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Context is essential whenever we look at historical documents. And anything not written today is historical in some sense. A text written hundreds of years ago is not perspicacious in and of itself but needs context. The Church of England was formed in the heart of the 16th century Reformation. The Articles of Religion of the UMC are adapted from the 39 Articles.

In this context, articles against purgatory and adoration make sense. One refers to more Catholic ideas, the other to much more low church ideas. Both arguments come out of a desire to understand what it means to be a Christian and in the Reformation context, first and foremost that means to be someone shaped entirely by Holy Scripture. 

John Wesley was ahead of his time in being a protestant in the 18th century who acknowledged that Catholics were Christian, yet Wesley’s abridgment of the 39 articles does not contain the spirit of ecumenism found in some of Wesley’s other works. Constitutionally, the church cannot change the Articles of Religion and still be the Church. Overall, I think this is a good thing because I would be horrified about opening the door to some future General Conference no longer thinking that the Trinity is relevant and so cutting that portion.

What the church has decided is to provide an interpretative resolution that has been adopted, in some form, at every annual conference since 1970. I am going to include the resolution in full because I believe that these words, better than my own, help to articulate how anti-Roman texts can be interpreted in a spirit of Christian unity. (From the 2016 Book of Resolutions 3155).

WHEREAS, it is common knowledge that the context of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (1563-and specifically Articles XIV, XIX, XXI, XXII, XXIV, XXV, XXVIII, XXX) was bitterly polemical, it is of prime importance in an ecumenical age that they should be reconsidered and reassessed. They were aimed, deliberately, at the Roman Catholic Church in a time of reckless strife, and were a mix of the theological and nontheological convictions of embattled schismatics fighting, as they believed, for national survival and evangelical truth. John Wesley's hasty abridgement (1784) of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (down to twenty-four) retained seven out of the ten of these anti-Roman references (XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI) in his enumeration. This reflects his conviction as to their applicability to the Roman Catholic Church as he perceived it at the time. This much must be recognized and acknowledged as belonging to our inheritance from our Anglican-Wesleyan past.

It is, however, one of the virtues of historical insight that it enables persons, in a later age, to recognize the circumstances of earlier events and documents without being slavishly bound to their historical evaluation, especially in a subsequent epoch when relationships have been radically altered. Such a transvaluation will enable us freely to relegate the polemics in these articles (and the anathemas of Trent, as well) to our memories "Of old, unhappy, far-off tales/And battles long ago" and to rejoice in the positive contemporary relationships that are being developed between The United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church, at levels both official and unofficial.

Therefore, be it resolved, that we declare it our official intent henceforth to interpret all our Articles, Confession, and other "standards of doctrine" in consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment, as these develop in the light of the Resolution of the 1968 General Conference on "The Methodist Church and the Cause of Christian Unity" (Book of Resolutions 1968, 65-72). This implies, at the very least, our heartiest offer of goodwill and Christian community to all our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, in the avowed hope of the day when all bitter memories (ours and theirs) will have been redeemed by the gift of the fullness of Christian unity, from the God and [Creator] Father of our common Lord, Jesus Christ (Journal of the 1970 General Conference, The United Methodist Church, 255).


Article XIV — Of Purgatory
The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well as images of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.