thus, is the extreme end of church discipline.  It is the last resort, the greatest warning that can be given: “if you continue as you are, you are effectively no longer Christian.”  Based on this, Article 33 describes how an excommunicant is to be treated: “as an Heathen and Publican” or “as a Gentile and a tax collector,” quoting Matthew 18:17.  The beautiful key word following this is until.  Even at such a pronouncement the hope remains that the person will repent and be reconciled with God and the Church.

It is also interesting to observe that someone who has been excommunicated needs to be reconciled with “penance” and be received back into the Church by an appropriately-authorized “Judge.”  This is because the excommunicant is effectively a non-christian, and thus must in a sense re-convert.  Penance is here akin to the visible and active profession of faith a new convert makes, and being received by an appropriate judge (presumably a Bishop, since it is a Bishop who finalizes the excommunication in the first place) is akin to the new convert’s participation in the rites of Baptism and Confirmation.  While rites like Baptism and Confirmation are once-for-all-time in a person’s life, sacramental confession and public apology are freely available throughout one’s life as means of reconciliation.  The nature of the evil that separated the excommunicant from the Church in the first place will generally set the tone for the appropriate form of reconciliation: a “secret” sin like having an abortion is best dealt with quietly and privately, whereas a more “public” sin like a pastor having an affair is best addressed through a more public venue of apology and forgiveness.

One of the pastoral observations here, finally, is what this Article does not endorse.  Excommunicated persons are not to be shunned, kicked out of town, heckled and shouted at by everyone.  Rather, they are to be loved and evangelized like any other non-believer, in the hopes that they will come to (restored) faith in Jesus Christ and (re)join the Body of Christ.

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My Top 3 Reasons to Ditch the RCL

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is probably the most-used family of Bible-reading plans in the world right now.  The Roman Catholic Church uses a version of it, the Episcopal Church uses a version of it, various Anglican churches use versions of it, Lutherans use a version of it, and even some Presbyterians and other Protestants use it.  The Sunday and Red Letter Day Lectionary in the Anglican Church in North America’s Texts for Common Prayer is also a version of the RCL.

In the interest of catholicity and ecumenism, you might think I’d be all over this lectionary for the denomination-uniting tool that it could be.  But having spent about half of my preaching years using it, and half using something more historic, I came to the conclusion that it’s high time we just let it go, and return to the historic Prayer Book lectionary.  And I’ve got three big reasons to back up my stodgy old-fashioned opinion!

The RCL in its various forms provides a set of three readings (usually Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel) with a Psalm for every Sunday and Holy Day throughout the year.  For the Sundays it contains a three-year cycle of readings to increase the amount of Scripture that gets covered over the course of that time.  But that also sets it up for its first problem.

Reason #1: Nobody has a three-year memory.

It’s all well and good to claim a lectionary that covers an impressively large % of the Bible over the course of three years.  It’s certainly a leg-up from the ad-hoc approach to Scripture reading found in nearly every “non-liturgical” church.  Even if the sermon only deals with one of the readings on a given Sunday, the congregation will at least hear a great deal of Scripture read to them over the course of the three-year cycle.  But nobody has a three-year memory.  Who’s going to say “Oh, I remember this reading from 4 years ago, isn’t it great!”?

One of the keys to learning and discipleship is frequent repetition.  A three-year cycle of readings is much too stretched out for its repetitions to pay off.  It might work for an attentive adult who attends church every Sunday without fail, but think of the children.  The readings that my son will hear when he’s 5 years old won’t come around again until he’s 8, and then 11, and then 14, and then 17, and then 20.  To him, those gaps are an incredibly long time.  I might remember them decently well because I preached on those readings, but I can’t vouch for anyone else in the congregation benefiting from such a long cycle.

If we want a lectionary that disciples us through effective repetition, and we want greater Bible coverage, we’re going to have to solve this another way.

Reason #2: We already have an excellent heritage.

The historic Sunday and Holy Day lectionary, used with minor adjustments for the past 1,500 years, is a one-year cycle of readings that summarize the Gospel message.  Traditional Anglican daily lectionaries cover almost the entire Bible in a single year.  Together, these two lectionaries provide exactly what the RCL is trying to mash together into one.  We all know how it goes when one product tries to carry multiple uses: it decreases the quality of all its output.  The RCL suffers from this very problem; it tries to do too much, and (especially as Anglicans) we already have an elegant and time-tested solution.

