The brief for one of our subjects this semester was to take a couple of the 39 Articles and turn them into something we might put in a monthly or weekly pew sheet.  I was given number 13 and 14.  This is number 14.  Enjoy and comment.  (See part 1 here)

The Articles of our Faith.  Shaping Us Then and Now
We are continuing our monthly series on the foundation documents of our church.  This month it’s Article 14.  How did it shape our church then and how does it shape us now?  (For a full list of the articles see here)

Article XIV (14)
Of Works of Supererogation
Voluntary Works besides, over, and above, God’s Commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants.

What if I told you that you had to dress like a monkey and dance like a chicken in order to be sure of your salvation?  What if I told you that if you didn’t want to dress like a monkey or dance like a chicken that once I’d done it enough for me, that I could do it for you? You’d probably tell me that I’m crazy and leave.  The church would get smaller one by one.  Meanwhile, every Sunday those who remained would perfect the chicken dance and afterwards we’d feel assured that God was pleased with us because of our amazing moves and monkey suits.  We’d also be making up for the lost revenue in tithes by convincing any poor sucker to pay us to do the dress up and dance on their behalf.

Clearly the above idea is ridiculous, but it gets to the heart of a mistake many of us can make, and it gets to the heart of a really big mistake that was made prior to the articles being written some 500 years ago.   Basically the official line of the Roman church was that a Christian could do more than was really demanded by God and if he had done more he could transfer the extra credit to another person.  But as we’ve already seen in this series, it is only by faith in the work of Jesus on the cross, through his death and resurrection that someone can be saved.  It is by faith not works that someone is saved.  A Christian will naturally do good works, but his works do not save him, nor do they earn him extra credit before God.

So how does this shape us and our church life today?  Well, it can be easy for us to add rules to our salvation (like chicken dancing and monkey suit wearing, or more seriously, traditions or cultural baggage).  Often we are well meaning.  But this article reminds us that we must not add rules, or works to the Christian faith over and above what God commands us.  We must not add extra rules and regulations to Christianity that stop people from receiving the grace God wants to give them.

It can be hard to avoid this rule-making tendency.  However, this article ends with a quote from the bible (Luke 17:10), and so too the bible is our authority for what is required of a Christian.  So as Christians we remember that we are saved by the free gift of God, not by our works, but by faith in the work of Jesus on the cross.  And we respond to that by living holy lives as set forth in the bible.

Further thinking and reading
If you would like to go more in-depth we recommend the following books