In past discussions here, the question has been raised, how much authority do the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion possess? The answer is, certainly no more authority than the Articles themselves can allow. In 2008 the GAFCON people placed them as second to the Scriptures, certainly a new idea, since such a definition has never existed in Anglicanism. No comparative degrees of authority have been established except for primacy of Scripture, and their doctrine as expressed in the great Creeds. Certainly, the classic Anglican formularies are a supporting pillar for those of us who claim to have The Affirmation of St. Louis as part of our own foundation, and that includes the Articles, if only because the whole "spirit of St. Louis" was to continue, not to change. So, what if we allow the Articles to set their own terms for how we regard them?
What can we make of any body of doctrinal principles that contains something as direct and clear as Article VI? Were we to use our imaginations so as to personify the Articles with a kind of anthropomorphism, we could say that they refuse to be treated as the voice of God. They insist that we hold them to the same standard as any other extra Biblical doctrinal statement. The Articles, were they living, would demand to be judged by the authority of Scripture, saying, "whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith."
This brings us to yet another question that has been discussed recently. It has been suggested that Article XX is more useful than the Vincentian Canon. In practical terms, within the grasp of the average person who can pick up the Bible, that makes sense. However, let us compare these two statements.
First the Vincentian Canon places this measure on doctrine: "That [Faith] which has been believed everywhere, always and by all (Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est)." From this we derive easily a standard of Antiquity and Universal Consensus.
And, as for the other:
Article XX Of the Authority of the Church.
THE Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ: yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation.
The first question is, are these two standards in conflict? They can be in conflict depending on how they are used, that is, if someone elevates an amount or degree of apparent consensus from Antiquity to the level of authority, but that kind of effort always proves to be deceptive, generally giving undue weight to councils that never attained Ecumenical status, or giving over much weight to various opinions of sundry writers. The Affirmation of St. Louis affirms the Seven Ecumenical Councils as possessing authority, concerning which it may be argued that the first four Councils were formulative, defending doctrines against heresies in such a way as to clarify them for all generations; and the final three defended those clarifications, making them less significant though not less authoritative. Nonetheless, however we sort out the details, those seven Councils are the definitive example of Antiquity and Universal Consensus, and also the perfect example of the same principles we see in Article XX, in this case applied to the Church Universal rather than to a specific church within the Church.
The seven Ecumenical Councils agree with the revelation contained in Holy Scripture, and set it forth with fidelity and accuracy, fulfilling the words of Jesus Christ, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). For, the Apostolic Church can declare truth dogmatically and authoritatively, as St. John also wrote, "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." (I John 4:6) This brings to mind the words of St. Paul, "But we have the mind of Christ," (I Cor. 2:16), and "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (I Tim. 3:15)
We cannot accept, therefore, simply any measure of limited consensus; but, the Seven Ecumenical Councils defended clearly the same doctrine we profess in the Creeds, and that we see revealed in Scripture.
Ultimately, "Antiquity" speaks of the Scripture above all else. The fans of Newman's theory of Doctrinal Development, the most vocal opponents of the Vincentian Canon, forget that the Councils, beginning with Nicea (325 AD), defended the Traditional teaching of the Church, and that the defenders of orthodoxy argued exclusively from Scripture. Nowhere else, but Scripture, was the Apostolic teaching actually documented in the Aposltes' own generation, and left behind for future generations. The authority of Scripture is unique, and in the Scriptures we hear the voice of God directly. For "the holy Fathers" of Nicea, the voice of Antiquity was Scripture. The witness of the Apostles was no longer in living memory, that is, but for a public record that had been left behind, received and recognized by the Church even before the formality of establishing the New Testament Canon (with those few questions, in a few places, about Jude, Revelation and, above all II Peter, effectively resolved long before Nicea I).
So, we have the Vincentian Canon as a guide, and also Articles VI and XX agree. Like the Articles, that guide takes us back to the Scriptures as received and understood within the Church, as taught and expressed in liturgy, as believed wherever the Church was established, as passed down from earlier generations, as coming from the Apostles, as verified in the public record of New Testament books. As guides, in fact, we can use these standards together. If a doctrine is professed and taught, we may ask, when did it first appear? Is it really from the Apostles' time, and does it come from their teaching? If so, where is the Scriptural witness? Regarding any dubious matter, when did anyone in the Church first begin to interpret the Scriptural witness in like manner? If from the beginning, then finding it relies on nothing more than exegesis, and requires no isogesis (or eisegesis, same word). By this standard doctrines may be weighed in the balance and found wanting. For example, the bloated claims of the papacy lack the witness of this standard.
Let me bring up another example, one that is absurd and obvious, but all the more useful for it. Around the end of the last century a new fad sprang up of "interpreting" the Old Testament by the numerology of the Hebrew alphabet making use of computer technology to find the hidden "Bible Code." No longer did the Tenach, the Old Testament, mean what it said, with its emphasis above all on the Messiah to come bringing God's salvation. That is, no longer did the Old Testament testify of Christ. (John 5:39) No. By a new Cabala that was computer dependent, the real and hitherto hidden meaning of Scripture (in clear contradiction to Ephesians 3:5) was worked out by those cunning and computer savy enough to play around with this new system. Did this new "Bible Code" have any roots in Antiquity or Universal Consensus? Obviously not. But, many modern so-called Evangelicals were fooled by it, at the very least wasting time "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (II Tim. 3:7)
Not a magisterium
Some people feel a need for more security than faith allows, requiring an infallible authority who answers every question, rather than reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting Scripture. Some people need a thorough set of rules for every little detail in life. They fear to form their consciences according to God's word (as we are taught to do in The Affirmation of St. Louis). They need God's address here on earth, where they may knock on His door, where He speaks now as if he has not spoken already, as if he does not speak to everyone who will hear even now, through what He said already, long ago, recorded in Scripture.
The Anglican Formularies are a disappointment for those who need the security blanket of an infallible magisterium. But, in the Anglican mind, no council representing a mere portion of the Church (such as the Church of Rome, or, for that matter, our Church) can teach simply from its own authority, nor can its pastors and bishops require that what they teach be received as an article of faith based simply on their own consensus. So too, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion would be self-contradictory if used in such a manner; and by their nature they "refuse" to be granted infallible authority status. Rather, they compel us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest Scripture. That is why they are worth more than all the local councils, including the Council of Trent and both the Vatican Councils put together.
The whole idea of Anglicanism always was, and for us still is, to live by the teaching of the ancient catholic doctors and bishops. Out of respect for what we know to have been revealed, and for the authority that ancient revelation possesses, our own relatively new (as in 500 years or less) statements are not thundered at us from a self-proclaimed magisterium, but spoken from a humble and reasonable form of pastoral teaching and guidance. We need add no dogma, and need seek no additional revelation. It remains sufficient to say, "whatsoever is not read [in Scripture], nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." Truth does not come any more catholic than that.