With the same Sunday Communion service readings showing up every year, you can be sure that children and adults alike will begin to catch on after a few repetitions.  The unity of the lessons (that is, the fact that the readings connect to one another, and with the Collect of the Day) will also help the congregation understand what they hear.  That way, if the preacher chooses so to do, he can make his own preaching plan through a particular book of the Bible, rather than waiting for that book to appear in the RCL’s 3-year cycle.  (And if you want to preach through an Old Testament book, well, forget it; the RCL never goes through OT readings sequentially!)

Is this sounding a little complicated yet?  Well, I don’t blame you.

Reason #3: Modern prayer books are too complicated for the ordinary person in the Pew to use.

The way the 1979 Prayer Book is laid out, you’ve got the liturgies for the worship services near the beginning of the book, the Collects of the Day near in the middle, and the lectionaries in the back.  If you’re trying to follow the Communion service strictly “by the book”, you have to be ready to flip to at least 3 different places in the book, in addition to the way the liturgy is set up.  Even if our Texts for Common Prayer solves the intra-liturgy page-flipping confusion, the separation of the Collects of the Day and the Lectionary still require more page-flipping than is desirable for the average person, on top of balancing a Bible to follow the readings and looking up the Psalm.

At that point, most folks in the congregation just give up and let the priest figure out how to arrange the service and just follow along with whatever he does.  He’s the expert after all.

This is precisely the kind of problem that the Reformers, especially the English Reformers, were trying to fix!  The liturgy had gotten so complicated back then, with the priest juggling a sacramentary, an antiphonal, a lectionary, and various other Mass Books (not to mention the missals that the ordinary folks would follow along in) that the overall result was that the liturgy was entirely under the control of the clergy and the lay people had to have simplified versions of everything in order to follow along.  One of the absolute gems of the Anglican tradition was the Common Prayer Book – a single volume with all the Church’s liturgy in it which could be picked up and profitably used by anyone who knew how to read.

The 1979 Prayer Book, and any other book with a long complicated lectionary, is not user-friendly.  I’ve ministered in settings that use a bulletin for every worship service, saving people the worry of page-flipping through books, and there are still sometimes issues keeping up with “where we are in the liturgy.”  I can get into trouble if I don’t put page numbers in!  If this is the case with a consistent bulletin or booklet liturgy, how much more difficult will it be for people to keep up with a convoluted prayer book?

To me, the answer is simple: let’s simply return to the simpler lectionary, our historic Collects and Lessons.  I’m not simply griping, though; I submitted my views and arguments to the ACNA Liturgical Task Force earlier this year, as part of their search for province-wide feedback.  If you want to read what I wrote in full, I’ve made my appeal available here: Appeal for the collects and lessons.

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Article 22 Revisited: the Saints as Advocates

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 22 states:

XXII. Of Purgatory

The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

By the late Middle Ages, a number of ancient Christian customs and traditions had taken on a life of their own.  Respect for the dead, remembrances of the departed, the celebration of the Saints, reverence for sacred art, and other such things had grown from their simple pious origins into a systemic culture that the Reformers found to be “rather repugnant to the Word of God”.

In my original comments on this Article we looked at Purgatory, Pardons, and the Worshiping and Adoration of Images and Relics, but we did not look at the Invocation of Saints.  That subject I’ve saved for today, as we celebrate All Saints’ Day.

The invocation of Saints is another practice characteristic of Roman and Eastern piety that has little or no counterpart in Protestant Christianity.  To invoke a Saint means, literally, to “call in” a Saint.  It assumes that the Saint has power or merit that he or she can dispense upon request.  Although this does illustrate the idea of our co-inheritance with Christ in eternal life, the unfortunate implication is that the Saints have become demigods, like feudal lords under the King, Jesus.  It takes a rightful respect we are biblically commanded to have for all God’s people and turns it into a hierarchical set of relationships that all too easily distance us from Christ our King and Brother.

