The six Articles of Religion pertaining to the doctrine and discipline of the sacraments can be described as “Classically Protestant.” This stands in distinction to the course of modern Protestantism particularly in America. The Anglican position on the Sacraments was worked out in between two extremes: that of the Roman Church and that of the Radical Reformers. In Roman piety and teaching, the place of the Sacraments were often exaggerated: too often withheld from the ordinary Christian, venerated sometimes to the point of idolatry. The Radical Reformers took the opposite extreme by denying that the Sacraments actually do anything, claiming instead that only the faith of the individual is God’s “means of grace” in our lives.
Today, the majority of popular Evangelicalism has drifted in line with the Radical teachings: Baptism is seen as a symbol of one’s conversion and new birth, thus making it an opportunity for the individual profess his or her faith, rather than receiving God’s grace of new birth; Communion is seen as a symbol of unity with Christ, rather than an actual participation in Christ’s Body and Blood. And, of course, the Romans are still Romans, though their excesses of the medieval age with regard to the Sacraments have largely been calmed in the past couple centuries.
These Articles, therefore, remain immediately relevant, important, and needed in the course of Christian teaching today. Especially in the Anglican tradition right now, many of our members and clergy were in other Christian traditions before becoming Anglican – the solid theological grounding of these Articles of Religion are often necessary preventatives from importing unbiblical interpretations of the Sacraments into Anglican piety and practice.
Granted, there is room for a range of understanding as these Articles put forth our doctrine. One is free to speak of two Sacraments or seven Sacraments, provided a distinction between the Lord’s Supper and Holy Baptism, and the other five, is maintained. One is free to understand baptismal regeneration in a couple different ways while remaining faithful to Article 27 and the Prayer Book. One is free to take different views of the real spiritual presence of Christ in Holy Communion, according to the Lutheran and Calvinist distinctives hinted at in Articles 28 and 29. But these ranges have boundaries, holding us firmly not only in position as Classical Protestants, but also as historic Catholics, as attested especially in Article 26’s attention to historical context.