The result of the rejection of this “Romish doctrine” has been that the vast majority of Protestants, although cleaving steadfastly to Christ, have forgotten with whom they steadfastly cleave to Christ.  Forgetting the good teachings and examples of the Saints have alienated many from their own past, and weakened their understanding of the Body of Christ, and made us more vulnerable to the intrusion of new strange doctrines or the return of ancient heresies thought long dead.

In resistance to this extreme, some people have argued for the “advocation of Saints” instead of their “invocation.”  Rather than the problematic “calling in” a Saint for help, it has been argued that we may “call alongside” a Saint to join us in prayer.  Although this exact terminology has not universally been used, this basic idea has existed within Protestantism since the Reformation.

Appeals for this view stem from Scripture, tradition, and history.  From Scripture, Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 describe the mingling of earthly and heavenly prayers.  This is realized in our liturgy (part of our normative tradition) in the Communion prayers, in which we pray, “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name…”  And historically, this view explains the presence of devotions to the Saints and their relics in the Early Church before their growth into the late medieval malpractices that the Reformation had to throw off.

This view has not taken a significant hold outside of high church Anglican circles.  Retorts that Christ is our only Mediator and Advocate are used to deny the possibility of inviting the Saints into our prayer lives.  What may be misunderstood here is that the unique Advocacy of Christ and/or the Holy Spirit their roles on the Day of Judgment: then only the Sinless One can stand beside we sinners and advocate for our judgment unto forgiveness.  But advocacy in lesser matters, like our ordinary prayers in this life, while stemming from Christ our perfect Intercessor, do not preclude the possibility of asking for other people to pray for us.  Defendants of the Advocation of Saints argue that asking a departed Christian to pray with/for us is no different than asking a living Christian to pray with/for us.

However seriously or tentatively one takes this, it must be said that the Church, the Body of Christ, is a living unity of love and prayer.  As the Catechism of the Anglican Church in North America, To Be A Christian, says, “All the worship of the Church on earth is a participating in the eternal worship of the Church in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-24).” [Q.101]  Whether we name any departed Saints in our prayers or not, they are with us in prayer and worship, and for that we can always rejoice.

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Reformed Catholicism

Something I noticed rather prominent in the writings of various 17th century Anglicans as I was reading from them early this year was that they never referred to the “Roman Catholic Church.”  Romans, Papists, but never Catholics.  The reason for this is important, and I wish more of us still did this: the Reformers believed that they were preserving the Catholic Faith, and that the Roman Church had strayed from it.  Thus, if anyone was to be called “catholic”, it was the Protestant Reformers, not the errant Papists.  Thus the Creeds continue to be read in our liturgies, and we unabashedly proclaimed belief in the “holy catholic church”.

Today, of course, the situation is reversed.  Most of us call the Romans “Catholics”, and only a relatively small number of us, Anglican or otherwise, use “Catholic” to describe ourselves.  In popular parlance, at least, we’ve conceded the concept of catholicity back to the Papists, whom our forebears accused of having departed from true catholicism!

In this light it should not be much surprise that old-school “catholic” language and ideas can be found in the writings of the earlier reformers in ways that may not be so obvious in the writings of later generations, up to our own.  One Roman Catholic (ahem) article recently compiled a list of “Catholic” beliefs held by John Calvin.  They are billed as “surprising beliefs,” but I would hope most of these would not be too surprising to anyone who subscribes to a Calvinist theology, or even to a closely-related position such as Arminian or Luthern or Classical Anglican.  Anyway, let’s get the short version of that article:

1. Calvin thought that the Church had the power of excommunication: (Institutes, IV, 11:2)

2. Calvin believed that there was no salvation outside the Church: (IV, 1:4)

3. Calvin thought weekly Holy Communion was the minimum frequency: (IV, 17:43)

4. Calvin believed in the primacy of St. Peter, as leader of the apostles: (IV, 6:8)

5. Calvin accepted the primacy of the Roman Church in early Christian history: (IV, 6:16)

6. Calvin believed in the indefectibility of the Church: (IV, 9:13)

7. Calvin utterly detested denominations and sectarianism: (IV, 1:2)

8. Calvin thought that sacraments produce real, beneficial effects: (IV, 14:7, 17:10)

9. Calvin taught that there was such a thing as a holy, sacred place: (IV, 1:5)

10. Calvin believed that human beings could be distributors or mediators of salvation: (IV, 1:6)

11. Calvin seemingly accepted the notion of baptismal regeneration: (IV, 15:4)

12. Calvin approved of bodily mortification as spiritually beneficial: (IV, 12:17)

13. Calvin believed that there was a profound causal connection between Holy Eucharist and salvation: (IV, 17:32)

14. Calvin held that contraception was gravely sinful: (Commentary on Genesis [38:10])

15. Calvin accepted the Catholic and scriptural belief of the perpetual virginity of Mary: (Harmony of Matthew, Mark & Luke, Geneva, 1562, Vol. I, p. 107)

Now it might be arguable that Roman terminology is being forced into Calvin’s mouth.  Point 4 (about the primacy of Peter) certainly does not imply to Calvin the Papacy that Rome has promulgated for the past thousand years.  Point 9 (about sacred locations), for example, is probably going to mean different things to the Roman and to the Calvinist.  But the basic respect for the presence of our Lord is in common.  Point 11 (about baptismal regeneration) is certainly set into different theological contexts in the Roman and Calvinist systems.

But on the whole this kind of list is very helpful and refreshing to read.  It reminds us that, even though different traditions carry different emphases and prefer different talking points and centerpieces for their systematic theology, there remains a great deal in common.

This kind of study also highlights what one might call “theological drift” – a slow change of view over time.  Today, hardly any Protestant alive gives the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary the light of day; it’s entirely out of the question.  But according to Calvin, “No man will obstinately keep up the argument [against it], except from an extreme fondness for disputation.”  As far as he was concerned, the belief was sound and there was no reason to dispute it.  His view of the Sacraments, too, has become quite a minority view among our contemporary Protestants.  He believed that “the very flesh in which [Christ] resides he makes vivifying to us, that by partaking of it we may feed for immortality.”  Although high-churchmen like myself feel like Calvin is missing a great deal from his sacramentology, he does at least affirm that Holy Communion is indeed an actual holy communion between Christ and the recipient of the consecrated bread and wine.

With Reformation Day behind us and All Saints’ Day arrived, let’s take this moment to celebrate the Catholic Faith, to the extent that it is still shared between Protestants and Papists alike.  And let us pray, with the Communion of Saints gone before us, that the Church militant (on earth) may be one as it is in heaven.

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Article 32: Married Clergy

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 32 states:

XXXII. Of the Marriage of Priests

Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.

This is another Article that feels like common sense to Anglicans and other Protestants today – why on earth would the clergy be forbidden from marrying?  The Roman Church today still requires celibacy of their priests and bishops (married men may be ordained to the diaconate), but they seemingly stand alone in this practice.  But in actual fact the Eastern Orthodox Church also has a particular set of rules concerning the marriage of clergy, dating back to the Early Church in which various councils set down the basic rule: married men may be ordained to any clerical office (bishop, priest, or deacon), but no ordained person may get married.  Men enter the clergy as they are, and remain as they are.  If his wife dies, he may not remarry, though pastoral provisions do exist for clergymen with young children to remarry that their children may again benefit from having a mother.

The Roman Catholic practice of total celibacy for all clergy but the deacons is a heightening of the ancient rule.  There was a great deal of trouble in the early middle ages surrounding nepotism (passing an office on to one’s child) and simony (selling church offices to the highest bidder), and ruling that all clergymen had to be celibate, like monks, was a major weapon against such corruptions.  By the time of the Reformation, clerical celibacy had become virtually universal in the West.

The Reformers, all, were opposed to this restriction.  But instead of returning to the Early Church’s rule (that a clergyman remains as he is, single or married), they returned to a more permissive stance, as reflected here in Article 32.  Priests and Bishops, ever since, have been permitted to marry “as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.”

This wording indicates that some clergymen are better off living singly, and others married, according to the gifts of grace at work in them.  After all, the examples of the life-long celibacy of Jesus and Paul, in addition to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 about the celibate life, provide a thoughtful balance to his requirements for the clergy in 1 Timothy 3 – that a bishop should be a husband of one wife.  Some Protestants have asserted this means that all pastors must be married, but this requirement has historically been understood to be a prohibition against divorced and remarried men from being pastors, as well as against polygamy.  Thus Article 32 leaves the option open: our clergymen may be married or single, as best suits their calling.

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